Sunday, August 31, 2014

The New York very rich are angry at the ubber-rich's helicopter noise pollution

This is so ironic. I found this New York Times article through Daily Kos:
On an evening during the last stretch of summer, 385 people arrived at the studios of LTV, a cable-access programmer in Wainscott, on the East End of Long Island, for a town-hall meeting to discuss mounting aural assaults from commuter helicopters going to and from Manhattan. The issue had been igniting tempers all season — especially in the communities of Shelter Island, the Springs and parts of the North Fork, areas where a lot of the noise has been absorbed and where local self-perception runs less toward the glossy and indulgent than it does elsewhere on the East End.
"In 2007 we banned helicopters," Jim Dougherty, Shelter Island’s town supervisor, told me, pointing out that none of his constituents ever complained about the prohibition. "So it is the height of irony that we should become the dustbin for the East Hampton airport."
Helicopter traffic at the airport this summer has increased by close to 40 percent over last and with it has come a comparable rise in tension between the very affluent and the exceptionally rich.
"Quality of life truly is being diminished for commercial greed and the convenience of the same people who burned the economy," a longtime Shelter Island summer resident said to me.
"When I look up at small planes and choppers I see a fleet of middle fingers across the sky."
So what we have here now are the very rich getting angry at the ubber-rich flying their helicopters low over their exclusive neighborhoods during the commute hours. Of course, the ubber-rich have the money to purchase and fly their commuter helicopters, while the very rich are stuck driving their Range Rover SUVs and Beemers in rush-hour commuter traffic. Or the very rich have to listen to all these ubber-rich helicopters flying back-and-forth in their exclusive, gated communities at all hours of the day, drowning out the natural serenity of wild bird songs and crickets chirping. Do the ubber-rich care about the noise pollution they are causing? Probably not. But what is important here to realize is that this is an other symptom of the extreme inequality that exists in the U.S. between the 'haves' and 'have-nots,'but also the disconnect between the ubber-rich 'One Percenters,' and and everyone else--including those very rich individuals who provide the tax services, legal advice, financial advising, day-to-day company management, and a host of other professional services that have made these One Percenters' so ubber-rich that they could afford to commute by helicopter. I get the impression of the very rich people working hard and following the rules that were laid down by the ubber-rich for getting ahead that, one day, they could become part of that One Percent Club. Only now, the One Percent Club have snubbed their noses to the very rich, ignoring any sense of common courtesy, respect, decency and manners to them--just as they have done to the poor, working and middle classes. When you are so insulated with such extremely lavish wealth and power, are you ever going to see a growing, resenting backlash from the rest of the 99 percent that you have insulted and ignored?
At the turn of the last century it was the bourgeoisie in New York and other major cities who might have envisioned similar gestures of contempt directed at them by robber barons fleeing to Saratoga and Newport during July and August via the era’s own elaborate and expensive means of transport, private rail cars or yachts.
Richard Hofstadter, in his classic work of historical analysis "The Age of Reform," published in 1955, argued that it was the disgust and disruption felt by those who had previously occupied the highest ranks of the social order toward the new superseding class of self-lavishing bankers and industrialists that ultimately allowed the Progressive movement to flourish. The undermining of status radicalized the formerly complacent, and class politics took shape because one segment of the population had so much money that the merely respectable could now identify with the actually poor.

"To face the insolence of the local boss or traction magnate in a town where one’s family had long been prominent was galling enough,” Hofstadter wrote, “it was still harder to bear at a time when every fortune, every career, every reputation, seemed smaller and less significant because it was measured against the Vanderbilts, Harrimans, Goulds, Carnegies, Rockefellers and Morgans." A survey of Progressive Party leaders in 1912, he noted, revealed how overwhelmingly urban and middle-class they were. None were farmers and only one came from labor.
Makes me wonder, are we heading towards another Progressive revolt against the One Percent? Update: Looks like the ubber-rich are building monster McMansions in the Bel-Air hills over the more "modest" very rich homes.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Two stories on net worth loss by the poor, and minimum wage loss from inflation

I found a couple of stories that I wanted to comment on.  The first is this story by Kevin Drum, showing a real eye-opening chart on the Great Recession's impact on the poor:

Graph showing median household net worth from 2000 -- 2011.  From Kevin Drum.

If you look at the chart, Kevin shows that the net worth of the poor has dropped in a ten-year period, from zero to around -$6,000.  In fact, the median net worth has dropped for what is essentially the poor, the working, and possibly the middle class households.  Upper middle class households made some gains in their median net worth, while the extreme rich have taken huge gains in their net worth.  According to the Census Bureau report:

Between 2000 and 2011, experiences of households varied widely depending on their net worth quintile (See Figure 1). Median household net worth decreased by $5,124 for households in the first (bottom) net worth quintile,2 $7,056 (or 49.3 percent) for the second quintile, and $5,072 (or 6.9 percent) for the third quintile. Median household net worth increased by $18,433 (or 9.8 percent) for households in the fourth quintile, and by $61,379 (or 10.8 percent) for households in the highest (top) quintile (See Tables A1-A2 and Figure 2).

