When Nepotism Is A Double-Edged Sword: The Case of Jay Paterno

Jay Paterno, former Penn State University Quarterbacks Coach (Image: CNN, undated)
Jay Paterno, former Penn State University Quarterbacks Coach (Image: CNN, undated)

Jay Paterno is still mad and he’s not going to take it anymore. The former Penn State University Quarterbacks Coach and son of the late Coach Joe Paterno is suing PSU to get what he thinks is owed him by those who have done him wrong.

In his $1 million lawsuit against the university which he filed last month with another former PSU coach, Jay Paterno is alleging, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that he was “improperly terminated” when [he was] retained as an [assistant coach] by [former] Penn State coach Bill O’Brien in January 2012″ and that the university has [engaged] in civil conspiracy against [him]” which has made him “unemployable for other football coaching positions.”

In other words, Jay Paterno has been unable to get a coaching job since PSU cleaned its football house in early 2012. As you might recall, Jay Paterno’s dad, Joe Paterno and other head administrators were fired by the university in light of the 2011 child abuse scandal in which Former PSU Defensive Coordinator Jerry Sandusky was accused and eventually sentenced to 30-60 years for 45 counts of child sexual abuse against ten boys.

Once the Sandusky case rocked the university and his dad’s less-than-stellar handling of one reported sexual assault by Sandusky came to light, Jay Paterno should’ve known his coaching days at PSU were numbered, especially once his dad died from the stress of it all or of a guilty conscience.

Yet he seemed shocked by the termination. I guess having been employed by your father for seventeen years, twelve of them in a high profile position, means never having to experience the ‘new coach = possible job termination’ phenomenon. Therefore when it happened to Jay Paterno courtesy of O’Brien it was probably a major kick-in-the-gut moment for him though he did receive a severance payment given to ‘Paterno Assistants’ who weren’t retained by O’Brien.

It would be hard to argue that the Sandusky scandal hasn’t been an impediment to Jay Paterno’s post-PSU coaching career. What university would want a coach on their team who might have turned a blind eye and/or deaf ear to Sandusky’s sexual assault of young boys (though it has never been alleged or proven that Jay Paterno had knowledge of the incidents)? Of course Jay Paterno’s last name has probably proved more of a hindrance than a help–which isn’t normally how it has worked for him. Hiring him might bring unwanted attention to a school regarding a topic or coach that they don’t wish to discuss.

However, there is another question that hasn’t been fully vetted regarding Jay Paterno’s lack of coaching offers. Is it solely because of  his ‘connection’ to the Penn State/Sandusky scandal that he hasn’t been hired or could it also involve something else, such as his own coaching history?

Underwhelming Coaching Achievements

Most of Jay Paterno’s college football experience has been playing and working for his dad. He was a member of the Nittany Lions football team for four years (1986-1990) though he was never a starter. In his final year he was a reserve quarterback for the team.

After he graduated from PSU he was a graduate assistant for the University of Virginia football team for a couple of years (1990-1992). Next up, he was the Quarterbacks and Tight Ends coach at the University of Connecticut for one year (1993-1994). His final stop before returning to PSU was a one-year term as the Quarterbacks Coach at James Madison University (1994-1995). From 1995-1999 he was PSU’s Tight Ends Coach and Recruiting Coordinator then became their Quarterbacks Coach in 1995 until he was terminated in 2012.

His football coaching experience amounts to 21 years with 17 of them at Penn State working under his dad. Not exactly a prolific coaching road he’s traveled. Nevertheless, Penn State’s bio of Jay Paterno lauds his quarterback coaching work at the university.

[Jay Paterno] has been instrumental in the development of Rob Bolden and Matt McGloin, both of whom have delivered school record-setting performances. Paterno was influential in the development of two-time first-team All-Big Ten signal-caller Daryll Clark. Co-winner of the 2009 Big Ten Silver Football (MVP), Clark was 22-4 as a starter, breaking Penn State records for season (24) and career (43) touchdown passes, season passing yardage (3,003) and season total offense (3,214), among others. Under Paterno’s guidance, Clark gave Penn State a 2,000-yard passer for the fifth straight year. Paterno was instrumental in the development of record-setting quarterbacks Anthony Morelli and Michael Robinson, the 2005 Big Ten MVP. Robinson broke Kerry Collins’ Penn State season total offense mark en route to finishing fifth in voting for the Heisman Trophy. Paterno also coached Zack Mills, who owned or shared 18 school passing and total offense records, including the game passing (399 yards) and total offense (418 yards) marks.

