The US military is trying to build portable nuclear reactors again. It didn’t go so well when it tried 60 years ago

US soldiers during the construction of Camp Century Greeland
US soldiers make observations with a theodolite during the construction of Camp Century in Greenland, June 1959.

  • In May 2021, the Pentagon asked for $60 million to design and build a small, truck-mounted portable nuclear reactor within five years.
  • The US military has tinkered with such reactors before, and its first attempts didn’t work out well in terms of environmental contamination, cost, human health, and international relations.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

In a tunnel 40 feet beneath the surface of the Greenland ice sheet, a Geiger counter screamed. It was 1964, the height of the Cold War. US soldiers in the tunnel, 800 miles from the North Pole, were dismantling the Army’s first portable nuclear reactor.

Commanding Officer Joseph Franklin grabbed the radiation detector, ordered his men out and did a quick survey before retreating from the reactor.

He had spent about two minutes exposed to a radiation field he estimated at 2,000 rads per hour, enough to make a person ill. When he came home from Greenland, the Army sent Franklin to the Bethesda Naval Hospital. There, he set off a whole body radiation counter designed to assess victims of nuclear accidents. Franklin was radioactive.

The Army called the reactor portable, even at 330 tons, because it was built from pieces that each fit in a C-130 cargo plane. It was powering Camp Century, one of the military’s most unusual bases.

Camp Century was a series of tunnels built into the Greenland ice sheet and used for both military research and scientific projects. The military boasted that the nuclear reactor there, known as the PM-2A, needed just 44 pounds of uranium to replace a million or more gallons of diesel fuel.

Heat from the reactor ran lights and equipment and allowed the 200 or so men at the camp as many hot showers as they wanted in that brutally cold environment.

The PM-2A was the third child in a family of eight Army reactors, several of them experiments in portable nuclear power.

US Army Engineers install portable nuclear power plant in Greeland
US Army Engineers installing a portable nuclear power plant move the vaper condenser, a component of plant, into the power plant, October 26, 1960.

A few were misfits. PM-3A, nicknamed Nukey Poo, was installed at the Navy base at Antarctica’s McMurdo Sound. It made a nuclear mess in the Antarctic, with 438 malfunctions in 10 years including a cracked and leaking containment vessel.

SL-1, a stationary low-power nuclear reactor in Idaho, blew up during refueling, killing three men. SM-1 still sits 12 miles from the White House at Fort Belvoir, Virginia. It cost US$2 million to build and is expected to cost $68 million to clean up. The only truly mobile reactor, the ML-1, never really worked.

Nearly 60 years after the PM-2A was installed and the ML-1 project abandoned, the US military is exploring portable land-based nuclear reactors again.

In May 2021, the Pentagon requested $60 million for Project Pele. Its goal: Design and build, within five years, a small, truck-mounted portable nuclear reactor that could be flown to remote locations and war zones. It would be able to be powered up and down for transport within a few days.

The Navy has a long and mostly successful history of mobile nuclear power. The first two nuclear submarines, the Nautilus and the Skate, visited the North Pole in 1958, just before Camp Century was built. Two other nuclear submarines sank in the 1960s – their reactors sit quietly on the Atlantic Ocean floor along with two plutonium-containing nuclear torpedos.

Portable reactors on land pose different challenges – any problems are not under thousands of feet of ocean water.

Those in favor of mobile nuclear power for the battlefield claim it will provide nearly unlimited, low-carbon energy without the need for vulnerable supply convoys. Others argue that the costs and risks outweigh the benefits. There are also concerns about nuclear proliferation if mobile reactors are able to avoid international inspection.

A leaking reactor on the Greenland ice sheet

Trench construction at Camp Century in Greeland
Trench construction at Camp Century in 1960.

The PM-2A was built in 18 months. It arrived at Thule Air Force Base in Greenland in July 1960 and was dragged 138 miles across the ice sheet in pieces and then assembled at Camp Century.

When the reactor went critical for the first time in October, the engineers turned it off immediately because the PM-2A leaked neutrons, which can harm people. The Army fashioned lead shields and built walls of 55-gallon drums filled with ice and sawdust trying to protect the operators from radiation.

The PM-2A ran for two years, making fossil fuel-free power and heat and far more neutrons than was safe.

Those stray neutrons caused trouble. Steel pipes and the reactor vessel grew increasingly radioactive over time, as did traces of sodium in the snow. Cooling water leaking from the reactor contained dozens of radioactive isotopes potentially exposing personnel to radiation and leaving a legacy in the ice.

When the reactor was dismantled for shipping, its metal pipes shed radioactive dust. Bulldozed snow that was once bathed in neutrons from the reactor released radioactive flakes of ice.

Franklin must have ingested some of the radioactive isotopes that the leaking neutrons made. In 2002, he had a cancerous prostate and kidney removed. By 2015, the cancer spread to his lungs and bones. He died of kidney cancer on March 8, 2017, as a retired, revered and decorated major general.

Camp Century’s radioactive legacy

Satellite photo of northwestern Greeland
Northwestern Greenland on August 12, 2019. On the shores of Baffin Bay is the US’s Thule Air Base with Camp Century located 150 miles to the East.

Camp Century was shut down in 1967.

During its eight-year life, scientists had used the base to drill down through the ice sheet and extract an ice core that my colleagues and I are still using today to reveal secrets of the ice sheet’s ancient past. Camp Century, its ice core and climate change are the focus of a book I am now writing.

The PM-2A was found to be highly radioactive and was buried in an Idaho nuclear waste dump. Army “hot waste” dumping records indicate it left radioactive cooling water buried in a sump in the Greenland ice sheet.

When scientists studying Camp Century in 2016 suggested that the warming climate now melting Greenland’s ice could expose the camp and its waste, including lead, fuel oil, PCBs and possibly radiation, by 2100, relations between the US, Denmark and Greenland grew tense.

Who would be responsible for the cleanup and any environmental damage?

Portable nuclear reactors today

Small portable nuclear reactors
Government Accountability Office concepts for transport and deployment of small, portable nuclear reactors.

There are major differences between nuclear power production in the 1960s and today.

The Pele reactor’s fuel will be sealed in pellets the size of poppy seeds, and it will be air-cooled so there’s no radioactive coolant to dispose of.

