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Paid family leave: Republicans introduce bill for paid leave

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Republicans in Congress are trying to revive a flawed plan to give working parents paid maternity and paternity leave.

Sens. Joni Ernst (R-IA) and Mike Lee (R-UT) announced details of their proposal Tuesday, called the Cradle Act, which they describe as the best option for paid leave because it doesn’t create “a massive mandated government program.”

But the truth is, it’s not paid leave at all. It’s another version of unpaid leave that working parents in the United States would have to fund themselves.

Here’s how it would work: The Cradle Act would let workers access some of their Social Security retirement income in advance to make up for some of the wages they would lose when taking parental leave. Workers would still bear the cost of taking time off — by delaying their retirement by twice as many months as they took off for parental leave. Someone who takes the maximum three months off, for example, would need to delay their Social Security retirement by six months.

The bill is nearly identical to a bill Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) proposed last year, called the Economic Security Act for New Parents, with support from White House adviser Ivanka Trump. They didn’t get enough bipartisan support for it, so it went nowhere.

Now the GOP is trying to resurrect a slightly different version of the same plan, hoping it will satisfy the growing public demand for a federal paid leave program.

The United States is the only industrialized country that doesn’t guarantee paid parental leave to working parents, and Republicans and Democratic voters overwhelmingly support the creation of such a program. The problem is that no one seems to agree on how to pay for it, and Republicans don’t want to make businesses chip in.

Instead, the Cradle Act would raid the Social Security Trust Fund, which is already at risk of being depleted. Ernst and Lee say their plan will address that by moving money from other parts of the budget to cover the borrowed Social Security funds until they are repaid — a move that would likely expand the already ballooning budget deficit.

Americans want paid parental leave, and the US economy needs it

The idea of a government-run program to provide maternity and paternity leave to new parents is not controversial. About 74 percent of registered US voters in 2016 said the government should require businesses to offer employees paid parental leave. When you break down poll numbers, the support is overwhelming across genders, political parties, and even income groups. In other words, it’s a safe political issue for Republicans to tackle, if only they weren’t so hesitant to make businesses pay part — or all — of the cost.

Nearly every industrialized country in the world provides working mothers with at least three months of paid maternity leave — the minimum recommended by the United Nations’ International Labour Organization. In most of those countries, employers and employees pay a tax to fund the benefit. Canada has this type of system, which allows parents to take a year of leave while receiving 55 percent of their salary (up to 80 percent of wages are covered for low-income workers).

Some US businesses voluntarily offer paid parental leave to their workers, but only about one in 10 workers in the country get such a benefit from their employer. Low-wage workers are the least likely to get it.

In response to federal inaction on the issue, several states have started requiring employers to provide some paid leave: California, New York, and the District of Columbia are among those that do.

Research shows that paid leave programs improve child health, promote gender equality, and help keep women in the workforce. Studies indicate that California’s paid-leave law, which went into effect in 2004, led to an increase in work hours and income for mothers with young children. And paid leave has been linked to lower poverty rates in 18 countries.

The need for paid leave in the United States is more urgent than ever, as nearly half of two-parent US households with children have parents who both work full-time jobs. Economists believe the lack of paid leave is one reason more American women aren’t joining the labor force, and that’s bad news for the US economy (their labor force participation rate is not the same as their unemployment rate). About 58.9 percent of women over the age of 20 are part of the US workforce, reflecting a slight decline since 2008, when 61 percent held jobs.

When women joined the public labor force en masse in the 1970s, their earnings were a huge boost to the US economy, according to the White House Council of Economic Advisers under President Obama. They attributed nearly all of the middle-class income growth since 1970 to the rise of women entering the US workforce. But female participation in the job market began to flatten out in the 1990s, even among women in their prime working years (25 to 54 years old).

And nearly a third of the decline of American women in the labor force, in comparison to other developed countries, can be explained by the lack of family-friendly workplace policies in the United States, including paid leave for new parents, according to research by economists Francine Blau and Lawrence Kahn at Cornell University.

