Monthly Archives: August 2017

WE NEED MORE LABOR FOR KIDS

As we approach Labor Day 2017, I’m reminded of the purpose and significance of the American worker whom we honor on this day, as well as the scarcity of opportunities our children have to learn about working.

First, Labor Day itself.  It was created somewhere around 1882 here in the U.S. by a labor union to call attention to the social and economic achievements of the American worker.  It’s celebrated now on the first Monday in September, and on the same day in Canada, to honor the contributions workers have made to the strengths, prosperity and well-being of our countries.

We have parades and speeches.  A lot of outdoor activities and a general good time.

I’m reminded of my first employment as a worker when I was 12 or so and got my first bike.  I delivered Mahjong tiles and annual rules for my mother to supply all her neighbor students.  Then it was on to deliver for a local butcher shop.  From high school on I enjoyed a variety of working experiences; over Christmas I delivered printed holiday cards to fancy N.Y. department stores, then it was on to camp waiter, dishwasher, and the big time as a resort bus buy.  Along the way I traveled chain retail store routes for the Silent Watchman Co. to pick up last week’s store opening and closings and reset the clocks for next week.

You are probably thinking about all the early jobs you had—and what you learned from each.

As others following this trending theme have noted, fewer kids are working these days.  They aren’t gaining the skills that come from those first jobs until they’re in their 20s, which goes a long way to explaining the millennial attitudes showing up in the workplace.  It puts them at a tremendous disadvantage when they start their real careers.

Some of the on-the-job training is obvious.  You have to show up on time and actually do the work, or you risk getting fired.  Such rules can be new to people whose only commitments were in school, where the institution is required to keep you at least through age 18 as long as you want to hang around.

Then there’s the issue of your boss.

In one of my first jobs, my supervisor was a man about 45 years old.  He had attained the rank of manager of this small operation.   This was his sole means of support.  Even at my young age, I recognized his working life had plateaued at a very modest level.  But my trajectory—presumably through high school, then college and beyond—compared with his didn’t matter one bit.

What counted was that he knew how to run the office and my job was to show up and follow his instructions.  Period!  This wasn’t a democracy, or even a meritocracy.  It was an autocracy, and the manager of the place set the rules as he saw fit.  If I wanted to remain employed, I had to work within the rules.

On the plus side, I wasn’t always lumped with my co-workers, as was the case in school.  There were no “group projects” at work.  If I did well, I was rewarded with continued employment and extra shifts.  If my co-workers chose to goof off or show up late, they were fired.  Each of us was assessed on our individual merits.

And the education didn’t stop at the front door.  When I received my first paycheck, it took me a while to figure out who FICA was, and why he got so much of my money.  Then I had to deal with opening a bank account, depositing and writing checks, and, eventually, W2-s and taxes.

It wasn’t the coddled world of education.  Employment could be mind-numbingly boring, fast-paced, infuriating, rewarding, and even depressing.  But learning to navigate the workplace early allowed me to develop interpersonal skills and understand employment dynamics long before I started my career.  Apparently I wasn’t alone.

After spiking above 25% after the downturn, unemployment among teens from 16 to 19 dropped back near its long-term average of 16%.

But that doesn’t tell the whole story.

Unemployment statistics only apply to those who want to work.  A better way to understand the change that took place is by considering the labor force participation rate of those from 16 to 19 years old.  This statistic counts how many people are either working or looking for work compared with the entire population in that age range.

From the 1970s through the 1990s, more than half of all teens were in the labor force.  But since 2000, things have changed dramatically.  Only about one-third of our teens are either working or looking for work.

I don’t think all the others are sitting at home playing video games, although some certainly are.  Many are probably involved in sports, camps, band, or a myriad of other activities.  That’s great, and I know that such interests are beneficial.  But there’s a world of education that can’t be obtained anywhere but in the workforce, and waiting until your 20s just slows down the process for the workers as well as the employers that have to deal with them.

And now we have another hurdle to teen employment—rising minimum wage.

