Sunday, May 15, 2011

Raise Minimum Wage Now

The federal minimum wage of $7.25 needs to be raised. No more talk, just do it, especially if this nation is serious about getting millions of people back to work – and with some type of living wage.


If you think about the price of a gallon of gasoline flirting with $4, or higher, then you’ve answered the question.

Even so, there’s a no-holds barred debate raging nationally between business and labor about the impact of raising the minimum.

Business Versus Labor

Business groups say that raising the minimum wage discourages job creation.

For example, the National Restaurant Association says that a federal wage hike would “cause restaurant operators to make very difficult decisions to eliminate jobs, cut staff hours or increase prices.”

But labor advocates say that if workers don’t get raises, consumer spending stagnates.

“This is a critical part of recovery — to help people have more money to spend,” says Jen Kern, minimum wage campaign coordinator for the National Employment Law Project.

Let’s look at the job creation argument. Who are the jobs for?

Inside The Numbers

Many low-paid hourly jobs advertised in the classifieds, online and print, and at job posting websites offer little. They’re typically less than $10 per hour and often lack health benefits.

Sadly, it may be possible for some folks to collect more in unemployment benefits than working for such low wages. That’s hardly an incentive to get folks back to work.

Even academic studies are inconclusive, National Public Radio reports.

Some studies show that the National Restaurant Association and others like it are correct, while others show that a higher wage will stimulate spending without costing any jobs.

The good news: Seventeen states and the District of Columbia already have minimum wages set higher than the federal law. Oregon’s minimum is now $8.50 per hour.

Striking A Balance

WMB believes a balance can be struck between the needs of employers and those seeking gainful employment.

Perhaps raising the minimum wage will provide a better overall wage structure that attracts a better type of employee – one who is highly qualified and deserving of more than the minimum.

The minimum should be considered entry-level pay, for those lacking necessary experience and needed training.

Minimum wage supporters hope to prompt at least a few states to act, but no state has voted to increase the minimum wage this year.

The federal minimum wage, first enacted in 1938, was last raised in 2009, to $7.25 an hour. In 1971, the minimum wage was $1.60.

Adjusted for inflation, a worker today would have to make $8.83 an hour to have the same buying power, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

Progressive Approach

In Illinois, for example, some lawmakers have been pushing to raise the state minimum wage up to $10.65 in steps over four years. The current minimum is $8.25 an hour, $1 more than the federal wage.

Given the realities of what it costs to live today – not only the price of a gallon of gas, but everything from the food we eat to the everyday (not designer) clothes we wear – a single-digit minimum wage in leaves us stuck in the past.

If we're serious about fixing our economic mess, let's forget for a moment about the golden-parachute CEOs and start with the folks on the bottom who just want a chance to do better.

Editor's Note: This is the last post for We Mean Business. We hope you have enjoyed our travels together across the web and our take on many things, from trends to issues.

As some wise person once said: It's the journey, not the destination, that matters most. We thank all of you for making this blog part of your personal journey!!!

Ken Cocuzzo

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Planet's Got Deep Blue Trouble

Representing over 75 percent of the Earth’s surface, the ocean has long been thought to be resistant to health woes because of its ability to absorb human waste and pollution.

The ocean’s sheer volume seemed to support the notion of “dilution is the solution” to point-source contaminants. The premise: Tides and currents removed almost anything that entered the sea.

But added pressure on the marine environment – increases in human population, industry, and agriculture – has led to concerns that the ocean’s health is being harmed by human activities.

Indicators Tell Story

The ability of scientists to monitor the ocean’s health is hampered by its complexity, according to Robert J. Taylor of the University of Florida.

Although the basic chemistry of sea water has been stable for millions of years, components such as nutrients and dissolved oxygen directly affect plant and animal life.

Living populations vary naturally because of interactions between oceanic and atmospheric processes.

Evaluating the health of the planet’s oceans therefore requires that human impacts must be distinguished from a natural, changing background.

Techniques for evaluating oceanic health include estimates of commercial fishery populations and localized studies of plant and animal species.

Impacts from contaminants and adverse water quality ideally are monitored through long-term baseline studies.

In the United States, this approach has been followed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Mussel Watch program.

The study focuses on organic and inorganic contaminants in mussels and oysters in U.S. coastal waters. The success of this approach has led to similar studies on an international scale.

Historical trends of contaminant input have been evaluated through “dated core” studies in which contaminants are measured in marine sediment layers and compared with estimates when they were deposited.

Larger special scales are evaluated by remote sensing to measure a variety of variables such as temperature, plankton populations, and sediment load of surface waters.

