Freakonomics, Andrew Yang Interview

YANG: Now, I studied economics. And according to my economics textbook, those displaced workers would get retrained, re-skilled, move for new opportunities, find higher-productivity work, the economy would grow. So everyone wins. The market, invisible hand has done its thing. So then I said, “Okay, what actually happened to these four-million manufacturing workers?” And it turns out that almost half of them left the workforce and never worked again. And then half of those that left the workforce then filed for disability, where there are now more Americans on disability than work in construction, over 20 percent of working-age adults in some parts of the country.

DUBNER: So the former manufacturing workers, a lot of them are on disability, a lot of them are also — especially if they’re younger men — they’re spending 25 to 40 hours a week playing video games.

YANG: Yeah so it did not say in my textbook, half of them will leave the workforce never to be heard from again. Half of them will file for disability and then another significant percentage will start drinking themselves to death, start committing suicide at record levels, get addicted to opiates to a point where now eight Americans die of opiates every hour. When you say, “Am I for automation and artificial intelligence and all these fantastic things?” of course I am. I mean, we might be able to do things like cure cancer or help manage climate change more effectively. But we also have to be real that it is going to displace millions of Americans.

People are not infinitely adaptable or resilient or eager to become software engineers, or whatever ridiculous solution is being proposed. And it’s already tearing our country apart by the numbers, where our life expectancy has declined for the last two years because of a surge in suicides and drug overdoses around the country. None of this was in my textbook. But if you look at it, that’s exactly what’s happening. The fantasists — and they are so lazy and it makes me so angry, because people who are otherwise educated are literally wave their hands and be like, “Industrial Revolution, 120 years ago. Been through it before,” and, man, if someone came into your office and pitched you in an investment in a company based on a fact pattern from 120 years ago, you’d freakin’ throw them out of your office so fast.

freakonomics

Academia from Adjunct Perspective

The halls of academe are known to be hospitable to people with radical views on power relationships between capital and labor, but colleges themselves are often merciless actors in the labor market. Many adjuncts earn only a few thousand dollars per course, with no health insurance or retirement benefits. Twenty-five percent of part-time faculty receive some form of public assistance.

But there’s a crucial difference between schoolteachers and college professors. Elementary, middle, and high school teachers all have versions of the same job. They sink and swim and bargain together. The academy is a two-tier caste system, split between those who won the tenure tournament and those who lost.

From the comments:
I had a philosophy professor in college who said “if you’re thinking about a PhD in Philosophy, let me talk you out of it.” Great advice.

The Bleak Job Landscape of Adjunctopia for Ph.D.s
Ruthless labor exploitation? Generational betrayal? Understanding the job crisis in academia requires a look at recent history.

Kevin Carey, NYTIMES

Socialists and billionaires in presidential politics. Open Source, Christopher Lydon

The New Red Scare
“The winter round of the presidential race goes to Bernie Sanders, not so much for winning the most votes from Democrats as for coining the key word, the big theme for 2020, which is: billionaires! Not just the billionaires on the ballot and billionaires backstage, it’s billionaire-ism coming to be the argument of this election in a country at odds more and more about money. We’re used to anger, right and left, but suddenly there’s alarm in the air – at MSNBC, the Democrats’ TV network, the bold march of Bernie’s anti-billionaire army reminded Hardball‘s Chris Matthews of the Fall of France to Hitler in 1940. It’s scary, and there’s a pick of scarecrows in this race: the Plutocrat; the Democratic Socialist, and the President.

This was wake-up week among the Democrats nominating a presidential candidate. Some woke up cheering that Bernie Sanders looks like the choice of the people. Some woke up screaming in horror that the rebellion against the Clinton era is real, that their party has been dying for four years, that the end is near. The sound of battle has gone raw, with survival at stake, not just egos.”

Radio Open Source

‘We can’t afford healthcare’: US hospital workers fight for higher wages

Hospital and healthcare workers across the US are launching union drives and organizing protests in order to win higher wages and better working conditions, saying their industry exploits them and leaves them often unable to afford healthcare, despite working in the sector.

According to the SEIU, there are about 50,000 low-wage hospital workers throughout the Chicago metro area and about 10,000 are currently represented by the union.

LeChrisha Pearson, a single mother and certified nursing assistant for eight years at Chicago’s Mount Sinai hospital, was one of about 400 workers at the hospital who organized a union in June 2019, and threatened to strike in November 2019 before winning a contract that would raise wages for all workers to $15 an hour.

She works two to three jobs, including as a delivery driver for Uber Eats, to make ends meet while working full-time at the hospital.

Michael Sainato, February 17 2020, Guardian

In the News – Shouldn’t workers be doing better in this booming economy?

Despite unemployment at a near 50-year low, a soaring stock market and the longest expansion in US history, the recovery hasn’t yet reached these millions in economic hard times, say these analysts.