Forcing companies to pay more will only shrink the limited employment opportunities that are available to this age group.

As more cities and states increase what employers must pay at the bottom rung of the work ladder, it will make more sense for companies to automate.  We’ll see more kiosks for ordering at fast-food restaurants and more tap-to-pay systems at retail stores.  Such changes might keep companies competitive, but they’ll also limit the employment opportunities for teens, so even fewer of them will have the menial jobs of our youth that paid so little, but taught so much.

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RETIREMENT 103

In our last installment on this subject, we offered a rough rule of thumb to ascertain how much you need for retirement.  That figure was 10x your last year’s compensation.  Don’t forget, you have to include your liabilities as a deduction to your assets as well.

Remember to also include the value of your home or condo, as well as the capitalized value of your social security and any other monthly income.

If you’re still a little short, consider working another five years, particularly true if you like what you do.  Working another five years gives you the opportunity to save more and increases your social security benefits.

Now, let’s talk about where and how you may want to live.

There is a growing segment of real estate options for adults 55 and older because they offer a lot of amenities and advantages.  At the very least, they are worth exploring.

Yes, you may want to stay right where you are in your own home and/or apartment.  You’re comfortable there.  You know where everything is in your neighborhood and nearby.

Starting out in a whole new environment may seem a bit scary at first, but it’s worth checking out and comparing the advantages and perhaps disadvantages senior housing offers compared to where you are now.

There are three basic cost models in senior housing and several iterations of each.  Most communities are nicely landscaped with well-groomed outdoor areas and make a welcome first impression.

Model No. 1:  Substantial down payment investment (between 500M and 1,000M) as well as monthly carrying charges.  In the event of your moving out or passing, between 75% and 90% of your initial investment is returned.

The actual cost will depend on the size and location of the unit you choose.

Model No. 2:  Similar to Model No. 1 except the initial investment is lower, but the monthly carrying charges will be higher.

Model No. 3:  Much lower as an upfront investment, but a straight rental agreement.

The principal decision should be based on how you want to live if you have the resources, not on the numbers as a real estate investment.

Some communities are right in the heart of the city while others are more spread out in the suburbs.  Depending on the specific community you find, you’ll see some of the following amenities provided or available as part of their package:

  • One, two or three meals per day provided
  • Available eating facilities for pay
  • Electric and gas utilities
  • Cable TV and WiFi
  • Swimming pool(s) and Jacuzzi
  • Fitness facility with staff trainers
  • Transportation to stores, doctors and entertainment venues
  • Affiliation with a nearby college or university
  • Numerous classes, clubs and organizations for special interests
  • Wellness monitoring and/or nurses on duty
  • Group trips to events and travel
  • Golf and/or tennis

One of the big advantages of senior housing is that it offers a built-in support system, as well as a social community for those who may not have one.  That’s a real value.

If you compare the costs of what you pay now to what’s included in the new senior community, it can be a little more reasonable than you think.

Another aspect of exploring these facilities to consider is the type of ownership and management.

Some older communities especially are set up as condominium associations where the homeowners, through a Board of Directors, are responsible for the management of the community.

A great many of the newer communities are owned and operated by private companies.  Because of the normal turnover, they have more incentive to keep the facilities up to their standards.

If you decide to explore one or more senior housing communities, you should check out which amenities are provided and consider a few other questions:

  1. How far is the nearest emergency room?
  2. When was the community built?
  3. What are the demographics regarding age, single or married, religious preferences?
  4. Are religious services held on the premises and/or how close?
  5. How long is the waiting list?

Well, that pretty much sums up most of what we learned about retirement.  I wish you a happy and fulfilling new life.

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A RIVALRY THAT SHAPED AMERICA

Long before Hamilton became a smash Broadway musical sensation, I was interested in the man who came to America without pedigree or support and climbed a ladder of obstacles to become an aide and cabinet member to George Washington.

His accomplishments for our country were enormous and his long-running disagreements with Thomas Jefferson, as well as his early demise at the hands of Aaron Burr were monumental incidents in our history.

