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Our Pointless, Vicious, Very American Culture of Shame

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Puritanism’s obsession with guilt and shame, Nathaniel Hawthorne believed, was America’s original sin. We haven’t made much progress since “The Scarlet Letter.”

Do the crime do the time, goes the cliché. In the United States, when the time ends the shaming begins.

It starts when you look for a job. At least 65 million Americans have a felony or misdemeanor criminal record that makes them ineligible to work for the more than 90% of companies who run background checks to weed out applicants with a record. As for the few ex-cons who slip through this electronic dragnet, they are required by shaming laws to tell prospective employers about their checkered past. (Some states have slightly liberalized the requirement with laws like New York’s “Ban the Box” law, which requires disclosure only at the job offer stage.)

The only social benefit to convict-shaming is the shaming itself. “The irony is that employers’ attempts to safeguard the workplace are not only barring many people who pose little to no risk, but they also are compromising public safety. As studies have shown, providing individuals the opportunity for stable employment actually lowers crime recidivism rates and thus increases public safety,” notes a 2011 report by the National Employment Law Project. But capitalism is dog-eat-dog. Each company looks out for itself, society be damned.

I dug into the issue of convict-shaming after an op-ed I wrote for the Wall Street Journal calling for automatic expungement of records of people previously convicted of buying recreational marijuana in amounts that would now be legal prompted a discussion online. Some readers agreed with me that it’s absurd to keep punishing people for acts that are now legal. Others felt that if it was a crime at the time a criminal is still a criminal.

In most countries most employers do not conduct criminal background checks and there is no legal or ethical expectation that ex-cons reveal that they have committed a crime.

A person is convicted, sentenced to prison time and/or to pay a fine, serves the term and coughs up the money. Isn’t there a logical contradiction between release—which assumes an inmate no longer presents a danger to society—and public shaming? I am thinking of one of the most extreme examples of convict-shaming, Megan’s Law. Based on the false assumption that sex offenders have a high rate of recidivism, these statutes require that released inmates register in a database and notify local police and their neighbors of their address.

“What we’ve done,” Radley Balko wrote in The Washington Post in 2017, “is allowed sex offenders to be ‘released’ from prison, but then made it impossible for them to live anything resembling normal lives.” Websites linked to Google Maps allow anyone to check if their neighbor is a convicted sex offender. In some jurisdictions sex offenders are not allowed to reside within a set distance of a school or public park. In 2017 President Obama signed an “international Megan’s Law” that requires sex offenders against children to have the sentence “The bearer was convicted of a sex offense against a minor” stamped into their U.S. passports. So much for business travel.

Why such laws are popular is obvious. If a child molester lives down the block, parents want to know.

But vigilantes have used public Megan’s Law registries to locate and murder released sex offenders. In some communities the school and park restrictions are so draconian that there are so few legal places for released sex offenders to live that they’re forced to become homeless in order to comply with the law. All that harassment serves no real purpose except—you guessed it—serving the desire for cheap vengeance. “The [Megan’s Law] registry really didn’t protect kids at all” because “most child sexual abuse takes place in the home” and most of the victims of sex offenders listed in Megan’s Law databases are adults, says criminologist Emily Horowitz, author of Protecting Our Kids?: How Sex Offender Laws Are Failing Us.

To look at it another way: if sex offenders are dangerous, shouldn’t we keep them locked up rather than rely on mere shaming? Megan’s Law can’t stop a child molester from raping a child.

David Brooks of The New York Times has the latest MSM take on what he calls the “Call-Out Culture,” in which self-appointed guardians of identity politics (critics call them “social justice warriors”) swarm those accused of political incorrectness on social media feeds in order to shame, ostracize and demoralize them. “I don’t care if she’s dead, alive, whatever,” a man who went after a young women (ironically in retaliation for cyberbullying) told NPR.

Chinese Internet users have elevated doxxing and social media shaming to a high art called the “human flesh search engine” that costs victims their friends, family associations, jobs and sometimes their lives. But China is an outlier. While the phenomenon exists everywhere anecdotal evidence suggests that online “call-out culture” is neither as sophisticated or widespread in most nations as it is here in the United States.

It’s impossible to discuss shame culture without talking about the #MeToo movement. Criminal prosecution of accused sexual predators like Bill Cosby, Harvey Weinstein and Kevin Spacey are exceptions. For the most part #MeToo is a shame-based movement. Sometimes, as in the case of comedian Aziz Ansari’s bad date, shame seems excessive and misplaced. In many cases, the targets seem to have had something coming—since it’s not jail we settle for job loss—and it’s unlikely they would have faced consequences otherwise. Then there are those who-the-hell-knows cases like Louis C.K. where the behavior was weird and pervy and consent is a nebulous issue (he asked, the women involved “laughed it off”).

