An Obama administration economist says the pandemic destroyed a long-held myth about unemployment

peter luger new york restuarant covid
People dine outside Peter Luger Steakhouse in New York City during a restricted reopening in September 2020.

Throughout the pandemic, Washington Post economics correspondent Heather Long has been providing indispensable context to the Department of Labor’s monthly unemployment announcements in thoughtful Twitter threads. As soon as lockdowns began last March, job losses skyrocketed to literally unprecedented levels, and Long’s analysis helped explain the reasons behind the numbers, what those tremendous job losses looked like for ordinary Americans, and why wealthy Americans weren’t suffering from the economic impact of COVID-19.

When the Labor Department announced on Friday, April 2 that the economy added some 916,000 jobs in March, Long rightly hailed that number as “the strongest gain in seven months” and a sign that “the economy [is picking] up steam.” In fact, job reports from January and February were revised up as well, indicating that the job market has been even stronger in 2021 than we initially realized.

Long leavened her enthusiasm by reminding us that “Overall the US has now gained back 13.7 million jobs – 62% – of the 22.2 million lost in the pandemic.”

That sounds like great news, but it’s simply not fast enough: We’d need another 13 months in a row of March’s gains to make up the job losses that the American economy incurred during the pandemic – and that’s not even taking into account all the jobs that would have been created over the last year had the pandemic never happened.

Job loss during the pandemic

Like all the economic impacts of the last year, those job losses were not spread evenly across the economy. White-collar jobs have largely jumped back to pre-pandemic levels, while other employment sectors – particularly leisure and hospitality – have failed to recover millions of jobs that existed in February of 2020.

Even though low-wage jobs are coming back in record numbers as more Americans get vaccinated, the fact remains that if you were poor before the pandemic began, you’re much more likely to be unemployed right now.

The economy is divided along other lines, too: The Chicago Tribune reports that the unemployment rate for “Black Americans improved slightly last month, but at 9.6% is still higher than all other race groups tracked and the national average of 6%.”

And, millions of women have been knocked out of the workforce by the pandemic, though their job losses in March finally slowed to equal the rate of male job losses.

This week, former Obama administration economic adviser Austan Goolsbee returned to the “Pitchfork Economics” podcast to discuss some of the lessons from the pandemic’s impact on unemployment.

Unemployment for low wage workers

Specifically, Goolsbee wanted to attack a long-standing trickle-down canard that the additional emergency unemployment benefits that the United States has paid out during the pandemic – to the tune of $600 per week at first, then $300 per week this year – would disincentivize low-wage workers from going back to work.

Pundits and politicians (including, perhaps most notably, West Virginia Democratic Senator Joe Manchin) argued that the economy would slow because while they were receiving large checks, low-wage workers wouldn’t see the need to return to work. But Goolsbee points out that in March, lower-wage jobs led the surge in employment numbers.

“Those are exactly the jobs that a group of people have been for almost a year saying we’re giving too much relief to – that their unemployment insurance is so high that no one will go back to work,” Goolsbee said. “And it’s just not true. Look at the data. It’s just not true. Those are the people going back to work in record numbers.”

Critics have “been saying that this would happen, literally, since we passed the CARES Act a year ago: ‘No one will go back to work if they are low enough income, because they will be paid more to not work than to work,'” Goolsbee added. “And multiple researchers went and showed that if you look at the generosity of unemployment, it’s not correlated with where jobs came back or didn’t come back.”

The argument against increased unemployment benefits “was nonsense and everyone should have understood it to be nonsense,” Goolsbee said. When Congress added $600 weekly payments to unemployment checks, “there were people who never made this much money in their life, who never made as much money working than they did on unemployment. And yet they’re going back to work,” he said.

The trickle-down myth

In other words, the pandemic has busted a trickle-down myth that has been spread by Democrats and Republicans alike since at least the 1990s – the pernicious argument that if a state or federal safety net is too generous, people will simply choose to stay at home and leech off the system.

This is the argument that politicians have invariably dragged out in order to make it harder and harder for people to file for unemployment, food stamps, and rental assistance. This kind of thinking contributed to crises at the beginning of the pandemic in states like Florida, where politicians had spent years decimating the very unemployment programs people needed to stay housed, fed, and safe during the pandemic.

The extended unemployment benefits, then, did exactly what they were supposed to do: They helped millions of Americans pay their bills when they were unable to find employment. They also helped those unemployed Americans spend money in their communities on groceries, supplies, and other necessities – and their continued consumer spending, in turn, likely saved millions of jobs and uncountable thousands of neighborhood businesses.

This is a momentous discovery which explodes a political truism that has gone unquestioned for decades, and it should factor into every conversation about the social safety net going forward. It’s yet another nail in the coffin of the popular trickle-down idea that the world is made up of industrious makers and lazy takers.

By getting money directly to the people who need it most, governments aren’t enabling a generation of moochers – they’re supercharging the economy by making sure people who are in temporary need of assistance are able to continue purchasing goods and services, thereby supporting and creating jobs.

These assistance programs aren’t charitable wastes of money, like critics argue – instead, they make good economic sense, improving the economy for everyone.

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3 ways to ask for a raise or promotion without feeling like you’re bragging

job interview
Talking about your professional accomplishments doesn’t have to feel like bragging.

  • Harrison Monarth is an executive coach and founder of Gurumaker, a leadership development service.
  • He teaches high-level executives to overcome shyness and hesitation to brag about their professional accomplishments.
  • Being specific about your organizational impact and success will help your boss make a more informed decision.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

As an executive coach, I’m often tasked with helping leaders who are candidates for senior level positions make a compelling case for why they should be chosen over other applicants who may be just as well-qualified and suitable.

Harrison Monarth is the CEO and founder of Gurumaker
Harrison Monarth.

But often these aspiring leaders can be reluctant to advocate for themselves and say what they want, and instead rely on the assumption that their work will speak for itself.

The fear of coming across as bragging often leads qualified candidates to understate their accomplishments. This not only fails to equip senior leaders with information to aid in their decision-making, it also suggests the absence of key leadership traits such as boldness and conviction, that even the most humble organizational cultures require in their leaders.

