Tuesday, October 26, 2021

"The death of former US secretary of state Colin Powell from COVID-19 complications shows the importance of precautions for at-risk individuals"

 


“The death of Colin Powell, the United States' first Black secretary of state, from COVID-19 complications is a reminder of how immunocompromised and older people who are vaccinated can still be vulnerable to the virus. Fatalities among vaccinated people are still exceedingly rare. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), as of Oct. 12, more than 189 million people in the United States had been vaccinated, and there had been 7,178 deaths of fully vaccinated individuals. Adults over the age of 65 made up 85% of these cases.

“Powell's family confirmed that the 84-year-old had been fully vaccinated before his death, although they did not note whether he had received an additional dose on top of his initial vaccination. In addition to his age, the fact that Powell had previously been diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a blood cancer, increased his susceptibility to the disease. ‘No vaccine is 100%. There are always subgroups where vaccines won’t provide the same level of protection,’ Amesh Adalja, infectious diseases physician and senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, told BuzzFeed News. ‘It’s not surprising to see that the vaccination may not have been enough to prevent [Powell’s] death from COVID-19,’ Adalja said.

“Cancer cells and their treatments impair the body's immune system, making people with cancer more susceptible to hospitalization and death as a result of COVID-19. And a study published in July specifically highlighted that people with multiple myeloma responded less strongly to the Pfizer and Moderna COVID vaccines. In August, the CDC recommended that people who are moderately to severely immunocompromised receive a third dose of these vaccines.

“The deaths of vaccinated individuals from COVID-19 are very rare, and Adalja noted that advanced age and medical problems are both additional risk factors. Powell, he said, fit into the group ‘you’d be the most worried about.’ Despite this information, a number of conservative media figures seized on Powell's vaccination status as a reason to question how much protection individuals get from a COVID-19 shot.

“As many critics quickly pointed out, linking Powell's death to his vaccination status without providing information about his underlying conditions missed the point. But the risk of COVID to older and immunocompromised people does highlight how difficult this upcoming Thanksgiving may be, even if loved ones are vaccinated. That's why the FDA has authorized a booster dose of the Pfizer vaccine for all those over the age of 65, those at high risk of severe illness, and those who live or work in high-risk settings. (The health agency is currently weighing authorizations for Moderna's and Johnson & Johnson's shots too).

“In anticipation, the CDC issued new guidelines on safe holiday celebrations, with recommendations for how to limit the risk of COVID-19 transmission to at-risk individuals — even in gatherings where individuals have been fully vaccinated. ‘People who have a condition or are taking medications that weaken their immune system may not be fully protected even if they are fully vaccinated and have received an additional dose,’ the CDC emphasized in these new guidelines. The CDC advises these at-risk individuals to operate for the most part as if they were not vaccinated, wearing a mask and social distancing unless they have been advised otherwise by their healthcare provider.

“It also lays out guidelines for those fully vaccinated individuals who will be attending gatherings with at-risk people. The federal agency recommends that every eligible person who will be attending a gathering get fully vaccinated before traveling for the holidays. (Unlike last year, the CDC is not recommending that individuals cancel travel plans).

“The CDC emphasized the importance of all participants wearing masks during travel and before any holiday get-togethers. ‘Even those who are fully vaccinated should wear a mask in public indoor settings in communities with substantial to high transmission.’

“Gatherings should be held either outside or in well-ventilated areas. And even if individuals are fully vaccinated, those attending holiday gatherings ‘might choose to wear a mask regardless of the level of transmission if a member of your household has a weakened immune system, is at increased risk for severe disease, or is unvaccinated.’

“While the vast majority of breakthrough infections will lead to mild cases of COVID-19, the CDC estimated that immunocompromised people account for up to 44% of vaccinated people who end up being hospitalized. Overall, unvaccinated people made up about 86% of people hospitalized for COVID-19. ‘If you walk through a hospital, it’s not vaccinated people you see with COVID — it’s the unvaccinated,’ Adalja said. Above all else, the CDC urged eligible people to get the vaccine before celebrating the holidays together. ‘The goal of vaccines is not to prevent every infection and every death,’ Adalja added. ‘Vaccines aren’t magic force fields, but they do a good job with making it very unlikely that you get a severe case’” (Ellie Hall, Buzzfeed).

