Without aggressive funding in clean-energy and climate solutions, the world we know could perish

Several wind turbines are shown above a field of solar panels against a cloud-free sky.
Investors can make this happen, if they want to.

  • What investors choose to fund will shape major transitions to clean energy and net-zero targets.
  • Investors want more data to better assess climate-related risks and opportunities.
  • Underwriting policies and advocacy can also help investors apply pressure to the fossil-fuel industry.
  • Subscribe to our weekly newsletter, Insider Sustainability.

Investors and finance professionals know what they put their money in can often be influential on a global scale. A growing number of them are realizing how their funds can also help lead the global transition away from fossil fuels.

In a multipanel discussion at Climate Week NYC on Wednesday, several investors and finance professionals highlighted the industrywide work needed to prevent catastrophic conditions described in the latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Investors and financiers determine which clean-energy companies and projects receive capital through where they choose to invest money and provide resources. They also evaluate and determine risk, known as underwriting. The divestment movement actively encourages financial-services companies to sell their fossil-fuel assets while bringing attention to how they fund and insure industries that produce most of the world’s carbon emissions.

Divestment among investors slowed in 2020, with more investors seeking to collaborate with companies they own and other investment firms in implementing more sustainable operations and carbon-emissions targets. This includes organizations like the United Nation’s Net-Zero Banking Alliance or the investor-led Climate Action 100+.

“It’s not something that any one asset owner or asset manager or even corporation can do on their own. It’s going to require a collective effort,” said Michael Cappucci, managing director of compliance and sustainable investing at Harvard Management Company.

At the California Public Employees’ Retirement System, the largest public state pension fund in the US also known as CalPERS, funding efforts to mitigate the climate crisis have become an especially urgent issue.

“As I see the smoke from the wildfires drifting across my garden, I know the people battling those fires are CalPERS members; they’re firefighters, the first responders,” said Anne Simpson, managing investment director for CalPERS’ board governance and sustainability. “The question of risk isn’t theoretical or far away. It’s here, right now, as Fatboy Slim would say. And we need to be scaling our action in response.”

Cappucci said a big challenge is the gap in data and methodologies needed for companies like Harvard Management to effectively neutralize its carbon emissions, also known as “net-zero.” Cappucci’s firm has actively reached out to other firms and organizations for assistance.

Simpson said markets need more information on climate-crisis risks, including the true price of carbon, total emissions, and fossil-fuel subsidies. Encouragingly, both the US Securities and Exchange Commission and the International Financial Reporting Standards Foundation – which sets the rules for accounting standards for public companies – are looking at the increasingly popular framework for climate-related financial information established by the Task Force on Climate-Related Financial Disclosures.

The UK-based insurance firm Aviva’s plan to become net-zero by 2040 includes shifts in its operations, supply chain, asset ownership, as well as factoring in the sustainability commitments of its investments. Aviva has also pledged to stop selling insurance for companies making more than 5% of their revenue from thermal coal or unconventional fossil fuels by the end of this year. The insurer will also sell its assets from companies that make more than 5% of their revenue from coal by the end of 2022. “That’s really trying to make that initial stand as explicit as possible,” said Jason Storah, CEO of Aviva Canada. “We really want to work and engage with other companies.” Coal and fossil-fuel companies can continue to be underwritten or owned by Aviva if they sign up for clearly tracked targets to lower their emissions.

Still, Simpson said investors need to do more than advocate energy efficiency and change from fossil-fuel suppliers and producers; their work extends to the companies and industries that consume them as well. “That means transformation of manufacturing, automakers, steel, cement, across agriculture, transport, utilities, the way we get around, the way we make things, the things we eat, the way we connect with each other.”

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Top Democrats compare Biden to Trump over the Haitian migrant crisis, as the GOP falsely accuses him of allowing open borders

CIUDAD ACUNA, MEXICO - SEPTEMBER 20: Haitian immigrants cross the Rio Grande back into Mexico from Del Rio, Texas on September 20, 2021 to Ciudad Acuna, Mexico. As U.S. immigration authorities began deporting immigrants back to Haiti from Del Rio, thousands more waited in a camp under an international bridge in Del Rio while others crossed the river back into Mexico to avoid deportation.
CIUDAD ACUNA, MEXICO – SEPTEMBER 20: Haitian immigrants cross the Rio Grande back into Mexico from Del Rio, Texas on September 20, 2021 to Ciudad Acuna, Mexico. As U.S. immigration authorities began deporting immigrants back to Haiti from Del Rio, thousands more waited in a camp under an international bridge in Del Rio while others crossed the river back into Mexico to avoid deportation.

  • Biden is facing rampant criticism over an evolving crisis involving Haitian migrants at the border.
  • Republicans are falsely accusing Biden of allowing open borders.
  • Top Democrats and activists are comparing Biden to Trump as he moves to deport thousands.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

The Biden administration is facing criticism from all angles over its handling of an influx of Haitian migrants at the US-Mexico border.

Republicans baselessly accuse President Joe Biden of opening America’s borders to immigrants. Meanwhile, as Biden moves to deport thousands of Haitians, top Democrats and activists are comparing his immigration policy to former President Donald Trump’s.

“Joe Biden is presiding over lawless open borders,” GOP Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas said in a tweet earlier this week, even as the administration began actively deporting Haitian migrants who’ve fled violence, poverty, and political turmoil.

“There is a growing crisis in Del Rio, Texas and across the southern border. Biden’s open borders policies created this mess,” the Republican National Committee tweeted on Thursday.

Seemingly regardless of what Biden does on immigration, Republicans and their right-wing media allies continue to falsely accuse him of opening America’s doors to anyone and everyone.

“You’ve got to ask yourself, as you watch the historic tragedy that is Joe Biden’s immigration policy, what’s the point of this? Nothing about it is an accident, obviously. It is intentional. Biden did it on purpose. But why? Why would a president do this to his own country? No sane, first-world nation opens its borders to the world,” Fox News host Tucker Carlson said on his show on Wednesday, while peddling the white supremacist “Great Replacement” conspiracy theory.

