California’s Competitors

“The median home value in San Francisco in 2022 is above $1.5 million, according to the Zillow Home Value Index, which shows home values rising by more than 10 percent in the past year alone. In nearby San Jose, Redfin reports a median home price of $1.45 million—but home values have risen by a staggering 24 percent in the last year. Today’s Bay Area is simply unaffordable for most people, in part because California regulations hinder new construction and in part because natural geographical constraints reduce the total amount of buildable space; San Francisco has a huge housing supply shortage that shows no signs of being remedied soon.

Pair this with complaints that the city has failed to handle its homelessness problem, leading to open-air drug scenes and massive tent encampments in neighborhoods like the Tenderloin. One in every 100 San Franciscans is homeless, and California is a national outlier in terms of what proportion of the homeless population is actively “unsheltered,” as in, sleeping on the streets or under highway overpasses. In San Francisco, 73 percent of the city’s homeless population is considered unsheltered. That’s not normal, even for a big city: In New York City, the figure is about 3 percent.

And then there was the pandemic, which made many big tech offices obsolete: Twitter, Yelp, and Airbnb attempted to sublease their expensive Bay Area office spaces. Pinterest paid almost $90 million in the third quarter of 2020 to break the lease of their almost 500,000-square-foot office space. For many workers, the value of living in San Francisco dropped. Why pay a premium to live near an office you aren’t going to?

Finally, there was the broader sense, especially among high-value tech workers, that San Francisco and its neighbors were uninterested and unresponsive, focused only on extracting from their most productive citizens in the form of high taxes, which fund poor city services. In the last few years, many have simply grown tired of paying exorbitant taxes for the privilege of living in California—one that now bestows little in return.

Hence the Golden State exodus. In 2021, for the first time ever, California lost a congressional seat. The state didn’t technically lose population, but it didn’t have the same growth rate as the rest of the country.”

“the shift also owes something to responsive governance. Leaders of other cities have actively courted the movers. In December 2020, venture capitalist Delian Asparouhov tweeted “ok guys hear me out, what if we move silicon valley to miami.” Miami Mayor Francis Suarez responded promptly, “How can I help?”

Yet as Bay Area tech workers depart, it remains an open question whether those new pastures will truly be greener. The city of Austin has faced rising housing costs, stemming in part from restrictions on development. Miami has struggled with corruption and policing problems. San Francisco’s urban competitors are cheaper, for now, but there are already worrying signs that the cities luring tech’s highly mobile, highly desirable workers are already poised to repeat many of the same mistakes that drove so many Californians away.”

“In 2012, Austin city officials saw the writing on the wall and proactively tried to remedy these problems by moving toward a zoning code rewrite. The 30-year-old code had outlasted its usefulness, and with massive population growth, city planners needed to allow for much more density.

The city’s newly proposed zoning code was dubbed CodeNEXT, as part of a forward-looking urban revitalization plan, Imagine Austin. The new code aimed to reduce the strict separations between Austin’s residential and commercial corridors, allowing for more mixed-use buildings and more housing overall.

It would’ve scrapped single-family zoning restrictions in many areas, allowing for duplexes, triplexes, fourplexes, and apartment buildings to be built in their stead; it would’ve allowed for urban in-fill instead of forcing newcomers to gravitate toward far-flung suburbs; it would’ve reduced or eliminated minimum parking requirements in some places too. It wasn’t exactly an urbanist’s dream—some criticized it for not going far enough with regard to density—but it was a reasonable step toward that ideal.”

“By 2018, the project was dead in the water, having been met with fierce opposition primarily from neighborhood preservationists and homeowners, who had seen their homes double in price over the last five or 10 years.”

Inflation Triggers Mandatory Minimum Wage Increases in California

“When California passed a massive boost in its minimum wage six years ago so that it would eventually reach $15 an hour, the law included a component that tied the minimum to inflation levels. If inflation starts getting too high, the law forces a mandatory increase in the minimum wage.

This week, Gov. Gavin Newsom’s budget director, Keely Martin Bosler, announced that the massive inflation America is seeing is going to force the minimum wage in the state to automatically increase to $15.50 next January. The law requires this automatic adjustment if the inflation rate grows past 7 percent. The Los Angeles Times reports that it’s possible that the minimum wage might rise by another 50 cents if inflation continues.

Bosler, of course, sees only the positive here, saying it will help poor families pay for the higher food prices we’re all enduring: “They have a huge impact to those families that are living off of those lower wages and their ability to cover the cost of goods.””