 

Monday, October 25, 2021

"Teachers Are Exhausted"-Steven Singer

 


by Valerie Strauss

Reporter

October 20, 2021

President Biden and first lady Jill Biden welcomed the 2020 and 2021 state Teachers of the Year to the White House this week, presenting a glass apple to the national winners for those years. “Don’t underestimate what you do,” the president told the teachers at an outdoor ceremony on the White House grounds. “… You make a gigantic difference.”

 

The Teacher of the Year program — sponsored by the Council of Chief State School Officers — honors a teacher from each state as well as from the District of Columbia, four U.S. territories and the Department of Defense Education Activity. Each year, a national winner is chosen, and they are all brought to the nation’s capital for a week of celebration and learning. In 2020, there was no D.C. trip because of the pandemic.

 

The event at the White House came at a time of crisis in teaching — with many educators saying they are more pressured and disillusioned than ever. Chronic teacher shortages are worsening in some places, and hiring substitute teachers is a huge challenge in many districts. Lauded during the early days of the pandemic, teachers and their unions quickly became a target of attack by people who wanted schools to open in areas of high coronavirus transmission.

 

This piece, written by veteran teacher Steven Singer, explains the state of the profession as he sees it now. Singer — a husband, father, author and education advocate — teaches eighth-grade language arts in western Pennsylvania. He is a National Board Certified Teacher and co-director of the Research and Blogging Committee for the Badass Teachers Association. He is also co-founder of the Pennsylvania-based education budget advocacy group TEACH (Tell Everyone All Cuts Hurt) and author of the book “Gadfly on the Wall: A Public-School Teacher Speaks Out on Racism and Reform.”

 

by Steven Singer

At the staff meeting the other day, one of my fellow teachers turned to me and said he was having trouble seeing. He rushed home and had to have his blood pressure meds adjusted. Another co-worker was sent home because one of her students had tested positive for the coronavirus and she had gone over to his desk to help him with his assignment. I came home one recent Friday and was so beaten down that I just collapsed into bed, spending the next week going from one medical procedure to another to regain my health.

 

The teachers are not okay.

 

This pandemic has been hard on us. Through every twist and turn, teachers have been at the center of the storm. When schools first closed, we were heroes for teaching online. When they remained closed, we were villains for wanting to remain there — safe from infection. Then there were vaccines, and many of us wanted to reopen our schools but only if we were prioritized to be vaccinated first. We actually had to fight for that right.

 

When our students got sick, we sounded the alarm — only to hear Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, tell people not to go to Super Bowl parties but that schools could reopen safely without teachers getting vaccinated. We were asked to redo our entire curriculums online, then in-person for handfuls of students in funky two-day blocks, then teach BOTH online and in-person at the same time. The summer was squandered with easing of precautions and not enough adults and teens getting vaccinated.

 

Then schools reopened in August and September to debates over whether we should continue safety precautions like requiring students and staff to wear masks and if we should expand them to include mandatory vaccinations for all staff and eligible students to protect kids 11 and younger who can’t take the vaccine yet. It’s been a rough year and a half, and I can tell you from experience: TEACHERS ARE EXHAUSTED.

 

As of Sept. 17, 2021, at least 1,116 active and retired K-12 educators have died of covid-19, according to Education Week. Of that number, at least 361 were active teachers on the job. I'm sure the real number is much higher. According to the Associated Press, the pandemic has triggered a spike in teacher retirements and resignations, not to mention a shortage of tutors and special aides. Difficulties filling teacher openings have been reported in many states, including Tennessee, New Jersey and South Dakota. In the Mount Rushmore State, one district started the school year with 120 teacher vacancies.

 

In Texas, districts in Houston, Waco and other neighborhoods reported teacher vacancies in the hundreds as the school year began. And a number of schools nationwide have had to temporarily shut down classrooms because there just weren’t enough teachers. The teacher shortage didn’t start with the pandemic. Educators have been quietly walking away from the profession for years now because of poor compensation and lack of respect, autonomy and support.

 

For instance, teachers are paid 20 percent less than other college-educated workers with similar experience. A 2020 survey found that 67 percent of teachers have or had a second job to make ends meet. Why is it so hard to keep schools staffed with teachers? This graphic explains it. This isn’t rocket science. If people refuse to work for a certain wage, you need to increase compensation. But it’s not just pay. According to a survey in June of 2,690 members of the National Education Association, 32 percent said the pandemic was likely to make them leave the profession earlier than expected. That’s almost a third of educators — 1 in 3 — who plan to abandon teaching because of the pandemic.

