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    Published on: March 9, 2023

    The lessons of the past tell us how far we have come, as well as how far we have to go.  That's the advantage of institutional knowledge, I believe, and recent lessons come from literature, the movies and history.  We ignore these lessons at our own peril.

    Published on: March 9, 2023

    by Kevin Coupe

    Several studies came out yesterday that I thought were worth highlighting, with some commentary.

    •  The Washington Post has a story about a significant demographic change:  more women in the US are single than are married.  

    The number of single women in the US stands at 52 percent, according to a new Wells Fargo study.  "The census bureau has been tracking Americans’ marital status since at least 1900, when just 7 percent of surveyed women were single," the Post writes.  "Among the factors driving the rapid rise in single-women households over the last decade: A 20 percent increase in the number of women who have never married.

    "But while decades of changing norms around marriage and work have empowered women to carve their own paths, a stubborn wage gap continues to keep many women, especially single mothers, from enjoying the same economic gains as single men and married couples. Never-married women earned just 92 percent of what never-married men did last year, and have 29 percent less wealth, Wells Fargo economists found."

    “The sheer growth of single women is rippling across the economy and leaving a mark on the labor market, wealth and spending,” Sarah House, senior economist at Wells Fargo and lead author of the report, tells the Post. “The bad news, though, is that the wage gap [between men and women] has remained stuck over the past 15 years. Single women are filling a void in a very tight labor market, but they are still earning less than single men.”

    Which says more about the men who are running the companies where those women work, and toxic cultures that have been allowed to fester, than it does about the single women.

    •  Eagle Hill Consulting is out with research saying that there is a high level of concern among U.S. workers about a recession:  "Sixty-one percent of workers report concerns, with more women concerned about a recession (68 percent) than men (55 percent)."

    In addition, the firm has research saying that "while only a small portion of workers are concerned about layoffs (33 percent), employees reported clear views on how to handle worker layoffs. Eighty-five percent say layoffs via email are wrong. Instead, employees say they prefer an in-person meeting (72 percent) to provide notification of a layoff."

    Also from Eagle Hill, research shows that "levels of employee burnout among the U.S. workforce remain high but are trending downward since the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic. Nearly half (46 percent) of American employees say they are burned out from their jobs."

    "Burnout has fallen slightly since last year (49 percent in August 2022) and more substantially since the early months of the pandemic (58 percent in August 2020). Younger workers (51 percent) and women (48 percent) continue to report higher levels of burnout, although their levels also have dipped. 

    "As for the top sources of burnout, workers say it’s their workload at 52 percent, which is up from 48 percent in August 2022. Staffing shortages follows at 44 percent. Nearly three-fourths of workers (71 percent) say a four-day work week would alleviate stress, followed by increased flexibility (66 percent)."

    To me, these numbers highlight the importance of companies creating cultures of caring, in which they understand that, if they really believe that their employees are essential assets, they need to nurture their aspirations and deal with their fears.  Treat employees as disposable, and they'll feel exactly the same way about the company for which they work.

    •  USA Today reports that a new Ipsos poll that it commissioned "finds that 56% of Americans — including 51% of independents — say the term 'woke' means 'to be informed, educated on, and aware of social injustices … 39% of Americans — and 45% of independents — believe it means 'to be overly politically correct and police others' words'."

    If 56 percent think "woke" means one thing, and 39 percent think it means the opposite, I think it means that five percent believe that it is a stupid argument and that there are a lot more important things to talk about.

    Now that's an Eye-Opener.  Sign me up as part of the five percent.

    Published on: March 9, 2023

    Axios has a story about how retailers "are elbowing their way into health care delivery, pushing a customized consumer experience driven by digital health products … At its core, these companies are pulling together different tech-enabled services — urgent, primary, home and specialty care, pharmacy, and, in some cases, full integration with an insurer."

    The story notes that "a more user-friendly portal to the health system could lead to more engaged patients and better access to care in underserved areas. It could even yield a sustainable model for profitably offering better care for less money.

    "But the retailers' forays are prompting growing anti-trust and privacy concerns, as well as fears of further erosion of the doctor-patient relationship once considered central to coordinated care."

    Prompting the story are a series of deals that reflect the retailers' interest and investment in health care.   For example, Amazon bought concierge medicine provider One Medical for $3.9 billion.  "CVS Health announced a plan to buy Oak Street Health, a primary care group focused on Medicare patients. The pharmacy giant already owns insurer Aetna, pharmacy benefit manager CVS-Caremark, home health company Signify Health and health care service brands MinuteClinic and HealthHUB.  Also in January, Walgreens-backed primary care company VillageMD, scooped up more primary, specialty and urgent care investments, augmenting plans to open more than 500 full-service doctors' offices in Walgreens locations."

    And, "Yesterday, Best Buy Health launched a hospital-at-home program with North Carolina-based Atrium Health. The tech retailer bought the remote patient monitoring company Current Health in 2021. Best Buy said it will provide patient education, its at-home care platform and devices, and technical support via specially-trained Geek Squad agents.  It came on the heels of Walmart Health announcing last week that it plans to nearly double the footprint of its in-store clinics, which offer primary, behavioral health vision and dental care. In the fall, Walmart also inked a 10-year Medicare Advantage deal with UnitedHealth Group."

