Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Today in Unemployment

I've been mulling over a few things to blog about. But until they come together, here is a collection of the best articles and blog posts I've read recently about unemployment.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010


In light of my recent post on fat people and America’s misguided attempts to “fix” the obesity problem, I’ve been thinking about one of the measures of being overweight, the Body Mass Index. It’s one of the most widely used and quickest/easiest ways to determine where someone falls on the fat to skinny spectrum. BMI is measured by calculating your weight against your height. The problem is, that’s all it measures- it is a very imperfect system that’s too widely used. In fact, Michelle Obama, in talking about her childhood obesity plan, cited that her family doctor cautioned that her daughter was overweight based on her BMI.

To give you a sense, I am 5ft 1in tall and weigh 110 pounds, my BMI is 20.8 (right in the middle of “normal” weight), but I could be as skinny as 98 pounds and still be considered “normal” (not underweight). If I was tipping the scales at a whopping 133, however I’d be considered “overweight.” Many take offence to the fact that there are two classifications for fat and only one for skinny. I take offence to the following:

BMI doesn’t take into account body fat or muscle. It also doesn’t take into account diet and exercise, or family history. There are plenty of unhealthy sedentary skinny people who eat nothing but junk food. While conversely there are plenty of healthy people with a predisposition to be larger than “normal” who are active and eat well.

Which is why it’s surprising the a company like Whole Foods would use employees BMI (along with better measurements such as low blood pressure, and not smoking) as a measure of healthiness and subsequently size of employee discount. The idea program of course is to encourage the employees to be healthier thus costing the company less in insurance costs. But shouldn’t a Giant Health Food Store give larger discounts to those that are the least healthy? Making those $10 strawberries affordable?

For a great illustration on just how crazy pants BMI classification is, check out Kate Harding’s BMI slideshow of women of various sizes with their BMI classification next to their pictures.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Giving more than Oprah

It was a big to-do in the news today that Bloomberg was the fourth biggest charitable contributor in 2009. Call me cynical, but my first thought was, “nice PR” and my second “yeah but I bet the amount wouldn’t be as impressive if you compared it to how much he has.”

So like any good unemployed journalist, I set about finding the answers. Here, the 10 richest people in America and what they gave last year.

Who Net worth What they gave % of their income

1. Bill Gates net worth: $50,000,000,000 gave: $350,000,000 which is: 0.7%

2. Warren Buffett net worth: $40,000,000,000 (not on Philanthropy’s top 50)

3. Lawrence Ellison net worth: $27,000,000,000 gave: $46,907, 838 which is: 0.1%

4. Christy Walton net worth: $21,500,000,000 (no one in the Walton Family was in top 50)

5. Jim C Walton net worth: $19,600,000,000

6. Alice Walton net worth:$19,300,000,000

7. S. Robson Walton net worth: $19,600,000,000

8. Michael Bloomberg net worth: $17,500,000,000 gave: $254,000,000 which is:1.4%

9. Charles Koch net worth: $16,000,000,000 (both Koch’s were not in the top 50)

10. David Koch net worth: $16,000,000,000

So of the 10 richest people in America, only three are among the 50 biggest charity contributors. And of those Bloomberg is the highest at 1.4%, the other two give a generous less than one percent.

Which isn’t to belittle the important work and lives saved the their millions helps fund, I just wonder if we’d be doing so much ooo-ing and ahh-ing and back patting at a person of lesser means contributing 0.1% to charity.

Let’s put it in perspective shall we?

Net worth is simply assets vs. debts, so it doesn’t take into account how much you made that year. So say a person has a net worth of $75,000 (most of us should be so lucky), to be on par with the Bill and Melinda Gates (leaders in philanthropic giving), you would only have had to give $525 to charity last year. A nice gesture sure, but nothing worthy of a press release.

Put another way, Oprah Winfrey, a person synonymous with good will, is 141 on rich list, with a net worth of $2,300,000,000, meanwhile she’s an impressive #25 on the charity list, giving $41,404,281—that’s still only giving 1.8% of her money. Meanwhile, I’ll estimate my net worth at $20,000, and I spent $900 on charitable giving last year. That’s 4.5% of my net worth on charitable giving. Bam! I’m more generous the Oprah!