Sounds like he’s done some solid work molding successful quarterbacks, but I doubt any of the above QB names beyond Collins (whom he only worked with for one season) rings much of a bell to most NFL fans and with good reason. Yes, some of his quarterbacks broke a few Big 10 Records and two of them finished in the Top 10 of the Heisman Trophy Race during their PSU years (Kerry Collins and Michael Robinson). But if you’re a well-known football program ,what you hang your hat on is how many of your players make it to the NFL.

JayPaterno.QBsCHART

Under Jay Paterno’s coaching tutelage only three of his QBs  have made it to the NFL, with one of them playing as a wide receiver. Also PSU quarterbacks during his tenure didn’t exactly do a lot of passing during their games, with only Zack Mills and Matt McGloin cracking the 150 yards per game average. Yes, PSU has traditionally been known for its running game and producing linebackers. However that doesn’t mean PSU wasn’t interested in putting up large QB numbers, especially since it was in the Big Ten. For the eleven quarterbacks whom he coached at PSU during his 12-year period they only averaged 144.4 passing yards per game. You stack up that data against other well-known or Big Ten quarterbacks during that time period (Kyle Orton, Tom Brady, Chad Henne, Drew Brees) Penn State’s signal callers suffer woefully in comparison, let alone their QB Coach.

Neither Penn State or Jay Paterno attracted big-time quarterbacks and they definitely didn’t produce them. Is it any wonder that college football programs haven’t been clamoring for his quarterback coaching services?

Grasping At Career Straws

Cover of 'Paterno Legacy' 2014 book written by Jay Paterno (Image: Amazon.com)
Cover of ‘Paterno Legacy’ 2014 book written by Jay Paterno (Image: Amazon.com)

Due to a lack of college coaching offers, Jay Paterno had to find another career path. Maybe he could’ve stepped back a level and done some high school coaching or become an athletic administrator at a smaller school, sensible decisions to most people, unless you’re a Paterno.

Instead, he decided to run for public office. In a somewhat ‘go big or go home’ political move he announced in February 2014 that he was running in the Democratic Race for Lieutenant Governor of Pennsylvania. As to be expected,  his campaign was practically over before it started. The validity of the 1,000 signatures his campaign collected to have his name officially put on the ballot became a legal sticking point. In addition, he had zero political experience, was running against six other politically-seasoned candidates and the issue of him being accused of trading off his family name for votes was a salient one. Inevitably, on March 28, 2014 he dropped out of the race.

Luckily for him he had another career back-up plan. While he was running for office he had been working on his first book Paterno Legacy: Enduring Lessons from the Life and Death of My Father, which was released this summer (2014). The books’s purpose in so many words is to remind others that they shouldn’t allow the Sandusky issue to define Joe Paterno’s life and football legacy. Jay Paterno has always defended his dad’s actions surrounding the Sandusky child sexual assault scandal, stating that “in no way shape or form would Joe Paterno have put anybody in harm’s way” though the Freeh Report which investigated PSU’s actions regarding the Sandusky matter stated otherwise. Nevertheless, the book will probably do well among PSU Alumni who still strongly believe that PSU should honor Joe Paterno for his service to the university, if no one else.

Jay Paterno must think being a writer/author will be a good career move. Besides his bi-monthly column for StateCollege.com, his official website (formerly his campaign website) mentions that he is working on a second book tentatively titled ‘School Colors’ that will “take readers inside a year of big-time college football.” Guess he’ll be speaking from personal experience.

 Assessing Blame

Jay Paterno may believe that Penn State has sabotaged his coaching career because the university is trying to run as fast as it can from all those who were employed by Joe Paterno and/or connected to Jerry Sandusky. Given the fact that Jay Paterno has never been accused of having knowledge of Sandusky’s actions it would seem that maybe the scandal hasn’t tarnished him as much as he alleges.