The GOP’s primary talking point on immigration has been that Biden’s desire to offer a pathway to citizenship to roughly 11 million undocumented immigrants has induced a crisis at the border. “As tens of thousands of illegal immigrants come across the border, Joe Biden promises them citizenship,” GOP Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas tweeted last on Friday. “He’s making this crisis much worse.”

But as Biden uses a Trump era rule to deport Haitians, his allies are accusing him of reneging on his pledge to take a more humane approach to immigration than his predecessor.

Democrats and activists compare Biden to Trump

“The question that’s being asked now is: How are you actually different than Trump?” Marisa Franco, the executive director of the Latino civil rights organization Mijente, told the New York Times. “You campaigned that immigration was one of the places where Trump was inhumane and failed. And last time I checked, Trump is not the president.”

The Biden administration has continued to use a Trump era public health policy, a law known as Title 42, to expel migrants and deny them an opportunity to apply for asylum – and it’s defended the law in court. The Trump administration began invoking the law in March 2020, as the COVID-19 pandemic began to spiral out of control (and as Trump simultaneously downplayed the threat of the virus).

A New York Times review of government data found that officials caught people crossing the southwestern border roughly 1.24 million times from February to August, and Title 42 was used to turn them away 56% of the time.

Democrats like Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer have called on Biden to halt expulsions and end the use of Title 42.

“I urge President Biden and Secretary Mayorkas to immediately put a stop to these expulsions and to end this Title 42 policy at our southern border,” Schumer said. “We cannot continue these hateful and xenophobic Trump policies that disregard our refugee laws. We must allow asylum seekers to present their claims at our ports of entry and be afforded due process.”

“Haitians fleeing violence & the lack of a credible government in Haiti are being treated like animals,” Democratic Rep. Maxine Waters of California said in a tweet on Tuesday. “U.S. government cowboys on horses used whips on Haitians as they sought refuge. Why are we following the Trump policies? This horrendous treatment of Haitians must STOP NOW.”

Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, one of the most prominent progressives in Congress, in a tweet described the situation at the border as a “stain on our country.”

The White House this week fervently decried images of Border Patrol agents on horseback whipping at Haitian migrants.

“What I saw depicted about those individuals on horseback treating human beings the way they were, was horrible. And I fully support what is happening right now, which is a thorough investigation into exactly what is going on there,” Vice President Kamala Harris said on Tuesday.

But the administration’s words have seemingly been insufficient to top civil rights organizations.

“The humanitarian crisis happening under this administration on the southern border disgustingly mirrors some of the darkest moments in America’s history,” Derrick Johnson, the president of the NAACP, said in a statement. “If we were to close our eyes and this was occurring under the Trump administration, what would we do? The inhumane treatment of the Haitian refugees seeking help is utterly sickening.”

A US Border Patrol agent on horseback grabbing a Haitian migrant.
A United States Border Patrol agent on horseback tries to stop a Haitian migrant from entering an encampment on the banks of the Rio Grande near the Acuna Del Rio International Bridge in Del Rio, Texas on September 19, 2021.

‘Inhumane, counterproductive’

Thousands of Haitian migrants have crossed the border in recent weeks, gathering in a makeshift camp in terrible conditions under a bridge in Del Rio, Texas.

Haiti’s president was assassinated in July, launching the already embattled country into further turmoil. Its capital, Port-au-Prince, is overrun by violent gangs. And the country is also still reeling from a devastating earthquake that killed over 2,000 in August.

But the Biden administration has been adamant that Haitians, and other migrants, should not come to the US.

“If you come to the United States illegally, you will be returned,” Homeland Security chief Alejandro Mayorkas said earlier this week.

Deportation flights to Haiti began on Sunday.

As a result of the Biden administration’s approach to the massive influx of Haitian migrants, the US special envoy to Haiti resigned.

Ambassador Daniel Foote, a career diplomat, wrote to Secretary of State Antony Blinken and said he won’t be associated with the US’s “inhumane, counterproductive decision to deport thousands of Haitian refugees and illegal immigrants to Haiti, a country where American officials are confined to secure compounds because of the danger posed by armed gangs in control of daily life.”

The evolving crisis at the border comes on the heels of the Afghanistan withdrawal, which also led to widespread, bipartisan criticism.

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How Gavin Newsom beat back the California gubernatorial recall effort

Gavin Newsom
Gov. Gavin Newsom speaks to the press while visiting Melrose Leadership Academy in Oakland, Calif., on September 15, 2021.

Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom of California last Tuesday survived the biggest test of his leadership by rallying voters against a gubernatorial recall election fueled by grievances over COVID-19 restrictions, housing affordability, uneven economic opportunities, and homelessness.

While the eventual recall was a blowout in the governor’s favor, there were underlying issues that seriously threatened his standing earlier in the summer – the lack of urgency among Democratic voters, minimal engagement with the state’s growing Latino population, and the conservative buzz surrounding radio talk show host and first-time political candidate Larry Elder, who was able to channel the frustrations of millions of state residents.

As California continues to count its remaining ballots, a fuller picture is emerging of Newsom’s win.

With 92% of the vote in, voters rejected the recall effort by a 63% to 37% margin, nearly identical to the 2018 gubernatorial election results, when Newsom defeated Republican businessman John Cox by a 62% to 38% spread.

But the huge victory also exposed Newsom’s vulnerability in not connecting with more voters on a personal level.

Dan Schnur, who teaches political communication at the University of Southern California and the University of California-Berkeley, pointed out that Newsom was able to win despite his fairly average standing among many Democratic voters.

“The final results obscure the fact that he’s never been particularly well-loved, even by the base of his own party,” he said.

This account, based on interviews with California political observers and the recount data, focuses on the governor’s broad victory and what it says about the future of Golden State politics.

Biden speaks before California recall
President Joe Biden speaks during a rally in support of California Gov. Gavin Newsom at Long Beach City College on September 13, 2021.

Newsom overcame complacency and turned out Democrats

California has become such a Democratic stronghold at the presidential level that now-President Joe Biden’s win over former President Donald Trump (63.5% to 34%) last fall was a foregone conclusion.

