Freelance Gigs: Welcome to the Twenty-First Century Workforce

One in five American jobs is now held by a worker under contract. Within a decade, contractors and freelancers could make up half of the American workforce. Workers across all industries and at all professional levels will be affected by the movement toward independent work — one without the constraints, or benefits, of full-time employment. Policymakers are just starting to talk about the implications.

In an old metal factory in Wheeling that was once part of West Virginia’s industrial era, a law firm has created a futuristic model for how to legal work. In contrast to the old factory, this one relies heavily on emerging work arrangements.

“Contractors are hired by the hour,” says Daryl Shetterly, director of the Orrick firm’s analytics division. “So we might have 30 people working today, and tomorrow we might have 80.”

The career of a worker in this building used to be measured in decades. Today, it may last only a few days. The building itself has undergone a facelift, Shetterly says, but it remains a factory in the truest spirit “in that we work to drive efficiency and discipline into every mouse click.”

The division is essentially a processing center that uses artificial intelligence and lower-paid lawyers to accelerate the management of routine tasks like sorting and tagging documents. That frees other (higher-paid) lawyers to focus on more sophisticated forms of work.

It’s representative of the kind of contract work filtering into every corner of the economy. Machines are increasingly taking over basic tasks, and temporary workers give companies flexibility to size up or scale down. In the legal field, there are online platforms that match freelance lawyers with clients. It’s quite a bit like dating profiles — but it comes with customer reviews and billing assistance.

The legal job market, in short, is fragmenting, and workers are fragmenting with it.

“Lots of people go into law expecting that they’re headed to a secure, well-paying, intellectually satisfying, high-prestige job, and lots of those people find out that’s not what they’re headed to,” says Gillian Hadfield, who studies legal markets at the University of Southern California.

She notes that the speed with which business evolves these days forces everyone — from primary businesses to suppliers to the competition —to respond quickly. Employers need specialized expertise on demand, just not for the long term.

But it isn’t only those businesses driving that change. Surveys show a significant number of freelancers themselves work in these capacities by choice.

John Vensel is a contract attorney at Orrick and grew up just down the road from Wheeling, on the other side of the Pennsylvania state line. During his 20s, he worked as a freelance paralegal by day and a gig musician by night.

In the two decades in between, Vensel worked full-time corporate jobs. Then he found himself laid off in 2010, right on the eve of his graduation from his a law program he was completing in night school. He had amassed a huge pile of debt, and graduated into one of the worst job markets in recent times.

“It was terrible; it was like a nuclear bomb went off,” he says. “My son had just been born. … We’ve been kind of recovering ever since.”

For a while Vensel commuted three hours round-trip to a full-time job in Pittsburgh. But with improving economic conditions in recent years, he quit and started contracting to stay near home in Wheeling.

He explained that his own father was in the hospital at the moment, “which is like five minutes away, and I’m getting updates on my phone,” he explains, glancing at the device. “And if I need to be there, I can be there in five minutes.”

He says contract work is today’s economic reality. Contracting allows employers to test workers out, he says, but he ultimately is hoping to land a full-time position, with benefits. A new NPR/Marist poll shows that 34 percent of part-time workers are looking for full-time work.

That may be a harder goal to achievet. Currently, 1 in 5 workers is a contract worker, the poll shows. According to economists Alan Krueger and Lawrence Katz, the percentage of people engaged in “alternative work arrangements” (freelancers, contractors, on-call workers and temp agency workers) grew from 10.1 percent in 2005 to 15.8 percent in 2015. Their report found that almost all — or 94 percent — of net jobs created from 2005 to 2015 were these sorts of impermanent jobs

Within a decade, many labor economists believe freelancers will outnumber full timers.

Vensel draws a contrast with his father, who retired after working 35 years at the Postal Service.

“He has a pension; we don’t have pensions anymore,” Vensel says. “It’s a totally different world.”

Sixty-five percent of part-time workers and a little more than half of contract workers receive no benefits, according to the NPR/Marist poll.

