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Posts Tagged ‘employment’

Snap Decisions and Race

One issue sparking off from the fiery debate around the police shootings of black men is the extent to which Americans simply react negatively to seeing black – whether it is a police officer making a life-and-death split-second decision about the threat a black man poses, a store clerk tracking a black customer in a store more intently than she would a white one, or an online shopper preferring to buy a device shown in a white hand rather than a black hand.

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Explicit racial discrimination, often subconscious, is rarer than it was once was. And such discrimination does not explain most of the black-white gaps in life circumstances such as lifespan and wealth; those largely grow from historically deeper and convoluted roots, further fed by institutional inequalities. Still, the effects of plain old racial aversion are real – accounting, according to one recent analysis, for perhaps a third of the difference between black and white wages (pdf). And such racism certainly takes an emotional toll.

Two recent publications present yet more systematic evidence that plain old racial aversion persists and matters  — despite the belief among many whites, perhaps most, that reverse discrimination is just as big a problem. (An earlier related post is here.)

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Timing is (Not?) Everything

Americans generally claim that what you get in life is mainly a result of what you put in, your talents and your effort.

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Yet it hard to deny that, often, factors outside a person’s control have major consequences – such as the year the person was born. This post is about what some social scientists have called the intersection of biography and history, when turning points in individuals’ lives coincide with turning points in history.

One critical life transition is looking for that first job. And young people entering the job market now are severely disadvantaged by the fact, totally outside of their control, that their parents conceived them in the late 1980s instead of earlier.

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Jobs Go and Come

A recent article in the New York Times described new computer software that in an instant sifts through thousands of legal documents looking a few litigable items; they replace hundreds of hours of lawyers reading the documents. This is not the start of a joke about how many lawyers you need to . . .  But it does raise the question of how many lawyers you need. Economist-columnist Paul Krugman used the story to explain that computerization threatens to replace many white-collar jobs that are now held by college graduates. (And if you don’t need college graduates, do you need college professors? Uh-oh.)

1939 (F.S.A., Libr. of Congress)

It did not help settle anxieties that the story appeared shortly after IBM’s Watson computer beat two super-humans at Jeopardy. And now there  are reports of software programs winning big pots on internet poker. The specter of automation unemploying us all may have finally arrived.

For decades, ages before personal computers, learned observers wrote about how machines were going to replace humans – for better or for ill. Some worried that the masses of dispossessed workers would form a revolutionary mob; others suggested introducing people to uplifting hobbies since we would have so much more leisure time on our hands. But the mass job shrinkage that these observers all expected did not come. Has it finally come?

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