If you meet Baxter, the latest humanoid robot from Rethink Robotics – you should get comfortable with him, because you'll likely be seeing more of him soon.Jobs of Last Resort
Rethink Robotics released Baxter last fall and received an overwhelming response from the manufacturing industry, selling out of their production capacity through April. He's cheap to buy ($22,000), easy to train, and can safely work side-by-side with humans. He's just what factories need to make their assembly lines more efficient – and yes, to replace costly human workers.
But manufacturing is only the beginning.
This April, Rethink will launch a software platform that will allow Baxter to do a more complex sequencing of tasks – for example, picking up a part, holding it in front of an inspection station and receiving a signal to place it in a "good" or "not good" pile. The company is also releasing a software development kit soon that will allow third parties – like university robotics researchers – to create applications for Baxter.
These third parties "are going to do all sorts of stuff we haven't envisioned," says Scott Eckert, CEO of Rethink Robotics. He envisions something similar to Apple's app store happening for Baxter. A spiffed-up version of the robot could soon be seen flipping burgers at McDonalds, folding t-shirts at Gap, or pouring coffee at Starbucks.
What's worrisome to Martin Ford [robotics expert and author of The Lights In the Tunnel: Automation, Accelerating Technology and the Economy of the Future] is that these jobs have been offering a huge safety net to the middle class.
They're jobs he calls "the jobs of last resort." When someone can't find a salaried job, they look for lower-paying service jobs to get by – and because the jobs typically have a high turnover rate, they're more likely to be available. Think of all the college graduates who take jobs as cashiers or baristas before they find salaried work. If those jobs were to vanish, those workers would be forced to file for unemployment instead."
People who leave the workforce and go on disability qualify for Medicare, the government health care program that also covers the elderly. They also get disability payments from the government of about $13,000 a year. This isn't great. But if your alternative is a minimum wage job that will pay you at most $15,000 a year, and probably does not include health insurance, disability may be a better option.Parents Force Kids to Underachieve
Going on disability means you will not work, you will not get a raise, you will not get whatever meaning people get from work. Going on disability means, assuming you rely only on those disability payments, you will be poor for the rest of your life. That's the deal. And it's a deal 14 million Americans have signed up for.
Disability has become a de facto welfare program for people without a lot of education or job skills.
When you are an adult applying for disability you have to prove you cannot function in a "work-like setting." When you are a kid, a disability can be anything that prevents you from progressing in school.Clinton Ends Welfare As We Know It
Jahleel's mom wants him to do well in school. But her livelihood depends on Jahleel struggling in school. This tension only increases as kids get older. One mother told me her teenage son wanted to work, but she didn't want him to get a job because if he did, the family would lose its disability check.
Kids should be encouraged to go to school. Kids should want to do well in school. Parents should want their kids to do well in school. Kids should be confident their parents can provide for them regardless of how they do in school. Kids should become more and more independent as they grow older and hopefully be able to support themselves at around age 18.
The disability program stands in opposition to every one of these aims.
A person on welfare costs a state money. That same resident on disability doesn't cost the state a cent, because the federal government covers the entire bill for people on disability. So states can save money by shifting people from welfare to disability. And the Public Consulting Group is glad to help.Disability Fraud
PCG is a private company that states pay to comb their welfare rolls and move as many people as possible onto disability. "What we're offering is to work to identify those folks who have the highest likelihood of meeting disability criteria," Pat Coakley, who runs PCG's Social Security Advocacy Management team, told me.
The company has an office in eastern Washington state that's basically a call center, full of headsetted women in cubicles who make calls all day long to potentially disabled Americans, trying to help them discover and document their disabilities:
"The high blood pressure, how long have you been taking medications for that?" one PCG employee asked over the phone the day I visited the company. "Can you think of anything else that's been bothering you and disabling you and preventing you from working?"
The PCG agents help the potentially disabled fill out the Social Security disability application over the phone. And by help, I mean the agents actually do the filling out.
There's a reason PCG goes to all this trouble. The company gets paid by the state every time it moves someone off of welfare and onto disability. In recent contract negotiations with Missouri, PCG asked for $2,300 per person. For Missouri, that's a deal -- every time someone goes on disability, it means Missouri no longer has to send them cash payments every month. For the nation as a whole, it means one more person added to the disability rolls.
No, France is not bankrupt ... The claim is untrue economically and financially. France is not and will not bankrupt because it would then be in a state of insolvency.Economic Illiteracy
A state cannot be bankrupt, in its own currency to foreigners and residents since the latter would be invited to meet its debt by an immediate increase in taxation.
In abstract, the state is its citizens, and the citizens are the guarantors of obligations of the State.