Arun Sundararajan, a professor at New York University and author of The Sharing Economy, confirms that “this is the work arrangement for the future.” The new normal will be freelance work. “Twenty years from now, I don’t think a typical college graduate is going to expect that full-time employment is their path to building a career,” Sundararajan says.

He says that will ultimately lead to many other changes, from education to social structures and public services.

And despite the “flexibility” these arrangements can offer workers, they ultimately shift more responsibility to workers themselves, who are left to handle retirement saving and health insurance on their own. And for many … forget about workers compensation benefits.

Wheeling’s mayor, Glenn Elliott, has voiced concerns about organizations like Orrick coming to his town, and about the wider implications of the shift to a contract-worker economy. “Some people, despite their best efforts, just aren’t going to be successful in doing that,” Elliott says. “What’s going to happen to those who fall through the cracks? Because the 1950s model of retirement and getting your pension check every year from your company is not a realistic model for a lot of people, increasingly.”

The public safety net — schools and the fire department and other social services — is already under tremendous pressure, he says, because of the area’s opioid problems (among other issues). A future where fewer workers have benefits will only make this worse.

Elliott expresses frustration with partisan battles at the state and federal level, while cities like his struggle to figure out how to plan for the future.

“It’s a much broader problem than Wheeling,” he says. But “as a country we need to be having a conversation, which we’re not really having right now.”

A Future Without Retail Workers? Some Respond to Opening of Amazon Go with Anger and Fear

Amazon Go, the automated convenience store that recently opened to the public in Seattle, lets shoppers stroll in, grab whatever they want, and zoom back out, all without having to deal with a checkout line or a human worker at the cash register.

The self-checkout store is, of course, just the latest innovation in convenience from the logistics giant—unless, as Slate reporter April Glaser reported today, you need to use food stamps for your groceries.

As Splinter staff writer Clio Chang argues, Amazon Go’s concept was never class-friendly to begin with. Simply entering the store already requires grocery shoppers to own a smartphone with the Amazon Go app, which automatically charges people for item they take out of the door. On top of that, she writes, “there is the resounding uncertainty about how this type of automation will affect the millions of Americans who making their livelihoods working retail jobs.”

But the fact that Amazon Go doesn’t take food stamps has only further validated critics who argue that the store is “geared towards a certain class of people.” And that class does not inclide the more than 1 million Washingtonians (roughly one in seven) who rely on food stamps to help feed their families.

Amazon is currently participating in a USDA pilot program to take food stamps from shoppers in a couple states. It has also offered discounted Prime memberships for food stamp recipients, but SNAP funds still can’t be used to pay for Prime membership or delivery charges. According to the Los Angeles Times, there is no discount for Amazon’s grocery delivery service, AmazonFresh.

This comes at an especially politically-charged moment for Seattle, which has seen a dramatic spike in income inequality over the past few years, and now rivals San Francisco, with the top 20% of households cornering more than half of the city’s income in 2016. As Chang puts it, “Amazon’s new store might look like a shining beacon of the future, but it’s also a reminder that under techno-capitalism, that future is only reserved for the rich.”

Work Without Benefits: America’s Freelance Workforce Is Left Without a Safety Net

A new NPR/Marist poll finds that 1 in 5 jobs in the U.S. is held by a worker under contract. Within a single decade, freelancers and contractors could make up half of the workforce.

Working as a freelancer can come with some flexibility, but it also means you don’t have the safety net of benefits that many traditional workers enjoy. And the toll isn’t just financial: it can have physical and emotional effects too.

Matt Nelson is one of millions of contract workers who relishes his life as a freelance Web developer. It gives him the space to split time between making a living and following his passions. But that’s not how the gig started.

“I didn’t get into freelancing personally by choice,” he says. During the last recession, he says, “I could not find a job. … I couldn’t get an email back or a phone call for the life of me.”

Nelson was in extensive company. He volunteers as leader of the Madison, Wis., chapter of Spark, a networking group started by the Freelancers Union that includes an insect farming consultant and an astrobiologist, as well as members from every other imaginable industry and background.

