Businesses Should Be More Understanding Of Workers’ Needs

One of the running themes being heard and seen around the nation is the at-times high-minded and self-righteous phrasing of “get a job”. The millions of unemployed along with the wide array of openings have spawned a sad exercise in who can be more arrogant when it comes to labeling the unemployed.

The fact is a massive reconfiguration of the workforce is underway. It can be rightly seen in a very positive way. Following the many components to this national story can be uplifting, but as I note from Northern Wisconsin it can also be dispiriting.

What can not be dismissed is that almost tectonic shifts in the workforce are underway.

For instance, record 4.3 million Americans quit their jobs in August alone. As has been widely reported women are quitting their jobs at a faster pace than men. CBS News reports the biggest reason for the upheaval in the workplace can be summed up in one word.

Burnout.

There is empowerment being felt by workers coast to coast as they assess their lives and desires. It does make for an interesting lesson to watch play out.

For so long many politicians had refused to address the minimum wage and refused to acknowledge the need for a living wage in the county. The pandemic unleashed a series of dynamics in the work world where workers can now demand from employers better wages and benefits. And in some sectors they are getting them.

Some workers have left their jobs for better pay, while others have moved to new areas with the ability to work in a remote-friendly fashion. The other interesting aspect of the flux in the work world is the number of workers who have quit a job, and started their own business.

In the midst of all the changes underway there is, however, a nagging sore spot that continues to abound. On social media this weekend it was noted by a woman that she “Went to a bar for some lunch and as we were leaving I noticed a sign out front that said “money isn’t free” and “get a job it’s the American way”.

That did not sit so well with her, and for obvious reasons, so she did some research on the business concerning the federal relief dollars that it had received. The business in Northern Wisconsin had received $88,900. The loan was forgiven in April 2021.

I am mighty glad the federal government injected funds into the economy, assisted businesses and workers as the country waged war on the pandemic and its broad-based attack on the economy. The bar in this story had every reason to get a loan. And be grateful that the nation cared to see the survival of small mom and pop establishments.

But to assign blame for problems, as the sign strongly infers, on one villainous party, that being the so-called lazy portion of the American workforce, is simply awful.

What is not registered in the posting on that establishment is what is playing out for the first time in decades, by my recollection, where workers feel like they have options ahead of them. And with that power, they can quit a job they hated. We must simply reject the rhetoric that people are lazy and they do not wish to work.

Rather they wish to be valued as employees. paid a decent wage, and have benefits that make their lives better. Perhaps employers will need to up their game on how to keep their workers and attract new ones.

Meanwhile, the wrong-headed notion that Americans are not interested in working can be chalked off as wrong. The data proves why.

Millions of people struck out on their own and started a wide array of business ventures with 4.3 million new business applications filed in 2020 and 3.8 million so far this year.

There are many aspects to this larger story that continues to play out. I have a friend who quit his job in a large financial institution. The reason was a severe mismatch in the corporate offices thinking they could demand a return to all in-person working. He had worked there for over 25 years, took a severance package, and will now use his skills in a new pursuit.

Workers are in the driver’s seat. Businesses need to understand that fact.

And so it goes.

Shortages On Madison Store Shelves, Worldwide Economic Concerns

Perhaps it is a coping mechanism, but during the pandemic, I latched onto certain topics and followed them rather closely. (Anything that was not about people on ventilators!) Then again, I might just be a nerd and that explains why I follow up on certain topics. But really, how can anyone not find some desire to better understand the effects of swamping the shipping industry with cargo, as happened in 2020?

Regardless of the reason, I have found interest in the costs of homes, reading today that the median price of one in Californian is $800,000. The stock of available homes for sale, the construction of new ones, along with the housing bubble is a topic I enjoy hearing about from our realtor friends.

I also find my curiosity heightened by the worldwide problems with supply chains concerning a wide swath of products. When masks, disinfectant wipes, and meat products had shortages and distribution problems during the pandemic there was a desire to better understand why. In the middle of 2021, as the shortages continue, and the world is impacted, as with the lack of computer chips for new auto construction, there are many others now trying to understand the reasons, too.

