A good news Thanksgiving

As we all sit down to our Thanksgiving dinner today, there is a lot to be thankful for on the economic front this year. For many, it may not feel that way but trust me there are some reasons to be hopeful. Let’s begin with the price of that dinner you are eating. The American Farm Bureau estimates that the typical turkey day meal for 10 people will cost less than $5 per person this year. At a total cost of $49.87, that is 27 cents cheaper than last year. The lower price of turkeys is the main reason for the savings. Your bird is costing you roughly 2 cents per pound less than it did last year. There will be more of us making that trip to Grandma’s house as well. Over 48.7 million Americans are hitting the road this year, according to AAA. If their forecasts are accurate, there will be more traffic out there than at any time since 2007. At least 43.5 million of us will be traveling over 50 miles from home between Wednesday and Sunday. That is a 1.9% increase over 2015. In addition, 3.7 million Americans will be flying to their destination (a 1.6% increase over last year). There have also been some changes to the notorious Black Friday tradition, as well as Cyber Monday that some shoppers will like, while others will abhor. Over the past few years, retailers, in their quest for more and more sales, have invaded the once-sacrosanct Thanksgiving holiday itself. As of the latest count, 41% of consumers disapprove of stores being open on the holiday, while...

The Affordable Care Act won’t go away

Throughout the presidential campaign, our president-elect, Donald Trump, bashed Obamacare at every opportunity. But don’t assume that just because he doesn’t like it in its present form, it’s the end of America’s first attempt at solving our universal health care issue. “Its gotta go,” said Trump, during a CNN interview during the presidential campaign. He promised to “repeal and replace it with something terrific.” If those words have filled you with dismay, they shouldn’t, because even the creator of the healthcare act, Barak Obama, warned us at the outset that the first version of the legislation would need to be adjusted and changed. It wasn’t perfect six years ago and it isn’t now. Why am I so sure that Obama’s legacy will remain? It’s simple: the act brought over 20 million Americans into the health insurance net. That means that those same 20 million people won’t be showing up in the emergency rooms of the nation’s hospitals in the future without any visible means to pay for the health services they will desperately need. And if they can’t pay for them, who does? Well at first they become losses on the hospital ‘s books but they then deduct that from their taxes and by the time all is said and done, it’s you and me, the taxpayers, who will pay and pay dearly. And despite Trump’s and the Republican Party’s rhetoric, every one of them is well aware of that fact. But it goes even deeper. Even Trump sees the wisdom in insisting that insurers cover people with pre-existing health conditions. As a survivor of cancer, I am well-aware...

The impact of bad apples

For years, the mantra of Corporate America has been that they are drowning in government rules and regulations. Small business has echoed that refrain, as has Wall Street. The problem is that these same entities continually shoot themselves in the foot. Over the last two weeks, thanks to Wells Fargo in the banking sector, and Mylan Labs in pharmaceuticals, Corporate America has once again reminded us of that business just can’t be trusted. In the case of Wells Fargo, over two million fictitious customer accounts were opened over several years in order to meet sales goals. Critics say that Mylan Labs’ 500% increase (since 2007) in the cost of a device called EpiPen that treats severe allergic reactions is simply another case of rampant greed within the drug industry. They are not alone. Gilead Sciences and Valeant Pharmaceuticals have both been caught instituting similar price hikes on some of their drugs. And who can forget Martin Shkreli, the former head of Turing pharmaceuticals, who jacked up the price of a life-saving drug, Daraprim, from $13.50 to $750 per tablet (while giving the finger to all of us on tape). Not only has the public reacted with anger over these incidents, but it has kept the idea alive that existing rules and regulations are justified. What’s worse is that many politicians will use these events to pile even more restrictions on the nation’s corporations. Hell hath no fury compared to a politician with a meaty issue in an election year. Senators from both parties jostled for air time on Tuesday during a hearing over Wells Fargo’s indiscretions. To say that...

The VA—one of this year’s political footballs

It is an election year and as such veterans are a voting block that neither side can resist. Both candidates are promising to overhaul the Veterans Administration, once elected.  The questions are whether to hand it over to the private sector or just try and fix the government organization’s short-comings. We all remember the terrible scandal back in 2014 when a whistle-blower revealed shocking inefficiencies, cover-ups and the deaths of some veterans within the Veterans Administration. The then Secretary of Veterans Affairs, Eric Shinseki, along with a gaggle of bosses in various states, who were caught falsifying waiting time reports for vets, provided the obligatory resignation parade before the nation. Hearings were called; where ‘outraged’ politicians and Vet rights activists all got their share of free media time and in the end the Choice Act was rushed through congress. This allowed vets to go to private care providers if they were unable to schedule medical appointments within 30 days or travel distances of at least 40 miles to a VA office. This would theoretically insure that no more vets would die while waiting for treatment. Critics charged that this was simply the first step toward privatization of the veterans’ health care system. A bi-partisan panel, the Commission on Care (COC), comprised of health care executives and veterans’ advocates were charged with looking at the system and coming up with recommendations to “fix” it. Last month that panel issued 18 recommendations that are supposed to “transform this complex system.” If this all sounds like the typical smoke and mirrors remedy to a national problem that we have become accustomed to,...

Why the nation’s productivity matters

The headlines paint a stark portrait of the amount of goods and services that American workers produce in any given year. We are in the longest decline of American productivity since the 1970s. That fact has economists pessimistic about the future chance of continued growth in this country. Labor productivity has declined for nine straight months and fallen 0.4% over the last year. There is nothing complex about productivity statistics. Output per worker, according to the numbers, is drifting down when it should be going up. The last time this happened was in the 1970s, just before a nasty double-dip recession. Increases in productivity are what makes America’s middle-class what it is. Living standards improve when productivity climbs because the economy produces more goods and services with less. As a result, workers get raises, corporations add higher-paying jobs and you and I feel like we are making headway in our careers. Contrary to what you might think, a decline in productivity does not mean that American workers are getting lazy or becoming inept in the work force. Much of productivity depends on innovation. If a worker is using a fifty-year old tool or a 25-year old computer to produce a product, the chances are productivity is falling no matter how long or hard she is working. Since WW II (up until 2005) annual productivity gains averaged 2.3%. New, more efficient methods of producing bigger and better products and services developed during the war effort and were carried over into civilian society allowing productivity to roar. The advent of the computer especially in the 1990s goosed productivity even further and...

One for the Middle Class

On December 1, 2016, an estimated 4.2 million Americans could begin to see extra money in their paychecks. Some estimates project twice that number of workers will be affected by the roll out of new Department of Labor (DOL) rules governing overtime pay. Credit must go to the Obama Administration, which has been working for two years to extend help to our incredibly shrinking Middle Class. Today, if you’re an hourly worker, the only way you are automatically eligible for time-and-a-half pay for working more than 40 hours a week is if you earn less than $23,660 (or $455 a week). Think about it: how many full-time hourly workers make less than that? And yet those are the rules that have been in place since 2004 under the Bush Administration. Worst still, a common practice among U.S. corporations has been to “promote” workers who have been ready and willing to work overtime to “salaried managers.” This way such low-paid managers are exempt from getting overtime pay. The new rules will double the level of pay to $47,476/year ($913/week) before you make too much to automatically collect overtime. The rules will also require employers to re-classify their workers into exempt from overtime or non-exempt employees.  This new “duty test” allows so-called high-level workers to still collect overtime (regardless of job description) as long as they fall within the income threshold.  If you include employees who are presently misclassified by their employers, the number of workers impacted could easily exceed 12.5 million Americans. The DOL estimates that 54% of those eligible for these new benefits are women, with 28% of Hispanic...