Tag Archives: jobs

Yellen to college grads: Best job market in nearly a decade

Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen said Monday that college graduates are entering the strongest job market the country has seen in nearly a decade, and their degree is more important than ever.

Yellen said that with changes in the job market such as technology and globalization, succeeding in the job market is increasingly tied to higher education.

“Those with a college degree are more likely to find a job, keep a job, have higher job satisfaction and earn a higher salary,” Yellen said in remarks at commencement ceremonies at the University of Baltimore.

She said that annual earnings for college graduates last year were on average 70 percent higher than those with only a high school diploma. Back in 1980 that difference was only 20 percent, she said.

Yellen said the increasing demand for people with college and graduate degrees reflected the need for higher technological skills and the impact of globalization, which allows goods and services to be produced anywhere. She said those trends were likely to continue.

“Success will continue to be tied to education, in part because a good education enhances one’s ability to adapt to a changing economy,” she said.

In her remarks, Yellen did not make any comments about Fed interest-rate policies. The Fed last week boosted its benchmark rate by a quarter-point. It was the first increase in a year. In making the announcement, the Fed projected that it would move rates up another three times in 2017.

Yellen said that in addition to the improvement in the unemployment rate, which in November fell to a nine-year low of 4.6 percent, there have been recent signs that wage growth is picking up.

But Yellen noted that challenges remain.

“The economy is growing more slowly than in past recoveries and productivity growth, which is a major influence on wages, has been disappointing,” she told the graduates.

HRC rates companies for LGBT inclusion, 9 in Wisconsin get perfect scores

An annual report assessing LGBT inclusion in major companies and law firms across the nation gives high marks to a record 517 businesses, including some headquartered in Wisconsin.

The Human Rights Campaign Foundation’s annual Corporate Equality Index examines corporate policies and practices related to LGBT workplace equality and found 517 businesses — spanning nearly every industry and geography — earned a top score of 100 percent and the distinction of “Best Places to Work for LGBT Equality.”

HRC, in a news release, said that record number of perfect scores was achieved despite “demanding new criteria requiring that companies with global operations extend non-discrimination protections for their LGBT workers worldwide.”

In total, 887 companies were officially rated in the CEI, up from 851 in last year’s. The report also unofficially rated 156 Fortune 500 companies, which have yet to respond to the CEI survey about their LGBTQ policies and practices.

The average score for companies and law firms based in Wisconsin is 85 percent.

Of the 16 companies ranked in the state, nine earned 100 percent and 12 earned 90 percent and above.

“Even in the face of relentless attempts to undermine equality, America’s leading companies and law firms remain steadfast and committed to supporting and defending the rights and dignity of LGBTQ people,” said HRC President Chad Griffin. “The unprecedented expansion of inclusive workplaces across the country and around the globe not only reflects our progress, it helps drive it.  As we enter a new chapter in our fight for equality, support from the business community will be more critical than ever to protect our historic advancements over the last decade and to continue to push equality forward for workers, customers, and families around the world.”

Here’s a look at the Wisconsin rankings:

Employer Name City State 2017 CEI Score
ManpowerGroup Milwaukee WI 100
American Family Insurance Group Madison WI 100
CUNA Mutual Group Madison WI 100
Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Milwaukee WI 100
Foley & Lardner LLP Milwaukee WI 100
Michael Best & Friedrich LLP Milwaukee WI 100
Quarles & Brady LLP Milwaukee WI 100
Rockwell Automation Inc. Milwaukee WI 100
S.C. Johnson & Son Inc. Racine WI 100
Robert W. Baird & Co. Incorporated Milwaukee WI 95
Kohl’s Corp. Menomonee Falls WI 95
Alliant Energy Corp. Madison WI 90
WEC Energy Group Milwaukee WI 75
Johnson Controls Inc. Milwaukee WI 75
Oshkosh Corp. Oshkosh WI 20
Harley-Davidson Inc. Milwaukee WI 10

 

And here’s some key national findings in the report:

  • 517 companies earned a 100 percent in the 2017 CEI, up from 407 in the 2016 report.
  • 647 companies participating in this year’s CEI now offer transgender workers at least one health care plan that has transgender-inclusive coverage. That’s a 314 percent increase since 2012, when the CEI first included trans-inclusive health care as a requisite for companies to receive a perfect score;
  • Gender identity is now part of non-discrimination policies at 82 percent of Fortune 500 companies, up from just 3 percent in 2002;
  •  387 major employers have adopted supportive inclusion guidelines for transgender workers who are transitioning.
  • 156 Fortune 500 companies were given unofficial scores based on publicly available information.