WISC reported on this issue Tuesday.

Tim Metcalfe, owner of Metcalfe’s Market, has seen it too. Paper towels, toilet paper, cleaning supplies, and bottles of water are once again in short supply at his Madison-based stores.

“We might not have Dasani,” Metcalfe said. “But we do have ‘Everyday Essential.’ There’s always product available. It might just be a different brand.”

Part of the problem is increased demand: Grocery sales are up about 14% nationally from this time two years ago. But it’s also the result of a supply chain issue.

With the supply shortages, comes naturally an uptick in prices.

Kurt Bauer, president of business lobbying group Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce said that the supply chain is also causing issues because production hasn’t rebounded from the downturn caused by COVID-19.

“It takes a while for production to fill that demand, and so there’s more demand than there’s supply,” said Bauer.

Bauer said those issues are feeding into inflationary pressures, which are trickling down to consumers.

“Right now, what we’re seeing is something akin to an accident on a busy highway,” said Bauer. “There’s a bottleneck, and it takes time for traffic to resume normal flow after the accident is cleared.”

Bauer said as shortages ease, some prices could be driven down, but he said inflationary pressures “are here to stay, at least for the time being.”

The New York Times approached this topic from a worldwide perspective this week.

In the face of an enduring shortage of computer chips, Toyota announced this month that it would slash its global production of cars by 40 percent. Factories around the world are limiting operations — despite powerful demand for their wares — because they cannot buy metal parts, plastics and raw materials. Construction companies are paying more for paint, lumber and hardware, while waiting weeks and sometimes months to receive what they need.

In Britain, the National Health Service recently advised that it must delay some blood tests because of a shortage of needed gear. A recent survey by the Confederation of British Industry found the worst shortages of parts in the history of the index, which started in 1977.

The Great Supply Chain Disruption is a central element of the extraordinary uncertainty that continues to frame economic prospects worldwide. If the shortages persist well into next year, that could advance rising prices on a range of commodities. As central banks from the United States to Australia debate the appropriate level of concern about inflation, they must consider a question none can answer with full confidence: Are the shortages and delays merely temporary mishaps accompanying the resumption of business, or something more insidious that could last well into next year?

The economic levers and interworking parts of a global supply network may seem dry and academic. Until the item we wish to buy at the local store or purchase overnight through Amazon is just not available.

And so it goes.

Anti-Vaxxers Causing Economic Woes, 4th Wave Of Pandemic Strikes Nation

The alarm bells are ringing again about the economy due to another wave of COVID-19. It goes without saying that economic downturns will result from any pandemic wave. But it also needs to be stated this 4th wave was totally and absolutely preventable as the cause of it is totally related to those who refuse to follow science and get the vaccines shots.

Mind-boggling, though it is, we hear from Republicans and conservatives that they care about economic growth. They tout tax cuts as growth measures, and cuts in regulations to stir business creation. But when it comes to the easiest and obvious measure to stop a pandemic and ensure a robust economy and stabilized markets those same people in places all over the nation refuse to get the vaccine.

The negative impact of their decisions is now showing up in business reporting.

“When companies began announcing tentative return-to-office plans this spring, there was a sense of optimism behind the messages. Covid cases were dwindling in the United States as the vaccine rollout picked up pace. Employers largely hoped their workers would get shots on their own, motivated by raffle tickets, paid time off and other perks, if not by the consensus of the medical community.”

“In recent days, that tone has suddenly shifted. The Delta variant, a more contagious version of the coronavirus, is sweeping through the country. Fewer than half of Americans are fully vaccinated, exacerbating the situation… It all adds up to a difficult calculation for America’s business leaders, who hoped the country would already be fully on a path to normalcy, with employees getting back to offices. Instead, individual companies are now being forced to make tough decisions that they had hoped could be avoided, such as whether to reverse reopening plans or institute vaccine mandates for employees.”

The recovery that was juicing upwards is soon to face limitations.

