Friday, December 27, 2013

Christmas Presents for New Yorkers: Casino Jobs

One or two full-service casinos will be opening in the Catskills, with the remaining two or three in the Albany or Saratoga area and near Binghamton.  Licenses will be granted in the middle of 2014, and the businesses will open over the next two years.  Current contenders include two in Monticello, two in Liberty, one in Rock Hill, and one in Ellenville.  What jobs will they have?

Casino-hotels typically have about one full-time employee per guest room.  That means locations in Sullivan County and nearby will need about 200 or 400 workers.  All will be local, and most will be recruited from area residents.

Casino resort jobs can be divided into two groups – those connected with the gambling operations, and those with other functions.  Gaming managers can expect to earn $45,000 to $95,000 per year.  Dealers, at blackjack, craps, roulette, poker, and other table games, are usually paid the minimum wage plus health insurance and other benefits – the tips they receive put them solidly in the middle class.  Slot machine attendants are paid similarly.  Pit bosses, who supervise groups of gambling tables, can expect to earn around $50,000.  Cage workers and their supervisors are needed to buy and sell chips from players, and sports books, which take wagers on football, basketball, baseball games and more, require people to set the odds and handle bets.  A large number of security guards, generally getting around $30,000 per year, will also be hired, along with their higher-paid supervisors. 

The Catskills casinos will need many more workers than these.  Each will have several restaurants with chefs, cooks, bussers, and waitstaff.  They will also need bartenders, not only at up-front locations but at service bars from which players’ drinks are prepared.  These jobs will typically pay as much as they would in other settings, and many will have opportunities for tips, which are often very large; for example, Las Vegas cocktail waitresses, though paid only the minimum by their employers, often earn over $150,000 per year.  In addition, a full hotel staff, ranging from front-desk workers and housekeepers to managers, will be required.  Almost all casino-hotel jobs have two advantages:  first, employers tend to promote people quickly and from within; and second, work skills can easily be transferred to other gambling locations.      

What does it take to get these positions?  Related experience is highly valued, but not always necessary.  The casinos will be looking for people good at communication, customer service, and arithmetic, and willing to work at unusual times.  When the licenses are granted, a variety of community and technical schools will partner with management to offer courses, focused on getting students hired, on dealing and other skills. 

Will you have a good, new career before the next presidential election?  That is quite possible, if you have the interest, abilities, and competence for a casino job.  

Friday, December 20, 2013

Rand Paul, Just Another Social Conservative, Would Do a Job on American Workers

In the 1988 primaries, I supported Ron Paul.  He came up from Texas with fresh ideas, including an end to American military involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan, an eventual return to the gold standard, legalization of marijuana and other recreational drugs, outright dissolution of several large federal departments, and much more.   I had voted for Libertarian Party presidential candidates Ed Clark in 1980 and Harry Browne in 2000, and this author and obstetrician seemed to represent a unique opportunity, one with those beliefs who had a chance with a major party.  Perhaps what I liked best about Ron Paul was that he seemed to say what he thought was right, regardless of whom he might offend or whatever other Republicans seemed to think of him. 

Alas, he never won a primary.  He did get national attention as a serious member of the field, and rose, anyway, to the point where national columnists mentioned him.  The two references I remember were someone writing that he was the only candidate who seemed completely consistent, and another saying that Paul apparently wished that all financial transactions be carried out in pieces of eight.  Maybe not such a bad thing, I thought later that year, when the stock market crashed and paper net worth dropped trillions seemingly overnight.  So Ron Paul had made his mark.

Soon after that campaign ended, he made it clear that he, well into his seventies, would not be seeking the presidency again.  He did, however, have someone to pass his legacy on to – his second-oldest son.  Rand Paul, named of course after matron saint of libertarianism Ayn Rand, was himself a physician, and became a United States Senator from Kentucky two years later.   Only 47, he had plenty of time to take on the mantle of a good cause.  I shared the hope that someday I would want to support him as I had his father.

Unfortunately, it hasn’t worked out that way. 

Now, three years from his senatorial election, I know Rand Paul best from two comments he made.  The first was when states began sanctioning same-sex marriage, and he said that if that became law, next would be people marrying non-human animals.  Earlier this month, he laid an even larger egg.  He said that lengthening unemployment benefits would be a “disservice” to those out of work for more than six months, that such payments would be “causing them to become part of this perpetual unemployed group in our economy.” 

Now for the facts.  There are now 4.1 million Americans jobless and still looking for work for 27 weeks or more.  Although the unemployment rate has improved greatly over the past several years, the American Job Shortage Number is down below 20 million, and secondary employment measures have fallen also, that 4.1 million hasn’t budged.  That means more people than live in the cities of Chicago and Milwaukee combined lost their jobs in June or earlier, and ever since have kept plugging – reading who knows how many job ads, probably making innumerable phone calls, and applying for large numbers of positions – and have got nowhere. 

