Tagged: children

Lowest-wage Aetna employees minimum wage now $16/hour + increased benefits

Bertolini, Keene, minimum wage

One CEO has taken a step that could help fend off Thomas Piketty’s nightmare vision of rising wealth inequality: He’s giving thousands of his workers a raise.

Aetna Chairman and CEO Mark Bertolini announced…that the health-insurance company will be raising wages for its lowest-paid employees. Starting in April, the minimum hourly base pay for Aetna’s American workers will be $16 an hour, according to a company press release.

The 5,700 workers affected by the change will see an average pay raise of about 11 percent. The lowest-paid workers, who currently make $12 an hour, will get a 33-percent raise.

The Wall Street Journal reported that Bertolini recently requested that Aetna executives read Capital In The Twenty-First Century, by the French economist Piketty. The book, which has been hailed as the “most important book of the twenty-first century,” warns that the gap between the haves and the have-nots is heading toward Gilded Age levels of inequality and calls on the world’s largest economies to fix the problem.

The U.S. government, which last raised the federal minimum wage to $7.25 an hour in 2009, has not exactly scrambled to respond. Aetna’s move is one way companies could help close the gap

Other factors may have influenced Aetna’s decision to boost pay. The Affordable Care Act is helping millions of Americans get insured, which means insurance companies have to beef up their consumer services to stay competitive.

“Health care decisions are increasingly consumer driven,” Bertolini said in a statement emailed to The Huffington Post. “We are making an investment in the future of health-care service.”

The job market is healing, as well, which should eventually push wages higher. Last month capped the best year for hiring since 1999, as the unemployment rate fell to 5.6 percent. That said, even though the job market has improved, wages have been slow to grow.

Still, some large employers, including Aetna, Starbucks and the Gap, have raised wages in the past year.

In the interview, Tom Keene makes the point that wages have been stagnant for years. Bertolini describes the segment that most influenced his decision were single moms who needed food stamps to get by in Connecticut’s capitol. Their kids often were on Medicaid because they couldn’t even afford the company’s healthcare plan.

60% of the increase dedicated to benefits. 40% of the budget increase went to the wages – raised to $16/hour minimum. Doing it this way produced the best possible increase in personal disposable income. Not that any of this means crap to Republicans and other tightwads pretending to be conservatives.

Bertolini’s cogent point is that healthcare is a growing segment in our service economy. Workers who are well-paid always perform better than folks treated like serfs. As much as today’s conservatives prefer the latter. Something not noted in this article are the changes in workplace life, as well. More advanced sectors in the American economy – like the tech sector – long ago proved that a small portion of time away from necessary work reduces tedium, makes for increased acuity in all tasks. That should include physical changes, exercise – as well a bit of time to rest your brain.

Aetna now brings in a bit of yoga, a little meditation time to their workplace. Something else, fundamentalist curmudgeons will also hate.

Head Start Program really does help obese kids

strong4life_177675326

Head Start preschool programs had a positive effect on the body mass index (BMI) for obese and overweight children over the course of an academic year. Both obese and overweight children who participated in Head Start saw a greater decline in BMI z score during their first academic year than their counterparts in comparison groups, according to a new study to be published in the February issue of Pediatrics…

Julie Lumeng said that Head Start is a valuable intervention for clinicians concerned about the health and well-being of their low-income patients. “Practically speaking, if you’re a pediatrician or family medicine doctor who’s working with children and you’re concerned about their weight, if those children are low-income, meaning they would be eligible for the Head Start preschool program, just suggesting to the parent that they sign them up for Head Start might actually help them achieve a healthier weight,” she concluded…

The study may also have implications for the overall population health of children. “By looking at adopting not just developmental and educational policies, but also implementing strategies or evidence around food or playtime, it proves there’s a benefit to this when you compare it to fairly similar populations,” said Stephen Cook, MD, MPH…at the University of Rochester Medical Center in New York…

One of the most important limitations of the study may be the study design, which Lumeng calls “second best” compared with a randomized, controlled trial. However, she says a randomized controlled trial would be extremely unethical for this particular population. “You couldn’t enroll a family in a study and say ‘Well, I’m going to flip a coin basically and decide if your child’s going to get preschool or not’ when they’re living in poverty,” said Lumeng…

Cook sees this study as a jumping off point for further data collection, possibly involving Head Start providers, as well as the siblings and parents of the children involved. He hypothesized there might be a “halo effect” with kids’ healthier eating habits and greater physical activity having a positive impact on the adults in their lives.

