What Americans don’t know about Social Security

On October 2, 2015, in In the News, by dtorres

What Americans don’t know about Social Security Jun 16, 2015 | By Nichole Morford Americans are in need of Social Security benefits knowledge. Just 28 percent of Americans received a passing grade (60 percent or higher) when asked basic Social Security questions, a new study from MassMutual finds. Moreover, from a pool of 1,500 respondents […]

What Americans don’t know about Social Security

Jun 16, 2015 | By Nichole Morford

Americans are in need of Social Security benefits knowledge.

Just 28 percent of Americans received a passing grade (60 percent or higher) when asked basic Social Security questions, a new study from MassMutual finds. Moreover, from a pool of 1,500 respondents ages 18­ to 65, just one person answered all 10 true/false questions correctly.

The quiz touched on a range of topics, including the national retirement age, spousal benefits and eligibility for benefits. The high failure rate suggests what a number of advisors already know: Too many Americans are lacking the knowledge and tools that will allow their retirement reality to match their retirement dreams.

“Perhaps the greatest Social Security deficit in this country is the lack of education around the retirement benefits of the program, which presents an opportunity and responsibility to financial professionals,” said Michael R. Fanning, executive vice president, U.S. Insurance Group, MassMutual. “With millions of Americans nearing retirement each year, many may be at risk of underutilizing a critical component of their retirement income stream.”

If there’s a silver lining, it’s self-awareness: Just 8 percent of those surveyed considered themselves to be very knowledgeable on the subject of Social Security.

And that’s where you come in.

How does your own knowledge stack up? Continue reading for the full quiz.

  1. True or False? Social Security retirement benefits are based on my earnings history, so I’ll receive the same monthly benefit amount no matter when I start collecting.

A: False. If you collect Social Security retirement benefits before reaching full retirement age, you effectively lock in a lower monthly benefit amount. If you wait to begin collecting until after you reach full retirement age, you become eligible for delayed retirement credits. These credits increase your monthly benefit amount by 8 percent each year that you delay collecting, up to a maximum of 32 percent. Once you reach age 70, no additional delayed retirement credits accrue.

Source: Social Security Administration, Retirement Planner: Benefits by Year of Birth; http://www. socialsecurity.gov/retire2/agereduction.htm

  1. True or False? If my spouse dies, I will continue to receive both my own benefit and my deceased spouse’s benefit.

A: False. Social Security retirement benefits are only paid while you are alive. Assuming that you qualify, you would receive the greater of your own benefit or your spouse’s benefit, but not both.

See also: These 5 charts predict what retirees will pay for health care over the next 10 years

Source: Social Security Administration, Retirement Planner: Benefits for Your Spouse; http://www.socialsecurity.gov/retire2/ yourspouse.htm

  1. True or False? I must be a U.S. citizen to collect Social Security retirement benefits.

A: False. You do not have to be a U.S. citizen to qualify for Social Security retirement benefits. Resident aliens who pay into the Social Security system may qualify to receive retirement benefits, assuming they earn enough credits and meet additional criteria. To become part of the Social Security system, non-U.S. citizens must have lawful alien status, permission by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to work in the U.S. and a Social Security Number.

Source: Social Security Administration, Social Security Handbook, Evidence of U.S. Citizenship, §1725;http://www.ssa.gov/OP_Home/handbook/ handbook.17/handbook-1725.html

  1. True or False? Under current Social Security law, full retirement age is 65.

A: False. Your full retirement age is based on the year you were born. For people born between 1943 and 1954, the full retirement age is 66. If you were born in 1960 or later, the full retirement age is 67. For anyone born between 1955 and 1959, the full retirement age increases gradually.

Source: Social Security Administration, Full Retirement Age: If You Were Born between 1943 and 1954; http://www.ssa. gov/retirement/1943.html

  1. True or False? I can continue working while collecting my full Social Security retirement benefits — regardless of my age.

A: False. You can work and receive Social Security retirement benefits. However, if you have not reached full retirement age, your earnings will be subject to the retirement earnings test. If your income exceeds the test limit, Social Security may withhold all or a portion of your benefits. Withheld benefits are repaid over your lifetime once you reach full retirement age.

Source: Social Security Administration, Retirement Planner: Getting Benefits While Working; http://www.socialsecurity.gov/retire 2/whileworking.htm

  1. True or False? If I file for retirement benefits and have minor dependent children, they also may qualify for Social Security benefits.
  2. True. When you file for Social Security retirement benefits, your children may also qualify to receive benefits based on your record. An eligible child can be your biological child, adopted child or stepchild. A dependent grandchild may also qualify. Normally, benefits stop when children reach age 18 unless they are disabled. However, if the child is still a full-time student at a secondary school at age 18, benefits will continue until the child graduates or until two months after the child becomes age 19, whichever is first.

Source: Social Security Administration, Retirement Planner: Benefits for Your Children; http://www.socialsecurity.gov/retire2/ yourchildren.htm; http://www.socialsecurity.gov/ payee/index.htm

  1. True or False? As a divorced person, I can collect Social Security retirement benefits based on my ex-spouse’s earnings history.

A: True. You may be eligible to receive retirement benefits based on your ex-spouse’s earnings record, provided that:

  • Your marriage lasted at least 10 years;
  • You are currently unmarried;
  • You are at least 62 years old; and
  • The benefit you would receive based on your personal earnings history is less than the benefit amount you would receive if you filed for benefits based on your ex-spouse’s earnings record.

If your ex-spouse has not yet applied for retirement benefits, but qualifies for them, you can collect benefits based on his or her record provided that you have been divorced for at least two years.

Source: Social Security Administration, Retirement Planner: Benefits for Your Divorced Spouse; http:// www.socialsecurity.gov/retire2/yourdivspouse.htm

  1. True or False? Once I start collecting Social Security, my benefit payments will never change.
  2. False. The Social Security Act of 1973 included a provision for cost-of-living adjustments (COLAs) to help Social Security benefits account for inflation. Each year, the Social Security Administration uses specific indexes and formulas mandated by this legislation to determine whether a COLA will apply to benefits paid in the coming year and if so, how much the increase will be. For more detailed information on how COLAs are calculated, visit the Social Security Administration website indicated below.

Source: Social Security Administration, Cost-ofLiving Adjustment; http://www.socialsecurity. gov/news/cola/

  1. True or False? Government workers may have their Social Security retirement benefits reduced.

A: True. For certain workers, Social Security imposes two “offsets” that reduce the full Social Security monthly benefits that might otherwise have been paid. The Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP) affects workers who have earned a pension from an employer (such as a government agency) that did not collect Social Security taxes and who also have worked in other jobs long enough to earn Social Security benefits. Under the WEP provision, Social Security uses a modified formula to calculate your benefit, resulting in a lower benefit than you might otherwise have received. The second offset, called the Government Pension Offset (GPO), affects a spouse’s benefit based on your earnings. The GPO can reduce spousal benefits to $0.