While Biden received over 11 million votes – a record for a presidential candidate in the state – Trump received over 6 million votes, which was the highest number of votes for any Republican candidate in state history.

Democrats currently make up 46.5% of all registered voters in California, while Republicans make up 24% and independents comprise of 23%, according to the Public Policy Institute of California – which by the numbers would indicate a huge advantage for Newsom.

However, voter turnout is key, and tepid party support, combined with Republican enthusiasm about Elder’s candidacy, threatened to derail Newsom, especially as he struggled to connect with some of the very same voters who sent him to the Governor’s Mansion nearly three years ago.

In a Berkeley-IGS survey that was released in July, registered Democrats, by a nearly 30% margin, were less likely than Republicans to demonstrate a high level of engagement in the recall election – one of many polls that caused consternation among Democratic leaders.

Conservatives, incensed by what they felt were heavy-handed COVID-19 restrictions that hurt small businesses and stifled the economy, were animated over potentially recalling Newsom, a former San Francisco mayor and lieutenant governor. The July Berkeley survey showed that 33% of the voters who were likely to vote in the recall would be Republicans – a troubling sign for the governor.

After recalibrating and partaking in a rigorous campaign schedule, including rallies with President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris, Newsom was able to to change the dynamics of the race by emphasizing Elder’s opposition to key issues including abortion rights and COVID-19 vaccine mandates.

Larry Elder
California gubernatorial recall election candidate Larry Elder speaks at his election night party in Costa Mesa on September 14, 2021.

Larry Elder was not an appealing candidate to non-Republicans

In the previous California gubernatorial recall election in 2003, then-Democratic Gov. Gray Davis was booted from office and replaced with Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Schwarzenegger – a Hollywood leading man famous for action movies like “The Terminator” represented a moderate wing of Republicanism that was still influential in the state at the time – won over his party and peeled off independents and even some Democrats.

This year, Democrats overwhelmingly opposed against the recall on the first ballot question and largely abandoned picking another candidate to become governor if the recall was successful.

Elder, a fierce advocate of small government who opposed the minimum wage, dismissed gender wage gaps, balked at gun-control measures, and supported charter schools and school choice, was unable to garner much support beyond the Republican base, which comprised of roughly 25% of the electorate in the recall election.

According to exit polling conducted for CNN and other outlets by Edison Research, 94% of Democrats opposed the recall, while 89% of Republicans supported it, with independents narrowly rejecting the effort by a 52%-48% margin.

While Elder currently sits at 47.8% of the vote, having earned over 3.1 million votes on the ballot question designating a gubernatorial successor, the rejection of the recall effort at the top of the ballot kept Newsom in office.

Schnur told Insider that Elder’s positions allowed Newsom to effectively use Trumpism as a political foil.

“Newsom was originally having some trouble framing this as a campaign against Donald Trump, primarily because Trump wasn’t on the ballot or in the White House,” he said. “Elder gave Newsom a way of framing the anti-Trump argument in the present tense. Instead of talking about the former president, he was able to talk about something that voters were facing now, and that helped him immeasurably.”

Modoc National Forest
A sign at the Modoc National Forest.

California has ‘shades of blue in many communities of red’

The modern image of California is largely shaped by its glittering Los Angeles skyline and the tech corridors of the San Francisco Bay Area, but the state is much more conservative in its interior stretches, where the election results of many counties largely mirrored the 2020 election.

In rural northern California, counties like Lassen (84%), Modoc (78%), Tehama (69%), and Shasta (67%), voted overwhelmingly in favor of the recall – and subsequently these counties strongly backed Elder as their top choice in the second ballot question.

While Elder’s strong conservative views, including his opposition to broad COVID-19 restrictions, appealed to many in these counties, as well as a significant number of residents in the state’s exurban communities, it wasn’t enough to appeal to a wider audience – which has been the dilemma of the California GOP for years.

The state party, which launched the careers of former Presidents Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan, has not won a gubernatorial race since Schwarzenegger’s reelection bid in 2006.

Mindy Romero, the founder and director of the Center for Inclusive Democracy at the University of Southern California, told Insider that while the state’s political ideology is more multifaceted than its reputation suggests, the GOP in recent years has continued to elevate candidates that lack appeal on a statewide level.

“The problem for the Republican Party is that politics is local,” she said. “I actually say that we’re not deep blue. I say that we’re shades of blue in many communities of red. In those red communities, we have a lot of elected officials, including members of Congress, who are Republicans. Some of the messaging that they use that works in those communities is antithetical to many Democrats. But at a local level, the messaging works and helps them politically.”

She added: “It’s hard for Republicans to make ground, because locally, they’re going to put forth candidates that are going to be more to the right.”

Gavin Newsom
Gov. Gavin Newsom greets volunteers who were working the phone banks to help campaign against the gubernatorial recall at Hecho en Mexico restaurant in East Los Angeles on August 14, 2021. Los Angeles City Councilman Kevin de León, California state Sen. Maria Elena Durazo, California Assemblyman Miguel Santiago, and other Latino dignitaries were on hand to support the governor.

Latino voters, a growing slice of the electorate, backed Newsom

Latino residents now make up 39% of California’s population and are the largest ethnic group in the state – according to the exit polling conducted by Edison Research, they made up 24% of the electorate in the recall election.

For much of the summer, Democrats fretted that they weren’t doing enough to appeal to this critical slice of the electorate, especially as Elder campaigned hard for Latino, Black, and Asian votes.

However, in representing nearly a quarter of the vote in the recall election, the Latino vote was key in the eventual outcome.

According to the Edison exit polling, Latino voters rejected the recall effort by a 60%-40% margin.

But there were signs of concern for Democrats, even with the broad victory.

Newsom actually lost ground with Latinos, albeit slightly, from his 2018 gubernatorial victory, when he carried the group with 64% of the vote, according to NBC exit polling.

For Democrats, the question remains: How can the party engage with this diverse slice of the electorate in a meaningful way?

Romero told Insider that both parties have a chance to improve their relationship with Latinos, but said that Democrats, who count on the group as part of their base, should have done more outreach this year.

