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U.S. unemployment claims rise after hitting pandemic low

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U.S. unemployment claims rise after hitting pandemic low

WASHINGTON — The number of Americans seeking unemployment benefits moved up last week to 332,000 from a pandemic low, a sign that worsening COVID infections may have slightly increased layoffs.

Applications for jobless aid rose from 312,000 the week before, the Labor Department said Thursday. Jobless claims, which generally track the pace of layoffs, have fallen steadily for two months as many employers, struggling to fill jobs, have held onto their employees. Two weeks ago, jobless claims reached their lowest level since March 2020.

Jobless claims rose 4,000 in Louisiana, evidence that Hurricane Ida has led to widespread job losses in that state. Ida will likely nick the economy’s growth in the current July-September quarter, though repairs and rebuilding efforts are expected to regain those losses in the coming months.

Still, Ida shut down oil refineries in Louisiana and Mississippi about two weeks ago and left more than 1 million homes and businesses without electricity. But Ida’s impact was limited: Applications for jobless aid fell slightly in Mississippi.

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Why workers quit? Blame the stingy boss!

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Why workers quit? Blame the stingy boss!

With apologies to country songwriter David Allan Coe, the 2021 job market’s theme song is “Take This Job and Quit It.”

In September, 4.3 million U.S. workers quit their jobs, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the highest number on record and evidence of the public’s broad rethinking of employment and whether it’s a worthwhile endeavor.

Why is the “I’m outta here” movement such a hot workplace trend? The easiest way to get a better raise these days is to switch jobs.

This unfortunate career tactic is bolstered by my trusty spreadsheet’s review of detailed wage stats from the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta.

Job switchers — those changing employers or job duties or going to a different occupation or industry — got a median 5.4% annual wage increase during the three months ended in September.

Now, compare that with folks keeping their jobs, who only saw their wages go up 3.5%. Or overall U.S. wage growth at 4.2%.

This is the largest gap between raises for “switchers” and “stayers” in 23 years. Talk about a incentive to quit.

So perhaps bosses should ask themselves if they’re part of the problem.

Hunt for raises

Workplace analysts, policymakers and business leaders have debated the motivations behind all the quitting.

Suggested factors range from fear of catching coronavirus on the job to plenty of openings to choose from and a lack of childcare for younger members of the workforce. The seemingly illogical tactic of bosses paying up for a new person vs. giving existing staff more cash has to be part of the discussion.

Stats show employers became incredibly stingy with salary raises during and after the Great Recession.

Let’s look at an odd workplace stat tracked by the Atlanta Fed: workers who got no raise at all. In the 2010 decade, wages were stagnant for 15% of the workforce. That was up from the 2000s when only 12.3% got no salary bump.

Then came the pandemic’s economic volatility, and surprisingly, workers were again valuable: The share of “no raises” fell to 13.4% by August.

We’re witnessing another chapter in the evolving give-and-take between boss and worker.

Before the pandemic, career stability and workplace culture — rather than pay — felt like the most-desired traits. Workers focused on higher pay were often forced to job hunt while bosses got their stable flock ping-pong tables and gourmet coffee machines.

Today, it seems like it’s all about the money. Let’s look at the varying size of the financial carrot offered to those claiming a new job.

From 1998 to 2007, the bubble-fueled boom years, job switchers got 4.9% raises vs. 4.1% for those who didn’t. That’s a 0.8 percentage-point reason to change jobs.

When those good times turned extra sour — the Great Recession era of 2008 to 2012 — the clout of job switchers diminished with 3% raises barely ahead of 2.9% for “stayers.”

Then came the 2013-19 economic rebound and the pay-hike edge returned for switchers: 3.3% raises vs. 2.6% for stayers — a 0.7 point gap.

And these premium raises only grew in the pandemic era: Switchers averaged 4.2% raises since March 2020 vs. 3.2% — a full-point gap.

No uniform pay

So, who’s getting the better raises?

This summer only two job-market slices offered larger raises than job switching, according to my spreadsheet’s analysis of 32 worker characteristics tracked by the Atlanta Fed using 12-month moving averages.

You’d either have to be among the youngest workers — ages 16 to 24, whose typical wages jumped 9.5% in a year — or be among the lowest-paid workers, who got 4.8% raises.

Workers in hard-to-fill, entry-level or poorly-paying positions got nearly the same pay hikes as quitters. Pay for leisure and hospitality industries rose 3.9% in a year while workers without college degrees and those in “low skill” positions got 3.8% pay hikes.

And only the two groups got smaller raises than people who stayed with their employer. The highest-paid workers got just 2.8% raises while the oldest workers, age 55 or higher, got only 1.9%.

