The Year 2000: Ready Or Not, Here It Comes

Originally published at
By K. Daniel Glover

Five-hundred fifty-five days and counting — until the year 2000, that is.

Although the official dawn of the new millennium will not occur until 366 days after Jan. 1, 2000, most everyone will acknowledge the first day of the next 1,000 years on that nice, round date. Depending on whom you ask, though, the day is either a milestone worthy of the grandest celebration or an unbearable millstone around the world’s neck.

For guys like the eternally youthful Dick Clark, whose name is synonymous with New Year’s Eve, the hours just before and after Jan. 1, 2000, are the best time to party. The same is true of “Red” and “Yellow,” the two confectionery characters touting M&M’s as “the official candy of the new millennium” and promising to give away $2 million in their year 2000 promotion.

But for the software engineers and high-tech gurus whose lives revolve around a computer glitch known in their circles as the “millennium bug” or “Y2K problem,” the chime of the clock at midnight looms as the mother of all deadlines. If they have not exterminated the bug by then, many of them say its impact could change the world as we know it.

Warning! Warning!
The problem itself is easy enough to comprehend, to the laymen as well as the computer professional. For a number of reasons, some logical and others bottom-line business-oriented, computer programmers of the past (and some, perhaps, in the present) designed systems to read the year only by its last two digits. Thus, most computers today will read 1998 only as “98” and assume the “19” before it.



Finding Democratic Victory In A Big Labor Defeat

Originally published at
By K. Daniel Glover

These days, the fortunes of Big Labor and the Democratic Party tend to rise and fall together. Labor money flows almost exclusively to the campaigns of Democrats — 93 percent to 7 percent during the 1995-96 election cycle, according to a study by the Center for Responsive Politics.

And when Democrats control the levers of government, the working man usually reaps the benefits. Witness the executive order President Clinton signed in 1995 barring federal contractors from permanently replacing striking workers or the quick enactment in 1993 of a law guaranteeing weeks of unpaid family and medical leave to many workers.

But the success of the labor movement and Democrats has not always been inextricably linked. Labor interests for decades preached a nonpartisan philosophy and often contemplated creating a party of their own. Not until the middle of this century did they shift their loyalties to one party, and their unyielding preference for Democrats did not begin to solidify until June 1947 — when the GOP-dominated Congress enacted the Taft-Hartley Act over the veto of Democratic President Harry S. Truman.

The ups and downs of labor
Labor unions in the United States have their roots in the industrial revolution of the 19th century. West’s Encyclopedia of American Law identifies the Noble Order of the Knights of Labor as the first noteworthy labor union, but not until the birth of the American Federation of Labor in 1886 did the labor movement take a firm hold in U.S. society.

An internal AFL dispute between skilled and unskilled laborers in the 1930s led to the creation of the Congress of Industrial Organizations, and the AFL and CIO became the driving forces behind efforts to unionize. The movement achieved its greatest success, enactment of the Wagner Act of 1935, even before the split between the AFL and CIO. Among other things, the law guaranteed the right of collective bargaining and made it illegal for employers to hire or fire an employee based on union membership. It also created the National Labor Relations Board.


The Retirement Sales Pitch

Originally published at
By K. Daniel Glover

The numbers from the National Center for Health Statistics and the Commerce Department’s Bureau of Economic Analysis paint a disturbing picture for future retirees. The good news, according to the NCHS data, is that the average American has added 13 years to his lifespan, which now stands at 75.7 years, since 1940. The bad news, according to the BEA: The national savings rate has declined by more than 5 percent since 1981.

If you add to that data the reality that Social Security faces a seemingly insurmountable shortfall and that cost-conscious employers are eliminating or slashing their company-paid pension plans, the next generation of retirees has reason to worry. Sure, they have the promise of a longer retirement because they will live well into their 70s or beyond. But they may not be able to afford their free time for long because their proverbial nest eggs will be depleted.

Weaknesses of the ‘retirement stool’
Against that backdrop, the National Summit on Retirement Savings convenes this week (June 4-5) in Washington for the first of three planned conferences on retirement savings. The goal of the 239 delegates, who represent both the public and private sectors, is to identify the weaknesses in the current U.S. retirement system and encourage Americans to save and invest more money for their golden years.

The task, by all accounts, is monumental. When it comes to retirement, policy-makers, financial analysts and even the people who hope to retire agree on one point: There is not much security in the current system. All three legs of the “retirement stool” — Social Security, employer-provided pension plans, and personal investment in 401(k)s and other retirement plans — are weak and, depending on whom you ask, getting weaker by the day.

Nearly one in four older Americans rely on Social Security for 90 percent of their income, an official with the American Association of Retired Persons told the Senate Labor and Human Resources Committee in March. But the Social Security Board of Trustees has predicted that the retirement of the baby-boom generation will deplete funds in the system by 2032 unless changes are made.

The pension system, which dates back to 1875 when the American Express Co. established the first employer-sponsored pension in the United States, is equally feeble. Some 50 million Americans, or nearly half the U.S. workforce, lacks pension coverage, according to the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp., and access to pensions has been stagnant the past two decades after increasing steadily for much of the century.