March 2012


I was interested in last week’s National Public Radio infographic, What America Does for Work. If anything shines a light on what’s going on in the U.S. economy, it’s a comparison of occupations today versus 1972, when the workforce began changing for a number of different reasons.

The meatiest category in 2012 is government employment — federal, state and local, and military. It also includes public education. This presently accounts for 16.6 percent of the workforce.

That is followed by wholesale and retail trade jobs (15.3 percent); education (private) and health services (15.2 percent); leisure and hospitality (10.2 percent); manufacturing (9 percent); financial activities (5.8 percent); construction (4.2 percent); “Other Services” (4 percent); transport and utilities (3.4 percent); media and telecommunications (2 percent); and mining and logging (0.6 percent).

In 1972, manfacturing was clearly king at 23.9 percent of the workforce. Imagine that almost a quarter of the American workforce was engaged in producing a product for domestic or foreign consumption.

And despite the gnashing of teeth over the high cost of the government workforce, 18.3 percent of the labor force were working for Uncle Sam, or a state or local agency, or the U.S. Postal Service. In other words, percentage-wise, the government workforce was bigger in 1972 than it is today.

Wholesale and retail trade stood at 15.7 percent, not all that different from what it would be 40 years later.

The picture is rounded out by professional and business services (7.4 percent); Lesure and hospitality (6.9 percent); education and health services (6.6 percent); construction (5.4 percent) financial activities (5.3 percent); transport and utilities (4.4 percent); media and telecommunications (2.8 percent); “Other Services” (2.6 percent) and mining and logging (0.9 percent).

Obviously, manufacturing has taken a huge hit, to no one’s surprise. This sector of the economy has been blown away by outsourcing, much of it to developing countries where Americans can’t compete with the low-wage manufacturing operations that make companies more profitable despite shipping costs.

The one big employment net gain for the U.S. in the past four decades has been in health care. There are a number of reasons for it. One is that the median age of the population has been getting older, so more care is needed. Another is that medical advances have gathered steam, and new technology is expensive.

Physicians and other providers have also learned to practice defensive medicine in order to head off potential lawsuits. And consumers often beg for the latest drugs because they’ve been told on TV again and again to “ask your doctor” about a new treatment for this or that.

However, some of the fastest-growing segments of the health care employment segment are in management, business, and financial occupations, which comprised 4.3 percent in 2008, and that will jump 16.8 percent by 2018, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Office and administrative support positions already total 17.7 percent of the health care workforce, and are expected to edge up to 19.7 (that’s one in five health care jobs) by 2018. Between the two, that’s 36.5 percent — more than a third of the workforce in this category — by 2018.

The U.S. health care system is one of the most complex businesses on the planet, and now we know what it takes to support it. And by the way, don’t assume that the other 63.5 percent are physicians talking turkey to their patients. A lot of the rest of it includes things like social workers and other mental health counselors, pharmacists, nurses, and lab techs.

They are, however, directly involved in delivery of services.

Isolate it to the insurance industry and you find that in the decade from 1997 to 2007, employment grew 52 percent from 293,000 to 444,000. Positions among providers, such as physicians and nurses, grew by 26 percent.

This is far from the whole picture of the changes in our economy over the last 40 years. But it’s interesting to note that one of the main employment drivers these days is a top-heavy system, strained and politically contentious, that seems out of necessity on the brink of major change.

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What is the best marketing gimmick in the U.S. over the last decade or so? Well, possibly the free pizza come-on.

Googling free pizza the other day brought up 254,000,000 results, or 82 pages of unique websites. A heck of a lot of people have been getting into the act.

First of all, the prospect of free pizza is a reasonable one. If someone offers: “Win a free car!” you know your chances are about the same as finding a fillet mignon on the menu at Burger King. So why bother?

A pizza, though, is at its heart a very simple food. A little bread dough, rolled out thin, topped with tomato sauce (cheap) and mozzarella cheese (mostly cheap) and a meat or vegetable, and you’ve got yourself a respectable pizza.