“Both parties have a chance with the Latino vote because it’s not monolithic,” she said. “Newsom’s campaign did not reach out to Latinos as it could have. There was lot of work by community organizations and by unions that it looks like helped bring out a lot of Latinos, but in terms of the party-driven work, it was either late or it didn’t happen in the way that you would expect.”

She added: “Democrats will have to work on addressing Latino issues and having better relationships with Latino organizations, and essentially not taking the Latino vote for granted.”

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The Biden honeymoon is over, but there’s a reason his new approval lows aren’t cause for alarm – yet

US President Joe Biden convenes a virtual Covid-19 Summit on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly, on September 22, 2021, in the South Court Auditorium of the White House in Washington, DC.
President Joe Biden.

  • President Joe Biden’s approval rating hit another new low, this time in Gallup’s survey at 43%.
  • The Delta variant and his handling of the Afghanistan withdrawal are the two biggest factors.
  • Historical data shows it’s too early for Democrats to fret just yet.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

President Joe Biden hit another new low in an ongoing polling survey on Wednesday.

Biden’s approval rating is now at 43% according to Gallup, the same number he slipped to when he hit a record low in the NPR/Marist poll earlier in September. Just like the NPR/Marist survey, Biden has been losing ground among independent voters in Gallup’s version.

Vice President Kamala Harris fared slightly better, with her approval rating landing at 49%, according to Gallup.

Although Biden is down significantly from his 68% job approval rating coming out of the transition and into the beginning of his term – and has proven more vulnerable to dips resulting from exogenous events compared to former President Donald Trump – it’s still too early to jump to a conclusion about what this means for the 2022 midterms, much less the rest of his presidency.

Historically, a newly elected president’s party consistently loses seats in Congress in the midterm elections two years after the general. The average loss in the House – where every seat is up for reelection every two years – has been 25 seats since 1946, or an average of 37 for unpopular presidents, according to Gallup.

Even the generic ballot, which has proven to be the most reliable predictor of a party’s performance in the midterm elections, doesn’t tend to resemble the eventual results until a few months out from the election, as Nathaniel Rakich wrote last week in a FiveThirtyEight polling analysis.

Presidential approval has not had the same predictive weight to it when it comes to the midterms compared to a full presidential election, though there remains a loose correlation between the two.

U.S. House Net Seat Gain or Loss for President's Party, by Presidential Job Approval Rating Year	President/Party	% Job approval at midterm	Seat gain/loss for president's party 1998	Clinton/Dem	66	+5 2002	G.W. Bush/Rep	63	+6 1986	Reagan/Rep	63	-5 1962	Kennedy/Dem	61	-4 1954	Eisenhower/Rep	61	-18 1990	G.H.W. Bush/Rep	58	-8 1970	Nixon/Rep	58	-12 1958	Eisenhower/Rep	57	-47 1974	Ford/Rep	54	-43 1978	Carter/Dem	49	-11 1994	Clinton/Dem	46	-53 2010	Obama/Dem	45	-63 2014	Obama/Dem	44	-13 1966	Johnson/Dem	44	-47 1982	Reagan/Rep	42	-28 1950	Truman/Dem	39	-29 2006	G.W. Bush/Rep	38	-30 1946	Truman/Dem	33	-55
The more unpopular a president is, the worse their party tends to do in the midterm elections, though there are several notable exceptions.

In continuing surveys like Gallup and NPR/Marist, Biden’s approval has not budged that much with Democrats and Republicans. His biggest issue has been hemorrhaging support among independents for months.

Pollsters that ask about his handling of the pandemic have found a slide in that metric among independents, which tends to mirror his overall job approval rating with the same group.

In January, 61% of independent voters told Gallup they approved of Biden’s job performance. The latest poll has him all the way down to 37% among them.

With the Afghanistan withdrawal on top of that, Biden’s approval has reverted to Obama and Trump-era levels of polarization.

The Gallup summary of the latest poll put it bluntly.

“Biden’s latest approval rating further cements the fact that the honeymoon phase of his presidency is behind him,” Gallup’s Megan Brenan writes. “Political independents, who were part of the coalition that helped him defeat Trump in 2020, now largely disapprove of the job he is doing as president.”

However, after what has already been a topsy turvy year and-a-half since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, there will be plenty more exogenous events that happen between now and Nov. 2022.

How Biden handles those and how he gets the country out of the Delta variant – along with whatever else the virus has in store for humanity – will weigh much more significantly among the public than his summer of 2021.

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Why Amazon wants to make sure everyone knows it’s totally cool with smoking pot now

Cannabis Capitol Hill
Amazon is relaxing cannabis testing for employees.

Amazon is actively lobbying the United States government to federally legalize cannabis, the company said on Tuesday morning.

The announcement is the latest volley in Amazon’s ongoing efforts to spur federal cannabis legalization in the United States, following an announcement back in June that it would no longer pre-screen employees for cannabis use.

Amazon has already spent at least $5 million on cannabis legalization lobbying, Insider’s Kimberly Leonard and Jeremy Berke previously reported.

So, why is Amazon so interested in legalizing weed in the US?

At least part of the answer has to do with the Amazon warehouses, known as fulfillment centers, that employ the vast majority of Amazon’s hourly workforce.

Amazon is running out of workers to hire

In its announcement on Tuesday, Amazon senior VP of human resources Beth Galetti directly attributed the company’s interest in cannabis legalization to hiring: “Eliminating pre-employment testing for cannabis allows us to expand our applicant pool,” she said.

Hourly employees had a turnover rate of about 150% every year, data reviewed by The Times indicated.

Of the over 350,000 workers Amazon hired between July and October 2020, many stayed with the company “just days or weeks,” the report said.

The problem is reportedly big enough that some Amazon execs worried they would run out of hirable Americans.

Relaxing marijuana testing is just one way Amazon has attempted to appeal to potential workers – and other corporations could soon follow suit.

“The fact that Amazon, one of the world’s leading companies, is moving forward with this stance will certainly put pressure on all major employers who are taking a slower approach,” J. Smoke Wallin, CEO of hemp manufacturing company Vertical Wellness, told Insider.