#MeToo has a mixed record. I can’t help wonder if, for all the shattered careers and former celebrities who now take their meals at home rather than eating out at a fancy restaurant, the victims feel cheated. On the one hand, something finally happened to their tormentors. On the other, shame fades. Trauma is often forever.

Evildoers deserve real punishment. After punishment has been doled out shame is both a poor substitute and counterproductive overkill. But it’s what we’ve got.

(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, is the author of “Francis: The People’s Pope.” You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

SYNDICATED COLUMN: Do Not Be Impressed by Mark Zuckerberg’s Phony Generosity

pt_1904_1111_o            CEO Mark Zuckerberg promises to give 99% of his Facebook shares to charity — eventually.

Exact phrasing: the stock, currently worth $45 billion, will be donated “during [he and his wife’s] lives.” He’s 31 and she’s 30, so actuarial tables being what they are, by approximately the year 2065.

If Facebook or the Internet or the earth still exist.

Whoop de doo.

I would be far more impressed if Facebook would put some money into the American economy. How? By hiring more workers — a lot more workers. Facebook’s market cap is $300 billion — almost ten times more than GM. GM has 216,000 employees. I’m not sure Facebook could find work for 2 million workers — but 12,000 is pathetic. They might start by hiring a few thousand 24-7 customer service reps so they could respond quickly when some antisocial pig posts your nude photo.

The part of the “ain’t Zuck nicephilanthropist suck-uppery that really has me annoyed is the “charity” bit.

Disclosure: I’m on record as being not at all into charity. If something is important enough to require funding — helping hurricane victims, sending doctors to war zones, poetry — it ought to be paid for by society as a whole, out of our taxes. We shouldn’t allow billionaires to aggregate enough wealth to billionaires in the first place. Partly, this is because it’s unfair. No one can work hard enough to earn one billion dollars. Also because it gives too much control to individuals at the expense of the 99.99% of everyone else.

Unfortunately, we await the revolution. So we still have billionaires running around pretending to be nice (as opposed to where they belong, hanging from a lamppost).

Even by our current dismal standards, however, Zuck is full of crap.

Point one: the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative is not a charity. It’s a limited liability corporation (LLC) that, like any other company, can donate to actual charities but can also invest in for-profit companies.

Point two: this is all about control.

A donation to an independent, classic 501(c) charity can come with strings attached — the money is only for a children’s wing of the hospital, no adults — but it’s ultimately spent by the charity based on its directors’ decisions. Under the LLC structure Zuckerberg will maintain nearly dictatorial control over the funds he’s “donating” to “charity.”

It’s the difference between you giving a hundred bucks to the United Way, and taking a hundred bucks out of your wallet and dropping into a coffee can in your kitchen. Maybe the C-spot in the coffee can will go to the poor. Maybe not. It certainly isn’t accurate to claim you gave it to charity.

If Zuck wants a “gives 99% of his stock to charity” headline, he ought to earn it — by giving 99% of his stock to actual charities. Charities that aren’t named after him. Charities he doesn’t control.

“Zuckerberg To Maybe Eventually Do Things He Deems Good With Some Of His Fortune” would be more accurate.

The vagueness of the Zuckerbergs’ announcement highlights how little anyone should be impressed. “Our initial areas of focus will be personalized learning, curing disease, connecting people and building strong communities,” they said.

Sound familiar?

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation was founded in 2000 with billions of dollars Microsoft extracted from American consumers via price gouging and gangster-style monopolistic tactics so ugly the feds almost broke up the company. The charity’s (it’s charted as a 501(c)) mission sounds remarkably similar to those of the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative: “Our foundation is teaming up with partners around the world to take on some tough challenges: extreme poverty and poor health in developing countries, and the failures of America’s education system.”

Which, right out of the gate, meant donating PCs to schools so that fewer kids would grow up using Macs.

If you’re a conservative who thinks government can’t do anything right, let me show you a charity that’s worse. The Gates Foundation wants to destroy teachers’ unions to take away their benefits and drive down their wages — hardly a way to attract the best and brightest young college graduates into the profession. And it has poured millions into the disastrous Common Core, which has created today’s “teach to the test” culture in public schools. Given Zuckerberg’s previous involvement in public schools, a $100 million fiasco in Newark, New Jersey that declared war on teachers, fetishized standardized testing and led to so many school closures that kids wound up walking miles through gang territory to new schools chosen for them by, really, an algorithm — it isn’t a stretch to guess that Chan Zuckerberg will look a lot like Bill and Melinda Gates.

I wouldn’t expect much — much good, anyway — from Zuckerberg on the poverty front, either. After all, Facebook is spreading poverty among American STEM workers by pushing Congress for more H1C visas for foreign workers hired by big tech companies to replace better-paid Americans. Odds are that, here too, the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative’s approach will be similar to the Gateses.