Head Start is a federally funded preschool program that is free to 3- to 5-year-old US children living in poverty. Head Start program regulations mandate nutritional and health services, adequate time and space for active play, and parental involvement.

Republicans hate it.

Do you care about the level of violence in your kid’s cartoons?

Principal cartoon characters are more than twice as likely to be killed off as their counterparts in films for adults released in the same year, reveals research from the University of Ottawa and University College London, published in the Christmas issue of The British Medical Journal.

The findings prompt the authors to describe children’s cartoons as “rife with death and destruction,” with content akin to the “rampant horrors” of popular films for adults given restrictive age ratings.

“Rather than being innocuous and gentler alternatives to typical horror or drama films, children’s animated films are, in fact, hotbeds or murder and mayhem” say the study leaders Dr Ian Colman and Dr James Kirkbride…

On-screen death and violence can be particularly traumatic for young children, and the impact can be intense and long lasting. Because of this many parents will not let their children see the “endemic gore and carnage” typical of films aimed at adult audiences, say the Canadian and UK researchers.

In a bid to assess the amount of violence young children might be exposed to, they analysed the length of time it takes for key characters to die in the 45 top-grossing children’s cartoons, released between 1937 (Snow White) and 2013 (Frozen), and rated either as suitable for a general audience (G) or with parental guidance suggested (PG).

They also looked at whether the first on-screen death was a murder or involved a main character’s parent.

The study found that two thirds of the cartoons depicted the death of an important character compared with half of the adult films.

After taking account of total run-time and years since release, children’s main cartoon characters were 2.5 times as likely to die as their counterparts in films for adults, and almost three times as likely to be murdered.

Yes, I know the automatic excuse of most “moral” censorship is that “we have to protect the children”. I don’t think these researchers are engaged so much in protecting children as trying to understand how we educate children.

I think it probably is useful to teach kids that a violent death isn’t necessarily the solution of choice for life’s problems. Even if one of those problem is Rumpelstiltskin.

Liquid nicotine poisoning among kids explodes as parents take to e-cigarettes


Glamorous – and stupid

Poison control workers say that as the e-cigarette industry has boomed, the number of children exposed to the liquid nicotine that gives hand-held vaporizing gadgets their kick also has spiked.

More than 2,700 people have called poison control this year to report an exposure to liquid nicotine, over half of those cases in children younger than 6, according to national statistics. The number shows a sharp rise from only a few hundred total cases just three years ago.

As stupid and destructive as is cigarette smoking, cigarettes laying around didn’t poison children. Parents who convince themselves they’re not doing something as stupid as smoking cigarettes – not only are lying to themselves, they’re risking their kids.

The battery-powered electronic vaporizers often resemble traditional cigarettes and work by heating liquid nicotine into an inhalable mist. The drug comes in brightly colored refill packages and an array of candy flavors that can make it attractive to young children, heightening the exposure risk and highlighting the need for users to keep it away from youngsters…

Liquid nicotine also stands out because it doesn’t have to be swallowed to be harmful. Skin exposure can be toxic. Officials are calling for child-resistant caps, which many manufacturers have already begun using, but there is no uniform protocol.

The e-cigarette industry doesn’t face the strict government regulations on traditional smokes that aim to keep them away from children, including prohibitions on candy or fruit flavors. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has proposed issuing regulations, but no rules have been drafted.

