The American Economy Is Creating a National Identity Crisis for Workers

From today’s New York Times:

Europeans often describe the United States as a great place to buy stuff but a terrible place to work. They understand the appeal of our plentiful and affordable consumer goods, but otherwise they just don’t get it: the lack of real vacation, the sending of emails after business hours, the general insensitivity to work-life balance.

That may be just a casual observation, but it identifies something deep and problematic about the economy that the United States has built over the past 40 years.

Since the 1980s, American economic policy has insisted on the central importance of two things: cheaper prices for consumers and maximum returns for corporate shareholders. There is some logic to this: We all buy things, after all, and more than 50 percent of Americans own at least some stock.

But these priorities also generate an internal conflict, for they neglect, repress and even enslave our other selves: our identities as employees, producers, family members, citizens. And in recent years — as jobs become increasingly unpleasant and unstable, as smaller towns and regional economies are gutted, as essential industries like the pharmaceutical and telecommunications sectors engage in outlandish profiteering, and above all, as economic inequality becomes the trademark of our nation — the conflict seems to have reached a breaking point.

Read the complete article here.

Employee Wellness Programs Yield Little Benefit, JAMA Study Shows

From today’s New York Times:

Companies have long embraced workplace wellness programs as a way to improve workers’ health and reduce overall medical spending, but a new study may prompt employers to rethink those efforts.

The study, published on Tuesday in JAMA, a medical journal, looked at the experience of 33,000 workers at BJ’s Wholesale Club, a retailer, over a year and a half.

While workers who enrolled in the wellness program reported that they learned to exercise more and watch their weight, the research found no significant differences in outcomes like lower blood pressure or sugar levels and other health measures. And it found no significant reduction in workers’ health care costs.

“These findings may temper expectations about the financial return on investment that wellness programs can deliver in the short term,” conclude the study’s authors, Dr. Zirui Song, a health policy researcher at Harvard Medical School, and Katherine Baicker, dean of the University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy.

Most employers — 82 percent of companies with more than 200 workers — offer some sort of wellness program like smoking cessation or weight management, according to the latest survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation. Companies often encourage participation in these programs by dangling some sort of financial carrot, ranging from a gift card if you track your steps to a significant discount off what you pay toward your health insurance.

Read the complete article here.