Jay Paterno (Image: Mark Pynes, PennLive, July 24, 2014)
Jay Paterno (Image: Mark Pynes, PennLive, July 24, 2014)

What seems to really be at play in Jay Paterno’s post-PSU work history is good, old-fashioned nepotism. He worked twelve years as the quarterbacks coach for his dad, churning out mediocre talent at best with a couple of bright spots. Given his coaching record with his quarterbacks, he wouldn’t have lasted nearly as long if he was at another college football program. The only reason why he did is because of his last name. He knows it and so does the college football coaching community. His short-term dive into politics (which was probably his first truly obvious attempt to trade on his family’s name) was, to be blunt, a vanity-filled, waste-of-time. In this instance, nepotism and politics weren’t on friendly terms. As for his writing career, maybe he will become a successful author, but given his track record it seems unlikely.

In the end, Jay Paterno might be good at only one thing – being the son of Joe Paterno. Can’t blame Penn State, Sandusky or O’Brien for that – only himself.

Missing the Big Picture: What Yahoo’s Work-At-Home Ban Really Means

Yahoo logo outside Santa Clara, CA office (File Photo/AP/May 24, 2011)
Yahoo logo outside Santa Clara, CA office (File Photo/AP/May 24, 2011)

Yahoo! Incorporated has been all over the news these past of weeks due to its decision to ban  telecommuting. Its CEO, Marissa Mayer stated in an HR memo to its employees, which was leaked to All Things D, a tech industry blog, that starting in June staff will be required to work in a Yahoo office – a move that appears to be a part of the company’s rebooting efforts.

Of course this news has not gone over well with its 11,000+ employees or those in favor of work-at-home. Proponents of Yahoo’s decision have decried the removal of this type of work flexibility; claiming that it’s demoralizing or harmful to families, especially working mothers. While opponents have supported and applauded Mayer’s tough-but-gutsy decision, saying that it’s about time that Yahoo! employees, in fact all employees, stop abusing this benefit and realize that work is done best in an office; interacting with colleagues.  In the midst of this brouhaha has been comments about how Mayer doesn’t understand the financial and familial benefits of working-at-home since she a) has an estimated net worth of $300 million;  b) might receive close to $60 million from Yahoo during her tenure and c) paid to have a nursery built in her office so that she could bring her infant to work.

What has become lost in the midst of the work-at-home battle has been one major question that has not been asked of Yahoo. What does it say about Yahoo, a multinational internet corporation, that it apparently can’t manage its employees who work-at-home?

Dilbert cartoon on telecommuting (United Feature Syndicate Inc. 1997)
Dilbert cartoon on telecommuting (United Feature Syndicate Inc. 1997)

It should seem obvious, maybe not to Mayer, that if you have slacker employees (i.e. unproductive, unreliable, unable to adhere to project or work schedule, etc.) who are partial or full-time telecommuters they will more than likely continue to be slackers, just now they’ll be working in the office instead of at home.

What will Yahoo’s supervisors/managers do to combat these employees’ bad work habits? Do these managers have the training and experience to deal with these type of employees? Keep in mind, if the managers were unable to manage these unproductive employees as telecommuters, what makes Yahoo think that they will be able to manage these individuals in-person while simultaneously turning them into collaborative and responsible workers?

I’m sure Mayer’s actions are also Yahoo’s way of getting rid of ‘dead weight’ and/or reducing costs by forcing employees to quit due to location or commute hardships. However, I doubt every bad WAH employee is going to resign from his/her position as a result of the ban. Again, how does the ban help Yahoo deal with its apparent or perceived culture of crappy telecommuters? Also, will Yahoo have to secure additional office space to accommodate these now in-office employees? This could add to Yahoo’s bottom line, thereby defeating somewhat the goal of supposedly cutting costs by eliminating employees via the work-at-home ban.

Marissa Mayer, CEO of Yahoo! Inc. on Feb. 20, 2013 (Photo/Peter Kramer, AP)
Marissa Mayer, CEO of Yahoo! Inc. on Feb. 20, 2013 (Photo/Peter Kramer, Associated Press)

Most importantly, what about those WAH employees who weren’t abusing this perk? Who were actually productive and reliable? What about future applicants who might (or were) interested in working for Yahoo prior to the ban?

