Working For The Three-Day Weekend

In the distant, early days of Homo sapiens, there was no concept of “work” in the modern sense, and thus there were no holidays, either. Every day involved its many toils, from hunting and gathering to working to find shelter and water and protection against predators.

Then, as civilization developed, designated jobs became an inevitable part of the process. No city could exist without people charged with performing essential functions like laboring in the fields to bring in the crops, delivering food from the countryside, serving as scribe for Pharoah, or building the new pyramid or ziggurat.  The concept of holidays came later still. First, there were only religious holidays or seasonal holidays, to mark the Feast Day of Set or commemorate the harvest with a day of celebration. In the medieval era, when a saint’s day arrived, the duties of the job were replaced by lengthy religious obligations and, perhaps, fasting and the ritual wearing of a hair shirt.  It wasn’t exactly a laugh riot.

As humanity advanced even more, the concept of a work week was introduced and, then, secular holidays. When some brilliant soul realized that secular holidays really didn’t have to be tied to a specific date on the calendar and instead could float — so that the holiday could combine with a normal weekend to create a three-day weekend — it was a huge step forward in human development. And when an even more enlightened individual realized that we could use those three-day weekends to bookend the summer months, so that the joys of summer could begin with a glorious three-day revel in the warmth, it marked a true pinnacle in the annals of human achievement.

As we celebrate the joys of this three-day Memorial Day weekend, let’s remember those forgotten figures of human history who came up with the ideas that led us here — and be grateful that wearing sweaty hair shirts isn’t part of the equation.

Many Americas

Recently I was up in Detroit, gassing up the car at a service station at an exit just off one of the freeways, when I noticed this provocative sign on a tire business across the street.

Commerce doesn’t lie.  The business owner obviously thinks that theft of wheels from parked cars is a sufficiently widespread problem that advertising about the ability to help victims of the thefts will generate additional sales and revenue, and you have to assume that there’s a factual basis for that belief.  I thought:  “Really?  Wheels on cars parked on public streets are being stolen, and police haven’t caught the perpetrators of such brazen criminal activity?”  The sign, and the real message it was sending, made me uneasy.

The sign was just one more bit of tangible evidence that we don’t live in one America any more, if we ever really did.  Instead, there are lots of different Americas, dealing with lots of different issues.  Where I live, we thankfully don’t have to worry about coming out to our car and finding all of the wheels taken by wheel theft gangs.  In this particular neighborhood of Detroit, however, there is obviously a different reality.

This shouldn’t be a revelation, of course.  Read the news and you quickly understand, intellectually, that there are pockets of the country where the heroin epidemic is raging and leaving families devastated, where the local economy has been bottomed out and there are no jobs to be had, and where the relations between police and the local populace has been poisoned, and there are parts of America where people are concerned because housing values are too high, where companies are concerned because they just can’t hire enough high-tech workers, and where people are lining up to spend a thousand dollars on a new cell phone.  And don’t get me started about how different places like Hollywood, or Washington, D.C., seem to be from the rest of the country.

And yet, when you live in your own world, it’s easy to view everything from your own personal experience, and wonder why people could possibly have different perspectives on the issues of the day.  The next time I feel that kind of self-absorbed conceit, I’ll think about that unsettling sign in Detroit and try to remember that there are a lot of people in this country dealing with lots of issues and problems that I’m not even aware of — much less affected by.  America is a diverse place not only in terms of its population and demographics, but also in terms of personal experience.  We shouldn’t forget that.

 

Addressing Homelessness, One Job At A Time

What should cities do to address the issues with their homeless populations?  It’s a persistent, nagging question that often seems impossible to solve.  For decades, cities and charities have offered support and services to help homeless people, and yet the homeless remain.  And advocates for the homeless remind us that giving money to people who are panhandling isn’t really helping them.  So what should be done?