In the final analysis, "the state is us." To be in a state of suspension of payments, a state would have to be indebted in a foreign currency, unable to deal with foreign currency liabilities in that currency.
Sen. Rand Paul’s filibuster will inevitably fail at its immediate objective: derailing John Brennan’s nomination to run the CIA. But as it stretches into its sixth hour, it’s already accomplished something far more significant: raising political alarm over the extraordinary breadth of the legal claims that undergird the boundless, 11-plus-year “war on terrorism.”Brennan will be nominated anyway, but Paul's firm stance in the face of his chicken-hawk and constitutional-hypocrite colleagues is very much appreciated.
The Kentucky Republican’s delaying tactic started over one rather narrow slice of that war: the Obama administration’s equivocation on whether it believes it has the legal authority to order a drone strike on an American citizen, in the United States.
Paul recognized outright that he would ultimately lose his fight to block Brennan, the White House counterterrorism chief and architect of much of the administration’s targeted-killing efforts.
But as his time on the Senate floor went on, Paul went much further. He called into question aspects of the war on terrorism that a typically bellicose Congress rarely questions, and most often defends, often demagogically so. More astonishingly, Paul’s filibuster became such a spectacle that he got hawkish senators to join him.
as the filibuster picked up more and more media attention — and especially social-media attention — hawkish senators began joining in. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Florida) praised Paul’s efforts at compelling transparency from the White House. What Paul is arguing is “no less important than our Constitutional government itself,” said Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), no dove.
It would be foolish to presume that Paul’s moment in the spotlight heralds a new Senate willingness to roll back the expanses of the post-9/11 security apparatus. Rubio, for instance, stopped short of endorsing any of Paul’s substantive criticisms of the war. But Paul did manage to shift what political scientists call the Overton Window — the acceptable center of gravity of discussion.
Paul’s filibuster posed a challenge to the Senate more than it does Brennan or President Obama. “Is perpetual war OK with everybody?” he asked.
All Government employees should realize that the process of collective bargaining, as usually understood, cannot be transplanted into the public service. It has its distinct and insurmountable limitations when applied to public personnel management.Time to Scrap Davis-Bacon, End Public Union Collective Bargaining
The very nature and purposes of Government make it impossible for administrative officials to represent fully or to bind the employer in mutual discussions with Government employee organizations.
Particularly, I want to emphasize my conviction that militant tactics have no place in the functions of any organization of Government employees.
A strike of public employees manifests nothing less than an intent on their part to prevent or obstruct the operations of Government until their demands are satisfied. Such action, looking toward the paralysis of Government by those who have sworn to support it, is unthinkable and intolerable.
Both Millennials and Gen Xers report an average stress level of 5.4 on a 10-point scale where 1 is “little or no stress” and 10 is “a great deal of stress,” far higher than Boomers’ average stress level of 4.7 and Matures’ average stress level of 3.7.America's Most Stressed Generation
The four generations are defined as following: Millennials (18- to 33-year-olds), Gen Xers (34- to 47-year-olds), Boomers (48- to 66-year-olds) and Matures (67 years and older).
Thirty-nine percent of Millennials say their stress has increased in the last year, compared to 36 percent of Gen Xers, 33 percent of Boomers and 29 percent of Matures.
More than 52 percent of Millennials report having lain awake at night in the past month due to stress, compared to 48 percent of Gen Xers, 37 percent of Boomers and 25 percent of Matures.
Additionally, 44 percent of both Millennials and Gen Xers report experiencing irritability or anger due to stress, compared to 36 percent of Boomers and 15 percent of Matures.
Not surprisingly, work is one of the biggest causes of stress, with 76 percent of Millennials reporting it as a significant stressor, compared to 62 percent of Boomers and 39 percent of Matures. "Many of these young people have come out of college or graduate school with horrendous student debt into a job market where there are not very many jobs," said Katherine Nordal of the APA. "This has put their life plans, probably, on hiatus."Not Promising at All
The job numbers are indeed grim. According to Generation Opportunity, the unemployment rate for Millennials rose to 13.1 percent in January, up nearly 2 points from December. Among young African-Americans, it's a whopping 22.1 percent. And if you count those 18-29 year-olds who have given up and dropped out of the labor force, the overall youth unemployment rate stands at 16.2 percent.
And even for the lucky ones who are working, the picture remains bleak. According to the Economic Policy Institute, between 2000 and 2011 wages adjusted for inflation fell by over 11 percent for young high school grads and by 5.4 percent for young college grads. It doesn't help that, as a study by the Center for College Affordability found, 48 percent of working college grads are in jobs that don't require a college degree and 38 percent are in jobs that don't require a high school diploma. The report concluded that from 2010 to 2020, while 19 million college grads will be hitting the job market, the economy will add fewer than 7 million jobs requiring a college degree. That's a pretty serious -- and stress-producing -- gap.