Face it. E-cigs are generally owned by the same pigs who own the cigarette industry. They own the same flavor of politicians they always owned. A critical portion of the equation defining how long it took to get any legislation and regulation of cigarettes passed. It will be the same with e-cigs – unless we rid Congress of the greedy cowards cluttering up the place.

Children prescribed antibiotics twice as often as needed

Pediatricians prescribe antibiotics about twice as often as they’re actually needed for children with ear and throat infections, a new study indicates.

More than 11 million antibiotic prescriptions written each year for children and teens may be unnecessary, according to researchers from University of Washington and Seattle Children’s Hospital. This excess antibiotic use not only fails to eradicate children’s viral illnesses, researchers said, but supports the dangerous evolution of bacteria toward antibiotic resistance…

Antibiotics, drugs that kill bacteria or stop them from reproducing, are effective only for bacterial infections, not viruses. But because doctors have few ways of distinguishing between viral or bacterial infections, antibiotics are often a default treatment.

Based on the prevalence of bacteria in ear and throat infections and the introduction of a pneumococcal vaccine that prevents many bacterial infections, the researchers estimated that about 27 percent of U.S. children with infections of the ear, sinus area, throat or upper respiratory tract had illnesses caused by bacteria.

But antibiotics were prescribed for nearly 57 percent of doctors’ visits for these infections, the study found.

Thousands die unnecessarily every year from illness caused by antibiotic-resistant bacteria. There are no legitimate reasons for over-prescription. Only marketing and social pressures which should have nothing to do with the practice of medicine.

Thanks, Mike

The Pope thinks kids are wasting time online — he should think about why

Pope Francis has taken aim at today’s youth by urging them not to waste their time on “futile things” such as “chatting on the internet or with smartphones, watching TV soap operas”.

He argued that the “products of technological progress” are distracting attention away from what is important in life rather than improving us. But even as he made his comments, UK communications regulator Ofcom released its latest figures, giving the opposite message. It celebrated the rise of a “tech-savvy” generation born at the turn of the millennium and now able to navigate the digital world with ease.

So what’s it to be for youth and the internet? Time-wasting and futile? Or the first to benefit from the wonders of the digital age?

This debate has been raging since children first picked up comic books and went to Saturday morning cinema. The media, it has long been said, makes kids stupid, inattentive, violent, passive, disrespectful, grow up too early or stay irresponsible too long. Whatever it is that society worries about in relation to children and young people, it seems that we love to blame it on the latest and most visible technology. Anything rather than looking more closely at the society we have created for them to grow up in.

Fifteen years ago, when children were being criticised for watching too much television (remember those days?), I asked children to describe what happened on a good day when they got home from school and what happened on a boring day. From six year olds to seventeen year olds, the answers were the same: on a good day, they could go out and see their friends; on a boring day they were stuck at home watching television.

And why couldn’t they go out and see their friends every day? Far from reflecting the appeal of television, the answer lies in parental anxieties about children going out. As a 2013 report noted, children are far less able to move around independently than in the past. This is particularly true of primary school children, who are often no longer allowed to walk to school or play unsupervised as they once were. Their developing independence, their time to play, their opportunities to socialise are all vastly curtailed compared with the childhoods of previous generations.

And yet the number of children who have accidents on the road has fallen over the years and there has been little change to the rate of child abductions, which remain very rare.

There is little evidence that children are choosing to stay home with digital technology instead of going out. Indeed, it seems more likely that an increasingly anxious world – fuelled by moral panics about childhood – is making parents keep their kids at home and online. And then, to pile on the irony, the same society that produces, promotes and provides technologies for kids also blames them for spending time with them…

Sonia Livingstone asks useful questions. Questions – in my own experience – not asked often enough. Certainly not asked or answered in conversations with folks in charge of funds for education, funds for recreation, even those in charge of whether or not there will be funds for education or recreation.

Much less what comprises useful education and what roles recreation, sport, fitness and challenge should play in the lives of young people. What to do with communication and a view of the whole world?