I worked with one senior manager at the tax division of a global consulting firm who’d twice been denied promotion to director. She’d been given feedback that she needed to “own her accomplishments more” as a leader in her division, and that she needed to articulate them clearly and with confidence. This manager was more comfortable giving credit to her team than spelling out the wins she was directly responsible for.

Fact is, promotions are rarely based solely on the merits of high performance. Executive presence matters too, so candidates who are willing to step up and assert their accomplishments and contributions can often tip the scales in their favor.

I recommend three strategies to get over the reluctance to advocate for yourself and allow your strengths and accomplishments to shine.

1. Change your mindset

We often try to avoid a perception of arrogance by intentionally downplaying our achievements. Plus, humility is such a prized virtue that to assertively talk about your accomplishments can be counterintuitive.

You can reframe this mindset by making it all about your audience. Rather than sharing accomplishments to boost your standing, look at the results you delivered as data that reduces uncertainty in your audience. Our brains crave information that eliminates uncertainty, and promotion decisions are often subject to a great deal of ambiguity, not to mention subjectivity. By clearly articulating your accomplishments and impact, you’re helping key stakeholders make an equitable decision that’s in the best interest of the organization.

2. Create emotional distance

To avoid feeling uncomfortable when detailing your accomplishments, you can use several research-backed emotion regulation strategies. The simple act of leaning back in your chair while articulating your achievements can help create more psychological distance.

Similarly, by imagining your audience far away – something Zoom meetings make even easier – you weaken the emotional intensity of embarrassment or shame you may feel in the process, allowing you to speak with more confidence and conviction.

Another much-cited strategy is to create emotional distance by taking a detached third person perspective when advocating for yourself. It can help to mentally refer to yourself in third person, for instance, “Tom has identified new revenue streams that contribute in excess of $15 million a year.”

3. Tell a story

Weaving your achievements into a brief story of your career can help get your message across without triggering your impulse to pull back. You can start from when you joined the company, proceed through your various roles, and punctuate different moments with your notable contributions and successes.

Transitions will also help stitch your story together. Rather than listing each accomplishment by attaching them to various job titles, you can more seamlessly state: “After making several acquisitions that grew our distributor portfolio by 300 dealers in my role as division leader, I then improved customer retention by 15% in my role as regional VP.”

By putting your accomplishments into the context of a compelling narrative, you’re taking your mind’s focus off the dread of advocating for yourself, while allowing your audience to clearly see your track record of excellence.

At a certain level in top-tier organizations, everyone is exceptional, so the ability to stand out against equally capable colleagues becomes more and more difficult. This is why it’s important for aspiring leaders to not only deliver outstanding results, but also to present them in a meaningful way.

Harrison Monarth is the CEO and founder of Gurumaker and author of Executive Presence: The Art of Commanding Respect Like a CEO. An executive coach, he teaches C-suite leaders, senior executives, and others effective leadership skills for professional and organizational success.

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Amazon’s small-team structure means new projects get greenlit quickly and it’s one of the secrets to the company’s success. Here’s how it works.

Jeff Bezos Amazon
Amazon has sometimes been called the “company of 100 CEOs,” because there are so many possible pathways to greenlighting a project.

The following is a book excerpt.

Amazon is famously organized into small “two-pizza” (8 -10 person) teams. This directly adds flexibility and agility. Small teams can move quickly.

Amazon’s two-pizza teams are agile, developed flexible inter-team structures, offer clarity or purpose, and are fast to innovate. They are also highly autonomous: the Prime Now team was able to launch its pilot on the iPhone first even though Amazon is generally an Android company. When the workload for a team becomes too big, Amazon may decide to break it into multiple smaller teams to keep their agility.

But teams mostly form because an employee sees an opportunity – a big one like Prime Now or one of the countless smaller ones. That employee is free to seek support and sponsorship inside or outside his own current team.

How that happens at Amazon seems quite different from most companies, which have clearly defined chains of command. For an idea to be implemented, it must move up the chain of command to the point where management is senior enough to act. If a decision involves financial resources or legal issues, those accountants and lawyers will need to be consulted. And all the way along, there are endless opportunities for vetoes. Often, one veto kills the project.

Behemoth Cover
Behemoth: Amazon Rising.

In contrast, Amazon offers “multiple paths to yes,” as Bezos puts it.

Individuals can go outside their team or even their division to find a team interested in an idea. Teams can find any number of senior managers to sponsor and support a project.

Amazon has sometimes been called the “company of 100 CEOs,” because there are so many possible pathways to greenlighting a project. It’s not that Amazon makes innovation easy. It’s never easy. But Amazon’s structure is designed to get to yes.

Think of these proto-teams – ideas without even a team yet – as the seeds for 1,000 flowers that many eventually bloom. Amazon is diligent about fertilizing the soil and watering them with resources, in the sure knowledge that many – perhaps most – will fail.

These proto-teams – often even a single employee – are watered with enough resources to initially test whether there is something worth pursuing; that may be time off task to work on the idea, some hours or days from other team members, possibly other resources.

This period is pre-pilot. As described above, innovators start by working backwards to develop a clear vision of what the project is for, who it will serve, and why specifically customers will benefit. As it comes into focus, and more evidence is added that the project is worth pursuing, it may attract more resources from inside and outside the original team. That might include part-time help from other areas like logistics or human resources or advertising.

At this stage, the project is adding resources with dotted lines from existing structures. An HR person may be helping to acquire talent, but they remain within their existing HR team. Further information resources are easily available because of Amazon’s previous decision to manage information flows via API; emerging teams can access information without needing permission.

Robin Gaster Headshot
Robin Gaster.

At some point, the project/team gets the greenlight to move into pilot production. That will require significantly more resources, and the creation of a more focused team. Neil Ackerman explains that when he was starting to build a team for his Small and Light Fulfillment project, he searched for the team members he would need through the internal Amazon directory, and reached out to them for “many many meetings for coffee” over weeks of effort. Of the seven people he eventually asked to join the new team, three accepted, and he hired four from outside.

As the project becomes more successful, its place in the overall Amazon hierarchy becomes more settled.