Even as wages overall are rising, about 50 percent of US workers received no pay raises last year, according to Bankrate. And in real terms, some say average salaries are stagnant.

“Today’s average inflation-adjusted wage in America has the same purchasing power that it did in 1978,” Liam Hunt, a market analyst at SophisticatedInvestor.com, told The Post. “That’s despite macroeconomic growth in terms of GDP, salary increases for the highest bracket of income earners and rapidly rising home costs,” he added. “In a growing economy, we should see real wage growth, though we haven’t.”

John Aidan Byrne, February 22, 2020, NY POST

‘Glass House’ Chronicles The Sharp Decline Of An All-American Factory Town

Lancaster, Ohio, the home of the Fortune 500 company Anchor Hocking, was once a bustling center of industry and employment. At its peak following World War II, Lancaster’s hometown company was the world’s largest maker of glassware and employed more than 5,000 town residents.

Though Anchor Hocking remains in Lancaster today, it is a shell of its former self, and the once thriving town is beset by underemployment and drug abuse. Lancaster native Brian Alexander chronicles the rise and fall of his hometown in his new book, Glass House.

“People are genuinely struggling,” he tells Fresh Air’s Dave Davies. “The economy of the town is struggling, not because there’s high unemployment, [but] because the employment that there is all minimum wage, or even lower than minimum wage.”

Fresh Air, February 6, 2017. NPR

Disney’s abuse of H1B system

ORLANDO, Fla. — The employees who kept the data systems humming in the vast Walt Disney fantasy fief did not suspect trouble when they were suddenly summoned to meetings with their boss.

While families rode the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train and searched for Nemo on clamobiles in the theme parks, these workers monitored computers in industrial buildings nearby, making sure millions of Walt Disney World ticket sales, store purchases and hotel reservations went through without a hitch. Some were performing so well that they thought they had been called in for bonuses.

Instead, about 250 Disney employees were told in late October that they would be laid off. Many of their jobs were transferred to immigrants on temporary visas for highly skilled technical workers, who were brought in by an outsourcing firm based in India. Over the next three months, some Disney employees were required to train their replacements to do the jobs they had lost.

“I just couldn’t believe they could fly people in to sit at our desks and take over our jobs exactly


Pink Slips at Disney. But First, Training Foreign Replacements
. NYTIMES
Julia Preston, June 3, 2015

Simplification of skilled work

And here’s the corollary: over here, Ford, GM, Boeing, Caterpillar, and others want us to be lower skilled. Wait, they prefer low-skilled workers? Yes. Now that’s contrary to what you and I are told; it’s contrary to what President Obama, the pundits, and even the companies are saying. It’s the world turned upside down. I know it’s hard to believe. After all, if it’s true that corporations don’t want us to be higher skilled, then it’s pretty demoralizing for those of us who would like to push for more education, more job training. What’s the point, right?

But before you dismiss the claim, listen to what David has to say about how things have changed over time at Ford. “They have a system there,” he said. “I like to call it ‘Simplicity.’ It’s to break everything down into the simplest possible tasks.” Indeed, he claims that both the hourly and the salaried positions are being simplified. By that David means that there used to be skill sets, or different levels of work. In the old labor contracts these skill sets had names, “classifications.” It might be General Utility or Repair. The newbies would say, “Hey, I see that guy over there. How can I do what he’s doing?” It used to mean more pay. One went to Ford to move up and develop higher skills in order to get more pay.

Well, that’s gone.

The “classifications” in general may soon disappear. Or let’s put it this way: entry level will be the classification, and people will stay there. Even if people learn higher skills, which used to lead to more money, they will stay at the entry level, at entry-level pay. And here I’d add that in nonunion places it is even harder to move up. People start at welder at $17 an hour, and they stay at welder at $17 an hour.

There is a puzzle about welder pay,
which lately has received comment in the Chicago Tribune and the New York Times. The puzzle is that there is a shortage of welders, and employers moan about it. But the pay is stuck at $17 an hour, where it’s been for years. That means the real inflation-adjusted wage is dropping. Even with a shortage of labor, the wage drops. But worse, after the welder starts and gains experience, the pay does not go up.

Geoghegan, Thomas. Only One Thing Can Save Us
Amazon

Is labor’s day over or is labor the only real answer for our time? In this new book, National Book Critics Circle Award finalist and labor lawyer Thomas Geoghegan argues that even as organized labor seems to be crumbling, a revived—but different—labor movement is now more relevant than ever in our increasingly unequal society.

