Thursday, April 2, 2009

Wage Inequality Strikes Back

I heard on the radio this morning - and later did some poking around online which seemed to confirm it - that in the current recession, about 80% of those losing their jobs are men.
One obvious reason for this is that a lot of the jobs lost, say in manufacturing and construction, are in what are still very male-dominated industries.
But another point that came up is that it may have been influenced by the fact that, in some workplaces, women are still paid less than men for the same job. I don't know how prevalent the practice of paying women less for the same job actually is (there is some evidence that the average wage inequality is also affected by job choice and placement, I'm not about to go into a four-day research session to get all the details).
In any case, it's interesting to think about. Men may have been making more on average, but are now losing their jobs at a rate four times that of women.
I don't pretend to have all the details, but it's interesting to think about.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

The Name is Fool. April Fool

Well, I missed out on yesterday's Daily DeBlass due to a minor existential crisis (all resolved, you'll be happy to know the universe is not collapsing this week).
For today I've decided to share a couple of my favorite April Fool's Day jokes from around the Web.
It's early yet, so I'll probably find more later.
First off, we have Wikipedia's main page. Everything on the page is absolutely true, as far as I can tell, the joke is in the way it's described. For example, under "Did You Know" there's an item that says "Wikipedia now has an article about everything." While the site is pretty far ranging, that sounds a little presumptuous, doesn't it? That is, until you realize that they mean there is a single article on the concept of everything.
There are some funnier ones, but I'll let you explore for yourself.
Google always has some good hoaxes on April 1. This year, you'll find Gmail Autopilot which will answer messages for you, and various other new devices all brought to you courtesy of CADIE.
CADIE is the heart of this year's joke. It, or rather she, is a supposed artificial intelligence system that is designed to operate the Google network. According to the story, after years of artificial intelligence development, she was turned on at 11:59 last night, and immediately created her own home page. In case you were wondering, she likes pandas. I mean, really, really likes pandas.
Finally, there is ThinkGeek. ThinkGeek is a geek-oriented online store that sells an assortment of oddball products, some of which actually do stuff, others are just some combination of weird and cool. Every year they set up their front page with imaginary products that either don't or can't exist. The headliner this year is Sqeez Bacon, which is both kind of gross and kind of compelling at the same time (watch the video, it's worth it). Also, though, there is the Unicorn Chaser, which is a drink to get rid of icky thoughts, the tauntaun sleeping bag and a USB powered pet rock.
The best part of the ThinkGeek site is that occasionally the popular demand is so high for the phony products that they actually become part of the actual product line.
Life imitates art, as they say, or at least life imitates wiseass pranks.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Today's Thought: Can Health Care Reform Help Fight Unemployment?

There was a series of editorials on the NY Times site today about applying the European model of shorter work weeks to the U.S.

Basically, in many other countries, rather than lay off workers en masse companies opt for shorter work weeks for all. It means less pay for the individuals, but most people I know, particularly those who actually have been laid off, would have taken the option of a reduced paycheck and the corresponding increase in leisure time over a total layoff.

One of the ideas that stood out, to an amateur ptochologist like myself, was that, since health benefits are paid on a by-worker basis, rather than a by-hour basis, companies still have to pay heavy monthly medical insurance costs, regardless of how many hours each employee works. A reduction of hours, then, results in a small payroll savings per a worker, but no reduction in benefits costs, and an overall reduction in productivity. So, from a bottom-line perspective, if productivity is being lost, then it makes more sense not to have to keep paying insurance at the same rate.

It seems to me that some sort of realistic health care reform would be needed to counteract this tendency. We can go the route of universal government-sponsored health care (and I can hear the cries of "socialism" from the Right over that. Get over it. We pay the government, in taxes, to provide us certain security and services. This is a business transaction that works through economies of scale, not some sinister threat to the ideological fabric of the nation). Or through reforms of the current privately operated system (ditto, look where a lack of regulation got the stock market).

If we could lessen the cost of insuring workers, or remove the burden from employers entirely, it would open up the option of a shorter work week, and reduce the cost of paying workers, making it easier to keep them employed in tough times. There are a lot of details to work out, obviously, but it could help.

The takeaway: Reforming our health care system in a way that lessens the cost to employers, yet guarantees coverage to workers and families, is a pro-business move that could act as a very real economic boost. In a country where unemployment is nearly one-in-ten in some spots, and there are four unemployed competing for each job, shorter work weeks are a very appealing alternative to layoffs. Affordable health care could help make them a viable option.