Too young and too rich to have a clue — and the only people they know are over-privileged corporate pigs. How do you think this will turn out?

In 2010, for example, Bill and Melinda drew fire for subsidizing African projects by agribusiness conglomerates Cargill and Monsanto, both notorious for crushing small farmers, to the tune of $23 million. They’re way into sketchy genetically-modified foods. They wind up propping up authoritarian and dictatorial political regimes by focusing on technocratic short-term “quick fix” projects that don’t address the underlying causes of poverty (psst — capitalism). It’s a safe bet Zuck’s anti-poverty stuff will make more people poorer.

It’s Zuckerberg’s billions. He can do what he wants with his money. But let’s not make the mistake of calling him a charitable giver, much less a great guy.

(Ted Rall, syndicated writer and the cartoonist for ANewDomain.net, is the author of the new book “Snowden,” the biography of the NSA whistleblower. Want to support independent journalism? You can subscribe to Ted Rall at Beacon.)

COPYRIGHT 2015 TED RALL, DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS.COM

The Freelance Workers Manifesto

Originally published by Breaking Modern:

Occupy Wall Street is no more, but its demand that America treat its workers better remains at the forefront of the national conversation.

Jobs and stagnant salaries will probably be important issues in the 2016 presidential campaign. Even Republicans, traditionally the party of business, are building their platform around the problem of rising income inequality and how conservative ideas can alleviate it. President Obama wants to improve conditions for American workers by requiring employers to provide guaranteed paid sick days and family leave, and making it easier for them to join a union.

All great news for workers, who have been taking it on the chin since at least the 1970s, the last time real wages kept up with inflation. Yet there’s a glaring gap in the discussion: freelancers.

Ten million Americans are completely self-employed — that’s way up, from just 1.3 million people in 2001. A whopping 53 million people devote part of their workweek to freelance work. “Even though there may not be jobs in the conventional sense, there is still work,” urban analyst Bill Fulton told Forbes. “That’s the whole idea of the 1099 economy. It’s just a different way of organizing the economy.”

When politicians and the media talk about workers and how to improve their lot, independent contractors and entrepreneurs are almost always left out. But self-employment isn’t going away. Though the current tentative economic recovery has caused a slight dip in the percentage of U.S. workers who receive 1099s (as opposed to W-2s) at the end of each year, labor experts anticipate that more workers will become freelancers. This will either be by choice or, after being laid off, out of necessity. As automation and international outsourcing continue to reduce the demand for full-time workers, and CEOs increasingly turn to the “contingent workforce” to fulfill their staffing needs on an as-needed basis, being dumped like a dirty napkin when demand slackens is common.

The software company Intuit predicts that a whopping 40% of American workers will be freelancers, contractors or temporary workers by the year 2020.

Are proposed reforms enough?

No. None of the proposed reforms would do anything to help these lone wolves.

When you work for yourself there’s no employer to give you paid vacation days, much less paid sick days or parental leave. What are you going to do, unionize against yourself? Forget about going on strike for higher wages — which, given the fact that 12% of freelancers are on food stamps, the self-employed could use higher wages.

freelance-workers-manifesto-ted-rallFreelancers earn less than full-timers. They work longer hours. They’re less economically secure. Because they can’t afford to say no when a possible client calls, their time isn’t their own, even on weekends and holidays. Speaking of which: what holidays?

If the balance between laborer and management has inexorably shifted toward the latter in traditional workplaces over the past half-century, the move toward an increasingly insecure, off-and-on-again workforce will only accelerate that trend. It’s a seismic shift and the main force driving down average wages. Yet public policy hasn’t merely failed to catch up — it hasn’t even begun to think about it.

As David Atkins wrote in Washington Monthly: “Simply letting the economy slide into the enforced uncertainty of the freelance economy without helping workers achieve dignity and stability is not an acceptable outcome.” But how can we avoid it?

Sara Horowitz of the Freelancers Union (not a union in the traditional sense, mostly just a way for independent workers to buy pooled health insurance) tells The Washington Post that one way to even out the feast-or-famine problem would be for Congress to authorize 529-like savings schemes. “Freelancers could be allowed to set up pre-tax accounts for their earnings that would go tax-free if they fell below a certain level, to keep them out of poverty during dry spells. In England, government officials have experimented with a ‘central database of available hours‘ as a public option for freelance work scheduling.”

Also in the Post: “As a general philosophy, social welfare benefits might need to shift towards how they work in Europe, where entitlements are attached to the individual, rather than their relationship with an employer. Some academics have described a new ‘dependent contractor’ status that would cover workers who serve mostly one client. These workers, the argument goes, should have more protections — unemployment insurance, for example, or workers compensation — than those who pick and choose their assignments from a number of different sources.”