545479804_1280x720In Albuquerque, New Mexico, the mayor decided to take a job-oriented approach to the homelessness issue.  From his conversations with members of the city’s homeless population, he learned that many of the homeless just wanted to work, but didn’t know how to go about getting a job.  So the mayor worked with a charity to give some of the homeless people jobs cleaning up city streets and helping with landscaping of city properties.  The homeless people who perform the jobs are paid $9 an hour for their work, receive lunch, and are offered shelter at night.  The program has been operating for a year and has helped 100 people move on to permanent employment.  And while there is a cost, the city benefits from the work performed by the participants.  The Albuquerque program is called “There a Better Way.”

Cities seem to take different approaches to the problem of homelessness.  As the article linked above notes, many cities have begun criminalizing panhandling.  Other cities seem to simply put up with homelessness and begging, or institutionalize it.  On our recent trip to New Orleans, we saw many homeless people sleeping on the streets, with only a bit of cardboard for shelter; New Orleans seems to tolerate its homeless people and expects visitors to do so, too.  In Columbus, on the other hand, some of the homeless people participate in a program in which they receive a license and sell newspapers about homelessness at designated locations.  It’s better than aggressive panhandling, I suppose, but it doesn’t seem to be moving people on to private-sector employment.  At the street corner near our firm, for example, the same pleasant and polite woman has been selling the papers for years; she even refers to what she’s doing as her “job.”

The Albuquerque approach clearly is preferable to ignoring the problem, and those of us who have always worked know the value of having a job and earning a paycheck, but the article doesn’t say what Albuquerque does with homeless people who don’t want to participate in the program.  Those are the people who present the real challenge.  No one wants to see people living on the streets, suffering from exposure to the elements and in harm’s way, but most cities also don’t want homeless people accosting pedestrians and begging for money on street corners, either.

Flippy’s Takeover

Out in California there’s a “fast casual” restaurant called Caliburger.  As the name suggests, hamburgers are one of the staples on its menu.

448b016b00000578-4905576-image-a-2_1505977728222Caliburger’s Pasadena location has a new worker called Flippy.  Flippy is a quiet, methodical, highly reliable worker who doesn’t take up a lot of space, because Flippy is actually a robot.  Made by Miso Robotics, Flippy’s design is simple — it’s a robot arm, bolted to the floor in the restaurant’s kitchen next to the grille.  Flippy has a spatula where his hand should be, and he’s programmed to flip burgers and then put the cooked burgers onto buns.  A human assistant puts the meat down, Flippy does his burger-flipping thing, and then the human worker finishes dressing the burgers to fit the incoming orders.  The fact that Flippy has only a spatula hand make it easy to clean and maintain.

Flippy sells for $60,000.  Caliburger was one of the investors in the company that manufactures Flippy, and it got one of the first devices.  It has pre-ordered others, and it plans to install them in a number of its restaurants.  And, of course, Miso Robotics will look to sell Flippy to other burger-oriented restaurants.

Each burger-flipping robot will be performing a job that used to be done by a human being.  At about $60,000 a pop, Flippy seems expensive — until you figure that, with many states and cities raising the minimum wage, it wouldn’t take many months of operation before Flippy starts to pay for itself.  And Flippy is never going to miss work, or show up late, or complain about its hours, or become distracted by talking to a co-worker.  And Flippy is not going to need health insurance, or file a claim against his restaurant employer for violating a federal or state statute, or advocate for wage increases, either.  Until legislators start legislating about treatment of robots, Flippy is a lot easier for employers to deal with.

Welcome to the future.  And good luck finding that entry-level job that pays the ever-increasing minimum wage that is supposed to be an economic panacea and allow a fast food restaurant worker to support a family of four!

Amazon Primed

Amazon — that massive, gushing river of deliveries that has fundamentally and forever changed the modern retail business — has announced that it is looking to build a second corporate headquarters somewhere in North America.  Cities like Columbus are jockeying for position and hoping that they get picked to host the Amazonians.

amazonLanding Amazon and its “HQ2” has got to be tempting for just about any city.  You can look at what Amazon has done for Seattle, where its corporate headquarters is located, and see what having Amazon might mean.  Amazon employs 40,000 people on its Seattle campus, it uses an enormous chunk of the available Seattle commercial real estate, and it calculates that, since 2010, it has contributed $38 billion to the Seattle economy.  The proposed “HQ2” is being presented as a similarly enticing proposition for job-hungry municipalities.  It is supposed to create as many as 50,000 jobs paying an average of $100,000, and also produce $5 billion in capital investment in the first 15 years.