Public opinion around weed is changing

As many corporations faced labor shortages this summer, Amazon announced plans to raise pay for some workers and pay for college educations to recruit employees.

Appealing to marijuana users could lead to a wider pool of job applicants. Marijuana use among US workers increased by 16% between 2014 and 2019, according to a study by Quest Diagnostics.

Legal marijuana use has risen as more states and municipalities decriminalize cannabis use. Marijuana sales skyrocketed in 2020, increasing 46% year-over-year to a record $17.5 billion.

Though the tight labor market could explain why Amazon is currently fighting for marijuana legalization, many other corporations have relaxed drug testing due to shifts in public opinion around weed, said Paul Armentano, the deputy director of the NORML Foundation. NORML is a non-profit dedicated to educating the public about marijuana policy.

Drug screening has been declining in popularity for since the late 1990s, Armentano said. Off-the-job marijuana use has not led to increased workplace injuries, according to a 2020 report in the peer-reviewed journal Substance Use & Misuse.

“It is time for workplace policies to adapt to this new reality and to cease punishing employees for activities they engage in during their off-hours that pose no workplace safety threat,” Armentano said in a statement.

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Entitled consumers have terrorized service and retail workers throughout the pandemic, but it was a natural evolution in a culture that promises ‘the customer is always right’

Black Friday
Shoppers fight for TVs on Black Friday.

  • The mantra “The customer is always right” has been baked into the American retail experience.
  • While it originated over a century ago, it’s been perpetuated by companies like Amazon.
  • The pandemic has revealed just how much customers believe they should always get their way.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

If there’s one unifying theory among American shoppers, it’s that they’re always right.

After all, that’s what we’ve been taught to believe for over a century: that the customer is never wrong, at least inside the four walls of a Starbucks or a Walmart. It’s an ethos that has guided everything from the rise of early department stores to post-World War II suburban malls – and, in more recent times, e-commerce behemoths like Amazon.

But now, 18 months into the pandemic, it’s clear that not only is that mantra indelibly baked into the American shopping experience, it’s also dangerous. It’s created a sense of entitlement among shoppers that has led to agression and even violence toward retail workers.

“We’ve gone past the point where the retailer was in charge to a point in society where the customer is in charge,” Mark Cohen, an adjunct professor and director of retail studies at Columbia University, told Insider.

‘The customer is never wrong’

amazon box boxes delivery deliveries

There’s some debate about where the phrase “The customer is always right” originated.

It’s most often attributed to Harry Gordon Selfridge, the Wisconsin-born retail magnate who got his start at one of the nation’s first department stores, Marshall Field’s, before building a department store empire of his own in London.

But before Selfridge, there was César Ritz, who built the first Ritz hotel in the late 1800s. According to A.E. Hotchner’s 2012 piece in Vanity Fair, Ritz created a code of conduct for hotel staff that stated, among other mandates, “If a diner complains about a dish or the wine, immediately remove it and replace it, no questions asked.”

Ritz reportedly used a slightly tweaked, though similarly definitive, turn of phrase: “Le client n’a jamais tort,” or, “The customer is never wrong.”

Regardless of the origin of the phrase, there’s no doubt that its ethos infiltrated the retail world, particularly in the US. But according to Cohen, it wasn’t until after World War II that things shifted in America. The interstate highway system allowed recently returned servicemen to move out of urban centers into suburbs, and the department stores followed, becoming anchor tenants at newly built shopping malls.

In order to lure this influx of middle-class customers, Cohen said, retailers started making promises.

“It was ‘satisfaction guaranteed,’ ‘returns permissible anytime, forever,'” he said. “There were an enormous array of promises, all intended to assure customers that they should have no fear in doing business with them.”

Fast-forward to the modern era and the rise of Amazon: The retail behemoth has made customer-focus the cornerstone of its business, so much so that one of its guiding principles is titled “Customer Obsession.”

“Leaders start with the customer and work backwards,” it reads. “They work vigorously to earn and keep customer trust.”

But Amazon has often had to sacrifice its own workers in the process of pleasing the customer. And while obsessing over what the customer might want has led to groundbreaking new products like the Kindle e-reader or the ability for batteries to arrive on your doorstep in less than 24 hours, it’s also meant that, with 200 million Prime subscribers and counting, that ethos has pervaded consumer culture, creating a world where many believe getting anything you want, when you want it, should be the norm, not the exception.

Violence against retail workers has spiked during the pandemic

Mask sign

The pandemic has revealed just how much power has been ceded to American consumers – or, perhaps more accurately, how much power consumers believe they should have.

When the coronavirus struck last March, retail workers across the country were charged with enforcing government or store policies around masks. Employees told Insider’s Kate Taylor and Áine Cain at the time that they were afraid to ask shoppers to don a mask upon entry out of concern for their own safety. Customers who didn’t get their way, workers feared, would get violent.

Those fears were warranted: In May of last year, a security guard at a Family Dollar store in Michigan was shot and killed after he stopped a customer from coming into the store because her daughter wasn’t wearing a mask. One month later, a grocery store cashier in Atlanta was shot dead following a mask dispute, police said.

And, just this week, tourists were captured on video attacking a hostess at New York City restaurant Carmine’s after she asked for proof of their vaccination status. Last month, the city began requiring patrons to be at least partially vaccinated in order to dine indoors.

Reports of workers being attacked or customers becoming chaotic or aggressive have become commonplace over the last 18 months – in fact, 80% of workers said in a poll earlier this year that they’ve experienced hostile behavior from customers who didn’t want to follow safety protocols, and 39% said they were leaving their jobs because of it.

Some workers and employees are trying to bring attention to the issue. Last month, employees at a Los Angeles McDonald’s held a rally outside the restaurant to protest to what they described as a pattern of violence at the hands of customers. And Gap recently teamed up with competitors like H&M, American Eagle, and Ralph Lauren on a campaign to encourage shoppers to show support for workers who are being harassed by other customers.

