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Many workers have no idea their employers are offering this democracy-boosting perk, survey suggests

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With the final president debate done, attention in the race between President Donald Trump and Democratic challenger Joe Biden turns, more than ever, to the vote.

Major companies including Walmart
WMT,
+0.15%

 and Twitter
TWTR,
+0.12%

 are trying to make it easier for workers to cast their vote on or before Nov. 3’s Election Day, often by providing paid time off.

But many workers don’t know about the accommodations, a new survey suggests.

While 52% of companies are offering paid time off to vote according to their human resource staffers, only 23% of workers are aware of the benefit, a survey from the Society for Human Resource Management found.

Almost one-third (30%) of human resource officials say their companies are providing time off with no pay, and 16% of workers said they knew about such a benefit.

“It’s not unusual for people not to be aware of the specifics they are being afforded by their employers, sadly,” said Johnny Taylor, president and CEO of the Society for Human Resource Management, a professional association.

The survey comes during a hard-fought presidential election — and the coronavirus pandemic that’s up-ended work routines and added another layer of complexity to the voting process.

More than 22 million people had already cast their vote as of earlier this month, according to the Associated Press. That’s 16% of all votes in the 2016 presidential election.

The wait for early in-person voting has sometimes stretched on for an hour or more, according to media reports. A delay like that can take a real chunk out of a person’s work day.

See also: ‘Informed voters cannot be suppressed voters.’ Your complete guide to voting in person — early or on Election Day

The findings come from two surveys, one of almost 500 human resource workers who are members of the Society for Human Resource Management. The other survey polled approximately 1,000 people.

Workers in one survey may not necessarily be working at the same companies as the human resource officials. Still, said Taylor, the lack of awareness might hold true even if the workers and HR poll participants worked in the same place.

Employees are often unaware that they’re entitled to all sorts of perks, he said. “Some of it is employees during the orientation process are just overwhelmed with data,” and more focused on key questions like pay.

Between 42% and 44% of surveyed companies offered paid time off to vote between 2017 to 2019, according to previous benefit surveys from the organization that used larger sample sizes.

Taylor was expecting even more companies to offer time off for voting this election season. But when he asked around, some colleagues told him they weren’t doing it because the opportunity to vote has been stretched out over so many days, and workers already had flexibility in how they used their time off.

Around 25% of companies told Mercer, the human resources consulting firm, they were changing their internal policies this year to provide more voting time. The most-cited tweak was increasing paid time off (10.5%), according to the survey released Thursday.

As of late August, more than 700 companies had joined Time To Vote, a non-partisan coalition of businesses pledging to facilitate their staff’s ability to vote. (That’s anything between a paid day off, lighter schedules or assistance with mail-in ballots.)

Over 200 companies joined the coalition over the summer, including Nike
NKE,
+0.15%
,
Dell Technologies
DELL,
-0.60%

 , Visa
V,
-0.35%

  and Bank of America
BAC,
+0.26%
.
Nike said its accommodations may include paid time off on Election Day, no meetings that day or offering resources for mail-in ballots and early voting.



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‘I could live on my Social Security and still save money’: This 66-year-old left Chicago for ‘calming’ Costa Rica — where he now plans to live indefinitely

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Editor’s note: This article was first published in September 2019.

A school break changed 66-year-old Martin Farber’s life forever.

In 2007, his daughter — who at the time was attending Illinois State University — decided she wanted to spend a college holiday volunteering in Costa Rica and staying with a local family, he explains. She came home raving about the experience, so, in 2008, Farber — who at the time was living in Evanston, Ill., just outside Chicago, and selling cars — took his first trip there.

“It was a big surprise to me — bumpy roads, dogs barking in the streets,” he says. “I wasn’t enamored at first.”

But as his daughter began traveling there more and eventually moved there for a year, he took additional trips to Costa Rica. It quickly grew on him — in particular, the people. “The Costa Rican people are warm, open and friendly. I felt less invisible in a strange country in a strange town where I didn’t speak the language than I did in Evanston.”

And the more time he spent there, the more it impacted him: “On one of my trips there, I thought: My daughter’s life makes more sense than mine,” he says. “There was nothing wrong with my life, but I felt that my life was out of context with who I’d become. … I would have bills and make money to pay them, but that had ceased to be satisfying,” he recalls. “I knew I needed to change my life — there was no more joy in what I was doing.”