Being able to produce energy with fewer greenhouse emissions is a positive in a warming world. The US military’s liquid fuel use is close to all of Portugal’s or Peru’s. Not having to supply remote bases with as much fuel can also help protect lives in dangerous locations.

But, the US still has no coherent national strategy for nuclear waste disposal, and critics are asking what happens if Pele falls into enemy hands. Researchers at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the National Academy of Sciences have previously questioned the risks of nuclear reactors being attacked by terrorists.

As proposals for portable reactors undergo review over the coming months, these and other concerns will be drawing attention.

The US military’s first attempts at land-based portable nuclear reactors didn’t work out well in terms of environmental contamination, cost, human health and international relations. That history is worth remembering as the military considers new mobile reactors.

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Paul Bierman, Fellow of the Gund Institute for Environment, Professor of Natural Resources, University of Vermont

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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2 social scientists explain how childcare insecurity is hurting caregivers across the US

daycare
Not having childcare affects mothers’ interpersonal interactions and quality of life.

  • Childcare insecurity, or limited or uncertain access to adequate care, is a public health issue.
  • The pandemic caused a spike in need that impacted the well-being and mental health of caregivers.
  • Biden has proposed policies to address the issue, but economic constraints aren’t the only cause.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Childcare insecurity is a term we’ve come up with to describe limited or uncertain access to adequate childcare.

It factors into many Americans’ decisions whether to even have a child. Parents – mothers especially – often weigh the cost of childcare in their decision to return to work. And when a kid has a disability, there may not even be childcare options that meet the family’s needs.

As researchers who study how policies and systems affect well-being and health, we argue that childcare insecurity is a public health issue similar to food insecurity.

And just as with food insecurity, increasing access is necessary. However, access alone will not address the problem.

Read more: Some wealthy parents are eager to give their children multicultural experiences, from elaborate trips to nannies that speak multiple languages. During COVID-19, they’ve had to get creative.

Why childcare insecurity matters

Female caregivers in the US have traditionally borne most of the burden of finding and managing childcare and providing care directly. This results in stalled careers, higher stress, and lower earnings.

When schools and childcare facilities were forced to close or restrict access during the COVID-19 pandemic, millions more American parents and guardians – men and women alike – found themselves suddenly facing childcare insecurity. This affected their well-being and mental health.

A group of health psychologists surveyed parents throughout the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. About 4% of the parents reported having high stress levels “before COVID-19.” But by May 2020, that share had ballooned to 22%.

Meanwhile, sociologists who surveyed and interviewed US mothers in April and May of 2020 found that not having childcare affected mothers’ interpersonal interactions – such as increased frustration with their children – and quality of life.

How common is it?

In January 2020, 26 million working caregivers in the US “did not have an in-home care option” – whether a parent, grandparent or older sibling – for children 14 years and younger, according to a Rand Corp. analysis of data from the US Department of Labor.

A World Bank Report from December 2020 estimated that globally, over 40% of all children who needed quality childcare or preschool in 2018 did not have access to it. That’s nearly 350 million kids.

President Joe Biden has proposed some national policies to address childcare insecurity in the US – for example, limiting the percentage of income families need to spend on childcare to 7% by providing subsidies to care providers. This would likely improve access.

However, childcare insecurity is not always based on economic constraints. The quality of childcare, location, hours, and access for children with disabilities can all play a role as well.

The Conversation US publishes short, accessible explanations of newsworthy subjects by academics in their areas of expertise.

Cassandra M. Johnson, assistant professor of nutrition and foods, Texas State University and Shailen Singh, assistant professor, department of organization, workforce, & leadership studies, Texas State University

The Conversation
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Economic uncertainty and expanding opportunities for women have lowered the US birth rate – and it could lead to future labor shortages

couple on couple looking at phone reading newspaper
Economists estimate that a family will spend on average $233,610 per child before they are 18 years old.

  • From 1950 to 2021, we saw a 50% decline in US birth rates, from 25 births per 1,000 people to 12.
  • Sociologist Ann Oberhauser says the decline is tied to progress in areas like reproductive medicine and access to education.
  • Lower fertility rates could translate to possible future labor shortages in many sectors of the economy.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

The decline in population growth in the US from 2010 to 2020 is part of a broader national trend linked to falling birth rates, but also immigration changes and other factors. In May of 2021 the scope of that change became clear, with a record low of 55.8 births per 1,000 women of childbearing age in 2020, a 4% drop from 2019. Other countries are facing similar slowdowns in population growth.

This shift has been underway in the US for many years.

In the early 1900s, my grandfather grew up in a family with nine children in rural Iowa. They all worked hard to maintain the farm and support the family. Some of the children left the farm to attend college, start families, and find work elsewhere. My father grew up in a city and worked as an adult to support his family as the sole income earner.

Read more: Rich people are having babies, and it’s putting pressure on the market for private nurses and luxury products

The next generation, the baby boomers, was raised during a period of economic expansion that accompanied an uptick in fertility – the average number of children born to a woman in her reproductive years. Post-boomer generations have had fewer children, contributing to a 50% decline in US birth rates between 1950 and 2021, from 25 births per 1,000 people to 12.

Economic opportunities, social norms, and changing gender roles – especially expanding education and employment options for many women – help to explain why fertility has slowed in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. That change has repercussions for trends in workforce numbers, employment, health care, housing, and education.

Explaining the decline in fertility

Each generation experiences unique circumstances that affect fertility. The overall trend in declining birth rates, however, is largely due to women’s changing roles, employment shifts, and advances in reproductive health.

After World War II, the US saw rapid change in gender roles with the expansion of women’s education and entry into the labor force. Starting with the baby boom period from 1946 to 1964, many middle- and upper-class women had increased opportunities to get an education beyond high school, which had typically been the end of women’s formal education.

In 1950, only 5.2% of women had completed four years of college or more. By 2020, this proportion rose to 38.3%.

In comparison, 7.3% of men completed at least four years of college in 1950 and 36.7% in 2020 – a smaller increase than for women.

Increases in college education and rising employment among women tend to delay motherhood. Women with higher educational levels, especially unmarried women, tend to put off childbearing until their early 30s.