 

Another survey by the Rand Corp. said the pandemic increased teacher attrition, burnout and stress. In fact, educators were almost twice as likely as other adult workers to have frequent job-related stress and almost three times as likely to experience depression. The CDC Foundation in May released similar results: 27 percent of teachers reporting depression and 37 percent reporting anxiety.

 

The Rand survey went even deeper, pinpointing several causes of stressful working conditions. These were (1) a mismatch between actual and preferred mode of instruction, (2) lack of administrator and technical support, (3) technical issues with remote teaching, and (4) lack of implementation of covid-19 safety measures.

 

I have to admit that's what I'm seeing in the district where I teach. We have had several staff meetings since students have been back in the classroom, and none of them have focused on how we are keeping students and staff safe from covid-19. In fact, administration seems happy to simply ignore that a pandemic is even going on. We’ve talked about academic standards, data-driven instruction, behavior plans, lesson planning, dividing the students up based on standardized test scores but NOTHING on the spiky viral ball in the room!

 

We get emails and phone calls every few days from the district about how many students and staff have tested positive and if close contacts were identified. But nothing is done to stop the steady stream of illness. And these communiques willfully hide the extent of these outbreaks. For example, here’s an announcement from Sept. 13: “We have learned that a middle school staff member has tested positive for the coronavirus. There were no close contacts associated with that case. We also have learned that a middle school student has tested positive. Close contacts for this case have been identified and notified. Thank you.”

 

This announcement failed to disclose that contacts for the student were the entire middle school girls’ volleyball team. That is 16 to 17 students who were all quarantined as a result. Teachers are tired of this. And I don’t mean palm-on-my-head, woe-is-me tired. I mean collapsing-in-a-heap tired. We are getting physically ill. Even when it isn’t directly attributed to covid-19, it’s from the stress.


At my district, the school board refused to mandate masks. It took action from the governor to require this simplest of safety precautions. Do you know how much these senseless shenanigans drain educators who just want to make it through the day without catching a potentially fatal illness!? There are so many teachers absent every day. We know because there aren’t enough subs, either, so those of us who do show up usually have to cover missing teachers’ classes between teaching our own classes and fulfilling our other duties.

 

Things cannot continue this way. We need help and support. We can’t be the only people responsible for dealing with society’s problems anymore. You can't just put us in a room with kids and tell us to work it all out. You can't refuse to listen to us but blame us when things go wrong. No one’s going to stay for that — not even for the kids. We want to be there for our students, to give as much as we can, but many of us are running out of things to give. The system is built on the backs of teachers. And we are ready to collapse.

 

-Washington Post



Thursday, October 21, 2021

Why Pensions Are Critical for Teachers’ Retirement Security/ A Look at the History of Public Pensions

 


“…According to a study the National Institute on Retirement Security (NIRS) conducted with the University of California Berkeley Labor Center that analyzed teacher pensions across Colorado, Connecticut, Georgia, Kentucky, Missouri, and Texas, pensions offer more retirement security than defined-contribution plans like 401(k)s. The research illustrated that pensions provide a higher and more stable retirement income than a 401(k)-style retirement plan for eight out of 10 educators across these states. [Why not analyze Illinois, New York and Alaska? It is not necessary because they have a State Constitution that provides a legal basis for protection of public pension rights under state laws for past and future accruals].

 

“Pensions also play another critical part in these educators’ retirement plans because, with the exception of some teachers in Georgia and Texas, most of the teachers in these states do not receive Social Security. This makes their pension their sole source of guaranteed income in retirement. 

“The same study also revealed that defined-benefit pensions are a crucial tool in recruiting and retaining qualified public educators. ‘Policymakers should understand that pensions exert a clear retention effect on experienced teachers—lowering teacher turnover, easing schools’ staffing pressures, and contributing to education quality,’ the report states. NIRS also showed that two out of three teachers will serve for at least 20 years in their classrooms throughout these states. And, on average, the typical educator will teach for 25 years within the same state. 