Yahoo has been so busy banning WAH to get rid of bad employees (and create a work community atmosphere possibly similar to Google or Facebook) that it appears they weren’t really thinking about the good employees who would be hurt by the ban or potential applicants who might go elsewhere because of it or what the ban signifies about Yahoo.

As many managers can attest, just because an employee shows up for work doesn’t mean that he or she is actually working, let alone being productive. Yahoo’s WAH problem isn’t just a telecommuter problem, it is also a managerial and human resources issue as well.

Slashing the work-at-home option may have immediately shown Yahoo’s investors, financiers and employees that it’s serious about turning the company around, in that it plans to become a major internet player again.

However, when a company makes a decision that will have a long-range impact, the last thing it should want is that decision to bring about more questions than answers. As it stands, Yahoo’s work-at-home ban seems to have created more of the former than the latter.

Not exactly a great way to ensure everyone that you really mean business.

Media Coverage of Gun Violence in A Post-Newtown Era

Hostage crisis in Midland City, Alabama (Associated Press, February 5, 2013)
Hostage crisis in Midland City, Alabama (Associated Press, February 5, 2013)

On Monday, February 4, 2013 in Midland City, Alabama a 5-year-old boy was finally returned to his family after being held captive for a week by Jimmy Lee Dykes, a disturbed 65-year-old man. What? You didn’t hear about this story? Well, here’s what happened according to Marcus Gilmer, a reporter for the Chicago Sun-Times:

An armed man [stormed] on to a bus loaded with school children and, at gunpoint, [demanded] that the bus driver turn over two children. The bus driver [refused] and [tried] to stop the armed man. The armed man [shot] the driver, killing him, then [grabbed] one of the children as the others [fled]. The armed man [took] the 5-year-old child, who is autistic, to an underground bunker on his property where a week-long crisis [began]. As negotiators try to convince the man to release the boy, they are allowed to deliver toys and medicine to him via a pipe to the bunker. Finally, after managing to lower a hidden camera into the bunker, officials are alarmed by what they see and storm the bunker. The kidnapper is killed, either by agents or by his own hand, and the boy is miraculously rescued, unhurt. (February 5, 2013)

Normally, such a dramatic, television-ready story would be all over the network, cable, print and online news. Neighbors, friends, family and co-workers of Dykes would’ve been interviewed to ‘flesh out’ Dykes’ character. Psychologists, whether they had met Dykes or not, would have assessed his mental state and reasons for his actions. Other psychologists would’ve provided us with various medical descriptions of childhood autism and its possible impact on the boy’s situation. Hostage crisis experts would’ve passed along information about what the little boy is going through and how Dykes should be handled. Police officers with stoic visages would’ve appeared on screen with ongoing updates, mostly repeating themselves. All the while, family members and friends of the little boy would’ve been seen crying and begging for the little boy’s release as numerous photos of the boy smiling, laughing or playing flashed across our television screens. This media scenario would have went on for days until the boy was rescued and Dykes was either captured or killed.

Well, none of that happened. Maybe because the hostage crisis took place in a town which according to the latest U.S. Census has less than 2500 people. It is also 104 miles from Montgomery, the state’s capital and 192 miles from Birmingham, the state’s largest city. So it’s probably fair to say that Midland City can be easily overlooked, even with a hostage crisis occurring in its backyard.

Not Just On Our Radar

The old real estate adage “location, location, location” seems to have applied to this story as far as mainstream media was concerned. I’m not saying that the media should’ve or needed to provide wall-to-wall coverage similar to the Sandy Hook Elementary (Newtown, CT) or Virginia Tech shootings. However, its coverage of this SEVEN-DAY hostage crisis was pretty anemic. It was almost groundhog-like, news would pop up for a a minute or two a few times a day then would disappear for one or two days.