The CEI rates companies and top law firms on detailed criteria falling under five broad categories:

  1. Non-discrimination policies
  2. Employment benefits
  3. Demonstrated organizational competency and accountability around LGBT diversity and inclusion
  4. Public commitment to LGBT equality
  5. Responsible citizenship

Frustration runs deep for those forced to routinely change health plans

Andrea Schankman’s three-year relationship with her insurer, Coventry Health Care of Missouri, has been contentious, with disputes over what treatments it would pay for. Nonetheless, like other Missourians, Schankman was unnerved to receive a notice from Coventry last month informing her that her policy was not being offered in 2017.

With her specialists spread across different health systems in St. Louis, Schankman, a 64-year-old art consultant and interior designer, said she fears she may not be able to keep them all, given the shrinking offerings on Missouri’s health insurance marketplace. In addition to Aetna, which owns Coventry, paring back its policies, UnitedHealthcare is abandoning the market. The doctor and hospital networks for the remaining insurers will not be revealed until the enrollment period for people buying individual insurance begins Nov. 1.

“We’re all sitting waiting to see what they’re going to offer,” said Schankman, who lives in the village of Westwood. “A lot of [insurance] companies are just gone. It’s such a rush-rush-rush no one can possibly know they’re getting the right policy for themselves.”

Doctor and hospital switching has become a recurring scramble as consumers on the individual market find it difficult or impossible to stay on their same plans amid rising premiums and a revolving door of carriers willing to sell policies. The instability, which preceded the health law, is intensifying in the fourth year of the Affordable Care Act’s marketplaces for people buying insurance directly instead of through an employer.

“In 2017, just because of all the carrier exits, there are going to be more people making involuntary changes,” said Katherine Hempstead, a senior adviser at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, a New Jersey philanthropy. “I would imagine all things being equal, more people are going to be disappointed this year versus last year.”

Forty-three percent of returning consumers to the federal government’s online exchange, healthcare.gov, switched policies last year. Some were forced to when insurers stopped offering their plans while others sought out cheaper policies. In doing so, consumers saved an average of $42 a month on premiums, according to the government’s analysis. But avoiding higher premiums has cost many patients their choice of doctors.

Jim Berry, who runs an internet directory of accountants with his wife, switched last year from Blue Cross Blue Shield of Georgia to Humana after Blue Cross proposed a 16 percent premium hike.

Despite paying Humana $1,141 in premiums for the couple, Berry, who lives in Marietta, a suburb of Atlanta, said they were unable to find a doctor in the network taking new patients. They ended up signing up with a concierge practice that accepts their insurance but also charges them a $2,700 annual membership, a fee he pays out of pocket. Nonetheless, he said he has been satisfied with the policy.

But last month Humana, which is withdrawing from 88 percent of the counties it sold plans in this year, told Berry his policy was not continuing, and he is unsure what choices he will have and how much more they will cost.

“It’s not like if I don’t want to buy Humana or Blue Cross, I have five other people competing for my business,” Berry said. “It just seems like it’s a lot of money every year for what is just basic insurance, basic health care. I understand what you’re paying for is the unknown — that heart attack or stroke — but I don’t know where the break point is.”

To be sure, the same economic forces — cancelled policies, higher premiums and restrictive networks — have been agitating the markets for employer-provided insurance for years. But there is more scrutiny on the individual market, born of the turmoil of the Affordable Care Act.

Dr. Patrick Romano, a professor of medicine at the UC Davis Health System in Sacramento, Calif., said the topic has been coming up in focus groups he has been convening about the state insurance marketplace, Covered California. Switching doctors, he said, “is a disruption and can lead to interruptions in medications.”

“Some of it is unintentional because people can have delays getting in” to see their new doctor, he said. “Some of it may be because the new physician isn’t comfortable with the medication the previous physician prescribed.”

Dr. John Meigs, an Alabama physician and president of the American Academy of Family Physicians, said that whatever the source of insurance, changing doctors disrupts the trust a patient has built with a physician and the knowledge a doctor has about how each patient responds to illnesses. “Not everything is captured in a health record” that can be passed to the next doctor, Meigs said.