Hamilton came to New York City about the age of 25 from the Caribbean with little formal education.  He attended several prep schools and then Kings College, now known as Columbia University.  At the start of the American Revolution, he joined a local N.Y. militia.  During his first year, he served as an artillery captain and quickly moved up the ranks to spend four years as one of George Washington’s military aides.

After the war, he studied and passed the N.Y. bar exam.  He became one of N.Y.’s most prominent attorneys.  He attended the Philadelphia Convention to draft a new constitution for America.  In what became the Federalist Papers, he co-authored a series of essays with Jay Jay and James Madison in support of the new constitution.

When Washington was elected our first president, Hamilton became Secretary of the Treasury.  Thomas Jefferson was appointed Secretary of State and it was here the rivalry and idealist combat emerged.  They had widely differing views on how the country could function and grow.

The two men differed on many subjects, including whether the country would be agrarian (Jefferson) or a manufacturing business society (Hamilton).

In Washington’s cabinet, the main issue dividing the two became the creation of a National Bank.  Hamilton argued a strong national bank could pay off the nation’s numerous debts and give creditors a personal stake in the success of the country.  Jefferson feared a national bank would take money from the poor and put it in the hands of the rich.  Jefferson worried that corrupt politicians could gain access to advance their own personal wealth.  In spite of Jefferson’s concerns, Washington ultimately supported the establishment of a National Bank in Philadelphia.

The enmity between the two festered from there.

Alexander Hamilton was only 5’7” tall, but always well-dressed and neat.  He had an organized mind, was intense and energetic.

He felt power should be concentrated in a strong central government and supported shipping and manufacturing.  His foreign policy was pro Britain.

Jefferson, on the other hand, tended to ramble when he talked, jumped from one topic to another.  He was 6’2” tall, poetic, creative and tended to dress in worn clothes.

He wanted decentralized government with power to the states and believed with education humans could be trusted to champion liberty.

His vision for America was for westward expansion and to be primarily a farming community.

He was very pro France.

It’s interesting to note that Jefferson’s early creation of a Republican political party became the forerunner of today’s Democratic Party.  Today, the roles have reversed somewhat.  The Democrats want a loose, living interpretation of the Constitution while the Republicans want a strict view of the document as written.

In 1795, after six years in the cabinet, Hamilton returned to NYC to his law practice.  A few years later, he wrote a series of essays against another rival, Aaron Burr.  * Burr felt that Hamilton was responsible for his loss to be governor of New York and challenged Hamilton to a duel.  Burr shot Hamilton on July 11, 1804, when he was only 47 years old.

We lost a great contributor to the growth and success of our country.  He provided a creative foundation to paying off our debts and generating revenue for our government to operate while encouraging the dynamic growth of the manufacturing and business communities.

In a relatively brief career, Hamilton:

  • Championed the ratification of the U.S. Constitution.
  • As Secretary of Treasury, he put the U.S. on a stable financial basis, paid off the debts of the states and the national government with a tariff on imports and a tax on whiskey.
  • Set up the Central Bank to make liquidity on financial markets possible.
  • Authored George Washington’s farewell address, which remains one of the finest statements of conservative principles.

We owe a lot to this unheralded hero of our formation.

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AT WAR WITH FIRE OFFICIALS

I’m not sure who declared it—or why.  No lives were lost, but it took its toll on me and accelerated my aging process dramatically.

It was February for sure and I think it was 1986.  I was at the Pasadena Convention Center with our small consumer woodworking show.  It was our second or third show in Pasadena.

The show had 100 or so exhibitors and attracted about 8,000 to 10,000 visitors who wanted to see all the small tools and gadgets to make woodworking easier and more fun.

The show opened on Friday at noon with a typical light crowd.  The meat of the crowd didn’t usually show up till after 5pm.

Now it was about 3pm or so and the local Pasadena Fire Marshal came storming into the office right off the exhibit floor to tell me “he was closing the show.”  To answer my pleading “Why?,” he said, “There’s a law against visitors being next to operating machinery.”

