How Americans’ View of Immigrants Differs From Europeans

Posted September 25th, 2015 at 3:33 pm (UTC-4)
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New citizens wave American flags during a U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services naturalization ceremony on the campus of Florida International University, July 6, 2015, in Miami, Florida. (AP Photo)

New citizens wave American flags during a U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services naturalization ceremony on the campus of Florida International University, July 6, 2015, in Miami, Florida. (AP Photo)

In his address to the U.S. Congress this week, Pope Francis urged American leaders to welcome immigrants who come to the United States with respect and empathy.

“Our world is facing a refugee crisis of a magnitude not seen since the second World War,” the pontiff said. “We must not be taken aback by their numbers…but rather view them as persons…to respond in a way which is always humane, just and fraternal.”

A new poll suggests a slim majority of Americans agree with the pope’s compassionate view of immigrants. While 41 percent of Americans said immigrants are a burden to the country, because they take jobs, housing and health care, 51 percent disagreed, saying immigrants strengthen the United States with their hard work and talents.

europeImmigrants

American attitudes have evolved a bit since 1994, when 63 percent of Americans said immigrants were a burden and just 31 percent thought their presence helped strengthen the nation.

The United States is home to 41 million immigrants, the largest immigrant population in the world. America also boasts the largest economy of any of the nations in the Pew Research Center survey.

Pope Francis has also encouraged European Catholics to welcome some of the thousands of migrants flowing in from Syria and other countries.

The pope’s call might be most welcome in Germany, where 66 percent of people believe the foreign-born make their country stronger. Six million immigrants — born outside the European Union — live in Germany, which has one of the strongest economies in Europe. However, in a 2014 survey, a majority of Germans believed immigrants were failing to assimilate and made overall crime worse.

In Great Britain — home to 5.2 million people born outside the EU — 52 percent of respondents have a positive view of immigrants.

While Americans, the British and Germans hold the most positive views of immigrants, Greeks and Italians hold the most negative views, with vast majorities saying immigrants are a burden. The economies of both of those countries have struggled in recent years, and both nations are feeling the heavy impact of waves of African and Middle Eastern migrants.

Here’s Where Syrian Refugees Could End Up in US

Posted September 23rd, 2015 at 5:21 pm (UTC-4)
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Children behind a fence in a temporary holding center for migrants near the border line between Serbia and Hungary in Roszke, southern Hungary in Roszke, Sept. 12, 2015. (AP Photo)

Children behind a fence in a temporary holding center for migrants near the border line between Serbia and Hungary in Roszke, southern Hungary in Roszke, Sept. 12, 2015. (AP Photo)

Displaced Syrian refugees who settle in the United States will likely establish their new lives in areas already home to large Syrian communities, like California, Michigan and Arizona, according to a refugee assistance agency that works with the U.S. State Department.

“Those would be likely places because there would be ethnic community language and culture support and we know right now, nationally, Syrian-Americans are actively offering assistance to their countrymen if they are able to get to the United States,” said Stacie Blake of the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants.

Organizations of Syrian-American doctors and engineers are among those who publicly offered to assist the incoming Middle Eastern refugees.

USCRI is one of nine domestic resettlement agencies that works with the U.S. government to welcome and resettle refugees.FT_14.07.28_RefugeeImmigration

The State Department defines a refugee as someone who has fled their home country and cannot return due to a well-founded fear of persecution based on religion, race, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular social group.

The United States took in 70,000 refugees for fiscal year 2015, the same as the year before. This year the number could reach 75,000. President Barack Obama said the U.S. will accept 10,000 Syrians in the next year.

Since the Syrian conflict began in 2011, the U.S. has taken in 1,584 refugees from that country. According to the U.S. State Department, most of these Syrians have settled in Texas, California, Michigan, Illinois, Arizona and Florida.

When the newest Syrian refugees arrive, they’ll be greeted by someone like Blake.

When we spoke with her, she was in North Carolina helping settle a newly-arrived refugee family from the Democratic Republic of Congo that spent seven years in a Kenya refugee camp.

The likely jobs for the adults in the family would be in housekeeping at a hotel or work at a large meat processing plant in the community where they are being resettled. As soon they start working, usually within the first month or two, the family begins paying its own rent, utilities and other expenses.

“The number-one outcome of the resettlement program is that people are self-sufficient within 90 days of arrival,” said Blake, “and that’s regardless of if they speak English, regardless of if they have trauma, have been tortured, cultural differences. It’s the same expectations for everyone.”

