Tag Archives: cheap

Americans prefer cheap to ‘US-made’

The vast majority of Americans say they prefer lower prices instead of paying a premium for items labeled “U.S.-made,’ even if it means those cheaper items are made abroad, according to an Associated Press-GfK poll.

While presidential candidates like Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders are vowing to bring back millions of American jobs lost to China and other foreign competitors, public sentiment reflects core challenges confronting the U.S. economy. Incomes have barely improved, forcing many households to look for the most convenient bargains instead of goods made in America. Employers now seek workers with college degrees, leaving those with only a high school degree who once would have held assembly lines jobs in the lurch. And some Americans who work at companies with clients worldwide see themselves as part of a global market.

Nearly three in four say they would like to buy U.S.-made goods,  but those items are often too costly or difficult to find, according to the survey released April 14. A mere 9 percent say they only buy American.

Asked about a real world example of choosing between $50 pants made in another country or an $85 pair that are U.S.-made — one retailer sells two such pairs made with the same fabric and design — 67 percent say they’d buy the cheaper pair. Only 30 percent would pony up for the more expensive U.S.-made one. People in higher earning households earning more than $100,000 a year are no less likely than lower-income Americans to say they’d go for the lower price.

“Low prices are a positive for U.S. consumers — it stretches budgets and allows people to save for their retirements, if they’re wise, with dollars that would otherwise be spent on day-to-day living,” said Sonya Grob, 57, a middle school secretary from Norman, Oklahoma who described herself as a “liberal Democrat.”

But Trump and Sanders have galvanized many voters by attacking recent trade deals.

From their perspective, layoffs and shuttered factories have erased the benefits to the economy from reduced consumer prices.

“We’re getting ripped off on trade by everyone,” said Trump, the Republican front-runner, at a speech in Albany, New York. “Jobs are going down the drain, folks.”

The real estate mogul and reality television star has threatened to shred the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement with Mexico and Canada. He has also threatened to slap sharp tariffs on China in hopes of erasing the overall $540 billion trade deficit.

Economists doubt that Trump could deliver on his promises to create the first trade surplus since 1975. Many see the backlash against trade as frustration with a broader economy coping with sluggish income gains.

“The reaction to trade is less about trade and more about the decline in people’s ability to achieve the American Dream,” said Caroline Freund, a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics. “It’s a lot easier to blame the foreigner than other forces that are affecting stagnant wage growth like technology.”

But Trump’s message appeals to Merry Post, 58, of Paris, Texas where the empty factories are daily reminders of what was lost. Sixty-eight percent of people with a favorable opinion of Trump said that free trade agreements decreased the number of jobs available to Americans.

“In our area down here in Texas, there used to be sewing factories and a lot of cotton gins,” Post said. “I’ve watched them all shut down as things went to China, Mexico and the Philippines. All my friends had to take early retirements or walk away.”

Sanders, the Vermont senator battling for the Democratic nomination, has pledged to end the exodus of jobs overseas.

“I will stop it by renegotiating all of the trade agreements that we have,” Sanders told the New York Daily News editorial board earlier this month, saying that the wages paid to foreign workers and environmental standards would be part of any deal he would strike.

Still, voters are divided as to whether free trade agreements hurt job creation and incomes.

Americans are slightly more likely to say free trade agreements are positive for the economy overall than negative, 33 percent to 27 percent. But 37 percent say the deals make no difference. Republicans (35 percent) are more likely than Democrats (22 percent) to say free trade agreements are bad for the economy.

On jobs, 46 percent say the agreements decrease jobs for American workers, while 11 percent say they improve employment opportunities and 40 percent that they make no difference. Pessimism was especially pronounced among the 18 percent of respondents with a family member or friend whose job was offshored. Sixty-four percent of this group said free trade had decreased the availability of jobs.

The AP-GfK Poll of 1,076 adults was conducted online March 31–April 4, using a sample drawn from GfK’s probability-based KnowledgePanel, which is designed to be representative of the U.S. population. The margin of sampling error for all respondents is plus or minus 3.3 percentage points.

Respondents were first selected randomly using telephone or mail survey methods and later interviewed online. People selected for KnowledgePanel who didn’t otherwise have access to the Internet were provided access at no cost to them.