Source: Social Security Administration, Information for Government Employees; http://www.socialsecurity.gov/retire2/gpo-wep.htm

  1. True or False? My spouse can qualify for Social Security retirement benefits, even if he or she has no individual earnings history.

A: True. Many spouses choose to stay at home to raise children or otherwise spend extended periods of time outside the paid workforce. This can affect a spouse’s ability to qualify for Social Security benefits. In such cases, the spouse who earns less may be eligible for a Social Security spousal benefit. A spousal benefit can be as much as 50 percent of the higher earning spouse’s full retirement age benefit. The exact percentage will depend on whether or not each spouse has reached his or her full retirement age.



SAVE by the “BUNDLE”

On April 24, 2014, in In the News, by dtorres

If you are looking to save then Torres Insurance can help you do just that.  We have several carriers that allow you to bundle your auto, home, umbrella and motorcycle policies at substantial savings and simplified billing.   You should call the office and let them know you are looking to “SAVE A BUNDLE”

If you are looking to save then Torres Insurance can help you do just that.  We have several carriers that allow you to bundle your auto, home, umbrella and motorcycle policies at substantial savings and simplified billing.   You should call the office and let them know you are looking to “SAVE A BUNDLE”


Commerce Insurance

On March 2, 2014, in In the News, by dtorres

Torres Insurance now has a voluntary contract with Commerce Insurance.  This means that our clients can receive competitive rates in auto, home and commercial insurance through a major Massachusetts carrier.

Torres Insurance now has a voluntary contract with Commerce Insurance.  This means that our clients can receive competitive rates in auto, home and commercial insurance through a major Massachusetts carrier.


Safeco Insurance

On August 2, 2013, in In the News, by dtorres

Torres Insurance now offers Safeco Insurance products to all Massachusetts residents.  This agreement provides our customers with a wide range of competitive insurance products.  Call our office for a free quote

Torres Insurance now offers Safeco Insurance products to all Massachusetts residents.  This agreement provides our customers with a wide range of competitive insurance products.  Call our office for a free quote


National Grange

On October 2, 2012, in In the News, by dtorres

Torres Insurance has a voluntary contract with National Grange.  Massachusetts residents can now enjoy competitive pricing and quality coverage through National Grange Mutual

Torres Insurance has a voluntary contract with National Grange.  Massachusetts residents can now enjoy competitive pricing and quality coverage through National Grange Mutual


Connecticut Customers please go to our new location

On August 6, 2012, in Events, by dtorres

All Connecticut customers are asked to go to SU SEGURO located at 685 Park Street in Hartford, CT where you will receive service for all Torres Insurance policies.  Should you have any questions you may call the office directly at (860) 244-2211 and speak to William Dominguez or Eddie Perez they will assign your account […]

All Connecticut customers are asked to go to SU SEGURO located at 685 Park Street in Hartford, CT where you will receive service for all Torres Insurance policies.  Should you have any questions you may call the office directly at (860) 244-2211 and speak to William Dominguez or Eddie Perez they will assign your account to the appropriate customer service representative.

Mr. Torres would like to thank all CT customers for their continued support and asks that if you have any concerns about your insurance needs you can reach him through his email account dtorres@torresinsurance.com




For Employers; Social Media Policy

On May 31, 2012, in Business Insurance, by dtorres

Under the oversight of the National Labor Relations Board, employer policy is closely watched. One burgeoning area of regulation pertains to how employers address employees and their use of social media. In a new report, NLRB Acting General Counsel Lafe Solomon describes what a perfect social media policy looks like—one that is free of any […]

Under the oversight of the National Labor Relations Board, employer policy is closely watched. One burgeoning area of regulation pertains to how employers address employees and their use of social media.

In a new report, NLRB Acting General Counsel Lafe Solomon describes what a perfect social media policy looks like—one that is free of any infractions against the National Labor Relations Act.

“In this case, we concluded that the Employer’s entire revised social media policy, as attached in full, is lawful,” Solomon explains in the report. “Rules that are ambiguous as to their application to Section 7 activity and that contain no limiting language or context to clarify that the rules do not restrict Section 7 rights are unlawful. In contrast, rules that clarify and restrict their scope by including examples of clearly illegal or unprotected conduct, such that they could not reasonably be construed to cover protected activity, are not unlawful.”

Here is the social media policy that best meets requirements by law:

At [Employer], we understand that social media can be a fun and rewarding way to share your life and opinions with family, friends and co-workers around the world. However, use of social media also presents certain risks and carries with it certain responsibilities. To assist you in making responsible decisions about your use of social media, we have established these guidelines for appropriate use of social media.

This policy applies to all associates who work for [Employer], or one of its subsidiary companies in the United States ([Employer]).

Managers and supervisors should use the supplemental Social Media Management Guidelines for additional guidance in administering the policy.


In the rapidly expanding world of electronic communication, social media can mean many things. Social media includes all means of communicating or posting information or content of any sort on the Internet, including to your own or someone else’s web log or blog, journal or diary, personal web site, social networking or affinity web site, web bulletin board or a chat room, whether or not associated or affiliated with [Employer], as well as any other form of electronic communication.

The same principles and guidelines found in [Employer] policies and three basic beliefs apply to your activities online. Ultimately, you are solely responsible for what you post online. Before creating online content, consider some of the risks and rewards that are involved. Keep in mind that any of your conduct that adversely affects your job performance, the performance of fellow associates or otherwise adversely affects members, customers, suppliers, people who work on behalf of [Employer] or [Employer’s] legitimate business interests may result in disciplinary action up to and including termination.

Know and follow the rules

Carefully read these guidelines, the [Employer] Statement of Ethics Policy, the [Employer] Information Policy and the Discrimination & Harassment Prevention Policy, and ensure your postings are consistent with these policies. Inappropriate postings that may include discriminatory remarks, harassment, and threats of violence or similar inappropriate or unlawful conduct will not be tolerated and may subject you to disciplinary action up to and including termination.

Always be fair and courteous to fellow associates, customers, members, suppliers or people who work on behalf of [Employer]. Also, keep in mind that you are more likely to resolved work related complaints by speaking directly with your co-workers or by utilizing our Open Door Policy than by posting complaints to a social media outlet. Nevertheless, if you decide to post complaints or criticism, avoid using statements, photographs, video or audio that reasonably 23 could be viewed as malicious, obscene, threatening or intimidating, that disparage customers, members, associates or suppliers, or that might constitute harassment or bullying. Examples of such conduct might include offensive posts meant to intentionally harm someone’s reputation or posts that could contribute to a hostile work environment on the basis of race, sex, disability, religion or any other status protected by law or company policy.