There is little research about whether switching doctors leads to worse outcomes, said Dr. Thomas Yackel, a professor of medicine at Oregon Health & Science University in Portland. In some cases, he said, it can offer unexpected benefits: “Having a fresh set of eyes on you as a patient, is that really always a bad thing?”

With the shake-up in the insurance market, access to some top medical systems may be further limited. Blue Cross Blue Shield of Tennessee, which has included the elite Vanderbilt University Medical Center in its network, is pulling out of the individual marketplace in the state’s three largest metro areas: Nashville, Memphis and Knoxville. Bobby Huffaker, CEO of American Exchange, an insurance firm in Tennessee, said so far, no other carrier includes Vanderbilt in its network in the individual market.

In St. Louis, Emily Bremer, an insurance broker, said only two insurers will be offering plans next year through healthcare.gov. Cigna’s network includes BJC HealthCare and an affiliated physicians’ group, while Anthem provides access to other major hospital systems, including Mercy, but excludes BJC and its preeminent academic medical center Barnes-Jewish Hospital.

“These networks have little or no overlap,” she said. “It means severing a lot of old relationships. I have clients who have doctors across multiple networks who are freaking out.”

Aetna said it will still offer policies off the healthcare.gov exchange. Those are harder to afford as the federal government does not provide subsidies, and Aetna has not revealed what its networks will be. In an email, an Aetna spokesman said the insurer was offering those policies to preserve its option to return to the exchanges in future years; if Aetna had completely stopped selling individual policies, it would be banned from the market for five years under federal rules.

Even before St. Louis’ insurance options shrunk, Bremer said she had to put members of some families on separate policies in order for everyone to keep their physicians. That can cost the families more, because their combined deductibles and maximum out-of-pocket payments can be higher than for a single policy, she said.

“Every year our plan disappears,” said Kurt Whaley, a 49-year-old draftsman in O’Fallon, Mo., near St. Louis. After one change, he said, “I got to keep my primary care physician, but my kids lost their doctors. I had to change doctors for my wife. It took away some of the hospitals we could get into.”

Brad Morrison, a retired warehouse manager in Quincy, Ill., said he has stuck with Coventry despite premium increases — he now pays $709 a month, up from $474 — because the policy has been the cheapest that would let him keep his doctor. “That’s the one thing I insisted on,” he said. “I love the guy.”

With Coventry leaving the Illinois exchanges, Morrison is unsure whether his alternatives will include his physician. His bright spot is that he turns 65 next spring. “I’m trying to hold out until I get to Medicare,” he said.

This report originally appeared in Money. It was made available by Kaiser Health News through a Creative Commons license. KHN is a national health policy news service that is part of the nonpartisan Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation.

Clinton puts Trump on defensive in 1st debate

Donald Trump found himself on the defensive for much of Monday’s 90-minute showdown with Hillary Clinton and the next morning, he spread the blame.

He accused moderator Lester Holt of a left-leaning performance and going harder on him than Clinton, even floating the theory that organizers had intentionally given him a faulty microphone to set him up.

And after brushing off Clinton’s claim that he’d once shamed a former Miss Universe winner for her weight, Trump dug himself deeper.

“She gained a massive amount of weight. It was a real problem. We had a real problem,” Trump told “Fox and Friends” about the 1996 winner of the pageant he once owned.

Clinton was thoroughly prepared in the debate, not only with detailed answers about her own policy proposals, but also sharp criticism of Trump’s business record, his past statements about women, and his false assertions that President Barack Obama may not have been born in the United States. She said his charges about Obama were part of his pattern of “racist behavior.”

The Democrat also blasted Trump for his refusal to release his tax returns, breaking with decades of presidential campaign tradition. She declared, “There’s something he’s hiding.”

Trump has said he can’t release his tax returns because he is being audited, though tax experts have said an audit is no barrier to making the information public. When Clinton suggested Trump’s refusal may be because he paid nothing in federal taxes, he interrupted to say, “That makes me smart.”

The televised face-off was the most anticipated moment in an election campaign that has been historic, convulsive and unpredictable.

The candidates entered the debate locked in an exceedingly close race to become America’s 45th president, and while both had moments sure to enliven their core constituencies, it was unclear whether the event would dramatically change the trajectory of the race.

The debate was confrontational from the start, with Trump frequently trying to interrupt Clinton and speaking over her answers.

Clinton was more measured and restrained, often smiling through his answers, well-aware of the television cameras capturing her reaction.

“Hillary told the truth and Donald told some whoppers,” Clinton’s running mate, Tim Kaine, told ABC News the morning after the debate.