But those measures won’t be enough to curb bad behavior from customers who believe they have the right to do as they please in stores and restaurants.

“We have to be careful about how much gas we put in the tank and what kind of license we give customers to do business with us,” Cohen said. “I think that retailers are going to be a lot more careful about portraying themselves as wide-open opportunities for customers.”

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Big retailers are finally on board with $15 minimum wages, but the pandemic revealed that workers need a lot more from their employers

fight for $15
Is a $15 minimum wage enough anymore?

  • Workers and activists have long pushed for a $15 federal minimum wage.
  • The ongoing labor shortage has prompted numerous companies to raise pay.
  • But advocates say that a $15 minimum wage isn’t the end-all-be-all for labor.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Walmart-owned Sam’s Club told workers this week that it wants them “to feel valued” and be “treated with fairness, kindness, and empathy.” That messaging came alongside a chain-wide minimum wage raise to $15 an hour. Around 95% of the warehouse chain’s workers were already making at least that, but the aim is to have the company’s “average hourly rate” established at over $17.

“We want you to be competitively paid, whether you’ve found your destination job as, say, a forklift operator, meat cutter or cake decorator, or you’re just starting out and eager to climb the ladder,” CEO Kath McLay wrote in a memo to workers.

And Sam’s Club isn’t the only business that’s been touting a new minimum hourly wage, even as Congress’ efforts to raise the federal minimum wage have seemingly stalled out. Both Walgreens and CVS have also established $15 as an hourly minimum wage. Amazon previously established its minimum wage as $15 an hour in 2018. The e-commerce giant also raised pay for half a million workers, and on Tuesday announced that 125,000 new workers would be hired with an average starting pay of $18 an hour.

Still, throughout much of the US, many employees still aren’t anywhere near a $15 hourly wage. A March 2021 report from the Economic Policy Institute, a left-leaning, pro-union think tank, found that a $15 minimum wage would boost earnings for 32 million workers, or 21% of the total US workforce.

The EPI also found that “rising costs of living” have “diminished the purchasing power of the federal minimum wage” by 18% since 2009, leading to “a devastating fall in the earnings of the lowest-wage workers.”

Activists are currently focusing on certain business giants that haven’t yet established an hourly baseline of $15.

“We won’t stop fighting until McDonald’s and other fast-food companies pay at least $15 an hour, which is the bare minimum workers anywhere need to survive,” Patricia Mosley, a Michigan-based McDonald’s worker associated with the labor movement Fight for $15 said in a statement sent to Insider.

“McDonald’s USA recently announced an average 10 percent pay increase at its corporate-owned restaurants, while many franchisees are exploring increased wages, offering tuition assistance and piloting backup childcare programs,” a McDonald’s USA spokesperson said in a statement sent to Insider.

Retail workers in particular have acquired more leverage through the coronavirus pandemic. Some have rage-quit their jobs, in response to frustrating working conditions and abusive customers. Certain workers have begun “ghosting coasting,” where they show up for work long enough to get paid, only to then disappear. Retailers are beginning to address how the ongoing labor shortage may affect the holiday season, and that often means offering higher pay and signing bonuses to attract candidates and bolstering retention through competitive benefits. Companies like Amazon and Walmart have doubled down on perks for workers, like educational benefits.

While it may not go a long way in practice, a $15 baseline wage remains a key goal for some activists and workers. Labor activist group United for Respect’s corporate accountability director Bianca Agustin said in a statement to Insider that raising base pay to $15 an hour “would be the right thing to do and smart business practice, so associates can help ensure the safety and profitability of Walmart stores in the near and long term.”

Walmart’s current average wage across US stores is $16.40. Walmart worker and UFR member Peter Naughton said that he hopes his employer will raise its base pay, as doing so could change employees’ lives and spur wage increases from rival retailers.

“I might be able to get my own apartment,” Naughton said. “I’d have more money to spend. In fact, that would help corporations like Walmart because people would have more money to spend.”

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Move over millennials, Gen Z is the new ‘it’ generation

gen z baggy jeans
Gen Z has taken the driver’s seat.

  • No longer cool, millennials have fallen as the ‘it’ generation. That title belongs to Gen Z.
  • As the oldest millennial turns 40, Gen Z has lambasted them for their side parts and skinny jeans.
  • On the surface, millennials feel outdated. But the real issue is that they’re reckoning with a new life stage.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

I was sipping a Moscow Mule in the corner of an East Village bar one night when a sense of déjà vu came over me.

The room was a sea of spaghetti straps, claw clips, baguette bags, and bright colors, catapulting me into my teenage past – more than a dozen years ago.

Confused about how these trends became cool again and when I aged out of my favorite bars, I looked down at my frayed skinny jeans and wondered if I should find new spots that attracted an … older crowd. My peers feel the same, taking to TikTok to cry about feeling old and outdated in their favorite NYC haunts.

At 29, I recognize my youth, but am also painfully aware of the cultural gap between a late 20-something and an early 20-something, especially when they’re divided into two generations: millennials and Gen Z.

I would know – I’ve been writing about millennials for the past two-and-a-half years, so I’ve been particularly attuned to how generational conversations changed during the pandemic.

I watched as the media pounced on Gen Z mocking millennials on TikTok for how they wear their hair and for their love of coffee and wine. I saw headlines pop up deeming millennials “ancient” or “officially old” when their cult-favorite brand Glossier launched an anti-aging retinol. And I noticed how the millennial narrative shifted to middle-aged experiences like having kids and buying houses, while new lifestyle trends and consumer behavior increasingly fell to Gen Z.

Between last spring’s lockdowns and this spring’s economic reopening, we’re all a year older than we once were. But the lost year of 2020 accentuated the starkness of the cultural shift as a new generation enters young adulthood.

Millennials, many of whom suddenly became known as “geriatric” or “cheugy,” are no longer cool. Gen Z has taken over as the ‘it’ generation.

The oldest millennial is now 40

Millennials began to lose ‘it’ status when the oldest turned 40 this year. While the youngest millennials are just 25, the vast majority of the generation are no longer in their 20s. A term even popped up to describe the oldest cohort, much to the internet’s chagrin: geriatric millennial.