Be honest and accurate

Make sure you are always honest and accurate when posting information or news, and if you make a mistake, correct it quickly. Be open about any previous posts you have altered. Remember that the Internet archives almost everything; therefore, even deleted postings can be searched. Never post any information or rumors that you know to be false about [Employer], fellow associates, members, customers, suppliers, people working on behalf of [Employer] or competitors.

Post only appropriate and respectful content

  • Maintain the confidentiality of [Employer] trade secrets and private or confidential information. Trades secrets may include information regarding the development of systems, processes, products, know-how and technology. Do not post internal reports, policies, procedures or other internal business-related confidential communications.
  • Respect financial disclosure laws. It is illegal to communicate or give a “tip” on inside information to others so that they may buy or sell stocks or securities. Such online conduct may also violate the Insider Trading Policy.
  • Do not create a link from your blog, website or other social networking site to a [Employer] website without identifying yourself as a [Employer] associate.
  • Express only your personal opinions. Never represent yourself as a spokesperson for [Employer]. If [Employer] is a subject of the content you are creating, be clear and open about the fact that you are an associate and make it clear that your views do not represent those of [Employer], fellow associates, members, customers, suppliers or people working on behalf of [Employer]. If you do publish a blog or post online related to the work you do or subjects associated with [Employer], make it clear that you are not speaking on behalf of [Employer]. It is best to include a disclaimer such as “The postings on this site are my own and do not necessarily reflect the views of [Employer].”

Using social media at work

Refrain from using social media while on work time or on equipment we provide, unless it is work-related as authorized by your manager or consistent with the Company Equipment Policy. Do not use [Employer] email addresses to register on social networks, blogs or other online tools utilized for personal use.

Retaliation is prohibited

[Employer] prohibits taking negative action against any associate for reporting a possible deviation from this policy or for cooperating in an investigation. Any associate who retaliates against another associate for reporting a possible deviation from this policy or for cooperating in an investigation will be subject to disciplinary action, up to and including termination.


The Anchor

On May 31, 2012, in In the News, by dtorres

Forget Rachel, Bill, Anderson, and Sean. The broadcaster who will most determine the 2012 elections is Jorge Ramos. By Laura M. Colarusso Washington Monthly (May/June 2012) On January 25, a week before the Florida primary, Mitt Romney sat down for an interview with Univision, the nationwide Spanish-language television network that reaches 97 percent of Latino households. […]

Forget Rachel, Bill, Anderson, and Sean. The broadcaster who will most determine the 2012 elections is Jorge Ramos.

By Laura M. Colarusso

Washington Monthly (May/June 2012)

On January 25, a week before the Florida primary, Mitt Romney sat down for an interview with Univision, the nationwide Spanish-language television network that reaches 97 percent of Latino households. It was a risky move for Romney, who, in a bid for conservative support, had gone farther than any of his remaining Republican rivals in denouncing reforms that would help undocumented immigrants gain legal status. His positions put him sharply at odds with the vast majority of Univision’s audience, with the network’s own editorial line, and most definitely with the opinions of its star news anchor, Jorge Ramos.

Yet there was Romney, opposite Ramos on a stage at Miami Dade College, trying to convince Univision’s viewers, many of whom live in Florida, that he was all for immigration-so long as it was done the right way. The questioning was civil but pointed at first. Then Ramos threw a curveball. The veteran broadcaster wanted to know whether Romney felt that he was a Mexican American, since his father was born in Mexico. The question put Romney, whose great-grandfather had fled the United States to avoid arrest for practicing polygamy, in a supremely awkward position. If he said yes, conservatives might think him even more suspect. But if he said no, he would lose one of the few opportunities he had to connect with a vitally important audience. “I would love to be able to convince people of that, particularly in a Florida primary,” Romney responded. “But I think that might be disingenuous on my part.” It was probably the best answer he could have given, but it provided the mainstream press, which covered the interview, with yet another squirm-inducing anecdote about the candidate. And it certainly didn’t help him with Latino voters.

If the Univision interview illustrates the rough road Romney has had to travel in his quest to become the GOP nominee, it also highlights what may be the biggest obstacle he’ll face in the general election: winning a significant share of the Latino vote. Hispanics are one of the fastest-growing minorities in the country, accounting for more than half of the total population growth over the last decade. (More than 50 million Hispanics now live in the United States-up from 35 million just ten years ago, according to census data.) In 2008, close to 10 million Hispanics voted-roughly 70 percent supported Barack Obama-and thus far their support for the president has not waned. More than 12 million Latinos are expected to vote this time around. Moreover, Hispanics are clustered in key swing states like Colorado, Nevada, North Carolina, Virginia, New Mexico, and Florida. Their influence could even put red states like Arizona into play in the presidential race, and might help determine control of Congress. In 2010, despite the Tea Party uprising that enabled Republicans to retake the House, Latinos helped the Democrats hang on to the Senate by propelling Harry Reid and Michael Bennet to victory in Nevada and Colorado, respectively.

Connecting with Latinos is now a top priority for both parties, and Univision is the main conduit. No other network comes close to its scope. On any given night, Univision draws in about 65 percent of the viewers watching Spanish-language TV; the network’s nearest competitor, NBC-owned Telemundo, recently broke briefly into the low thirties. The network is the fifth largest in the country in terms of prime-time ratings and routinely beats the big four-ABC, CBS, NBC, and Fox-on Friday nights and in certain markets like Los Angeles and New York. Its offerings include everything from soap operas to political talk shows to investigative documentaries, all with a focus on the issues, themes, and personalities that are important to Hispanics. The company has built a relationship with its viewers that few other media organizations could even hope to understand. “Based on our research, there are two institutions in the Latino immigrant community that rank as highly trustworthy,” says Simon Rosenberg, president of the New Democratic Network, a think tank based in Washington, D.C. “They are the Catholic Church and Univision.”

If Univision is the most important Spanish-language network, then Ramos is the biggest, most trusted on-air personality on Spanish-language TV. Often referred to as the Walter Cronkite of Hispanic news, he connects with viewers on a nightly basis. An immigrant from Mexico with olive skin, green eyes, and silver hair, he has interviewed every sitting president since George H. W. Bush and most of the major White House hopefuls during that time, with the exception of Bob Dole in 1996. Along the way he has won eight Emmys and written eleven books, including A Country for All: An Immigrant Manifesto. Ninety-three percent of Univision viewers have a favorable view of him.