It is no longer a pilot on an experiment; it’s now a service within existing services. So Ackerman’s Small and Light project became embedded as a successful tool for addressing the needs of the Marketplace. Over time, it attracted further use from Amazon Retail, and it’s now a permanent service within the Amazon logistics network, reporting up through that chain of command, and funded through the standard OP1 mechanism. As projects solidify, teams become fully independent entities within the Amazon ecosystem. They have their own marketing, sales, engineering, and finance functions, so each product has its own profit-and-loss statement, and thus each has both autonomy and accountability.

So what’s different here, and what differences does it make?

The main difference is that Amazon’s internal environment is set up to encourage the constant formation of teams, and provides the critical early resources that let them flourish quickly. Management expects and even demands innovation, and the structure is set up to provide enough fertilizer at the earliest stages, sufficient support during the prototyping and testing phase, and enough clear pathways to final adoption. There are far fewer vetoes, and more widely distributed resources and pathways. And that matters. As Benedict Evans observes,

The structural advantage of them [teams], in Amazon at least (and in theory, at least) is that you can multiply them. You can add new product lines without adding new internal structure or direct reports, and you can add them without meetings and projects and process in the logistics and ecommerce platforms. You don’t (in theory) need to fly to Seattle and schedule a bunch of meetings to get people to implement support for launching makeup in Italy, or persuade anyone to add things to their roadmap. This means not so much that products on Amazon are commodities (this is obvious) but that product categories on Amazon are commodities. -Benedict Evans

Of course, this picture is somewhat idealized. Small teams also compete for resources and projects, so from another perspective Amazon has created a Darwinian environment in which teams compete vigorously (sometimes viciously) on behalf of their projects and initiatives. Not everything gets funded, so there are naturally winners and losers. This hyper-competitive environment is another way Amazon pushes teams to innovate.

One final note. Small teams are only possible because Amazon has, since its earliest days, required that all teams share information electronically not only with other Amazon teams, but with outsiders as well. This key requirement makes it possible for hundreds of teams to connect – otherwise they would drown in information overhead, the sheer time and resource cost of communicating by manual methods like email and messaging.

Excerpt from Behemoth – Amazon Rising: Power and Seduction in the Age of Amazon reprinted with permission by Dr. Robin Gaster.

Dr. Robin Gaster is the CEO of Incumetrics and a visiting scholar at George Washington University Institute for Public Policy. He is the author of Behemoth – Amazon Rising: Power and Seduction in the Age of Amazon.

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How wealthy Americans and corporations have used ‘negative freedom’ to strip rights away from workers

Fastfood workers
Overly promoting freedom of corporations can cause decreases to workers’ rights.

  • Paul Constant is a writer at Civic Ventures and cohost of the “Pitchfork Economics” podcast with Nick Hanauer and David Goldstein.
  • In the latest episode, they interviewed Mike Konczal, director of progressive thought at the Roosevelt Institute.
  • Konczal says allowing employers freedom to infringe on workers’ rights creates a dangerous economic imbalance.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

The best brief definition of the limits of American freedom is a very old line that’s often misattributed to Abraham Lincoln: “My freedom to swing my fists ends where your nose begins.”

In other words, you can do what you want in America as long as you’re not hurting anyone. So far as rules of thumb go, it’s an elegant one.

And it also serves as a simple illustration of a difficult truth that isn’t often acknowledged in American politics: Freedom is never a zero-sum game.

Since Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s presidency, for example, we’ve established a minimum wage that (most) employers have had to pay. For workers, the minimum wage is an essential freedom to be protected, because it ensures that if they work a full week, they can afford the basic necessities. But for certain vulture capitalists, the minimum wage is a freedom-killing constraint to be derided and overturned. From their perspective, the minimum wage is impeding on their freedom to fatten profit margins by paying starvation wages.

Freedom in the workplace

Freedom isn’t handed down in pure form by some omniscient higher power. It’s determined by legislators, enforced by courts, and influenced by popular opinion. Like most human institutions, the decision of who enjoys more freedom is often rigged toward the most powerful. The last 40 years of outsized corporate influence has marched to the drumbeat of anti-worker laws that restrict the rights of workers to unionize and to keep their home life private. In general, the more freedoms your employers enjoy, the fewer freedoms you enjoy in your workplace.

This week’s episode of “Pitchfork Economics” features an interview with Mike Konczal, the director of progressive thought at the Roosevelt Institute. Konczal’s new book, “Freedom from the Market: America’s Fight to Liberate Itself from the Grip of the Invisible Hand,” is about the junction between economics and freedom, and how to reclaim some of the freedoms that American workers briefly captured in the middle of the 20th century.

Konczal says the concept of trickle-down economics that ruled over American politics since the 1980s has been informed by the concept of prioritizing negative freedoms over positive freedoms. “Negative freedom is the idea of freedom from the government, and the idea that the government can’t stop you from doing the things you want,” he explained, whereas “positive freedom is associated with a freedom to – a freedom to be able to get health care, or get a good education.”

‘Pro-freedom’ and anti-government

For too long, leaders on the left and right have bought into the libertarian concept that a government’s primary role in protecting freedoms should be to limit government’s power wherever possible. This anti-government stance is the reason why, for instance, the “pro-freedom” argument over the 2nd Amendment has long been to argue for the freedom of those who own the guns, when gun safety advocates could just as logically argue that the freedom of the individual to go to school or participate in public events without fear of being killed in a mass shooting should take precedence.

The popular discourse has for decades been so absorbed with negative freedoms that benefit corporations, Konczal says, that we’ve forgotten to prioritize our individual positive freedoms.

“Is the government making us more or less free with the way the economy is structured?” he said. “I think it’s increasingly less free in the past decades.”

Worker versus employer freedoms

Konczal says the recent debate over secure scheduling laws, which require employers to post employee schedules in advance and pay workers extra for shifts added or canceled at the last minute, are a good example of a positive freedom. Some workers, he said, “don’t start their weeks knowing the hours they’re going to work over the next week.”

If employers aren’t required to tell workers when they will and won’t be working, Konczal asked, “how do you build a robust social life with that kind of stress?” Without the freedom to plan even one day ahead, “it’s tough to start and maintain a family, or to volunteer, or join a bowling league – all the things that we think of as having a rich social life,” he explained.