Trump’s criticism of Clinton turned personal in the debate’s closing moments. He said, “She doesn’t have the look, she doesn’t have the stamina” to be president. He’s made similar comments in previous events, sparking outrage from Clinton backers who accused him of leveling a sexist attack on the first woman nominated for president by a major U.S. political party.

Clinton leapt at the opportunity to remind voters of Trump’s controversial comments about women, who will be crucial to the outcome of the November election.

“This is a man who has called women pigs, slobs and dogs,” she said.

The centerpiece of Trump’s case against Clinton was that the former senator and secretary of state is little more than a career politician who has squandered opportunities to address the domestic and international problems she’s now pledging to tackle as president.

“She’s got experience,” he said, “but it’s bad experience.”

Clinton, who hunkered down for days of intensive debate preparation, came armed with a wealth of detailed attack lines. She named an architect she said built a clubhouse for Trump who says he was not fully paid and quoted comments Trump had made about Iraq and about nuclear weapons.

When Trump made a crack about Clinton taking time off the campaign trail to prepare for the debate, she turned it into a validation of her readiness for the White House.

“I think Donald just criticized me for preparing for this debate,” Clinton said. “And, yes, I did. And you know what else I prepared for? I prepared to be president. And I think that’s a good thing.”

The candidates sparred over trade, taxes and how to bring good-paying jobs back to the United States.

Clinton said her Republican rival was promoting a “Trumped-up” version of trickle-down economics – a philosophy focused on tax cuts for the wealthy. She called for increasing the federal minimum wage, spending more on infrastructure projects and guaranteeing equal pay for women.

Trump panned policies that he said have led to American jobs being moved overseas, in part because of international trade agreements that Clinton has supported. He pushed her aggressively on her past support for the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade pact while she was serving in the Obama administration. She’s since said she opposes the sweeping deal in its final form.

Trump repeatedly insisted that he opposed the Iraq War before the 2003 U.S. invasion, despite evidence to the contrary. Trump was asked in September 2002 whether he supported a potential Iraq invasion in an interview with radio personality Howard Stern. He responded: “Yeah, I guess so.”

Presented with the comment during the debate, Trump responded: “I said very lightly, I don’t know, maybe, who knows.”

The Republican also appeared to contradict himself on how he might use nuclear weapons if he’s elected president. He first said he “would not do first strike” but then said he couldn’t “take anything off the table.”

Clinton said Trump was too easily provoked to serve as commander in chief and could be quickly drawn into a war involving nuclear weapons.

Some frequently hot-button issues were barely mentioned during the intense debate. Illegal immigration and Trump’s promises of a border wall were not part of the conversation. And while Clinton took some questions on her private email server, she was not grilled about her family’s foundation, Bill Clinton’s past infidelities or voter doubts about her trustworthiness.

AFT: Labor unions and shared prosperity

On the occasion of Labor Day, a message from American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten on the importance of the labor movement to American workers and communities:

Today is Labor Day—and there’s a good reason it’s a national holiday. By organizing together and fighting collectively, workers have been able to better their lives and the lives of their families. So rather than think about Labor Day as the last gasp of summer or bemoan the loss of union clout, let’s redouble our efforts to re-create an enduring middle class.

Income and wealth inequality rivals levels last seen in the Gilded Age. The American dream has slipped away from those who are working hard to make it. And rather than confronting these realities, many — particularly on the right — turned to union bashing and restricting labor rights that rendered people powerless to address inequities. The result: stagnating wages and stifled hopes for men and women who worked hard and played by the rules.

But we continue to fight — to fight for higher wages, fair contracts, professional development, safety measures, and resources for our members and their students, their patients and the others they serve.

America’s educators, healthcare professionals and public service workers know this firsthand. After the Great Recession, some on the right seized the political moment to vilify teachers and assault the labor movement that gives them a voice. In the aftermath, a study by a University of Utah economist showed that, in the four states that successfully weakened teachers’ right to bargain together, public school teachers’ wages fell by nearly one-tenth. That’s a statistic we as educators and public servants simply cannot afford.

Conversely, robust unions help everyone — not just the people who form them—and a growing body of research demonstrates that. There’s a multiplier effect. Through unions, we lift up our communities, strengthen the economy and deepen our democracy. If unions were as strong today as in 1979, according to a timely new study by the Economic Policy Institute, nonunion men with a high school diploma would earn an average of $3,016 more a year. And the Center for American Progress has found that kids who live in communities where unions are strong have a better chance to get ahead.