The GOP, of course, faces considerably lower favorables among Hispanics, and it’s easy to understand why. Rank-and-file Republicans have applauded controversial immigration laws in Arizona and Alabama that give police a mandate to detain people who look like they might be in the country illegally. They have embraced racial profiling and Joe Arpaio, the Maricopa County sheriff who rounded up undocumented Latinos and put them in an outdoor detention facility. For the past seven years, conservatives in Congress have been openly hostile to any immigration-reform bills that would provide a path to citizenship. The Republican presidential candidates have tripped over each other this cycle trying to turn hard right on immigration issues, supporting the idea of self-deportation and joking that the border fence should be electrified. Romney pilloried Newt Gingrich for suggesting that seventy-year-old undocumented grandmothers who have lived in this country for decades should be shown mercy, and he denounced Rick Perry’s support of a Texas law that provided undocumented college students with in-state tuition breaks. These were shrewd tactical moves that helped kill off both campaigns, but Romney has paid a price. Republicans need at least a third of the Latino vote to win the White House. McCain got 31 percent, and lost the electoral college by the biggest margin since Bill Clinton beat Bob Dole in 1996. Romney has been polling in the high teens and low twenties.

Romney desperately needs to turn these numbers around. And one way he’s widely expected to try to do so is by picking Marco Rubio, the junior senator from Florida, as his running mate. The theory is that, as a young, charismatic Cuban American, Rubio can reach out to the Latino electorate and narrow the rift between them and the GOP. But the most important venue for reaching those voters is Univision, a network that many Republicans think is biased toward Democrats, and with which Rubio in particular has a checkered history. Indeed, despite a standing request from Ramos, the Florida senator has refused to go on his show. If Rubio in fact becomes the nominee, he won’t be able to avoid Ramos much longer.

Standing at five foot seven with a slight frame, Ramos doesn’t exactly cut an imposing figure as he walks onto the set of Noticiero Univision, the network’s flagship nightly news program. He slips in, largely unnoticed until he sits down at the anchor desk and adjusts his tie. About five minutes before going live, he and his co-anchor, María Elena Salinas, quickly compare notes and then turn to their computers. After more than two decades of working together, the two colleagues waste few words in the hurried moments leading up to the show.

The broadcast begins with an investigation into accusations that officials at an airline-maintenance company bribed government officials in Mexico and Panama. Then the show covers a shooting at a baseball game in Saltillo, Mexico. Only then do the anchors transition to Rick Santorum’s primary victories in Alabama and Mississippi.

During the commercial break, Ramos makes a point of coming over to me to explain why they chose to lead with corruption in Mexico instead of the election results. “We are constantly balancing domestic and international stories that cover the home countries of our viewers,” he says. “If we don’t include these stories, they wouldn’t watch us. They could go someplace else.”

This focus on issues important to Latinos has created journalism that is not only distinct from what’s shown on English-language broadcasts, but also quite profitable. In the past year and a half, while many TV news organizations have been cutting staff to deal with shrinking audiences and decreasing advertising revenue, Univision’s news department has been expanding, adding investigative and documentary units. By the end of this year, Univision Communications will add two new national cable channels, one of which will be a twenty-four-hour news network. Noticiero Univision’s 6:30 p.m. broadcast has about 2 million viewers in the United States alone, making it the most-watched Spanish-language newscast in the country. The program, which is filmed in Doral, Florida, just west of Miami, recently traded in its old wood-paneled set for a sleek, white, state-of-the-art studio with concrete walls and a 180-square-foot monitor behind the anchors’ desk.

This year, Univision finished work on a 32,000-square-foot studio at its South Florida location. Since the company bought the property in the late 1980s, the network’s footprint there has quadrupled, with the addition, over the years, of new studios, offices, and satellite dish arrays to meet the growing demand for more original programming. When the network first arrived, there was one modest structure-a former Allstate insurance office-and nothing else.

Univision’s beginnings trace back to 1961, when an American-born businessman named Rene Anselmo convinced the owner of Mexico’s largest television network, Televisa, that the United States was an untapped market for Spanish-language TV. Anselmo’s proposition was simple: he and a group of investors would buy a few local U.S. TV stations, starting in San Antonio, Los Angeles, and New York, and then Televisa would provide its usual Mexican programming. The new company was called Spanish International Network, or SIN.

The venture-the first Spanish-language network in the country-struggled at first. Even though there were about 6.7 million Hispanics living in America at the time, the stations had trouble luring advertisers. Nielsen didn’t measure ratings for the new market, so there was no way of knowing how many households SIN was reaching. At first, the network survived because Televisa provided its programming for only a nominal fee. But SIN executives soon realized that they needed to adjust their business model if they wanted to have any hope of eventually seizing a larger market. So the plan changed: instead of being a Mexican television network aired in the U.S., SIN would be a U.S. network in Spanish that addressed the particular needs of Hispanics in America. They would still air the telenovelas from Mexico, but they would also produce original content and cover local news. By 1981, the new strategy was in full swing. The company limped along financially, bringing in limited ad revenue with some early experiments in product placement on their new shows.

Jorge Ramos moved from Mexico City to the United States in January 1983. The previous year, he had resigned from his first real job as an on-air reporter at Televisa after being censored-a not-uncommon experience at the time in the Mexican press, which was in many ways beholden to the government. Ramos began searching for a way out of Mexico. He briefly entertained the thought of crossing the border illegally, but didn’t want to limit his ability to work in America. When he won admission to UCLA’s extension school-and secured a student visa-he sold his car, emptied his savings account, and flew to Los Angeles. “I still remember the day I arrived,” says Ramos. “It was just like in the movies.”

He barely spoke English, but to say that Ramos made the best of his circumstances is an understatement. His swift rise in television news began a year to the day after he arrived in this country, when he filed his first story as a correspondent for Canal 34, SIN’s Los Angeles station. Within months he was anchoring the local morning show. By January 1986, he had moved to Miami to take over the national morning show, Mundo Latino. Finally, later that year, at the age of twenty-eight, Ramos became the anchor of Noticiero SIN. (A former Univision executive told me that Ramos looked so young on camera that they used to paint gray highlights onto his temples to make him seem older.) Not long after that, following a change of ownership and a strong push to rebrand itself through even more original programming, the network was renamed Univision.

After a little less than four years in the United States, Ramos held the premier spot in Spanish-language news. He had gone from working at a movie theater in central Los Angeles to covering corruption in Mexico, the civil war in El Salvador, the Persian Gulf War, and the fall of the Berlin Wall. By the early 1990s, Univision was a truly national network, with more than a dozen local stations. It was becoming a dominant force in Latino culture in the United States, thanks to its original programming and the simple fact that it was the first network to broadcast in Spanish. Close to 2 million Latinos were watching Univision during prime time by 1992; Nielsen was finally measuring Spanish-language viewership rates, leading to a sudden, long-awaited explosion in advertising revenue for the network. Ramos was landing interviews with world leaders like Daniel Ortega, Hugo Chávez, and Fidel Castro. But Univision’s place in the broader American political landscape was still marginal. Even though the number of Hispanics in America had more than tripled, to 22 million, Univision reporters still had difficulty getting big-name politicians and newsmakers for interviews. “They just didn’t know who we were,” Salinas says. “They just didn’t understand the concept of why, if we were broadcasting in Spanish, we would want an interview with someone in English.”