Maybe more than a few media bosses were thinking ‘Does anyone really cares what happens in Alabama?’ Gilmer seems to agree somewhat with this assessment, but still questions it:

Part of the fact that so much about the Midland crisis was ignored either as a second-tier story or completely was because of where it happened. Trust me. I’m from Alabama. I know how people perceive of my native state. Sometimes, I can’t blame them. But in this instance, it was somewhat frustrating given the aforementioned universal issues at play here. This was not just a typical redneck incident….[t]his is larger than any regional bias; this is a national issue and we have to be willing to look past stereotypes, to be willing to accept both the smaller, hyperlocal context as well as the larger, national one. This is not some case of a drunken redneck brawl gone awry; this was a very real crisis with a larger social impact. (February 5, 2013)

Yet, it wasn’t just the location that played a significant part in the muted coverage of this story – it’s mainly because of what happened in Newtown.

Newtown Media Aftermath

It has been over two months since the December 14th shootings in Newtown, Connecticut claimed the lives of 26 people, 20 of them children. The live and ongoing news coverage of that story was fast, furious and a journalistic-fail on many accounts. Television and online media made a host of errors such as the name of the shooter (naming Ryan Lanza, the older brother, instead of Adam Lanza); posting the Facebook page of a Ryan Lanza from New Jersey alleging he was the shooter; claiming the shooter had killed his dad; that the mom was a teacher at the school, etc. Maybe the media’s limited coverage of the Alabama hostage crisis was also due to journalistic fear that it would go overboard like it did with Newtown – where unsubstantiated and non-fact checked information put the news media in a seriously bad light. So the media pulled back on the Midland story and may do so on several others for awhile as it continues to lick its wounds and genuflect on its  ‘Newtown News’ behavior.

The fact is, we are now in a post-Newtown world when it comes to gun violence stories. Cynically, all incidents of violence and their deemed noteworthiness will be compared to the Newtown shootings. Grandparents killed at home by a robber – well, that’s only two deaths; plus they were stabbed not shot. Crazy person enters a clinic and shoots 30 people – not that big of a deal because no one died. Five college students shot on campus – they’re not kids like Newtown and it’s not as bad as the Virginia Tech shooting. Group of teens shot while standing at a bus stop and one dies – that’s only one death, plus it happened in an “urban” area (code for ‘residents are primarily people of color’). These stories would more than likely fail the ‘Post-Newtown News Test’ which sadly appears to be more deaths + innocent-looking, mostly white victims + near major news city/market = more news coverage. Therefore one death and a week-long hostage crisis in Alabama versus the death of over twenty kids at a school house in a suburban town near a major news metropolitan area just doesn’t make the media sensationalism grade.

Then again, hasn’t this always been the case?

Super Committee, Super Bullshit

U.S. Capitol Building (Source/Wikimedia Commons)

Now that the White House and U.S. Congress have signed-off on the debt ceiling bill they’ve moved onto setting up the so-called super committee. The super committee, a requirement of the debt ceiling bill, will be responsible for finding $1.5 billion in cuts over the next decade.

President Barack Obama did his usual bipartisan spin on how he hopes the congressional super committee will work together, find common ground, etc. House Speaker John Boehner (R), House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D), Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R) and Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D) will each nominate three persons to sit on the committee. Names of potential committee members have been tossed around, but nothing official has been announced as of yet though the August 16 committee commencement deadline is fast approaching. Plus Standard & Poor’s downgrade of the United States credit rating may help speed along the membership selection process.

I don’t understand the need for a super committee. The National Committee on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform (‘debt commission’ ‘Bowles-Simpson commission’) in December 2010 had already laid out for the U.S. via a 66-page report the state of the economy and what needs to be done to make us solvent.  The report recommended $4 trillion in savings through increased revenue and entitlement cuts. Of course, their suggestions were voted down, which was too expected. Those in government know that committees and committee reports are places where good ideas and suggestions–especially those that are not liked–die a quiet death.

In the instance of the super committee ideas won’t make it to the conference room because the Committee will be stacked with budget hawks (Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis.) and program protectors (Sen. Benjamin Cardin, D-Md.) from each party. Moderates will not be welcome at this dinner party. It will be a committee that won’t budge and won’t accommodate while pretending to behave in a bipartisan manner.