Mind you, I’m not suggesting that preparing a good pizza is easy, a fact that is glaringly evident in all of the bad pizza shops on the street, no matter where you live. But to put out a C- quality pie is not that difficult and if you’re hungry, it can still be pretty good.

So Americans have become enamored with the stuff and marketers have stepped up to the plate.

This is why we saw, last week, a urology clinic in Massachusetts offer free pizza (large with one topping) for customers who opt for a vasectomy during March Madness.

“Hey guys, want to watch the college basketball tournament guilt free?” a young woman says in an ad. “Schedule your vasectomy with Urology Associates of Cape Cod in Sandwich in time for the college basketball tournament. Then camp out on the couch with uninterrupted basketball and we’ll even throw in a free pizza for the tournament.”

Question. The guy they show on the couch watching basketball — is he even old enough to shave? I’m just asking. Maybe you need to have a little life experience under your belt before deciding to be sterilized.

Because some day down the road the love of his life might ask: “How many kids do you want?”

And he’d have to answer: “I dunno. I had a vasectomy but they said it’s reversible?”

And she’d say: “Why?”

And he’d say: “Like, I got a free pizza.”

He should know that the coal fired oven of life burns on, turning out one freshly baked surprise after another.

Chain stores are big on pizza freebies, with varying results.

Papa John’s offered a rather complicated free pizza promotion for this year’s Super Bowl. You had to go on to their website and sign up as a …. Well, I’m going to let KOWB-Radio’s (Laramie, Wyo.) Wesley Kempton explain it as he did in his Feb. 3 blog post:

“If you’re anything like me, you’ve probably seen recent commercials advertising free pizza from Papa John’s if the Super Bowl XLVI is ‘called’ correctly by America and thought, what is this bogus hoax?

“Well to save you the time, I checked it out, and it turns out that this is not a hoax, and Papa John’s is really giving out free pizzas. Not only that, if America ‘calls’ the opening coin toss correctly, Papa John’s will be giving out free 2-liter bottles of Pepsi MAX as well.”

The majority of voters had to correctly pick the coin toss, heads or tails, after which Rewards Members would get free pizza. (Members apparently chose the correct winner of the toss.)

And another thing, as my uncle used to say. Here’s an outfit called Pizza Peel Cotswold in Charlotte, N.C. that offered free pizza if they rolled up 1,000 “likes” on their new Facebook page. According to the website Charlotteonthecheap.com, they made it and offered free pizza “to their Facebook fans.”

There is even a band called Free Pizza and you can listen to their album, Kool Is The Rool, by clicking here.

My favorite free pizza story goes back to 2008. A website designer went into his neighborhood pizza joint and said: How about I do a website for you and you give me free pizza? They said sure. But he didn’t know he’d get “a pizza or two per month” at Perfect Pizza in Inman, S.C. for putting together http://www.pizzaperfectpizza.com.

“Of course I’ve got it to go so I can go home and watch something on TV,” he says in his YouTube video. The basketball tournament, perhaps ….

Photo via Wikimedia Commons

There’s an invisible planet entering our solar system that will crash into the Earth on Dec. 21!

Just so you know. Forget the last will and testament, and also cancel the pool service or snowplowing contract, whatever the case may be.

And by the way, this information comes directly from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and was covered in-depth by the the prestigious Scientific American magazine.

Oh wait a minute. I see that the magazine talks about a new NASA video “to address FALSE claims” about the apocalypse which the space agency has labeled “a non-event.”

Got it.

Really, I think the most interesting thing about this Mayan-calendar-end-of-everything story is that NASA felt compelled to release a video debunking it. Every year we get hit with one or more end-of-the-world predictions and even though nothing happens, somebody is already gearing up for the next one.

This one seems a little different though because well, it’s the Mayans. And they built all of these fab temples and could forecast solar eclipses, so they must have known what they were doing. No wonder the Mayan calendar apocalypse has attracted a lot more subscribers than usual.

The theory is that since the Mayan calendar ends on Dec. 21, so will the world. You have to wonder about the Mayans’ predictive powers, though, since it turned out they were a little overly-optimistic in creating their calendar to last until Dec. 21, 2012.