Sometimes they do make use of public assistance, she said, as is common with people on the lowest rungs of American society, which refugees usually are when they first arrive.

But Blake says her group enjoys a high success rate. After 180 days, 71 percent of those in employment programs are working and self sufficient for themselves or their families.

Refugee, and new American citizen, Feven Fessehaye, with her fiancé Rome Smith. (Photo courtesy Feven Fessehaya)

Refugee, and new American citizen, Feven Fessehaye, with her fiancé Rome Smith. (Photo courtesy Feven Fessehaye)

USCRI resettlement coordinator Feven Fessehaye sees herself as an example of a refugee success story. Originally from Eritrea, she became a refugee in Kenya, living there for three years before coming to the U.S. at the end of 2009.

She says the deep sense of happiness and gratitude she felt at being able to come to the United States is difficult to put into words.

“It’s a new beginning,” she said. “The things that you lost in your country when you became a refugee – when you lose everything you were planning to do in your life – but then you get hope that you can start your life again as a new person, but free also, in this free country. I have to words to explain that. I was so happy.”

Fessehaye started volunteering with USCRI and eventually became a full-time employee. After becoming a citizen in January of this year and recently becoming engaged to marry a native-born American man, Fessehaya considers herself a patriotic American.

“This is my new country,” she said. “America gave me a chance and a feeling to belong in my country now. I’m American. That’s what I believe and I’m loyal to America.”

There has been some push-back on the president’s plan to admit Syrian refugees, including from Alabama Republican Senator Jeff Sessions, who chairs the Senate Subcommittee on Immigration and the National Interest.

“Middle Eastern nations must take the lead in resettling their region’s refugees,” he said in a recent statement. “The goal of responsible refugee resettlement should be to relocate displaced persons as close to their homes as possible and to seek their return to their country of origin in more stable conditions.”

But people like Blake believe the old adage that America’s diversity makes the country stronger. She likes to remind people that famed physicist Albert Einstein was a refugee and that Apple co-founder Steve Jobs was of Syrian origin.

Accepting refugees, she says, is an important part of the American story.

“Folks fleeing religious persecution were some the first people to come to this country and begin to organize themselves into what is the United States today, so that’s who we are as a nation,” she said. “Some of our values about freedom and dignity can be translated into offering support and humanitarian aid to folks who have no other options. Resettlement is not a first option; resettlement is a last option.”

These Are America’s Richest & Poorest States

Posted September 21st, 2015 at 2:45 pm (UTC-4)
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(Left) A vacant store in Mississippi, America's poorest state. (Right) A home in Maryland, the richest state in the U.S., according to US Census data. (Photo on left by Flickr user Jimmy Smith, photo on right by Flickr user Gramophone Maryland, both via Creative Commons license)

(Left) A vacant store in Mississippi, America’s poorest state. (Right) A home in Maryland, the richest state in the U.S., according to US Census data. (Photo on left by Flickr user Jimmy Smith, photo on right by Flickr user Gramophone Maryland, both via Creative Commons license)

Mississippi is the nation’s poorest state while Maryland ranks as its richest, according to newly released information from the US Census Bureau.

In addition to Mississippi, the three poorest states include West Virginia and Arkansas. Relatively low levels of education could be a factor in the poverty and lower incomes in all three states.

At the other end of the spectrum are Maryland, New Jersey and Alaska, which rank as the country’s richest states. The median income in Mississippi was $39,680 compared to $73,971 in Maryland.

File photo of a home in West Virginia by Flickr user Richard Elzey via Creative Commons license.

File photo of a home in West Virginia by Flickr user Richard Elzey via Creative Commons license.

Three states — Washington, North Dakota, and Connecticut — reported income increases of more than $2,000 in 2014. Kentucky, the fifth poorest poor state, experienced a significant decline in income; the typical household earned $1,139 less in 2014 than in 2013. Income levels were essentially the same in 2013 and 2014 in 33 states.

Overall, the United States added 3.2 million new jobs in 2014, up from the 2.3 million jobs that were added in 2013. At the end of 2014, there were 139 million jobs in the U.S., more than at the start of 2008, the peak before the recession.

But not all U.S. states are sharing in this prosperity; the poverty rate has actually increased in 12 states. The nation’s overall poverty rate was 14.8 percent, which means 46.7 million people were living in poverty in 2014.

The U.S. Census Bureau said these numbers presented no “statistically significant” change from the previous year. It’s the fourth year in a row that poverty rates were not statistically different from the previous year.