Workers in unions earn, on average, 27 percent more than their nonunion counterparts. The National Women’s Law Center has found that unions close the pay gap for women, and the Center for Economic and Policy Research has found that black workers see outsized gains from union representation. It’s a powerful reminder of the link between organized labor and economic success.

You see the union advantage in our advocacy as well. When the recession devastated the construction sector and put millions of Americans out of work, the American labor movement came together with the goal of raising $10 billion to repair the nation’s crumbling infrastructure. Five years later, our pension funds have reallocated $16 billion for infrastructure investments, including rehabilitating New York City’s LaGuardia Airport, turning it into a travel hub befitting a great modern city and creating good American jobs in the process.

In hospitals and patient care settings across the country, our members have been leading the fight against workplace violence.

And in the classroom, unions are critical partners in giving kids the chance to succeed. A 2016 study from the National Bureau of Economic Research finds that where teachers unions are strong, districts have a better track record of building the quality of our teaching force — keeping stronger teachers and dismissing those who are not making the grade. Through unions, teachers fight for the tools, time and trust that educators need to tailor instruction to the needs of our children, to help them reach for and achieve their dreams.

Here at the AFT, we take that work seriously—for example, curating Share My Lesson, a free digital collection of lesson plans and resources for educators used by nearly a million people. In fact, Share My Lesson has more than 750 lessons about Labor Day!

Despite years of right-wing attacks on unions, a 2015 survey found that a majority of Americans would join a union if they had the choice. They know what a union offers: a voice in their workplace, the opportunity to negotiate wages and benefits and the ability to retire with dignity and security.

Indeed, despite all the attacks waged against us, the AFT—which celebrated our 100th anniversary at our national convention this summer—has grown over the past several years, with well over 1.6 million K-12 and higher education educators and staff, state and local employees, and nurses and other healthcare professionals as members. And now we are seeing more vulnerable workers — such as adjunct faculty and graduate students, teachers at charter schools and early childhood educators—seeking to join our ranks. In the private sector, tens of thousands of low-income workers have joined the Fight for 15 and the union movement because they know a union will help them get long-denied wage increases.

We have taken on the fight for adjuncts and early childhood educators from Pennsylvania to California — many of whom work multiple jobs just to make ends meet. These are the people who teach our youngest children, and they’re the ones who educate our college students; they deserve to live above the poverty line while doing this critical work.

Graduate students at Cornell University are celebrating the recent National Labor Relations Board decision that reinstates the right of graduate workers at private universities to organize. They are building momentum and talking to hundreds of fellow grad students about the power of collective bargaining, and are excited about the prospect of winning union recognition and joining more than 25,000 AFT graduate employees at public institutions who already enjoy the benefits of a contract.

The aftermath of the Great Depression and World War II led our country to understand we were all in it together. We established the GI Bill and other educational access and equity programs; management and labor respected each other, with unions being the voice of labor; and the middle class thrived.

Now, as income inequality is again at its height, let’s remember on this Labor Day what a strong labor movement has done—and can do again—to help workers, our communities, the economy and our democracy grow and thrive.

WHY IT MATTERS: North Korea and the 2016 election

THE ISSUE: Pariah state North Korea could soon be capable of targeting America with nuclear weapons. Economic sanctions and diplomatic isolation have failed to halt its progress. What can the U.S. do to stop the authoritarian government from building up a nuclear arsenal that threatens the United States and its allies in Asia?

WHERE THEY STAND

Republican Donald Trump says the U.S. can put more pressure on China to rein in its unpredictable North Korean ally. He has suggested that Japan and South Korea could get nuclear weapons to defend themselves rather than depend on the U.S. military. But he’s also ready to meet the North Korean leader.

Democrat Hillary Clinton isn’t contemplating a face-to-face with Kim Jong Un, who has met no other foreign leader. She wants the international community to intensify sanctions on North Korea as the Obama administration did with Iran, which eventually opened the way for a deal to contain its nuclear program.

WHY IT MATTERS

Unlike Iran, North Korea already has the bomb. It has conducted four underground nuclear test explosions since 2006. The most recent test was in January, when it claimed to have detonated a hydrogen bomb — a much more powerful device than in the previous tests — although the U.S. government doubts that claim.