Once you understand that worker freedoms have been trampled over the last 40 years, you start to see examples everywhere. Consider the Jimmy John workers who were forced to sign agreements that said they couldn’t go to work for another fast food restaurant if they quit, or the janitors who unwittingly signed noncompete clauses. Think of how many people feel trapped in their jobs because they can’t afford to give up the health insurance their employers provide. Can anyone really make the argument that these workers are anywhere near as free as their counterparts in nations with single-payer health care and stronger worker protections?

The economic power imbalance

In order to reestablish freedoms that benefit the individual, Konczal argued that “we need to decommodify spheres of our lives.” A public health care system and free public college would establish a baseline in which everyone has the freedom to pursue the life that they want, and worker protections would allow people to live balanced lives.

And lastly, “we need to do something about the real disparities of wealth and income in this country through very aggressive progressive taxation,” Konczal said.

Freedom can’t exist in a country with the kind of economic power imbalance that exists in America today. Your freedom to swing big bags of money around ends when your fortune risks crushing the livelihoods of millions of working Americans.

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3 digital banking trends to look out for this year, according to the head of digital at Chase

Allison Beer
Allison Beer is the head of customer experience and digital for Chase.

  • Allison Beer is chief product officer and head of customer experience and digital for Chase.
  • She says the pandemic has accelerated changes in consumers’ digital banking needs.
  • Over the next year, Beer says, there will be increased demand for personalization, automation, and real-time payments.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

The last year changed all industries, including banking.

Consumers have embraced digital banking tools for several years, but the pandemic accelerated adoption even further across demographics. For example, half of Chase’s new digitally active customers since March 2020 are over 50.

New research suggests that we can expect consumers to engage more actively with their bank’s digital offerings in 2021 and beyond. According to a recent Chase survey, 80% of respondents prefer to manage their finances digitally rather than in-person.

We believe this preference will continue to increase demand for personalization, automation and real-time payments as consumers continue to shy away from cash.

Personalization

Every year, tech companies release new devices, hardware and software that allow consumers to update and personalize their experience. Consumers want the same experience from their bank.

Banking will become even more personalized in 2021, helping foster deeper engagement between customers and the features and services that their bank offers.

Advanced technologies – like artificial intelligence – can help banks create more customized experiences that adapt to each customer’s individual needs. For example, people can already use their mobile banking app to enjoy offers and rewards from some of their favorite retailers and brands. Customers can also view unique insights about their spending and savings trends or credit score to make more informed financial decisions.

Automation

In a post-vaccine world, consumers will still want to find the most convenient and effective ways to manage their finances. We expect digital resources that assist with budgeting and bill payments to play a major role in future digital banking enhancements.

Automation, especially for payments and savings, has made it effortless for consumers to stay on top of their finances. Essentially, they increasingly want to use their mobile apps to “set it and forget it.” Moving forward, we anticipate that we will make an even wider array of automated tools available.

Real-time

Digital payments became even more popular last year, as consumers relied on safe, convenient and contactless methods for completing real-time peer to peer (P2P) payments. In fact, in 2020, the Zelle Network processed more than 1.2 billion transactions totaling $307 billion in payments. Consumers and businesses can easily process transactions using a variety of real-time payment platforms – whether they are paying rent, splitting a dinner bill, or paying the babysitter.

The early adopters of this technology were younger generations, but in 2020 we saw older customers use this way of paying more frequently. Real-time payments will undoubtedly grow in popularity as both consumers and businesses become more comfortable with the convenience and security it provides.

Digital banking will further influence who consumers choose to bank with. COVID-19 has increased customer preference for the convenience and speed that digital banking offers through websites and apps. To better serve consumers of all ages, banks will need to be agile enough to react quickly to the evolving needs of their customers.

At the end of the day, who consumers choose to bank with will increasingly depend on how easy it is for them to manage their entire financial life digitally from one place. Banks that make that experience seamless, insightful and simple will gain loyal customers who engage more frequently with their products and services.

Allison Beer is chief product officer and head of customer experience and digital for Chase. She’s been with Chase since 2017.

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The case for a no-strings-attached monthly payment to help families get back on their feet after the pandemic, according to an economic security expert

Jobless claims
Guaranteed income helps stabilize people during difficult times such as during a pandemic.

Guaranteed income is a robust response to so many contradictions.

We see the benefits of divorcing work from worth playing out in Stockton, California. Mayor Michael Tubbs, the first Black mayor elected to office at the ripe age of 26, is running a guaranteed income pilot. He makes the case that poverty comes from a lack of cash, not a lack of character.

We knew providing a stable income was important pre-pandemic, but post-pandemic it is a lifeline for Stockton families. Guaranteed income helps these families weather the crisis with more resilience than their neighbors.

I can’t help but imagine how this approach could have helped millions more if it had been part of our economic approach across the country. What would it mean to have this kind of an economic floor?

Named the Stockton Economic Empowerment Demonstration (SEED), the program gives 125 families in Stockton an income floor of $500 a month for 18 months. The income is unconditional. This means there are no strings attached and no work requirements.

Stockton is a city in the process of reinventing itself, with no shortage of challenges. It was the largest city to go bankrupt after the last financial crisis. It’s a city that is representative of America, with a majority of the population being people of color. One in four Stocktonians live in poverty; the median income is around $44,000.

book 553x677
The New Possible anthology.

The families participating in the guaranteed income pilot provide compelling data for how cash transfers allow families to remain resilient in the face of a pandemic. In these families, we see how no-strings-attached cash provides a way forward in economic uncertainty.

That resilience is the promise of the SEED project in particular, and the promise of guaranteed income more broadly.

To see the impact on people’s lives, let’s look at one recipient’s story.

For Tomas, the outbreak happened as he was getting his security clearance for a job at the airport. As with many companies, the pandemic caused a hiring freeze and halted the application process at the airport.

Suddenly finding himself out of work and without any jobless benefits, the guaranteed income became Tomas’ sole financial fallback.

Tomas can’t live on $500 or even $1,000 a month, but the guaranteed income is not meant to be an income on its own. It supports resilience. It works to stabilize the erratic ups and downs and to help people through difficult times in times of widespread destabilization. This is something we should all have, and our current political and economic moment makes it a possibility. We can make this kind of economic care and resilience part of our reality in the wake of COVID-19.