Coming up with an effective paid parental leave system in the United States isn’t hard. The hard part is getting Republicans to agree that businesses should pay for some of it. Which is how we get to Ernst and Lee’s shortsighted plan.

The Cradle Act could worsen the Social Security crisis

The GOP’s latest plan doesn’t include estimates of how much money working parents might end up borrowing from Social Security each year under the Cradle Act. But here’s what we know about it: New parents would dip into their Social Security retirement benefits to cover part of the cost of taking time off from work. They can’t replace 100 percent of their income — only a portion of it, depending on their income bracket.

Ernst and Lee say it’s designed so that the lowest-paid workers get the most coverage, up to about 75 percent of their wages covered for three months. However, that would mean delaying their retirement payments through Social Security six months per child if they take the maximum three months off. The benefit is not available for other types of paid leave, such as workers who need to take time off to care for a sick relative.

So in essence, it’s a “paid” plan that employers aren’t responsible for, since workers are the ones paying for their own time off.

In short, employers pay nothing, and neither does the federal government. The plan also doesn’t take into account the fact that the future of Social Security is in jeopardy. The system is running a deficit for the first time in more than 30 years, and the Social Security administration expects that it will run out of money to pay workers their full retirement benefits by 2035. Because working parents won’t be paying back the borrowed money until they retire decades from now, allowing workers to take more money from the system will only make the problem worse.

Ernst and Lee say the Cradle Act addresses this problem. Under the bill, lawmakers would transfer money each year from the government’s General Fund to replenish whatever parents borrowed from the Social Security Trust Fund. But it’s hard to see how this wouldn’t add to the deficit, as they claim, because there’s not a lot of unused money sitting around in the General Fund. If parents (hypothetically) borrow $2 billion in one year, that means Congress will need to find a way to pay for it, assuming lawmakers are serious about protecting Social Security.

Which brings me to this fact: There are other options out there.

A group of influential conservative and liberal economists proposed one not-so-ideal option in 2017: pay for parental leave by increasing payroll taxes on workers and through other savings in the federal budget. The downside is that the plan still lets businesses off the hook from shouldering any of the cost.

Sharing the cost between employees and businesses seems obvious. That’s how most workers insurance programs operate, and that’s how most paid parental leave programs across the world work. Businesses should share the burden of paying for the program because they benefit from paid leave too — female employees are more likely to return to their jobs after giving birth, keeping more workers in the labor force for employers to hire when the economy is growing (like it is now).

An even broader, and more popular, option is some version of the FAMILY Act, which Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) introduced in 2017 and again in February. The bill offers workers up to 12 weeks off with up to 66 percent of their wages covered for family and medical leave. The benefit would be paid for with a tax levied on workers and employers (about 2 cents each for every $10 paid in wages). And the plan is flexible, so it benefits all employees, not just parents. It would be available to any worker who needs to take time off to care for a relative or for a medical procedure.

The bill has 34 co-sponsors in the Senate and 177 in the House, but so far, no Republican lawmakers will touch it. If Republicans are serious about helping working parents stay in the labor force, they could negotiate with Democrats on that plan, instead of trying to pass a paid leave plan that’s actually unpaid.

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[Read] How to Research Trends: Move Beyond Trendwatching to Kickstart Innovation For Free

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Amazon 2-day shipping: Why packages sometimes arrive later

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In less than two decades, Amazon single-handedly transformed the way we think about online shopping. Before Prime launched in 2005, two-day shipping was virtually unheard of — now more than 100 million people use the service, and they expect the things they order online to arrive at their doorsteps in 48 hours or fewer.

There’s just one problem: Amazon, which has focused on obtaining customers at all costs for decades, seems to be looking for ways to cut down on shipping costs. In some cases, that means weaning Prime users off the near-instantaneous shipping they’ve come to expect.

