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Personal finance: The skinny on money

Michelle Singletary
Thursday, October 14, 2010; 10:57 AM

I know it's important to watch your weight, but I didn't know employers might be watching it, too. And they may be rewarding the skinny people. A blog item on the Wall Street Journal's Web site takes a look at the benefits one gets in THE workplace if he or she is svelte. The conclusions are fascinatingly disturbing.

Shelly Shellenberger discusses a recent study that finds that weight matters when it comes to how much people earn. The study, she reports, is the first to look at the effects of being very thin and how they might be different for men and women.

So what did researchers find? Thin is in.

But I don't think we really needed researchers to tell us that. The shelves of diet drugs and supplements tell us so. The touched-up magazine covers rub it in our faces.

Still, it's always good to have proof. Researchers found that women weighing 25 pounds less than the studied group's norm earned an average $15,572 a year more than women of normal weight. Women who weighed 25 pounds above the average weight earned $13,847 less than an average-weight female.

But if you're a rotund man, the standard flips. Overweight men got more pay than average-weight men.

I want to hear from you. Have you experienced pay discrimination because of your weight? Send your comments to colorofmoney@washpost.com and put "Thin is in" in the subject line.

Not Feeling So Secure

Many seniors around the country may be getting some more bad financial news - again.

The government is expected to announce that there will be no increase in monthly benefits next year for more than 58 million Social Security recipients, reports the Associated Press' Matt Sedensky.

This would be two years in a row without an increase.

Watch this video in which a reporter for ABC World News Tonight interviews seniors about the pending decision (I was also interviewed for the segment).

The decision on whether benefits are raised is left to a formula. Cost-of-living adjustments are automatically set based on the Consumer Price Index, which measures inflation. Social Security benefits will remain unchanged as long as consumer prices remain below the level they were at in 2008.

I want to hear from you about how this decision will affect you next year. Send your comments to colorofmoney@washpost.com. Specifically, how will you make do with another year of frozen Social Security benefits?

Looking For Super Workers

In this new world economy, workers must not only do one job, they must also do the job of two or three other workers.

It's come down to people having to have super skill levels to keep their job or get a job, reports Associated Press writer Christopher S. Rugaber. An increasing number of companies can't fill job openings because they are looking for employees who have skills and experience for consolidated positions.

Rugaber finds that the expanded workplace responsibilities explain why many companies are complaining they can't find qualified people even with 4.6 unemployed people, on average, competing for each opening. This trend also means many people who are unemployed now don't qualify for their old positions.

Workers aren't just being asked to increase their output, they're being asked to broaden it, too, says David Altig, research director at the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta.

Talk and Text Today

Join me online at 11:45 a.m. ET for my live video chat. Afterwards, log onto the text chat at noon ET.

It's just you and me today so be sure to send your money questions and comments.If you are unable to join, send your question early or view the archive later.

Responses to Debt Breaker

I received an overwhelming amount of responses to last week's Color of Money Question, "Have you ever been in a relationship where you or your significant had a lot of debt? How did or didn't you deal with it?"

I asked you about this issue after a reading a question from a 30-something guy who wrote to relationship expert Wendy Attenberg of thefrisky.com. He was concerned he wouldn't find a woman willing to accept his hefty debt.

Here's what some of you had to say:

"I came into our relationship with a lot of debt from student loans and my husband had none," wrote Carrie Nelson of Washington D.C. "It was hard for him to accept that kind of debt, especially when his parents worked so hard to make sure he had none. But we loved each other, and he agreed that my debt was now our debt, and it wasn't enough reason to not spend our lives together. As long as the debt isn't accrued from bad habits, and isn't something that will keep growing, I can't see any reason someone would write off a relationship because of it!"

For Allison Kuchta of Pittsburgh, Pa. debt does matter.

"When I was a freshman in college, I met someone who already had an enormous amount of debt," Kuchta said. "For me, it was a huge red flag. I was astounded at the debt that he had already accumulated by the age of 19 and thought it could only get worse from there. I figured that if he didn't know how to handle money at that age, then it would most likely be a struggle in the future."

Laurie of Chicago says debt destroyed her marriage. She writes: "He wasn't upfront with me about it. And once it did come out, I created a spreadsheet so he could track it, but he couldn't do it. I suggested he get a part-time job. I suggested I take over all the bills. I was doing all the suggesting and he just felt I was controlling and angry, and I was angry. Somebody had to do something. He just didn't seem to care about the debt or me. It was devastating and I couldn't live with it."

"Personally I think that it should not matter in a relationship because this is something that you can work on together," says Haywood Thomas of Falls Church, Va. "However, in my last relationship, I helped the love of my life get out of debt and back to the road of recovery. Even helped her get an automobile. Then five years later she dumped me."

Upcoming Events

--Thursday, October 21 at 9 p.m.: Watch CNN's "Almighty Debt: A Black in America Special," hosted by Soledad O'Brien. Here's a trailer of the program. Following the documentary is a panel discussion at 10:30 p.m. I taped the discussion this week and it was an amazing conversation you won't want to miss with the well-known and wonderful Bishop T.D. Jakes; DeForest B. Soaries Jr., the senior pastor of First Baptist Church of Lincoln Gardens in Somerset, N.J. (the church is doing some great things to help members get out of debt); Terri Williams, author of "Black Pain: It Just Looks Like We're Not Hurting;" and Cornell Belcher, a top Democratic pollster.

--Thursday, November 4: I will be facilitating the Money Madness session at the Essence Women's Conference located in New York City at the Marriott Marquis. For registration and ticket information, go to www.essence.com/ewc.

Tia Lewis contributed to this e-letter.

You are welcome to e-mail comments and questions to singletarym@washpost.com. Please include your name and hometown; your comments may be used in a future column or newsletter unless otherwise requested.

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