Seven messages used by effective reading teachers



In 1982, the late, great NZ reading researcher Marie Clay identified a group of children having difficulty learning to read as “tangled tots (with) reading knots”.

She was referring to children who, despite having no condition that potentially affected their ability to learn, didn’t seem to benefit from reading instruction. She hypothesised that such children “had tangled the teaching in a web of distorted learning which blocked school progress”.

I’ve met many such children (and their teachers) during five decades of anthropological research in hundreds of classrooms. There were also classrooms which either didn’t have “tangled tots” or, if they did, had more success in untangling their “reading knots”.

When I looked more closely at these “non-tangling” classrooms I discovered they had something in common. Their teachers continuously (and subtly) embedded messages about “learning to be an effective reader” in the language they used when teaching reading.

So far I’ve identified the following seven messages.

1. A reader’s major focus should always be meaning

2. Effective readers draw on all sources of information in the text

3. Effective readers are always predicting

4. Effective readers self-correct

5. Effective readers have a range of strategies

6. Effective readers know how they read

7. Effective readers love reading

RTFA. The details are positive – the result of practical work and analysis from successful teachers. A body of knowledge, of course, rarely consulted by the politicians and educators who make a living at not achieving very much useful to the future of humanity.

Yup. Cynical as ever.

The question I face when confronting the collapse of American education starts with reading skills. My father was first in his generation to graduate high school. My mom graduated from what used to be called a commercial high school. A 2-year high school. They taught my sister and me to read before we entered kindergarten in the New England factory town where we grew up.

They didn’t consider that a problem or an insurmountable task. They considered it a responsibility – to aid us in growing a useful lifelong habit, to aid us in learning and making decisions on our own.

Every Saturday, my mom, my sister and I walked the 4-mile round-trip from home to the neighborhood Carnegie library and back to get something to read and enjoy in addition to schoolwork. That was never a task. That was a happy and healthy part of our life.

Selling poison by the Barrel

A dangerous new form of a powerful stimulant is hitting markets nationwide, for sale by the vial, the gallon and even the barrel…The drug is nicotine, in its potent, liquid form — extracted from tobacco and tinctured with a cocktail of flavorings, colorings and assorted chemicals to feed the fast-growing electronic cigarette industry.

These “e-liquids,” the key ingredients in e-cigarettes, are powerful neurotoxins. Tiny amounts, whether ingested or absorbed through the skin, can cause vomiting and seizures and even be lethal. A teaspoon of even highly diluted e-liquid can kill a small child.

But, like e-cigarettes, e-liquids are not regulated by federal authorities. They are mixed on factory floors and in the back rooms of shops, and sold legally in stores and online in small bottles that are kept casually around the house for regular refilling of e-cigarettes.

Evidence of the potential dangers is already emerging. Toxicologists warn that e-liquids pose a significant risk to public health, particularly to children, who may be drawn to their bright colors and fragrant flavorings like cherry, chocolate and bubble gum.

“It’s not a matter of if a child will be seriously poisoned or killed,” said Lee Cantrell, director of the San Diego division of the California Poison Control System and a professor of pharmacy at the University of California, San Francisco. “It’s a matter of when.”

Reports of accidental poisonings, notably among children, are soaring. Since 2011, there appears to have been one death in the United States, a suicide by an adult who injected nicotine. But less serious cases have led to a surge in calls to poison control centers. Nationwide, the number of cases linked to e-liquids jumped to 1,351 in 2013, a 300 percent increase from 2012, and the number is on pace to double this year, according to information from the National Poison Data System. Of the cases in 2013, 365 were referred to hospitals, triple the previous year’s number…

Unlike nicotine gums and patches, e-cigarettes and their ingredients are not regulated. The Food and Drug Administration has said it plans to regulate e-cigarettes but has not disclosed how it will approach the issue. Many e-cigarette companies hope there will be limited regulation.

We’re back to the usual discussion of Americans creating their own Final Solution. Consuming liquid nicotine by the barrel or bottle — stupidity or ignorance?