Good suggestions, but pretty weak tea compared to the really big problems — much lower pay, much less security — faced by the new rising class of on-demand workers.

The best way to reverse decreasing wages

The best way to reverse downward pressure on wages would be for the federal government to set prices for labor on everything from the cost of a new roof to the price per word received by a writer to create an article like this one. For Americans accustomed to letting the “magic of the marketplace” govern their financial destinies, this would be a radical reform. But it’s not unprecedented. Wage and price controls have been deployed in India, the world’s biggest democracy. In 1971 President Nixon went after inflation driven by predatory corporations by freezing all wages and prices — a move conservatives declared a failure but that dramatically helped working poor people like my mom, who still says it saved our lives (even though she hated Nixon).

This would require a new government bureaucracy, but hey, hiring federal workers would reduce unemployment. Setting minimum wages for freelance work would be challenging, but experts know the marketplace. As a writer, I know that outfits that offer $25 for 1,000 words ought to be ashamed of themselves — no one should write anything for less than $1 a word.

Congress should extend protections against workplace discrimination based on race, age, gender, sexual orientation and disability to allow wronged freelancers to sue for compensatory as well as punitive damages.

Companies and individuals who engage the services of freelance workers should be required to pay into a general compensation fund managed by the federal government. This would probably be remitted as a percentage of compensation. Freelancers should be able to draw on the fund to take paid vacation and sick time off, as well as paternity and maternity benefits.

The only way to prevent American freelance workers from sliding into a chattel class indicative of life in a third-world country will be to give them the same rights, privileges and protections as those enjoyed by full-time workers.

Which, of course, will likely reduce the number of employers who transition from a full-time to an on-demand workforce.

Recession/Recovery

When people lose good jobs, their misery is downplayed. When they get new, worse jobs, it’s categorized as big progress – even though their worse off than before. Such is the nature of the current “recovery,” which has replaced lost jobs with worse ones.

ANewDomain.net Essay: Don’t Hire Anyone Over 30: Ageism in Silicon Valley

Originally published at ANewDomain.net:

Most people know that Silicon Valley has a diversity problem. Women and ethnic minorities are underrepresented in Big Tech. Racist and sexist job discrimination are obviously unfair. They also shape a toxic, insular white male “bro” culture that generates periodic frat-boy eruptions (see, for example, the recent wine-fueled rant of an Uber executive who mused — to journalists — that he’d like to pay journalists to dig up dirt on journalists who criticize Uber. What could go wrong?)

After years of criticism, tech executives are finally starting to pay attention — and some are promising to recruit more women, blacks and Latinos.

This is progress, but it still leaves Silicon Valley with its biggest dirty secret: rampant, brazen age discrimination.

“Walk into any hot tech company and you’ll find disproportionate representation of young Caucasian and Asian males,” University of Washington computer scientist Ed Lazowska told The San Francisco Chronicle. “All forms of diversity are important, for the same reasons: workforce demand, equality of opportunity and quality of end product.”

Overt bigotry against older workers — we’re talking about anyone over 30 here — has been baked into the Valley’s infantile attitudes since the dot-com crash 14 years ago.

Life may begin at 50 elsewhere, but in the tech biz the only thing certain about middle age is unemployment.

The tone is set by the industry’s top CEOs. “When Mark Zuckerberg was 22, he said five words that might haunt him forever. ‘Younger people are just smarter,’ the Facebook wunderkind told his audience at a Y Combinator event at Stanford University in 2007. If the merits of youth were celebrated in Silicon Valley at the time, they have become even more enshrined since,” Alison Griswold writes in Slate.

It’s illegal, under the federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967, to pass up a potential employee for hire, or to fail to promote, or to fire a worker, for being too old. But don’t bother telling that to a tech executive. What used to be a meritocracy has become a don’t-hire-anyone-over-30 (certainly not over 40) — right under the nose of the tech media.

Which isn’t surprising. The supposed watchdogs of the Fourth Estate are wearing the same blinders as their supposed prey. The staffs of news sites like Valleywag and Techcrunch skew as young as the companies they cover.

A 2013 BuzzFeed piece titled ” What It’s Like Being The Oldest BuzzFeed Employee” (subhead: “I am so, so lost, every workday.”) by a 53-year-old BuzzFeed editor “old enough to be the father of nearly every other editorial employee” (average age: late 20s) reads like a repentant landlord-class sandwich-board confession during China’s Cultural Revolution: “These whiz-kids completely baffle me, daily. I am in a constant state of bafflement at BF HQ. In fact, I’ve never been more confused, day-in and day-out, in my life.” It’s the most pathetic attempt at self-deprecation I’ve read since the transcripts of Stalin’s show trials.

A few months later, the dude got fired by his boss (15 years younger): “This is just not working out, your stuff. Let’s just say, it’s ‘creative differences.’”