The distribution of net worth became more spread out between 2000 and 2011. The ratio of median net worth of the highest quintile to the second quintile increased from 39.8 to 86.8 between 2000 and 2011, and the ratio of the highest quintile to the third quintile increased from 7.7 to 9.2. The ratio of the highest quintile to the fourth quintile was 3.0 in 2000 and showed no statistically significant change over this period (See Figure 3).

Between 2010 and 2011, the ratio of median net worth of the highest quintile to the second quintile decreased by 3.85 percentage points, and the ratio of the highest quintile to the third quintile decreased by 0.25 percentage points.The ratio of the highest quintile to the fourth quintile showed no statistically significant change over this period.
The second story that I found is through The Daily Kos, showing a couple of calculator clocks on how much minimum wage workers have lost in pay due to inflation.  These clocks were created by The Center for Economic and Policy Research:

In a sense, both stories complement each other.  If you think about it, the poor are really the minimum wage workers in this country, living on paycheck-to-paycheck.  With the minimum wage remaining in stagnation for almost 30 years, these workers have lost anywhere between $3 to $6 trillion worth of wages due to inflation--whichever way you measure that loss.  These poor workers are the ones that are going to spend much of their paycheck on the goods and services that power the U.S. economy.  But with inflation eroding the minimum wage over a long period of time, and the double whammy of the Great Recession slamming into the poor, they are no longer living from paycheck-to-paycheck, but are falling behind.  They are no longer purchasing the goods and services that make up the U.S. economic growth.  And that creeping of the loss of household net worth and loss of wages due to inflation is moving up through the working and middle class.  

What we end up having is a lack of demand in the U.S. economy.  The loss of household net worth, coupled with the wage stagnation and loss through inflation, means that nobody has any money to spend on goods and services.  Or they are only spending on the bare necessities, such as food and shelter, but no extra goods, services, or luxuries.  The only group that seems to have the money to spend are the extreme rich, where businesses are catering to their tastes.  But there is only so much goods and services that the rich can buy--the rest of the money will have to be parked into more bank accounts, and invested in the Wall Street gambling casino, to generate even more income inequality for the extreme rich.  The rich get richer, the poor get poorer, and nobody will have any more money to spend--not just on goods and services, but even the basic necessities.  It is a system that is unsustainable.

Sooner or later, that system is going to collapse.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Work scheduling software creates havoc on low wage employees' lives

I found this NY Times story on both Daily Kos, and Kevin Drum:

SAN DIEGO — In a typical last-minute scramble, Jannette Navarro, a 22-year-old Starbucks barista and single mother, scraped together a plan for surviving the month of July without setting off family or financial disaster.
In contrast to the joyless work she had done at a Dollar Tree store and a KFC franchise, the $9-an-hour Starbucks job gave Ms. Navarro, the daughter of a drug addict and an absentee father, the hope of forward motion. She had been hired because she showed up so many times, cheerful and persistent, asking for work, and she had a way of flicking away setbacks — such as a missed bus on her three-hour commute — with the phrase, “I’m over it.”
But Ms. Navarro’s fluctuating hours, combined with her limited resources, had also turned their lives into a chronic crisis over the clock. She rarely learned her schedule more than three days before the start of a workweek, plunging her into urgent logistical puzzles over who would watch the boy. Months after starting the job she moved out of her aunt’s home, in part because of mounting friction over the erratic schedule, which the aunt felt was also holding her family captive. Ms. Navarro’s degree was on indefinite pause because her shifting hours left her unable to commit to classes. She needed to work all she could, sometimes counting on dimes from the tip jar to make the bus fare home. If she dared ask for more stable hours, she feared, she would get fewer work hours over all.

“You’re waiting on your job to control your life,” she said, with the scheduling software used by her employer dictating everything from “how much sleep Gavin will get to what groceries I’ll be able to buy this month.”

Last month, she was scheduled to work until 11 p.m. on Friday, July 4; report again just hours later, at 4 a.m. on Saturday; and start again at 5 a.m. on Sunday. She braced herself to ask her aunt, Karina Rivera, to watch Gavin, hoping she would not explode in annoyance, or worse, refuse. She vowed to somehow practice for the driving test that she had promised her boyfriend she would pass by the previous month. To stay awake, she would formulate her own behind-the-counter coffee concoctions, pumping in extra shots of espresso.