And any of those heavily indebted, heavily stressed-out Millennials listening to President Obama's State of the Union speech would not have gotten much stress relief. He did acknowledge the increasingly untenable cost of higher education -- "Today, skyrocketing costs price too many young people out of a higher education, or saddle them with unsustainable debt" -- and declared that he would "ask Congress to change the Higher Education Act so that affordability and value are included in determining which colleges receive certain types of federal aid."
How has this generation been screwed? Let’s count the ways, starting with the economy. No generation has suffered more from the Great Recession than the young. Median net worth of people under 35, according to the U.S. Census, fell 37 percent between 2005 and 2010; those over 65 took only a 13 percent hit.
The wealth gap today between younger and older Americans now stands as the widest on record. The median net worth of households headed by someone 65 or older is $170,494, 42 percent higher than in 1984, while the median net worth for younger-age households is $3,662, down 68 percent from a quarter century ago, according to an analysis by the Pew Research Center.
Quick prospects for improvement are dismal for the younger generation. One key reason: their indebted parents are not leaving their jobs, forcing younger people to put careers on hold. Since 2008 the percentage of the workforce under 25 has dropped 13.2 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, while that of people over 55 has risen by 7.6 percent.
The screwed generation also enters adulthood loaded down by a mountain of boomer- and senior-incurred debt—debt that spirals ever more out of control. The public debt constitutes a toxic legacy handed over to offspring who will have to pay it off in at least three ways: through higher taxes, less infrastructure and social spending, and, fatefully, the prospect of painfully slow growth for the foreseeable future.
In the United States, the boomers’ bill has risen to about $50,000 a person. In Japan, the red ink for the next generation comes in at more than $95,000 a person. The huge public-employee pensions now driving many states and cities—most recently Stockton, California toward the netherworld of bankruptcy represent an extreme case of intergenerational transfer from young to old. It’s a thoroughly rigged boomer game.
More maddening still, the payback for this expensive education appears to be a chimera. Over 43 percent of recent graduates now working, according to a recent report by the Heldrich Center for Workforce Development, are at jobs that don’t require a college education. Some 16 percent of bartenders and almost the same percentage of parking attendants, notes Ohio State economics professor Richard Vedder, earned a bachelor’s degree or higher.
Millennials suffer from ...Mike "Mish" Shedlock
- Lack of durable paid employment
- Contingent low-wage, part-time employment
- Few (if any) opportunities for occupational/career trajectories
- Low or no income and purchasing power
- Heavy debt burden
- No ability to save
- Few options to overcome individually or collectively the cumulative socioeconomic, fiscal, and distributional structural constraints bearing down on them
The generation coming of age does not have the paid employment and after-tax purchasing power necessary to support the growth of a debt-based mass-consumer economy, big mortgages, the crushing costs of parenting, discretionary spending, Obamacare, and elder transfer programs for the Boomers nor for themselves.
In this sense, the Millennials are the "Last" Generation.
Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) is demanding that Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke explain exactly how he plans to wind down the Fed's massive portfolio once its run of bond buying comes to an end.
In a letter sent to Bernanke on Wednesday, Jordan asked for any research the Fed has done on unwinding its burgeoning portfolio, which recently topped $3 trillion — three times its size in 2008, the lawmaker noted.
Minutes of the Fed's January meeting, released Wednesday, showed Fed officials were struggling with when exactly they should stop the bond buying. Several members of the Fed's policy-setting committee warned that the central bank may have to begin varying the amount of bond purchases in response to economic conditions, while some warned that the Fed might have to halt the purchases before the labor market is back to the desired strength.
Jordan asked Bernanke to provide all "public and non-public" research done on possible approaches to unwinding. The Fed must provide answers by March 5.
Dear Chairman Bernanke:Inquiring minds may wish to read the entire letter.
...As the Federal Reserve System continues its bond-buying program into 2013, I am troubled by the corresponding effect that the Federal Reserve's expanding portfolio could have on current and future growth...I am especially concerned that the historically low interest rates brought on by the Federal Reserve's monetary policy have hampered economic growth by distorting traditional financial incentives. Younger Americans who have been working to save their income have faced meager returns in bank accounts slowing their overall accumulation of wealth. Likewise, older Americans living off interest-bearing accounts have been forced to move to riskier investments to maintain their standards of living. Most strikingly, by maintaining low interest rates, the Federal reserve has distorted the real cost of the national debt, effectively incentivizing the U.S. government to borrow and overspend. ....