From the beginning, free two-day shipping was Prime’s biggest draw. Memberships were cheap — $79 a year in 2005 and $119 today — and users had the option of paying a small fee to get their orders delivered in just one day. Today, Prime is about much more than package delivery: Users can order everything, from groceries to a house cleaner, through Amazon. But as Amazon has expanded, the promise of free two-day shipping — the main draw of Prime — has begun to come with a lot of caveats.

That’s not to say Amazon is totally changing course. In 2014, Amazon launched Prime Now, a service designed to deliver products in an hour or less, for some New York City-based users. (It expanded to other major cities in 2016.) Amazon often makes headlines for the grueling work expected of its in-house delivery fleet — or, more accurately, the network of contractors that deliver packages to Prime users across the country — a sign that it continues to take its shipping promise seriously, often at the expense of workers. But even as Amazon has doubled down on ensuring speedy delivery, it has begun looking for ways to rein in customers’ desire for instant gratification, a phenomenon it arguably helped create, in an attempt to cut costs and streamline its supply chain.

The result? Prime orders don’t necessarily arrive in two days anymore, nor are they always delivered to customers’ homes. All of this makes sense from a financial perspective, but that may not be enough to win customers over.

Prime customers pay for — and expect — quick, free shipping. They aren’t always happy about Amazon’s cost-cutting efforts.

Two-day Prime shipping isn’t necessarily a thing of the past, but it’s undeniable that Amazon delivery isn’t as seamless as it used to be.

Amazon will no longer deliver some small items, like razors or hair ties, individually. Instead, customers have to purchase $25 worth of these “add-on” items before Amazon will send the box out; the point, according to the company, is to give customers access to “low-cost items that would be cost-prohibitive to ship on their own.” Since 2011, Amazon has given users the option to have packages delivered to “lockers,” which are basically branded PO boxes, instead of to their homes or offices. Most recently, Amazon rolled out Amazon Day, a new delivery option that lets customers choose a specific day for all of their orders to arrive, is the company’s latest cost-cutting effort.

All of this makes sense from a financial perspective. Delivering packages to a single location instead of hundreds of individual homes cuts costs, and requiring customers to meet a delivery minimum for small orders helps Amazon consolidate deliveries, as does the Amazon Day program.

But the response to these new initiatives has been mixed at best.

Last December, Fast Company’s Mark Wilson wrote about how Amazon Prime is “getting worse,” claiming the company had all but abandoned its promise of two-day shipping for most products. “That little Prime logo used to mean something,” Wilson wrote. “Now it feels like a ruse that lulls shoppers into a false sense of security, until they go to checkout and see a shipping arrival date far later than anticipated.”

He continued:

“This cuts through the greatest promise of Prime. It’s not just the free, two-day shipping. It’s that it’s so reliable, you never have to think for more than a second about buying something. In this sense, Prime was constructed to be great for the consumer (so efficient) and great for businesses (mindless impulse shopping!). … It doesn’t help that we’ve seen a slow dilution of Prime itself over time, with the rise of Prime Pantry and Add-on Items. They force you to buy a minimum number of items to get the best deal, adding back the very psychic burden Prime had eliminated from the equation of online shopping in the first place.”

Wilson’s complaints about Prime suggest a bait-and-switch strategy. Amazon got 100 million people to become Prime users by guaranteeing frictionless service, but now that it’s gotten a sizable chunk of the market hooked on quick, free shipping, it’s trying to cut delivery costs by scaling back on the very thing that got customers interested in the first place. Put another way, Prime is built on the idea that shopping should be frictionless; Amazon has now introduced a degree of friction that wasn’t there before, and some customers aren’t happy about it.

https://twitter.com/esirof/status/1075426983104917504

“I can’t help but feel the frustration around how the false sense of shopping confidence is blown when Amazon simply uses the PRIME lockup as a gimmick,” one reader wrote in response to Wilson’s article. “The ‘prime’ benefit of getting your stuff when you expect it is gone, and it’s not just because of the holiday shipping crunch.

Amazon changed customer expectations regarding shipping. Now it’s changing them again.

