In a day or two, I will relate my own ongoing struggle with Obamacare (it’s not positive, believe it or not). But for now, I want to talk about something I saw yesterday on Corrente regarding the Clinton papers and what Hillary Clinton had to say about the individual mandate.
But first, let me tell you about Jobs4NJ. When I was laid off back in 2011 from the job I loved, I signed up for the NJ job matching service. You upload your CV to their database, spend 2 hours correcting all the formatting mistakes, and wait. By the way, we were told at the NJDOL that we could also apply for state jobs but that each job application would require a $25 fee. That fee was non-refundable whether you got a job or not. Imagine asking a bunch of unemployed people to cough up $25 for each job opening they saw on the state employment site. I’m wondering if that was a Christie innovation. The DOL employees were extremely kind, helpful and treated us with dignity and respect and even they thought the fee was outrageous.
Anyway, getting back to Jobs4NJ. They sent me some job listings. The good positions were gone, gone, gone from NJ. The postings I got had descriptions that seemed a bit vague, as if the companies themselves weren’t really sure what they wanted. Most positions in “science” were really business positions. Apparently, R&D has an unmet demand for marketing and finance specialists. Labrats? Ehhhh, not so much.
I applied to some of the few low level lab positions that were available, and, as is the custom these days with companies, never heard back from any of them that they even received my CV and cover letter or what exactly the mismatch was. This was not the example of malignant narcissism run amok that I alluded to a couple of days ago though. I would be grossly exaggerating if I characterized this all too typical insensitivity towards jobseekers as evil. I’m saving the story of true senseless malice for a book.
I still get email from Jobs4NJ, though you’d have to drag me kicking and screaming to go back to that state. But I noticed something the other day about the new positions. Quite a few of them have the word “CONTRACT” in the post. Hmmm, that’s a new one, thought I. And then, the more I thought about it, the more it made sense.
Over a year ago, I predicted that the ACA would lead to a greater number of contract positions. And why is that? There are a couple of reasons. One, it allows many corporations to go “weightless”. They don’t have to offer their workers benefits if they get a third party vendor to handle their human resources needs. That third party vendor becomes a middle man, matching up contractors with the company. The middle man becomes the tax collector who processes the paperwork and handles the untidy business of interacting with the people who, you know, get their hands dirty in the labs. (Sidenote: It always amused me when I compared the executive cafeteria with the R&D cafeteria. The business workers had bespoke prepared foods, plenty of healthy and delicious options and an on-call nutritionist who would consult with you on your dietary needs. I witnessed this personally one day. The R&D cafeteria served the kind of high fat, high calorie limited entrees that would be perfect for coal miners, not a bunch of bespectacled, skinny geeks. But since the executives rarely interacted with us, we may perhaps excuse them for thinking we were grimy blue collar lumberjacks who needed 5000 calories per serving of bland, greasy food.)
The other reason why the ACA is leading to a greater number of non-full time, contract positions is that because the employer mandate keeps getting put off, indefinitely, it seems, the employee is now responsible for carrying the weight of the health care premiums, which, by the way, are still astronomical when the deductibles and OOP expenses are factored in. An increase in precariousness shouldn’t be surprising. Why should an employer invest money in training and retaining an employee when they don’t have to? It’s a kind of moral hazard, is it not?
So, it came as no surprise to me that Hillary Clinton saw a flaw in the individual mandate back in the 90s. Let’s be clear, that’s not the same as a universal mandate, which seems to be a cornerstone of successful national health care systems around the world. It’s important that all stakeholders, employees and employers, buy in to the system or it doesn’t work. But to put all of the burden on individuals and letting employers get away with no responsibility? According to the papers, Hillary Clinton said that was a problem:
“That is politically and substantively a much harder sell than the one we’ve got — a much harder sell,” Clinton said. “Because not only will you be saying that the individual bears the full responsibility; you will be sending shock waves through the currently insured population that if there is no requirement that employers continue to insure, then they, too, may bear the individual responsibility.”
Yes, this is exactly what is happening. EVERYONE is potentially affected. Even worse, there may be a two tier system of employees. I can just imagine the better connected, legacy ivy league graduates becoming fully vested in the employee benefit system while the state school graduates scramble from job to job trying to find a foot hold. It’s already happening in the pharmaceutical industry where what the MBAs consider the cream of the crop get the few coveted positions in Cambridge and San Francisco and the rest of us run from contract position to contract position, or stuck in an endless series of low paying post doc positions. (Sidenote: you politicians are crazy if you think we former scientists are going to let you get away with the “there aren’t enough STEM workers” schtick. We are already all over the comments sections and posting loud and clear that there is no shortage. We’re not going to let our children languish in the labs for decades while they make less money than a first grade teacher for all the education they have.)
BUT WAIT! THERE’S MORE!!
What else do contract workers not have besides health care benefits?
Well, I will tell you because I have been there. They don’t have pensions, 401K plans, sick days, holidays or vacation days. They don’t get tuition discounts or reimbursements. They don’t get to ride the buses for free nor can they get a spot in the employee parking lots. And if you are a temp or contract worker, you don’t really have ANY labor protections. You may have trouble getting paid due to the way companies pay their invoices. In some cases, you have no protection against discrimination. Think of how gay contractors fare with even the federal government. YOU’RE a CONTRACTOR. Your boss could call you in at any time of the day or night and make unreasonable demands on your time. He may decide to arbitrarily cut your hours in half one week and let YOU worry about how you’re going to pay the rent or health insurance premium while your kid is in the hospital. As a temp worker “you do not have a salary”, as I was so brusquely and dismissively reminded one day.
See where this is going? Sorry, people, this is where we already are. It’s not the future of employment. It is the now. Check out the Freelancer’s Union to see what employment is turning into. A rational person would become debt free as quickly as possible and build a tiny house with solar panels and no plumbing and grow their own food. We can let Krugman wax rhapsodic about what would happen to the economy if everyone cut back and accrued as little debt as possible. Talk about lack of demand. But that’s where we’re headed. Those of us who were lucky enough to have some savings when the masters of the universe decided to pull up stakes and grab the pie for themselves have decided to stop spending money. It’s self preservation but it’s not healthy for the country. No more Royal Caribbean cruises, no more vacation rentals at the shore. We question whether we really need that bentwood coffee table and agonize over hair cuts. We save up for the days we have to call in sick. We put off replacing our broken phones.
I think it’s time we stopped making excuses for our politicians that let this happen. In fact, I’m not blaming Republicans for the recent, drastic, horrible negative turn of events that working people are experiencing right now. They were like snakes and we knew what they were. Their poison was already well understood by the educated working class. We have no one to blame but ourselves for allowing the stealthy predators into our midst in the last 6 years. Some of us were so bedazzled by being called “creative” that we failed to look closely at who our new friends were.
But whether the war on the working class by the financiers was intentional or not, we can no longer deny, or should I say, we deny at our peril, that our nation’s top politicians have provided a moral hazard for finance and businesses both large and small, to continue to shed benefits and worker protections via the contracting route. In the pharmaceutical area, this was accomplished easily by laying off hundred of thousands of R&D professionals in the wake of the Great Recession and now hiring us back as contractors. Indeed, the high unemployment rate of the last several years coupled with the delay in the employer mandate for the ACA has created a perfect storm where the stripping of compensation is going to pick up even faster and reach deeper into the American workforce just as Hillary predicted decades ago.
It’s happening so fast that many of us don’t even realize the predators are on us until we’re being forced down the gullet. Will this become a harder sell politically in November 2014? We will see.