In addition, medical advancements and federal regulators’ approval of the birth control pill in the 1960s expanded reproductive freedom for women.

This situation contributed to women’s becoming mothers later in their lives. For example, the median age for first-time mothers among women who were born in 1960 was 22.7 years, compared with 20.8 years for women born in 1935.

Moreover, the teen birth rate was a record low in 2019, with 16.7 births per 1,000 girls and women ages 15 to 19. Birth rates remain higher, however, among Latina and Black teens than teens who are white or Asian. In contrast, the share of women ages 40 to 44 years who have ever had children increased from 82% in 2008 to 85% in 2018. Foreign-born women tend to have higher birth rates than US-born women.

Geographic location also reveals important differences in the US birth rate. Women in New England have fewer children, partly because of higher levels of education. In contrast, women in the South and Great Plains have among the highest birth rates in the US.

Finally, economic uncertainty affects fertility trends. Economists estimate that a family will spend on average $233,610 per child before they are 18 years old. Financial upheaval during the Great Recession from 2007 to 2009 also contributed to declining birth rates, while the COVID-19 pandemic saw a 4% decline in fertility rates in 2020, the lowest since 1979.

A look at the future

Fewer babies and young people and a growing older population will undoubtedly affect future generations.

Several developed countries in Europe have also experienced declining fertility rates, with widespread social and economic impacts. In Italy, for instance, rapid drops in fertility have led to closing hospitals and schools. In 2019, the average Italian family had 1.2 children, part of a declining trend since the 1960s, when it was more common for families to have four children. As a result, Italy’s percentage of seniors is second only to Japan, with growing concern for future labor supplies.

In the US, lower fertility rates translate to fewer working-age people and possible labor shortages in many sectors of the economy. According to the US Census Bureau, the percentage of people age 65 and older has been growing, increasing by one-third since 2010.

Many economists and social scientists recommend a restructuring of work to support and retain the shrinking number of workers. These recommendations include more flexible work conditions, access to quality and affordable child care, immigration reform, and job security. Several of these measures would provide much-needed support for parents and particularly women in the workforce.

Second, living spaces and residential housing may also have to accommodate this growing elderly population with arrangements that include assisted living, retirement communities, and ways for people to age in place. These housing changes would help women in particular, who live longer than men.

Third, health services such as insurance, medical care, and employment will have to adjust to these demographic shifts as more resources are needed to support an older population.

Finally, declining fertility rates are a growing concern for educators and policymakers. The so-called “demographic cliff” will inevitably lead to school closings and consolidation, and declining student recruitment and enrollment in the US. One projection is that there will be 10% fewer college students in 2054 than today.

The overall decline in fertility rates has far-reaching effects on society and future generations. In the early 1900s, college education and a career were not options for women like my great-grandmother. Advances in reproductive health and women’s expanding access to education and employment have produced a demographic shift with implications for work, housing, health care, and education.

Ann M. Oberhauser, professor of sociology, Iowa State University

The Conversation
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New research shows that labor unions can help reduce the risk of poverty

labor union protest
Participants carry signs during a march and rally by labor union supporters in Los Angeles.

  • Belonging to a labor union lowers the likelihood that you’ll fall into poverty, new research shows.
  • Living in a state with higher unionization rates even if you’re not a member also helps.
  • Had union membership not declined since the 1970s, we could expect poverty rates to be lower today.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Belonging to a union or living in a US state where organized labor is relatively strong helps lower the likelihood that you’ll fall into poverty, according to our new research.

In a peer-reviewed study, we examined how unionization is correlated with poverty. We analyzed data on poverty and unionization rates from 1975 through 2015 using the Panel Study of Income Dynamics, which is widely considered to be the gold standard for tracking individuals over time. We used a variety of poverty measures in our analysis.

We found that households in which there was at least one union member had an average poverty rate of 5.9%, compared with 18.9% for nonunion households, based on a relative measure of poverty rather than an absolute measure, by which what it means to be poor is fixed over time.

Read more: I rage-quit my job of 6 years when a new employee was promoted over me. I don’t regret leaving in such an emotional way, but there are a few things I should’ve done differently.

We also wanted to examine the impact of living in a state with a higher rate of unionization to see whether this broadly affected the likelihood that someone would be in poverty compared with states with lower union membership. Using the same relative measure of poverty, we found that states with higher unionization rates had average poverty levels about 7% lower than states with lower unionization rates.

Our findings imply that a 5% decline in union membership translates, on average, into a 2% increase in the probability that a resident of the state will fall into poverty.

Why it matters

When policymakers and academics develop plans to address poverty, they rarely, to our knowledge, consider the impact of labor unions.

And yet research across social science disciplines show time and again that labor unions have been central to bolstering the American middle class by raising wages and expanding access to fringe benefits.

Thus, it is logical, though rarely discussed, that unions would also reduce the risk that people become impoverished.

Our study also helps explain why the United States has a relatively high rate of poverty18% as of 2017 – compared with other rich democracies. France and the Norway, for example, boast poverty rates in the single digits as well as higher rates of union membership.

Our results suggest that had union membership not declined dramatically since the 1970s, we could reasonably expect poverty rates would be significantly lower.

What’s next

We intend to conduct additional research, both within the United States and among other countries, to better understand the mechanisms linking unionization to poverty.

More broadly, the biggest open question is whether US labor unions can expand their membership again and provide these types of protections against adverse economic forces.

Tom VanHeuvelen, assistant professor of sociology, University of Minnesota and David Brady, professor of public policy, University of California, Riverside

The Conversation
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How to confront common science denial arguments, according to 2 psychologists

anti vaccine protest coronavirus
A protester holds an anti-vaccination sign during a rally on May 16, 2020 in Woodland Hills, California.

  • Denying, doubting, and resisting scientific explanations led to more COVID-19 deaths than expected.
  • Two research psychologists offer ways to understand and combat this issue of science denial.
  • Be aware of what you share on social media and recognize that people operate with misguided beliefs.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Science denial became deadly in 2020. Many political leaders failed to support what scientists knew to be effective prevention measures. Over the course of the pandemic, people died from COVID-19 still believing it didn’t exist.

