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Archive for July, 2009

Recently there’s been alot of debate about what will be included in the Health Care Reform Act that’s due to be passed sometime this year. In some Catholic circles the debate has centered around the inclusion of taxpayer-funded abortion and euthanasia. Yes, you read me right, some would have you believe that buried in the massive bill currently before Congress, H.R. 3200, is a sinister plot to euthanize our elderly (anyone on Medicare).

Where did this get started? Well, as part of this massive bill, there would be a requirement for anyone on Medicare to meet, in 5-year intervals, with a qualified person (physician, nurse practitioner, or physician’s assistant “who has the authority under State law to sign orders for life sustaining treatments” [p. 428]) and discuss advanced directives. “Do not resuscitate orders” as some would call them. But, this is not a mandate telling Medicare patients they must sign anything saying that they want doctors to just stand around and let them die. Far from it. The bill simply mandates a CONSULTATION about end of life issues and directives. No decisions will be made except by the Medicare recipient him/herself.

“The level of treatment indicated … may range from an indication for full treatment to an indication to limit some or all or specified interventions…” [p. 430]

Clearly, as stated in this bill, the Medicare recipient can choose full treatment, including ventilators, tube feeding, etc. or he/she can choose “do not resuscitate” or anything in between.

Hardly government-mandated euthanasia.

Whether this is needed is what should be debated. I think it’s a good idea to inform people about all the options in end-of-life care ahead of time, when a person is of sound mind and body. This is the best time for a person to make the decision about what would happen if they ever got to a point where their wishes could not be communicated. This, at the very least, gives the family peace of mind knowing what Mom’s or Dad’s (or Grandma’s or Grandpa’s) decision would be in that situation. And, because the consultation is every five years, the patient can review their decisions periodically and make any changes necessary. (The consultation can also take place more often than 5 years depending on when the patient feels a review is necessary.)

Advanced directives I believe are a good thing. And, would’ve been helpful when my father was in a nursing home.

A personal story: When my father was in a nursing home back in the early 1990s, he developed an infection in his lower leg. Eventually the doctors said that the leg would have to be amputated. My father for years increasingly had trouble walking and feared the loss of his legs. He repeatedly said that he would rather die than have his legs amputated. My father was dying at this stage. He had been having mini strokes for three years prior, and a larger stroke that paralyzed him a couple of months before. He was bedridden 24/7. His pulse was so weak in one of his arms, the paramedics that took him to the hospital could not even get a pulse. Considering all this, and especially my father’s wishes not to have his leg amputated I decided against the amputation and for keeping him comfortable until he quietly passed naturally. The doctor threatened to take me to court to force my father to have the surgery. My cousin convinced me to let the surgery happen, saying that there would be no medicines that would lessen the pain of the infection and dying from the infection would be worse. My father’s leg was amputated. Surprisingly, my father survived the surgery. A week later, I got a call from a doctor’s office saying I had to take my father to his office so he could fit my father with a prosthetic leg. I couldn’t believe it. They wanted to fit a dying man, a man that’s been bedridden for months with a prosthetic leg! I refused. The doctor let that slide. A couple of weeks later the wound from the surgery got infected. Shortly after that my father died of a massive stroke and septicemia.

Another personal story: my father had to deal with end-of-life issues for a loved one too. In 1974, at the age of 38, my mother lay dying in a hospital room, on a respirator. My father begged the doctors to take her off the machines, but they refused. She lingered like that, breathing just once every minute or so, for weeks (or maybe it just seemed like weeks to her loved ones) before her heart stopped.

No one should have to fight with doctors to deny unnecessary procedures to dying family members. Granted, end-of-life care has gotten more humane since these incidents, as evidenced by my aunt’s last days in hospice in 2002. However, it’s unnecessary, costly medical procedures like the ones mentioned in my personal stories that President Obama and whoever drafted the provision for the consultations wants to avoid, or at least minimize.

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I’ve been reading articles lately that question the wisdom of increasing the minimum wage now that the country is in such tough economic times. Some economists say that at a time when the government should do everything it can to increase jobs, the increase in minimum wage would actually reduce jobs. “[W]orkers who aren’t worth $7.25 an hour to their employer won’t have a job.”1

Yet others (noneconomists) believe that raises in the minimum wage reduce poverty and, in general, are a good thing. Certainly, if the minimum wage was not raised, those making minimum wage would fall deeper and deeper into poverty as prices for all the necessities in life would rise higher and higher over time. But, as the graph2 above shows, despite rises in the minimum wage, the percentage of families living in poverty has changed little over the past 30 years or so. This also despite the fact that the percentage of hourly workers making minimum wage dropped from 13.4% in 1979 to 2.3% in 2007.