Big companies are on notice that they’re on the wrong side of employment law. They just don’t care.

Slate reports: “In 2011, Google reached a multimillion-dollar settlement in a…suit with computer scientist Brian Reid, who was fired from the company in 2004 at age 54. Reid claimed that Google employees made derogatory comments about his age, telling him he was ‘obsolete,’ ‘sluggish,’ and an ‘old fuddy-duddy’ whose ideas were ‘too old to matter.’ Other companies—including Apple, Facebook, and Yahoo—have gotten themselves in hot water by posting job listings with ‘new grad‘ in the description. In 2013, Facebook settled a case with California’s Fair Employment and Housing Department over a job listing for an attorney that noted ‘Class of 2007 or 2008 preferred.’”

Because the fines and settlements have been mere slaps on the wrist, the cult of the Youth Bro is still going strong.

To walk the streets of Austin during tech’s biggest annual confab, South by Southwest Interactive, is to experience a society where Boomers and Gen Xers have vanished into a black hole. Photos of those open-space offices favored by start-ups document workplaces where people over 35 are as scarce as women on the streets of Kandahar. From Menlo Park to Palo Alto, token fortysomethings wear the nervous shrew-like expressions of creatures in constant danger of getting eaten — dressed a little too young, heads down, no eye contact, hoping not to be noticed.

“Silicon Valley has become one of the most ageist places in America,” Noam Scheiber reported in a New Republic feature that describes tech workers as young as 26 seeking plastic surgery in order to stave off the early signs of male pattern baldness and minor skin splotches on their faces.

Whatever you do, don’t look your age — unless your age is 22.

“Robert Withers, a counselor who helps Silicon Valley workers over 40 with their job searches, told me he recommends that older applicants have a professional snap the photo they post on their LinkedIn page to ensure that it exudes energy and vigor, not fatigue,” Scheiber writes. “He also advises them to spend time in the parking lot of a company where they will be interviewing so they can scope out how people dress.”

The head of the most prominent start-up incubator told The New York Times that most venture capitalists in the Valley won’t take a pitch from anyone over 32.

In early November, VCs handed over several hundred thousand bucks to a 13-year-old.

Aside from the legal and ethical considerations, does Big Tech’s cult of youth matter? Scheiber says hell yes:  “In the one corner of the American economy defined by its relentless optimism, where the spirit of invention and reinvention reigns supreme, we now have a large and growing class of highly trained, objectively talented, surpassingly ambitious workers who are shunted to the margins, doomed to haunt corporate parking lots and medical waiting rooms, for reasons no one can rationally explain. The consequences are downright depressing.”

One result of ageism that jumps to the top of my mind is brain drain. Youthful vigor is vital to success in business. So is seasoned experience. The closer an organization reflects society at large, the smarter it is.

A female colleague recently called to inform me that she was about to get laid off from her job as an editor and writer for a major tech news site. (She was, of course, the oldest employee at the company.) Naturally caffeinated, addicted to the Internet and pop culture, she’s usually the smartest person in the room. I see lots of tech journalism openings for which she’d be a perfect fit, yet she’s at her wit’s end. “I’m going to jump off a bridge,” she threatened. “What else can I do? I’m 45. No one’s ever going to hire me.” Though I urged her not to take the plunge, I couldn’t argue with her pessimism. Objectively, though, I think the employers who won’t talk to her are idiots. For their own sakes.

Just a month before, I’d met with an executive of a major tech news site who told me I wouldn’t be considered for a position due to my age. “Aside from being stupid,” I replied, “you do know that’s illegal, right?”

“No one enforces it,” he shrugged. He’s right. The feds don’t even keep national statistics on hiring by age.

The median American worker is age 42. The median age at Facebook, Google, AOL and Zynga, on the other hand, is 30 or younger. Twitter, which recently got hosed in an age discrimination lawsuit, has a median age of 28.

Big Tech doesn’t want you to know they don’t hire middle-aged Americans. Age data was intentionally omitted from the recent spate of “we can do better” mea culpa reports on company diversity.

It’s easy to suss out why: they prefer to hire cheaper, more disposable, more flexible (willing to work longer hours) younger workers. Apple and Facebook recently made news by offering to freeze its female workers’ eggs so they can delay parenthood in order to devote their 20s and 30s to the company.

The dirty secret is not so secret when you scour online want ads. “Many tech companies post openings exclusively for new or recent college graduates, a pool of candidates that is overwhelmingly in its early twenties,” Verne Kopytoff writes in Fortune.

“It’s nothing short of rampant,” said UC David comp sci professor Norm Matloff, about age discrimination against older software developers. Adding to the grim irony for Gen Xers: today’s fortysomethings suffered reverse age discrimination — old people in power screwing the young — at the hands of Boomers in charge when they were entering the workforce.

