Weekend News & Commentary — October 12, 2015

Published October 12th, 2015 -  - 10.12.1510


The rise of the gig economy isn’t showing up in official numbers, reports Lydia DePillis at the Washington Post, likely because traditional government data collection methods are ill-equipped to recognize it.  Faced with a rapidly evolving workplace landscape, agencies are scrambling to figure out “the right questions” to collect useful data that captures, for instance, how many people work in the gig economy or at multiple jobs.  Later this year, the government agencies that collect data on the workforce are holding a three-day “Structure of Work Symposium” with experts and advocates.  With improved information, regulators hope, benefits programs and enforcement priorities could better protect workers across the full range of the economy.

On Friday, facing public pressure, Patriot Coal Corporation, an Indiana coal company, backed away from a bankruptcy settlement that would have used $18 million intended for the health care costs of retired miners to pay for lawyers and other costs associated with the bankruptcy.  According to the New York Times, presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, who had championed and publicized the cause, commented on the outcome: “It’s a major relief that these miners are going to keep their benefits . . . . Ensuring health care and retirement security should be the first priority when a company goes bankrupt and Americans lose their jobs, not the last.”

“How do we infuse the culture and the neighborhoods of Boston that have been historically underinvested in and discriminated against . . . with the economic gene that’s driving the startup engine?” asked the executive director of community development nonprofit Local Initiatives Support Corp., one of a growing number of organizations seeking to provide resources for lower-income entrepreneurs.  The Boston Globe reports that, as the economy starts to improve, starting a business is increasingly seen as a path to the middle class.  Starting a business is always risky, and low credit scores, limited assets for collateral, and weaker support networks, make the endeavor particularly daunting.  In Boston, though, a flurry of social impact investors and the city government itself are pitching low-interest loans, prizes, and training on how to write a business plan to lower-income communities.

The Los Angeles Times reports that a bill signed by California Governor Jerry Brown provides that California taxpayers will continue to subsidize healthcare for the United Farm Workers union.  Two years of funding have already been provided, and the new legislation will supply up to $3 million annually for an additional five years to the union’s insurance plan.  While union officials say that, without the subsidy, the state would incur even greater costs from farmworkers ending up on public healthcare, finance officials have “questioned the wisdom” of the plan due to the lack of oversight available to the state.

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