Friday, October 11, 2019

Good, Bad, and Unspecified Jobs Over The Past Six Weeks: Subtexts, News, and Observations

Since the last week of August, we’ve had all three of the above.  What am I talking about?

In TechCrunch on August 28th, we learned from Megan Rose Dickey that “Uber proposes policy that would pay drivers a minimum wage of $21 per hour while on a trip.”  Of course that offering was not altruistic – it was in response to a protest, in which drivers were hoisting signs expressing discontent with the company’s high CEO pay, lack of dignity (whatever that was intended to mean), and low income.  As any past or present taxi driver can tell you, this proposal doesn’t mean much, as it’s an unusual day if the meter or the equivalent runs for more than half the time, and one-third is common.  Announcing this sort of thing will not help ridesharers in any way, and begs a question:  Why can’t Uber management manage better?

A rather more salutary related idea made the September 11th New York Times editorial page, in “Take That ‘Gig’ and Shove It.”  The board weighed in again, on the right side, of the contractors vs. employees matter, endorsing a California State Assembly bill that “imposes strict limits on who can be classified as a contractor.”  In office settings It is usually hard to stop companies from “hiring large numbers of contractors whom they have treated as an inferior grade of employee,” but the ridesharers, with their rules and restrictions, clearly differ.  The three standards the bill requires for non-employee status, autonomous labor, freedom to work for others, and doing tasks “not central to the company’s business,” if passed into law, would put an abrupt end to talk of their dependent front-line drivers being contractors.  This bill should and probably will succeed, and from there will spread.

Good news on jobs was the subject of a piece in the local-to-here September 12-18 River Reporter, Fritz Mayer’s “If you’re ready for a job, you can get one in Sullivan.”  The director of the Center for Work Force Development in this New York county with a most recent 3.4% unemployment rate calls the labor market “very tight,” and said that healthcare and retail food service jobs were most plentiful.  A boon to the area, which will help more people work, is the recently started county bus service, hardly something to take for granted in a place with well under 100,000 scattered residents – that has increased the number of available workers, which the area can certainly handle right now.  The largest concern, implicit here, is how much these jobs actually pay.

“To Raise Wages, Make Companies Compete for Workers”?  Isn’t what the New York Times Editorial Board advocated on September 19th happening anyway?  Apparently not always, with “the absurd and harmful proliferation” of even low-level employees being required to sign noncompete agreements.  Once something only top engineers and planners need consent to, the limits are now imposed on 30% of salon-employed hair stylists, and when they were sharply limited by law, as in Oregon, employees not only changed jobs more freely but earned more.  With such agreements common for workers paid less than $23,360 per year, as shown by a New York bill barring them for people below that level, they have got out of hand, and employers may soon find that their right to impose them has been slashed.

Related to my August piece on the lives of the 1% was Louis Menand’s September 30th New Yorker “Is Meritocracy Making Everyone Miserable?”.  Indeed, Menand also cited Daniel Markovits, in this case his book, The Meritocracy Trap, the basis of that post’s main article.  While Menand therein gave that a poor review, calling it “bombastic” and “repetitive,” he agreed with most of what I named last time and hit many more, including the $148 billion annual higher-education taxpayer support, the huge 60-year increase of the average lifetime earnings boost for college graduates, problems with “meritocracy” blamed on it being “not meritocratic enough,” the narrow overall scope shown by 12 highly selective schools having fewer than 1 in 200 undergraduates, the decreasing and often insufficient funding for lower-level colleges, the differences between affirmative action by group and by income, and preferential treatment begetting more of the same.  One good Menand counterpoint was that discrimination to the point of complete bans against women and blacks is now gone, and three issues he mentioned were more controversial than he made them out to be:  the held-as-false idea that those in the 1% think they earned what they got (it may be unfair that they unlike others of similar inherent aptitude were put on a track for it from preschool, but they still worked extremely hard), that much of the sorting process happens during college (I think we are already, per grade inflation, getting a Japanese-style system where high school students put in the most effort and the prestige of universities will carry their students on from there by itself), and the problems with SAT scores reflecting social class (they would correlate heavily, also, with number of books at home).  This Menand piece may provoke your thinking as well – as should the other four articles discussed here. 

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