North Korea is also working on ways to deliver nuclear weapons. After five failures, it successfully test-launched in June a ballistic missile that puts U.S. military bases in South Korea, Japan and Guam within reach. North Korea has displayed an intercontinental missile that could potentially hit the mainland U.S., although it has not yet been flight-tested. It could take several more years to perfect that missile, which can be moved by road, making it harder to destroy pre-emptively. The U.S. military has said North Korea may by now have developed a nuclear warhead small enough to mount on such a missile.

The U.S. keeps 28,500 troops based in neighboring South Korea as a deterrent force, a legacy of the 1950-53 Korean War that ended without a formal peace treaty. North Korea is unlikely to launch a nuclear attack on the U.S. or its allies, a move that would invite its own destruction. But, mindful of the fate of ousted dictators in Iraq and Libya who gave up nuclear weapons programs, Kim is clinging to his. He views atomic weapons as a security guarantee for his oppressive regime. That is the main obstacle to resuming negotiations in which the North could win much-needed aid in exchange for disarming.

International attitudes to North Korea are hardening. The nuclear test in January triggered the toughest sanctions yet, restricting the North’s access to foreign currency and weapons technology, but it remains to be seen how aggressively China enforces them. In a sign of how seriously the U.S. takes the emerging North Korean threat, it is investing in missile interceptors in Alaska and California to combat it. U.S. experts estimate that North Korea has 13 to 21 nuclear weapons, and could have as many as 100 by 2020. That’s about 20 weapons fewer than what India is estimated to have in its arsenal today.

WHY IT MATTERS: Health care and the 2016 election

THE ISSUE: About nine in 10 Americans now have health insurance, more than at any time in history. But progress is incomplete, and the future far from certain. Millions remain uninsured. Quality is still uneven. Costs are high and trending up again. Medicare’s insolvency is two years closer, now projected in 2028. Every family has a stake.

WHERE THEY STAND

Hillary Clinton would stay the course, making adjustments as needed to major government health insurance programs. She’d build on President Barack Obama’s health care law, with one exception — a tax on generous coverage that she’d repeal. Medicare, the health care program for older Americans and the disabled, would get new legal powers to negotiate prescription drug prices with pharma companies. Clinton would also offer some relief from rising out-of-pocket costs, like deductibles and copayments.

Donald Trump would repeal “Obamacare.” But a recent study found his plan would make 18 million people uninsured. Stay tuned, because Trump has also said he doesn’t want people “dying on the street.” Similar to Clinton, he has promised not to cut Medicare. He agrees Medicare should be able to negotiate drug prices, unusual for a Republican. Trump’s campaign has said he may revisit major health care programs once in the White House.

WHY IT MATTERS

Patients from all over the world come to America for treatment. U.S. research keeps expanding humanity’s ability to confront disease. But the U.S. still spends far more than any advanced country, and its people are not much healthier.

Obama’s progress reducing the number of uninsured may be reaching its limits. Premiums are expected to rise sharply in many communities for people covered by his namesake law, raising concerns about the future.

The health care overhaul did not solve the nation’s longstanding problem with costs. Total health spending is picking up again, underscoring that the system is financially unsustainable over the long run. Employers keep shifting costs to workers and their families.

No one can be denied coverage anymore because of a pre-existing condition, but high costs are still a barrier to access for many, including insured people facing high deductibles and copayments. Prescription drug prices — even for some generics — are another major worry.

The election offers a choice between a candidate of continuity — Clinton — and a Republican who seems to have some core beliefs about health care, but lacks a coherent plan.

If the presidential candidates do not engage the nation in debating the future of health care, it still matters.

Even if you’re healthy, deeper national debt affects the economy and in some way everyone’s standard of living, especially the next generation. If the government has to spend more on health care, it comes at the expense of more debt, cuts in something else or higher taxes.

America’s problem with health care spending can’t be ignored or wished away. Political leaders can postpone hard choices, but that will mean consequences even more wrenching when the bill comes due.

This story is part of AP’s “Why It Matters” series, which will examine three dozen issues at stake in the presidential election between now and Election Day. You can find them at: http://apnews.com/tag/WhyItMatters.

WHY IT MATTERS: The Supreme Court and the 2016 election

THE ISSUE: No one likes an even number on a court that makes decisions by majority vote. Yet that’s just what the Supreme Court has been left with, eight justices, since the death of Antonin Scalia in February.