We are often asked, “What do people spend the money on?” The answer: People spend the money on food, general supplies, and utilities. But wanting to know exactly where the money goes misses the point. A more interesting question is: “What does the money do?” The evidence shows that meaningful psychological and emotional gains are embedded in providing people with the resources to take care of their basic needs.

Researchers Dr. Amy Castro Baker and Dr. Stacia West, who are independently evaluating the Stockton program, understand this point. Beyond tracking the basics of where the money goes, they are evaluating questions of wellbeing, including stress levels, hope, and feelings of belonging. The two researchers define hope in the way that they ask the question: “Do you want to wake up in the morning?” Hope is about goals, pathways, and agency. As Dr. Castro Baker puts it, “Keep in mind – the opposite of hope is despair. Understanding how economic security is linked to hope is key. Many would argue that change and justice are simply not possible without hope.”

They also ask interviewees, “Do you feel seen? Do you feel seen as a human being by institutions with power over your life?” If you don’t feel like you matter as a human, your capacity for hope is limited. Hope is one of the most significant predictors of whether or not you will engage with positive and healthy interventions when capitalism has already spit you out, or when it has communicated to you that you do not serve a purpose.

According to Dr. Castro Baker, “Hope is about saying: To what degree can a justice-based intervention such as a guaranteed income serve as a financial vaccine in a prolonged stressful environment with an unknown end?”

Early trends indicate that, with just $500 cash a month, people can move the needle on both hope and belonging.

Natalie Foster
Natalie Foster.

Better Ideas Aren’t Necessarily New Ideas

It has been heartening to see guaranteed income percolate into Stockton society as a possible response to the pandemic and the treacherous economic insecurity experienced by so many Americans. Giving people cash works. I

t’s not a new idea; Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. also spoke and wrote extensively on the power of a guaranteed income. He was pushed in his thinking by activists such as Johnnie Tillmon, who played a critical role in the National Welfare Rights Organization.

Nearly 50 years ago Johnnie Tillmon, a welfare rights advocate, wrote, “The truth is, a job doesn’t necessarily mean an adequate income. There are some ten million jobs that now pay less than the minimum wage, and if you’re a woman, you’ve got the best chance of getting one.” Tillmon’s words are still true today.

As a result of the pandemic, more and more Americans experience low wages, income insecurity, degrading interactions with benefits offices, and lack of protections. While these have been the consistent experience of many Black Americans, the blacklight is exposing others to this harsh reality as well. The extraordinary economic disruption is now moving beyond the segregated zip codes, where it has lingered untended for far too long.

While the impacts of the coronavirus mean that more people now experience economic inequality, people of color have been advocating for economic justice for decades. We now have an opportunity and a responsibility to advance new rules with old roots in a meaningful way right now.

Even in a short amount of time, we’ve made tremendous strides. When I cofounded the Economic Security Project, guaranteed income struck people as a far-fetched idea and even a pipe dream. But that just isn’t the case anymore.

The uncomfortable truth is that there will be future pandemics – whether they are the result of climate change, job automation, or something entirely unforeseen. We will find ourselves here again. But let’s make sure that, when that day comes, the economic realities of American families are in a very different place. Right now, we can begin to offer the economic resilience required to weather these changes and the turmoil they bring.

As a nation, there is still much reckoning to be done. But we can’t be an anti-racist, just society until we have safe and stable families and communities. And for this we need cash. Let’s first provide a guaranteed income to stabilize every family. Then we can get to the hard work of healing this nation together.

This excerpt is adapted from The New Possible: Visions of Our World Beyond Crisis, published by Cascade Books, an imprint Wipf and Stock Publishers.

Natalie Foster is the president and cofounder of the Economic Security Project, a network dedicated to advancing a guaranteed income in America and reining in the unprecedented concentration of corporate power.

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Andrew Yang on which would more broadly help the most Americans: universal basic income or higher wages

Andrew Yang
Andrew Yang rides the Staten Island Ferry on February 26 in New York City.

Most progressives – really, most Americans – agree that income inequality is a tremendous problem. For over 40 years, the vast majority of profits have gone to the wealthiest 10% of the economy, and a gigantic portion of those gains have been scooped up by the wealthiest .01 percent. The $50 trillion dollars that used to go to the American working class has now been leveraged to a fraction of the population, and that disparity is now obvious to everyone.

In this case, though, identifying the problem is the easy part. A lot of very smart people have many different ideas about how to alleviate income inequality, and many of these ideas aren’t compatible with one another. So decisions will have to be made about how to get that money back in the pockets of ordinary Americans.

For Nick Hanauer, the host of the “Pitchfork Economics” podcast, the first step to address income inequality was easy. In Washington state, Hanauer became one of the leading voices in the Fight for $15, which called for a $15 minimum wage. Now that it’s been endorsed by almost every single high-profile Democratic politician, $15 seems obvious, though Forbes in 2013 characterized it as a “near insane” proposition.

In the latest episode of “Pitchfork Economics,” Hanauer describes those early days of the Fight for $15 to former presidential candidate and current New York City mayoral candidate Andrew Yang. And Yang is in agreement with Hanauer’s assessment that raising the minimum wage is good for the economy.

“Just about everything out of your mouth, I’ve always agreed with,” Yang told Hanauer. “But I think you would agree with me, particularly during this pandemic, that the extremity [of America’s income inequality] is accelerating and getting worse.”

Yang’s approach to fixing the economy

The entrepreneur and New York City mayoral candidate is perhaps the most high-profile proponent of the universal basic income (UBI), in which the government would send every American a check that they could then spend however they wish.

Andrew Yang
Andrew Yang.

“If I had a choice between something like universal basic income and a higher minimum wage, I would choose universal basic income,” Yang said. “But if I don’t get universal basic income, then I’m all for raising the minimum wage.”

“I’m on exactly the other side of that trade,” Hanauer said. “I really do believe in capitalism. I do believe that it is a great economic system – the best ever devised.” At the same time, Hanauer rejects the idea that “the whole system will come tumbling down if companies are required to pay their workers enough to live in dignity without food stamps.”

Yang told Hanauer that when he considered getting into public life, “I looked at the political possibility of changing the labor standards along the way you suggest.”