It was only after the 2000 census, which showed that the Hispanic population had topped 35 million, that it really became clear to American politicos that Latinos would be a key voting block going forward. It was around this time that politicians began courting Univision. Presidential candidate George W. Bush was one of the first to recognize its reach. His first interview after the Republican National Convention that year was with Ramos, and he made an effort to speak Spanish as much as he could on the campaign trail. The strategy paid off. Bush carried about 34 percent of the Latino vote in 2000-reversing a downward trend for Republicans. Strong Hispanic support for the GOP in Florida, especially among the Cuban community, helped to keep the vote tally close, leading to a recount and ultimately the Supreme Court decision that landed Bush in the White House. Bush and Karl Rove, his senior political adv isor, recognized that securing a sizable percentage of the Hispanic vote would be necessary if they wanted to remain in power. They were inspired by Ronald Reagan, who believed that most Latinos were conservative even if they didn’t know it. Hispanics were mostly Catholic, after all, and their views on social issues like abortion often aligned with conservative talking points. But Reagan did not rely solely on cultural affinities; he also legalized 3 million undocumented immigrants in 1986. Bush knew that he would have to make a similar overture. On the English-speaking national stage, the issue of immigration stayed on the back burner during his first term, but on Univision and other Spanish-language media outlets, the president relentlessly emphasized his support for comprehensive reform. In 2004, he won more than 40 percent of the Latino vote, a GOP record.

On the whole, Bush enjoyed a relatively good relationship with the Spanish-language press at the time. Conservatives certainly thought Univision presented a center-left version of the news, but the Bush administration was far better at outreach than Republicans are today. Each cabinet department had a Spanish-speaking media contact dedicated to forming relationships with Hispanic outlets. And the president was skilled at connecting with Latino reporters on a personal level. “George W. Bush, and his father George Bush, are the kind of people who make you feel very comfortable in their presence,” Ramos wrote in his 2002 autobiography. “They repeat your name, look you in the eye and ask about your family.”

The goodwill began to evaporate in 2005. Instead of using his victory to push for immigration reform, Bush spent his political capital on privatizing the Social Security system and lost. At the same time, the Minuteman movement was gaining steam. Lionized by right-wing talk radio, it tapped into the growing fear of terrorism and made border security an issue of national security. Republicans in Congress, led by Colorado Representative Tom Tancredo, began talking about deporting millions of undocumented immigrants. Tancredo vilified the idea of legalizing those who were already in the U.S. by calling it “amnesty” and saying it rewarded lawbreakers. Two years later, Bush’s final attempt to provide a pathway to citizenship while increasing security at the border imploded when the Senate failed to pass the measure. By the time Republicans took back the House in 2010, illegal immigration was being called a “slow-motion holocaust,” and Hispanic immigrants were being compared to livestock.

Ramos’s corner office is sparse, his wooden desk decorated with pictures of his two children and a handful of books. (He keeps a copy of Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States close by his computer.) The walls are bare except for a framed map of the world. One of his Emmys sits on top of a cabinet in the corner, almost out of view. The minimalism seems fitting for a man who arrived in this country with everything he owned packed in two bags and a guitar case.

Ramos acknowledges that his own immigrant experience informs his news judgment, but he stops short of saying that he is an advocate for Hispanic issues. His job, as he sees it, is both to report on and represent the needs of Latinos. “The reality is that the Hispanic community is underrepresented,” he says. “We are 17 percent of the population and we should have at least seventeen senators, but we only have two. We only have twenty-four members of Congress when we should have more than sixty, so there is a vacuum. There is not a Hispanic leader as Martin Luther King used to be for the African American community, so Univision is filling up that vacuum when it comes to participating in elections, when it comes to education, when it comes to relevant issues like immigration.”

That outlook, by definition, means that Univision is in conflict with the majority of today’s Republican Party. The conservative activists and politicians who understand Univision’s importance complain that they can’t get a fair shake with the network-or with Ramos. They point to the Romney interview. They point to an even tougher interview with Gingrich, where the flustered candidate told Ramos, “I’m not going to let you define what immigration reform is,” and Ramos replied, “It’s very simple. To legalize 11 million undocumented immigrants.”

Their suspicions were also raised when a consortium led by the Saban Capital Group bought Univision in 2007. The firm’s founder, Haim Saban, is a major Democratic donor who contributed more than $12 million in soft money to Democratic committees between 1998 and 2002. He and his wife gave $9,200-the maximum allowed at the time-to Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign, and they have already given $10,000 to Obama’s reelection effort. He is also said to be considering dropping serious amounts of cash on the left-leaning Super PACs this election cycle. Network executives say Saban has never attempted to influence news coverage, and even if he tried, they wouldn’t listen. But Republicans remain unconvinced. “Univision is headed and owned by some sophisticated equity-fund guys, and they have turned it into a corporate institution of great power with a left-leaning message,” says Al Cardenas, chairman of the American Conservative Union. “It’s fair to state that we’re greatly handicapped by the Hispanic media that mostly favors a liberal agenda.” Alfonso Aguilar, executive director of the Latino Partnership for Conservative Principles, puts it a bit more succinctly. “We do see a bias,” he says. “Univision is tougher on Republicans.”

After three decades of living in America, Ramos remains extremely sensitive to the plight of those who have come to this country searching for a better life. “You never stop being an immigrant, and that affects everything that you do,” he says. “Probably you work harder. Since we lost everything at least once in our life, there is always that very uncomfortable sensation that it could happen again.” In 2008, he became a U.S. citizen so he could vote in the historic election, but he remains adamant that he is not truly American. (He wouldn’t reveal for whom he voted, saying he’s a political independent.)

Ramos denies that his reporting is in any way colored by ideology or partisanship. He says he is neither liberal nor conservative, just pro-immigrant. Indeed, that stance almost rises to the level of a calling. “When was the last time you saw an undocumented immigrant talking to ABC News, or NBC, or CBS, or CNN?” Ramos asks rhetorically. “It’s very rare. So it is true that we do a lot of reports about immigration and undocumented immigrants, but that’s part of our audience. If we don’t do it, who is going to?”