The Philanthropy 50

The 400 Richest Americans

I’d also like to note one more reason why Wal-Mart is evil. Notice top richies 4-7, all members of the Walton family and all nowhere to be found on the Philanthropy 50.

Friday, February 5, 2010

No Fatties

Every body hates a fatty. Because really, why can’t they control themselves? They’re so lazy. Same reason why every one hates a poor person, it’s their fault, why won’t they just work harder?

Disparaging the fat and the poor (groups that overlap in a lot of cases) are some of the few bigoted views that aren’t taboo. Because after all, you can never be too thin or too rich and if you are thin and rich then it’s your moral obligation to point out the failings of those who aren’t. As highlighted in this pun-filled LA Times Health article, “Slim society's tolerance is wearing thin”, it’s a…wait for it…growing issue. Hi-Yo!

The idea behind the article is thin people are sick of footing the health care bill for fatties who just sit around watching TV all day and soothe themselves with food. This ludicrous notion exists in a world where:

1. We have national health care and our taxes are contributing to other people’s medical bills. (the article quotes that Obesity-related costs are expected to account for 21% of healthcare spending, but is this the obese individuals’ spending? Is it costs that uninsured individuals burden tax payers with?)

2. All people who are overweight are sedentary and/or eat too much or use food as a comfort/coping method

3. All people who are overweight are unhealthy.

These pissed off skinny people’s anger is misdirected, we market the hell out of junk food, remove consumers completely from the process of how food is produced, where it’s from or what’s in season, we make fast food that’s loaded with chemicals, fat, sugar and calories jumbo sized and one dollar and put it on every corner, especially in the poorest neighborhoods while fruits, vegetables and organics are sanctioned to farmers markets and posh grocery stores. If someone on a limited income can even find healthy food and the time to cook it, chances are they can’t afford it, because a bag of carrots costs at least twice as much as a fast food cheeseburger.

This is done of course because of the huge corporate and government interests in factory farming and commodity crops like corn and soybeans (which are then engineered into delicious things like high fructuous corn syrup)

Put more succinctly, “All those snack food calories are the ones that come from the commodity crops, from the wheat, from the corn, and from the soybeans. By making those calories really cheap, it’s one of the reasons that the biggest predictor of obesity is income level.”—Michael Pollan, author of “In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto”

The government is bought by the corporations that manufacture food to make us fat and sick and then the government tells us to stop being fat and won’t give us health care when we get sick. Our awful yet or so yummy diet of genetically modified food is the major reason that 1 in 3 Americans born after 2000 will contract early onset diabetes. And the food deserts in areas like the Bronx in NYC are a main contributing factor to the fact that among minorities, the rate will be 1 in 2.

Michelle Obama’s campaign against childhood obesity is another good idea that I’m skeptical will achieve its intended goal. It’s important to encourage and educate about finding making healthier choices, being more active, controlling your portions, etc. But If you don’t have access to and can’t afford health foods, don’t have safe places to exercise, and have to rely on thing like free school lunches and dollar menus that are laden with calories, salt and fat, “awareness” does you little to no good.

I’m the last person that would ever take personal responsibly out of the equation. Exercising, and making informed choices about the food you eat and how much of it you eat and not smoking or drinking too much, etc. are all things that individuals are responsible and no one should have to subsidize someone else’s poor decisions. But there’s a bigger picture and a bigger problem than people’s apathy and appetites.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Can’t Complain

“Due to the difficult economic times” I have lost two jobs in the past six months. But even this, to people who have been unemployed for a year or more sounds enviable. Which is part of the problem. With unemployment at 10% and people in dire straits, the prevailing attitude seems to be one of “you think you have it bad, at least you aren’t XYZ.”

And it’s true, it’s hard to muster sympathy for someone’s small raise or lack of bonus when you’ve had your pay cut or lost your job (something I’ve been guilty of over the past year). But there in lies the problem. The job situation is so bad that no one can complain; if you have a job at all you should be grateful.