Tax revenues will be tabled due to the never-ending election cycle. Tax cuts will continue to be given to top tier income earners. Government programs will continue to be slashed under the auspices of doing more with less. Entitlements will find their way back in while the suggested cuts are bandied about by the committee as if they’re playing Monopoly instead of with the lives of millions of Americans. The report will be completed before its November 23 deadline because the committee members will want to go home for the Thanksgiving holiday.

Eventually the report will be released around the Christmas holiday or during an off-news cycle in December so that the media and the general public won’t take the time to read it and notice that only short-term, financially-miniscule decisions had been made. Obama will thank the super committee for doing a super job. Then the report will be tossed aside just like previous reports on the U.S. economy.

I can smell the bullshit already.

In Defense of Michele Bachmann Against Newsweek


8/8/2011

I never thought that I would see the day that I would be defending GOP Presidential Candidate Michele Bachmann.

The above photo is on the cover of the latest issue of Newsweek magazine. To be blunt, she looks manic and a tad deranged. There really is no excuse for this photo by Newsweek. I doubt that this is best picture they had of Bachmann, though past photos of her haven’t exactly been the most flattering­.

Maybe Newsweek wanted a photo that made Bachmann look somewhat mentally off-kilter to tie in with their “Queen of Rage’ headline. What might be even scarier is that Bachmann may have had final photo approval and thought this was the best photo of the bunch. Not exactly a shining example of a basic judgement call.

Bachmann’s politics, rhetoric and behavior are considered extreme by many, including myself. Furthermor­e, I do not believe that she has the intellectu­al stamina and/or temperamen­t to be the President of the United States. All that being said, isn’t up to the public to decide whether her candidacy should be taken seriously, not for Newsweek to infer something about Bachmann via a crazy-look­ing photograph­?

You might recall during the 2008 presidenti­al campaign Newsweek got in hot water over a cover photo pic of then GOP VP candidate Sarah Palin in running shorts. They don’t seem to have the greatest mag cover track record with showing female GOPers in the best light.

With all the brouhaha surrounding the Bachmann photo I can’t help but smell a whiff of manufactur­ed PR by Newsweek who isn’t exactly high-up on the news media radar.

Hey Newsweek – if you don’t like a candidate or a candidate’s politics then say so. There is no need to place inappropri­ate and/or unflatteri­ng photos about certain candidates as some sort of subliminal/editorial message.

The defense of Michele Bachmann by a Democrat (albeit a semi-crank­y one) rests.

Lies, Damn Lies and Unemployment Numbers

On August 5th the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) via the Department of Labor announced that there wasn’t much movement in the unemployment rate (from 9.2% to 9.1%) and in the number of unemployed persons (13.9 million) since April. However,  117,000 new jobs have been created since June with most of the job gains in health care, retail trade, manufacturing and mining. Not such great news.

Whenever the U.S. Department of Labor announces the nation’s quarterly unemployment rate I always double it. I believe my mathematical adjustment better reflects the country’s true unemployment status of its citizens.

The gathering of unemployment data has been incomplete and under-reported. In other words, the unemployment numbers are utter bullshit.

Who are they counting?

Every day I hear and read about people who have been unemployed for years; living on their savings to get by. I see obviously unemployed 20somethings roaming the malls or riding the metro. I’ve been in DC libraries in the afternoon where I see people between the ages of 30-60 using the library computers or personal laptops looking and applying for jobs. I talk to people who have family members who were laid-off from their $70K+ jobs who are now working part-time for $8/hour at some retail store. I know people who have been underemployed for almost four years and have been looking for full-time work for just as long. We see some of these people every day. Does the BLS see these people?!

If the BLS numbers were a true reflection of the nation’s jobless rate–which is probably closer to my suggested 19.2% instead of 9.1%– Americans would be stunned. They would also be very scared if  they came across this tidbit on  the BLS website which states that “UI information cannot be used as a source for complete information on the number of unemployed.”

The UI (unemployment insurance) is the number of people who apply for and receive unemployment benefits. The reason why this data isn’t a complete source because it doesn’t calculate a) unemployed people delaying to apply for unemployment benefits; b) those who are underemployed and 3) those who have exceeded their unemployment benefits and have given up looking for work. Most importantly, this data, unlike the unemployment rate isn’t collected monthly; normally it’s done quarterly or biannually.