Science denial is not new, of course. But it’s more important than ever to understand why some people deny, doubt, or resist scientific explanations – and what can be done to overcome these barriers to accepting science.

In our book “Science Denial: Why It Happens and What to Do About It,” we offer ways for you to understand and combat the problem. As two research psychologists, we know that everyone is susceptible to forms of it. Most importantly, we know there are solutions.

Here’s our advice on how to confront five psychological challenges that can lead to science denial.

Read more: 3 things need to happen if the US wants to create a safe and organized vaccine-passport system, Okta’s CEO says

Challenge 1: Social identity

People are social beings and tend to align with those who hold similar beliefs and values. Social media amplifies alliances. You’re likely to see more of what you already agree with and fewer alternative points of view. People live in information filter bubbles created by powerful algorithms. When those in your social circle share misinformation, you are more likely to believe it and share it. Misinformation multiplies and science denial grows.

Action No. 1: Each person has multiple social identities. One of us talked with a climate change denier and discovered he was also a grandparent. He opened up when thinking about his grandchildren’s future, and the conversation turned to economic concerns, the root of his denial. Or maybe someone is vaccine-hesitant because so are mothers in her child’s play group, but she’s also a caring person, concerned about immunocompromised children.

We have found it effective to listen to others’ concerns and try to find common ground. Someone you connect with is more persuasive than those with whom you share less in common. When one identity is blocking acceptance of the science, leverage a second identity to make a connection.

Challenge 2: Mental shortcuts

Everyone’s busy, and it would be exhausting to be vigilant deep thinkers all the time. You see an article online with a clickbait headline such as “Eat Chocolate and Live Longer” and you share it, because you assume it’s true, want it to be, or think it is ridiculous.

Action No. 2: Instead of sharing that article on how GMOs are unhealthy, learn to slow down and monitor the quick, intuitive responses that psychologist Daniel Kahneman calls System 1 thinking. Instead turn on the rational, analytical mind of System 2 and ask yourself, how do I know this is true? Is it plausible? Why do I think it is true? Then do some fact-checking. Learn to not immediately accept information you already believe, which is called confirmation bias.

Challenge 3: Beliefs on how and what you know

Everyone has ideas about what they think knowledge is, where it comes from and whom to trust. Some people think dualistically: There’s always a clear right and wrong. But scientists view tentativeness as a hallmark of their discipline. Some people may not understand that scientific claims will change as more evidence is gathered, so they may be distrustful of how public health policy shifted around COVID-19.

Journalists who present “both sides” of settled scientific agreements can unknowingly persuade readers that the science is more uncertain than it actually is, turning balance into bias. Only 57% of Americans surveyed accept that climate change is caused by human activity, compared with 97% of climate scientists, and only 55% think that scientists are certain that climate change is happening.

Action No. 3: Recognize that other people (or possibly even you) may be operating with misguided beliefs about science. You can help them adopt what philosopher of science Lee McIntyre calls a scientific attitude, an openness to seeking new evidence and a willingness to change one’s mind.

Recognize that very few individuals rely on a single authority for knowledge and expertise. Vaccine hesitancy, for example, has been successfully countered by doctors who persuasively contradict erroneous beliefs, as well as by friends who explain why they changed their own minds. Clergy can step forward, for example, and some have offered places of worship as vaccination hubs.

Challenge 4: Motivated reasoning

You might not think that how you interpret a simple graph could depend on your political views. But when people were asked to look at the same charts depicting either housing costs or the rise in carbon dioxide in the atmosphere over time, interpretations differed by political affiliation. Conservatives were more likely than progressives to misinterpret the graph when it depicted a rise in CO2 than when it displayed housing costs. When people reason not just by examining facts, but with an unconscious bias to come to a preferred conclusion, their reasoning will be flawed.

Action No. 4: Maybe you think that eating food from genetically modified organisms is harmful to your health, but have you really examined the evidence? Look at articles with both pro and con information, evaluate the source of that information, and be open to the evidence leaning one way or the other. If you give yourself the time to think and reason, you can short-circuit your own motivated reasoning and open your mind to new information.

Challenge 5: Emotions and attitudes

When Pluto got demoted to a dwarf planet, many children and some adults responded with anger and opposition. Emotions and attitudes are linked. Reactions to hearing that humans influence the climate can range from anger (if you don’t believe it) to frustration (if you’re concerned you may need to change your lifestyle) to anxiety and hopelessness (if you accept it’s happening but think it’s too late to fix things). How you feel about climate mitigation or GMO labeling aligns with whether you are for or against these policies.

Action No. 5: Recognize the role of emotions in decision-making about science. If you react strongly to a story about stem cells used to develop Parkinson’s treatments, ask yourself if you are overly hopeful because you have a relative in early stages of the disease. Or are you rejecting a possibly lifesaving treatment because of your emotions?

Feelings shouldn’t (and can’t) be put in a box separate from how you think about science. Rather, it’s important to understand and recognize that emotions are fully integrated ways of thinking and learning about science. Ask yourself if your attitude toward a science topic is based on your emotions and, if so, give yourself some time to think and reason as well as feel about the issue.

Everyone can be susceptible to these five psychological challenges that can lead to science denial, doubt, and resistance. Being aware of these challenges is the first step toward taking action to meet them.

Barbara K. Hofer, professor of psychology emerita, Middlebury and Gale Sinatra, professor of education and psychology, University of Southern California

The Conversation
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Salaries are on the rise in police departments across the US, despite protests and calls to defund the police

New york police officers
NYPD officers stand guard on April 4, 2021 in New York City.

  • The 2020 median salary for a police officer in the US was $67,290 – the median for all jobs was $48,769.
  • Despite ongoing calls to defund police departments, officer salaries are only getting higher.
  • Police forces are growing, too, with incentives to join such tuition reimbursement and signing bonuses.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Police work can be one of the best-paid professions in the United States.

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the 2020 median salary for a police officer was US$67,290 – more than one-third higher than the national median of $48,769 for all occupations. Many officers probably earn much more, because the bureau’s analysis is based on hourly wages for a typical work year of 2,080 hours and does not include overtime – one of the factors that can drive an officer’s yearly income even higher.