According to Don Yeomans, of NASA’s Near-Earth Objects Program, the Mayan calendar doesn’t actually end, however. “It’s just the end of the cycle and the beginning of a new one,” he says. “It’s like on December 31, our calendar comes to an end, but a new calendar begins on January 1.”

Yeomans also says in the video that the planet Nibiru, which is supposed to swing into the solar system and approach the Earth, “causing all kinds of disasters,” is in fact imaginary. “This planet is supposed to be coming toward Earth,” he explains in the video, “but if it were, we would have seen it long ago. And if it were invisible somehow, we would have seen its effects on the neighboring planets.”

You might wonder how Yeomans was approached to help produce a video on this subject. “Don, I think you ought to go on camera and address this Mayan prophecy thing,” one of his PR guys must have said. “Don’t forget to talk about the invisible planet issue.”

Another possibility is that we’re destroyed by a solar storm. That’s also debunked, as is the idea of a planetary alignment that throws us into chaos.

As Yeoman points out: “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. Since the beginning of time there have been literally hundreds of thousands of predictions for the end of the world. And we’re still here.”

* * *
The Food and Drug Administration has issued a grapefruit alert.

Grapefruit juice, and eating whole grapefruit, can interfere with the absorption of some prescription and non-prescription drugs, the FDA says. Some oranges and tangelos have the same effect.

What concerns me here is that now we not only have to worry about drug side effects, but also what happens when we eat perfectly normal, healthy food.

Will we see pharmaceutical-like disclaimers on ads for produce? Dairy products? Stay tuned ….

Photo: Mayan temple via Flickr.com

Like most people, I suppose, I’m a bit tardy when it comes to keeping up with the latest technology. Of course, I tweet — who doesn’t — and I’m on Facebook (nominally). I Skype.

Not all digital innovation interests me. But I am intrigued with the potential of Google+ Hangout, a type of Internet videoconference in which anyone on the web, with a decent connection and webcam, can visually connect with others and chat about a specific topic. Free.

It’s very possible that Hangout will replace videoconferencing for businesses, since there are many business-friendly features including the ability to group edit documents and write on a group whiteboard, according to the tech blog Digital Cupcake.

You can also use it on Android Smartphones, so you could potentially hold a meeting while you’re waiting to catch a plane or taking a train into or out of your friendly neighborhood financial center. Service men and women could use it to hook up with family and friends around the country from foreign assignments. Up to 10 people can be in the conference at one time.

There are some health applications as well, though. Let’s say you want to form a support group for social anxiety disorders, or infertility issues. Trouble is, your community may not have a physical group you can join, or you may be out in the ‘burbs someplace or in a more rural setting. This allows you to meet with people all around the world who are dealing with something similar.

The Toronto Globe and Mail published a story last week about a global Hangout group for stutterers, called Stutter Social. Try finding that in your community directory of medical services.

Times are posted for meetings so you can plan ahead. If you’re looking for something specific, you can do a search of Hangout groups on this website, or if you can’t find what you need you can start your own group.

“It’s one big support group,” Daniele Rossi, a Toronto designer who co-founded the group last summer, told the Globe and Mail. “Growing up stuttering, you feel that you’re the only one in the world.”

So now you can trade stories and offer wisdom and advice with people from New York to California, Australia to South Africa. If only that had been available for King George VI.

* * *

Medicare reform has become a back-burner issue in this year’s presidential race. But among some Republicans, there has been an effort to revive the proposal to turn Medicare into a voucher program. Yes, I know they call it Premium Support, not voucher. But it’s voucher.

Now it appears that pushing the Medicare revamp may work strongly to the GOP’s disadvantage. A poll released last week by Kaiser Health News shows that 70 percent of Americans want the program to stay the way it is. Even 53 percent of Republican voters said Medicare should remain “as it is today, with the government guaranteeing seniors health insurance and making sure that everyone gets the same defined set of benefits.”

Only 39 percent of Republicans would like to see the program based on a voucher system.

Oops. I mean Premium Support.

Photo: Family teleconference (U.S. Army photo via Flickr.com)