1 McCullagh, Declan. “Minimum Wage Hike Could Lead to Job Losses.” CBSNEWS, July 21, 2009.
2 All data retrieved from the U.S. Census Bureau website and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics website. 2007 data were the most recent available.

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Apparently my recent rant (see below) about our country’s underutilization of our engineering Ph.D.s was not without merit, at least in terms of this country underutilizing our college-educated population. In the print edition of the Detroit Free Press on June 28, 2009 there was an article by Tony Pugh entitled “College Grads Getting Left With Low-Level Jobs”. In this article, Mr. Pugh stated that the percentage of graduates 25 years old and younger with a bachelor’s degree who are working in jobs that require a college degree fell to less than 50% in 2009. 49.9% to be exact, or close to 2 million people, the lowest percentage in 20 years. And, except for a slight uptick from 2006-2007, the percentage has been falling from a high of 57.9% in 2000. Now, some of this downturn in 2009 has to do with the recent economic problems, but not all. During the 2000s we did have some “boom” times and yet the percentage of college graduates working in jobs requiring a college degree trended downward.

According to the director for the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University, Andrew Sum, “college grads who begin their careers in lower-paying jobs below their education level often take seven to nine years to catch the earnings of fellow grads who start out at jobs that require a college degree.” This is not just a problem for college graduates. Hiring college graduates for jobs that do not require a college degree creates higher unemployment for the low-skilled, non-college graduate and high school aged population.

I’m not advocating not hiring college graduates for these jobs. After all, I was a college-educated cashier at a local chain store pharmacy for a few years and also worked as a keyer in the membership department of the Detroit Zoological Society before I was hired in my current career position. That was the only way I could pay my bills and put food on the table. I believe that everyone that needs a job should have a job.

Truly I have no idea how to solve the problem of underutilizing the talent, education, knowledge, and expertise of the American workers. If I did, I’d probably win the Nobel Prize in economics. But I do feel that something must be done. And those who have the power to solve this problem should make this a priority.

Earlier post:

Recently I was reading an editorial printed in The Detroit News on June 18, 2009. The article made reference to a statement that Andrew Liveris made at the National Summit on the economy in Detroit. The quote from the article:

“Dow Chemical Chairman and Chief Executive Andrew Liveris said the country has to produce more engineering Ph.D.s if it hopes to again be the place where things are made.”

I read this statement and had to laugh. Now, why you say? Seems logical enough. Maybe. In my life I’ve not known too many Ph.D.s, at least not of my generation, Generation X. But of the few that I have known none have been able to get a job worthy of having a Ph.D.

First, an aerospace engineering Ph.D. I knew a few years back. He endearingly called himself a “rocket scientist”. When I knew him, he was doing his post-Doc at the University of Michigan. As anyone knows, post-Docs do not last forever so he was feverishly looking for a job in his chosen field. Months went by. He applied to multiple places but nothing. He would’ve loved to stay in Michigan. He had a house here. He had a life here. Unfortunately, he had to sell his house in Michigan and move back to California. Move back to the house he grew up in, and was previously renting out, because he could not find a job in Michigan or elsewhere and his savings was running out. This was in 2002. I have since lost track of him so hopefully, he has gotten a job in his field. Something worthy of his education, knowledge and expertise.

Second, a material scientist I know. He got his Ph.D. from Michigan State University. He then did his post-Doc in Japan. He came back to Michigan in 2005 and was in search of a career job. Again, months went by with no offers of interview or employment. He took a job building a retaining wall. Physical labor is better than no labor. Not exactly the type of “material” work he thought of when he was studying for this material science degree. Eventually he moved to New Mexico and got a temporary job in a university down there. At least he was using his knowledge in material science. But, again, it was not a permanent career position. The job entails long hours, low pay, and, at least in the beginning, no benefits. Soon this job will be ending. And, so far, despite applying for multiple jobs in various states, only one HR director has bothered to call back for an interview, but no job offer.

Now, if there’s a shortage of engineering Ph.D.s in the United States wouldn’t it follow that all engineering Ph.D.s that wanted a job would have their pick of positions? If that’s the case, why then are there unemployed (or underemployed) engineering Ph.D.s?

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