Universal basic income versus a higher minimum wage

Yang believes that the idea of a UBI is simpler and more suited to the modern world than reforming and updating the suite of labor standards instituted in the first half of the 20th century. He considers automation to be the leading problem for American workers in the 21st century, and believes that a significant portion of the American workforce will be made obsolete once technologies like self-driving cars and trucks finally mature.

If Yang’s dire prediction is correct, and millions of Americans are forced out of work and essentially considered useless to the labor force, a UBI might be better-suited to solve that crisis.

Nick Hanauer 100 list

Hanauer, however, believes that the coming wave of automation is not significantly different than the uncountable waves of automation that workers have lived through since the dawn of civilization. The invention of assembly lines, industrial farming equipment, and personal computing caused disruption in their fields that temporarily put people out of work, but all three technologies created jobs in the long run.

Hanauer believes that the real battle is to make sure that the newly created jobs pay enough that workers can afford to fully participate in the economy, because their consumer demand is what creates more jobs.

A meaningful path forward

The problem with internal debates among progressives is that there is no one right answer, and that these economic ideas are largely exclusive of each other – no politician that I know of is simultaneously calling for expanding the minimum wage and also establishing a regular series of UBI payments for all Americans.

The path forward can only be found through good-faith, informed debates like this, deliberating what action is possible, which outcomes are preferable, and who is persuadable. The debates of today are the crucibles that shape the policy of tomorrow.

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Vermont is putting BIPOC people at the front of the vaccination line. Here’s why it’s a great idea.

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A medical worker prepares to administer a COVID-19 vaccine.

  • Right now, a 30-year-old BIPOC Vermonter can get vaccinated, but a 30-year-old white Vermonter cannot.
  • This is just good public health policy in action, argues healthcare network director Jessica Frisco.
  • This is an opinion column. The thoughts expressed are those of the author.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Vermont Governor Phil Scott recently announced that Black people, Indigenous people, and all people of color over the age of 16 and their households can now get vaccinated for COVID-19. As of Tuesday, non-BIPOC Vermonters have to be 50 or older to get the vaccine.

Basically, a 30-year-old BIPOC Vermonter can get vaccinated right now, but a 30-year-old white Vermonter cannot.

The move has launched something of a moral panic among pundits, but a quick look at Vermont’s unique demographics and some basic understanding of public health explain why it’s actually a great idea.

Vaccine distribution plans, in Vermont and across the country, have prioritized the most vulnerable populations from the start. A quick look at the numbers reveals that giving early vaccine access to Vermont’s BIPOC population simply continues that strategy.

Vermont’s unique demographics

Vermont is the second-least populated state in the country. It’s also the whitest. With a population of only 630,000 people, 94% of whom are white, there are only about 36,000 BIPOC people in Vermont. New York City has over 4 million BIPOC individuals, about half its population. The US. in total is 76% white, so Vermont is demographically very unique in that sense.

Not only is the BIPOC population of Vermont small in absolute terms and in proportion to the white population, it’s also at higher risk. Vermont’s BIPOC live mostly in denser populated areas with the highest concentration in Burlington, Vermont’s biggest and hardest hit city.

Why vaccinating Vermont’s BIPOC population makes sense

Nationally, BIPOC populations are more likely to hold jobs as essential workers or in roles that increase their exposure to COVID-19. By far, Burlington has more cases than the rest of Vermont, and it’s known that Black Vermonters alone have the highest rates of COVID in the state.

Also, BIPOC populations consistently prove harder to reach with public health initiatives. These groups are less likely to have a primary care doctor who they feel comfortable calling up for an appointment. They face more significant transportation difficulties in getting to an appointment. And their initial hesitancy about the vaccine has been well-documented (though enthusiasm across racial and ethnic backgrounds continues to grow overall, as availability becomes more widespread).

This all bears out on the numbers we’re seeing for Vermont vaccination rates, with only 22% of BIPOC Vermonters vaccinated, versus 35% of the broader population.

Creating more opportunities for BIPOC people to get vaccinated will only help to protect these groups from their heightened risk from COVID-19.

Jessica Frisco
Jessica Frisco.

It’s not even that big of a deal

For white Vermonters under 50 years of age, the situation isn’t that dire. Starting April 5, all Vermonters 40 and older can get vaccinated. On April 12, all Vermonters age 30 and older get their turn. On April 19, all Vermonters aged 16 and up can get vaccinated.

Stripped of all the racial commentary, all Vermont has done is allow a small, at-risk population to get vaccinated a few weeks ahead of other healthy, younger people. In Vermont, where 90% of COVID-19 deaths have been people over 65, and 87.8% of that population is now vaccinated, it’s not as though truly vulnerable populations have been sidelined to allow minorities access to vaccinations.

Really, it’s just good public health policy in action.

Jessica Frisco is a director at an NYC-based healthcare network. She is a registered nurse and holds a Master of Public Health degree from Columbia University.

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The pandemic completely unraveled the libertarian ideal of individualism in Ayn Rand’s ‘Atlas Shrugged’

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A member of the National Guard reading “Atlas Shrugged” in the Capitol as the House debated impeachment against President Trump in January 2021.

  • Paul Constant is a writer at Civic Ventures and cohost of the “Pitchfork Economics” podcast with Nick Hanauer and David Goldstein.
  • In the latest episode, they spoke with evolutionist David Sloan Wilson about his novel, “Atlas Hugged.”
  • Wilson says the pandemic has unraveled the Ayn Rand philosophy that self-interest should trump societal needs.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Like a lot of white males, I read Ayn Rand’s bestselling novel “Atlas Shrugged” when I was 18. And like a lot of white males, “Atlas Shrugged” turned me into a huge jerk for a couple of months.

“Atlas Shrugged,” which was published in 1959 and came in second only after The Bible in a Library of Congress survey of influential books, is a 1,200-page sci-fi novel about what would happen if all the “makers” in the world were to go on strike. The mysterious hero of the book, John Galt, encourages captains of industry, inventors, and other heroes of capitalism to join him in a secret utopia hidden in Colorado called Galt’s Gulch. The rest of the world – populated only by collectivists, politicians, and other assorted “takers” – quickly begins to fall apart without them.