Coronavirus cases have been rising nationwide and are back to their highest level since early May as the highly contagious variant spreads across the country. The sharp uptick has reignited fears of the pandemic, particularly as cases rise among young children who are unable to get a vaccine and even among those who have been fully vaccinated.

“If people don’t feel safe, they’re going to close schools. If people don’t feel safe, they’re not going to go back to work,” said Claudia Sahm, a former Federal Reserve economist. “The recovery — it’s going, but it’s still vulnerable.”

Getting vaccinated should be considered an investment not only in one’s own personal health, but also with society’s health. That includes the nation’s ongoing economic recovery efforts. State data from around the nation shows that when vaccination rates increased, the share of people working also rose.  More money in the engine of the country allows for more people to buy what they put off during the pandemic year.

Policymakers at the federal, state, and local levels must redouble their efforts to increase vaccination rates in order to secure these benefits and build on past successes. But for them to succeed the chuckleheads who thus far have acted liked petulant children need to step up and begin to act like an adult.

And so it goes.

Why I Detest Hedge Funds, Chicago Tribune Showcases Reasons

If you ever wondered what the call letters for WGN (radio or TV) stand for now might be the time to find out. Because the root of the meaning is slowing dying.

Col. Robert McCormick was a legendary businessman and mover and shaper of Chicago. He is best known as the owner and publisher of the famed Chicago Tribune. He rightly had proclaimed that newspaper as the “World’s Greatest Newspaper” as it was a long-time preeminent source of news for the region. When the company bought a radio station and television station the idea for the call letters fell into place.

WGN.

Now the newspaper has fallen into the grubby and destructive hands of a hedge fund known for destroying local journalism.

When it comes to hedge funds it comes as no surprise I rank them alongside those who sold cure-all elixirs door-to-door at one time in our nation. They are best termed as “vulture capitalists”. Soulless, too.

Now comes news that the newspaper will likely be saying goodbye, by the end of next week, to some of its best-known names who, with their bylines, have allowed readers to know a credible reporter was writing the story. The reason for this madness is the newspaper is fully under the control of a hedge fund known for severe cost-cutting. No regard for talent and experience, or the needs of the citizenry to have a newspaper designed to impart information to all the neighborhoods and communities that rely on the Tribune.

Instead, there is now a voluntary buyout underway as Alden Global Capital sinks their teeth into the meat and bone of a newspaper that has been a regional necessity for readers. If the new owners accept the reporter’s buyout they will be gone by Friday, June 18th.

I have no problem with money being made by a business, but I do have deep concerns when the goal is money over ‘anything else’. In this case, ‘anything else’ is the local news that will be short-changed from being reported. I do not wish to be viewed as having only sentimental or nostalgic “back in the day” perspectives that are brought to this issue. While I was raised with a daily newspaper in our Hancock home, and have subscribed to at least one daily paper during all my adult years my purpose of writing this post is due to a long-lasting truism.

Journalists do work continuously to get the facts sorted, copy written, and edits made under deadlines and tremendous pressures so that we can learn the news we need to know as citizens.

Short-term profits for hedge funds at the expense of iconic news operations or the needs of news consumers are appalling. We need regulations to stop and undo the consolidation of our news, (be it radio, newspapers, or broadcast television), into the hands of fewer and fewer people.

And so it goes.

Society Changing Due To COVID, Working At Home Is Very Popular

Over the past year, many ideas have been bounced about as to how our lives will change as a result of the pandemic. The ‘need’ to shake hands has always confounded me and perhaps that will be the first social ritual that will fall to the side of the road. If so, I will be the first in line to kick dirt over the custom. Heck, I will even bring a shovel and make sure it is truly buried.

Then let us end the blowing out of candles on the birthday cake. That custom, too, has always left me cold.

But the idea of how workplaces are changing and evolving is the one that has most caught my attention over the past months. Friends who work in office jobs either for large financial companies or within the government have alerted me that they like the ease of working at home. It removes the drudgery of driving to and from work, along with the bulk of the office politics that often is just plain stressful. In addition, I am hearing that the productivity rate of working from home has many bosses pleased.