“NIRS’ research illustrates the consequences of converting pensions to defined-contribution accounts for educators. Such a move would threaten teachers’ retirement security and impact state and local governments’ ability to recruit and retain dedicated educators…”

-by Tristan Fitzpatrick, “Why Pensions Are Critical for Teachers’ Retirement Security,” National Public Pensions Coalition

 

“Pensions have played a critical role in retirement security from the earliest days of the republic, going back to the American colonies offering pensions to soldiers who were injured during the Revolutionary War. Today, we’re looking back on the history of public pensions in the United States, and why it matters for the future of retirement security. 

 

Beginnings of Public Pensions  

“One hundred and sixty-four years ago, in 1857, New York City created the first public pension plan in the country. It offered a lump sum payment for the city’s police officers if they were injured while serving the public. In 1878, this plan was changed to provide a pension for police officers who were 55 years old and had served the city for at least 21 years. The city continued to be a pioneer in creating the nation’s first public pension plans 17 years later when the Manhattan borough became the first jurisdiction in the country to offer a pension plan for its public educators. 

 

Progressive Era and the New Deal 

“During the Progressive Era, a period of political reform for workers’ rights in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, policymakers adopted public pensions in more areas of the country. For example, Massachusetts established the first public retirement system for state employees in 1911. North Dakota and California also created public pension plans for educators in 1913, followed by Connecticut and Pennsylvania in 1917, and New Jersey in 1919. 

 

“It wasn’t until President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the Social Security Act of 1935 into law during the New Deal, however, that local and state governments began offering public pensions en masse for their employees. Under the Social Security Act as it was originally written, local and state government employees were excluded from participating in Social Security due to constitutional concerns over taxation. As a result, public employers started extending pensions to provide a secure retirement to their workers. Between 1935 and 1950, about half of the major state and local government pension plans in the country were created. 

 

“The Social Security Act would eventually be amended after 1950 to allow state and local government employees to participate in both the program and a public pension plan. However, in several states, many public employees still are not eligible for Social Security because of their pension plan not including coverage for it. According to the National Association of State Retirement Administrators (NASRA), most or nearly all of the public employees in [Illinois], Alaska, Colorado, Louisiana, Maine, Massachusetts, Nevada, and Ohio do not participate in Social Security, making their defined-benefit pensions a critical source of income in retirement. 

 

Adoption of the 401(k) in the private sector and the future of retirement security 

“In 1978, Congress passed the Revenue Act, which created defined-contribution accounts like 401(k)s. 401(k)s were originally designed for wealthy individuals to skimp money off of their taxes, but private-sector companies soon realized that they too could shave money off of their bottom line by using these accounts as retirement plans for their employees, instead of providing defined-benefit plans. 

 

“After its introduction, 401(k) use skyrocketed in the private sector. As of 2018, more than 58 million Americans participate in a 401(k). However, they have been a disaster for private-sector workers’ retirement security. 401(k)s were marketed as a way for workers to save money on their own to prepare for retirement, but with a rising cost of living eating away at the value of people’s paychecks, many workers simply aren’t able to adequately save enough to retire. According to Fidelity Investments, the median amount in its 401(k) accounts is just $24,500, which is not nearly enough for a dignified retirement. 

 

“The widespread adoption of 401(k)s in the private sector also gave public pension critics ammunition to attack public workers’ retirement security, despite the evidence that public pensions provide a more secure retirement at a cheaper cost to state and local governments than 401(k)s. For example, in West Virginia, these adversaries lobbied the state legislature to switch newly hired public educators into a 401(k) style defined-contribution system instead of the West Virginia Teachers Retirement System (TRS). The experiment proved to be so disastrous that in 2015 West Virginia re-opened TRS and almost 80 percent of public educators in the state switched back to the defined-benefit plan. 

 

“While public pensions may not be spring chickens anymore, policymakers would be wise to protect them given their long and storied history of preventing our nation’s retired public servants from falling into poverty.”

 

-by Tristan Fitzpatrick, “A Look at the History of Public Pensions,” National Public Pension Coalition



Monday, October 18, 2021

It's Getting Harder to Teach by Peter Greene

 


“They never tell you in teacher school. It’s rarely discussed and never, ever portrayed in movies and tv shows about teaching. Teachers don’t like to bring it up around non-teachers for fear it will make them look weak or whiny or inadequate.

“A fundamental challenge of teaching is coming to grips with this: There is never enough. There is never enough time. There are never enough resources. There is never enough you.