The real median income for family households was $68,426, which was also not statistically different from 2013. However, when compared to 2007 — the year before the U.S. fell into its most recent recession — the real median household income is actually 6.5 percent lower.

24/7 Wall Street crunched the numbers and came up with the list below.

(File photo in teaser image by Flickr user Kevin Bond via Creative Commons license.) 

AMERICA’S RICHEST AND POOREST STATES
50. Mississippi – Median household income: $39,680  Poverty rate: 21.5%
49. West Virginia – Median household income: $41,059  Poverty rate: 18.3%
48. Arkansas – Median household income: $41,262  Poverty rate: 18.9%
47. Alabama – Median household income: $42,830  Poverty rate: 19.3%
46. Kentucky – Median household income: $42,958  Poverty rate: 19.1%
45. Tennessee – Median household income: $44,361  Poverty rate: 18.3%
44. Louisiana – Median household income: $44,555  Poverty rate: 19.8%
43. New Mexico – Median household income: $44,803  Poverty rate: 21.3%
42. South Carolina – Median household income: $45,238  Poverty rate: 18.0%
41. Montana – Median household income: $46,328  Poverty rate: 15.4%
40. North Carolina – Median household income: $46,556  Poverty rate: 17.2%
39. Florida – Median household income: $47,463  Poverty rate: 16.5%
38. Oklahoma – Median household income: $47,529  Poverty rate: 16.6%
37. Idaho – Median household income: $47,861 Poverty rate: 14.8%
36. Missouri – Median household income: $48,363  Poverty rate: 15.5%
35. Ohio – Median household income: $49,308  Poverty rate: 15.8%
34. Georgia – Median household income: $49,321  Poverty rate: 18.3%
33. Indiana – Median household income: $49,446  Poverty rate: 15.2%
32. Maine – Median household income: $49,462  Poverty rate: 14.1%
31. Michigan – Median household income: $49,847  Poverty rate: 16.2%
30. Arizona – Median household income: $50,068  Poverty rate: 18.2%
29. South Dakota – Median household income: $50,979  Poverty rate: 14.2%
28. Oregon – Median household income: $51,075  Poverty rate: 16.6%
27. Nevada – Median household income: $51,450  Poverty rate: 15.2%
26. Kansas – Median household income: $52,504  Poverty rate: 13.6%
25. Wisconsin – Median household income: $52,622 Poverty rate: 13.2%
24. Nebraska – Median household income: $52,686  Poverty rate: 12.4%
23. Texas – Median household income: $53,035  Poverty rate: 17.2%
22. Pennsylvania – Median household income: $53,234  Poverty rate: 13.6%
21. Iowa – Median household income: $53,712  Poverty rate: 12.2%
20. Vermont – Median household income: $54,166  Poverty rate: 12.2%
19. Rhode Island – Median household income: $54,891  Poverty rate: 14.3%
18. Wyoming – Median household income: $57,055  Poverty rate: 11.2%
17. Illinois – Median household income: $57,444  Poverty rate: 14.4%
16. New York – Median household income: $58,878  Poverty rate: 15.9%
15. North Dakota – Median household income: $59,029  Poverty rate: 11.5%
14. Delaware – Median household income: $59,716  Poverty rate: 12.5%
13. Utah – Median household income: $60,922  Poverty rate: 11.7%
12. Colorado – Median household income: $61,303 Poverty rate: 12.0%
11. Washington – Median household income: $61,366  Poverty rate: 13.2%
10. Minnesota – Median household income: $61,481  Poverty rate: 11.5%
9. California – Median household income: $61,933  Poverty rate: 16.4%
8. Virginia – Median household income: $64,902  Poverty rate: 11.8%
7. New Hampshire – Median household income: $66,532  Poverty rate: 9.2%
6. Massachusetts – Median household income: $69,160  Poverty rate: 11.6%
5. Hawaii – Median household income: $69,592  Poverty rate: 11.4%
4. Connecticut – Median household income: $70,048  Poverty rate: 10.8%
3. Alaska – Median household income: $71,583  Poverty rate: 11.2%
2. New Jersey – Median household income: $71,919  Poverty rate: 11.1%
1. Maryland- Median household income: $73,971  Poverty rate: 10.1%

More About America
Most US Wealth Concentrated in These 10 Areas
Here’s Who’s Losing Out on the American Dream
The End Is Near for These US Jobs
Dramatic Drop in Teen Workers Is Bad News for US Labor Force
9 of 10 Largest US Occupations Pay Miserly Wages

Here’s How Much Each State Contributes to US Economy

Posted September 18th, 2015 at 6:00 am (UTC-4)
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(Photo by Flickr user Images Money via Creative Commons license)

(Photo by Flickr user Images Money via Creative Commons license)

The United States had a $17.3 trillion economy in 2014 — that’s about $7 trillion ahead of China — which makes it the wealthiest nation in the world by far.