As Seattle’s experience demonstrates, these don’t appear to be pie in the sky numbers.  Instead, Amazon has a proven track record of doing what every city wants from a leading corporate citizen — it creates good jobs that are filled by people who pay their taxes and it injects money into the area, which in turn creates jobs at the companies that provide the services that Amazon and its employees need.  Sure, there might be some drawbacks — Seattle real estate has become pretty expensive — but most cities would gladly accept that problem in order to tap into the Amazon river of tax revenue.

Amazon has released a list of detailed criteria that will be applied in its search for the right location for HQ2.  It’s looking for a metropolitan area of at least 1 million people, close to an international airport, with good roads, schools, and mass transit.  Oh, and it also needs up to 8 million square feet of office space.  And the modern world being what it is, we can expect Amazon to look for competing cities to produce packages of tax incentives, tax deferrals, and available development funds designed to entice Amazon as it makes its choice.

Columbus, where several Amazon data and distribution centers have located in recent years, is expected to compete for the prize, and Richard has written about San Antonio’s hope that it wins the crown.   We can expect the big boys, like Chicago and Dallas, to put in significant bids, and struggling cities like Detroit would no doubt see the Amazon initiative as a chance to really turn things around.  And don’t forget that Canada is part of North America; Toronto is said to be interested, too.  In all, about 50 metropolitan areas meet the 1 million population cut-off and would be in a position to compete for the prize.  Bids are due by October 19.

Hey, Amazon!  Come to Columbus!  You’d like it here!

A Tale Of Two Jobs

The New York Times published an interesting story over the weekend that compared two jobs, and in the process provided some insight into how the economy is changing and what it means for workers trying to get ahead.

The two jobs were janitorial jobs:  one held by a woman working at Kodak in Rochester, New York in the 1980s, and the other by a woman currently working at the Apple headquarters in Cupertino, California.  The two women earned about the same amount, adjusted for inflation, and performed the same kinds of work.

mop-and-bucketThe Kodak worker, however, was a full-time employee of the company.  She received more than four weeks of paid vacation annually as well as a bonus payment, and the company also reimbursed some of the tuition she paid going to college part time.  When the building she was charged with cleaning closed down, the company found her a different job.  The janitor at Apple, on the other hand, doesn’t work for Apple at all; she works for a service that Apple contracts with to keep its buildings clean.  She can’t afford to take a vacation because she can’t afford any lost pay, and there are no opportunities for bonuses or transfers to different work at Apple.

Although the Times article veers off into the unusual story of the Kodak worker — who ended up taking computer classes, getting transferred to a professional job in information technology, and ultimately becoming the chief technology officer at Kodak — the more interesting point is the macroeconomic lesson.  As the Times describes it, American companies have “flocked to a new management theory:  Focus on core competence and outsource the rest.”  The Times article notes that the outsourcing approach has made companies “more nimble and more productive, and delivered huge profits for shareholders,” but “has also fueled inequality and helps explain why many working-class Americans are struggling even in an ostensibly healthy economy.”

There’s no doubt that outsourcing has been a huge trend in the American economy.  But what the Times presents as a kind of optional management theory designed to reap windfall profits for shareholders while shortchanging working-class Americans seems to me to be more of the inevitable consequence of the cold hard reality of global competition.  The business world has changed, and companies that want to compete with low-cost providers overseas have to keep their intellectual capital while cutting costs wherever they can.  Outsourcing is one result of that reality; the disappearance of company-funded health care benefits and pensions, the rise of employee-funded retirement plans, and movements of company headquarters to the states and cities that offer the most favorable tax abatement schemes are some of the others.

The proof of the cold hard reality is in the outcome:  Apple is thriving, while Kodak — which once was one of the most successful, innovative companies in America — has gone through bankruptcy, laid off thousands of workers, and repurposed itself into a much smaller concern.  Kodak may have paid a price for its generosity.  And for workers, the lesson is clear:  do what you can to become one of those intellectual capital assets that companies want to keep around.