Rand Paul, apparently, thinks they keep doing these things insincerely.  But the anecdotal stories would amaze anyone steadily employed for a long time, with literally thousands of applications filled out.  These people are in all kinds of careers, blue-collar as well as professional, and, despite what must be serious discouragement, they keep looking.  Millions more have left the labor force, contributing to a participation rate lower than at any time since the Carter administration.   Sure, some would prefer to draw their average of $300 per week instead of actually doing paid labor, but study after study shows most would rather get back in the game, and the laws say anyway that someone who refuses an offer to work gets no benefits that week. 

Libertarianism, a brilliant concept, may have passed its moment.  In the 1990s, a healthy looking young man tried to panhandle from me in the streets of Orlando.  After he was out of earshot, I said to my companions “Get an expletive deleted job!  There’s three percent unemployment!”  I stand with that opinion – for that time and place.  He could easily have been hired at, if nowhere else, a restaurant where he would have received not only enough money to live on but free food.  Yet markets only work when people have something to trade, and if all they can offer is their labor, they need protection of some sort when that turns out to have no value. 

What I dislike most about the younger Paul is not that he is a disappointment.   It is that he did not inherit his father’s open views.  When he made his same-sex marriage comments, against common sense as well as on the wrong side of history, he was playing to Republican voters.  I don’t know if he really believes 4.1 million long-term unemployed Americans, many with job-searching histories few as consistently privileged as him have ever approached, are moochers, but what he said must have sounded good to many of the nation’s Republicans. 

Rand Paul is almost certain to run for president, in 2020 if not in 2016.  Support him if you see fit, but don’t be fooled.  Factoring in his view on abortion, which he thinks should be illegal in all cases, he is not the libertarian he calls himself.  He is not his father either.  And that is not a good thing.      

Friday, December 13, 2013

Six Points Against a Higher Minimum Wage

Over the past few weeks, the most press related to jobs has gone to the effort by fast-food workers to be paid much more, usually $15 per hour.  It seems like an easy thing to sympathize with – they work hard, are often educated and skilled beyond what they do, and the companies named are immense and lucrative.  The workers are not unionized, seem to have little legal representation, and number in the millions nationwide.  Their push for more money seems to symbolize rebellion against the worsening of jobs all over the country, and many have maintained that if we could only pay them “a living wage,” such positions would become much better and a lot of poverty would end.

It is true that there would be some good things resulting from a higher minimum.  The bad things, however, are more substantial.  I count six reasons why the minimum wage should not be increased.

First, not every low-paying job is with a large and very profitable company.  When I read about workers dissatisfied with their low pay, they always seem to work at Wal-Mart, McDonalds, Burger King, or the like, never at the corner grocery store that’s having trouble paying its bills, the new small venture where the owner is joined by one or two $7.25-per-hour helpers, or in the back of a small town’s only restaurant.   In reality, most low-paid employees work for places you’ve never heard of, many of which simply can’t, from a practical business standpoint, give them anything like $15 per hour.

Second, the country is over 19 million jobs short, and forcibly raising pay for many will make that number higher.  I don’t know the exact effect minimum wage raises have had in the past, and I’m not sure anyone conclusively does – the data doesn’t always agree, and it has become politicized.  I don’t need to know, though, whether this proposed 106% increase would cut 5% or 50% of jobs now paying, say, $10 per hour or less, or how much of the effect would be immediate and how much would be spread out over years through attrition, decisions not to grow, and business failures from needing to set prices too high.  I see it as common sense that some number of jobs would go away, a number extremely likely to be substantial. 

Third, demand for even low-paying jobs is great as it is, and making it higher – possibly much higher – will not help anyone.  Even in the last decade’s good times, a Wal-Mart opening near Chicago got 25,000 applications for its 350 supposedly reviled jobs.  When workers needed are too scarce, businesses will generally offer more money anyway, so the effect of a higher minimum would consistently be to force owners to pay more than the market requires.  As before, that may not cause damage if they are unusually profitable, but otherwise it is in effect an extra tax on employers – not what we want when jobs are as scarce as they are. 

Fourth, for many Americans the largest inequality is not between those being paid at or near the minimum wage and others working for more – it is between employed people and those without jobs at all.  To name just one statistic, over 10 million are officially jobless.  Many of them would be delighted to have any offer, even if for less than $15 per hour.  By adding to the ranks of those who have no way to legally support themselves, we would create an even larger gulf within our country.

Fifth, the number of those a higher minimum would actually move out of poverty would be remarkably small.  Twenty-four percent of those at the minimum wage are teenagers, and over 20% more are in their twenties.  Most Americans of those ages are living with employed parents.  Many are also in areas where the cost of living is too high for $15 per hour to allow them to be truly self-supporting, even if, unlike many at food and service positions, they work 40-hour weeks. 

