Updated Monday, Dec. 23: The Obama administration announced on Monday it was giving a one-day grace period to consumers shopping for health insurance under Obamacare. The deadline to sign up for a plan on the health care exchanges was supposed to be today -- but has been extended until Dec. 24.
It’s been a lousy past few days for Joey Cardella.
“I feel like I’m just stumbling over this stuff,” he says. “It’s just so frustrating.”
Cardella, a freelance photographer, is talking about looking through his options for insurance under the new federal healthcare law. At 29 and healthy, he’s the sort of customer that every insurer lusts for. But he’s just not sure anything of his options is a good fit for him.
“People are just talking about don’t get health insurance -- ‘Just pay the penalty,’” he says, referring to the penalty that will be levied against people who don’t have insurance. “And to me, that doesn’t really solve anything at all. I want to see a doctor every now and then and know that I’m not going to get screwed over financially if I do that.”
Financial concerns explain why consumers have waited until the final days to sign up. But really -- this is not the drop-dead deadline to avoid a penalty. That’s March 31.
Duke behavioral scientist Peter Ubel says if folks like Cardella can’t make up their minds this week, that may be OK. It’s like trying to remember who sang a particular song, he says.
“The more you try to think about who sang it, the less you are going to figure it out,” he says. “Then when you move the topic on, all of a sudden someone yells, Bruce Springsteen!”
That’s because, Ubel says, when we walk away from something, we are still processing the decision unconsciously. The trouble might be if you walked away from health insurance choices because every option was just too expensive.
It’s been about as good a year for holiday jobs as during the boom years before the Great Recession, when 700,000 to 750,000 seasonal retail jobs were added from September to January in a typical year from September.
According to analysis by the global outplacement firm Challenger, Gray and Christmas, 2013 is shaping up to be slightly weaker than 2012 -- down 2.3 percent for the October-November period, with December’s numbers yet to be released. But 2012 was a banner year for holiday hiring, and John Challenger expects 2013 will come close to matching last year’s performance.
Those seasonal temps -- many of them working full-time -- have been hired at companies such as Nordstrom, Amazon, and Kitchen Kaboodle, a voluminously stocked housewares, kitchen-gear and furniture chain with several stores in Portland, Oregon. The chain employs approximately 50 sales staff year-round, and beefs that up with approximately 18 seasonal hires from September through the post-holiday sales in early January.
Last year and again this year, 23-year-old Max Levy has landed one of those seasonal jobs. He’s working full-time and making $10/hour. He says he’s “on hiatus” from community college, living with his mother, so the pay is fine for him right now.
“I am doing stock, and then I help with the register, customers, whatever they need,” he says. The biggest challenge is mastering a vast array of merchandise -- from obscure kitchen utensils to living-room furniture. He’s let the store owner know he’d like to make this more than a temporary job. “I said I’m not doing anything after the holidays, so if you need any staff afterward, I’ll gladly stick around.”
Levy’s boss, Kitchen Kaboodle co-owner John Whisler, says he’s definitely watching how Levy and others perform, sizing them up for permanent jobs -- assessing how they deal with customers, co-workers, and merchandise.
But for Levy and a couple of his fellow-seasonal temps to land jobs, some current workers will probably have to leave. And that’s true across the industry: most of the 700,000 to 750,000 holiday sales, order-taking and stocking jobs will be shed by February. Net retail employment isn’t going up precipitously, but rather growing apace with the economy and population as a whole. And retail employment isn’t growing as a percentage of all employment (it’s held steady at just over 11 percent since before the recession).
Fortunately for holiday retail workers, turnover is extremely high in the industry -- 75 percent in some chain stores. So there’s plenty of opportunity for the temps to move in.
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The Air Force looked at a number of bases nationwide before deciding to put some of its new Joint Strike Fighters, or F-35s, in Vermont. The Burlington community was divided over the planes, with both sides making economic arguments.
The F-35s will replace aging F-16s at the Vermont Air National Guard base. Pilots, says Lt. Col. Luke Ahmann, patrol in upstate New York, over the Adirondacks and then the White Mountains over New Hampshire, and then northern Maine.
Some 1,100 people work at the base. F-35 supporters say without the new plane, the F-16s here would be retired and everyon who flies them or works on them would be fired.
"This is about retaining 1,100 jobs and the economic benefits that accompany those jobs here," says Frank Cioffi, president of the Greater Burlington Industrial Corporation.
As Cioffi and I chat at the Burlington airport, a fighter jet takes off from the nearby base. Cioffi says it's an F-16.
Noise from the F-16s already at the base figures into the economic argument of the F-35’s opponents. They say the F-35 would be even noisier. The federal government has already decided noise from the base’s F-16s made about 200 houses in South Burlington uninhabitable. Many homeowners were bought out. Now their houses sit vacant not far from Carmine Sargent’s home. She calls her neighborhood little Detroit, "because it’s gone into disrepair."
"Home values have declined," she says, down about 15 to 20 percent. F-35 supporters say there’s been no change in value. Both sides commissioned studies to support their claims.
Sargent wants me to see the abandoned homes. We hop in the car, accompanied by Chris Hurd, a realtor who also opposes the F-35s. Sargent is behind the wheel, pointing at some dark, empty houses.
“And these are all empty now and boarded up," she says.
Later, realtor Chris Hurd tells me, nobody wants jobs to be lost. But homeowners have a case to make, too.
“Part of it is a values question," he says. "Part of it is an economic question.”
And the questions aren’t going away. F-35 opponents have filed several lawsuits, challenging the decision to base the F-35s in Vermont.
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