“What are you talking about?”  I agitatedly asked.  “That’s nonsense, there is no such law.”  Now, at that point, we had done shows in Los Angeles, Orange County, and even in Pasadena and never heard anything like that before.

He was unmoved and told me he didn’t have to show me the actual law.  He was closing the show—and he did.

If I never felt panic before, I certainly did now.  He got on the PA system and announced the closure and told all the visitors they had to leave.

That’s when the onslaught of exhibitors came crowding into our office area wanting to know what was going on and threatening to sue or lynch me.

I called a lawyer, who told me a fire marshal or a policeman can’t carry a law library with them and there wasn’t much we could do to countermand his order.  We could go to court next week, but that wouldn’t solve the immediate problem.

You may recall my blog on 2-22-17 and one of the “Three Experiences That Changed My Life” was the Phoenix Fire Marshal wanting to close the Arizona Home Beautiful Show.  I was able to get him to waive his order by opening up the stands in the coliseum so people could sit and watch the Dancing Water Show.

That was my first encounter with an arbitrary fire marshal, but he was a lot easier to deal with.  This second encounter in Pasadena was a lot more difficult.

I put a call in for the convention center manager, but he was nowhere to be found.  I told the exhibitors we would have a meeting Saturday morning before the show opened at 10am.  At that point, I didn’t have the slightest clue what I was going to tell them.

Friday evening was a gut-wrenching, tension-filled couple of hours.  Not sure I slept much at all.  Very early Saturday morning I finally connected with the convention center manager, who told me he had been aware of the situation, had talked to the fire chief and had a compromise solution to offer.

If we had each exhibitor with operating machinery set up some kind of barrier to keep visitors at least three feet away from the machinery, the fire marshal would allow us to open the show.

We got a lot of short pipe and drape and were able to keep our show attendees three feet or more away from the machinery.  It wasn’t pretty and the visitors wanted to get up as close as possible but at least we got the show opened.

That wasn’t quite the end of it, however.  I was issued a summons to appear in court for “obstructing the order of a fire marshal.”

The eventual outcome was dismissal of the charges if I paid about $3,500 in court costs, plus about $5,000 in lawyer fees.  What’s a few more gray hairs?

Some months later we were at the Long Beach Convention Center doing another woodworking show and here comes the fire marshal.  I groaned and said, “Here we go again!”

He told me he was thinking of closing the show because we had very crowded aisles and he heard I was likely to cause trouble.  I guess he and the guy in Pasadena were buddies.

After an hour or so of negotiations with the convention center manager and the fire marshal, we convinced him there was no real problem and he could go home for the weekend.

Then there was Cincinnati, where the fire marshal insisted we put turnstiles at the entrance so he could count the number of people entering.  The inference of course was that at some point he would close off new entrants.

He didn’t think he would stand there himself but come by every so often to check.  If that wasn’t bad enough, the real kicker was he had no turnstiles to count the number of people leaving the show.  Another fiasco!

About 1987 we moved our much larger woodworking machinery show from L.A. to the Anaheim Convention Center and everything seemed to work out quite well.

Right before our second show in 1989, the fire department asked for a meeting with us and the center management.  They said they wanted a form from all the exhibitors who had operating machinery as well as a $30 fee to cover their administration.

Now we had about 800 exhibitors in this show for the trade and trying to alert out exhibitors and have them comply at this late date seemed to be difficult, at best.

Most important of all, would the form or the fee make anything safer or less harmful.  No answer!  So we distributed the forms and we paid the fee.

Truth be told, our shows, which included demonstrations of operating machinery, were a bit of a puzzle to fire officials.  There were no standard procedures and they just didn’t know what to do.

This was not a war we wanted or enjoyed.

Producing trade and consumer shows was a fun and exciting business much like the definition an Air Force pilot told me about flying the first jet fighters; “Hours of boredom, punctuated by moments of shark terror.”