Considering “Universal Basic Income”

Mark Zuckerberg is the latest of the Silicon Valley quadzillionaires to espouse the concept of “universal basic income.”

mark-zuckerberg-harvard-speech-01-480x270In a commencement speech at Harvard last week, the founder of Facebook called for the creation of “a new social contract.”  “We should have a society that measures progress not by economic metrics like GDP but by how many of us have a role we find meaningful. We should explore ideas like universal basic income to make sure everyone has a cushion to try new ideas,” Zuckerberg said.  Zuckerberg noted that, because he personally had a safety net to fall back on, he had the confidence to try projects like Facebook, and he thinks everyone should have the same financial wherewithal.

For some, like Zuckerberg, universal basic income has become the Great White Whale.  It’s not fair, they think, that only people who come from families that have financial resources can experiment in pursuit of their dreams.  Proponents of UBI believe that, if only everyone had guaranteed funding irrespective of whether they worked or not, all people would have the freedom to follow their dreams, invent new things, and experience personal fulfillment.  Why, the outpouring of creativity and innovation would promote the flourishing of art, literature, music, technological development, and human interaction that undoubtedly would lead to a new Renaissance!

Or, people who got the money would sit around in their place of residence all day, watching TV and enjoying the recreational drug or adult beverage of their choice.

Look, who am I to disagree with Mark Zuckerberg?  But let’s lay aside the gnarly issue of how we could possibly pay for a basic stipend sufficient for every American to live on without working.  (Taxpayers, hang on to your wallets!)  My experience teaches that having a job is a good thing.  Working brings structure to lives.  It allows people to become self-sufficient and to learn the value of a dollar.  It promotes the development of responsibility, punctuality, responsiveness, planning, and other positive personal attributes.  And the labor of every worker also helps to fund things like national defense, Social Security, health care, national parks, and a bunch of other things that might not be as amply supported if the funds are going to pay basic living expenses for a bunch of people who are happily contemplating their navels.  And, if you really think your job sucks, maybe that will motivate you to go out on your own, become an entrepreneur, and follow your dream with the benefit of the real-life experience you’ve acquired.

And don’t call it “universal basic income,” either.  In my book, “income” should be reserved for something that you earn, through work or investment, not something that is handed to you.

So let me respectfully disagree with Mr. Zuckerberg.  If he wants to really help to create a “new social contract,” let him and the other mega-tycoons enter into some actual contracts — with employees working for the new ventures that Zuckerberg and the other filthy rich are in a position to establish and fund with their wealth.  Let’s help more people learn the value of actual work.

Back And Forth On Globalization

One key theme is Donald Trump’s presidential campaign could be summarized — using one of Trump’s favorite adjectives — as “disastrous trade deals.”

Basically, Trump argues that, for decades, American leaders have been taken to the cleaners by foreign counterparts and have negotiated trade pacts that have cost countless American jobs, as cheap goods manufactured overseas have flooded the United States while companies have moved their operations to countries where products can be built more cheaply.  It’s a theme that Trump sounds whenever he comes to the industrial Midwest and can stand in front of an abandoned factory.

30501Today the Washington Post has an article that adds a bit of nuance to the globalization debate.  It’s about a Chinese billionaire named Cho Tak Wong who has bought a former GM factory in Moraine, Ohio to manufacture automotive glass.  Moraine is one of those “rust belt” communities that have been devastated by the departure of good-paying, steady blue collar jobs that used to be a staple of the Ohio economy, and local officials are hoping the factory will help to reverse that trend.  The Post reports that the purchase is part of a shift in globalization fortunes, as wealthy Chinese businessmen look to parlay their profits in China into purchases of American businesses.

Nothing is ever as simple as a presidential candidate presents it, and trade certainly falls into that category.  And blaming “trade deals” doesn’t recognize the impact that other decisions — like laws imposing increasing wage and benefit obligations on employers, or the ongoing pressure from the American consumer for products at cheaper costs — have had on the exodus of American jobs to places where labor and benefit costs are substantially cheaper.  You can argue the merits of “globalization,” but the reality is that we are in a global economy whether we like it or not.  It will be interesting to see whether what’s happening in Moraine, and elsewhere, will ultimately shift the debate.