Bosses are learning that workers know pay jumps if you jump ship, especially for low-wage positions. And in 2021, it’s all about the paycheck.

Quitting is the new labor movement.

Jonathan Lansner is business columnist for the Southern California News Group. He can be reached at [email protected]

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Facebook dithered in curbing divisive user content in India

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Facebook dithered in curbing divisive user content in India

NEW DELHI, India (AP) — Facebook in India has been selective in curbing hate speech, misinformation and inflammatory posts, particularly anti-Muslim content, according to leaked documents obtained by The Associated Press, even as its own employees cast doubt over the company’s motivations and interests.

From research as recent as March of this year to company memos that date back to 2019, the internal company documents on India highlight Facebook’s constant struggles in quashing abusive content on its platforms in the world’s biggest democracy and the company’s largest growth market. Communal and religious tensions in India have a history of boiling over on social media and stoking violence.

The files show that Facebook has been aware of the problems for years, raising questions over whether it has done enough to address these issues. Many critics and digital experts say it has failed to do so, especially in cases where members of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, the BJP, are involved.

Across the world, Facebook has become increasingly important in politics, and India is no different.

Modi has been credited for leveraging the platform to his party’s advantage during elections, and reporting from The Wall Street Journal last year cast doubt over whether Facebook was selectively enforcing its policies on hate speech to avoid blowback from the BJP. Both Modi and Facebook chairman and CEO Mark Zuckerberg have exuded bonhomie, memorialized by a 2015 image of the two hugging at the Facebook headquarters.

The leaked documents include a trove of internal company reports on hate speech and misinformation in India. In some cases, much of it was intensified by its own “recommended” feature and algorithms. But they also include the company staffers’ concerns over the mishandling of these issues and their discontent expressed about the viral “malcontent” on the platform.

According to the documents, Facebook saw India as one of the most “at risk countries” in the world and identified both Hindi and Bengali languages as priorities for “automation on violating hostile speech.” Yet, Facebook didn’t have enough local language moderators or content-flagging in place to stop misinformation that at times led to real-world violence.

In a statement to the AP, Facebook said it has “invested significantly in technology to find hate speech in various languages, including Hindi and Bengali” which has resulted in “reduced amount of hate speech that people see by half” in 2021.

“Hate speech against marginalized groups, including Muslims, is on the rise globally. So we are improving enforcement and are committed to updating our policies as hate speech evolves online,” a company spokesperson said.

This AP story, along with others being published, is based on disclosures made to the Securities and Exchange Commission and provided to Congress in redacted form by former Facebook employee-turned-whistleblower Frances Haugen’s legal counsel. The redacted versions were obtained by a consortium of news organizations, including the AP.

Back in February 2019 and ahead of a general election when concerns of misinformation were running high, a Facebook employee wanted to understand what a new user in the country saw on their news feed if all they did was follow pages and groups solely recommended by the platform itself.

The employee created a test user account and kept it live for three weeks, a period during which an extraordinary event shook India — a militant attack in disputed Kashmir had killed over 40 Indian soldiers, bringing the country to near war with rival Pakistan.

In the note, titled “An Indian Test User’s Descent into a Sea of Polarizing, Nationalistic Messages,” the employee whose name is redacted said they were “shocked” by the content flooding the news feed which “has become a near constant barrage of polarizing nationalist content, misinformation, and violence and gore.”

Seemingly benign and innocuous groups recommended by Facebook quickly morphed into something else altogether, where hate speech, unverified rumors and viral content ran rampant.

The recommended groups were inundated with fake news, anti-Pakistan rhetoric and Islamophobic content. Much of the content was extremely graphic.

One included a man holding the bloodied head of another man covered in a Pakistani flag, with an Indian flag in the place of his head. Its “Popular Across Facebook” feature showed a slew of unverified content related to the retaliatory Indian strikes into Pakistan after the bombings, including an image of a napalm bomb from a video game clip debunked by one of Facebook’s fact-check partners.

“Following this test user’s News Feed, I’ve seen more images of dead people in the past three weeks than I’ve seen in my entire life total,” the researcher wrote.

It sparked deep concerns over what such divisive content could lead to in the real world, where local news at the time were reporting on Kashmiris being attacked in the fallout.

“Should we as a company have an extra responsibility for preventing integrity harms that result from recommended content?” the researcher asked in their conclusion.