Once too young to be trusted, now too old to get hired.

Ageist hiring practices are so over-the-top illegal, you have to wonder: do these jerks have in-house counsel?

Kopytoff: “Apple, Facebook, Yahoo, Dropbox, and video game maker Electronic Arts all recently listed openings with ‘new grad’ in the title. Some companies say that recent college graduates will also be considered and then go on to specify which graduating classes—2011 or 2012, for instance—are acceptable.”

The feds take a dim view of these ads.

“In our view, it’s illegal,” Raymond Peeler, senior attorney advisor at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, told Kopytoff. “We think it deters older applicants from applying.” Gee, you think? But the EEOC has yet to smack a tech company with a big fine.

The job market is supposed to eliminate efficiencies like this, where companies that need experienced reporters fire them while retaining writers who are so wet behind the ears you want to check for moss. But ageism is so ingrained into tech culture that it’s part of the scenery, a cultural signifier like choosing an iPhone over Android. Everyone takes it for granted.

Scheiber describes a file storage company’s annual Hack Week, which might as well be scientifically designed in order to make adults with kids and a mortgage run away screaming: “Dropbox headquarters turns into the world’s best-capitalized rumpus room. Employees ride around on skateboards and scooters, play with Legos at all hours, and generally tool around with whatever happens to interest them, other than work, which they are encouraged to set aside.”

No matter how cool a 55-year-old you are, you’re going to feel left out. Which, one suspects, is the point.

It’s impossible to overstate how ageist many tech outfits are.

Electronic Arts contacted Kopytoff to defend its “new grad” employment ads, only to confirm their bigotry. The company “defended its ads by saying that it hires people of all ages into its new grad program. To prove the point, the company said those accepted into the program range in age from 21 to 35. But the company soon had second thoughts about releasing such information, which shows a total absence of middle-aged hires in the grad program, and asked Fortune to withhold that detail from publication. (Fortune declined.)”

EA’s idea of age diversity is zero workers over 35.

Here is one case where an experienced, forty- or fifty- or even sixtysomething in-house lawyer or publicist might have saved them some embarrassment — and legal exposure.

In the big picture, Silicon Valley is hardly an engine of job growth; they haven’t added a single net new job since 1998. “Big” companies like Facebook and Twitter only hire a few thousand workers each. Instagram famously only had 13 when it went public. They have little interest in contributing to the commonweal. Nevertheless, tech ageism in the tiny tech sector has a disproportionately high influence on workplace practices in other workspaces. If it is allowed to continue, it will spread to other fields.

It’s hard to see how anything short of a massive class-action lawsuit — one that dings tech giants for billions of dollars — will make Big Tech hire Xers, much less Boomers.

The New Optimism

According to a new poll, Americans are increasingly pessimistic about their future and that of their children. Half of Americans doubt they’ll get as raise or a better job within the next five years. But hey, we’re Americans. We’ll adapt!

SYNDICATED COLUMN: Immigration Reform is Treason

Unemployment is High. Why Are We Importing Foreign Workers?

Unemployment is sky-high. Sustained long-term unemployment is at record levels. So why the hell are we importing foreign workers?

The immigration reform bill moving through Congress will throw open the door to millions of new foreigners — people who aren’t here yet — to enter the United States to work. And we’re not talking about crappy fruit-picking gigs Americans supposedly don’t want (more on that below).

“American” (you have to wonder about their loyalties) lawmakers want foreigner nationals to fill America’s high-paying tech jobs. While Americans are out of work.

At the risk of sounding like Pat Buchanan: WTF?

For at least 20 years, the U.S. economy has been replacing good manufacturing jobs with bad service jobs. Salaries have fallen. Which has depressed demand. As things stand, there’s one bright spot: the potential for the IT sector to lift us out of the rut. To paraphrase George Orwell’s “1984”: If there is hope for America’s unemployed, it lies with tech.

Make that: “lied.” Because America’s tech companies — which makes most of its money selling its crap to Americans — are hell-bent on hiring just about anyone who is not an American citizen.

Economists say jobs aren’t a zero-sum game. But unemployment would certainly be lower if employers were forced to hire Americans who were qualified, or train them. But they’re not. So they don’t. Companies “want people to hit the ground running,” Wharton management professor Peter Cappelli, author of Why Good People Can’t Get Jobs, told USA Today. “They don’t want to train anybody.”

Bosses say they just want to fill positions. But that’s just not true.

What bosses want is flexible — i.e. compliant, uncomplaining — indentured labor. Foreign workers fit the bill perfectly. If foreigners get fired, they lose their visas and have to go back home. How likely are they to ask for a raise, much less gripe about long hours or unpaid overtime, with the boss’ sword raised over their heads?

