In the commentary by John Phelan ("Unemployment pays too well," Opinion Exchange, April 28) the author asserts with no evidence that it is the increased unemployment benefits that are keeping workers at home. In at least two articles in the past few weeks the same assertion has been made, again with no evidence. Employers are quoted but not workers. Even though these articles point out other reasons the unemployed may not be looking for work (child care, fear of infection) there is still this lazy commentary regarding why workers are not working. Maybe they can't commute to where the jobs are, are not comfortable with an employer's COVID safety practices or need a job that offers better benefits.
There are many reasons other than just money to not apply for or accept a job, and continuing to publish articles that insufficiently address those reasons just perpetuates the myth that unemployed workers don't want to work. Sometimes just any job is not enough.
Wendy Friedmeyer, Crystal
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Phelan claims that you can't entice people to take jobs that pay less than unemployment benefits yet offers no data to support this. This may seem like a logical and attractive conclusion to most, but it is based on the false belief that people use economic arithmetic as their primary basis in life decisions.
There are indeed a lot of jobs unfilled, but that was also the case before the pandemic. Remember all the signs in store windows? This idea again trots out that old chestnut that people and jobs are interchangeable: that you can take any person and plug them into any open job. This goes back to Ronald Reagan showing all the want ads in the newspaper and assuring everyone that unemployment is not a concern, just a lot of lazy people.
The COVID benefits of last year were appropriately generous, and some people were indeed making more than their wages; even up to $26 or $33.50 per hour as pointed out. But this is the maximum benefit for top earners. Those aren't the jobs going wanting. It's mostly the ones at the bottom end of the scale, paying a little more than $8 to $10 per hour — providing unemployment benefits of $4 or $5 per hour — that are vacant. Those folks are now probably getting $11.50 to $12.50 per hour with the enhanced federal benefits. And that's in Minnesota, one of the more generous states.
There are plenty of reasons why jobs go unfilled during a disruptive pandemic. For a few, generous unemployment benefits may be it. But Phelan might be surprised at the result if we surveyed people as to whether they would prefer a solid permanent job vs. a more lucrative, temporary, free benefit.
Neither of us has any hard data to draw upon, so our proposals are just claims based on our own worldviews. Perhaps if we just paid people proper wages and provided workable unemployment benefits, we wouldn't even be having this discussion.
Dennis Fazio, Minneapolis
This is nothing but greed
Generally speaking, capitalism does a lot of good. We have higher literacy rates and standards of living than at any time in human history. But here's where it abjectly fails: Target's CEO, Brian Cornell, was paid $77.5 million for 2020 ("Target rewards Cornell for record results," April 27). Huh? During a pandemic? A Target employee making $50,000 per year would have to work for over 1,500 years to equal what Cornell just pocketed for a single year.
Come on now. Who on earth needs that much money while so many others (even within the same company) struggle just to scrape by? And what's the point? Another boat? A bigger mansion? Pernicious generational wealth? And I mean no disrespect to Cornell; he's just part of a deeply entrenched system that's overflowing with similar examples. But this is greed, plain and simple. Can we stop pretending that it's some sort of glorious American dream and just call it what it is?
Travis Anderson, Minneapolis
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Isn't it wonderful to hear that in the midst of pandemic, unemployment at such high levels and folks hitting the food shelves that there's still success to be found if you happen to be the executives at places such as Target, where executive compensation was $77.5 million; Boeing, where with tens of thousands of layoffs and losses in the billions, executive compensation was $21.1 million; Norwegian Cruise, where with losses at $4 billion and 20% of its workforce furloughed, executive pay was $36.4 million, and Hilton, where despite similar cuts, executive pay was $55.9 million. ("CEO pay remains stratospheric, even at firms hurt by pandemic," April 27.)
And these just lead the list of CEOs that make, on average, 320 times as much as their "regular" workers. This stretch of the differences between the ultrarich and the middle class will — eventually — lead to a revolution in this country that I don't believe will be as much about Democrats and Republicans as it will be about class.
Disgusting is not a strong enough word to lay on these folks' compensation. And, unfortunately, as long as stockholders are blind to the inevitable, the destruction of our society will come sooner rather than later.
Jim stromberg, Edina
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Two recent stories. The Star Tribune business section reported on April 27 the compensation of Target's CEO in conjunction with its profitable year. On April 26, it reprinted a Washington Post article about problems with flushed wipes ("Flushed wipes clog pipes, send sewage into homes"), for which "divers had to swim down 90 feet through raw sewage into a dark wet well to pull a 12-foot-long mass of wipes from three pumps."
Shall we vote on whether the CEO or the divers better deserve $77.5 million in compensation?
Michael Friedman, Minneapolis
RULE OF LAW
'Abstracted' jurors are, in fact, ideal
A letter writer's April 23 takedown of D.J. Tice's recent commentary ("The verdict of a '13th juror' on Chauvin — and the trial," Opinion Exchange, April 21) was not only grossly wrong but expresses thinking dangerous to a basic constitutional right. Ironically, though, the writer, by wanting jurors who aren't "abstracted from social conditions" and who are "moved by past experience of police brutality," validates Tice's point.
Ethically, in honoring oaths to the Constitution (e.g. the Sixth Amendment, "public trial, by an impartial jury") judges and attorneys — prosecution or defense, civil or criminal — do not wish for sitting jurors of the writer's thinking. Juries are to determine the right or wrong of party's actions, not society's deficiencies — no matter the event, no matter the publicized cause, no matter the pressure from whomever.
Historically, there has been no better path to justice (truth) than by courtroom-only evidence of facts (witnesses, exhibits) and law (judge) from which jurors honor their oaths of impartiality (admittedly today a herculean task). Honesty and common sense serve jurors better than depth of knowledge about social conditions — and are far less dangerous. Ingrained bias, effected by whatever medium (iPhones, TV, papers, politicians, activists, riots, barber shops, etc.), is a no-no for a fair trial by an impartial jury.
The Chauvin case in totality (thanks to an "informed society" from outside the courtroom) put a near-impossible burden on the jury (unless of 12 saints), expecting each mind and emotion to be free of bias and fear in deliberation for any lesser crime than murder. Otherwise?
Kudos to Tice, boldly probing the importance of "impartiality" (as did Judge Peter Cahill). It was spot on, yet accepted the verdict without a tantrum. Yes, the result may be under an umbrella of fairness, but peddlers of "news of the world" trying to influence the outcome sadly hung a dark cloud over the rule of law.
John Miller, Hopkins
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