USA 2000 vs 2019 – a few numbers

Population
The population of the U.S. on April 1, 2000 was 281,421,906
https://www.census.gov/main/www/cen2000.html

The nation’s population was 328,239,523 in 2019, growing by 0.5% between 2018 and 2019, or 1,552,022 people. 
https://www.census.gov/newsroom/press-releases/2019/popest-nation.html

Labor force participation rate
January 2000 – 67.3
January 2019 – 63.2
https://data.bls.gov/pdq/SurveyOutputServlet

Housing units (thousands of units)
April 1, 2000 – 116,047 
October 1, 2019 – 140,074 
https://fred.stlouisfed.org/series/ETOTALUSQ176N

Minimum Wage
2000 – $5.15
2019 – $7.25
https://www.dol.gov/agencies/whd/minimum-wage/history/chart

Federal Debt: Total Public Debt as Percent of Gross Domestic Product
Q1 2000 – 57.72
Q1 2019 – 104.40
https://fred.stlouisfed.org/series/GFDEGDQ188S

“Educated Fools” – Thomas Geoghegan, The New Republic

In fact, the college graduates who are now the base of the party have moved working people out of the old neighborhoods. I think here of my own city—Chicago—where the members of the City Council whom columnists from Ben Hecht to Mike Royko used to mock now have more degrees than reporters of Hecht’s generation had. Here’s the finding of a new study from the University of Illinois at Chicago: In 1970, one half of Chicago by census tract was “middle-income”—that is to say, the people who made up the old working-class machine vote, most of them without four-year college degrees. Now that “middle-income” group is just 16 percent. The bungalows in those formerly middle-income neighborhoods teeming with high school graduates now belong to high-tech entrepreneurs and investors in hedge funds.

Thomas Geoghegan, New Republic

Debtors Prisons, Return of in Mississippi

The Mississippi Department of Corrections runs the modern-day debtors prisons it calls restitution centers. But not very well.

The agency doesn’t keep close track of how much people sentenced to the program earn and owe, according to dozens of current and former inmates interviewed by Mississippi Today. That makes it hard for them to figure out how long they need to work at mostly low-wage jobs to make enough money to earn their freedom.

Mississippi prohibits the workers from handling their own earnings and gives them little documentation of their debts. Where their money goes and whether it reaches the victims of their crimes remains a mystery to most inmates we talked to.

Anna Wolfe And Michelle Liu, ‘Something seems fishy’: Bad bookkeeping and poor oversight plague a Mississippi inmate labor program, Mississippi Today

Should Coal Miners Learn To Code? Slashdot discusses

During a campaign event on Monday, U.S. presidential candidate Joe Biden “suggested coal miners could simply learn to code to transition to ‘jobs of the future,'” reports Newsweek:
“Anybody who can go down 300 to 3,000 feet in a mine, sure in hell can learn to program as well, but we don’t think of it that way,” he said… “Anybody who can throw coal into a furnace can learn how to program for God’s sake…”

Many Twitter users criticized Biden’s comments as reductive. “Telling people to find other work without a firm plan to help them succeed will never be popular,” communications professional Frank Lutz wrote… Congressional candidate Brianna Wu tweeted that she was “glad to see the recognition that you don’t need to be in your 20s to do this as a profession,” but also called Biden’s suggestion “tone-deaf and unhelpful.”

Long-time Slashdot reader theodp notes the response this speech got from New York magazine’s Sarah Jones: “Please Stop Telling Miners To Learn To Code.” And in comments on the original submission, at least two Slashdot readers seemed to agree. “Not everyone can code and certainly not every coal miner or coal worker,” wrote Slashdot reader I75BJC. “Vastly different skills.”

Slashdot reader Iwastheone even shared a Fox News article in which rival presidential candidate Andrew Yang argued “Maybe Americans don’t all want to learn how to code… Let them do the kind of work they actually want to do, instead of saying to a group of people that you all need to become coders.”

But is there something elitist in thinking that coal miners couldn’t learn to do what coders learned to do? It seems like an interesting question for discussion

Slashdot

Thousands of Google’s cafeteria workers have unionized

The workers who voted to unionize earn wages that start at around $35,000 a year, according to a source familiar with the matter. And they say they don’t receive all the same benefits such as retirement plans that are standard for full-time Google employees. Their move to organize represents a symbolic pushback against the status quo of growing economic inequality in Silicon Valley, where all but the top 10 percent of income earners have seen their wages decline from 1997 to 2017.

 

Shirin Ghaffary, vox

How I Get By: A Week in the Life of a McDonald’s Cashier – VICE

Cierra Brown estimates her commute to work would only take about 25 minutes if she had a car. That’s part of the reason she returned to McDonald’s in January: Her car had broken down and she needed money. But at McDonald’s, Brown only earns $9.50 per hour as a cashier, which barely helps cover rent and is far from enough to solve her vehicular woes. Without a car, one of Brown’s main headaches is getting to work. Her typical bus commute to McDonald’s takes as long as two hours each way.

By the time she starts work, she’s already tired. When she gets home, she’s exhausted.