Although there is a great deal of variation across the nation’s roughly 18,000 police departments, the agency also reports that salaries for police have largely climbed in the past five years – from an 8.8% increase in Mississippi, the state that overall pays its police the least, to a 21% increase in Hawaii, one of the best-paying states.

While efforts to control police budgets have succeeded in Austin, Denver, and Oakland, among others, the Biden administration recently announced that COVID-19 relief funds can be used to hire police officers to combat the rise in gun violence.

As a former police officer who studies policing in America, I think it is unlikely that police salaries can go anywhere but up.

Read more: 3 IT professionals who didn’t get a college degree and are now making 6 figures reveal how to succeed in their field

Police salaries are inching up

Just look at the trends across the US.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics published the mean salaries for police officers in all states plus the District of Columbia for the year 2018.

Somewhat predictably due to cost of living, California topped the list at $101,380, followed by Alaska at $88,030, where the cost of living also drives salaries higher. New Jersey, Washington state, and Hawaii round out the top five.

All of the 10 departments with the lowest-paid officers are located in the South, where Mississippi police officers earn slightly more than one-third of their California counterparts.

Large cities clearly offer higher wages to their police officers, as do some cities surrounding large metropolitan areas. The Los Angeles Police Department currently advertises a starting salary of $70,804 a year. That’s up from the 2015 starting annual salary of $59,717 – an 18.5% increase over just six years.

Starting salary for police officers in Baltimore is $55,117, with a seasoned officer earning $95,325, base salary alone. Seattle officers earn $83,600 once they’ve completed their basic academy training and top out at $109,512 after 54 months, not including overtime. Seattle even agreed to pay its officers an extra 2% for wearing body cameras.

Larger, better-paying police departments attract officers from smaller departments by offering more pay and better training for experienced officers. This often leaves a void that small agencies struggle to fill with qualified candidates.

There are three main drivers of police take-home pay: overtime, education, and competition.

1. Overtime

In his recent trial for the murder of George Floyd, Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin was represented by an attorney paid for by his union, the Minneapolis Police Federation. This benefit is only a small part of the union’s 128-page labor agreement with the city, which details salaries, vacation, sick leave, medical insurance, grievance procedures and, in particular, overtime pay.

Reportedly, Derek Chauvin’s 2018 salary was $90,612, more than twice the average Minneapolis per capita income of $38,808 in 2019. But it’s overtime rather than base salaries that drives up officers’ total compensation.

Across the country, police officers typically receive “time and a half” for every hour worked beyond the standard 40-hour week, meaning a pay rate that combines their regular hourly rate plus an additional 50%.

Most union agreements also stipulate higher pay for other work deemed “overtime,” such as off-duty court appearances. They also stipulate other after-hours pay boosts, such as a minimum of four hours’ pay for officers called back to duty for any reason.

In practice, these extra pay arrangements have a huge effect on driving up the size of police budgets. A few examples:

  • In Los Angeles, where the second-largest police force in the US boasts salaries of $83,144 after two years of employment plus an annual 1.5% cost-of-living increase, the union recently negotiated $245 million in overtime pay for its officers.
  • Boston’s complex agreement with its police department results in many opportunities for overtime as well as extra payment for special assignments.

City governments typically budget for some police officer overtime, since that extra income does not count toward an officer’s eventual retirement pay and reduces the need to hire additional employees. However, unanticipated events such as national disasters, public demonstrations, and political rallies all result in overtime pay for cops that cities must pay whether or not they planned for it:

2. Education

Few local law enforcement agencies require a four-year college degree, but most offer educational incentives that range from a 2% annual salary increase for earning an associate’s degree to 10% for a bachelor’s degree.

For example, since 1970 in Massachusetts, police receive pay incentives of up to 25% over and above their regular salary for a master’s or law degree. The Chicago Police Department, among others, provides tuition reimbursement for college courses, as well as additional incentive pay once a degree is completed.

Such incentives may be a good investment. Research indicates that police officers with college degrees are less likely to use lethal force and are subjects of fewer citizen complaints. Since fewer complaints mean fewer claims to pay and lawsuits to defend, this can ultimately save cities money.

3. Recruitment

More police officers are leaving the profession before retirement age, according to a 2019 study by the Police Executive Research Forum. The group has also found that the number of applicants for police jobs has steadily declined over the past 10 years. So departments trying to attract new recruits often go beyond tempting salaries by offering incentives like assistance with relocation, housing and childcare, education pay, college tuition reimbursement, health club memberships, and employee signing bonuses.

At the New York Police Department, the nation’s largest force, the starting salary is a relatively modest $42,000 a year. But the department highlights on its website that starting benefits include “holiday pay, longevity pay, uniform allowance, night differential, and overtime,” which together with salary can boost annual compensation to more than $100,000.

Even smaller departments are coming up with incentives to try and remain competitive with larger agencies that can offer higher salaries, more overtime and more attractive benefits. The police department of Bellmead, Texas, a city of around 10,500 about two hours north of Austin, has begun offering experienced officers a $5,000 bonus for signing on to the force.

Another trend to watch: Not only are police salaries rising, but the size of police forces also continues to grow. The Bureau of Labor Statistics forecasts a 5% growth in police jobs from 2019 to 2029, from 813,500 to an estimated 854,200, which is faster on average than other occupations.

Laurie Woods, senior lecturer in sociology, Vanderbilt University

The Conversation
Read the original article on Business Insider

Why your brain may need time to readjust to social gatherings after the pandemic, according to a neuroscientist

man sitting alone loneliness epidemic
We’ve been lonely for a year, but going back to normal socialization could be more difficult than expected.

  • 36% of adults in the US and 61% of young adults reported “serious loneliness” during the pandemic.
  • Nearly half of Americans also reported feeling uneasy about returning to in-person interaction.
  • Neuroscientist Kareem Clark says it may take time for some to reset their ‘social homeostasis,’ or need to socialize.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

With COVID-19 vaccines working and restrictions lifting across the country, it’s finally time for those now vaccinated who’ve been hunkered down at home to ditch the sweatpants and reemerge from their Netflix caves. But your brain may not be so eager to dive back into your former social life.

Social distancing measures proved essential for slowing COVID-19’s spread worldwide – preventing upward of an estimated 500 million cases. But, while necessary, 15 months away from each other has taken a toll on people’s mental health.