Univision executives say they don’t explicitly go after Republicans for their position on immigration reform. If it seems like the network targets the GOP, they add, it’s because conservatives give them more material to cover. “We don’t get into politics,” says Isaac Lee, the head of news at Univision. “We do not forget who our audience is, what their needs are, and what our responsibility is to them as a community, but that doesn’t mean we advocate for particular things.” Most of those I talked to at Univision insist they aren’t advocating for Latino issues, but say they are instead “empowering” the community to make choices. The majority of Hispanics, for example, support the DREAM Act, legislation that would grant legal resident status to undocumented immigrants brought here as children, provided they enroll in college or join the military. In 2010, Congress failed to pass the measure despite broad support from Democrats, because nearly all Republicans-even those who supported it a few years ago-voted against the bill. Univision has covered every twist and turn of the debate, highlighting the Democrats’ support of the bill and the Republican opposition. While much of their coverage of the issue fits the normal definition of straight news, Ramos openly endorsed the DREAM Act, calling it an acceptable plan B until Congress can agree on comprehensive immigration reform.

Lee and Cesar Conde, the president of Univision Networks, are quick to point out that the company has criticized Democrats, too. Univision did much to advance the story about the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives’ botched undercover gun-running operation to track down weapon smugglers in Mexico. The episode has been a running embarrassment to the Justice Department and a gift to GOP lawmakers, who have conducted countless investigative hearings into the matter in hopes (so far unrealized) of ensnaring senior administration officials. Ramos and the network have also harshly condemned President Obama for not following through on a campaign promise to deliver an immigration bill to Congress during his first year in office. In addition, Univision has reported on the record number of deportations-more than 1.2 million-that have taken place under the Obama administration and has done a number of reports about families torn apart because of this policy.

None of this, however, has kept conservatives from trying to claim that Univision is targeting them unfairly. Last July, reporters with the network’s new investigative unit uncovered evidence that Marco Rubio’s sister is married to a convicted drug smuggler. The senator’s staff tried to kill the story during a phone call with Univision executives that included Isaac Lee, calling it “tabloid journalism.” But Univision aired the piece anyway. A few months later, on a tip from Rubio’s camp, the Miami Herald reported that Lee had offered to soften the story if Rubio agreed to go on Ramos’s Sunday-morning interview show, Al Punto. Lee and Univision firmly deny that they tried to shake down the senator, and the New Yorker later ran an investigative piece that cast doubt on the Herald’s story. Back in October, five of the Republican presidential candidates used the Herald’s reporting to justify boycotting an upcoming Univision debate. Rubio has since been on Univision a handful of times, but he still has never been interviewed by Ramos.

By trying to call the network’s ethics into question, and thus undermine confidence in its news coverage, Republicans were working from a well-worn playbook. It’s a tactic conservatives have used to devastating effect to take down big-name journalists like Dan Rather, who was ousted from CBS after some of the documents he relied on for a piece about George W. Bush’s national guard service turned out to be forgeries. But with Univision, they didn’t succeed. “It’s hard to criticize Univision,” says Jennifer Korn, executive director of the conservative Hispanic Leadership Network. “Where are you going to have the outlet to reach those same people in Spanish and tell them that it’s slanted? You try to get your message out there, but I don’t think it would do us any good anyway to tell the community it’s watching a biased network. It’s so trusted that it’s better to go positive.”

The mainstream media often provides a convenient foil for Republicans who say there is an unfair liberal bias in the press that muddies their message. To get around this perceived problem, conservatives have built alternative news outlets like Fox News and much of talk radio to directly get their point across to voters. But in a testament to its general indifference or hostility to Latinos, the right hasn’t bothered to develop Hispanic stations more sympathetic to their cause-though some in the movement are belatedly trying. “Conservatives are becoming more and more receptive to the idea that they need to get their message out to the Latino community, and they have to go around traditional Spanish-language media to do it,” Aguilar says. In January, he began broadcasting a weekly hour-long radio program from Washington, D.C. And this fall, Fox will debut MundoFox, a Spanish-language channel, to compete with Univision and Telemundo, though executives have said that its news department will be independent.

Neither of these nascent efforts, however, is likely to reach many Hispanic voters between now and November. That leaves the Republicans with only a few possible means of solving their Latino problem in 2012.

One is to attempt to suppress the Latino vote. This is already under way. A number of Republican-controlled state governments have imposed new measures, like photo ID requirements and strict new voter-registration laws, that could keep countless eligible Latinos from the polls. Florida’s new rules, for instance, are so onerous that the League of Women Voters, which has been running registration drives for decades, has declared a moratorium on its work in the state.

Here, too, a major force pushing against the GOP’s plan is Univision. For the past six years, the company has run a program with a handful of other national Hispanic organizations called Ya Es Hora (It Is Time) to encourage Latinos to become citizens and to register to vote. Voter-registration rates among Hispanics are already down this year, in part because Latinos tend to vote for Democrats, who aren’t holding a contested presidential primary. And there are signs that apathy is taking root within the Latino community in light of the economy and the lack of forward momentum on immigration reform. In all, there are 8 million unregistered Latino citizens, and Univision is planning a major campaign that will include town halls, public service announcements, and local events designed to motivate them to get involved. Their operation promises to be as sophisticated as that of either political party. “We have to find a way of convincing [Latinos] that their vote counts,” Salinas says. “We’re going to do it by showing them, county by county, state by state, in the cities where their vote would have made a difference if they had registered.”

Another option for the GOP is, of course, for the party’s presidential nominee to choose a Hispanic running mate. And the name most often floated is Marco Rubio. Whether Rubio is the savior many in the party think he is remains to be seen. On the one hand, he is a fresh face and an effective speaker with strong conservative positions that also make him a favorite with the Tea Party base. On the other hand, he has some baggage, including a history of making false claims about his parents having left Cuba as political refugees (they came to the United States before Castro took power) as well as a record of opposition to the DREAM Act and other immigration-reform efforts. Some polls have shown that a quarter of the Hispanic electorate would consider voting for the GOP ticket if Rubio is the vice presidential candidate. Other polls suggest that he would draw few Latinos, or could even hurt the ticket.

Cognizant of his, and his party’s, weakness on immigration, Rubio is working on a compromise version of the DREAM Act with other Republican senators. If such legislation can get a hearing or even pass with bipartisan support this summer or fall, it could conceivably soften Latino voters’ attitudes about the GOP. The problem for Rubio is that any bill that opens the door even slightly for undocumented immigrants to become legal is liable to stir up the conservative base. And at the same time, a legalization option that is too narrow will be unlikely to impress many Latino voters, and certainly won’t draw the support of many Democratic lawmakers.

One thing’s for sure: between now and November, the venue where these issues will be discussed in the greatest detail, in front of the audience that matters most, is Univision. Which means, among other things, that at some point Rubio will have to face Ramos. “I’ll keep on calling him,” Ramos says. “That’s what I keep on doing with the pope, and that’s what I keep on doing with Marco Rubio.” It also means something else. As in any election year, pundits and political professionals are sure to spend countless hours in the coming months watching outlets like Fox, MSNBC, and CNN with a keen eye toward how their coverage might influence the outcome. But this year, the network most likely to actually have that effect is one that barely any of them watch, and that speaks a language few of them understand.

