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(Un)intended Consequences?


The last vacation I took: Bethany Beach, Delaware, July 2011

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.)


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.

18 Responses

  1. 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
    That might have worked for me twenty years, ago, but I’m old now and Mr. Arthur Itis is treating my joints like he’s Putin and they’re the Ukraine.
    As of Friday, my husband is officially “retired.”
    Pray for me.
    Excellent post; you’ve still got it and I’d buy any book you wrote.
    Just be sure that you slip some sexy stuff-not involving spanking-in between the layers of chemistry!

  2. And really, there is no one in power speaking to these issues. A couple come right up to the edge. But, Sanders, Hillary — I can’t think of any elected official or other person of power who is as clear as you (and a few other bloggers) about how dangerous the current circumstances are.

    • When I say we made a mistake in 2008, it’s because one of the primary candidates either didn’t know or care about the consequences and the other one at least had a clue. (BTW, when I asked Hillary about infrastructure in 2007 at YearlyKos, I was referring to the collapse of the bridge in Minnesota the week before. She acknowledged that and then laid out a policy for updating the country’s broadband infrastructure. Duh.)
      That difference could come back to bite the Democrats in 2014 just like two years of missed opportunities bit them in 2010. There’s only so many times you can fail to anticipate before voters bail on you completely.

  3. …while the state school graduates scramble from job to job trying to find a foot hold.

    That’s been going on for years in collages themselves for teachers …you teach on the cheap at a school for a few years , HOPING for tenure…(HA HA) you don’t get it …you have to move on to another school to start the endless loop over …rise and repeat

    pensions, 401K plans, sick days, holidays , vacation days.

    . All these terms will shortly only be found as answers in Trivial Pursuit Platinum edition .

    It’s not an accident or an oversight or unforeseen results,. It is the plan When they say “a more competitive employment environment” they mean third world…but you know all that

  4. A break down of O care seems to go like this : A Bronze plan costs a shocking amount to buy …you then must pay in another 4,500ish in co pay before you get as much as a bandage in health coverage ? Is that right?

    • The Silver plan HMO I was quoted was $503/month, $3000 deductible, $6500 OOP. No subsidies. I’ll get into that later. Yes, I was shocked. Not only that but as I was talking to the guy over the phone, the prices were actually going up in real time. Not sure what that was all about. I suspect the worst.
      In the past two years, I’ve spent about $30,000 of my own savings on health insurance premiums and bills. CHIP doesn’t kick in until your kid hasn’t had insurance for 6 months. Because my kid developed a chronic illness about 2 months before COBRA ran out, I paid for her pre-existing condition when I switched over to an individual insurance policy. As a parent, I couldn’t NOT pay it. I’m a typical overly responsible first born. So, I paid astronomical premiums and have a lot of leftover bills. I finally was able to get her qualified for medical assistance but now I have a history of mounting unpaid medical bills in spite of the money I paid for her premiums.
      She can’t help it, the timing was terrible and it’s just bad luck all around. But here we are. She would have qualified for medical assistance even without the ACA. It was just a matter if time and income. But for me to get coverage, that’s a whole different story and it demonstrates one of the glaring weaknesses of the ACA.
      More on that later because I don’t want to scare anyone but let’s just say that I’ve experienced just about every negative consequence of the financia, collapse in the past two years. The only good thing is I’m not homeless.

    • Forgot to mention I am a non-smoker(never smoked) in perfect health. Also, I make nowhere near $50,000/year. Not even close.

  5. I get angry just reading your post. I got lucky because a friend from the neighborhood bar got me into a job with state government. Took a 30% pay cut, but got blessed stability and benefits. Got a second job to make up the earnings gap and bring me up to a minimal living wage. Work constantly with two full time jobs, but both jobs are enjoyable and pretty much stress-free. Crossing my fingers and hoping my luck and health hold. Medicare is coming this summer and Social Security next year. Feels like I might make it to the shore alive.

    Before the last seven blessed years described above I’ve been through every nightmare you are talking about here. Nine years as a contractor and treated like a dog by some unspeakably subhuman people. I did solid work for them anyway and people still benefit from the database me and my team built.

    In the decade before that I couldn’t find work at all. My nightmare began with the Reagan days. Came out of college with dean’s list grades even though I worked my way through and instead of starting my life, the world as I had known it ended. Years when I could barely keep myself housed scraping by on less than 10K/yr. All the friends and relations that should have helped showed their true colors and turned on me with the same mind-boggling, right-wing ugliness taking over on the national stage.

    I never thought the day would come when I would be sitting here as I am now with a place of my own, food in the fridge and a job to go to. Compared to what my life should have been like by now, framed in terms of the good old days, what I have is a travesty. Savings gone, such as they were. No children. No social life. Even the bit that I now have only here as long as my health holds.

    But what you are saying about avoiding debt and living the spare life is right and, best I can tell, the only way to cope in these times. It’s been the internet and the bright people I’ve found on them that have helped me figure out that much and face what must be faced.

    The assholes running this place are going to hit the wall with their feet to the pedal. What I hope for now is for as many of us as possible to get ourselves tucked in to ride it out and see what we can rebuild after the rubble stops bouncing.

    I hate it that you’re going through all these trials. I’m hoping your luck turns and you and yours can hang in and make it through.

    Sorry for the book length post. Haven’t thought about some of these things in a long time, much less talked about them.