 

Heroin use, deaths on rise in Wisconsin

Some states, including Wisconsin, are reporting a rise in heroin use as many addicts shift from more costly and harder-to-get prescription opiates to this cheaper alternative.

Here’s a look at what’s happening in Wisconsin:

THE PROBLEM:

Heroin use and overdose deaths have increased dramatically in Wisconsin, according to the state Department of Justice. The increases reflect the national trend of prescription opiate addicts turning to heroin. Every time an addict uses heroin, he or she could die, according to DOJ, because it’s impossible to know how strong the dose is or what’s in it.

THE NUMBERS:

According to the state Department of Health Services, the number of deaths with heroin as a contributing factor more than quintupled between 2003 and 2011, from 25 to 134.

Heroin-related emergency room visits rose from 56 in 2003 to 329 in 2011, according to DHS. Heroin-related inpatient hospitalizations increased from 46 to 170 over that span.

Heroin-related arrests more than doubled statewide between 2008 and 2012, from 267 to 673, according to local law enforcement statistics the DOJ compiled.

Wisconsin emergency medical technicians deployed Narcan, a drug that counteracts overdose effects, in the field 3,730 times in 2012, up from 2,915 times in 2010, according to a 2013 study by the Wisconsin State Council on Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse’s prevention committee.

SOLUTIONS:

Rep. John Nygren, R-Marinette, who nearly lost his daughter to a heroin overdose, introduced several bills to curb use of the drug.

The measures including allowing more EMTs to administer Narcan; providing legal immunity for anyone who reports an overdose; creating regional opiate treatment centers; allowing municipal prescription drug collection drives; requiring identification to obtain opiate prescriptions; and creating quicker sanctions for parole or probation violators in hopes of getting addicts treatment faster.

All the bills have passed both the state Assembly and Senate and are now sitting on Gov. Scott Walker’s desk. The governor supports all the proposals.

DOJ also launched a public relations campaign last fall to raise heroin awareness.

— The Associated Press

Temporary jobs becoming permanent fixture in U.S. employment

Hiring is exploding in the one corner of the U.S. economy where few want to be hired: Temporary work.

From Wal-Mart to General Motors to PepsiCo, companies are increasingly turning to temps and to a much larger universe of freelancers, contract workers and consultants. Combined, these workers number nearly 17 million people who have only tenuous ties to the companies that pay them – about 12 percent of everyone with a job.

Hiring is always healthy for an economy. Yet the rise in temp and contract work shows that many employers aren’t willing to hire for the long run.

The number of temps has jumped more than 50 percent since the recession ended four years ago to nearly 2.7 million – the most on government records dating to 1990. In no other sector has hiring come close.

Driving the trend are lingering uncertainty about the economy and employers’ desire for more flexibility in matching their payrolls to their revenue. Some employers have also sought to sidestep the new health care law’s rule that they provide medical coverage for permanent workers. Last week, though, the Obama administration delayed that provision of the law for a year.

The use of temps has extended into sectors that seldom used them in the past – professional services, for example, which include lawyers, doctors and information technology specialists.

Temps typically receive low pay, few benefits and scant job security. That makes them less likely to spend freely, so temp jobs don’t tend to boost the economy the way permanent jobs do. More temps and contract workers also help explain why pay has barely outpaced inflation since the recession ended.

Beyond economic uncertainty, Ethan Harris, global economist at Bank of America Merrill Lynch, thinks more lasting changes are taking root.

“There’s been a generational shift toward a less committed relationship between the firm and the worker,” Harris says.

An Associated Press survey of 37 economists in May found that three-quarters thought the increased use of temps and contract workers represented a long-standing trend.

Typical of that trend is Latrese Carr, who was hired by a Wal-Mart in Glenwood, Ill., two months ago on a 90-day contract. She works 10 p.m. to 7 a.m., helping unload trucks and restocking shelves. Her pay is $9.45 an hour. There’s no health insurance or other benefits.

Carr, 20, didn’t particularly want the overnight shift.

“I needed a job,” she says.

The store managers have said some temps will be kept on permanently, Carr says, depending on their performance.

Carr isn’t counting on it.

The trend toward contract workers was intensified by the depth of the recession and the tepid pace of the recovery. A heavy investment in long-term employment isn’t a cost all companies want to bear anymore.

“There’s much more appreciation of the importance of having flexibility in the workforce,” says Barry Asin of Staffing Industry Analysts, a consulting firm.