Like increasing numbers of low-income mothers and fathers, Ms. Navarro is at the center of a new collision that pits sophisticated workplace technology against some fundamental requirements of parenting, with particularly harsh consequences for poor single mothers. Along with virtually every major retail and restaurant chain, Starbucks relies on software that choreographs workers in precise, intricate ballets, using sales patterns and other data to determine which of its 130,000 baristas are needed in its thousands of locations and exactly when. Big-box retailers or mall clothing chains are now capable of bringing in more hands in anticipation of a delivery truck pulling in or the weather changing, and sending workers home when real-time analyses show sales are slowing. Managers are often compensated based on the efficiency of their staffing.

Scheduling is now a powerful tool to bolster profits, allowing businesses to cut labor costs with a few keystrokes. “It’s like magic,” said Charles DeWitt, vice president for business development at Kronos, which supplies the software for Starbucks and many other chains.
Welcome to the world of Just-In-Time-Scheduling.   Just-In-Time is a production strategy where manufacturers reduce inventory, waste, and storage costs by ordering only enough parts to manufacture the product at the right time, right place, and right amount.  This type of manufacturing process started in the 1950s with Japanese car companies, and is pretty much adopted on a world-wide basis by manufacturers today.  Well, the Just-In-Time manufacturing model is now being adopted by companies for creating work schedules of employees in order to wring out even more efficiency.  Employees' work schedules are no longer created by managers, but rather sophisticated computer programs which factor in sales trends, economic indicators, and even weather patterns, to create a company work schedule with the right number of employees for both the day, and the hour.  The problem with these "workforce optimization systems"  is that they reduce the employee to a number that can be plugged in anywhere on a schedule to the benefit of the company's efficiency, while at the same time creating a havoc to the employee's work / life balance.  That employee will not have a regular, stable, weekly shift from they can both plan their life around and budget a stable paycheck.  Again from the NY Times:

Yet those advances are injecting turbulence into parents’ routines and personal relationships, undermining efforts to expand preschool access, driving some mothers out of the work force and redistributing some of the uncertainty of doing business from corporations to families, say parents, child care providers and policy experts.
In Brooklyn, Sandianna Irvine often works “on call” hours at Ashley Stewart, a plus-size clothing store, rushing to make arrangements for her 5-year-old daughter if the store needs her. Before Martha Cadenas was promoted to manager at a Walmart in Apple Valley, Minn., she had to work any time the store needed; her mother “ended up having to move in with me,” she said, because of the unpredictable hours. Maria Trisler is often dismissed early from her shifts at a McDonald’s in Peoria, Ill., when the computers say sales are slow. The same sometimes happens to Ms. Navarro at Starbucks.
By Saturday afternoon of the Fourth of July weekend, Ms. Navarro had made it through “clopening,” closing late at night and opening again just a few hours later. But she had not yet worked up the courage to ask Ms. Rivera and Ms. Rivera’s boyfriend, Oscar Nuñez, for help the next day with Gavin.
In a sense, Ms. Navarro's entire life--both her work life and personal life--has gone under complete control by Starbucks, all in the name of corporate efficiency.  As a minimum wage worker, her paycheck will fluctuate according to how many hours she will be working for each week.  The shift times will vary, according to when Ms. Navarro's Starbucks store will have their coffee rushes, and even the shift times will have an effect on her--Ms. Navarro does not have a car, and needs to take a bus to work, adding even more time to her commute.  This is an even greater hardship if Ms. Navarro is performing a "clopening," forcing her to sleep on the sidewalk before opening the store.  While Starbucks calls Ms. Navarro's fate"an anomaly," saying the company provides a week's notice on the work schedule as well as a stable schedule per employees' requests.  However, the NY Times interviewed current and recent Starbucks workers at 17 Starbucks stores around the country, and only two have confirmed that they received a week's notice on the schedule, with some employees saying they have received their schedule in as little as one day.

While scheduling software can be a useful, productivity tool, such a tool has been taken to extreme by Starbucks and other companies.  An individual human being has been replaced by a number in these software scheduling programs  to be used to maximize efficiency and profit for the company's benefit.  What is more, as these "numbers" are more likely part-time retail workers, who are at the low end of the social and economic scale with little resources and advancement.  They are one paycheck away from disaster, and if they complain to their managers about their erratic, software optimized, work schedule, they can be easily replaced by new hires.  These part-time retail workers are also trapped in this hellish, company optimized work schedule in that they are denied the stability they will need to take college classes and job training programs to improve their skills.   Ms Navarro was only a "few credits shy of an associates degree in business," before having to place her "degree was on indefinite pause because her shifting hours left her unable to commit to classes." 

We have sold our soul to the company store.