Laura M. Colarusso is a reporter at Newsweek and the Daily Beast. She has previously reported for the Boston Globe, New Jersey Monthly , and the Newark Star-Ledger.


The Point of No Return:

On May 25, 2012, in In the News, by dtorres

By Hector Cordero-Guzman (May 25, 2012) As the U.S. Census Bureau released estimates suggesting that, as of July 1, 2011, 50.4 percent of the US population younger than age 1 were “minorities,” discussions about what the numbers mean and the implications quickly spread. My main surprise when the report came out was that anyone was […]

By Hector Cordero-Guzman (May 25, 2012)

As the U.S. Census Bureau released estimates suggesting that, as of July 1, 2011, 50.4 percent of the US population younger than age 1 were “minorities,” discussions about what the numbers mean and the implications quickly spread. My main surprise when the report came out was that anyone was surprised at all.

The Census had already revealed that in April 1, 2010, 49.5 of the US population younger than age 1 were “minorities” (defined as anyone who is not single-race white non-Hispanic) so this is not a new trend. But, the fact that the 50% threshold (majority-minority) was crossed for the first time in 2011 suggested to many that a demographic point of no return had been reached. And, this trend will continue.

The report also found that the population younger than age 5 was 49.7 percent minority in 2011, up from 49.0 percent in 2010. This means that in the next year or so, a majority of the US population younger than 5 years of age will be “minority” children.

There were 114 million “minorities” in 2011, or 36.6 percent of the U.S. population. Hispanics\Latinos are the most populous and fastest growing minority group in the US with 52 million persons in 2011. The Latino population grew by 3.1 percent since 2010. This increased the Hispanic\Latino share of the total population in the US from 16.3 percent in 2010 to 16.7 percent in 2011. African-Americans were the second largest minority group in the United States, at 43.9 million in 2011 (up 1.6 percent from 2010).

The growth of “minorities” in the US is mainly driven by increases in the Latino population. But, what drives Latino population growth?

First, Hispanics\Latinos have a younger population and age distribution when compared to non-Hispanic Whites. Close to 36% of non-Hispanic White women (or 36.3 million) were in the reproductive ages between 15 and 44 years old, while a much higher 47% of Latinas (or 11.8 million women) were in the 15 to 44 age group. Close to 6% of non-Hispanic White women were between the ages of 15-19 years old compared to 9% of total Latinas in that age group.

Second, Latinas are more likely to have children at younger ages and, third, they tend to have more children than non-Hispanic White women. The age-specific fertility rates for non-Hispanic Whites and Latinas are 23.5 for non-Hispanic Whites and 55.7 for Latinas ages 15-19; 74.9 for non-Hispanic Whites and 126.2 for Latinas ages 20-24; 105.8 for non-Hispanic Whites and 125.5 for Latinas ages 25-29; and 99.9 for non-Hispanic Whites and 96.7 for Latinas ages 30-34.

The highest reproductive ages for Latinas are between 20 to 24 years of age while for non-Hispanic Whites it is the 25 to 29 age group. Non-Hispanic White women ages 30 to 34 have a slightly higher fertility rate than Latinas (the only age group where Non-Hispanic Whites have a higher rate than Latinas). The end result of different age-specific fertility rates is that the total fertility rate for non-Hispanic White women was 58.7 while it was 80.3 for Latinas (and 66.6 for Non-Hispanic Blacks) and there are close to one million Latino births every year.

A younger age distribution, a higher proportion of women in reproductive ages, a tendency to have children at a younger age, and a higher fertility rate all mean that Hispanic population growth will continue at an accelerated pace independent of what happens with immigration.

In the last decade, for example, the Latino population grew by about 16.3 million persons with close to 9 million births and 7.3 million immigrants. In the current decade, the Latino population is expected to grow by 19 million persons with 11.3 million births and 7.7 million immigrants. By the decade around 2040s, the Latino population is expected to grow by 29.6 million persons or 19.3 million births and 10.3 million immigrants. In other words, even if we assume that immigration remains constant over the next 30 years, there will be close to 2 million Latinos added to the US population every year through births alone.

While Latino population growth is now driven mostly by births, immigration trends will have some impact on the future growth rate of the Latino population. Depending on the type of immigration assumptions made, the Latino population in the US by 2050 — the year where a majority of the entire US population is anticipated to be “minority” — is expected to be as much as 100 million, if we assume very little migration, close to 128 million under mid-level immigration assumptions, and as high as 159 million under high immigration assumptions.

The reality of a growing Latino population and of the fact that Latinos are an increasing proportion of the US population, should mean that more attention is paid to the population, possibly there will be some focus on issues that particularly impact Latinos, there may be a reduced sense of invisibility and, perhaps, an increased sense of power and relevance. But the fact that over time a majority of the US population will be made up of “minority groups” will not lead to positive changes in the lives of “minority communities” unless there is concerted action and a desire to change existing institutions.

The reality of a “majority-minority” world is already present in the lives of many urban youth and residents in many parts of the US. In fact, there were six majority-minority states or territories in 2011: Puerto Rico, Hawaii (77.1 percent minority), the District of Columbia (64.7 percent), California (60.3 percent), New Mexico (59.8 percent) and Texas (55.2 percent). No other state had a minority population greater than 46.4 percent of the total. And, over 11 percent (348) of the nation’s 3,143 counties were majority-minority as of July 1, 2011.

In many of these majority-minority areas the economic and social problems of the Latino community not only continue but, in most cases, have existed for generations. The public school system in New York City, for example, is over 80% minority but the very existence of young men of color in the City is seen as a threat to “public safety” and questionable stop-and-frisk policies are justified as vital “crime prevention” strategies.

When we look at the leadership in Congress, other elected and appointed offices, the judiciary branch, universities, businesses, and the non-profit sector we do not see the demographic realities of the country well reflected and represented. Being a numeric minority creates significant challenges but becoming a numeric majority does not automatically solve them either. We need a concerted focus on education, access to training, improving employment opportunities, increasing wages, and building strong communities.

I hope the new population estimates released by the US Census Bureau can help bring increasing attention and a sense of urgency to the needs and challenges faced by the Latino community — but, without policy change and concerted action, increases in numbers alone are not likely to lead to real, lasting, and positive social change.

The point of no return has been reached. There is no turning back. Demography is destiny. But the destiny has to be constructed and assembled. We can either build together and invest in an inclusive society or continue to head towards a more separated, segregated, unequal, and divided society where a minority continues to isolate itself from a growing majority of “minorities.”