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THE WORLD IS GOING TO POT

It’s true, literally and figuratively.  The world is a mess and at the same time pot is becoming a major drug for recreational and medical use.  Will wonders never cease!

An estimated 23 million Americans report suffering today with continued pain for more than three months, and more than 50 million report suffering intense pain.  As the Boomers age, those numbers will only go higher.

For years, doctors have treated those conditions with a mix of painkillers and numbing agents that, while effective, come with side effects and can be expensive.

But, as a society, we’re slowly embracing another remedy.  Welcome to the next big thing…pot!

A GREEN OPPORTUNITY

In 2014, Colorado dramatically underestimated how much people would buy and what it would mean to the state coffers.

There are so many game-changers on the horizon that sometimes it’s difficult to keep up.  Artificial intelligence.  Self-driving cars.  Breakthroughs in energy storage.  All of these can upend the status quo and change our daily lives for the better.  But cannabis, the plant from which marijuana is derived, is in a class by itself.  It already exists.

We have the compound in a useful form.  It doesn’t need enhancements, tweaks, or new formulations.  Its potential simply needs to be unleashed.

The problem today is that if you don’t live in a state where such a product is available over the counter, you can’t legally transport it from Colorado across state lines.  Over time, that will change.

As more states allow medical and recreational use of marijuana, we’ll analyze more data on how consumers can use the substance to improve their health.  But, as usual, there are roadblocks.

THE LOG JAM

In 1970, the U.S. government classified marijuana as a Schedule 1 drug, meaning that Uncle Sam arrived at the conclusion that it has no medical purpose, carries the potential for high levels of abuse, and it can’t be safely administered even with medical supervision.  On each criterion, the government’s conclusion is demonstrably false.

There are no known cases of marijuana overdose.  It can make you lazy and fat, but it can’t technically kill you.  The same can’t be said of other Schedule 1 substances like heroin and cocaine, or even legal drugs like alcohol.

Not all plants are the same.  In fact, they come in a wide variety of strains, with different compound levels that achieve different results, which is where the incredible opportunities lie for medicinal purposes.

DIFFERENT MIXES FOR DIFFERENT USE

Plants with very little THC produce none of the “high” associated with marijuana.  As the ratio of THC increases, so do the effects on the mind.  The result is that many ailments and illnesses are treatable with marijuana that has no psychoactive effect.

It’s all about what patients need.

Those suffering epileptic seizures, or joint and muscle pain, would use a strain with minimal THC content.  Those with more general ailments, like spinal cord injuries, use marijuana with an equal weight THC and CBD.  Those suffering with cancer or migraines take a very high percentage of THC.

The following lists different classes of ailments and injuries, along with the ratio of THC and CBD that’s considered effective while limiting the psychological effects.

  • High THC/Low CBD – Cancer, migraines, diseases that suppress appetite
  • Equal THC/CBD – Multiple Sclerosis, neuropathy, spinal injuries
  • Overweight CBD – Rheumatoid arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease, general inflammation
  • High CBD – Schizophrenia, epilepsy, stroke, inflammation, head injury

Given marijuana’s long history of providing symptom relief for some patients, 28 states and the District of Columbia have approved the substance for medicinal purposes.

As pot becomes legal—for recreational and medial use—across the nation, it’s only a matter of time before the federal government relents and reclassifies cannabis.

THE WINNERS

Clearly those who might experience relief from chronic pain or seizures are the biggest foremost winners from medical marijuana use.  But it turns out pot can take us all higher.

In 2013, Medicare spent about $165 million less overall in states that allowed for medical marijuana, because of changes in prescriptions.  Doctors essentially moved their patients from expensive pharmaceuticals to cannabis.

If medical marijuana were legal across the country, it could cut Medicare Part D spending by an estimated $470 million per year, a University of Georgia study found.  A half a billion dollars is a drop in the healthcare bucket, but this is only the beginning.