“That is where a lot of my headache comes from,” she told VICE.

At 29, Brown works approximately 40 hours a week, splitting her time between a McDonald’s in Durham, North Carolina, and a food-service gig a local hospital. “It’s still not enough,” she said. Both jobs are part-time, and she doesn’t receive health insurance through either employer. She can’t afford insurance on her own, either. That’s a problem since Brown is diabetic, and she has to pay for her medical expenses out of pocket. She’s trying to do all she can on her own—she receives no food stamps or other assistance, she notes—but it rarely feels like she’s doing enough.

“It’s really rough right now,” she said.

vice

Low Wages in an Economic Boom Time

Today:
* 2.2 million working people are paid the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour or less.
* Approximately another 23 million people are paid between $7.25 and $11 an hour.
* Nearly half (42.4 percent) of working Americans make less than $15 per hour.

 

The productivity of American workers has roughly doubled since 1968 (the peak of the minimum wage in inflation-adjusted dollars), but workers making the minimum wage today make 25 percent less than they did in 1968, once adjusted to today’s dollars. Even though unemployment has dropped precipitously, sitting well below 5 percent for the last three years, it has not been until recently that wage increases for workers in lower-paying occupations have occurred.2 And much of that growth at the low end of the distribution has come from action on the minimum wage at not the federal level, but the state and local level.

Making the Economic Case for a $15 Minimum Wage
THE CENTURY FOUNDATION

Gig economy – on demand restaurant work

Gig workers are nothing new in the restaurant world. Every day, contractors on bikes and scooters deliver food for Uber Eats and DoorDash. But in a growing number of kitchens, contract workers now make the food, too.

With the restaurant industry facing its worst labor shortage in decades, Pared and a rival app, Instawork, are filling a growing void, as managers who have struggled to recruit permanent employees turn to the on-demand services for workers trained as dishwashers, servers, line cooks and even oyster shuckers.

Among them is Mr. Mortenson, who said he could not imagine going back to a full-time restaurant job. “I’m making more money than I have ever made in this industry,” he said. “This is crazy.”

Part of the appeal, he said, is that the app exposes him to new experiences, whether icing gingerbread cookies at Bouchon Bakery or cooking short ribs for Twitter employees at the cafe in the company’s New York office.

“It doesn’t make me a better cook,” he said. “But it’s so amazing to go into a new restaurant every day.”

Cooking Eggs in the Morning and Shucking Oysters at Night, Thanks to an App

Working conditions of movie theater janitors

The major chains — AMC, Regal Entertainment and Cinemark — no longer rely on teenage ushers to keep the floors from getting sticky. Instead, they have turned to a vast immigrant workforce, often hired through layers of subcontractors. That arrangement makes it almost impossible for janitors to make a living wage.

Alvarez got hurt on the job, and a doctor recommended a lighter workload. When she made that request in April 2015, she was fired. The following year, she filed a California Labor Commission claim for unpaid wages, including overtime. The hearing officer awarded her $80,000 in back pay and penalties. But Alvarez could not collect. She did not work directly for AMC or its janitorial contractor, ACS Enterprises, which shielded them from liability. Instead, she worked for a couple — Alfredo Dominguez and Caritina Diaz — who had not even shown up to the hearing.

Even Dominguez and Diaz didn’t consider her an actual employee. In their minds, she was a contractor of a contractor of a contractor of AMC Theatres. AMC and ACS did send an attorney to fight her wage claim. In the end, the companies agreed to pay her $3,500 to go away.

Over the last eight months, Variety has investigated wage complaints from movie theater janitors across the country, reviewing class-action lawsuits, state labor commission records and investigations by the U.S. Department of Labor. A clear pattern emerged: AMC and other theater chains keep their costs down by relying on janitorial contractors that use subcontracted labor. Those janitors typically have no wage or job protections, toiling on one of the lowest rungs of the U.S. labor market.

After Rob Winters was barred from California, ACS took over many of his accounts, including the Regal theater at L.A. Live in downtown Los Angeles. Working conditions remained much the same, says Georgina Hernandez, who was a janitor there. She worked seven days a week, sometimes 10-11 hours a day, and was paid $400 a week. She quit after two years and took a job cleaning offices.

How America’s Biggest Theater Chains Are Exploiting Their Janitors, Variety, GENE MADDAUS

Marriott strike SF

Nearly 2,500 workers walked off their jobs Thursday morning from seven Marriott hotels in downtown San Francisco to demand higher wages, workplace safety and job security.
Picket lines formed outside the Courtyard by Marriott Downtown, the Marriott Marquis, the Marriott Union Square, the Palace Hotel, the St. Regis, the W and the Westin St. Francis, according to Unite Here Local 2, a union that represents 89 percent of the workers.

via sfchronicle