Héctor R. Cordero-Guzmán received his M.A. and Ph.D. degrees in Sociology from The University of Chicago and is a Professor at the School of Public Affairs at Baruch College of the City University of New York. He is also a Professor in the Ph.D. Programs in Sociology and in Urban Education at the City University of New York (CUNY) Graduate School and University Center. Prior to joining The School of Public Affairs at CUNY, Dr. Cordero-Guzman was a Program Officer in the Economic Development and the Quality Employment Units of the Asset Building and Community Development Program at The Ford Foundation. He can be contacted at hcordero@aol.com.


6 Famous Brands Started or Saved by Life Insurance

On April 26, 2012, in Life Insurance, by dtorres

By Brian Anderson               If not for life insurance, Disneyland might have existed only in Walt’s imagination. Stanford University might have been a short-lived tribute to a son who died young. James Cash Penney’s personal depression during the Great Depression might have shuttered the J.C. Penney chain. McDonald’s might […]

By Brian Anderson








If not for life insurance, Disneyland might have existed only in Walt’s imagination. Stanford University might have been a short-lived tribute to a son who died young. James Cash Penney’s personal depression during the Great Depression might have shuttered the J.C. Penney chain. McDonald’s might have only served a few hundred thousand. Today’s home chefs might not be getting pampered.

Check out this slide show to learn how life insurance played a key role in either the creation or survival of some iconic American institutions.


Walt Disney Studio was founded in 1923 in Los Angeles by Walt Disney (1901-1966) and his brother Roy. After a distributor essentially stole one of his early cartoon characters and his animators, Walt made sure he owned everything he made after that. Mickey Mouse debuted in 1928 and became an immediate sensation as the star of the first cartoon with synchronized sound.

His animated features and, eventually, television programs achieved steady success, and by the 1950s, Walt became intrigued with creating an amusement park where parents and children could have a good time together. At the time, the only amusement parks in the country were dilapidated places with seedy characters, but Disney dreamed of an immaculately clean, family oriented park with imaginative attractions.

After failing in the pursuit of traditional means of financing to build what would become Disneyland, Walt decided to provide his own financing. A large part of this came to be by collaterally borrowing money from his cash value life insurance. Disneyland opened in 1955 and hosted more than 3.5 million visitors in its first year. It became an immediate, resounding success.

Disney is quoted as saying that money was the biggest problem he faced throughout his life, and that was certainly the case with Disneyland. “It takes a lot of money to make these dreams come true. From the very start it was a problem. Getting the money to open Disneyland. About $17 million it took. And we had everything mortgaged, including my personal insurance… We did it (Disneyland), in the knowledge that most of the people I talked to thought it would be a financial disaster — closed and forgotten within the first year.”

Working as a milkshake machine distributor in 1954, Ray Kroc (1902-1984) took notice of a successful hamburger stand in San Bernardino, Calif., which he called on, intending to sell brothers Dick and Mac McDonald more Multimixers. He learned they were interested in a nationwide franchising agent. Kroc, 52 at the time, decided his future was in hamburgers and partnered with the brothers. He opened his first McDonald’s in Des Plaines, Ill., in 1955 and bought out the McDonald brothers in 1961.

Kroc did not take a salary during his first 8 years, and to overcome constant cash-flow problems, Kroc borrowed money from two cash value life insurance policies (and also his bank) to help cover the salaries of key employees. He also used some of the money to create an advertising campaign around emerging mascot Ronald McDonald.

Using a progressive franchising arrangement and striving for consistency and standardization throughout the chain, McDonald’s grew to more than 700 restaurants within 10 years. Today, McDonald’s serves more than 50 million people each day through more than 30,000 locations in 119 countries.

Stanford University

Pacific Mutual Life (now Pacific Life) ceremoniously issued its first policy to Leland Stanford, the company’s first president, in 1868. After his son, Leland Jr., died of Typhoid Fever in 1884 at the age of 15, the former California governor and U.S. senator and his wife, Jane L. Stanford, determined that because they could no longer do anything for their own child, they would use their wealth to do something for other people’s children. With a strong belief in the importance of a practical education for men and women that would prepare them to be productive and successful, six years of planning led them to establish Leland Stanford Jr. University in Palo Alto in 1891, with a pioneer class of 555 students (including Herbert Hoover).

Following Leland’s death in 1893, the fledgling university’s financial support became uncertain, to the point where Jane tried unsuccessfully to sell her treasured jewel collection in 1897. Intent on preserving the university and avoiding a “temporary” closure, she used her husband’s life insurance policy proceeds to help fund operations and pay faculty, allowing Stanford University to weather a dangerous six-year period of financial distress.

J.C. Penney

In 1898, James Cash Penney was working in a Golden Rule Store, part of a small chain of dry goods stores. He was such an enterprising worker that the pair of owners took him under their wing, offering him a one-third partnership in a new store they were opening in Kemmerer, Wyo. Penney participated in opening two more stores, and when the original partners dissolved their partnership in 1907, Penney purchased full interest in all three stores. By 1912, he operated 34 stores throughout the Rocky Mountain region. In 1913, he moved the company to Salt Lake City and incorporated it as the J.C. Penney Company. By 1929, there were 1,400 stores across the country.

The stock market crash of 1929 and the ensuing Great Depression devastated the stores and Penney’s personal wealth. The financial setbacks also took a toll on his health — physical and mental — but he was able to borrow against his cash value life insurance policies to help the company meet its payroll and day-to-day expenses. This allowed the company to stay afloat and eventually rebound.

Penney became a born-again Christian and remained as chairman of the company’s board until 1946. He served as honorary chairman until his death in 1971. Today, the company’s 1,100 stores take in revenues of $18 billion a year, and the company was able to pay new CEO Ronald Johnson, the former Apple exec who joined the company last November, $53.3 million in 2011.


The Pampered Chef

Using $3,000 she borrowed from a life insurance policy, home economist Doris Christopher started The Pampered Chef in her suburban Chicago home in 1980.

All her time working with homemakers convinced Christopher that women needed quality timesaving tools designed to help make cooking quick and easy. She had seen the success of Tupperware’s business model and developed her own detailed multi-level marketing business plan. Using the life insurance money, she purchased some basic inventory and was on her way.

By 2002, the company had grown into a $700 million operation that was acquired by Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Corporation for $1.5 billion. Today, the company boasts 12 million customers.

Foster Farms

In 1939, a young couple named Max and Verda Foster started Foster Farms by borrowing $1,000 against a life insurance policy. They invested in an 80-acre farm near Modesto, Calif., and began raising turkeys and, eventually, chickens.

By the 1960s, the company had outgrown the original farm and moved its corporate headquarters to the small California Central Valley town of Livingston, where it still resides. Today Max and Verda’s grandson, Ron Foster, is the CEO of the family run business. Foster Farms is now more than 10,000 employees strong, with operations in California, Oregon, Washington, Colorado, Arkansas and Alabama, and has a line of products that are sold globally.

Foster Farms specializes in fresh, all-natural chicken products free of preservatives, additives or injected sodium enhancers.

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