  6. The 1% (or to use their older name, which I prefer for its historical coolness, the Malefactors Of Great Wealth) are grabbing everything, cutting taxes on themselves and cutting everyone else’s wages.

    Eventually, that will destroy the economy of the USA.

    Which, in turn, will destroy the ability of the USA to maintain its military, covert action, and intelligence forces.

    But the MOGW can’t maintain or increase their wealth and power without the ability to plunder weak countries (what used to be called “the Third World”) with impunity.

    And the MOGW depend on Uncle Sam’s forces to subjugate uppity natives when the bought-and-paid-for native elites fail at that task.

    No other nation (no, not even China) can substitute for the USA in that role.

    So, Babylon’s own lords and barons are chanting down Babylon.

    And apparently, they’re too stupid to know it. 😈

    • So, Babylon’s own lords and barons are chanting down Babylon.

      And apparently, they’re too stupid to know it.

      I quite agree. They are stupid, cheap bastards …so removed from the actual creation of wealth, they don’t know you are to give the peons something so they may grow more wealth for you

      These clueless , looters cancer cells will have none of that . They cannot create wealth, only consume it

      • “These clueless , looters cancer cells will have none of that . They cannot create wealth, only consume it” … is exactly what our fellow Americans registered as Republicans and Tea Party /
        government minimalists have been SAYING FOR YEARS!!! But we bought the antagonism and partisanship, sprang to overreaction each time a buzzword was dropped and were all clones and doppelgangers doing the dirty work of the Aliens-Passing-Themselves-Off-As-Gods because they had CIA and DOJ, Foreign “Aid” and any other bottom-less-budget access to the People’s resources. RD, I, too survived that loop, even lived for a few years in a convent during my homelessness when so-called employers dumped me after the work they could/ would not do was paying dividends. The good sisters taught me the actual meaning of COMMONWEALTH which is what Pennsylvania continues to be: the Keystone, Archeological Architecture, illuminated by the rise of the “new sun.” Like all refugees in history, you left the “shake-down” State ($25 application fee to be considered a “public servant” indeed! That is pure graft which organized crime’s been at for so long that they don’t even recognize their vernacular to be. We’re not “stupid,” we’re quantum-locked to our comfort zone.) The “You didn’t build that.” taunt of two years ago was so PROFOUNDLY insulting to small business owners that THEY began the very pull-back “tucked in to ride it out” to which “someofparts” alludes. “OK, Smart Ass,” they say: you can rob of us of our savings and skim our income, but no more free-loading on my brain power and ingenuity. We’ll just Fonz out and sit on it while we put you in our rear views.

        • I find your comment surprising. You acknowledge the importance of “commonwealth” and then you say you were profoundly insulted by the “you didn’t build that” idea. I happen to agree with Elizabeth Warren 100% precisely because of the commonwealth. We all contribute to the building of roads, education of our kids, innovations that helped businesses succeed. As a scientist, I am always aware that anything I invent was built on the work of hundreds of other people going back centuries. It is part of our heritage.
          Small business owners have been suckered by the Republican party and the Tea Party and conservative news sources. BTW, I could never start a small business pharma on my own. Nah-gah-happen. Too many moving parts and extremely high start up costs. 80% of those businesses die with the owners losing their shirts or selling out to vulture capitalists. Furthermore, I don’t want to be a small business owner, thank you very much. Not all of us are cut out for that. Some of us are more introverted even if we are more than willing to work very hard. The stress of managing the paperwork takes away from our time in the lab and interferes with our project teams.
          Now, I’m not going to tell you what to do but I would advise you to turn off cable TV news sources. Just don’t watch them. Your comment above suggests that you have two conflicting ideas of the world and have been heavily influenced to regard one of them as wrong. Not good. I blame TV. Just shut it off.

          • It doesn’t matter if you hear it on NBC, MSNBC, ABC, CBS, CNN, or F-O-X: it’s all BS! 👿

          • All of us have access to the infrastructure, the common ground, the “Commonwealth.” We don’t ALL do the things, take the risks, sweat the payrolls and otherwise create the wealth that small business owners do. By “small Business,” I don’t mean huge Pharma. I mean the local service providers, the Provincials who provide the every days we routinely patronize. If there’s a jaundiced reading, it’s in the eye that steadfastly rejects the suggestion that listening to the other side has merit. I don’t spend nearly as much time with Fox News as I do my own journal, the BBC and the History channel and H2…

    • My operating assumption has always been that they’ve made the determination that if the U.S.A. gets an unassailable nuke monopoly then they can safely let everything else go to s*** (i.e. a 1984-world.)

  7. To my mind there is no left or right in the top .999 % running things. ( into the ground, I might add ) That’s stuff is for public consumption

    The sincere folks the tea party attracts go to it imo because there is no other public platform of protest allowed currently , or even a suggestion of one besides the tea party ( I mean on TV. I do agree one should stop watching the cable news lie factory. Cable news was created expressly to spin lies ) . But it TP is kabuki as we saw in the last Fed debt ceiling raising, which went by so fast many missed it.

    Usually a weeks long Punch and Judy show,( where the Dems ” negotiate” by giving the GOP even more social cuts than they asked for , ) this time the tea party battering ram was made to sit down and shut up as the bill zipped along. They were not needed this round to destroy social spending …there being so little left .

    As Monster from the Id pointed out , the most potent agent of change is the top .999 ‘s own idiocy gone a muck …on that one can rely as being for real

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