Nelson, now 41, explains that members trade tips and share stories —otherwise, they would just be left to fly solo, with no support or sense of community. “We really don’t have much of a social safety net, and that’s terrifying,” he says.

An NPR/Marist poll released in January shows contract work is exploding, with 32 million Americans currently making their living that way.

 

That trend is expected to keep growing over the next decade, as companies seek more flexibility and cost savings through temporary work arrangements. This raises some urgent questions about the future of the safety net. According to the poll, half of freelance and contract workers receive NO benefits. They do not get sick leave, unemployment insurance, or retirement savings.

Senator Mark Warner, a Virginia Democrat, voices his concern that workers without benefits will put additional pressure on already strained public budgets. He’s an advocate for making benefits portable, so freelancers can take them with them regardless of where they work. In fact, Warner has introduced a bill to fund such programs.

“If we don’t have a social contract for this workforce, if we don’t have social insurance that moves with workers, then I feel like the economic discontent and economic insecurity that comes from working with no safety net under you would rise dramatically,” he says.

Los Angeles freight truck driver Rene Flores has experienced that insecurity firsthand. Most drivers became contractors four decades ago with the trucking industry was deregulated — but Flores says the company he worked for didn’t actually treat him as a free agent.

“They always assigned me the work they wanted to do,” he says. “They would send me where they wanted me to go. They always set the price. I never did.”

 

Being a contractor meant he had was responsible for paying for his own gas and truck repairs. Moreover, the company didn’t give him health insurance, which became an urgent problem when he fell on the job three years ago.

Flores developed a giant hernia but simply had to muscle through the pain without medical care. When he eventually complained about the lack of benefits in a newspaper interview, he was fired.

Flores eventually took a new job, but he couldn’t keep working without surgery. He ultimately borrowed $10,000 from friends to get a cheaper operation in Mexico. He then immediately rushed back to work, still bandaged and bleeding.

“I don’t have the resources to keep going for two more weeks and pay my rent and my bills,” he says, sitting on his sofa, bandaged around his midsection.

The toll of insecurity isn’t just financial. “Being a freelancer, you really have to be on top of your emotional and mental health,” says Carolina Salas, a New York City freelance marketing expert who helps medical practices attract new patients.

Salas, who is 32, says anxiety and the demands of freelance work contributed to a pinched sciatic nerve, immobilizing her for nearly half a year.

“As a contractor, the expectations of you are much higher than if you were an employee,” she says. “They’re moving so quickly and they have so little consideration or awareness for you that they sometimes forget that you’re actually human.”

Developed a safety net model for this new American workforce will take time, says Arun Sundararajan, a management professor at New York University. And he predicts that the transition will be messy.

“Full-time employment didn’t sort of come packaged with all of these wonderful things that we now associate with it; it was built painstakingly over 100 years,” Sundararajan says.

Some are calling for freelancers to organize together to advocated for rights and benefits. “There are really big risks in freelancing, because the income is so episodic and freelancers aren’t entitled to unemployment insurance and this is really bad for low-wage workers in particular,” says Sara Horowitz, founder of the Freelancers Union, which has 350,000 members.

Horowitz puts her hope in solutions like her union’s health insurance, which it has offered to members for two decades.

“The answer is to build a safety net that’s universal for everybody,” she says. “Not to say this is only for very low wage workers, nor is it to say this is for highly skilled professional workers, but actually, they’re all going through this together.”

The best way around that fear, she says, is to create a new social safety net where freelancers can depend on each other. Horowitz says she hopes that the tens of millions of freelancers will take their concerns to the polls, and that elected officials will push for plans to rethink the social safety net.

Can They Fix Heath Care? Amazon, Berkshire Hathaway, and JPMorgan Chase Join Forces to Tackle America’s Biggest Challenge

In the words of Warren Buffett, health care costs are “a hungry tapeworm on the American economy.” So now the Berkshire Hathaway CEO is teaming up with the CEOs of Amazon and JPMorgan Chase to create a new company that would offer high-quality health care for their employees at a significantly lower cost.