Sixth, forcing the lowest pay rate much higher, even if not the more than doubling the protesters are requesting, would disproportionately hurt businesses in less prosperous areas of the country.  Although many low-paid fast-food workers are in large cities, those in less populated areas, where the cost of living is much lower, would not be allowed to work for less.  There are many American towns and counties where most employees, even those we don’t think of as in the same boat as fast-food workers, earn less than $30,000 per year, and aren’t broke either.  Police officers, teachers, and a variety of office workers, for example, often start under that amount, and with many houses available for, believe it or not, $50,000 or less, they often have no real financial trouble.  If their jobs go away, it would be an unmitigated loss for the higher minimum wage.       

How about other ways of helping those with low income?  There have also been public controversies about unemployment benefits and food stamps.  In those cases, the liberals are right.  When we are maintaining 4.1 million out of work for 27 weeks or more, there is no excuse for not extending those payments to 39 weeks or, preferably, 52, nationwide.  Likewise, food stamps, seldom abusable when delivered through ATM-style cards and redeemed only when identification is presented, only assure that Americans can eat;  while they need not be designed to provide more than the basics, there should never be a question that people who need them should have them.  Yet the minimum wage is not the same thing.  People working can survive.  Confusing them with those not assured of either is destructive.  And if their jobs would go away due to simple business decisions caused by forced higher pay, we would have only ourselves to blame.        

Friday, December 6, 2013

November AJSN: The Best Month in 2013 Brings the US to 19.3 Million Jobs Short

Monthly updates to the Bureau of Labor Statistics employment data this year have precipitated some overly positive reactions.  At times, commentators have waxed enthusiastic about a one-tenth-of-a-percent drop in the unemployment rate, even when it was accounted for nearly completely by people leaving the labor force.  The data, when examined beyond the headline jobless rate, has often turned out to be as robust as a fairgrounds haunted house, with nothing you would really like to see behind the fa├žade. 

November, though, was legitimately good. 

Not only did seasonally-adjusted unemployment drop all the way from 7.3% to 7.0%, it was achieved without people pouring out of the working life.  The number of Americans with jobs rose over 600,000 to 144,775,000, and the number of those employed part-time for economic, as opposed to personal, reasons, which had been stuck at about 8,000,000, dropped 331,000 to reach 7.7 million.  Although the count of those saying they did not want a job went up over 300,000, most of the other AJSN components, specifically discouraged workers, people with ill health or disability, those not looking during the previous year, and those not immediately available, decreased.  Most stunning was the labor force actually increasing by 455,000, erasing two-thirds of last month’s fall and resulting in the labor force to population ratio rising to 58.6%.  The non-seasonally-adjusted unemployment rate plunged also, to 6.6%.

Overall, the American Job Shortage Number reached 19.33 million, its lowest since 2008, as follows:

Total Latent Demand % Latent Demand Total
Unemployed 10,271,000 90 9,243,900
Discouraged 762,000 90 685,800
Family Responsibilities 238,000 30 71,400
In School or Training 260,000 50 130,000
Ill Health or Disability 118,000 10 11,800
Other 718,000 30 215,400
Did Not Search for Work In  Previous Year 2,905,000 80 2,324,000
Not Available to Work Now 436,000 30 130,800
Do Not Want a Job 86,084,000 5 4,304,200
Non-Civilian, Institutionalized, and Unaccounted For, 15+ 9,501,768 10 950,177
American Expatriates 6,320,000 20 1,264,000
TOTAL     19,331,477
Over the past 12 months, the American jobs situation has improved substantially.  The November 2012 AJSN was 20.6 million, almost 1.3 million higher, with over 1.1 million more officially unemployed, more than 200,000 discouraged, and 442,000 more saying they had not searched for a job in the previous year. 

Not every number this morning was positive.  The stubborn count of 4.1 million jobless for 27 weeks or longer did not improve, and neither did the labor force participation rate of 63.0%.  The 358,000 additional deciding they did not want to work was half again the population increase, and the 203,000 rise in those employed, while good, was hardly the fundamental improvement that could have explained the large unemployment-rate drop.  Another statistic that may well do poorly today is the Dow Jones Industrial Average, if investors are scared that the Fed’s bond-buying stimulus will, despite Chairman Ben Bernanke’s revised 6.5% unemployment cutpoint, be reduced soon.    

Yet here we have something.  It’s way too soon to say the country’s getting back to work, let alone that the jobs crisis is over.  We still would need several years of months like this one, the best in half a decade, to achieve full employment.  But for once, the numbers in back, as well as the numbers in front, are encouraging.