The memo, circulated with other employees, did not answer that question. But it did expose how the platform’s own algorithms or default settings played a part in spurring such malcontent. The employee noted that there were clear “blind spots,” particularly in “local language content.” They said they hoped these findings would start conversations on how to avoid such “integrity harms,” especially for those who “differ significantly” from the typical U.S. user.

Even though the research was conducted during three weeks that weren’t an average representation, they acknowledged that it did show how such “unmoderated” and problematic content “could totally take over” during “a major crisis event.”

The Facebook spokesperson said the test study “inspired deeper, more rigorous analysis” of its recommendation systems and “contributed to product changes to improve them.”

“Separately, our work on curbing hate speech continues and we have further strengthened our hate classifiers, to include four Indian languages,” the spokesperson said.

Other research files on misinformation in India highlight just how massive a problem it is for the platform.

In January 2019, a month before the test user experiment, another assessment raised similar alarms about misleading content. In a presentation circulated to employees, the findings concluded that Facebook’s misinformation tags weren’t clear enough for users, underscoring that it needed to do more to stem hate speech and fake news. Users told researchers that “clearly labeling information would make their lives easier.”

Again, it was noted that the platform didn’t have enough local language fact-checkers, which meant a lot of content went unverified.

Alongside misinformation, the leaked documents reveal another problem plaguing Facebook in India: anti-Muslim propaganda, especially by Hindu-hardline groups.

India is Facebook’s largest market with over 340 million users — nearly 400 million Indians also use the company’s messaging service WhatsApp. But both have been accused of being vehicles to spread hate speech and fake news against minorities.

In February 2020, these tensions came to life on Facebook when a politician from Modi’s party uploaded a video on the platform in which he called on his supporters to remove mostly Muslim protesters from a road in New Delhi if the police didn’t. Violent riots erupted within hours, killing 53 people. Most of them were Muslims. Only after thousands of views and shares did Facebook remove the video.

In April, misinformation targeting Muslims again went viral on its platform as the hashtag “Coronajihad” flooded news feeds, blaming the community for a surge in COVID-19 cases. The hashtag was popular on Facebook for days but was later removed by the company.

For Mohammad Abbas, a 54-year-old Muslim preacher in New Delhi, those messages were alarming.

Some video clips and posts purportedly showed Muslims spitting on authorities and hospital staff. They were quickly proven to be fake, but by then India’s communal fault lines, still stressed by deadly riots a month earlier, were again split wide open.

The misinformation triggered a wave of violence, business boycotts and hate speech toward Muslims. Thousands from the community, including Abbas, were confined to institutional quarantine for weeks across the country. Some were even sent to jails, only to be later exonerated by courts.

“People shared fake videos on Facebook claiming Muslims spread the virus. What started as lies on Facebook became truth for millions of people,” Abbas said.

Criticisms of Facebook’s handling of such content were amplified in August of last year when The Wall Street Journal published a series of stories detailing how the company had internally debated whether to classify a Hindu hard-line lawmaker close to Modi’s party as a “dangerous individual” — a classification that would ban him from the platform — after a series of anti-Muslim posts from his account.

The documents reveal the leadership dithered on the decision, prompting concerns by some employees, of whom one wrote that Facebook was only designating non-Hindu extremist organizations as “dangerous.”

The documents also show how the company’s South Asia policy head herself had shared what many felt were Islamophobic posts on her personal Facebook profile. At the time, she had also argued that classifying the politician as dangerous would hurt Facebook’s prospects in India.

The author of a December 2020 internal document on the influence of powerful political actors on Facebook policy decisions notes that “Facebook routinely makes exceptions for powerful actors when enforcing content policy.” The document also cites a former Facebook chief security officer saying that outside of the U.S., “local policy heads are generally pulled from the ruling political party and are rarely drawn from disadvantaged ethnic groups, religious creeds or casts” which “naturally bends decision-making towards the powerful.”

Months later the India official quit Facebook. The company also removed the politician from the platform, but documents show many company employees felt the platform had mishandled the situation, accusing it of selective bias to avoid being in the crosshairs of the Indian government.

“Several Muslim colleagues have been deeply disturbed/hurt by some of the language used in posts from the Indian policy leadership on their personal FB profile,” an employee wrote.

Another wrote that “barbarism” was being allowed to “flourish on our network.”

It’s a problem that has continued for Facebook, according to the leaked files.

As recently as March this year, the company was internally debating whether it could control the “fear mongering, anti-Muslim narratives” pushed by Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, a far-right Hindu nationalist group which Modi is also a part of, on its platform.

In one document titled “Lotus Mahal,” the company noted that members with links to the BJP had created multiple Facebook accounts to amplify anti-Muslim content, ranging from “calls to oust Muslim populations from India” and “Love Jihad,” an unproven conspiracy theory by Hindu hard-liners who accuse Muslim men of using interfaith marriages to coerce Hindu women to change their religion.