This homeowning millennial isn’t the avocado toast-loving, Instagram-obsessed, living-with-their-parents millennial that the world has learned to love and hate. That title now goes to Gen Z, except they’ve swapped out avocado toast for oat lattes and Instagram for TikTok.

geriatric millennial
Millennials have entered middle age this year.

While millennials aged, so too did the generation behind them, the oldest of whom turn 24 this year. Much like millennials graduated into the Great Recession, Gen Z has their own tale of economic plight: graduating in the pandemic. And, as does every generation, they have certain hallmark traits: They’re activists, favor neon colors, and dress in 2000s clothes.

The world has noticed it all. After all, the fascination with young people is not about any particular generation, but about whoever is driving trends and influencing consumer spending. Now, it’s Gen Z’s turn to take over the economy as their collective income reaches $33 trillion. (It’s set to surpass that of millennials in 2031.)

It’s a natural evolution, Jason Dorsey, who runs the Center for Generational Kinetics, a research firm in Austin, Texas, told me. “At around this age and life stage, the next generation sort of takes the mantle as the ‘it’ generation, because they’re old enough to really start to exert their influence.”

Society feels like it finally understands millennials, he added, switching their focus to the generation that remains a mystery. That leaves Gen Z “shifting and driving much of the conversation,” which he predicts they’ll do for the next 15 years.

Awakening from the pandemic to a cultural shift

Pandemic or no pandemic, everyone turned another year older in 2020. But a year at home heightened the millennial-to-Gen-Z cultural transition.

Skinny jeans and side parts are out. So too are Hogwarts houses and the term “doggo.” The frowning face emoji now carries a more sexual meaning than a frustrated one, and “elite” no longer means excellence, but hitting the spot. Y2K fashion has re-entered the trend cycle, and a Chanel suit from 1995 is now considered vintage.

gen z
It’s all about Gen Z now.

Digital bonding helped many of these new trends take root. Gen Z, already digital natives, had ample time to scroll on their phones during quarantine. They connected with one another, Dorsey said, as many underwent the fortifying experience of moving back home during the pandemic at a similar life stage.

At the center of this cultural shift was TikTok, which blew up during the pandemic. By September 2020, the social media app grew by 75%, expanding into intergenerational use. It signals the growing influence of Gen Z in leading consumer behavior, much the same way millennials did with Instagram.

TikTok became the place not just for dance videos, but for Gen Z’s jests at millennials and exploration of fashion trends, from tie-dye loungewear to baggy jeans. They’ve made their way to the streets, explaining why I came out of the pandemic feeling the need to update my wardrobe.

It’s all part of growing up

The downfall of millennials as the ‘it’ generation is symptomatic of the inevitable – getting old. It’s the natural evolution of generations, with one always superseding another as everyone ages, much the same way millennials overtook Gen X as a hot topic around the time social media emerged.

Millennials are having a difficult time reckoning with getting older. As my 29-year-old roommate said when I mentioned I was writing this piece: “That’s so sad!” followed by a deadpanned, “I’m not into this article.”

I, too, lamented to my therapist about how my world is going to end when I turn 30 this year. Overly dramatic, sure, but my peers and I are grappling with a major life transition that we may not be ready for – not the fact that Gen Z is making fun of us.

“It reinforces to many millennials that they themselves are entering a new life stage, whether that’s marriage or kids or buying houses or seeing friends doing that,” Dorsey said, describing it as an uncomfortable adjustment. “There’s this real sense of getting older, heightened when the new generation who are now adults is telling you that you’re older and outdated.”

Millennials are grappling with entering a new life stage.

Aging comes with societal pressure to settle into major life events like buying a house or having kids. Many millennials feel stressed that we’re unable to do so because of all the economic pills we’ve had to swallow. We’re also confronting the fact that our parents are aging, too, as we worry about their health risks during the pandemic.

The pandemic has forced millennials to grow up. While still young by many measures, we’re old enough to ponder existential life questions while also questioning past choices – whether a financial regret, or our skinny jeans.

The ironic part of millennials’ newfound uncoolness at the hands of Gen Z is that the latter doesn’t really care about being cool at all. Gen Z may enjoy their time in the limelight for now – until Generation C takes over.

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From an $18 hourly wage to the ‘new factory town,’ Amazon is taking the lead on lifting up America’s working class

Amazon warehouse
Amazon warehouse in Brieselang, Germany.

  • Amazon’s rapid expansion means they have a chance to create a better economy for working-class Americans.
  • It plans to add 125,000 more US jobs, and to open 100 new facilities in September alone.
  • The firm’s huge hiring plans, higher wages, and new hubs have the scale that could change the economy for countless Americans.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

While the US continues to grapple with COVID, Amazon is busy molding the post-pandemic economy. Early signs and historical precedent suggest it could improve work for millions of Americans.

Amazon employed 950,000 US workers as of late June, or one in every 153 American workers. It plans to add more than 125,000 more payrolls, as well as open more than 100 more facilities in September alone. More significantly, it plans to pay people more and to create jobs in areas where they are sorely needed.

Amazon’s leadership on wages recalls that of Henry Ford’s action to lift his minimum wage in 1914, as Insider’s Hillary Hoffower and Allana Akhtar previously reported. It’s a goal shared by the Biden administration, which has repeatedly stressed it wants to build the economy “from the bottom up and middle out.”

Amazon is his unlikely partner in this effort.

Setting the new wage floor

While the federal minimum wage remains $7.25 an hour, the retail titan is setting its own, higher minimum.

The company set a $15 minimum wage in 2018, and it quickly prompted other employers to either match this rate or lose workers.

One Miami chef told The Washington Post that higher pay in Amazon warehouses made hiring in a strenuous kitchen more difficult. Larger businesses including Levi’s and Under Armour have said Amazon’s rates forced them to rethink their own wages. It is borne out in academic studies. Amazon’s hike raised average hourly wages by 4.7% at nearby employers, according to researchers at the University of California, Berkeley and Brandeis University.