But it seems that companies are using the poor economy as an excuse to screw over workers who feel trapped and turn bigger profits. It’s no surprise then that more Americans hate their jobs now than at any other point in the past 20 years, with fewer than half saying they are satisfied.

Here, a few semi-personal* examples of employers taking advantage of the recession:

  1. A large publisher continues to make profits in a recession. Using the rough economy as an excuse and undoubtedly safe in the knowledge that talented people are going to be hard pressed to find similar positions elsewhere, the publisher cuts salaries by 6% across the board, taking many who have been with the company less than three years the a wage less then when they started. Even if the standard “cost of living” raise of 3% is reinstated the next year, it will take two years to reach the rate that the employee was at when they started at the company (which at that point would have been five years prior).

  2. A large entertainment company is bought by another large entertainment company both with huge profits. The employees raises and bonuses are held or cut.

  1. A selective top public university continues to profit and expand during the recession due to increased applicants, yet uses the economy as an excuse to cut all employees wages by a mere 1.8% as well as cut back on benefits like comp tuition.

In all of these scenarios, the employers haven’t needed the money, they were all still profitable, and doing better even than in years past, but saw the recession as an excuse to profit from their employees who faced little other options to seek something better. Which is exactly why so many people are dissatisfied in their jobs—they are being screwed over and they just have to take it and not complain, because “at least they have a job.” The same excuse has been used to cut costs by laying off employees and making the ones that remain work longer hours without complaint out of fear of being the next to go.

Of course this environment of fear isn’t a sustainable work model, yet it’s working pretty well right now and the lack of job growth and increased job dissatisfaction are proof.

President Obama’s proposed plan to increase job growth would give companies a $5,000 tax credit for each new worker they hire in 2010, while businesses that increase wages or hours for their current workers in 2010 would be reimbursed for the extra Social Security payroll taxes they would pay. Incentives to increase jobs and boost stagnant wages or inadequate hours are ideas that I’m mostly behind, but I wonder how many larger employers would take Obama up on the offer.

A $5,000 tax credit may sound like a decent incentive to a small business owner, but to larger companies, it’s a drop in the bucket to what they can save by simply enlisting cheap labor. And these days, with so many so desperate for work, the labor is cheaper and more experienced. Many will work for free just to keep something on their resume, and those who won’t will take positions below their skill level or as “ permant freelance” or “long-term temps,” the financial benefit for employers (aside from paying lower hourly rates) is huge cost savings in relation to benefits like health care and paid time off—a savings of well over $5,000 per employee.

It’s not that I think Obama’s plan is bad, it makes sense, I’m just skeptical that it will work. And I honestly don’t know what will aside from employees and job seekers revolting and refusing to be taken advantage of, but we aren’t really in the position of financial power to do so.

*These three stories are accounts of employers of people in my life, and I’m sure are kind of easy to figure out.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Three Things I'm Obsessed With Right Now

Like a lot of people I'm sure, I get obsessed for weeks at a time with certain music, movies, etc. Sometimes it ends up turning into a long-time love (like George Orwell), and many others fade. In what may become a semi-regular feature, here are three things I'm Obsessed With Right Now:

1. Yeah Yeah Yeahs It's Blitz! I've been lukewarm about the Yeah Yeah Yeahs for years, there are a handful of songs that I really like, but the rest kind of annoyed me. But then I fell slightly for the hypnotic songs of Karen O's music on the Where the Wild Things Are, which led me then to this CD, which I haven't stopped listening to for the past two weeks. All the songs are good, but there are a few stand outs, the best of which is Hysteric.

2. George Carlin. I've been reading his autobiography Last Words over the past couple of weeks, which has inspired me to re-vist a lot of his stand-up. Such a funny, insightful guy. It's also inspiredme to start thinking about going back to writing some stand-up of my own.

3. How I Met Your Mother. I had seen a few episodes here and there on TV or on a plane, and always thought it was pretty witty and not typical laugh-track sitcom triteness. It wasn't until I interviewed Alyson Hannigan in December that I decided to really get into the show. Mark and I got the DVDs of the first four seasons and have been watching them regularly over the past month. It's....wait for it....Awesome!