The research found that much of this content was “never flagged or actioned” since Facebook lacked “classifiers” and “moderators” in Hindi and Bengali languages. Facebook said it added hate speech classifiers in Hindi starting in 2018 and introduced Bengali in 2020.

The employees also wrote that Facebook hadn’t yet “put forth a nomination for designation of this group given political sensitivities.”

The company said its designations process includes a review of each case by relevant teams across the company and are agnostic to region, ideology or religion and focus instead on indicators of violence and hate. It did not, however, reveal whether the Hindu nationalist group had since been designated as “dangerous.”

___

Associated Press writer Sam McNeil in Beijing contributed to this report.

___

See full coverage of the “Facebook Papers” here: https://apnews.com/hub/the-facebook-papers

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Sunday Bulletin Board: Did she really say she’d bought some Yogi Bear stamps? Or was that her husband’s Boo Boo?

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Sunday Bulletin Board: Did she really say she’d bought some Yogi Bear stamps? Or was that her husband’s Boo Boo?

Come again?

Another episode of creative hearing, reported by The Retired Pedagogue of Arden Hills: “Subject: Not smarter than . . .

“After her trip to the post office, my wife informed me: ‘I bought some Yogi Bear stamps.’

“I replied ‘That’s nice’ and looked forward to seeing the cartoon character (and possibly Boo Boo) the next time I needed postage.

“The need arose a few days later, and as I located the stamps — much to my surprise — there was Lawrence Peter Berra in his Yankee pinstripes.

“As Yogi would say . . .”

BULLETIN BOARD YOGIFIES: Hey, hey, hey, Boo Boo! Nobody goes to the post office anymore. It’s too crowded!

Gee, our old La Salle ran great!

eBay Division

GREGORY J. of Dayton’s Bluff: “Subject: Remember the Embers.

“Once again I bought something interesting, at least to me, on eBay. It was a laminated Embers menu from around 1970, when I, my family, and friends used to eat there quite often. The front was fake wood grain with just ‘Embers’ in script on it.

“Inside was the slogan ‘Remember the Embers for real good food.’ It was catchy if not exactly grammatically correct. A variation of this on the back cover read ‘Welcome to the Embers for real good food.’ [Bulletin Board muses: Put a comma between “real” and “good,” and you’d have what Embers could offer. Even Embers’ ad agency might have found fault with “really good food.”]

1635081850 489 Sunday Bulletin Board Did she really say shed bought some

“If a picture is worth a thousand words, the Embers menu made up for its minimal food descriptions with plenty of photos.

“Embers offered Steak, Fish, Seafood and Chicken Dinners, not to mention Steak and Seafood Sandwiches, Diet Delights, Franks and Country Ham sandwiches. (For some reason, all of the Franks were called ‘Mr. K,’ and the Country Ham sandwiches, ‘Mr. B,’ with multiple versions of each.)

“Of course Embers was best known for its Embergers and Jumbo Embergers. They both came in standard, with Melted Cheese, California Style, Royal, Combo and Royal Combo versions, which featured various combinations of lettuce, cheese, bacon strips and fries. A Jumbo Royal Combo cost $2.55, while the standard Emberger was only 95 cents.

“No meal was complete without dessert, for which coupons could be found almost constantly in the local newspapers. The most popular dessert was pie. There were apple, blueberry, strawberry and pecan fruit pies, with or without ice cream, and banana coconut, strawberry, apple, blueberry and hot fudge cream pies. All pies cost 65 or 75 cents.

“Embers was great in its heyday, but it started to slowly fade away in the 1980s. An attempt to bring it back to its former glory took place in the late 1990s, with limited success. The final Embers, located in Fridley, closed in March 2021 . . . but we’ll always ‘Remember the Embers.’

“P.S. These are probably way too many photos to use, but a scanner is a terrible thing to waste.”

MIKE: USE WHAT WORKS FOR YOU. ALL OF THEM, IF YOU HAVE A BIG SPACE! Fine with me if they dominate the page and you have to trim a bunch of other stuff. MAN, I HOPE YOU HAVE COLOR THIS SUNDAY.

1635081850 410 Sunday Bulletin Board Did she really say shed bought some

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Life (and death) as we know it

Irish Division

JOHN IN HIGHLAND: “Subject: ‘It’s Time You Were Learning the Miner’s Job.’