That bounce is set to repeat itself, with Amazon’s latest hiring boom touting an average starting wage of $18. While Democrats failed earlier this year to lift the minimum wage for the first time in 20 years, Amazon’s expansion is shifting the de-facto floor above the party’s $15 target.

“I don’t think people appreciate the extent to which Amazon puts a wage floor in a community,” Tum Duy, chief economist at SGH Macro Advisors, wrote in a Tuesday tweet. “It’s the first thing employers think about when a new Amazon facility arrives in town.”

Building the next-generation ‘factory town’

By dramatically expanding its footprint, Amazon could form a new kind of “factory town” that would further lift the country’s working class, as Conor Sen, an economics columnist at Bloomberg, wrote Thursday. “Maybe these highway warehouse communities with jobs that pay increasingly respectable wages are what the future of the working class looks like.”

The phrase “factory town” recalls those that dot Michigan, connected to automotive giants Ford, General Motors, and Chrysler, which molded the state in the early 1900s as their factories became economic hubs and birthed new cities. Where the industrial titans brought jobs, workers and other businesses followed. Amazon’s huge warehouse plans offer a 21st-century parallel.

Data shows Amazon hubs already powering stronger economic growth. In Amazon’s top 10 metro areas, job creation averaged -0.4% in the three years before the company’s entry, CNBC reported in 2018, citing Morgan Stanley research. In the three years after its first facilities opened, local job growth averaged 1.9%.

Some cities saw even larger jumps. In the Phoenix area, job creation rose to 2.5% from -6.3%. The Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario region of California saw growth of -0.8% surge by 8.5% after Amazon opened several warehouses and sorting facilities.

The booms also extended beyond Amazon’s own employees. The cities’ transportation, warehousing, and utilities sectors – the last of which includes no Amazon hires – saw job growth outperform by 3.6%, according to Morgan Stanley.

To be sure, Amazon jobs aren’t without their well-publicized downsides. Stories of overworked employees, harsh conditions, and safety concerns abound. The company has also been accused of quashing a unionization effort.

Amazon has said it aims to improve its working conditions, but by sheer force and scale it is putting its thumb on the scale of the blue-collar economy.

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Nicki Minaj’s vaccine tweets were the latest test of social media’s imperfect system for stopping misinformation’s spread

Nicki Minaj
Twitter has not deleted or added a warning label to Nicki Minaj’s tweet containing unverified information about COVID-19 vaccines.

  • Twitter has not deleted or added a warning to Nicki Minaj’s tweet containing COVID misinformation.
  • Twitter said Minaj’s tweet will stay up because the rapper shared a personal anecdote.
  • When celebrities post misinformation, the result can be “incredibly damaging” to public health, one expert said.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Twitter’s response to Nicki Minaj’s bizarre post claiming that a COVID-19 vaccine caused her cousin’s friend’s testicles to swell shows how the platform uses patchwork policies in curbing misinformation.

The rap superstar said in several tweets this week that she has not gotten vaccinated against COVID-19 yet, in part because she wants to do more research after hearing a story from her cousin.

“My cousin in Trinidad won’t get the vaccine cuz his friend got it & became impotent,” Minaj wrote to her 22.7 million Twitter followers. “His testicles became swollen. His friend was weeks away from getting married, now the girl called off the wedding.”

No clinical studies of any COVID-19 vaccines being administered have linked the shot to impotence. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has not found any vaccine, including the one for COVID-19, to lead to fertility problems, and encourages pregnant people or those who may become pregnant to get a shot.

Though Minaj said on Instagram she was put in “Twitter jail” and unable to post, Twitter denied locking her account. The company also told Insider’s Isobel Hamilton Minaj’s tweet will stay up because she shared a personal anecdote. Content that states COVID-19 misinformation as a fact may violate Twitter’s policy, Twitter said.

Minaj’s tweet appears to have led to her fanbase to target public health officials: A small group of Minaj’s followers, who call themselves “Barbz,” protested outside the CDC’s Atlanta office. Chief Medical Advisor to the president Anthony Fauci even got involved, denying Minaj’s claim that the vaccine could lead to impotence.

Dr. Joe Smyser, PhD, MSPH, Chief Executive Officer of The Public Good Projects, told Insider when celebrities like Minaj post misinformation, the result can be “incredibly damaging” to public health. Smyser said followers of a celebrity trust them, and view them as an authentic source for information.

“So when health authorities are put in the position of having to refute misinformation from a celebrity, and they definitely have to do this, it’s a lose-lose for everybody,” Smyser said.

That’s reflected in the statement made by Terrence Deyalsingh, Trinidad and Tobago’s minister of health, following Minaj’s tweets.

“What is sad about this is that it wasted our time yesterday trying to track it down, because we take all of these claims seriously,” Deyalsingh said. “As we stand now there is absolutely no reported such side effect or adverse effect of testicular swelling in Trinidad … and none that we know of anywhere else in the world.”

Twitter has released numerous initiatives and tools to combat the spread of false information, but a 2020 report from Oxford University found nearly 60% of coronavirus-related misinformation on Twitter remained without a warning label.

The White House has recently pointed to online misinformation as a roadblock to getting more Americans vaccinated.

Though she expressed her hesitation about getting a vaccine herself, Minaj tweeted previously she recommends people get one for work and that she will likely get a jab herself once she goes on tour.

In the past, Twitter has put warning labels on posts containing misinformation from prominent accounts.

The company labeled multiple posts from former President Donald Trump before permanently suspending his account. Twitter allows accounts those in government or running for office, to violate its Civic Integrity Policy due to public interest.

But early in the pandemic, Twitter faced criticism when it added coronavirus misinformation warnings to tweets unrelated to the virus but that used terms like “5G” – the basis of a popular conspiracy theory at COVID’s onset – or “oxygen.”

Misinformation expert John Cook previously told Insider Twitter should be careful in using warnings under tweets or users could become cynical and inattentive when seeing them.

“We need these kind of warnings to be more surgical,” Cook told Insider. “We want to bring down the misinformation, but not hurt accurate information.”

Twitter was not available for additional comment.

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