Where’s all that wealth coming from? HowMuch.net found that the states with the largest economies are California (13.3 percent), Texas (9.5 percent), and New York (8.1 percent). The states with the smallest economies are Vermont (0.2 percent), Maine, Rhode Island, North and South Dakota, Montana, Wyoming, and Alaska, all of which represent about 0.3 percent of the U.S. economy.

Fueled by mining and manufacturing, the size of Texas’ economy increased by almost $300 billion, more than any other state. The state’s economy grew from 8.8 percent of the total U.S. economy in 2011 to 9.5 percent in 2014.

California grew by just under $300 billion, but its share of the total U.S. economy rose by only 0.1 percent.

Most economic activity in the U.S. is concentrated in three regions: Far West (18.6 percent), Southeast (21.3 percent), and Mideast (18.2 percent). Howmuch.net found this unsurprising since these regions contain major U.S. States and cover the U.S. coastline, where most large cities are located.

The chart below shows how much each state contributes to the U.S. economy.

US-Economy-by-State-Flag-be95-2

 

Here’s Proof American Cowboys Still Exist

Posted September 16th, 2015 at 8:23 am (UTC-4)
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A cowboy waits to enter the arena for the calf roping competition at the International Finals Youth Rodeo, in Shawnee, Oklahoma, July 10, 2015. (AP Photo)

A cowboy waits to enter the arena for the calf roping competition at the International Finals Youth Rodeo, in Shawnee, Oklahoma, July 10, 2015. (AP Photo)

Cowboy traditions and culture are rooted in the West and nowhere is that more apparent than at rodeos, hugely popular sporting events where horseback riding, livestock animals and fancy rope skills are on display. Thousands of cowboys and cowgirls compete to see who has the best rodeo skills.

Rt 66 - graphicVOA reporters Caty Weaver, Ashley Thompson and Adam Brock are taking a cross-country road trip across America along Route 66. This is one of their reports from the road.

Rodeos are big business for the states where they take place; the competitions bring in about $250 million dollars of revenue each year.

The Elk City Rodeo of Champions began entertaining crowds 77 years ago. The three-day event is the third-largest rodeo in Oklahoma, drawing about 14,000 people each September. About 300 people compete in the events.

​The action at the Elk City Rodeo begins with a daring skydiver who floats into the middle of the outdoor arena with a huge U.S. flag. Then the crowd stands for an a capella version of the National Anthem.

The competition kicks off with bareback bronc riding. A bronc is a horse that bucks and kicks high in an attempt to throw off its rider.

“It’s just a wild horse, one that’s never been broke and is getting to play and do what it really wants to do,” said Will Lowe, a rodeo competitor from Texas who has won three world championships and hopes to compete for his fourth in December. “You really want them to jump real high in the front end and you want them to extend their back feet all the way. You want them to try to buck you off.”

There’s a small device attached to the horse that the rider holds onto with one hand, but his other hand must not touch the animal. A rider wins points based on his form and the judges also consider the horse’s performance. A horse that behaves more wildly can give the cowboy more points.

We asked Lowe how and why he got into this dangerous line of work.

Cowboy Will Lowe at the Elk City Rodeo

Cowboy Will Lowe at the Elk City Rodeo

“Well, it started when I was real little,” he said. “I wanted to ride bulls when I was little, and my parents wouldn’t let me ride bulls. So we had bucking horses so I got to ride bucking horses … and it just stuck.”

Bareback bronc riding is among what is called “rough stock competition.” Saddle bronc and bull riding are also in that category. Rodeos also have timed events, such as calf roping and barrel racing.

Rodeo cowboys are not the only performers who face danger in the arena. Rodeo clowns, called bullfighters, have a risky job as well. The clowns are trained to distract the bull when a rider falls off to keep the rider from being trampled by the animal.

Bullfighter Justin Rumford calls it “playing with the bulls.” He’s among those clowning around at the Elk City Rodeo. He wears crazy, colorful clothes, jokes with the audience and performs some silly stunts.

Rumford has been a rodeo clown for six years, and he receives more than just laughs. Rodeo’s governing group, the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association, has named him Clown of the Year three times.