“As a teacher, you can see what your perfect classroom should look like. You know all the work you should be doing developing lessons, creating rich assignments, covering a broad swath of material, providing deep and wide assessments and using them to provide valuable feedback. Plus, of course, being able to drop it all on a moment’s notice when a teachable moment suddenly announces itself.

“You can see all this, but you can also do the math. 150 papers about colonial economic developments, at fifteen minutes each for a through reading and thoughtful response equals 37 hours. Designing six lessons a day for five days a week at a superhumanly swift five minutes per lesson equals two and a half hours (that’s a minimum).

“Quizzes to assess how students stand so that you can design a refresher unit to bring them up to speed (five minutes each to grade). You know that the quickest assessments to give and score (multiple choice, true/false) provide the least useful data; the best assessments are almost always essays, but they take hours to grade. You know about the power of one-on-one conferencing with students, but that takes a whole week of class time.

“Sometime in the first year or two it hits you—you will not be able to have the classroom that you always imagined. You will have to make compromises. You will have to choose not to do things that you know you should be doing.

“As you grow professionally, you get faster. You learn tricks, you learn which corners you can safely cut, you get better at assessing, you gather a small mountain of materials that you can deploy without so much prep time. You slowly manage to carry more in your teacher bucket.

“Teachers spend their professional lives pushing against the limits of time, space, resources, and their own personal limitations. The best teachers can tell you right now a list of things they don’t think they do well enough—yet. Some teachers can never make peace with the necessary compromises; they burn out. But make the compromises, and professional satisfaction can come from feeling that, every year, you’re getting closer to that ideal classroom you envision.

“Teaching (and, in fairness, a few other service professions as well) is a ten-gallon bucket in which teachers are expected to carry fifteen gallons of stuff, and so they make choices (if they refuse to choose, things just spill anyway). And society is always trying to add more to the bucket. Need a new public health program? Let schools do it. People in this country don’t seem to understand some issue? Pass a law saying schools have to explain it. (And no—pre-packaged materials don’t really help, because teachers still have to dig into those and customize them for their own classes.) The pandemic has exacerbated the situation.

“Teachers, you are now required to be able to run both in-person and on-line classes. Create packets for students who can’t do either. Negotiate mask and/or anti-mask policies with parents and colleagues. Take care of the social and mental strains that students are experiencing.

“Manage the safety of your classroom even as your district tells you that many pandemic safety measures will not be taken in your district; maintain social distancing with 30 students in your classroom. Also, there are some people outside who would like to yell at you about this week’s major controversy. And here’s a new list of things you aren’t allowed to teachor are required to teach, maybe.

Dump more and more into that bucket.

“School districts know that teachers are strapped and struggling, that many are not okay. But so are parents, and so are school administrators, and so teachers get morale “boosters” such as appreciation t-shirts and chirpy e-mails and exhortations to practice self-care, which is a nicer way to say ‘You’d better take care of yourself because nobody else is going to take care of you.’

“Teaching is always performed up against the limitations of the work, but right now the limitations are greater than ever. The bucket is way past overfull. And teachers are becoming frustrated with the number of compromises they have to make, the number of things they know they want to do in their classrooms, but can’t.

What can districts do to help?

“School leaders have always added teaching requirements and duties without taking anything away. Now is the time to take things away. The pandemic was supposed to prompt an examination of how normal schooling could be changed, and that mostly hasn’t happened, but there is still time for districts to ask, ‘What do we spend time and worry on that we could just let go?’

“Now is also the time for district leaders to ask teachers, ‘What do you need? How can we help?’ And then listen to the answer. Free teachers from non-teaching duties and responsibilities. Be a buffer between teachers and the various stirred up controversies raging these days. Treat them with respect. Treat them like the solution, and not like the problem. Let teachers teach” (Forbes.com).

 

-Peter Greene: I spent 39 years as a high school English teacher, looking at how hot new reform policies affect the classroom.

 

 

Sunday, October 17, 2021

"It gives us a school that does not dare take a position on the Holocaust" -Heather Cox Richardson

 


On October 8, the executive director of curriculum and instruction for the Carroll Independent School District in Southlake, Texas, told a teacher to make sure to follow Texas’s new law requiring teachers to present opposing views on controversial subjects. The Carroll school board had recently reprimanded a fourth-grade teacher who had kept an anti-racism book in her classroom, and teachers wanted to know what books they could keep in their own classrooms. 