“Those of us of Irish descent have heard stories of our forebears who fled the potato famine in the mid-1800s and came to America. In large U.S. cities, many of the men became policemen. Many others became coal miners. Recently I became aware of a song written by Ewan MacColl, ‘Schoolday’s Over,’ that describes a collier’s (coal miner’s) life.

“My great-grandfather, Cornelius (Con), left Killimor, County Tipperary, Ireland for the U.S. in 1848 at age 22. Con settled in St. Paul, where he met and married an Irish girl named Margaret Cregan. They lived in St. Paul in the 1850s, at Sixth and Minnesota Streets. Reports of newly discovered coal veins and need for laborers caused them to eventually relocate to Streator, Illinois.

“Con worked as a miner in the ‘Peanut Hill’ coal mine in Streator. He was described as a man well educated and thoroughly posted in historical events. According to the local newspaper, few men read more or were better versed on passing events. His family included eight children, five boys and three girls.

“In the spring of 1878, thunderstorms caused the Coal Run creek to overflow its banks, flooding the mine. Most of the 75 miners were able to escape the torrent, but Con delayed, trying to find his son, who had already escaped through an air shaft. Con was swept away. His body was not found until weeks later.

“My grandfather, John, was born on the night before Con died. As the Irish are known to say: ‘Sooner or later, life will break your heart.’”

Our pets, ourselves (responsorial)

Leading to: Out of the mouths of babes (Great Comebacks Division)

SMILIN’ SUE “Subject: Smart Animals and Smart Kids.

“BILL OF THE RIVER LAKE mentioned a smart dog which seemed to be a talented back-seat driver, looking both ways at an intersection while waiting for the traffic to clear [Sunday BB, 10/17/2021].

“This reminded me of another smart-animal story. My 8-year-old granddaughter, Little Miss LL, is a keen observer who enjoys viewing the street out of my front picture window. A week ago, we were highly amused by a big, black crow which strutted smartly across the street while looking both ways many times during its safe trip from curb to curb. That same day as we were driving through our small-town college campus, a student totally engrossed with texting stepped into oncoming traffic without even looking up. Little Miss LL commented that maybe the crow could teach the college student how to safely cross the street.”

The verbing of America

DONALD reports: “Brian Williams used this one twice in the same week: ‘The Democrats have been Charlie-Browned by the Republicans.’”

BULLETIN BOARD SAYS: We presume that Mr. Williams was referring to poor Charlie’s belief that, contrary to all experience, Lucy Van Pelt wouldn’t pull back the football just before he could kick it.

So haven’t the Democrats been Van Pelted?

This ’n’ that

From AL B of Hartland: (1) “I hiked in Colorado and heard the sounds of Canada jays (also called gray jays, whiskey jacks and camp robbers). I placed a bit of fiber bar on my palm, and a jay landed on my paw and grabbed the morsel.

“I’d offered a helping hand to another and was thrilled at what I’d received in return.”

(2) “It’s OK to feed uncooked rice to birds. A myth was promulgated by advice columnist Ann Landers in 1988 when she published a letter from a reader warning against the practice of throwing rice at weddings. Internet stories warned of birds exploding after eating rice.

“Many birds eat uncooked rice in the wild. Bobolinks are called ‘rice birds’ because of their appetite for the grain.

“Rice is fine for birds, but some wedding parties throw birdseed instead.”

Then & Now

Including: Fifteen Nanoseconds of Fame

THE GRAM WITH A THOUSAND RULES: “Subject: Sputnik.

“Back in the Fifties, when we lived in our cottage at Lake Minnetonka, the night skies were so dark, they were perfect for star gazing, and we spent many hours watching the skies during meteor showers. We splurged and bought a 60-power telescope and enjoyed seeing the craters on the moon, the rings of Saturn and four of Jupiter’s moons. My kids all grew up with an interest in ‘what’s up there.’

“So when I received a photo from Down Under of my oldest grandson crouching down in their chilly early-spring evening with his almost-5-year-old son as they watched a satellite streaking across their sky, it brought back memories of a morning long ago.

“It was 64 years ago this October when Sputnik made its surprise appearance soaring across our sky. The breaking news was astounding. They gave us timetables to tell us when we might be able to see it. I bundled up our two little kids and went outside before sunrise that chilly morning to catch a glimpse of it. It didn’t matter that our son was only 3 and our daughter 19 months; this was History, and they were going to know someday that they had seen Earth’s first artificial satellite. My husband was already on duty at the broadcasting station when I called him up to boast. He called me back a few minutes later and said he had a radio announcer on the line. They wanted to interview me, with the first reported local sighting. Ahh, fame.”

Band Name of the Day: The Camp Robbers

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