However, the clown has also taken some hard hits as a bullfighter. He said he’s broken many bones, injured internal organs, and spent time in the hospital. But, he says he still loves what he does.

Elk City Rodeo, Sept. 4, 2015

Elk City Rodeo, Sept. 4, 2015

It takes a huge number of people to organize and put on a rodeo. A main feature of the event is the livestock. The Beutler and Son Rodeo Company, based in Elk City, is the stock contractor for the Elk City Rodeo. The Beutler brothers have been in the rodeo business since 1929.

“I’m the fourth generation, my son’s the fifth generation, and this is our hometown show, here at Elk City, and we just bring all the bucking horses, the bulls, the calves, the steers — everything involved with the rodeo — we bring it all to town and try to put on a good show for everybody,“ said Rhett Beutler, who co-owns the company with his father.

The audience on Friday night cheers for their favorite riders and ropers, laughs at the clowns, and rocks under the stars to country music at the Elk City Rodeo of Champions.

Many of the participants come from generations of family who’ve also competed in rodeos. You could say being a cowboy — or a cowgirl — is in the blood.

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Surprising Number of Americans Think Obama is Muslim, Foreign Born

Posted September 14th, 2015 at 1:09 pm (UTC-4)
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President Barack Obama speaks at Macomb Community College, Sept. 9, 2015, in Warren, Michigan.  (AP Photo)

President Barack Obama speaks at Macomb Community College, Sept. 9, 2015, in Warren, Michigan. (AP Photo)

A new poll finds that 29 percent of Americans think President Barack Obama is a Muslim.

The CNN/ORC survey also shows that 1 in 5 Americans — 20 percent — believe the American president was born outside of the United States. The U.S. Constitution requires that a president be a natural born citizen.

OBAMA’S RELIGION (according to CNN/ORC poll respondents)

Protestant/Christian…39%
Muslim…29%
No opinion…14%
Not religious…11%
Catholic…4%
Mormon…2%
Jewish…1%
Something else…1%

Obama was born in Hawaii, a U.S. state, and has repeatedly said he identifies as a Christian.

In 2011, in response to a resurgence of the “birther” movement that questioned Obama’s qualification to be president based on their belief he was born outside the U.S., the White House posted a certified copy of his birth certificate, which shows he was born at Kapiolani Hospital in Honolulu, Hawaii, on August 4, 1961.

While more Republicans than Democrats believe Obama was born outside the United States, the vast majority of GOP-leaning voters — 71 percent — do believe he is a natural born citizen.

While about 3 in 10 Americans think Obama is a Muslim, 45 percent do say they believe he is some sort of Christian — either Protestant, Catholic or Mormon. Fourteen percent of respondents have no opinion on the matter while 11 percent, when asked the president’s religion, said he is not religious.

There appears to be an education gap when it comes to people’s opinions. Most people who earned a college degree — 63 percent — agree that Obama is a Protestant while 28 percent of those without a college degree say that he is.

The poll includes 1012 adults who were interviewed by telephone nationwide. Of those interviewed, 27 percent described themselves as Democrats, 24 percent said they were Republicans and 49 percents identified as independents or members of another party.

See How US State Voting Patterns Have Shifted Since 1789

Posted September 11th, 2015 at 4:21 pm (UTC-4)
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(Photo by Flickr user Theresa Thompson via Creative Commons license)

(Photo by Flickr user Theresa Thompson via Creative Commons license)

As the campaign for the 2016 presidential election gained momentum, U.S. businessman Donald Trump threatened to run as an independent if the Republican party did not treat him “fairly”. Third party candidates have been a part of most presidential elections.  But since the 1848 election, when Whig party candidate Zachary Taylor defeated Democrat Lewis Cass, the nation’s top office has been dominated by two parties: the Republicans and the Democrats.

Republican presidential candidates from left, Chris Christie, Marco Rubio, Ben Carson, Scott Walker, Donald Trump, Jeb Bush, Mike Huckabee, Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, and John Kasich take the stage for the first Republican presidential debate, Aug. 6, 2015, in Cleveland, Ohio. (AP Photo)

Republican presidential candidates from left, Chris Christie, Marco Rubio, Ben Carson, Scott Walker, Donald Trump, Jeb Bush, Mike Huckabee, Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, and John Kasich take the stage for the first Republican presidential debate, Aug. 6, 2015, in Cleveland, Ohio. (AP Photo)

At the moment, 17 Republicans and 5 Democrats have announced they are running for president in 2016.