Yet the the BLS numbers are used as the source for unemployment data; constantly reported as gospel. How can BLS data be reported as factual when its own website implies that some of its data is incomplete?

History of Unemployment Data

The BLS has been reporting the nation’s unemployment numbers for over 70 years since 1933 during the President Franklin Roosevelt’s Administration. These numbers are what keep the nation going. Financial decisions ranging from corporate investments to whether to buy a new home are sometimes determined by the reported unemployment rate.

The unemployment numbers are based on the Current Population Survey (CPS) a monthly survey conducted by the U.S. government that calculates the rate of unemployment in the United States. The survey does not interview every American which would be unwieldy, but a sample of the population. That sample amounts to 110,000 individuals (60,000 households) at least 15 years of age that are surveyed per month. The samples are grouped geographically so as to represent each state and the District of Columbia.

CPS is the largest survey conducted and claims that its numbers are right “90 out of 100 times” meaning that there count is probably off by “290,000 people.”

All these caveats and qualifications to their data, yet their unemployment numbers are still repeatedly cited as an economic bellwether.

It’s not only their data which is  a tad suspect, but how it defines employment and unemployment is also food for thought.

Employed vs. Unemployed

According to the BLS website “People with jobs are employed. People who are jobless, looking for jobs, and available for work are unemployed. People who are neither employed nor unemployed are not in the labor force.”

Sounds simple enough, but labor statistics are not that clear-cut, though BLS’s data seems to suggest that it is.

BLS attempts to do its best to provide factual and erroneous-free data stating that its interviewers “do not decide the respondents’ labor force classification.” The BLS sites states that interviewers (U.S. Census workers) are instructed to “simply ask the questions in the prescribed way and record the answers.” Then “based on information collected in the survey and definitions programmed into the computer, individuals are then classified as employed, unemployed, or not in the labor force.”

Let’s take a look at those definitions which help decide the nation’s unemployment rate:

  • employed – The BLS numbers that contribute to the unemployment/employment rate doesn’t specify whether your employment is part-time or full-time. It doesn’t go into details about whether you’re job is a minimum wage job that you had to take because you were laid-off from your $60,000/year job. It doesn’t worry about the fact that your full-time job was switched to a part-time job with less money. It doesn’t account for the fact that your part-time hours were cut from 30 hours to 10 hours per week. As long as you are employed in some capacity, no matter how untenable or financially debilitating it is, the BLS considers you to be employed.
  • employed/length of employment – The BLS will also classify you as being employed if you’ve worked at least 5 weeks during their quarterly reporting periods. In other words, as long as someone works at least 20 weeks out of a 52-week period they’re considered gainfully employed. Some of these people may actually be underemployed, but not according to BLS.
  • unemployed – This number is based on those people who have filed and received unemployment benefits (UI). The emphasis should be on ‘filed’ because as far as BLS is concerned if you are unemployed and not receiving unemployment benefits then you’re not on their unemployment radar. Some of us know people who have been laid off from work whose unemployment benefits have run out and have been looking for employment for months, sometimes years. The BLS doesn’t have a classification for these individuals, but they are out there
  • not in the labor force – This antiquated description is for those who are 16+ who have never held a job or looked for a job. People who have not worked or no longer work due to a disability. One of BLS’ examples mentioned on their site is named ‘Linda Coleman’ who is a homemaker who is “occupied with her normal household chores” and has “neither held a job nor looked for a job.” According to the Business Insider, teen participation rate in the workforce has been on the decline since the 1950s. As of January 2011 teens represent only 3% of the workforce though there are 74 million teens in the U.S. Surely the unemployment rate would increase if it had to account for an influx of fresh on-the-job market teens looking for work.

The job status for many Americans is not as clear-cut as it used to be, yet BLS still gathers its data based on the definition of employment that was established during the era of the FDR presidency and the Great Depression.

Truth in Numbers

It is impossible to survey every person in the United States about their employment status, especially if you’re trying to report this data on a monthly basis.

However, there has to be a way for BLS to track those people who no longer receive unemployment benefits, to find out about their employment status post-benefits. We need to know if these individuals have found a full-time position with comparable salary and if they’re underemployed or unemployed. If they’re still unemployed are they looking for work or have they taken a temporary or permanent break from job hunting?