The new company will be “free from profit-making incentives and constraints” as it explores ways to cut health costs and increase satisfaction for employees of Amazon, Berkshire Hathaway and JPMorgan Chase. The three executives unveiled their venture yesterday in press release explaining the following: “The initial focus of the new company will be on technology solutions that will provide U.S. employees and their families with simplified, high-quality and transparent healthcare at a reasonable cost,” the companies said.

The undertaking brings together three of the largest and most widely-admired companies in their respective sectors — from retail to banking, including Berkshire’s expansive portfolio of companies like Geico and Fruit of the Loom. The team also brings together veteran business leaders with a demonstrated ability to solve complex business problems.

According to recent annual reports, three companies combined employ more than 950,000 people worldwide.

The venture won’t be a easy one. The three CEOs admit that they face enormous challenges.

“The health care system is complex, and we enter into this challenge open-eyed about the degree of difficulty,” said Bezos. “Hard as it might be, reducing health care’s burden on the economy while improving outcomes for employees and their families would be worth the effort.”

Responding to the announcement Tuesday morning, White House economic adviser Gary Cohn told CNBC “we agree in that philosophy. We think that individual workers should have to pay less for health care.”

Still, the Trump administration already “created association health-care plans, which is the exact same thing that those companies did,” Cohn said, referring to an executive order last October that sought to make it easier for employers to combine efforts in offering insurance. That order also opened the possibility some groups could get coverage across state lines — “a move that Republicans have long advocated as a way to lower costs,” NPR’s Scott Horsley explained at the time.

“Smaller businesses could pool their employees together to get more purchasing power,” Cohn added Tuesday, “so they could save money on health care.”

NPR’s Scott Hensley pointed out a precedent non-health care companies venturing into the health care business — “in fact, it has happened repeatedly.”

The example he provides is Kaiser Permanente, now a massive player in U.S.  health insurance. The organization started with the Kaiser shipyards and initially provided workers comp care and, then later, more integrated health care for employees.”

The details remain obscure for now. There has not yet been any announcement of the company’s name, base of operations or long-term leadership. At the start, the new company will be led by executives from each of the troika of giant firms: Marvelle Sullivan Berchtold, a managing director of JPMorgan Chase; Todd Combs, an investment officer of Berkshire Hathaway; and Beth Galetti, a senior vice president at Amazon.

JPMorgan’s Dimon said, “The three of our companies have extraordinary resources, and our goal is to create solutions that benefit our U.S. employees, their families and, potentially, all Americans.”

“Robots Couldn’t Do MY Job”: Warehouse Workers Don’t Fear Automation

A recent survey shows that 94 percent of U.S. workers — across all industries — are confident that their jobs will NOT be replaced by automation. This optimism was one of the most surprising findings in the new NPR/Marist poll.

Typical among the responses was the assured mood of  Chris Beatty, 26, who works fulfilling order in a cosmetics warehouse in Burlington, N.J.

Using a hand-held scanner to find specific items like face cream or lipstick — Beatty tracks down products to be sorted, packed and shipped to online customers. In the order fulfillment industry, this is called picking.

When asked if a robot could do the same job, Beatty pauses for a bit. “That’s a tough one,” he says eventually, “but I don’t think a robot could do this.”

Or, maybe he just doesn’t want to believe he could be replaced. “I love my job too much,” he says, with a smile. Interviews with numerous warehouse workers at Beatty’s employer — Radial — and others employed by Amazon showed similar confidence about job security into the future.

But this optimism is contradicted by economic forecasters who show that giants like Amazon and Walmart are already speeding up warehouse work with machines.

Because online shopping continues to grow as a rapid rate, business for retail warehouses is booming — along with the jobs they provide. But the industry buzzword is automation. Labor economists point out that the industry is quickly following the same path that reshaped manufacturing, where intense competition and massive scale result in pressures for efficiency to keep costs down.