So that is why the following adds to my pile of evidence that another change, due to the raging virus, is how many people will work in the future.

With the end of COVID-19 finally in sight, employers are probably counting the days until their offices reopen. However, a new survey finds they shouldn’t expect their workers to come flowing through the door — even after the pandemic. In fact, 58 percent of remote workers now say they would look for a new job if they can’t keep working from home.

The FlexJobs survey of over 2,100 people worldwide, who either worked remotely during COVID or are still working from home, reveals the growing popularity of never setting foot in an office again. Just 11 percent said not being allowed to work at home anymore wouldn’t bother them.

The poll, completed in early April, also finds 65 percent want to keep working remotely full-time even after COVID ends. One in three would prefer a hybrid arrangement involving some office work and some days at home. A mere two percent say they are looking forward to working in an office full-time again.

This growing trend among the stay-at-home workers will add another layer of separation among demographics in the nation, as reported by Pew Research. This will be yet another split among those with higher education and those who did not see any reason to attain it.

To be sure, not all employed adults have the option of working from home, even during a pandemic. In fact, a majority of workers say their job responsibilities cannot be done from home. There’s a clear class divide between workers who can and cannot telework. Fully 62% of workers with a bachelor’s degree or more education say their work can be done from home. This compares with only 23% of those without a four-year college degree. Similarly, while a majority of upper-income workers can do their work from home, most lower- and middle-income workers cannot.

What I can say is that the work world will be changing, and in large profound ways, even if in the same breath it is not clear what all those changes will actually look like. The 9-5 grind is so outdated and not where the lives and lifestyles are for a large and more youthful segment of the nation. What was already percolating among many in the nation with their work lives has been thrust forward with speed due to the pandemic. This has provided the first test of a new way to working where tasks performed remotely have been largely reported not to have resulted in a significant drop in productivity or quality.

That result is good news to those who are not willing to go back to the cubicles and endless office meetings with the ones who never know when to end with the sticky notes offering ‘suggestions’.

This is offshoot of the pandemic that will be worthy of our attention as the months play out and the economy bounces back.

Black Friday Luancy Dwindles Due To COVID Pandemic

The whole concept of Black Friday is absurd. The rush to have more ‘things’ at the expense of trashing Thanksgiving all so corporate retailers can make more money is not only unseemly, it is down-right ugly.

Every year at this time I write about one of the saddest events that dominate our society.   Days before Thanksgiving there is a never-ending stream of news stories about Black Friday, and the national economy.  That Friday every newscast will be dominated by shoppers who rush ahead of others, and are all stressed out over not getting that item which was drastically reduced for sale at 2:00 A.M.  Too many lives are driven on that day by everything except the real reason for the holidays.

In the past, on this blog, I have written about my disgust with stores that open early to make more money, along with people seeming to care more about shopping like wild animals than sharing time with those around the dinner table on Thanksgiving.  While I know that my views on this matter are in the minority, I am also aware that every year there is a growing number who share my perspective, and are pushing back on the senseless over-commercialization of the holidays.

This year, however, due to the pandemic I think Black Friday is on the run!

The thrust from the business sections of newspapers about this year’s event can be summed up this way. Retailers can scrap the insane middle of the night openings and in-store only doorbusters. In the place of that many retailers are spreading deals across several days or weeks, along with expanding online and curbside pickup options. Dampening the desire for Black Friday and reduction in hours at stores, and limiting the number of shoppers is a consequence of the pandemic.

Many of us are old enough to recall not so many years ago when Thanksgiving was a day for being at home with family while the juicy turkey roasted in the oven.  Halloween had taken place several weeks before, and Christmas would follow in a month.  There was a distinct feel and attitude about Thanksgiving.  I recall many years back when my family all said one thing we were thankful for before we started to eat.  The day was spent at home, with lots of laughter, some board games, and then more food.  Thanksgiving had a traditional routine, an American feel.  It was modeled on what the day was meant to be about.  I think my memories about Thanksgiving are the average ones for the nation as a whole.  It was not just ‘another day’ for shopping, or preparing for a blow-out sale.