And so, even as born-in-the-USA Americans — many of them experienced programmers with fancy “STEM” degrees from the nation’s top engineering schools — languish without jobs, sinking into poverty and getting evicted from their homes, Big Tech is passing them over in favor of indentured workers from India and other foreign countries.

“As drafted,” reports FoxNews, the bill would raise the current cap on so-called H-1B visas for highly skilled workers… The legislation also included new protections designed to ensure American workers get the first shot at jobs, and high-tech firms objected to some of those constraints.”

Re-read that last phrase.

“High-tech firms objected” to “new protections designed to ensure American workers get the first shot at jobs.” Thanks to the Gap-shirt-wearing “revolutionary” “pioneer” billionaires of Silicon Valley, those common-sense protections — which didn’t say you can’t hire foreign workers, only that you have to search for Americans before you do — have been cut out of the bill. Nevertheless the number of indentured foreign workers likely to be authorized by the new law has shot up to at least 300,000 annually.

That means millions of new foreign workers taking our best new jobs.

Which firms are spending big bucks to screw unemployed American tech workers? Unbeknown to most Internet users, Mark Zuckerberg’s Facebook is the tip of the spear of an anti-American worker, D.C. multi-million-dollar lobbying juggernaut. Facebook and their insanely rich right-wing corporate allies claim they need foreigners because they can’t find enough qualified U.S. citizens. “Microsoft has 3,500 high-tech jobs that they cannot fill. Intel has 1,700. I mean, you can go on and on,” Dan Turrentine of the trade group TechNet told NPR. Good thing it was radio; smirks look awful on TV.

The tech giants are lying. There are plenty of unemployed IT workers right here in the USA.

Officially, tech sector unemployment is a relatively low 3.7%. Of course, there’s still that question: why hire any foreigners as long as there’s one single American who needs a job?

Anyway, that number is deceiving. According to a recent study by the Economic Policy Institute, colleges and universities graduate 50% more students with degrees in computer and information science and engineering than get hired into those fields each year. Most of these bright young grads are forced into other professions, or simply remain unemployed. “The supply of high-tech workers,” concludes  EPI vice president Ross Eisenbrey, is “a problem we don’t have.”

Millions of tech-savvy Americans are out there looking for jobs. Yet big tech doesn’t want them.

“If anything, we have too many high-tech workers: more than 9 million people have degrees in a science, technology, engineering or math field, but only about 3 million have a job in one,” Eisenbrey wrote in The New York Times. “That’s largely because pay levels don’t reward their skills. Salaries in computer- and math-related fields for workers with a college degree rose only 4.5% between 2000 and 2011. If these skills are so valuable and in such short supply, salaries should at least keep pace with the tech companies’ profits, which have exploded.”

On average, the typical unemployed U.S. tech worker is better trained than the foreign workers who are taking their jobs.

We’re also seeing this import-foreigners-to-hell-with-Americans phenomenon on the low end of the employment ladder.

Like Zuckerberg, large-scale farms claim they can’t find Americans willing to work for them. In their case, it’s hard, low-paying field work: picking fruits and vegetables.

Once again, it turns out that there are lots of Americans willing to do the job — but the big farms pass them by. Agribusiness prefers compliant slave labor. “When Jose gets on the bus to come here from Mexico he is committed to the work,” Jon Schwalls, director of operations at Southern Valley farm in Georgia, said. “It’s like going into the military. He leaves his family at home. The work is hard, but he’s ready. A domestic [American citizen] wants to know: What’s the pay? What are the conditions?” Such gall.

Southern Valley is one of numerous farm operations being sued by “Americans, mostly black, who live near the farms and say they want the field work but cannot get it because it is going to Mexicans. They contend that they are illegally discouraged from applying for work and treated shabbily by farmers who prefer the foreigners for their malleability,” reports The Times.

We know Americans are willing to do field work because, until the 1970s, two-thirds of farm workers were U.S. citizens and a third were foreigners. Now it’s the other way around. Many are undocumented. Farms were recently forced to concede that their legally required efforts to recruit Americans for field work “had not been made or had been intentionally not serious.” Nevertheless, even as Americans who want these jobs get rejected (because they ask about pay and conditions), the U.S. continues to issue 85,000 H-2A visas to foreign field workers.

No wonder the immigration bill has bipartisan support. Both the Democrats and the Republicans work for their big corporate donors, not for us. Business wants salaries low, labor weak. There’s only one reason to import foreign labor: to depress wages.

If the supporters of import-more-foreigners immigration reform weren’t trying out to screw over American workers, they’d grant permanent resident status (“green cards”) to foreign workers so that they could stay legally, join unions, and negotiate on an equal footing with employers. But that would defeat the purpose.