Deciding The Worst Job

A website called CareerCast.com has declared what it considers to be the worst job in 2016:  newspaper reporter.  It’s the third year in a row that being a print journalist has ended up at the bottom on the desirable occupations list.

The website uses a methodology that looks at each job’s work “environment (emotional, physical and hours worked), income (growth potential and salary), outlook (employment growth, income growth potential and unemployment), and 11 stress factors to determine which professions are among the least desirable.”  Newspaper reporter ends up at the bottom of the list because the median annual salary isn’t that great, the outlook stinks because so many newspapers and other media outlets are closing, and there isn’t a lot of potential for career growth.  The best job, in contrast, is “data scientist,” where the median income is $128,240 and there is a strong growth outlook.

news-guySorry, but I disagree with this.  Good jobs and bad jobs aren’t just defined by salary and whether you’re in a thriving industry.  Other qualities — like being able to use your creativity and your brainpower, and whether the job involves noisy, smelly, dangerous, or otherwise unpleasant conditions — are important, and more important still is whether you like your boss and co-workers and look forward to getting to work in the morning.

Speaking as a former reporter, when those other qualities are considered, I think being a reporter is a pretty good option.  The job is always interesting, and at times, when you break a good story or write a particularly good lead, that you feel a nice little adrenalin rush.  Are you really going to get the same kind of feeling from being a boring, nerdy, white coat-wearing “data scientist”– which sounds like a puffed-up title, anyway?  And how can reporter possibly be less attractive than the traditional scutwork jobs, like sanitation worker or cubicle dweller?

Sorry, CareerCast.com.  You’ve totally missed the boat on this one.  There’s just no way that being a reporter is the worst job around.  Who knows?  Maybe the real worst job is ranking jobs for CareerCast.com.

Student Loan Scofflaws

The Wall Street Journal recently reported that 43 percent of the people who have borrowed money from the federal government’s principal student loan programs aren’t making payments or are behind on meeting their debt obligations.  The people comprising that 43 percent collectively owe the federal government more than $200 billion.

The figures are stark, and staggering.  3.6 million people who are out of school and in the workforce are in default on their loans — which means they haven’t made a payment in a year.  Another 3 million people are delinquent on their payments, which means they’re at least one month late but not yet a year behind, and another 3 million have received permission to postpone their payments because of some kind of financial emergency.

studentloandebt070313_0The federal government is trying to figure out why payments aren’t being made, and some consumer groups are contending that debt services aren’t letting the troubled borrowers know about available payment options.  Three realities, though, seem pretty clear.

First, many of the people who thought getting a college degree, any college degree, would be the ticket to financial security have learned that they were wrong.  Whatever their major or career plans, there just aren’t enough good jobs out there to allow them to repay their loans.  Second, the feds do virtually nothing to determine whether student loan borrowers are good credit risks — they don’t typically perform credit checks, require co-signers, or evaluate whether the borrower’s intended course of study or capabilities make repayment likely.  And third, once you’re out of college and trying to make it on your own, your student loan debt is the lowest of the debt priorities, behind your home loan, your car loan, and your credit card debt.  What’s the federal government going to do, repossess that diploma that isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on?

It’s not clear whether the federal government’s experience is true for all student loan debt.  If so, that’s a troublesome fact, because the WSJ article also notes that there is now more student loan debt than credit card debt, car loan debt, and any other kind of consumer loan debt.  Student loan borrowers collectively owe $1.2 trillion.  If almost half of the federal borrowers aren’t making their payments, will the same thing happen to that enormous pool of debt?

Politicians love to talk about how everybody should go to college and the federal government should help them do so by making loans available.  That siren song sounds good, but the reality is more uncomfortable.  Readily available student loans have just allowed colleges to jack up their tuitions, and college degrees aren’t a guarantee of a good career and financial success.  College isn’t necessarily for everyone, and struggling students aren’t going to benefit from borrowing tens of thousands of dollars to scrape by and get a degree in a major that isn’t in demand in the economy.   And broken windows theory would tell us that it’s not doing America any good to have a growing body of millions of people who aren’t paying their debts.