The warehouse companies themselves typically say that robots will enhance and ease human labor, not “replace” it. For example, Amazon, which has put thousands of robots on its floors, maintains a massive workforce and seems to be on a constant hiring spree. Amazon currently has more than 75 fulfillment centers, the majority of which employ at least a thousand full-time hourly workers. “Our 25+ robotics fulfillment centers employ 2,000 to 4,000 full-time hourly associates,” an Amazon spokeswoman told NPR.

And warehouse employees themselves believe it will be tricky for automation to do the work they already do.

“There’s a lot of jobs in here that could be taken over by machines, but who’s going to run the building?” says Marc Munn, who manages the department where Beatty works. “If something breaks … I don’t think we’ll have other machines in here to fix that, so that’s where my job comes into play.”

Packer Bibiana Ramos points out the precision and care of her work. “I know there’s machines that make boxes, but not this kind of boxes,” she says. Ramos folds tissue paper inside a special box, placing cosmetics on top and gently affixing the shipping label. “It has to be kind of … meticulous,” she says, “so it could have a good presentation.”

The supervisor of the Radial warehouse, admits that investing in robots makes more sense in a large million-square-foot Amazon facility than a small operation like his — and of course robots aren’t cheap.

He shares the story of RFID chips — little tags that started popping up in warehouses years back, when he worked for Walmart. They held the promise of easy, instantaneous automated accounting of all the items in a pallet, for example. But they didn’t take off, he says, because of the cost of tagging every single item, especially cheap common goods like toothpaste.

Plus, the machines for now aren’t really that skillful.

“You could never say never,” Economos says. “But at this time … you would literally need a robot with the dexterity, with the fingers to pick up something light, as small as a ChapStick, and as large as a bottle of shampoo.”

One Amazon warehouse worker says her job includes making boxes for items that the scanners can’t handle — like a fishing rod that’s too thin for the lasers to recognize.

“A lot of the machines I see or deal with in the warehouse really aren’t that great,” she says, speaking anonymously to not violate the terms of her employment. “There are just so many things that you need a competent human to deal with in our warehouse.”

But she’s actually eager to see robots deal with heavy lifting and the messy parts of the job.

That appeals to Beatty, too, once he learns that Amazon has robots to bring the shelves to workers, instead of workers walking the aisles in search of products.

“That would be pretty cool,” he says, “to see a robot bring some of your work to you.”

Jeff Bezos Launches $33 Million Scholarship Fund For DACA Students

Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, recently announced that he’d be donating $33 million to the largest scholarship program for “Dreamers,” a group of undocumented immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children.

In a statement on the scholarship’s webpage, the CEO explained that his donation to TheDream.US program will provide “1,000 undocumented immigrant graduates of U.S. high schools with DACA status the opportunity to go to college.”

The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, also known as DACA, is program created by the Obama administration to protect undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as minors from deportation. The program gives support to nearly 700,000 Dreamers, but now the Trump administration is phasing it out. The new administration gave a 6-month delay to recipients in 2017; this means that the Department of Homeland Security will allow previously-issued permits to expire beginning March 5.

Bezos also explained why this issue matters to him and his wife MacKenzie ― highlighting that his adopted father was an immigrant who fled Cuba.

“My dad came to the U.S. when he was 16 as part of Operation Pedro Pan,” Bezos said.

“He landed in this country alone and unable to speak English. With a lot of grit and determination – and the help of some remarkable organizations in Delaware – my dad became an outstanding citizen, and he continues to give back to the country that he feels blessed him in so many ways. MacKenzie and I are honored to be able to help today’s Dreamers by funding these scholarships.”

Bezos made the announcement following President Trump’s no-infamous remarks about immigrant groups, calling their homelands “shithole countries.” Trump allegedly singled out Haitian immigrants in those comments as well, saying that they specifically should be left out of any deal.

Candy Marshall, president of TheDream.US, issued a follow up statement noting that the grant from the Bezos family “is a shot in the arm for Dreamer students at a time when some are questioning whether they should be in the United States at all. We would invite anyone who questions the value of Dreamers to please come meet some of our students.”