As the Boomers march toward retirement, they are spending a lot more on healthcare.  It doesn’t take much analysis to figure out that older people spend more on medicine and are more likely to have chronic pain and other health issues.

Medical marijuana is bursting onto the scene just as our nation is about to feel the crush of caring for a rapidly aging population.

Suppliers

Taken as a whole, the legal marijuana industry employs about 150,000 people today, which is the same number of people that work at all car dealerships across the nation.

As use grows for both recreational and medical purposes, that number could increase to 300,000 or even 400,000, while it’s still restricted at the federal level

Large, multi-state agricultural companies are waiting to see what happens on the legal side, giving small businesses a chance to thrive.  Small operations are cropping up (no pun intended) as states open for business, providing employment opportunities in many areas, including crop cultivation, quality control, security, and retail sales.

Our Prison System

As state marijuana laws change, state law enforcement will arrest fewer people for marijuana-related crimes.  This leads to lower rates of incarceration.  If the federal government legalized marijuana, researchers have estimated it could save more than $7 billion in prison-related costs.

And, of course, there are taxes.  Governments at all levels will take a slice of the pot pie (pun intended) as the drug is legalized.  Colorado is at the forefront of this movement and generates significant tax revenue from marijuana today.

THE LOSERS

Just as patients are the clear winners, traditional drug companies are the obvious losers.  As more patients and doctors turn to cannabis, they also turn away from modern symptom-relief regimens.

The potential $470 million per year savings is just the beginning.  As we find more medical uses for cannabis, we’ll reduce out use of pharmaceuticals even further.

I don’t expect cannabis to put drug companies out of business anytime soon.  Marijuana doesn’t cure anything, it simply relieves symptoms of many different conditions.  The plant gives consumers another choice, which means greater competition, and, hopefully, a lower-cost option.

Abusers

Using marijuana is not without consequences.  The short-term effects of the strain that contains high levels of THC can include memory loss, impaired body movement, and difficulty thinking and solving problems.

There are also indications that using marijuana can weaken the immune system.  For those suffering from diseases like cancer, these side effects are trivial, but for recreational uses, they must be considered.

Other Businesses—Like Alcohol?

Like medical marijuana, recreational pot typically displaces another substance, and alcohol is the most likely candidate.

Unless consumers are taking money from other areas of their budget or out of savings, it makes sense that spending on one category would cut into spending on the other.

ALREADY BEATING EXPECTATIONS

Since Colorado legalized recreational pot several years ago, six more states and the District of Columbia have followed suit.  Most are in the early stages of establishing guidelines for producing and selling the drug, so there’s not much data on sales, use, taxes, etc.

Colorado decided to send the bulk of this new revenue to a public school fund and then divide the rest between cities and the state.

But no one knew how much money would be available.

Opponents expected very little new revenue, between $4 million and $20 million per year.  Supporters expected much higher numbers, maybe $60 million per year.

Both were wrong!  Annual receipts breached the $100 million mark in 2015, and $200 million in 2016, well beyond anyone’s rosiest expectation.  This still represents just a small fraction of the state’s annual budget, but the known-on effects are also very positive.

The industry created 18,000 new jobs in 2015, and $2.4 billion in revenue.  Legalization also reduced the need for law enforcement, alleviating some pressure in the courts and prison system.

One study estimates that if the federal government legalized marijuana, it would reduce law enforcement costs by $7.7 billion nationally and increase tax revenue by $6.2 billion.  And there’s no doubt that legal pot increases tourisms, although that should subside as other states follow suit.

THE ROAD AHEAD

State populations are deciding for themselves.  Medical marijuana, however, will be driven by outcomes.  As more people have access to cannabis-based pain relief, they become part of a growing voice calling for more choices to address their symptoms.

It will be impossible, and would be politically stupid, for legislators and regulators to ignore their voices.  Change is happening.

All of this is driving marijuana sales higher.  Legal pot sales are about $7.4 billion today and are expected to climb to more than $20 billion by 2020, just three short years from now.  That’s an annual growth rate of 29%!

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