“Just try to remember the concepts of [House Bill] 3979,” the curriculum director said. “And make sure that if you have a book on the Holocaust,” the director continued, “that you have one that has an opposing, that has other perspectives.”

The Holocaust was Nazi Germany’s systematic murder of about two thirds of Europe’s Jewish population—about six million people—during World War II. 

“How do you oppose the Holocaust?” one teacher said. 

“Believe me,” the director said. “That’s come up.”

The Texas legislature passed another law that is going into effect in December. S.B. 3, known as the Critical Race Theory bill. It specifies what, exactly, social studies courses should teach to students. Those guidelines present a vision of how American citizens should perceive their nation. 

They should have “an understanding of the fundamental moral, political, and intellectual foundations of the American experiment in self-government; the history, qualities, traditions, and features of civic engagement in the United States; the structure, function, and processes of government institutions at the federal, state, and local levels.” 

But they should get that information in a specific way: through the Declaration of Independence; the United States Constitution; the Federalist Papers, including Essays 10 and 51; excerpts from Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America; the transcript of the first Lincoln-Douglas debate; and the writings of the founding fathers of the United States; the history and importance of the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964; and the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Nineteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution.

While they managed to add in de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America—and I would be shocked if more than a handful of people have ever read that account of early America—there are some pointed omissions from this list. The Fifteenth Amendment to the Constitution, which guarantees Black voting, didn’t make it, although the Nineteenth Amendment, which grants women the right to vote, did. Also missing is the Voting Rights Act of 1965, although the Civil Rights Act of the previous year is there. 

Topics explicitly eliminated from the teaching standard are also instructive. Those things cut from the standards include: “the history of Native Americans,” and “[founding] mothers and other founding persons.” 

Under “commitment to free speech and civil discourse,” topics struck from the standards include “the writings of…George Washington; Ona Judge (a woman Washington enslaved and who ran away); Thomas Jefferson, Sally Hemings (the enslaved woman Jefferson took as a sexual companion after the death of his wife, her half-sister),” and “any other founding persons of the United States.” 

The standards lost Frederick Douglass’s writings, the Fugitive Slave Acts of 1793 and 1850, the Indian Removal Act of 1830 that forced Indigenous Americans off their southeastern lands, and Thomas Jefferson’s letter to the Danbury Baptists defending the separation of church and state. The standards lost “historical documents related to the civic accomplishments of marginalized populations” including documents related to the Chicano movement, women’s suffrage and equal rights, the civil rights movement, Indigenous rights, and the American labor movement.

The standards also lost “the history of white supremacy, including but not limited to the institution of slavery, the eugenics movement, and the Ku Klux Klan, and the ways in which it is morally wrong” and “the history and importance of the civil rights movement.” The legislature took three pages to outline all the things that teachers may not teach, including all the systemic biases the right associates with Critical Race Theory (although that legal theory is not taught in K–12 schools), and anything having to do with the 1619 Project.

Teachers cannot be forced to teach current events or controversial issues, but if they choose to do so, they must “strive to explore that topic from diverse and contending perspectives without giving deference to any one perspective.” Supporters of the measure said that teachers should teach facts and not “choose sides.” 

The lawmakers who wrote the new standards said they had been crafted to eliminate redundancy. In 2019, the state wrote standards to teach character traits—courage, integrity and honesty—and instructions to include particular people or events could simply duplicate those concepts. “If you want to talk about courage, talk about George Washington crossing the Delaware, or William Barret Travis defending the Alamo,” a member of the state board of education said. 

Editing from our history Dolores Huerta, who co-founded the National Farmworkers’ Association—she was eliminated by name—as well as Abigail Adams and Frederick Douglass and the 1924 Snyder Act (by which the nation recognized Indigenous citizenship) does more than whitewash our history. That editing warps what it means to be an American. 

Our history is not about individual feats of courage or honesty in a vacuum. It is about the efforts of people in this country to determine their own fate and to elect a government that will enable them to do that. 

A curriculum that talks about individual courage and integrity while erasing the majority of us, as well as the rules that enable us to have a say in our government by voting, is deliberately untethered from national democratic principles.

It gives us a school that does not dare take a position on the Holocaust.

-Heather Cox Richardson

 


Saturday, October 16, 2021

Why Americans Are Seeing Empty Shelves (by Kevin Ketels)

 


Walk into any U.S. store these days and you’re likely to see empty shelves. Shortages of virtually every type of product – from toilet paper and sneakers to pickup trucks and chicken – are showing up across the country. Looking for a book, bicycle, baby crib or boat? You may have to wait weeks or months longer than usual to get your hands on it.