What’s more, when he’d return from his Costa Rica trips, people noticed. “I would come back, and my friends and therapist would say: You seem better after you go,” he says with a laugh.

A view from the hot springs near Martin Farber’s home in Costa Rica.


Martin Farber

So in 2014, he packed up and moved to Orosi — a picturesque, lush small town with waterfalls and hot springs a little over an hour’s drive from San Jose — promising himself he’d stay for two years. It’s been five, and he now plans to stay in Costa Rica indefinitely. (Though Farber notes that, to him, “it’s not a retirement; it’s a chance to lead a new and different life.”)

Here’s what his life is like, from costs to health care to residency to everyday life:

The cost: While many expats spend way more living in Costa Rica, Farber says: “I could live on my Social Security and still save money.” He says “a person can live on $1,200 per month, two people on $2,000.” The key, he says, is to live more like he does and as the Costa Ricans do — in a modest home, eating local food and purchasing local goods.

Indeed, Farber himself spends just $300 a month for rent (he rents a home from a friend who moved recently and gave him a good deal), roughly $225 a month on groceries and just $50 a month total on water and electricity (the temperate climate in Orosi means you rarely need heat or air conditioning). The veteran Volkswagen
VOW,
+0.96%

 
VLKAF,
+0.98%

salesman saves money by not owning a car (those over 65 ride municipal buses for free), which can be a significant expense in Costa Rica; for his cellphone, “I pay as I go … roughly $10 may last me a couple weeks or more,” he says, adding that “many people handle there their cellphones this way. You can get them recharged anywhere.”

His major expense is travel: He goes back to the U.S. to visit his mother in Florida several times a year and lately has spent part of the summer in Chicago helping out a friend with a dealership there. He also spends a good amount of money on health care. He says that while flights can be had for as little as $350 roundtrip during offseasons, the cost can be much higher the rest of the year.

In the saddle.


Martin Farber

Health care: Farber, who has permanent resident status in Costa Rica, says he pays about $90 per month to participate in the country’s health-care system — adding that the health care he’s received has been very good. (A 2018 study of health-care quality and access in more than 190 nations ranked Costa Rica No. 62.)

When he developed a detached retina, though, he paid for the procedure out of pocket so that he didn’t have to wait for the required surgery, he says — adding that the entire procedure cost him about $5,000. “I would have had to have waited four days,” he says, if he had not paid to expedite matters. “That might have been fine, but it might not.” And he adds that the quality of care depends on where you get it in the country.

Lifestyle: Though Farber says that he “moved here with no goals and no agenda,” he’s found plenty to do. “I take Spanish lessons two days a week for two hours a day. It’s been great. I never thought I would acquire a usable language in my 60s,” he says. He also rides his bike all around the area, does some writing and belongs to a community group that undertakes projects to improve the area.

And he often simply takes in nature, which he says has been an essential part of why he feels calmer and more relaxed in Costa Rica than in the U.S. “I live at 3,000 feet but in a valley surrounded by coffee fields and lime trees and water. At night, if I open the windows, I can hear the river rushing by,” he says. “It is very calming … hundreds of trees everywhere … you know the Earth is alive.”

The historic Iglesia de San José de Orosi.


iStock

Cons: “I don’t want to overglorify. It’s not without its problems,” Farber says of Costa Rica. “There are social problems and downsides.” He notes that crime and petty theft can be a problem (“I am cautious,” he says of his approach) and seem to have increased since he moved there, and adds that he misses out on some cultural things because of where he lives. And, he says with a laugh, “I can’t order Thai food at 9 at night.” But, he adds: “These are trade-offs — in the afternoon, I get to walk in the coffee fields and see flocks of parrots.”

Residency: To qualify for Costa Rica’s pensionado visa, expats must prove that they have a pension of at least $1,000 coming in each month. (Here are the details of that program.) Once you have lived in Costa Rica for three years, you can apply for permanent residency. Farber used a lawyer to help him figure out the ins and outs of residency options; his entire path to permanent residency took about a year, he says.

The bottom line: “After five years I am still amazed and surprised that I made the decision to lead a life I never thought I would,” he says. And while he may not stay in Orosi forever — “the town doesn’t have an ambulance, [and] I don’t know what it will be like to be 80 there,” he says — he does plan to stay in Costa Rica in no small part because of the people and sense of community. “I have the feeling that life is good here,” he says. “It’s hard sometimes, but we are all in it together.”



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