“Atlas Shrugged” serves as a page-turning enticement to Ayn Rand’s philosophy, Objectivism, which is based on the idea that selfishness should be the guiding virtue for all mankind. (If you think I’m overstating or mischaracterizing her message, please note that Rand literally published a non-fiction book titled “The Virtue of Selfishness.”)

Self-interest, Rand argues, is the best motivation for economics, finance, politics, and basically all of humanity’s pursuits. Putting others first, she argues, means that everyone finishes last.

The appeal of selfishness

Rand’s simplistic Objectivist worldview couldn’t be better designed to appeal to sheltered middle-and-upper-class suburban white boys like me – the kind of people who, in the immortal words of Barry Switzer, were born on third base and thought they hit a triple.

For kids like me at the time, Rand’s message that we earned every piece of wealth that we inherited was a comforting one, and it pleased our egos by centering us as masters of the universe who deserved our elevated perch.

Thankfully, it didn’t take me too long to shake off the themes of “Atlas Shrugged.” As soon as I befriended people who were not suburban white dudes, and once I understood that they had to work five times as hard to enjoy half of the privilege that I enjoyed, I realized that Rand was singing a heroic ode to the comfortable. With the application of a little bit of empathy and life experience, her philosophy fell apart.

But plenty of powerful adults still subscribe to Rand’s philosophy. Former Speaker of the House Paul Ryan has spoken often, and lovingly, about the impact Rand had on his life. Former Fed Chair Alan Greenspan was a Randian acolyte, along with both Ron and Rand Paul. Some of Silicon Valley’s most powerful players, including Peter Thiel and Travis Kalanick, have praised Rand.

Her writing to this day informs a particularly virulent form of conservative thought – fiercely libertarian, aggressively anti-government, blindly in favor of handing power to corporations.

In this week’s episode of “Pitchfork Economics,” Nick Hanauer and David Goldstein talk with celebrated evolutionist David Sloan Wilson about his debut novel, “Atlas Hugged.” “Hugged” rebuts the claims of Shrugged using Sloan’s unparalleled understanding of evolutionary biology, which reframes humans as cooperative and community-minded animals and not mono-maniacally selfish actors.

Self-interest versus the pandemic

And for a ripped-from-the-headlines example of why humans are absolutely not the sociopathic strivers of Rand’s fiction, look no further than the pandemic. How would Galt’s Gulch have responded last year when COVID-19 arrived?

To begin with, none of Rand’s rugged individualist protagonists would abide by a mask mandate. They loathe government regulations of all types, and since mask-wearing protects other people as much as it does the person wearing the mask, it violates Rand’s primary directive of selfishness above all else. The same goes for six-foot social distancing rules.

So already, Galt’s Gulch looks like a petri dish for coronavirus. Rand envisioned her utopia as a haven for CEOs and presidents of big manufacturing firms, and the average age of CEOs in America has climbed in recent years to just under 60 years old. Given that 95% of all coronavirus deaths have been in people over 60 years old, the survival rate for Galt’s Gulch isn’t looking great.

I hear the protests now: “But surely these unfettered capitalists would be able to buy or manufacture ventilators to keep those infected CEOs alive?” Probably not.

If you recall, ventilators were in high demand in the early days of the pandemic, and then-President Trump had to use powers of government to force General Motors to manufacture them – a gross violation of Rand’s philosophy.

And the global supply chain was completely broken in those early days, meaning all the money in the world couldn’t get ventilators or the parts to manufacture ventilators to Galt’s Gulch in time to save those poor sickened Objectivists.

Then consider the fact that Galt’s Gulch likely has no public health department to inform the populace about at-risk behaviors and demographics, no way to direct private business in ways that benefit the public good without massive price-gouging, and no tax dollars to support people who lose their jobs because of the pandemic, and John Galt’s utopia is starting to look a lot like “The Hunger Games.”

The science fiction of individualism

There’s a reason why libertarians have been so quiet since COVID arrived on our shores a year ago, and why Republican hyper-conservatives were bleating about Dr. Seuss when Democrats were passing an incredibly popular pandemic relief package.

The pandemic is proof of the single inescapable fact that destroys Ayn Rand’s philosophy: We live in a society, and nobody is truly a self-made master of their own destiny. The sooner we understand the American ideal of sovereign individualism is the stuff of science-fiction, the faster we can get to work building a world that’s better for everyone.

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5 big problems I see with women’s conferences, and how we can fix them to actually fight gender inequality

Erin Hatzikostas Headshot
Erin Hatzikostas.

  • Erin Hatzikostas is a former corporate CEO turned career coach, speaker, and podcast host.
  • She says women’s business conferences are a “noble idea” – but gender diversity still persists.
  • Instead, give women the tools to change up jobs and make conferences more creative.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

In comes a new email from your boss. The subject reads, “You are invited … “

Your stomach flutters with anticipation. What could this possibly be about?

You open it up to learn … your boss is sending you to a “women’s conference.”

Every year, hundreds of women-focused business conferences are held across the globe. This is great, right? At first blush, it certainly feels great to be selected for one.

Wow! They must think a lot of me to choose me to participate!

Awesome! Who will I be able to mix and mingle with?

(Secretly) What will I wear? I need to stand out.

But pretty soon reality sets in.

Hang on. I’m already slammed. This is going to throw another monkey-wrench in my schedule.

Wait, why is Janice invited? She leaves every day at 4:00.

So, what are all the men doing that day?

What exactly are the chances that I’ll be volunteered to help organize this thing?

Women’s business conferences are a noble idea. If you’ve been to one, it’s hard not to be in awe of the passion, sophistication, and attention to detail demonstrated by the organizers and attendees.

But if there are so many amazing women’s conferences, why is gender diversity still such a massive issue in the corporate workplace?

Obviously, this is a complicated question. Improving women’s conferences isn’t a silver bullet, but considering how they miss the mark can shed some light on the problem as a whole.

My podcast cohost and I recently drew up a list of all the things we’ve generally disliked about the over 25 women’s conferences we’ve collectively attended. Here they are:

1. They are too politically correct and vanilla. There simply isn’t enough plain speak and authentic, hard-earned perspective.

Suggesting that women’s conferences should be less politically correct immediately brings to mind a HuffPost article that shared an insider look at a particularly egregious (and politically incorrect) conference held by Ernst & Young.