Rockin’ The Gig Economy

Recently I’ve read several articles, like this one, about the “gig economy.”

The first question for me was:  “What the hell is the gig economy?”  I didn’t know if it was short for gigabyte, or some new tech industry term.  I learned, though, that the “gig economy” refers to workers who use internet applications like Uber to sell their labor on a one at a time basis.  That probably means that “gig” is borrowed from the music world, where rockers and jazz artists have been playing individual “gigs” since time immemorial.  In the internet age, I guess we’re all rock stars.

f9413b4f8ddd6478039e747f71f3fe15For all of the hype, the “gig economy” isn’t very big — at least not yet.  As the article linked above indicates, at this point it’s mostly Uber.  That match driver with rider app has exploded in popularity, and had some hiccups along the way, but its website has a simple message:  drive with Uber and earn money on your schedule.  And the Uber model has been so successful it has spurred the development of other gig app options, not only in the driving world but in other areas, too.  TaskRabbit, for example, promises to find a “skilled Tasker” who will help you do chores and errands, while Mechanical Turk seeks to match up workers and businesses to complete thousands of different “Human Intelligence Tasks.”

Recent studies, though, indicate that only about 0.4 percent of people were earning labor income from “gig” jobs, and Uber alone might represent as much as two-thirds of that figure.  The studies also show that most people who have tried the gig labor approach end up dropping it.  For all of the hoo-ha, it’s not clear that the gig economy is ever going to be a significant part of the U.S. employment picture.

Speaking as an old fart who’s always had a full-time, 9 to 5 type job, I’m not surprised.  I can see doing Uber or holding yourself out as a “skilled Tasker” as a supplement to your existing job; lots of people have taken a second, part-time job to try to build up their savings or accumulate the down payment on a house.  But I can’t see doing the “gig” work on an ongoing basis as your primary source of employment.  It’s too unpredictable and too intermittent.  Most people would rather have a full-time job, with benefits, that they can build on.  Boring, no doubt, and certainly not as cutting-edge as “gig” work, but boy the security of a regular paycheck sure comes in handy when you’ve got a hungry family.

We’ll see how the whole experiment works out, but don’t be shocked if the U.S. economy ultimately decides that, Uber aside, we’d just as soon leave the “gigs” to the musicians.

 

At The Honda Heritage Center

IMG_0431Recently I drove out to Marysville, Ohio to attend a farewell celebration for a Honda employee who was moving on to a new position with the City of Columbus.  The event was held at the Honda Heritage Center, a new building in the Honda complex of buildings that have sprung up in western Ohio since Honda built its first factory more than 30 years ago.

IMG_0433While I was at the Heritage Center I visited a little Honda museum that is located in the building.  It’s a neat feature, and provides the opportunity for car buffs like me to take a nice trip down memory lane.  I got to see the very cool, sleek-looking Asimo in person — or should that be, in robot — gape at the Honda race cars, and check out some of Honda’s other manufactured products.  For me, though, the highlight was the vintage cars that are displayed there, in pristine condition.  They included the very first Honda car that I ever remember seeing on American streets:  the Honda Civic, circa the early ’70s, which is pictured below.

Honda has been an important part of Ohio for a long time now.  It employs huge numbers of Ohioans — all clad in the trademark Honda white uniform — in good-paying jobs, emphasizes quality and teamwork, and continues to build lots of excellent vehicles. Last year, Honda North America reached a new record:  1,862,491 Honda and Acura vehicles.  And for those who emphasize made in America values — which always seems to be someone’s theme during election years — it should be noted that Honda reports that its eight auto plants in North America produced more than 99 percent of the Honda and Acura cars and light trucks sold in the U.S. in 2015.

Honda has been a great corporate citizen ever since it first came to Ohio.  I’m glad it is using the Honda Heritage Center to celebrate its past, its present, and its future.