In a national survey last fall, 36% of adults in the US – including 61% of young adults – reported feeling “serious loneliness” during the pandemic. Statistics like these suggest people would be itching to hit the social scene.

But if the idea of making small talk at a crowded happy hour sounds terrifying to you, you’re not alone. Nearly half of Americans reported feeling uneasy about returning to in-person interaction regardless of vaccination status.

Read more: The loneliness economy: Companies and entrepreneurs see a spike in interest for rent-a-friend services, chatbots, and online communities that target feelings of isolation

So how can people be so lonely yet so nervous about refilling their social calendars?

Well, the brain is remarkably adaptable. And while we can’t know exactly what our brains have gone through over the last year, neuroscientists like me have some insight into how social isolation and resocialization affect the brain.

Social homeostasis – the need to socialize

Humans have an evolutionarily hardwired need to socialize – though it may not feel like it when deciding between a dinner invite and rewatching “Schitt’s Creek.”

From insects to primates, maintaining social networks is critical for survival in the animal kingdom. Social groups provide mating prospects, cooperative hunting, and protection from predators.

But social homeostasis – the right balance of social connections – must be met. Small social networks can’t deliver those benefits, while large ones increase competition for resources and mates. Because of this, human brains developed specialized circuitry to gauge our relationships and make the correct adjustments – much like a social thermostat.

Social homeostasis involves many brain regions, and at the center is the mesocorticolimbic circuit – or “reward system.” That same circuit motivates you to eat chocolate when you crave something sweet or swipe on Tinder when you crave … well, you get it.

And like those motivations, a recent study found that reducing social interaction causes social cravings – producing brain activity patterns similar to food deprivation.

So if people hunger for social connection like they hunger for food, what happens to the brain when you starve socially?

Your brain on social isolation

Scientists can’t shove people into isolation and look inside their brains. Instead, researchers rely on lab animals to learn more about social brain wiring. Luckily, because social bonds are essential in the animal kingdom, these same brain circuits are found across species.

One prominent effect of social isolation is – you guessed it – increased anxiety and stress.

Many studies find that removing animals from their cage buddies increases anxiety-like behaviors and cortisol, the primary stress hormone. Human studies also support this, as people with small social circles have higher cortisol levels and other anxiety-related symptoms similar to socially deprived lab animals.

Evolutionarily this effect makes sense – animals that lose group protection must become hypervigilant to fend for themselves. And it doesn’t just occur in the wild. One study found that self-described “lonely” people are more vigilant of social threats like rejection or exclusion.

Another important region for social homeostasis is the hippocampus – the brain’s learning and memory center. Successful social circles require you to learn social behaviors – such as selflessness and cooperation – and recognize friends from foes. But your brain stores tremendous amounts of information and must remove unimportant connections. So, like most of your high school Spanish – if you don’t use it, you lose it.

Several animal studies show that even temporary adulthood isolation impairs both social memory – like recognizing a familiar face – and working memory – like recalling a recipe while cooking.

And isolated humans may be just as forgetful. Antarctic expeditioners had shrunken hippocampi after just 14 months of social isolation. Similarly, adults with small social circles are more likely to develop memory loss and cognitive decline later in life.

So, human beings might not be roaming the wild anymore, but social homeostasis is still critical to survival. Luckily, as adaptable as the brain is to isolation, the same may be true with resocialization.

Your brain on social reconnection

Though only a few studies have explored the reversibility of the anxiety and stress associated with isolation, they suggest that resocialization repairs these effects.

One study, for example, found that formerly isolated marmosets first had higher stress and cortisol levels when resocialized but then quickly recovered. Adorably, the once-isolated animals even spent more time grooming their new buddies.

Social memory and cognitive function also seem to be highly adaptable.

Mouse and rat studies report that while animals cannot recognize a familiar friend immediately after short-term isolation, they quickly regain their memory after resocializing.

And there may be hope for people emerging from socially distanced lockdown as well. A recent Scottish study conducted during the COVID-19 pandemic found that residents had some cognitive decline during the harshest lockdown weeks but quickly recovered once restrictions eased.

Unfortunately, studies like these are still sparse. And while animal research is informative, it likely represents extreme scenarios since people weren’t in total isolation over the last year. Unlike mice stuck in cages, many in the US had virtual game nights and Zoom birthday parties (lucky us).

So power through the nervous elevator chats and pesky brain fog, because “un-social distancing” should reset your social homeostasis very soon.

The Conversation
Read the original article on Business Insider

An HR expert explains how companies can avoid ‘wellbeing tokenism’ when supporting employee health

Shot of woman sitting on a swiss ball while working at her computer in an office
Some companies often miss the mark, but health and productivity can coexist.

  • Employees shouldn’t have to choose between health and productivity at their job.
  • Supporting employees professionally in addition to promoting lifestyle changes is important for wellbeing.
  • Instead of marketing gimmicks, offer resources that have been proven to make an difference.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Corporate giant Amazon is taking heat over reports of its WorkingWell initiative, a physical and mental health program intended to improve employee health in the retail giant’s fulfilment centres.

A leaked pamphlet, which Amazon has claimed was created in error and is not being circulated, encourages workers to invest in their own fitness and become “industrial athletes.” One aspect attracting particular attention is a plan for “AmaZen Booths.” Also called Mindful Practice Rooms, these kiosks are intended for employees to take breaks from work, experience periods of calm, and access mental health resources. Amazon deleted a social media post about the booths after being mocked on Twitter.

The details paint an unflattering picture of the company in light of its unprecedented rise in revenues, profits, and stock value during the pandemic. Critics of Amazon say the company’s unparalleled financial success is on the backs of its 1.3 million employees who are subject to precarious employment contracts – issues that came to a head after an unsuccessful campaign among some US-based Amazon workers to gain trade union recognition.

Commentators are also saying that these workers experience higher than average rates of workplace injuries and are treated like “galley slaves.” In such conditions, it is argued, a wellbeing initiative is beside the point.

These programs are gaining in popularity: COVID-19 has raised “wellness” up the agendas of corporations like never before – and not always in a good way. Many companies have introduced exercise classes, fruit, and other sticking-plaster solutions rather than measures that assess risk, focus on prevention, and prioritize “decent work” as a driver of both wellbeing and productivity.