 

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg On The #MeToo Movement: “It’s About Time”

When Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg began her legal crusade half a century ago, the law sanctioned different treatment of women and men. When she finally made it to the Supreme Court, she had already achieved a judicial revolution.

Women’s issues today can often seem like they’ve moved far beyond the 1950s and 60s, but in many ways they’ve also remained the same. Above all, sexual harassment still seems to lie at the center of it all.

When Ginsburg was asked to comment on the #MeToo movement at the Sundance Film Festival this past weekend, her response was: “It’s about time. For so long women were silent, thinking there was nothing you could do about it, but now the law is on the side of women, or men, who encounter harassment and that’s a good thing.”

Ginsburg isn’t concerned that the #MeToo movement will inevitably provoke a backlash against women. “So far it’s been great,” she said. “When I see women appearing every place in numbers, I’m less worried about a backlash than I might have been 20 years ago.”

Ginsburg recalled incidents of sexism from her time as both a law student and teacher, describing how she handled it. “Every woman of my vintage knows what sexual harassment is, although we didn’t have a name for it,” Ginsburg explained.

She recounted one time when she went to her chemistry instructor at Cornell for help. The instructor provided her with a practice exam, but it ended up being identical to the real test. “I knew exactly what he wanted in return,” she said. She immediately stormed into his office and said, “‘How dare you? How dare you do this?’ And that was the end of that.”

Ginsburg’s crusade for equality

As a young law professor, Ginsburg didn’t hesitate to push back against the blatant sexism she endured at work. When she took a position at Rutgers Law School and discovered how much of a salary cut it would involve, she asked how much a male colleague who had been out of law school the same amount of time was being paid. The dean replied, “Ruth, he has a wife and two children to support. You have a husband with a good paying job in New York.”

That exchange took place the same year the Equal Pay Act passed and “that was the answer I got,” Ginsburg said. The women at Rutgers organized to file an Equal Pay Act suit, and eventually the university settled.

Ginsburg also shared the story of Columbia Law School laying off 25 women in the maintenance department, but sparing all the men. She took it up with the university’s vice president for Business, informing him that the university was in violation of Title VII. He responded, “Professor Ginsburg, Columbia has excellent Wall Street lawyers representing them and would you like a cup of tea?”

Shortly after, an application for a temporary injunction against Columbia was filed and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission sent their chief counsel to argue in favor of it. After the injunction was issued, “Columbia decided they didn’t really have to lay off anyone,” she recalls.

Work/life balance

Ginsburg also shared some tips for women who are balancing motherhood and careers.

While Ginsburg was developing the ACLU Women’s Rights Project, teaching at Columbia, and litigating cases across the U.S. and before the Supreme Court, she was also a mother to two children. She recalled how she received regular calls from her son’s school. “The child was what his teachers called ‘hyperactive’ and I called ‘lively.'”

When the schooled called one day after Ginsburg had stayed up all night writing a brief, she answered the phone and said, “This child has two parents. Please alternate calls. It’s his father’s turn.” Ginsburg laughed to remember her husband leaving his own job to head down to the school.

At age 84, Ginsburg remains healthy, strong, active, and quick-witted. She has become something of a popular culture icon, and admits that she loved Kate McKinnon’s portrayal of her on Saturday Night Live. “I would like to say, ‘Ginsburn’ sometimes to my colleagues.” When asked how long she’ll remain on the bench, she didn’t hesitate: “as long as I can do the job full steam, I will be here.”

Millennial Employees Aren’t The Problem. It’s a Matter of Our Changing Workplace

Worker at Amazon fulfillment center.

Work isn’t what it used to be, and millennials are paying the price.

No marker is a better indicator of the changing world millennials are inheriting than statistics about the American dream ― the belief that children will be better off than their parents: not just more financially secure, but also happier, better educated, and more secure overall as a result.

Across the twentieth century, that dream seemed to match up with reality. Americans born in 1940 had a 90% chance of earning more than their parents once they were at prime working age. That isn’t surprising: during the era from the end of World War II to the late 1970s, growth in per capita gross domestic product and productivity went hand-in-hand with growth in real earnings.