Pretty much anyone can run for the top job in the United States, as long as they meet certain requirements set forth in the U.S. Constitution: At the time an elected president takes office, he or she must be at least thirty-five years old, a resident of the U.S. for at least 14 years, and a natural born citizen.

As expected, Republicans and Democrats are dominating the 2016 election cycle, but that hasn’t always been the case. Before the Civil War, candidates from a variety of parties were also serious contenders.

Americans have elected 43 presidents in 57 elections since the adoption of the Constitution in 1789, when George Washington, the first U.S. president, was elected. Washington essentially ran unopposed twice; the real question was who his vice president would be. In the first truly contested election, Washington’s vice president, Federalist John Adams, faced off against Democratic-Republican Thomas Jefferson.

U.S. elections have been contested ever since then and, for the past 150 years, have been dominated by the two major modern-day political parties. In many cases, over time, states have changed which party’s candidate they vote for.

Business Insider has developed the animated map below highlighting these changing trends by showing how each U.S. state has voted in every presidential election.

VOA’s Route 66 Road Trip Along Iconic ‘Main Street’

Posted September 9th, 2015 at 8:40 am (UTC-4)
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Rt 66 - graphicRoute 66 is the most famous road in the United States. Stretching nearly 4,000 kilometers from Chicago to Los Angeles, this historic highway is often called the “Main Street of America.”

Route 66 marks its 90th anniversary in 2016. To celebrate, VOA reporters Caty Weaver, Ashley Thompson and Adam Brock are taking a road trip across America along Route 66, traveling through the rolling fields of the Midwest and across the deserts of the Southwest to reach the Pacific Ocean in California.

Route 66-begin sign

Route 66 sign in downtown Chicago

Their adventure began in Chicago, Illinois, where a road sign marks the starting point of the iconic highway that leads to the West. This is the first in their series of reports from the road.

Hello from the Windy City!

Chicago is the largest city in the Midwestern United States and the official starting point of our Route 66 adventure.

We flew to Chicago from Washington and wandered around the city a bit, looking for the “official” Route 66 sign. It turned out to be just two blocks away from our hotel.

After a quick lunch at Miller’s Pub, we enjoyed a walk in Millennium Park, a 10-hectare outdoor public space surrounded by many of the city’s most historic and beautiful buildings.

The park is also home to the Chicago Bean.

The round, shiny metal sculpture provides a mirror image of visitors and the Chicago skyline in the background. It has become a very popular “selfie” spot.

We also took in a free performance at Jazz Showcase, a music club that opened in 1947. Some of the greatest names in jazz and blues have played there.

Chicago's famous Bean sculpture in Millennium Park

Chicago’s famous Bean sculpture in Millennium Park

We departed Chicago and began our journey west. The scenery changed from skyscrapers and busy streets to endless cornfields and open roads.

We’re not alone on Route 66. In the small town of Joliet, Illinois, we met the William Tell bikers, a group of 30 motorcyclists from Switzerland and Germany. They were taking a break and eating ice cream at Rich and Creamy, a roadside ice cream stand. The group arrived Monday in Chicago, rented Harley Davidson motorcycles, and began their 3,900-kilometer journey to Los Angeles. The friendly bikers told us they were drawn to the Mother Road, “because it’s just something you hear about and want to do.”

A few kilometers south of Joliet is Wilmington, Illinois. The most famous and visible attraction in this small town is the big Gemini Giant statue.

For decades, the 9-meter statue advertised a restaurant called the Launching Pad, which served Route 66 travelers starting in the 1960s. The statue is named after NASA’s Gemini space program. (He is holding a rocket ship in his hands.) The Gemini is one of many giant fiberglass statues along Route 66. They were very popular advertising tools in the 1960s.

VOA reporters Caty Weaver (left) and Ashley Thompson (right) with the Gemini Giant in Wilmington, Illinois

VOA reporters Caty Weaver (left) and Ashley Thompson (right) with the Gemini Giant in Wilmington, Illinois

We ate lunch at Nelly’s Diner in Wilmington. In recent years, it has become a favorite lunch spot for international visitors along Route 66. In fact, flags from tourists around the world hang in the cozy restaurant. Diners write their names and messages on the walls. We decided to leave our mark and sign the wall, too.

As we continued south, cornfields lined the Mother Road. The blue sky and the golden hue of the cornfields made for a beautiful afternoon drive. We took a few minutes to enjoy the sound of the corn stalks blowing in the wind.