(Ted Rall’s website is tedrall.com. His book “After We Kill You, We Will Welcome You Back As Honored Guests: Unembedded in Afghanistan” will be released in November by Farrar, Straus & Giroux.)

COPYRIGHT 2013 TED RALL

SYNDICATED COLUMN: You’re Not Underemployed. You’re Underpaid.

The Case for Shiftlessness

No bank balance. Nothing in your wallet.

“I’m broke,” you say. “I need a job.”

Or:

Perhaps you have a job. Then you say:

“I’m broke. I need a better job.”

You’re lying. And you don’t even know it.

You don’t need a job.(Unless you like sitting at a desk. Working on an assembly line. Non-dairy creamer in the break room. In which case I apologize. Freak!)

You don’t need a job. You need money.

We’ve been programmed to believe that the only way to get money is to earn it.

(Unless you’re rich. Then you know about inheritance. In 1997, the last year for which there was solid research done on the subject, 42 percent of the Forbes 400 richest Americans made the list through probate. Disparity of wealth has since increased.)

It’s time to separate income from work.

For two reasons:

It’s moral. No one should starve or sleep outside or suffer sickness or go undereducated simply due to bad luck—being born into a poor family, growing up in an area with high unemployment, failing to impress an interviewer.

It’s sane.

“American workers stay longer at the office, at the factory or on the farm than their counterparts in Europe and most other rich nations, and they produce more over the year,” according to a 2009 U.N. report cited by CBS. Thanks to technological innovations and education, worker productivity—GDP divided by total employment—has increased by leaps and bounds over the years.

U.S. worker productivity has increased 400 percent since 1950. “The conclusion is inescapable: if productivity means anything at all, a worker should be able to earn the same standard of living as a 1950 worker in only 11 hours a week,” according to a MIT study.

Obviously that’s not the case. American workers are toiling longer hours than ever. They’re not being paid more —to the contrary, wages have been stagnant or declining since 1970. Numerous analyses have established that, especially since 1970, the lion’s share of profits from productivity increases have gone to employers.

Workers are working longer hours. But fewer people are working. Only 54 percent of work-eligible adults have jobs—the lowest rate in memory. Which isn’t surprising. Because there are fixed costs associated with employing each individual—administration, workspace, benefits, and so on—it makes sense for a boss to hire as few workers as possible, and to work them long hours.

This witches’ brew—increased productivity coupled with higher fixed costs, particularly healthcare—have led companies to create a society divided into two classes: the jobless and the overworked.

Unemployment is rising. Meanwhile, people “lucky” enough to still have jobs are creating more per hour than ever before and are forced to work longer and harder.

Crazy.

And dangerous. Does anyone seriously believe that an America divided between the haves, have-nots and the stressed-outs will be a better, safer, more politically stable place to live?

Sci-fi writers used to imagine a future in which machines did everything, where people enjoyed their newfound leisure time exploring the world and themselves. We’re not there yet—someone still has to make stuff—but we should be closer to the imagined idyll of zero work than we are now.

If productivity increases year after year after year, employers need fewer and fewer employees to sustain or expand the same level of economic activity. But this sets up a conundrum. If only employees have money, only employees can consume goods and services. As unemployment rises, the pool of consumers shrinks.

The remaining consumers can’t pick up the slack because their wages aren’t going up. So we wind up with a society that produces more stuff than can be sold: Marx’s classic crisis of overproduction. Hello, post-2008 meltdown of global capitalism.

Silicon Valley entrepreneur Martin Ford warns that the Great Recession is just the beginning. In his 2009 book “The Lights in the Tunnel: Automation, Accelerating Technology and the Economy of the Future” Ford, “argues that technologies such as software automation algorithms, artificial intelligence (AI), and robotics will result in dramatically increasing unemployment, stagnant or falling consumer demand, and a financial crisis surpassing the Great Depression,” according to a review in The Futurist.

The solution is clear: to guarantee everyone, whether or not he or she holds a job, a minimum salary sufficient to cover housing, transportation, education, medical care and, yes, discretionary income. Unfortunately, we’re stuck in an 18th century mindset. We’re nowhere close to detaching money from work. The Right wants to get rid of the minimum wage. On the Left, advocates for a Universal Living Wage nevertheless stipulate that a decent income should go to those who work a 40-hour week.

Ford proposes a Basic Income Guarantee based on performance of non-work activities; volunteering at a soup kitchen would be considered compensable work. But even this “radical” proposal doesn’t go far enough.

Whatever comes next, revolutionary overthrow or reform of the existing system, Americans are going to have to accept a reality that will be hard for a nation of strivers to take: we’re going to have to start paying people to sit at home.

(Ted Rall’s next book is “The Book of Obama: How We Went From Hope and Change to the Age of Revolt,” out May 22. His website is tedrall.com.)

COPYRIGHT 2012 TED RALL