One of Amazon’s core principles is “customer obsession,” a “vigorous” desire to “earn and keep customer trust.” (Amazon has, by the way, also been known to use customer obsession as an anti-union talking point.) Put simply, customer obsession means giving the customer what they want as cheaply and quickly as possible — e.g., within 48 hours or fewer — at the expense of profits.

Anne Goodchild, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at the University of Washington who focuses on supply chain transportation and logistics, told me that Amazon significantly altered customer expectations and shopping patterns.

“The status quo [has been] that we take ourselves to the store, pick up the goods, and go back to our homes. That’s actually a pretty inefficient way of doing the last mile: We all individually use our cars, and that kind of commuting creates a great travel burden,” she said. “Delivery services, to some extent, have the potential to be an improvement. [They consolidate] a lot of deliveries — hopefully — into one vehicle like a UPS truck. They have strong incentives, profit incentives, to do that in an efficient and cost-effective way.”

The problem, she said, occurs when delivery becomes too quick. “As we move toward faster delivery, it gets harder to consolidate.” The promise of instant delivery means that customers can buy virtually anything they want without thinking about it; they don’t always think to consolidate their purchases into a single order, because there’s no need to. (A 2018 survey by the optimization platform Feedvisor found that 46 percent of Prime members shop online more than twice a week.) “When we’re not paying some sort of personal cost for the trip, I think it’s easy to overlook how much travel we’re adding,” she said.

Other retailers have attempted to compete by offering similarly fast shipping. “After Amazon, we have things like ShopRunner and even Target [now] saying that if you order certain items, you can get two-day shipping,” Ambulkar said. “I don’t see two-day shipping going away. I think there’s definitely more and more businesses adopting it.”

Even as other retailers lower their shipping times to keep up, Amazon appears to be tweaking its two-day shipping promise. Prime may be cheap and easy for customers, but the cost of all those deliveries adds up quickly. Amazon spent $21.7 billion on shipping costs in 2017, according to its annual report. That’s nearly twice the amount it spent on shipping in 2015.

“Amazon has pursued a growth trajectory rather than a profit one,” Goodchild added. “I think everyone would agree that their strategy has been to please customers and, in doing so, grow their market share.”

But now that it has more than 100 million Prime customers, Amazon is looking for ways to make Prime more profitable — which could end up alienating some of the customers it has made an effort to court.

Justin Smith, the founder of TJI Research, an analytics firm that focuses on Amazon, told The Goods that Amazon is looking for ways to make Prime more efficient — and cost-effective. “Lockers or other pickup points, or encouraging customers to ship items in the fewest number of boxes possible, which might mean getting it a bit later than if you had shipped items separately,” are all part of that strategy.

“I also think that because of how big they are, they are able to become smarter about predicting what items people are going to order in different regions,” Smith added, “and I believe they’ve been able to put items in warehouses closer to where they expect people to order them from in order to reduce the distance that items have to be shipped when they’re ordered. If that can be done efficiently, I think you reduce the individual shipping volume as well as decrease the delivery time, which improves the customer experience.”

It’s also better for the environment. Transportation is one of the biggest contributors to carbon dioxide emissions in the US, and medium- and heavy-duty trucks — the kinds of freight vehicles that are often filled to the brim with Prime purchases and other online orders — are responsible for nearly one-quarter of the total transportation footprint. These trucks, which used to deliver the bulk of their loads to stores and other retail hubs, are now increasingly dropping packages off to individuals. All those one-off orders add up, both financially and environmentally — but, because this type of delivery is often more convenient for the consumer, this has become the new normal.

Not everyone agrees with the premise that more efficiency will result in greater customer satisfaction. Saurabh Ambulkar, a management professor at Northeastern University, said customers who have come to expect two-day — or even same-day — delivery might not readily accept more optimized, less customer-friendly options. “The whole [promise] was that Amazon can deliver the thing to my house, so why do I need to go to the central locker to get something? Why do I need to go to the store?” he said. “If I have to step out of my house to get something, they lose that competitive advantage that they have, but they have to do some of it [in order to] ease the pressure on the supply chain.”