“ising wages during this time frame is natural, but it’s also worth noting that California’s unemployment rate continues to be higher than the national average, sitting at 4.9 percent. Just four states and Washington, D.C., have a higher unemployment rate. According to data from California’s Employment Development Department, almost every county in California has higher unemployment rates than the average, and some are running more than twice the national average. Two counties—Colusa and Imperial—have double-digit unemployment rates.

At the same time, businesses have also been hit hard by inflation, and those that operate on tight margins (retail stores, restaurants, and pretty much every small business) are going to have new struggles. Combined, inflation and a higher minimum wage will make it difficult for these businesses to take on new employees and keep the ones they already have.”

Biden admin to rescind Trump ‘conscience’ rule for health workers

“The Biden administration is preparing to scrap a Trump-era rule that allows medical workers to refuse to provide services that conflict with their religious or moral beliefs”

“The so-called conscience rule, unveiled in 2018 and finalized in 2019, was blocked by federal courts after dozens of states, cities and advocacy groups sued, and has never been implemented.
Had it gone forward, it would have allowed doctors, nurses, medical students, pharmacists and other health workers to refuse to provide abortions, contraception, gender affirming care, HIV and STD services, vasectomies or any procedure to which they object.”

Elizabeth Warren’s plan to break up Big Everything

“mergers don’t just affect consumers: “The world has changed for those workers,” Warren said.”

“Studies have shown that as markets become more concentrated, wages stagnate.”

“Under Warren’s new bill, mergers over a certain size or that consolidate the market too much are forbidden. And consummated mergers that have harmed competition, workers, consumers, or competitors can be broken up.”

Local governments have billions in federal Covid cash and no workers to pay

“State and local governments are struggling to hire and retain workers amid a tight labor market, even as private-sector employment is reaching pre-pandemic levels.

Despite an influx of federal cash they received in response to Covid-19 — much of which remains unspent — and their own booming revenues, governments are having a hard time competing for workers as salaries at private companies rise.

Economists and unions warn that if public-sector employers can’t reverse the trend, it will erode the quality of services like education and slow the overall economic recovery. ”

“Altogether, the public sector has gained back 53 percent of the jobs lost since February 2020, a ZipRecruiter analysis of Bureau of Labor Statistics data found. The private sector has won back 93 percent.”

“Economists cite a historically tight labor market as one driver of the discrepancy. Employers in every industry are struggling to attract and retain talent, which has put upward pressure on pay and perks such as remote work that governments thus far have been unable to match.

There were a record 11.3 million job openings in January, the most recent month for which data is available — about 5 million more than there are employed workers. At the same time, average hourly earnings have surpassed $31 — a more than 5 percent increase from the previous year.

The year-over-year growth rate for hourly private-sector salaries and wages in each of the past four quarters has exceeded that for state and local governments by the largest margin on record, according to a Pew analysis of Labor Department data.

“Really across the board, many governments are often facing intense competition for workers,” Mike Maciag, who studies the government sector at The Pew Charitable Trusts, said. “Slower [public-sector] wage growth is playing a major role in hindering efforts by a lot of governments to fill openings and retain workers.”

Maciag points to a recent report from Arkansas’ Office of Personnel Management that found competing offers from Walmart, McDonald’s, Amazon and the like were impeding that state’s efforts to fill some positions. All paid significantly more than the state for entry-level jobs — despite the fact that the “complexity and responsibility” of the government roles “far exceeded” that of the private-sector ones, according to the report.”

Immigrants could help the US labor shortage — if the government would let them

“Amid nationwide labor shortages in critical industries, more than a million immigrants are waiting on the US government to issue them work permits. Without these permits, many could lose their jobs, and some already have.

Biraj Nepal, a Nepali asylum seeker living in Woodland, California, has been working as a software engineer in the IT department of a bank for the last four years. Nepal went on unpaid administrative leave starting on January 26 because his work permit expired and the government has yet to process his renewal application. That has left his employer in a lurch: There’s long been a shortage of IT workers, and the pandemic accelerated that trend as companies went remote. Now, nearly a third of IT executives say that the search for qualified employees has gotten “significantly harder.”

If Nepal isn’t issued a new work permit within 90 days of taking administrative leave, his company will, by law, no longer be able to hold his job for him and will likely look for a contractor to fill his role. Under normal circumstances, that wouldn’t be a concern; work permits are meant to be issued quickly so that immigrants can be self-sufficient even while they are waiting on other applications for visas and green cards, which can take months or years to process. But the backlog at US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has reached crisis level.”