Some Major Threats

Pollution, habitat change, and overfishing are considered the major threats to oceanic health.

Pollutants include chemicals, sewage, floating debris (for example, plastic and trash), and nutrient elements (for example, nitrogen and phosphorus) released to coastal areas either directly, via rivers, or via the atmosphere.

Oceanic health is impacted almost everywhere by alteration or destruction of critical ecosystems.

These changes include the erosion and loss of all salt marshes; drainage of wetlands; siltation of estuarine areas after deforestation and erosion; alteration of fresh-water inputs; and restriction of fish migration routes by dams.

Dredging, boating, and pressure from tourism are deteriorating coral reefs around the world.

Overfishing target species, such as whales and sharks, and the accidental removal of non-target species are damaging overall ocean health.

Many fish populations have declined dramatically as a result of overfishing.

What Holds Water

Although human population and development in coastal areas continues to expand, releases of chemical contaminants and nutrients will still be regulated in developed countries.

Lessons learned in developed countries continue to help oceanic health around the world. This will enable the improvement of economies and infrastructure while preserving natural environments.

WMB believes that difficult policy innovations are required to restore and conserve ocean habitats to earlier conditions.

Growing populations dependent on fisheries as protein sources, especially in developing countries, makes this lifestyle especially important.

WMB further supports the theory that economic survival provides the impetus for maintaining and improving marine environmental conditions.

By example, fishermen need to optimize their costs per unit catch.

This could require government intervention in the form of subsidies; this is particularly important to maintain ocean-based tourism and coastal habitats for future generations.


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Tuesday, May 10, 2011

ChinaWatch: Forward Frontiers

Welcome to ChinaWatch, WMB’s digest of news from the country with the world’s second largest economy and our chief rival to global dominance. Our aim is to keep you informed.

True Car Culture

After more than an eightfold increase in auto sales over the past decade, China has developed a true car culture.

Amid the buzz for last month's Shanghai auto show, ads for a single car papered entire subway stations in Shanghai, a city of 19 million people. Outside a luxury hotel, an employee is overcome as she takes photos of a red Ferrari. “Oh, it's beautiful!” she says.

Auto plants throughout China, with potted bamboo or fish tanks in break areas, are viewed as essential to the development of smaller cities of a million or more people.

After a decade of double-digit annual sales growth, excepting one year, light-vehicle sales in China topped 17 million last year. While that represented a 33 percent year-over-year increase, it was smaller than the 48 percent surge in 2009.

Still, China's growth is slowing.

Government actions held growth in the first quarter to about 8 percent, compared with a 20 percent increase in the recovering U.S. market, where sales haven't hit 17 million since 2001. Last year, U.S. sales were a below-average 11.6 million.

For Ford Motor Co. and Chrysler Group, which are still getting established in China, the slowing market means they largely missed out on a stretch of record growth, and, in some cases, profits.

Chrysler is leaning on a small business importing Jeeps, while its part owner Fiat is introducing its 500 minicar in China this year and won't have a locally built car to sell until next year. Ford's 2010 light-vehicle share was 3.4 percent.

“We could have gone faster and should have gone faster in China,” says Joe Hinrichs, CEO of Ford China.

For General Motors Co., whose sales in China last year made up 28 percent of its worldwide volume, the slowdown might mean a chance to catch its breath. After having doubled its sales in two years, GM is planning to take five years to accomplish the feat again.

Missions To Mars

U.S. President Barack Obama views China as a potential partner for an eventual human mission to Mars that would be difficult for any single nation to undertake, according to a senior White House official.

Near-term engagement with China in civil space will help lay the groundwork for any such future endeavor, says White House science adviser John Holdren.

He prefaced his remarks, before the House Appropriations subcommittee on commerce, justice and science, with the assertion that human exploration of Mars is a long-term proposition and that any discussion of cooperating with Beijing on such an effort is speculative.

“(What) the president has deemed worth discussing with the Chinese and others is that when the time comes for humans to visit Mars, it's going to be an extremely expensive proposition and the question is whether it will really make sense — at the time that we're ready to do that — to do it as one nation rather than to do it in concert,” Holdren says.

Holdren, maintaining NASA could also benefit from cooperating with China on detection and tracking of orbital debris, stresses that any U.S. collaboration with Beijing in manned spaceflight would depend on future Sino-U.S. relations.

“But many of us, including the president, including myself, including (NASA Administrator Charles) Bolden, believe that it's not too soon to have preliminary conversations about what involving China in that sort of cooperation might entail,” Holdren says.

“If China is going to be, by 2030, the biggest economy in the world … it could certainly be to our benefit to share the costs of such an expensive venture with them and with others.”


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