Four cases ended in a tie after Scalia’s death. With Senate Republicans refusing to confirm President Barack Obama’s choice to succeed Scalia, the outcome of the presidential election will determine whether the ninth, tie-breaking justice moves the court right or left. How much can one vote matter?

In key decisions in recent years on health care, gun rights, same-sex marriage, voting rights and campaign finance, the vote was 5-4. And more Supreme Court appointments probably await the next president because two justices will be older than 80 and a third will be 78 come Election Day.

WHERE THEY STAND

Both Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump have made the future of the Supreme Court part of their pitch to their respective party faithful. In talking about the court, Clinton has stressed her support for abortion rights, LGBT issues and immigration. Trump has released a list of 11 conservative state and federal judges whom he would consider nominating if elected.

WHY IT MATTERS

The current vacancy is the moment both sides alternately have wished for and feared. Supreme Court nominations are always important because a justice can serve a quarter century or more. But the stakes are even higher when the president has a chance to put a like-minded justice on the court to take the place of an ideological opponent. Such a switch can change the outcome of some of the court’s most important cases.

That’s the tantalizing opportunity for Democrats and why Republicans have been resolute in refusing to consider Obama nominee Merrick Garland. Though Garland has a reputation as a moderate, he still would be left of Scalia on most issues.

A Clinton victory in November would, with the confirmation of Garland or someone else as the ninth justice, immediately shift the court to the left and result in a majority of justices nominated by a Democratic president for the first time since 1969.

If Trump is elected, he presumably would restore the court’s conservative tilt by appointing a like-minded successor to Scalia.

So the direction of a court closely divided between conservatives and liberals is at stake. The Supreme Court may be the least understood of the three branches of government, but its decisions affect Americans rich and poor.

A switch of one vote would have doomed Obama’s health care overhaul in 2012, kept the heart of a voting rights law in place in 2013 and prevented some Americans from marrying their same-sex partners in 2015.

Chances are Trump or Clinton will have other Supreme Court vacancies to fill, nominations that could cement conservative or liberal domination of the court for decades.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is 83, Justice Anthony Kennedy is 80, and Justice Stephen Breyer is 78. Justices tend to retire when their replacement is likely to be of similar ideology.

Garland or another Democratic nominee could be expected to reinforce support for abortion rights, look favorably on executive actions to deal with immigration and climate change and be more willing to uphold campaign finance restrictions. Trump’s choices probably would come down on the other side of those issues and be more skeptical about gun control and consideration of race in higher education as well.

This story is part of AP’s “Why It Matters” series, which will examine three dozen issues at stake in the presidential election between now and Election Day. You can find them at: http://apnews.com/tag/WhyItMatters.

WHY IT MATTERS: The opioid crisis and the 2016 election

THE ISSUE: More Americans are dying from opioids than at any time in recent history, with overdose deaths hitting a peak of 28,000 in 2014. That amounts to 78 Americans dying from an opioid overdose every day, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The CDC uses opioid as an umbrella term for synthetic painkillers and for drugs derived naturally from opium (known more specifically as opiates), such a heroin.

It’s not just the use of illicit opiates like heroin that is on the rise — overdose deaths from prescription painkillers have quadrupled since 1999, tracking a similar increase in the amount of these drugs being prescribed by doctors.

WHERE THEY STAND

Donald Trump sees his plans to build a wall along the Mexican border as essential to stopping the flow of illegal drugs into the country. The Drug Enforcement Administration reports the seizure of drugs at the Southern border quadrupled between 2008 and 2013.

Hillary Clinton proposes spending $10 billion to tackle the drug crisis. Her plan would send more money to states to expand drug treatment and mental health services, promote greater availability of the overdose reversal drug naloxone and support better prevention programs in schools, among other things.

WHY IT MATTERS

More than 2.4 million Americans were addicted to synthetic pain relievers or heroin in 2014, according to the latest federal survey on drug use and health. And that number excludes the millions more — family members, first responders, taxpayers — who feel the ripple effects of addiction in their daily lives.

Clinton has called drug addiction a “quiet epidemic.” But it’s one that’s getting louder, as more and more Americans share their stories and prove that drug addiction follows no standard profile of age, race or class.

For decades, drug addiction was viewed as a criminal justice problem, not a health one. The stigma is lessening, but many states simply don’t have the capability to provide treatment and recovery for people who need it, leaving police departments and emergency rooms to fill the void. Lawmakers and advocates are fighting for precious tax dollars to expand services, but the 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health found that just 0.9 percent of people seeking treatment for a problem related to drugs or alcohol received it.