Having been a judge for the Global Healthy Workplace Awards since 2014, I have run a critical eye over many corporate wellness programs. Like other big companies, Amazon faces the challenging balance of promoting employee wellbeing without being accused of tokenism.

In trying to improve worker wellness, companies often miss the mark. Here are some things they should keep in mind:

1. Health and productivity can and must coexist

To imply that there should be a binary choice between health and productivity is facile and misleading. One of the more breathtaking things I heard from a senior executive of a large UK organisation during the pandemic was this:

Frankly, I think that job stress is a more effective driver of productivity for us than wellbeing programs.

Far from being a niche or outdated opinion, this thinking is representative of a significant proportion of business leaders around the world. As it happens, this large organization is also very keen to tell anyone who will listen that “employee health, safety, and wellbeing is their biggest priority” – though when I checked their latest report to shareholders and prospective investors, the words “revenue” and “profits” outnumbered mentions of “safety” by a ratio of 25 to 1.

2. Lifestyle evangelism is no substitute for decent work

The former chief medical officer of UK telecoms giant BT, Dr. Paul Litchfield, famously derided what he called the “fruit and pilates” approach to workplace wellbeing. He argued that no amount of healthy snacks in canteens, “step challenges” or company fun runs can compensate for jobs with impossible deadlines or targets, or the stress of reporting to a manager who is a bully.

One of the founding fathers of modern motivation theory, Frederick Herzberg, once said: “if you want someone to do a good job, give them a good job to do.” Wellness programs that ignore this simple idea are unlikely to have an enduring impact.

3. Context is everything

The AmaZen Booths are no more than a contemporary take on many successful community and workplace mental health programs such as the “Men’s Shed” movement, which originated among working men in Australia in the 1990s. It targeted older men, who can often find being open about mental health very difficult, by offering resources and support which encouraged reflection and “help-seeking”.

Similar booths have been used successfully by some UK employers. Electricity supplier E.ON created a “Head Shed” to encourage employees to find out more about mental wellbeing, for instance.

The real test of Amazon’s version is whether it is part of a genuinely coherent program of initiatives that assess and reduce exposure to risk, and convince employees that the company really is prioritizing their wellbeing over the long term. Having a well-branded initiative on wellbeing is never enough by itself, especially if many employees’ everyday experience of work is that it is intense, strenuous and toxic.

4. Employers: Beware of ‘fool’s gold’

Employers need to be more critical consumers of wellbeing “miracle cures” offered by commercial providers. I have seen too many employers divert resources from unglamorous but evidence-based interventions (like having access to a good occupational health nurse) towards those meant to “showcase” their commitment to health and wellbeing.

Used by themselves, laughter coaches and head massages are really no more than perks, with little or no direct impact on health or productivity. Even very popular initiatives such as Mental Health First Aid have very little strong evidence of any long-term benefit.

Sadly, in the drive for more productivity, the health and wellbeing of employees can be among the first casualties. Reports of Amazon’s WorkingWell program have, so far, not been flattering. Its challenge – like many other corporations – is to sweep aside the cynicism and demonstrate that its efforts will have tangible benefits for all of its employees and are not just PR spin.

Stephen Bevan, head of HR research development, Institute for Employment Studies, Lancaster University

The Conversation
Read the original article on Business Insider

A business ethicist explains why billionaires like Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos shouldn’t use tax avoidance strategies, even if it’s legal

billionaires 04
Ordinary people don’t have access to tax avoidance strategies like the superrich do.

  • Some US billionaires reportedly pay minimal amounts of federal income tax, or sometimes nothing at all.
  • While not illegal, tax avoidance strategies can seen as unethical, says business ethics scholar Erin Bass.
  • Regardless of ethics, if the super rich avoid taxes, it could encourage the public to do the same.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Some of the US’s wealthiest individuals reportedly pay just a tiny fraction of the billions of dollars added annually to their fortunes in federal income tax – sometimes they pay nothing at all.

Investigative journalism outlet ProPublica says it has obtained a “vast cache” of information from the Internal Revenue Service that purports to show the lengths that American billionaires go to to avoid paying taxes.

It claims to provide an insight into how prominent billionaires such as Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk, and Michael Bloomberg take advantage of “tax avoidance strategies” beyond the reach of ordinary people.

Though there is general public consensus on the illegality of tax evasion – the act of deliberately not paying taxes that are due – much more variance exists in how the public evaluates and scrutinizes tax avoidance strategies that seek to minimize the amount an individual pays through legal loopholes. There is no suggestion that the billionaires in the ProPublica report did anything illegal.

A poll taken just before the 2016 election found that nearly half of Americans agreed with Donald Trump – another wealthy individual not averse to tax avoidance strategies – who noted that paying minimal or no taxes is “smart.” But two-thirds said it is “selfish” and 61% declared it to be “unpatriotic.”

Read more: ‘I love depreciation’: How big companies use Trump-like maneuvers to play the tax code in their favor

Rights and responsibilities

As a scholar who studies business ethics, I see these differences in how individuals view and rationalize tax avoidance as being dependent on a person’s ethical foundations. Ethical foundations are the principles, norms, and values that guide individual or group beliefs and behaviors. They can shape what people believe is important – such as fairness, care for oneself or others, loyalty, and liberty – and guide judgments about what is right, or ethical, and what is wrong, or unethical.

Philosophers have debated these ethical foundations for centuries, coming up broadly with three different perspectives that are worth exploring in the context of tax avoidance strategies.

Thinkers from Immanuel Kant to John Rawls have offered what has been called the deontological argument. This emphasizes ethics based on adherence to rules, regulations, laws, and norms. Such an approach suggests that “what is right” is defined as that which is most in line with an individual’s responsibility and duty toward society.

Meanwhile, utilitarian philosophers such as John Stuart Mill and Jeremy Bentham put forward an argument that recognizes the costs and benefits, or even trade-offs, in pursuing what is right. Under this belief system, called consequentialism, behaviors are ethical if the outcome is beneficial to the greatest number of people, even if it comes at a cost.