When I read this article, I gasped. And then laughed. The gist of it was a completely ludicrous education about how to rise in your career by working within the gender stereotypes of the 1960s: Eschew anything masculine (but don’t flaunt your body), approach men deferentially, avoid being assertive, and above all, avoid being authentic.

This is not the kind of political incorrectness we need.

Instead, what we need is less jargon and more real talk. We also need to laugh more; we face a lot of ridiculous things in the average work day, and sometimes simply laughing together about it helps us get through it all.

Cut the crap. No more phrases that have been done to death such as “lean in,” “executive presence,” “speak up,” etc. These are all solid ideas, mind you, but they’ve become meaningless with overuse. For example, the term “executive presence” infers that women have to change who they are to succeed. The result? Many of the most qualified women decide to opt out of the bigger roles. Women need authentic examples, preferably interesting ones, not buzzwords.

2. There are too many professional facilitators and consultants and too few women who have actually been in the trenches

Consultants have their place, and conferences definitely need facilitators to start – and keep – the balls rolling. But relying on academic advice from people who have never personally navigated the landmines of rising through the corporate ranks leaves a lot of expertise on the table.

Conferences need to do more than pay lip service to the idea that women can be leaders by allowing them to actually lead. Encourage them to share their experiences, their ideas, and their solutions. Another common issue with these conferences: Focusing on problems women are assumed to face without enough timely, tactical, or tangible advice on how to solve them.

If we want women to be leaders, we must make sure that the conferences aimed at that goal are interactive and offer opportunities to put those skills to use.

3. Organizing conferences is often a time suck for the very people they are supposed to be supporting

Too often, organizing a women’s conference falls to a woman who is already working her butt off in a leadership position. And although helping each other rise is a noble and worthy goal, the women leading the charge are generally forced to shoehorn the planning into an already tight schedule filled with all the other responsibilities of the job. One wonders: How many male executives spend hours on end organizing events for other men?

According to McKinsey’s “Women in the Workplace” study, companies’ commitment to gender diversity has gone up 13% since 2015. However, only half of employees think that gender diversity is a priority in their company. Could this be because it is left to women alone to lead the charge?

4. The conferences are too darn formal

Generally, a women’s business conference looks and feels like a conference designed for a very uptight, stuffy, unapproachable man. Everything – from the agenda to the seating – screams button up and mind your manners.

Is this really an environment that fosters the authenticity and vulnerability required to bring your best self to bear? We think not. Why not customize the experience to the attendees? What’s wrong with comfy couches, bean bag chairs, or (gasp) yoga pants?

To be fair, many icebreakers are not formal. In fact, they can be cheesy and sometimes downright offensive. This isn’t true across the board, but we’ve definitely experienced some doozies. Women may prefer comfortable clothes and humor, but we aren’t children. Drop the dumb games.

5. Women’s conferences only include, well, women

Though the intention behind female-only conferences is good, they still perpetuate the myth that women need to learn how to behave in order to become leaders. This is simply not true. The same leadership skills that work for men work for women as well.

We need conferences designed to challenge the idea that there is one right style of leadership – and that that winning style can only be achieved by straight white men. Yes, women must be included in these conferences, but so must leadership. How can we drive change without all the leadership in the room?

So what do we do?

Don’t try to change women for the job. Instead, enable them to change the job.

Though the EY conference is an extreme example, it highlights one of the biggest issues we have. We give advice to women focused on how to act just like those before them – whether male or female. For some reason, we believe there is only one way to be in order to be successful. That couldn’t be further from the truth.

When I was initially tapped for my first corporate executive position, I actually said, “No thank you.” I feared I’d have to become someone I’m not. I feared I would have to compromise my family, my health, and even my identity to be successful.

It took a while to realize that I have unique qualities that I could exploit (humor, humility, and the ability to inspire) and that the things that I wasn’t so good at (extensive travel, detailed operations) could be addressed by strengthening the team around me.

I love the quote by soccer legend Abby Wambach, “Imperfect men have been empowered and permitted to run the world since the beginning of time. It’s time for imperfect women to grant themselves permission to join them.”

We have got to stop pretending that there is a linear formula for being a successful leader. Instead, we must help women celebrate and exploit their unique, positive qualities.

Go ahead, hold women’s conferences, but shake them up … significantly

In our perfect world, there would be no need for women’s conferences or talk of gender parity. We’re making progress toward this goal: The number of women rising to a top CEO spot has increased 24% over the last five years. But obviously, we’re not there yet.

So, until we arrive at the nirvana that is true gender diversity (of all kinds, mind you), women’s conferences offer a unique opportunity for us to learn from each other. However, that only happens if the women attending and leading are allowed to show up as their authentic selves.

Showcase speakers that tell it like it is. Give real-life actionable examples of women who’ve crushed their careers without selling their souls, and play some fun music while you’re at it.

A few weeks ago, my podcast cohost and I experimented with something like this. Imagine a conference that kicks off with dancing and lip synching into a room packed to the gills with high-powered and successful women in the financial industry.

Not sounding so bold?

One of us was wearing a bedazzled tracksuit, and we may have had props, parody videos, and cheese cubes. And, it wasn’t just a show. We got real down and dirty about the things that helped us rise into executive positions. The crowd left incredibly inspired to be more of themselves, both in work and in their personal lives.

If we can’t shake up a conference, how can we hope to shake up the workplace?

It is time we start acknowledging that we must get much more creative in our approach to gender diversity if we ever want to have a shot at reaching parity.

We need to start asking the tough questions:

  • What is working and what isn’t?
  • What bold moves do we need to make to go from looking at gender diversity as a problem to solve and embracing it as an organic source of strength, especially in the corporate world?

Whether you’re a decision-maker or low down on the totem pole, one thing is clear. It is going to take all of us thinking well beyond the current conference box to get where we need to be.

Erin Hatzikostas is a former corporate CEO turned career coach, speaker, and podcast host. She’s the founder and CEO of b Authentic inc. You can listen to her offbeat career podcast, “b CAUSE with Erin & Nicole,” or you can start pumping up your career with her free guide,”10 Simple Steps to a Rich Career.”

This article was originally published on Insider December 11, 2019.

Read the original article on Business Insider