Experts now believe the sharp increase in prescribed painkillers is to blame. People are quick to share stories of being prescribed dozens of pills for pain relief following procedures as simple as wisdom teeth removal. The strength of these medications can easily cause addiction, forcing many people to turn to a cheaper alternative — heroin — when their prescriptions run out. Roughly 75 percent of new heroin users report first using prescription opioids, the government says.

Lawmakers are beginning to take notice: At the meeting of the National Governors Association in July, 45 governors signed on to a compact aimed at tightening prescribing rules. Several attorneys general are engaged in or considering waging legal battles against major pharmaceutical companies, alleging they played down the risks of addiction when marketing their painkillers.

At the same time, the illicit drugs people are turning to are becoming even more deadly. The synthetic painkiller fentanyl, which is up to 50 times as potent as heroin, is now being manufactured illegally. By sight, it’s impossible to tell the difference between heroin and fentanyl, leaving people unaware of the deadliness of the drugs they are consuming. Northeastern and Midwestern states, such as New Hampshire and Ohio, are seeing a dramatic rise in the use of fentanyl. More than 5,000 people nationwide died from a synthetic opioid like fentanyl in 2014, and that number is only on the rise.

As most politicians know, families and communities are demanding change, and fast.

This story is part of AP’s “Why It Matters” series, which will examine three dozen issues at stake in the presidential election between now and Election Day. You can find them at: http://apnews.com/tag/WhyItMatters.

WHY IT MATTERS: China, trade and the 2016 election

THE ISSUE: Tensions have been rising between China and the United States. China is modernizing its military and pressing its sovereignty claims over the disputed South China Sea, an important route for global trade.

The U.S. is pushing back by increasing its military presence in Asia, which China views as provocative. The U.S. also accuses China of unfair trading practices and cyber theft of business secrets. Tough action by either side could spark a skirmish at sea or a trade war that would make many goods in the U.S. more expensive.

WHERE THEY STAND

Hillary Clinton says the U.S. needs to “stand up to China” and press the rising Asian power to play by international rules — in trade, in cyberspace, and in territorial disputes. But she’s also said the two nations need to cooperate where they can.

Donald Trump says the high volume of U.S.-China trade gives Washington leverage over Beijing. He accuses China of undervaluing its currency to makes its exports artificially cheap and he proposes tariffs as high as 45 percent tariff on Chinese imports into the U.S. to force it to trade fairly and support other U.S. policy goals.

WHY IT MATTERS

The U.S. and China are the world’s two largest economies and biggest military spenders. The wider world needs them to get along, to keep the peace and tackle global problems like climate change and a nuclear North Korea. The U.S. and China also depend on each other economically. Two-way trade topped $600 billion in 2015. China is the largest foreign holder of U.S. debt, and by some estimates, Chinese foreign direct investment into the U.S. has started to outstrip the flow of U.S. investment into China.

President Xi Jinping is trying to manage a soft landing for a slowing economy, and boost domestic consumption to reduce China’s reliance on foreign trade to drive growth. That goal is supported by Washington as it could help reduce the U.S. trade deficit with China, which hit a record of nearly $370 billion last year. But China has a mixed record on economic reform. It has allowed market forces to play a bigger role in its currency exchange rate, but the U.S. has other complaints: restrictions on market access for foreign companies, economic espionage, and state subsidies, including cheap imports from China’s bloated steel industry.

China is building Asia’s strongest military and wants to be treated as a global leader, but its assertive behavior has unnerved its neighbors who look to the U.S. to help preserve order.

The U.S. worries that China, which has built several artificial islands in the South China Sea, wants to control crucial sea lanes. China denies this but refuses to compromise in what it says is a historical right to tiny islands and adjacent waters in the South China Sea where five other governments have territorial claims.

The U.S. Navy has periodically sailed close to the islands to demonstrate its freedom to navigate the area, angering China. In July, China rejected an international tribunal ruling in a case brought by a U.S. ally, the Philippines, that invalidated the legal basis of China’s claims. The U.S. hopes China will moderate its position, but it shows no sign of doing so, although Beijing says it is ready to negotiate directly with other claimants.

Such economic and strategic tensions between two world powers can directly affect American jobs, wages, consumer prices and security.

This story is part of AP’s “Why It Matters” series, which will examine three dozen issues at stake in the presidential election between now and Election Day. You can find them at: http://apnews.com/tag/WhyItMatters.