That situation changed immensely in the late 1970s. While the economy kept growing, real earnings weren’t tracking upward with it. And along with that disconnect between economic growth and earnings there came a change in the prospects for children in the new era. Those born in 1980 ― just a few years before the official beginning of millennials, but a sure sign of challenges just ahead ― face a coin-toss chance of doing better than their parents. That’s a drop from 90 percent to 50 percent in a stunningly short window of economic history. This dramatic decrease in “absolute income mobility” (as economists call it) provides the sobering reality that Michael Hobbes evocatively describes in his HuffPost Highline story “FML”:

“From job security to the social safety net, all the structures that insulate us from ruin are eroding. And the opportunities leading to a middle-class life… are being lifted out of our reach. Add it all up and it’s no surprise that we’re the first generation in modern history to end up poorer than our parents.”

One reason for these changes is the emergence of “the fissured workplace.” Very often, today’s workplace is no longer a traditional brick-and-mortar company owned and operated by a single employer. Rather, different job functions are handled by masses of temp workers, contractors and subcontractors. This has caused the employment relationship to “fissure” apart. And, as in geology, once fissures begin, they only deepen: Once a position like in-house janitorial services is eliminated, the secondary businesses that pick up that work deepen the fissures even further, often shifting those activities to still other businesses.

Fissuring has spread pervasively and rapidly. Top labor economists predict that 94 percent of net employment growth between 2005 and 2015 occurred in fissured workplace arrangements ― independent contracting, staffing and temp agencies, on-call workers and such. And while early waves of those shifts were concentrated in low-wage jobs, the practice has crept into occupations with much higher educational requirements: journalism and publishing, information technology, academia, even medicine and law. Though ostensibly associated with greater agility and flexibility for workers, the actual impact of these employment relationships, across many sectors, result in lower and more inconsistent earnings, greater turbulence in employment, less access to benefits, and, as Hobbes notes, more risk put on workers and lifted off of the organizations employing or contracting with them.

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What’s even more difficult for entry-level workers in today’s workforce is that these employment transformations erode social networks that are often serve as the lifeblood of career advancement. If you worked at Kodak or Xerox in days past, you could climb internal job ladders that would help you up the organizational levels and give you skills that might translate into employment elsewhere. Today’s contractor working a short stint for Apple or Amazon mainly just gives you access to your contractor. In some companies, contractors even have to wear different-colored identification tags to highlight that distinction — a practice some see as a kind of branding of a caste-system.

The rise of the fissured workplace has had enormous impact on millennials, leading to an economic outlook that’s vastly different from previous generations. If we are to resolve this issue, the challenges that lie ahead will require us to craft new social policies that reflect the transformed world in which people work and try to earn a living.

Amazon Releases List of Cities Still in the Running for Second Headquarters

By now, you’ve probably heard that Seattle and surrounding areas did NOT make the final 20 candidates to host the second headquarters for Amazon. And many residents are breathing a sigh of relief.

On Thursday, Amazon released the short list of cities that are still being considered host the online retail giant’s second headquarters, which it’s calling HQ2.

Here’s the list, in alphabetical order:

  • Atlanta
  • Austin
  • Boston
  • Chicago
  • Columbus, Ohio
  • Dallas
  • Denver
  • Indianapolis
  • Los Angeles
  • Miami
  • Montgomery County, Maryland
  • Nashville
  • Newark, New Jersey
  • New York City
  • Northern Virginia
  • Philadelphia
  • Pittsburgh
  • Raleigh, North Carolina
  • Toronto
  • Washington, D.C.

 

Finalists were selected from 238 original applicants submitted from locations all across the U.S. While critics say that Amazon’s public bidding process is highly degrading, forcing candidates to endlessly “one up” each other with irresponsible financial incentives, the company’s pledge to invest $5 billion and create 50,000 top wage jobs at HQ2 has kept cities in the competition.