I recently visited my local ski shop and they had hardly a boot, ski, goggle or pole to speak of – two full months before ski season begins. The owner said he’s normally close to fully stocked around this time of the year. This may seem a little odd to some Americans given the U.S. has been living with the COVID-19 pandemic for over 19 months. Shouldn’t supply chains stressed by the onset of the pandemic have worked out their kinks by now?

As someone who conducts research and teaches on the topic of global supply chain management, I believe there are four primary – and interrelated – reasons for the continuing crunch. And unfortunately for many, they won’t be resolved by the holidays.

1. Consumer demand soars

When the pandemic first slammed into American shores in March 2020, companies were already preparing for a prolonged recession – and the typical resulting drop in consumer demand. Retailers and automakers, many of which had to close due to lockdowns, canceled orders from suppliers. It made sense. By April, the unemployment rate reached 14.8%, its highest level since the Labor Department began collecting this data in 1948. And consumer spending plunged.

But something strange happened by the end of the summer of 2020. After the initial shock, consumer spending began to rebound and was nearing pre-pandemic levels by September, in no small part thanks to the trillions of dollars in aid Congress was showering on the economy and people.

By March 2021, consumers were again spending record amounts of money on everything from new computers and chairs for home offices to bikes and sporting goods as people sought safer ways to get around and entertain themselves. Demand for consumer goods has only climbed since then. While that’s generally good for businesses and the U.S. economy, the supply chain for most products hasn’t been able to keep up – or even catch up.

2. Missing workers

Even as demand from consumers in the U.S. and elsewhere surges, low vaccination rates at key points in the global supply chain are causing significant production delays. Less than a third of the global population has been fully vaccinated from COVID-19 – and almost 98% of those people live in wealthier countries. Low levels of vaccinated workers in important manufacturing hubs such as Vietnam, Malaysia, India and Mexico have caused production delays or reduced capacity.

Vietnam, for example, plays a key role in the apparel and footwear industry, as the second-largest supplier to the U.S. of shoes and clothes following China. Less than 12% of its population is fully vaccinated, and many factories have been shuttered for long periods due to outbreaks and government lockdowns. Failure to vaccinate more people in developing countries more quickly will likely mean worker shortages will continue to plague supply chains for many months to come.

3. Shipping container shortage

Americans’ insatiable demand for more stuff has another consequence: Empty containers are piling up in the wrong places. Large steel shipping containers are pivotal to global supply chains. In 2020, the U.S. imported more than US$1 trillion worth of goods from Asian countries. And most of those consumer goods make their way to the U.S. on container ships.

To get a sense of the scale, a single container can hold 400 flat-screen TVs or 2,400 boxes of sneakers. But many of those containers making their way to the U.S. don’t have a way to get back to Asia. The reasons involve a lack of workers, complicated customs procedures and a host of other problems. The shortage has driven up the price of containers fourfold over the past year, which in turn is contributing to higher consumer prices.

4. Clogged Ports

All these problems are contributing to another challenge: U.S. ports have become extremely backed up with ships waiting to unload their cargo. A large ship can hold 14,000 to 24,000 containers. That means one ship waiting to make port could hold as much as 5.5 million televisions or 33.6 million sneakers.

Right now, more than 60 container ships are anchored in the ocean off the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, unable to unload their stuff. Ports are also clogged in New York, New Jersey and other locations globally. Normally, there is no wait for these ships to dock and unload their cargo. But the record demand for imports and shortages of truckers, containers and other equipment has caused substantial delays.

No end in sight

Before COVID-19, global supply chains worked pretty efficiently to move products all around the world. Companies utilized a just-in-time philosophy that minimized waste, inventories and expenses. The cost of that, of course, is that even small problems like a hurricane or a factory fire can cause disruptions. And the pandemic has caused a meltdown.

While I don’t expect a resolution to most of these problems until the pandemic ends, a few things could relieve some of the pressure, such as a shift away from consumer spending on goods to services and increased global vaccination rates. But the difficult reality is American consumers should expect bare shelves, delays and other problems well into 2022.

The Conversation, Kevin Ketels Lecturer, Global Supply Chain Management, Wayne State University