“The pandemic is partly to blame. Monthslong USCIS office closures and staff shortages have created a backlog of more than 8 million applications across all types of immigration benefits — including green cards, visas, and protection from deportation — and most work permit applicants have to be photographed and fingerprinted in person. USCIS was also plagued by a budget crisis under the Trump administration, and work permit applications spiked last fiscal year to an all-time high of 2.6 million, straining the agency’s capacity.

Under President Joe Biden, USCIS has taken some measures to combat the problem, though has stopped short of automatically extending the validity period of expired work permits as advocates have requested. It temporarily waived fingerprinting requirements for some applicants, exempted spouses of certain visa holders from having to apply separately for work authorization, and extended the validity period of newly issued work permits from one to two years for some immigrants who have been admitted to the US on humanitarian grounds. It has also hired new staff, including 200 people in the agency’s asylum division, to address the backlog. But it’s not clear why the agency hasn’t also adopted the extension policy that activists have called for.

Earlier this month, a federal court vacated two Trump-era rules that had restricted access to work permits for asylum seekers, meaning that their applications could be processed more quickly going forward.

“Agency personnel is addressing outstanding processing issues and making changes to underlying procedures to achieve new efficiencies while ensuring the integrity and security of the immigration system. This includes improving processing times and decreasing pending cases,” said Matthew Bourke, a USCIS spokesperson.

But the backlog remains too large to be solved quickly by USCIS’s new policies or the court decisions. That would require additional regulatory action: In addition to extending the validity of expired work permits, the government could also streamline the application form for work permits to speed up processing, Cruz said. That could help immigrants who can’t afford to wait much longer for their applications to be approved.”

Grocery Shelves Are Empty, but Immigration Waitlists Are Full

“Immigrants frequently fill jobs that native-born Americans are reluctant to do. Unsurprisingly, the largest gaps in the labor market tend to appear where immigrants make up a larger share of the workers. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2020 “foreign-born workers were more likely than native-born workers to be employed in service occupations; natural resources, construction, and maintenance occupations; and production, transportation, and material moving occupations.” Foreign-born workers make up roughly 17 percent of the U.S. labor force. In each of the struggling sectors mentioned above, more than 20 percent of the workers are already immigrants.

This dynamic isn’t just affecting low-wage jobs. According to Bloomberg, the U.S. is currently experiencing its worst health care labor shortage ever. An estimated 2.7 million immigrants are already working in hospitals. In October, 16 percent of American hospitals reported that they were critically short-staffed and the situation has only gotten worse. These essential jobs need to be filled so desperately that health officials are allowing staff infected with COVID to stay on the job. Many health care workers are experiencing burnout, and immigrants have already proven they can step in and get the job done.

Immigrants won’t solve every labor shortage in the U.S., but letting more people come here for an honest and well-paying job would be a great place to start. The sooner we see more immigrants allowed into the U.S., the sooner we’ll see more milk and meat at the supermarket.”

We’ll never have a normal flu season again

“Before the pandemic, the flu alone could sometimes push hospital systems into crisis mode, where they cancel elective procedures and limit other kinds of care. Now there’s Covid-19, which has done the same thing on its own.

Suddenly conjuring more hospital capacity every winter to handle the expected surges of flu and Covid-19 is not going to happen. Thousands of additional hospital beds are not coming in the next few years, and the US would not have the doctors and nurses to staff them anyway. It will take much longer — years or maybe decades — to improve the gaps in America’s health care infrastructure and workforce that have been exposed during Covid-19.

This means the imperative to “flatten the curve,” to limit the spread of these viruses to stop hospitals from being overwhelmed, will be with us for a long time. But the makeup of the curve will change, measuring multiple diseases instead of one.”

“Vaccination is the best way to stop a bad Covid-and-flu season before it starts.”

“Surveillance is critical, starting with early-warning systems. Public health institutions have long monitored the flu and they are already tracking Covid-19 in a similar manner. Monitoring the amount of virus detected in local wastewater has proven to be a reliable leading indicator of new Covid-19 waves during the pandemic. And widespread, reliable testing will be essential — including at-home tests for both Covid-19 and the flu.”

“Frequent testing lets people know that they should isolate. If they are at higher risk of severe illness, they can get on antivirals quickly. The current therapies are most effective at stopping serious symptoms that could require hospitalization if they are taken within the first few days of an illness. Research in the last decade has found that flu antivirals are too often underprescribed for patients who would benefit most; improving prescription rates is only more critical now that the health system will be contending with both the flu and Covid-19 going forward.”