The frenzied initial application process drove officials to pull out all the stops to catch Amazon’s eye. The mayor of Kansas City, Sly James ordered 1,000 items from Amazon (which were then donated to charity) and left a five-star review for each purchase, along with a plug for his city as the perfect HQ2. (notably, Kansas City did not make the final 20.)

Newark promised $7 billion in tax breaks in its bid, justifying the eye-popping figure by estimating that HQ2 could generate $9 billion in economic activity. (Newark did make the final 20).

Thank you to all 238 communities that submitted proposals,” said Holly Sullivan of Amazon Public Policy in a statement. “Getting from 238 to 20 was very tough ― all the proposals showed tremendous enthusiasm and creativity.”

“Through this process we learned about many new communities across North America that we will consider as locations for future infrastructure investment and job creation,” Sullivan added.

The company announced that over the next couple months it will reach out to officials in the 20 cities “to dive deeper into their proposals, request additional information, and evaluate the feasibility of a future partnership.”

Amazon also said it plans to make a final decision for HQ2 sometime in 2018.

The Robots Are Coming … and Workers in Sweden Are Just Fine

In a world full of anxiety about the loss of jobs to automation, Sweden has positioned itself to embrace the new technology without threatening its workers.

Sweden’s famous social welfare system makes this a place where few people are fretting about automation — or much else, for that matter. Even blue-collar workers embrace the shifts as robots transform their industry, testing self-driving vehicles that are replacing truck drivers. They have faith in the Swedish economic model to protect them against the wave of joblessness experienced elsewhere, and simply re-train those workers to run the machines — or perhaps move into a new line of work that interests them, entirely supported by generous federal funding.

“I’m not really worried,” one Swedish miner says. “There are so many jobs in this mine that even if this job disappears, they will have another one. The company will take care of us.”

In much of the world, people are increasingly nervous about the present and coming waves of unemployment from automation. As the usual tale goes, globalization compelled people in wealthier regions like North America and Europe to compete against cheaper laborers in Asia and Latin America, triggering joblessness. Now, the robots are coming to finish off the humans.

But such fears have little purchase in Sweden and its Scandinavian neighbors, where unions are powerful, government support is abundant, and trust between employers and employees runs deep. Here, robots are just another way to make companies more efficient or enhance worker safety. As employers prosper, workers have consistently gained a proportionate chunk of the benefits— a glaring contrast to the United States and Britain, where wages have stagnated even as corporate profits have skyrocketed.

“In Sweden, if you ask a union leader, ‘Are you afraid of new technology?’ they will answer, ‘No, I’m afraid of old technology,’” says the Swedish minister for employment and integration, Ylva Johansson. “The jobs disappear, and then we train people for new jobs. We won’t protect jobs. But we will protect workers.”

Americans often dismiss Nordic countries as the land of nanny-state socialists in contrast to the red-blooded capitalists who rule Silicon Valley. But Sweden embodies a possibility that, in an age of automation, innovation might actually be advanced by providing a generous cushions against failure.

“A good safety net is good for entrepreneurship,” says Carl Melin, policy director at Futurion, a major research institution in Stockholm. “If a project doesn’t succeed, you don’t have to go broke.”

In the U.S., for example, most people depend on employers for health insurance. That means losing a job can be financially ruinous. It makes workers hesitant about leaving their present job to seek a potentially more lucrative careers. And it makes unions inclined to protect jobs above all else.

In contrast, Sweden and other Scandinavian countries provide health care as well as free education. They pay generous unemployment benefits, and it’s often up to employers to finance extensive job training programs. This means that unions can embrace automation as a way to provide competitive advantages that make jobs more secure.

Transforming the United States along the lines of Scandinavia would entail costs that fly in the face of the tax-cutting fervor that’s swept American politics in recent decades.

Sweden, Denmark and Finland spend over 27% of their annual economic output on government services that support jobless people and other vulnerable groups, according to data from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. In the United States, we invest less than 20% of our economy to such programs.

Read the rest of this feature story in the New York Times Business Section.