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Disability benefits: the new unemployment checks

This American Life is an excellent podcast, but occasionally puts out episodes on subjects I don't care for - fiction, reminisces about home life, etc. There is one heuristic you should use for filtering American Life podcasts: listen to the podcasts they release that tell one story for the whole hour.

Example whole-hour podcasts, that are great stories: the NUMMI plant in Fremont, a story about Amanda Williams and juvenile justice in Georgia, a story on the Social Contract and why it's so hard to fix the country's current budget problems.

The latest episode of This American Life spans an entire episode, and is similarly excellent. Ostensibly it's about healthcare in the US, but the true story is about a class of US citizens who are no longer fit for the workplace, and the steps they're taking to cope.

Occupational change over time is completely normal, and in fact, a very good thing for everyone. At one point in time, 98% of US workers were farmers. Imagine if the government had implemented protective measures for jobs in farming that were at risk of disappearing, as farming tools got better and workers became more productive. It would have prolonged the use of inefficient farming techniques and delayed moves into more productive industries.

Historically, sectoral shifts in the US economy have been handled without too much disruption to society. Workers retire in less productive sectors, and new graduates enter in promising industries. Of course in individual instances a mill may shut down and leave people without a job but on the whole it's worked out okay.

Lately there's been lots of evidence that the economy is starting to shift much faster than the retirement/new entry process can adjust to. The result is a giant swath of society that is unable to contribute in a meaningful way, or earn their keep. This American Life focuses in on this group of people, currently numbering in the tens of millions (as well as the group of rent seekers catering to this group). I'd suggest you tune in, because this problem is not going away.

I don't have solutions or criticism; the story is more sad than anything. You should be tuned into what is happening with the workforce in the US today, especially when most of us live in areas surrounded by people that share our socioeconomic background and status.

I'd encourage you to read Kevin Kelly's recent post on The Post-Productive Economy. It's one view of where we might be heading.

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It begins

Email from my alma mater:

Dear Members of the Claremont McKenna College Community,

I am writing to update you on an important action taken by the Board of Trustees at its meeting on March 9, 2013. In particular, the Board acted to end the College’s “No Packaged Loan” financial aid policy. Beginning with the fall 2014 entering freshman class, the College will reinstate its former practice of including reasonable loan amounts of up to $4,000 per year in the financial aid package for need-based students. This policy change will not affect any current students during their remaining time at CMC, nor will it affect new students enrolling in fall 2013.

This decision was not taken lightly, as we know that there are challenges and pressures that some families face regarding the affordability of a college education. However, our current situation is best understood in view of the College’s long-standing commitment to need-blind admission and to meeting the financially demonstrated need of all admitted, domestic freshman students. The College’s Strategic Plan identifies need-blind admission as one of our most important values, and highlights the importance of insuring our need-blind policy is financially sustainable over the long term. Therefore, I wanted to take this opportunity to briefly discuss the background of the No Packaged Loan policy, and the reasons why the Board determined it was necessary to end the policy at this time.

The College adopted the No Packaged Loan policy in the spring of 2008, just prior to the global financial crisis, at a time when a number of CMC’s peer colleges and universities were implementing various forms of no-loan or reduced-loan policies. At that time, the College completed an extensive financial analysis of the cost of a no packaged loan policy. The financial projections indicated that the College could replace loans with grants within its existing financial aid resources through a combination of actions, including reductions in the amount of merit aid and, most significantly, a reallocation of unrestricted endowment funds that were then being used to support a 0% interest institutional loan fund.

The financial collapse that caused the recent economic recession soon followed. As with most colleges and universities, the economic conditions of the past several years have placed significant pressure on the College’s operating budget. The College has worked to navigate through this period, which has included increasing our commitment to institutional financial aid at almost twice the rate of tuition increases. But we have had concerns about the sustainability of the No Packaged Loan policy, as we have focused on doing everything we can to ensure CMC remains accessible and affordable to all qualified students, regardless of need.

It is within this context that the Board has been engaged this year in a number of important discussions related to the costs and funding of a CMC education, and about the No Packaged Loan policy in particular. This discussion has also included valuable insight and analysis from the faculty, particularly from the faculty’s Admission and Financial Aid Committee (AFAC), who examined the effects of the No Packaged Loan policy on lower-income and minority applicants since the program’s inception five years ago. The Board weighed the AFAC’s findings in their decision and is appreciative of this research.

Through these discussions and careful analysis, the Board decided that, although the No Packaged Loan policy was important to preserve, if feasible, the College’s overarching priority should be to preserve and protect the College’s need-blind admission policies.

In making the decision to eliminate the No Packaged Loan policy, the Board reaffirmed several important commitments:

That the College is committed to providing access to all qualified students based on academic talent and not on financial need;

That the College is committed to securing and strengthening its need-blind admission and to meeting full-need policies by making fundraising for financial aid a priority;

That the College is committed to ensuring that packaged loan levels are reasonable and affordable;

That the College’s financial aid budget will not be reduced by this decision, and ongoing evaluation of the financial aid budget should take place during the next five years.

To help meet these goals, the Board authorized the administration to develop a plan for a targeted fundraising initiative that will focus on securing additional support for financial aid.

It seems probable that many colleges and universities across the country will soon be conducting similar evaluations of their financial aid policies and making changes. It is important for each institution to develop a strategy that assists students and their families to afford higher education with a program that is financially sustainable for the institution. I believe that is what we have done here.


Pamela Gann

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Kevin goes to Coachella

I went to the Coachella music festival last week. It was a wild weekend and I will surely go again in the future.

  • I was surprised at how little thought bands put into their onstage appearance and mannerisms. It’s natural for artists to want to focus on their music, and expect others to judge them based on their music, but the fact is the show is more than just the music, especially at a festival where you are going to have more casual fans than a regular concert. The three artists who did the best job of putting on a show were Empire of the Sun, Kanye and Sleigh Bells.
  • Kanye’s show had the clear marks of an egotistical maniac: forty dancers dressed in white, several interludes where he proclaimed his own greatness, and a fifty-foot-tall Greek tragic relief behind him. He let the music play and the dancers dance for about three minutes before appearing. He performed the first song while circling thirty feet above the crowd on a riser. I thought this was brilliant cause it let people take camera phone pictures of Kanye alone against a dark background.
  • Phones were really unreliable for most of the event, so we had to make really concrete plans like “meet at this spot at exactly 6pm” and so on. I don’t understand how people did things before cellphones. People must have just lost each other a lot.
  • At times it seemed like the only thing everyone was doing was just walking around. For a while I flipped out that everyone walking the other way had better information. That theory did not hold weight.
  • As my college career is coming to a close I’m getting really nervous about whether I’ll continue meeting people and making friends. So I’m making more of an effort to talk to strangers. This generally went well. However it’s not a good sign that at a place like Coachella, with 150,000 attractive people in my own demographic, with something really obvious to talk about (the music), and virtually no downside to having a conversation go badly, I only maybe talked to 5 strangers each day.
  • Cell phones aside I was amazed at how smoothly everything ran. I was particularly impressed by these trash cans:

    They are a great example of form following function. The round hole was for round recyclables (bottles, cans). The square hole was for compost items (plates, forks, paper). The other hole was for trash. The one critique I’d have is that the holes were not very large so a drunk or lazy person might just throw their recyclable in the trash. This error may be better than throwing trash in the recycling, however.

  • My favorite acts were Sleigh Bells, Kanye, the Strokes, Cut Copy, Two Door Cinema Club, and Wiz Khalifa. If you have a choice between two acts, choose the louder, more upbeat, or more electronic sounding one.

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