Back to the 9.1% unemployment rate. It does paints a semi-rosy picture, even though several job prognosticators and economists see it as an arbiter of even more bad news to come. The fear is that if the nation hits double digits then we will be in worse shape, than expected. The fact is many Americans are already there, some have been experiencing the worse for quite some time.

Sophia Koropeckyj, a labor economist at Moody’s Analytics a credit analysis and financial management firm said, “Clearly, the 9.1 percent does not at all reflect what is going onabout the unemployment rate.

You can’t get much clearer than that. Too bad BLS’ data can’t do the same.

Racist Remarks: It’s All About the Context

The Internet is all abuzz over Pat Buchanan referring to President Obama as “your boy” during his August 2nd appearance on MSNBC’s ‘The Al Sharpton Show.’ Sharpton and Buchanan were discussing the debt ceiling bill when the following exchange occurred:

Buchanan: And let me tell you, your boy, Barack Obama, caved in on it in 2010 and he’ll cave in on it again.

Sharpton: My what? My president Barack Obama? What did you say?

Buchanan: He’s your boy in the ring, he’s your fighter.

Sharpton: He’s nobody’s boy. He’s your president and he’s our president. And that’s what y’all have got to get through your head.

The next morning on MSNBC’s ‘Morning Joe’ Buchanan was forced to clarify his controversial remarks. He said the following:

I was asked who was the big losers in these battles and the big winners, and I said one of the big losers, using boxing terminology, was ‘your boy,’ and I meant the president of the United States,” he said. “Rev. Sharpton said my boy is the president of the United States and he’s doing a rope-a-dope in the Ali fashion and he’s going to finish off your crowd. Now this was taken, some folks took what I said as some kind of slur. None was meant, none was intended, none was delivered, for the record.

Buchanan has walked the almost racist/racist fine line many times throughout his career. He has yet to step over it, but he has come very close.

Crossing the Line

It’s that coming close part which makes it hard to concretely decide whether someone’s comments have been misinterpreted; is a sign of cultural cluelessness or just simply racist.

Maybe Buchanan used “your boy” in reference to Sharpton’s support for Obama. It is a phrase that is used mostly by guys when they’re talking about someone’s friend or someone they respect. It is also an expression used to show dislike for that person or that they’re not a close friend. Others have chimed in that its just a phrase – that since Buchanan said “your boy” not “boy” therefore he was not implying anything. It was just words.

Nevertheless, when Buchanan uttered that phrase it took on another tone for many people. The tone of white men who for centuries treated and viewed adult black men as children. Maybe that’s not what Buchanan meant, but given his past oratorical miscues and racial tone-deafness over the decades he has been been called a bigot, a racist and an anti-semite.

Some will say Buchanan is not a racist because he’s never called anyone a n*gger. That may be true, but there are other words that may not be as incendiary, but they still do harm or cause anger.

Dealing With the Filter

As an African-American I have lost count on how many times a  white person has said that I was ‘articulate’ or ‘well-spoken’ in a surprising tone, even after they know I went to college. How the hell am I supposed to sound?! Whenever I hear those descriptions my eyes squint and I gnash my teeth. I never acknowledge the so-called compliment because I find it insulting. Yet, when I have tried to explain my thoughts on the matter to white people most simply don’t get it. I’m sure they thought I was being overly sensitive.

Racism can still be overt, but is is mostly subtle now; sometimes almost opaque. Throwing down the so-called race card on someone truly depends on the context and the individual(s) involved. Once you have determined that you were the victim of a racist remark you have other filters you have to go through.  Has this person said questionable things to you or others before? How does he/she react around other non-whites? Will he/she realize that what they said upset you? Should you let this person know that they’ve offended you? Will they care? Should you even bother?

This type of filtering has led to reclassification of some formerly racist remarks to be viewed as misinterpretations and the person who made the remark to simply be seen as culturally clueless in a Pollyanna sort of way.

So – basically as long as you don’t say the n-word your borderline racist comment(s) will get a pass. Just ask Pat Buchanan, he is the master (pun intended) of such things.