The pandemic is most dreadful, the loss of life stunning and unnecessary. We should have had a president who understood the gravity of the public health crisis and implemented proper federal planning.

But even now in the midst of crisis, there will be greedy merchants and foolish shoppers who will still spill into these unhealthy places to cough on each other and spread more of the virus.

Come for the sales, go home with the virus. Oh, and Happy Holidays!

And so it goes!

Jay, Maine: What About Their Future?

My better-half comes from Maine and so stories like this one grabs for our attention.

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Smoke rises from an explosion at the Androscoggin Mill in Jay on April 15.REBECCA BURHOE

Jay, Maine an hour north of Portland, has a Dollar Tree, a Hannaford, a half-dozen churches, a gun shop, and a convenience store, Franchetti’s Home Town Variety, reputed to have the best pizza on the planet.

With a population of just under 5,000, the town sits at the heart of the nation’s most forested state. Since the late 19th century, it has focused its economic energies on making logs into paper. In the early 1960s, Jay loomed so large in the industry that the International Paper Co. chose it to build what was then the world’s most sophisticated mill for wood pulp, there on the banks of the Androscoggin River. “It was the most amazing thing I’d ever seen,” remembers Dennis Couture, who, at age 6, went to the grand opening holding hands with his mother (his father was a millworker). “And soon the mill was making the paper for those 1,200-page Sears, Roebuck catalogs. I thought, They’re making enough paper to feed the world.”

Many of Jay’s residents, predominantly French-Canadian Catholics, were already working at International Paper’s Otis Mill, which had been operating downtown for decades. Now workers began pouring into the new Androscoggin Mill, to feed the pulp digester at its center and shape the output into paper. Maine loggers from up to 300 miles to the north descended upon the mill with truckloads of pulpwood — the gnarled, skinny tips of trees, the twisting branches that could not be hewn into lumber — and drove away richer. And woodlot owners managed their lands with the confidence that they could turn their runt trees into Jay pulp, thereby giving their straighter, thicker trees sufficient space and sunlight to grow into lucrative lumber.

There are eight paper mills in Maine, and right up until this spring, the one in Jay, built more than a half-century ago for about $54 million, processed more low-grade wood — pine, hemlock, spruce, fir, tamarack — than any other. Then on April 15, just after noon, the digester exploded, bursting like a volcano and sending a brown geyser of wood chips several hundred feet into the air. A second, newer digester was bent and ruined by the fall of the first one. A widely-circulated video captured the logging trucks halted nearby as their windshields got pelted with dark slurry.

In Jay, those explosions spell money. In 2009, the mill accounted for 70 percent of Jay’s tax revenue. Last year it covered 46 percent. And now there’s a fear that the number may soon plummet to zero. Pixelle has made no promises that it will spend hundreds of millions to buy a new digester for the Androscoggin Mill. It’s kept its mill in Jay open, but it has also laid off 59 of the plant’s 500 employees and telegraphed that more job cuts may come. To feed the two working paper machines at the Jay mill, it’s buying pulp from another nearby mill — an expensive and likely unsustainable scheme. Maine’s paper and wood industry, which accounts for 15 percent of the state’s economy, is now up against the ropes, after many years of being repeatedly punched. And in town, the question on everyone’s mind is: How will Jay survive this?

Ad Blocking Costly For News Programming

The world today is mired in a once-in-a-generation news story with a pandemic.  Within our nation protests and cultural tensions have exposed a racial rawness that requires solid reporting. This is no time to pull punches in newsrooms or worry about anything other than where the facts lead a journalist.

Some advertisers, however, who are consultant driven and motivated solely by profit margins are balking at placing ads during coverage of stories about controversial news events.  Frankly, it is an unseemly slap at fostering an informed citizenry and short-circuits a merchant’s desire to be seen as ‘socially aware’.  Timidity is never a pleasant sight, and when such behavior is called out it makes for an embarrassing accounting.   Such as with Target Corp.

From today’s Wall Street Journal

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