IMG_0442

Marijuana, Kids, And Jobs

In a few weeks Ohioans will vote on Issue 3, a ballot initiative that would allow people 21 and over to use marijuana for recreational and medicinal purposes and permit marijuana to be grown in designated locations in the state.

When Kish and I were in a waiting area yesterday, we saw two of the commercials about Issue 3 — one pro, one con — back to back.  And the themes of the commercials were familiar to anyone who has ever voted on a ballot issue:  jobs and kids.  The pro-Issue 3 commercial emphasized that passing Issue 3 and allowing legalized marijuana sales would create jobs, and one of the bullet points for the anti-Issue 3 ad was that Issue 3 would allow the sale of marijuana-infused candy, which could end up in the hands of kids.

We’ve seen similar approaches in prior  campaigns.  The initiative to legalize casinos in Ohio, which passed, was all about jobs.  The Ohio Lottery initiative, which passed, was all about devoting a share of lottery proceeds to education . . . and kids.  It’s as if the campaign ad consultants sit around, thinking of every potential job-related or kid-related theme, no matter the issue being presented, because they just can’t resist sounding those tried and true messages.

Some complex issues are presented by the marijuana legalization initiative — issues like whether marijuana does have medical benefits under certain circumstances, whether legalization has caused an increase, or decrease, in crime or car accidents in states where marijuana has been legalized, and whether Issue 3 in fact creates a legalized monopoly, among others.  The issues presented by Issue 3 go a lot deeper than whether a few thousand jobs will be created in a state with millions of residents, or whether marijuana-laced lollipops will find their way into the stream of commerce.  But jobs and kids are what the TV commercials talk about.

Jobs on one side, kids on the other.  Maybe that’s why the most recent polls on Issue 3 show that Ohioans are evenly divided on the issue.

On The Taco Line

  
Last night’s dinner was freshly made tacos, hot off the griddle, in downtown Santa Barbara.  The tacos were fantastic, and the hot peanut sauce was to die for, but what really caught my eye was the woman who was making the tortillas.  Roll the flour mix into a ball, press it down, peel it out, and place it on the griddle for just the right amount of time — she was like an unflappable well-oiled machine, cranking out the floury circles of tasty goodness and totally focused on her job.

It was a pleasure to watch her working in such rhythm as I waited eagerly for the next serving of tacos.  It’s always gratifying to watch someone who is good at their job and taking it seriously.

The Impoverished Millennials

For years, Americans have always been fervently optimistic about the financial course of their families.  Parents and grandparents were confident that the generations to come would be wealthier and better educated than they were — and for much of American history their optimism was justified by the reality.

Is that true any longer, with the so-called Millennial Generations, which consists of adults under age 35?  A troubling article in the Wall Street Journal indicates that there are disturbing signs that the Millennials are instead on track for lives of financial difficulty.

The article looks at the savings rates of Americans by generation through an analysis of consumer finances and financial accounts.  It finds that, after a brief blip of increased savings during the Great Recession, Millennials now aren’t saving much of anything.  In fact, their generational savings rate is a negative 2% — which means many of them are burning through the savings they accumulated previously, or spending their inheritances.  They are less likely to have any investments or investment accounts, which means they have no cushion to fall back on if they lose their jobs or hit another financial bump in the road.

In short, forget about saving to make a down payment on a house — these young people are hanging on by their fingernails, hoping to make their credit card and student loan payments, and eating into their seed corn savings in order to do so.

Some of this predicament clearly is the product of bad planning and poor personal financial management.  If you’re barely making your credit card payments, maybe you should skip that expensive “destination” bachelorette party with your college pals.  But some of it is larger forces — like a weak job market, student loan debt that is far greater than that carried by prior generations, and flat wage and salary growth.  The fear is that the Millennials will become trapped and never be able to break out of a cycle of debt that leaves them living hand to mouth for most of their adult lives and limits their abilities to buy homes, start families, and ultimately to retire.

It’s not a pretty picture, and we can only begin to perceive what the ripple effects of an impoverished Millennial generation might be for our country and its economy.  Perhaps we should stop worrying so much about senior citizens and start thinking about how to create more opportunities for the younger people who must carry the country forward.