“In bigger cities, maybe the central locker is closer to the place you work, but in other places, I think delivering to residents is what made Amazon more competitive than other players in the market,” Ambulkar added. “If I have to go to a central locker, I can just go to the store to get that product.”

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A Man From a Remote African Village Has Been Named Best Teacher and Will Get $1,000,000 for It

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When talking about the job of a teacher, many people refer to it as “a calling”. We all want our children to be educated by teachers who love their jobs and who make children feel inspired, interested, and motivated. There are 2 opinions when it comes to teachers: “A talented person will be successful, no matter what,” and “A talented person needs a good teacher.”

A charity foundation that was set up in 2015 by a businessman named Sunny Varkey (and Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, his patron) awards someone as “Best Teacher” every year with a Global Teacher Prize.

Bright Side was really interested in the winner of the 2019 competition because there were 10,000 applications from 179 countries, with a prize of $1,000,000.

Teachers from India, Australia, the US, Kenya, the Netherlands, Brazil, Japan, Argentina, Great Britain, and Georgia made it to the final stage of the competition.

A Kenyan science teacher and Franciscan friar named Peter Tabichi won the award. The award ceremony took place in Dubai and the name of the winner was announced by actor Hugh Jackman.

Peter Tabichi is a teacher in a small African village where the inhabitants often don’t have enough of the most necessary things. Despite this, his students are famous for their wins in international science competitions which is what ultimately attracted the foundation’s attention.

The school these students go to doesn’t look like a school that houses major victories. There is only 1 teacher for 58 students and 1 computer, and in order to make it to lessons, many kids have to cover huge distances on washed-out roads during the rainy season. Most of Tabichi’s students are kids from poor families or they’re orphans. The school is sorely lacking financial support, so Peter donates 80% of the money he makes on the development of the school — the school uniforms, textbooks, and other materials.

7 years ago, he used to teach at a private school but then decided to become a Franciscan friar and leave his job. The code he lives by requires him to have a somewhat ascetic lifestyle and help others. This is why teaching at a poor school is considered charity for Tabichi.

“This win does not belong to me: it demonstrates the achievements of young minds. I am here only thanks to my students’ achievements. A victory gives them a chance. It means that there are no borders for them.”

Tabichi explains how he uses different motivation methods with his students because the secret to success is believing in yourself. Every person can find something they like doing and feel confident. Peter teaches kids to look at things from different perspectives. This is why his projects where students can organize processes and analyze results by themselves are very popular.

The teacher doesn’t say that some of these projects are “cool” and others are “not cool”. The most important thing about them is that the students have to use their imaginations and have to look for new solutions. Tabichi says, “Creativity is extremely important, especially in difficult situations when the resources are limited.”

In this school, there are scientific and creative clubs where every student can showcase their achievements.

“Seeing my learners grow in knowledge, skills, and confidence is my greatest joy in teaching! When they become resilient, creative, and productive in the society, I get a lot of satisfaction for I act as their greatest destiny enabler and key that unlocks their potential in the most exciting manner.”

Tabichi also managed to talk about tolerance: “He created the ’Peace Club’ where there are people of 7 different nationalities and religious beliefs who all visit this school.

People are most interested in one big question: What is he going to spend his prize money on?

His answer? First and foremost, on computer science class, the development of the science lab, and new projects that can improve people’s lives. For example, Peter wants to teach his students to grow drought-tolerant crops. This project is absolutely necessary for life in Africa.

Interestingly, the agreement terms of the foundation say that the winner has certain responsibilities and the prize is not given to the winner right away.

For 10 years, the winner gets $100,000 every year and they have to stay in the profession for 5 years and be a global ambassador for The Varkey Foundation. It means that they have to visit certain events, talk to the media, and participate in training.

We’re deeply impressed by such people! Their stories are bright illustrations of what we call “the purpose of life”. What do you think about this award?

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