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Special mention

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Americans, as we know, work many more hours than people in other advanced countries. As it turns out, they also work many more strange hours: on weekends and at night.

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According to a new study by Daniel S. Hamermesh and Elena Stancanelli, “Long Workweeks and Strange Hours” [pdf], the United States has the highest incidence of people reporting any paid weekend work. Twenty-nine percent of Americans reported performing such work in the American Time Use Survey, more than three times the rate among Spanish workers. And twenty-seven percent of American workers report working nights, which the study defines rather strictly as any work performed between 10 PM and 6 AM.

American workers appear to be performing more work at less desirable times as well as working longer hours than their counterparts in other wealthy countries.

The authors also find that

only a small part of the relatively high incidence of such work in the U.S. is due to Americans’ long work weeks. The large majority of the differences between the U.S. and other countries appears to result from differences in the way that work is structured in America.

The conclusion: Americans are being forced to have the freedom to work both more and stranger hours in this increasingly strange land.

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Special mention

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I had never heard of the Rashi Fein, who died last week, until today. Apparently, he developed ideas for Medicare legislation in the 1960s and criticized the nation’s inability to create a federal single-payer system for healthcare.

He was also a critic of the language of commodities (in a piece that appeared in 1982 in The New England Journal of Medicine):

A new language is infecting the culture of American medicine. It is the language of the marketplace, of the tradesman, and of the cost accountant. It is a language that depersonalizes both patients and physicians and describes medical care as just another commodity. It is a language that is dangerous. . .

In speaking the new language, doctors have adopted the attitudes and methodology of economics — a narrow economics that emphasizes efficiency more than equity. Everything is to be evaluated in terms of benefit-cost relations, and cynicism has become apparent in the discussion. . .

In no small measure, physician-administrators speak the language that they speak because they reflect the world in which they live and the system in which they function. If society wants them to use different words, it must create conditions that encourage them to do so. . .

A decent medical-care system that helps all the people cannot be built without the language of equity and care. If this language is permitted to die and is completely replaced by the language of efficiency and cost control, all of us — including physicians — will lose something precious.

I cannot guarantee that we will structure the system in a way that will emphasize compassion and human values. I do believe, however, that these values cannot be nurtured in a cultural soil in which patients are described as teaching material, a medical practice is described as a business, delivering medical care is described as producing a product, and human interactions are increasingly described in terms of financial transactions.

Chart of the day

Posted: 14 September 2014 in Uncategorized
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Americans, as we know, are forced to have the freedom to labor more hours than do workers in other advanced countries.

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Special mention

cantorCOL McCain and Graham

Chart of the day

Posted: 13 September 2014 in Uncategorized
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According to the latest figures from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, student debt is an enormous burden on people—both young and old.

There are now more than 2 million Americans age sixty and older who still owe money on their student loans—three times the number as recently as 2005—and they owe almost $20,000 per person, as a result of paying for their own education or for the college degrees of one or another family member. As Elizabeth Olson explains, the student-loan payments for the elderly are being automatically deducted from the Social Security income.

“As the baby boomers continue to move into retirement, the number of older Americans with defaulted loans will only continue to increase,” Charles A. Jeszeck, the G.A.O. director of education, work force and income security, testified at the hearing. “This creates the potential for an unpleasant surprises for some, as their benefits are offset and they face the possibility of a less secure retirement.”

More than 80 percent of the outstanding balances are from seniors who financed their own education, the G.A.O. report concluded, and only 18 percent were attributed to loans used to finance the studies of a spouse, child or grandchild.

But the default rate for these loans is 31 percent — a rate that is double that of the default rate for loans taken out by borrowers between the ages of 25 and 49 years old, according to agency data.

“Such debt reduces net worth and income and can erode retirement security,” Mr. Jeszeck said. “The effect of rising debt can be more profound for those who have accumulated few or no financial assets.”

And such student loan debt “can be especially problematic because unlike other types of debt, it generally cannot be discharged in bankruptcy,” he added.

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Of course, the student debt of the elderly makes up only a small portion of the enormous debt based on student loans for the population as a whole: as of the end of 2012, almost 40 it was almost 40 million borrowers has racked up a total of almost $1 trillion—an average of almost $25 thousand per person—in order to pay for a college education in the United States.

All the while, mainstream economists and politicians—liberal and conservative alike—maintain that higher education is the solution to poverty, inequality, and everything else that ails the nation’s economy.