Minor Thoughts from me to you

Archives for Jobs (page 2 / 2)

Immigration and Unintended Consequences

Many people want to limit immigration in order to provide more jobs to Americans. They theorize that without lots of immigrants willing to work for cheap labor, farmers and businesses will be forced to employ more Americans, at higher wages.

It's a nice theory. But that's all it is. The law of unintended consequences applies even to immigration policy. Rather than accepting a loss of Mexican field hands, farmers are being to move their fields to Mexico.

Steve Scaroni, a farmer from California, looked across a luxuriant field of lettuce here in central Mexico and liked what he saw: full-strength crews of Mexican farm workers with no immigration problems.

Farming since he was a teenager, Mr. Scaroni, 50, built a $50-million business growing lettuce and broccoli in California's Imperial Valley, relying on the hands of immigrant workers, most of them Mexicans and many probably in the United States illegally.

But early last year he began shifting part of his operation to rented fields here. Now some 500 Mexicans tend his crops in Mexico, where they run no risk of deportation.

"I'm as American red-blood as it gets," Mr. Scaroni said, "but Iā€™m tired of fighting the fight on the immigration issue."


Robotic Telecommunication

Telecommuting -- the next generation. This is how I need to work from home.

Programmer Ivan Bowman spends his days at iAnywhere Solutions Inc. in much the same way his colleagues do.

He writes code, exchanges notes in other developers' offices, attends meetings and, on occasion, hangs out in the kitchen or lounge over coffee and snacks.

About the only thing he can't do is drink the coffee or eat the snacks -- or touch anything, for that matter.

It's not that Bowman doesn't have hands or a mouth; they're just in Halifax, along with the rest of his body.

In fact, it's not really Bowman in the Waterloo office at all. It's IvanAnywhere, a robot Bowman uses to interact with his colleagues in Waterloo from his home office 1,350 kilometres away.

Your Family and Your Job

Trade-offs are an inescapable part of life. The sad truth is, it's impossible to both eat your cake and have it too. Unfortunately, far too many of our policy debates try to pretend that it is possible to have everything at once. Politicians follow their instincts and promise to give voters everything the voters want. But all of the promises in the world can't abolish life's fundamental trade-offs.

What am I talk about? Let me illustrate. Lately, a debate has been raging in legal and political circles about a clash between family life and work. Employers still expect employees to put in a 40-hour work week, occurring mostly between 8am and 5pm. An increasing number of employees want to work odd schedules, work from home, or take large amounts of time off to care for ailing family members. As a result, these employees are being passed over for promotion, denied raises, or being outright fired.

Family-Leave Values - New York Times

Since the mid-1990s, the number of workers who have sued their employers for supposed mistreatment on account of family responsibilities "ā€ becoming pregnant, needing to care for a sick child or relative "ā€ has increased by more than 300 percent.

... Williams argued that the growing tension between work and family was not simply a product of economic necessity. It stemmed, rather, from a marketplace structured around an increasingly outdated masculine norm: the "ideal worker" who can work full time for an entire career while enjoying "immunity from family work." At a time when both adults in most families had come to participate in the labor force, Williams argued that this standard was unrealistic, especially for women, who remained the primary caregivers in most households.

This New York Times article is fairly typical of the debate. It's heavily anecdotal and hard to excerpt. (If you want the human stories behind the rhetoric, click through and read the full article.)

The article starts by telling the story of Karen Deonarain. Karen worked for a small company as a full-time employee. When she went through a tough pregnancy (and gave birth 16 weeks early), she informed her employer that she'd need four months off to recover, before coming back to work. Her employer ended up firing her.

The article continues on, talking about the difficulties that Karen Deonarain now faced. I'd like to stop and focus on the difficulties her employer faced. Her employer was small -- less than 50 employees. This would tend to indicate that each employee was important and the work that Karen Deonarain was valuable. Karen informed her employer that she didn't intend to do any work for more than a fourth of the year. What was her employer to do?

A job had been left unfilled. Work needed to be done, by someone. Ms. Deonarain was unable to do it, so the company would need to hire someone new. It's hardly a good idea to spend time finding and training a new employee, only to lay them off when the former employee decides to return to work. It's also not fair to expect someone else at the company to cover the job until Ms. Deonarain was ready to return.

Here's the trade-off: businesses offer generous pay and benefit to those that can show up and get work done. Men and women who expect to take lots of time off whenever they have a family problem are not showing up and getting the job done. Is it so unfair then, that businesses wouldn't offer these people generous pay and benefits?

