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High-wage jobs. Low-wage economy. Back to the basics.

 From Sunday's Business Today section:

- Value of labor unions depends on reference point - George Pyle/The Buffalo NewsDevinney
   New Bureau of Labor Statistics numbers out this month show that New York State continues to lead the nation in the percentage of unionized workers, with 25.2 percent of employed workers paying union dues. Buffalo and other New York metro areas, with rates of unionization that also tend to run at about a quarter of employed people, are also near the top of the list of most unionized cities.
   So, what has been the result? Has that meant a stable, dedicated workforce or the distorting entrenchment of an unaffordable status quo?
   The answer, it seems, depends on whom you ask.
   We asked folks from the Western New York Labor Federation [represented by field coordinator Patty DeVinney, above], Business Council of New York State, Cornell University, Buffalo Niagara Partnership and Tonawanda's GM Powertrain plant.

   The BLS report slices and dices the numbers many different ways -- by sector, occupation, gender, age, race, public, private and income. Nuggets include:
  - More public sector employees (7.9 million) belonged to a union than did private sector employees (7.4 million, despite there being 5 times more wage and salary workers in the private sector.
   - In 2009, among full-time wage and salary workers, union members had median usual weekly earnings of $908, while those who were not represented by unions had median weekly earnings of $710.
   A couple of academics have further expanded on the data, with more historic details, in some cases, back to the year 1973.
   Meanwhile, another think tank -- The Pew Research Center -- reports:
- Favorability Ratings of Labor Unions Fall Sharply
    Favorable views of labor unions have plummeted since 2007, amid growing public skepticism about unions' purpose and power. Currently, 41% say they have a favorable opinion of labor unions while about as many (42%) express an unfavorable opinion. In January 2007, a clear majority (58%) had a favorable view of unions while just 31% had an unfavorable impression.

 All of which should be linked to:
- Region sinks in low-wage economy - David Robinson/The Buffalo News
   ... nearly one of every two jobs -- 46 percent to be precise -- pays $30,000 a year or less. They are the fastest-growing part of the local job market, expanding by 17 percent from 2004 to 2008. One of every four local jobs is in an occupation with a median average wage of less than $22,050, which also is the federal poverty line for a four-person household.
   Drawn from the UB Regional Institute report: 'Playing an Insecure Hand: Low-Wage Workers in the New Economy'.

  Meanwhile, The Chairman reminds us who is really messing up the economy:
- Buffett: Execs should pay price for risky bets - Josh Funk/AP/Buffalo News
   Billionaire Warren Buffett, in his annual letter to shareholders, sternly urged companies to develop harsh penalties for executives who get into trouble with risky investments.
   From said letter:
   It has not been shareholders who have botched the operations of some of our country's largest financial institutions. Yet they have borne the burden, with 90% or more of the value of their holdings wiped out in most cases of failure. Collectively, they have lost more than $500 billion in just the four largest financial fiascos of the last two years. To say these owners have been “bailed-out” is to make a mockery of the term.
   The CEOs and directors of the failed companies, however, have largely gone unscathed. Their fortunes may have been diminished by the disasters they oversaw, but they still live in grand style. It is the behavior of these CEOs and directors that needs to be changed: If their institutions and the country are harmed by their recklessness, they should pay a heavy price -- one not reimbursable by the companies they've damaged nor by insurance. CEOs and, in many cases, directors have long benefitted from oversized financial carrots; some meaningful sticks now need to be part of their employment picture as well.

   All this leads to lots of repetitious and sometimes nasty back and forth about whether unions -- or banks -- are basically good or bad. It's all a lot of hot air, as Professor Dumbledore taught us:
   What distinguishes us is not our power or ability, but the choices we make.

-- George Pyle/The Buffalo News

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