The next town we visited was Atlanta, Illinois. It, too, is famed for a giant fiberglass statue, this one of Paul Bunyan, a very tall lumberjack from American folk tales. The Paul Bunyan statue in Atlanta is holding a large hot dog. It was an advertising tool for a restaurant in a nearby town.

We drove another hour down to Springfield, the capital city of Illinois. A famous landmark there is Abraham Lincoln’s home. America’s 16th president lived in this home for 17 years, before he was elected president.

A town called Lincoln is just north of Springfield. Route 66 travelers cannot miss the town’s huge covered wagon statue, which features Abe Lincoln himself as the driver. It is no surprise that the Illinois state motto is the “Land of Lincoln”.

Finally, after the sun had gone down, we arrived in St. Louis, Missouri — the Gateway to the West. The Land of Lincoln is behind us, and Missouri, the “Show-Me State,” lies ahead.

The fields of central Illinois

The fields of central Illinois

More Americans Do This Job Than Any Other

Posted September 7th, 2015 at 6:01 am (UTC-4)
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Sales clerks ring up customers at Walmart in Bentonville, Arkansas. More Americans work in retail than in any other occupation. (AP Photo)

Sales clerks ring up customers at Walmart in Bentonville, Arkansas. More Americans work in retail and as cashiers than in any other occupations. (AP Photo)

Many Americans celebrate Labor Day by getting together for a cookout, taking a final road trip before the kids go back to school, or going to the beach.

While Memorial Day — observed the last Monday in May — marks the unofficial start of summer in the United States, Labor Day — observed the first Monday in September — is often seen as summer’s last hurrah.

What was once known as the “workingmen’s holiday”, was first observed on Sept. 5, 1882. That’s when about 10,000 workers came together in New York City for a parade. By 1894, more than half of the states in the nation were observing the holiday on one day or another.

Bakery; Restaurant; Service Industry

Customers are served at Zak the Baker in Miami, Florida, June 5, 2015. Food preparation and service are among the largest occupations in the United States. (AP Photo)

That same year, on June 29, President Grover Cleveland signed a bill designating the first Monday in September as “Labor Day”, a time to honor the social and economic achievements of American workers.

Today, Labor Day honors the 157 million people aged 16 and over, who make up the nation’s labor force.

According to data from the U.S. Census, more Americans — 4,562,160 — work in retail sales than in any other occupation. Cashiers, food industry workers, office clerks and registered nurses round out the top five.

If you’re a man, you are more likely to earn more money than your female colleagues. In 2013, the real median earning for men was $50,033 while women brought in $39,157. The real median household income is $51,939, down 8 percent from 2007, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics expects the job of “psychologist” to be the fastest growing occupation between 2012 and 2022. But the occupation that is expected to add the most positions is that of “personal care aide”.

And while Labor Day was started by unions, these days only about 16.2 million of America’s wage and salary workers are represented by a union. In 1983, 20.1 percent of American workers — 17.7 million people — belonged to a union.

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Crowdfunding Raises 700K to Help Save Neil Armstrong’s Spacesuit

Posted September 4th, 2015 at 8:01 pm (UTC-4)
1 comment

The spacesuit worn by astronaut Neil Armstrong, commander of the Apollo 11 mission, which landed the first man on the moon on July 20, 1969. (Smithsonian Institution)

The spacesuit worn by astronaut Neil Armstrong, commander of the Apollo 11 mission, which landed the first man on the moon on July 20, 1969. (Smithsonian Institution)

Forty-six years after Neil Armstrong became the first human to walk on the moon, the spacesuit he wore on that historic mission is showing its age. But thanks to an online community of 9,477 donors, the suit is about to get a reboot.

The public pitched in to help conserve the suit via the crowd-funding website Kickstarter. The Smithsonian Institution hoped to raise $500,000 for its “Reboot the Suit” campaign to preserve the historic item.

“This suit really is the crown jewel of our collection,” said Cathleen Lewis, curator of International Space Programs and Space Suits at the Smithsonian Institution. “This is the first space suit which is nothing less than a human-form spacecraft that allowed humans to explore another world for the first time and it is not only an American accomplishment, but it is a global accomplishment. The world literally watched on Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon when it happened when it was broadcast on TV.”

Astronaut Neil Armstrong, Apollo 11 commander inside the Lunar Module as it rests on the lunar surface. (NASA)

Astronaut Neil Armstrong, Apollo 11 commander inside the Lunar Module as it rests on the lunar surface. (NASA)

The suit was on public display for 30 years — from 1976 to 2006 — until concerns over its deterioration prompted officials at the Smithsonian to put it in climate-controlled storage until a way could be found to put safely exhibit it again.

