Epidemic of Deaths of Middle-Aged Whites Linked to Economic Insecurity

A new study showing a stunning rise in middle-aged white mortality is a terrible indictment of national economic policies that have ignored long-term unemployment of older workers, the loss of traditional pensions, and rampant age discrimination in employment.

Two Princeton economists, Angus Deaton, who recently won the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economics,and Anne Case, have published a study  in which they document a “remarkable”  increase in mortality for whites aged 45 to 54  after a long period of decline. By contrast, the authors write, the mortality rate has continued to decline for middle-aged whites in other rich countries and also for blacks and Hispanics in the United States.*

The authors estimate that a half a million deaths of middle-aged whites would have been avoided from 1999‒2013 if the mortality rate had continued to decline at its previous (1979‒1998) rate of about two percent per year. They compare this loss  to the number of lives lost in the U.S. AIDS epidemic.

Middle-aged whites are dying in a misery-fueled “epidemic of suicides and afflictions stemming from substance abuse, alcoholic liver disease and overdoses of heroin and prescription opioids.”

The authors say the reasons for the epidemic is only “partly understood” but they point to several possible factors, including  “economic insecurity” and “widening wealth inequality.”  They specifically note the U.S. has moved primarily to defined-contribution pensions, which are subject to stock market risk, while, traditional defined benefit pensions are still the norm in Europe.  A traditional pension, along with lifetime savings and Social Security, once were the cornerstone of retirement in the United States.

In my book, Betrayed: The legalization of Age Discrimination in the Workplace,” I discuss the devastating impact of the Great Recession and chronic unemployment due to age discrimination on the health and welfare of older workers.  While ignoring these problems, I note, Congress enacted policies that encouraged the adoptionof risky defined contribution pensions – also known as 401K plans – and did nothing to stop the decline of the traditional defined benefit pensions. Studies show that  half of older Americas today are economically vulnerable due to a loss of savings in the recession, their  inability to find work as a result of age discrimination, and the lack of an employer-sponsored pension.

The authors predict more problems ahead if U.S. workers “perceive stock market risk harder to manage than earnings risk, or if they have contributed inadequately to defined-contribution plans.” [Read more…]

Bad Ending for Authors in Google Lawsuit

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit issued a decision Friday that will further erode the ability of authors to make a living.

A three-judge panel of the appeals court affirmed a lower court ruling that permits libraries to send books that are under copyright protection to Google, which then digitalizes the books and returns a digital copy to the library. Google then places the digitalized book in its book search engine, where the public can search the text of the book and read displays of snippets of text free of charge.

Google’s library project makes possible “text mining” and “data mining.” This allows Google and others to ascertain public interest in particular topics and areas. Google hasn’t placed advertising on the site of books that are under copyright but presumably could do so in the future.

So far Google has digitalized an estimated 20 million books, including both copyrighted works and works in the public domain.

It’s a great deal for Google and the libraries.  They each get a free digitalized copy of a book tha tis supposedly copyright protected. And Google, which is worth $364.99 billion, becomes further entrenched as the dominant search engine on the Internet.  What do author’s get?

Authors get nothing.

[Read more…]

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Appeals Court Says ‘Bye to English Teacher Blogger

The First Amendment took a beating recently when a federal appeals court panel in Philadelphia, PA,  upheld the dismissal of an English teacher who wrote a semi-anonymous blog containing satirical observations about modern-day teaching at an affluent suburban high school.

Natalie Munroe was hired in 2006 by Central Bucks East High School in Doylestown, PA, earned tenure, and received excellent evaluations. But she became increasingly frustrated with student behavior,  especially with respect to academic integrity and honor, and lack of parental support for teachers. In 2009 she began a personal blog under the name “Natalie M’ that was called, “Where are we going, and why are we in this handbasket?”  The blog was intended for family and friends and had fewer than a dozen subscribers, including Munroe and her husband.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit noted forebodingly in its ruling that “no password was required to access the blog.”

Munroe was suspended after a local reporter asked a  school official in February 2011  if he was aware that students apparently were circulating material from the blog on Facebook and other social media. Her suspension led to national media attention that inflamed the controversy. Principal  Abram Lucabaugh estimated that 200 parents told the district they did not want Munroe to teach their children.  Munroe was fired in June 2012.

In a 2-1 ruling, the appellate panel upheld the dismissal of Munroe’s lawsuit in which she alleged her termination was retaliatory and violated her right to free speech . The majority said public employees are entitled to discuss issues of “public concern” but the state may impose speech restrictions on public employees that are necessary for efficient and effective operations.  Although most of Munroe’s 84 blog entries had nothing at all to do with her work, the majority said Munroe’s speech was sufficiently disruptive to the school to diminish any legitimate interest in its expression. The lone dissenter observed  the majority had “ducked’ the fact that Munroe’s media appearances and interviews contributed to her discharge and said that a jury should decide whether Munroe’s speech was protected by the First Amendment.  He maintained the school district “forfeited its right to match its operational interests against Munroe’s free speech interests” when it waited two years to fire her and failed to transfer her to another school.

The stated reason for Munroe’s dismissal was  “incompetency” even though she was obviously a better-than-average English teacher. She was a good writer. Her comments were pointed but funny and thought-provoking. And she cared.

[Read more…]