If workers aren't contributing something of value to the company, why should the company have a responsibility to contribute something of value to the workers? The job market is a two-way street: workers work for pay, employers pay for work. If workers expect to start and stop working on a whim, they shouldn't be surprised when employers expect to start and stop paying just as quickly.

This isn't a matter of discrimination and shouldn't be covered by state or federal anti-discrimination laws. This is a matter of fulfilling your obligations as an employee. Being a parent -- or a responsible son or daughter -- doesn't magically absolve someone of their responsibilities to their employer.

There will always be a trade-off between work and family. Lower wages and less stable jobs are an inevitable consequence of choosing to work fewer hours on an unstable schedule.

This entry was tagged. Jobs Responsibility

Beware Unintended Consequences

One of life's primary lessons is that you shouldn't just think about the immediate effects of a decision or policy, but the long-term secondary consequences as well. Here are a few examples.

Be careful about trying to soak the rich through taxes. It may backfire. Asymmetrical Information: Loser..er...Labor Pays

Recent research has cast an eye in a somewhat different direction, showing that the tax may be borne not entirely (or even principally) by owners of capital, but by workers. ... A recent paper by Kevin Hassett and Aparna Mathur of the American Enterprise Institute analyzes data across countries and over time, concluding that for countries that are part of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), a 1% increase in corporate tax rates results in a 0.8% decrease in manufacturing wage rates. (Economic intuition suggests significant negative effects of the corporate tax on manufacturing wages because of the complementarity of capital and labor for skilled workers.)

Wage effects of this size suggest labor bears much of the burden of the corporate tax. In fact, workers collectively would be better off if they voted for higher taxes on labor with corresponding cuts in the corporate tax.

That's for tax policy. How about trying to reduce state healthcare costs by requiring state employees to pay a larger portion of their own healthcare costs? Agency: GOP benefit cuts problematic

A plan by Assembly Republicans to require most state employees to pay 10 percent of their health insurance premiums could actually end up costing taxpayers more money, the state Department of Employment Trust Funds warns.

Stella warned that by requiring workers to pay a flat 10 percent premium, it would undercut the state's three-tiered premium system. Under the current system, employees who enroll in more cost-effective plans pay a lower percentage of the premium than those in higher-cost plans.

"We believe the 10 percent mandate will end the tiering structure and will eliminate our ability to effectively control cost increases," Stella wrote. "In fact, if we are correct premium costs for the state will increase rapidly and, if significant enough, render any savings from this proposal illusory."

Finally, how about changing the way doctors are compensated? Doctors - Wages and Salaries - New York Times

In the United States, nearly all doctors are paid piecemeal, for each test or procedure they perform, rather than a flat salary. As a result, physicians have financial incentives to perform procedures that further drive up overall health care spending.

Doctors are also paid whether the procedures they perform go well or badly, Dr. Bach said, and whether they are crucial to a patient's health or not..

"Almost all expenditures pass through the pen of a doctor," he said. So a doctor may decide to perform a test that costs a total of $4,000 in order to make $800 for himself -- when a cheaper test might work equally well. "This is a highly inefficient way to pay doctors," Dr. Bach said.

This article doesn't list any unexpected consequences of changing the way doctors are paid, but I can take a few guesses. Doctors might start to work fewer hours if they're salaried instead of being paid by the procedure. If doctors are paid based on performance rather than procedure, they may start to avoid sicker patients in favor of healthy, easy to treat patients. It's not a guarantee, of course, but is a possibility.

When considering any policy changes, it's best to at least think through the possible secondary effects of the change.

On Child Labor Laws

A band and its 'forced march'

Starting in mid-June, members of the Oregon Marching Band and the Sound of Sun Prairie begin what they call "everydays": 12-hour practices, sometimes six days a week, often in sweltering conditions.

"I would say I probably put in 16 hours a day a good six days a week until the season's over," said Rachel Lisius, 16, Oregon's drum major.

And we need child labor laws, why? These 96 students are voluntarily "working" 72-96 hours a week. Of course, they're doing it for fun and hoping for a future career. State labor law says that these teenagers can only work a maximum of 50 hours a week. They're allowed to sweat, march, and practice for as many hours as they want, playing in a band. But try to work at McDonald's or a construction site for that many hours and the State will get you.

How does that make sense?