Susan Houseman, an economist at the Upjohn Institute of Employment Research, says companies want to avoid having too many employees during a downturn, just as manufacturers want to avoid having too much inventory if demand slows.

“You have your just-in-time workforce,” Houseman says. “You only pay them when you need them.”

This marks a shift from what economists used to call “labor hoarding”: Companies typically retained most of their staff throughout recessions, hoping to ride out the downturn.

“We clearly don’t have that anymore,” says Sylvia Allegretto, an economist at the University of California, Berkeley.

The result is that temps and contract workers have become fixtures at large companies. Business executives say they help their companies stay competitive. They also argue that temp work can provide valuable experience.

“It opens more doors for people to enter the labor market,” says Jeff Joerres, CEO of ManpowerGroup, a workplace staffing firm.

But Houseman’s research has found that even when jobs are classified as “temp to permanent,” only 27 percent of such assignments lead to permanent positions.

About one-third of temporary workers work in manufacturing. Temps can be found on production lines, repairing machinery and stocking goods in warehouses. About a fifth are administrative.

Shortages of doctors and nurses have led some hospitals to turn to temp agencies. Staffing Industry Analysts forecasts that spending on temporary doctors will grow 10 percent this year and next.

Some school districts now turn to temp firms for substitute teachers. This lets them avoid providing retirement benefits, which union contracts might otherwise require.

Manufacturing unions have pushed back against the trend, with limited success.

“We run into this across all the various industries where we represent people,” says Tony Montana, a spokesman for the USW, which represents workers in the steel, paper, and energy industries.

Todd Miller, CEO of software company Gwabbit in Carmel Valley, Calif., says about a third of his 20 employees are temporary. An additional one-third are contractors.

He says he’s had no trouble filling such positions. People are “willing to entertain employment possibilities that they would not have six or seven years ago,” Miller says.

If the economy were to accelerate, Miller says he might hire more permanent staff. But “I don’t have tremendous confidence in this economy.”

Only the health care and leisure and hospitality sectors have added more jobs during the recovery. But each is roughly five times as large as the temp industry. The proportion of all jobs in the temp industry is about 2 percent, just below a record set in 2000.

Temp hiring has accelerated even though the economy has 2.4 million fewer jobs than it did five years ago. Temp jobs made up about 10 percent of jobs lost to the recession. Yet they’ve made up nearly 20 percent of the jobs gained since the recession ended.

A survey of companies with more than 1,000 employees by Staffing Industry Analysts found they expect 18 percent of their workforces to be made up of temps, freelancers or contract workers this year, up from 16 percent in 2012.

Shane Watson, who in November lost a job providing tech support for Blackberry maker Research In Motion, says contract work has helped him recover. He’s on his third such position. Still, Watson, 36, misses the security of a permanent job.

Wal-Mart says it’s been hiring disproportionately more temporary workers. “Flexible associates,” it calls them. Spokesman Dave Tovar says temps allow store managers to provide permanent workers with more reliable schedules.

Online competitors are seeking to upend the temp industry just as Amazon and eBay disrupted retail. Employers spent $1 billion last year hiring workers for short-term projects through online labor exchanges, such as oDesk and Elance, according to Staffing Industry Analysts. That’s 67 percent more than in the previous year.

Freelancers in the online exchanges can be evaluated by employers, post portfolios and take online tests to demonstrate their abilities.

Gary Swart, CEO of oDesk, says his clients are mainly small or startup companies. But giants like AOL and Unilever are using the service, too.

When Hans Hess of Arlington, Va., was seeking a lawyer to do a trademark search for his Elevation Burger chain, he turned to Elance. He found a lawyer to do it for under $500.

“When I was using a big law firm, it could cost me $5,000 to get to the point of just filing a trademark,” Hess says.

Gigwalk recruits temps for brief projects in retail, merchandising and marketing. Anyone who downloads Gigwalk’s app can see pinpoints on a map signifying available jobs nearby.

Frito-Lay, a division of PepsiCo, used Gigwalk this year to hire workers to check in-store displays of its products to ensure that a seasonal promotion was being handled properly.

“You can hire 10,000 people for 10 to 15 minutes,” says Gigwalk CEO Bob Bahramipour. “When they’re done, those 10,000 people just melt away.”