“They [the spacesuits] were made to withstand the rigors of space flight, but for a very brief period of time,” said Lewis. “Think about it in terms of lawn furniture or any other plastic that you have over the years. At some point, your plastic PVC chairs will start to yellow and crack and fall apart. Well, this is the same process that we’re dealing with in the space suits.”

Nine years after putting the suit away for its own protection, the Smithsonian decided to partner with the public in the effort to bring the iconic suit back into the public eye.

“It felt like the right project to launch with for our Kickstarter series because it had that kind of iconic status and importance in the general public’s lives,” said Yoonhyung Lee, director of digital philanthropy at the Smithsonian.

The campaign kicked off on July 20, the anniversary of the 1969 moon landing, and proceeded to  exceed all expectations, reaching and surpassing the $500,000 goal in less than five days. That success spurred the Smithsonian to keep going, raising enough money to also preserve the spacesuit worn by Alan Shepard, who became the first American in space in 1961.

Astronaut Alan Shepard in his silver pressure suit as he prepares for his upcoming Mercury launch. (NASA)

Astronaut Alan Shepard in his silver pressure suit as he prepares for his upcoming Mercury launch. (NASA)

In the end, “Reboot the Suit” raised $719,779.

“We were thrilled and blown away the speed in which we reached [our goal],” said Lee. “We are all still kind of in shock that we’ve raised over $700,000 for these two suits. It’s a huge triumph, I think, for both the public and the Smithsonian together to get this accomplished.”

People gave anywhere from $1 to $10,000, but the most common amount donated was $20. The Smithsonian doesn’t know the demographics of the donors, but most of the donations came from Americans.

Donor comments suggest they were thrilled to be able to participate in the project.

“I am proud to be in a position to help restore Neil’s suit by pledging for this project, it’s [truly] a part of my oldest living memory,” donor Thierry Labbe wrote on the “Reboot the Suit” Kickstarter page.

“This suit represents a monument in our history,” donor Brett Dworaczyk wrote. “Thanks to everyone who participated to ensure the proper preservation and recognition of such an important piece of our heritage.”

The preserved suit — complete with lunar particles still clinging to its surface — will go on public display at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in 2019, in time for the 50th anniversary of the Apollo mission. In 2020, the spacesuit  moves to its permanent new home, the “Destination Moon” gallery, which is scheduled to open in 2020.

Buoyed the success of “Reboot the Suit”, the Smithsonian is hard at work planning its next Kickstarter campaign. They’ll consider not only urgency and need, but also what project has the best chance of capturing the public’s imagination and duplicating the success of the Smithsonian’s first campaign.

Thanks to that kick-off success, Neil Armstrong’s suit — initially designed to work for two weeks and already preserved for almost 50 years — will be conserved for another half-century: one small step for man, helped along by 9,477 members of mankind.

The spacesuit worn by astronaut Neil Armstrong, commander of the Apollo 11 mission, which landed the first man on the moon on July 20, 1969. (Smithsonian Institution)

The spacesuit worn by astronaut Neil Armstrong, commander of the Apollo 11 mission, which landed the first man on the moon on July 20, 1969. (Smithsonian Institution)

Alan Shepard, one of the original “Mercury 7,” wore this suit on the first flight of an American astronaut in 1961.

Alan Shepard, one of the original “Mercury 7,” wore this suit on the first flight of an American astronaut in 1961.

FILE - In this July 20, 1969 black-and-white file photo, taken from a television monitor, Apollo 11 astronaut Neil Armstrong, right, trudging across the surface of the moon.  Edwin E. Aldrin is seen closer to the craft. (AP Photo)

FILE – In this July 20, 1969 black-and-white file photo, taken from a television monitor, Apollo 11 astronaut Neil Armstrong, right, trudging across the surface of the moon. Edwin E. Aldrin is seen closer to the craft. (AP Photo)

The $500,000 raised will go towards a climate controlled display case for Neil Armstrong's Apollo 11 spacesuit display in the "Destination Moon" gallery, set to open in 2020. (Artist's rendering courtesy Smithsonian Institution)

The $500,000 raised will go towards a climate controlled display case for Neil Armstrong’s Apollo 11 spacesuit display in the “Destination Moon” gallery, set to open in 2020. (Artist’s rendering courtesy Smithsonian Institution)