A third perspective comes in the shape of what is called the virtue ethical foundation that is associated with Aristotle and other Greek philosophers. This suggests that what is right is that which elevates the individual’s virtues and efforts toward moral excellence – defined by both avoiding vices and striving to do good. In this way, ethical behavior is that which enables the individual to achieve his or her most excellent moral self.

On morals and money

When applied to the tax avoidance strategies of individuals, each perspective offers a unique understanding of why individuals differ on what they view to be “right.”

An individual who adopts the deontological perspective likely evaluates a public figure’s tax avoidance strategies – and that of others – with less scrutiny. As long as an individual follows the tax code, and acts legally, the tax avoidance strategies are likely to be viewed by that individual as ethical.

In contrast, a consequentialist is likely to evaluate tax avoidance strategies by also looking at how those taxes could have been used to benefit society – by paying for schools and hospitals, for example. When one individual – be it a billionaire or any other person – avoids taxes, it increases the costs experienced by everyone else while also decreasing the benefits experienced by society as a whole.

The cost to society in terms of lesser funding for programs and services supported by tax dollars may be even greater when a wealthy individual avoids taxes, given what is likely a higher tax responsibility than that of individuals with modest incomes. Thus, consequentialist individuals may well conclude that tax avoidance strategies are unethical.

An individual who adopts the virtue perspective of Aristotle might evaluate tax avoidance strategies in the context of an individual’s other virtuous behaviors. If someone avoids taxes but provides financial support to other institutions or entities that are meaningful to the tax avoider but also produce benefits for society, then the virtuous individual may view this behavior with less disdain.

For example, someone may use tax avoidance strategies and direct some wealth to provide funding directly to an academic health care center for cancer research. But if that person employs tax avoidance strategies in the absence of any other virtuous behaviors, then the tax avoidance is likely to be seen and rationalized as unethical.

Social influencers

So whether tax avoidance strategies are viewed and rationalized as ethical or unethical likely depends on the ethical foundations of the person judging such actions.

But when it comes to public figures and the superrich, there are additional ethical concerns at play here. Public figures are evaluated not just on their own personal morality, but also by what influence their behaviors could have on others. If the superrich avoid taxes, it might signal to the public to do the same, which could have greater consequences. The public often demands more of the superrich – and ethics are no exception. The expectation is that these individuals, as leaders in society, should create benefits for society through their behaviors. As a result, these individuals may be held to a higher ethical standard and their behaviors more closely scrutinized.

As such, the question of whether the tax avoidance strategies of the ultrawealthy are “ethical” depends not only on the ethical foundation of the individual who views and judges the behavior but also on the expectation of the ultrawealthy to create benefits for society.

This is an updated version of an article originally published on The Conversation on October 30, 2020.

Erin Bass, associate professor of management, University of Nebraska Omaha

The Conversation
Read the original article on Business Insider

A social experiment shows women may be as likely as men to accept a gender pay gap if they benefit from it

business meeting
Most women still make $0.84 on the dollar of what men earn.

  • Marlon Williams is an assistant professor of economics at the University of Dayton.
  • In a recent experiment, he found women were as likely as men to vote against closing the pay gap when they earn more money.
  • Williams hopes this research will lead people to consider how self-interest may be driving their arguments.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

The big idea

Women are just as inclined as men to vote against a policy to reduce a gender pay gap if they are personally benefiting from the status quo. This is one of the main findings of my new study, which was published in January 2021 in the journal Applied Economics Letters.

I conducted a series of laboratory experiments in which I recruited participants to do a 30-question quiz. The participants knew from the start that they would be paid based on the number of questions they answered correctly. In roughly half of the sessions, the quiz was written in a way to give men an advantage. I achieved this by choosing questions that were mainly on topics that surveys show men tend to be more interested in than women, such as sports and certain movie genres. The quiz for the other half of the sessions were designed in a similar way to give women an advantage.

In the version with a male bias, men answered an average of 21 questions correctly, while women answered only 13 right. This was meant to mimic the current real-world situation in which men, on average, earn more than women. The questions were carefully chosen so that the quiz that favored women had mirrored results: The average woman answered 21 correctly, the average man just 13.

Read more: I moved to the Alaskan Bush to become a teacher after COVID-19 ruined my plans. It’s wildly expensive, but I feel at home in my village of 270 people.

Three times at different stages of the experiment participants voted to either be paid $1 for every correct answer or to give the group that was at a disadvantage a leg up. If the second payment option won the majority vote, the disadvantaged participants would get $1.25 per right answer, while those who benefited from the biased test would receive just 85 cents.

In all three votes, which had similar results, I found that women were actually more likely than men to vote against the policy that would have led to a narrowing of the pay gap when they earned more money in the quiz. On average, 96.8% of women’s votes were against the proposed corrective payment policy when they were more likely to correctly answer the questions, compared with 90.5% of the men’s votes when they had the edge.

In addition, when women were at a disadvantage, they were more likely to vote in favor of the corrective policy, with 79.5% supporting it versus 73% for the men.

While social science laboratory experiments like mine cannot fully capture every nuance, I believe my qualitative results are similar to what we would find in the real world.

Why it matters

Debate over the gender pay gap can become quite heated.

The latest data from Pew Research Center show women make $0.84 on the dollar of what men earn – a gap that hasn’t changed much in recent years.

And surveys have found that men are more likely to oppose measures to correct this gap and even question whether the gap exists in the first place. A 2019 SurveyMonkey poll showed that 46% of men believe the gender pay gap “is made up to serve a political purpose” rather than a “legitimate issue.”

My research suggests women might feel the same if the positions were reversed. Additionally, it suggests that men would also likely be equally vociferous in calling for a narrowing of the gap if they found themselves in a world where they were holding the short end of the stick.

Ideally, I hope this research will lead people to reexamine the positions they hold on issues like this one and consider how self-interest may be driving their arguments. Maybe it can lead to more understanding and increase the focus in these debates on the available evidence.

What’s next

In my current and future work, I seek to experimentally determine people’s willingness to sacrifice personal financial gains in favor of an outcome that they see as serving the common good. This involves, for example, testing how much income the average employee or executive is willing to sacrifice to reduce income inequality.

Marlon Williams, assistant professor of economics, University of Dayton

The Conversation
Read the original article on Business Insider