    Typical of the mindset is a quote from Amazon CEO Andy Jassy:  "If you fast forward 10 years from now, people are not going to believe how primary care was administered."

    KC's View:

    The story makes the point that one of the goals is to create national models that resemble Kaiser Permanente, but on steroids.

    I guess that's okay.  I have friends in California who swear by Kaiser Permanente.

    But I remain skeptical.  When I think about CVS and Walgreens stores that I've visited, it makes me believe that they more likely will dumb down the health care industry and focus on all the wrong priorities, as opposed to making it better and more accessible.  Plus, as Walgreens has demonstrated, its concerns may not match up with those of a percentage of its potential patients.

    I worry that the emphasis will be on "tech-enabled," as opposed to "patient enabling."

    Published on: March 9, 2023

    Bloomberg reports on a new Adobe study concluding that bad weather can be a strong driver of online shopping.

    According to the story, "Bad weather will spur an additional $13.5 billion in US online spending this year, up about 3% from last year."

    Details from the Adobe study:

    "Rain provides the biggest online sales boost, accounting for $8.7 billion. The effect peaks when there’s rainfall of 0.8 to 1 inch (2.5 centimeters), which would typically mean three hours of heavy rain. And the shopping gains are particularly strong on weekends and in the fall.

    Wind is expected to lift online sales by $4.4 billion, but it only helps up to a point. Speeds of more than 25 miles (40 kilometers) an hour cause e-commerce to wane as the wind grabs people’s attention. There are also regional differences. Strong winds cause e-commerce to drop in Atlanta, while shoppers in Chicago keep spending through the same conditions.

    "Snow accounts for a small boost, with geographic variations. In cities with low snow totals, such as Austin, Texas, and Charlotte, North Carolina, even a little drags down sales as consumers focus on the weather. In cities such as New York and Seattle, snow prompts people to stay home and shop more online."

    Bloomberg writes that "the findings could help brands and retailers predict shopper behavior more accurately, giving them a new tool as spending migrates online, Adobe said. The exact effects will depend on the exact weather conditions, of course, and the impact is sprinkled throughout the year. But Adobe estimates the cumulative total of sales sparked by bad weather outweighs Cyber Monday, the largest online shopping day of the year, which generated $11.3 billion last year."

    KC's View:

    The story also makes another good point that retailers who blame bad weather for poor results may lose that excuse.  Because there's no excuse for not having some sort of online option that can serve shoppers in a variety of need states.

    I was talking to a west coast retailer with about a dozen stores recently, and they're sort of proud of the fact that they offer no online shopping options.  No pickup.  No delivery.  Nothing.  They're entitled to see lack of accessibility as a competitive advantage of course, but I'm not sure that this is a sustainable strategy.

    Especially because, as it happens, they are located in a place where it rains. A lot.  The Adobe study suggests that not having any sort of online alternative could be more of a detriment than perhaps they know.

    Published on: March 9, 2023

    The Wall Street Journal reports that the US Department of Justice has decided to drop felony charges against Paul Kruse, former CEO of Blue Bell Creameries, in the 2014 case of listeria in the company's ice cream that led to three deaths.

    Kruse, who had been "facing seven counts of wire fraud and conspiracy to commit wire fraud," instead agreed to plead guilty to a misdemeanor charge related to food safety violations and pay a $100,000 fine.  Kruse was facing up to 20 years in prison if the original changes had stuck, but now will not serve any jail time.

    The Journal writes that "a trial in Austin last year in which Mr. Kruse faced the Justice Department’s felony charges resulted in a hung jury. Prosecutors alleged he tried to hide what Blue Bell knew about the listeria outbreak and directed company employees to recall potentially contaminated inventory without telling grocers or consumers why.

    "The Justice Department didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. A representative of Blue Bell on Wednesday said the company hoped the plea agreement between Mr. Kruse and the government would bring closure to a difficult situation.

    "The company pleaded guilty in 2020 to two misdemeanor charges related to shipments of contaminated ice cream and agreed to pay $19.35 million in fines."

    In a statement, Blue Bell said that "the settlement confirms what Mr. Kruse has been saying from the very beginning, no one at Blue Bell ever intended to defraud its customers, and we are happy that the government has reached the same conclusion."

    KC's View:

    "Intending to defraud customers" and "not putting customers' interests first" are not exactly the same thing.  Blue Bell may not be guilty of the first, but it sure seems like it was guilty of the latter. 

    Published on: March 9, 2023

    The Wall Street Journal reports that "some doctors are urging patients to cut back their consumption of sugar substitutes as questions mount about their health effects. 

    "In the latest study, published February in the journal Nature Medicine, Cleveland Clinic researchers found that the commonly used zero-calorie sweetener erythritol was associated with an increased risk of heart attacks, strokes and death within three years."

    The Journal notes that "researchers have long probed possible health risks of alternative sweeteners, but many studies have used food diaries, which researchers say aren’t always a reliable record of what people actually eat. The latest study on erythritol is more robust and comprehensive.

    "Other research has suggested that certain sugar alternatives such as sucralose and saccharin might increase people’s risk of developing Type 2 diabetes."

    Stanley L. Hazen, senior author of the study and chair of the department of cardiovascular and metabolic sciences at the Cleveland Clinic, tells the Journal that "in every group they analyzed, participants with higher levels of erythritol were more likely to have a heart attack or stroke or die in three years. The researchers also did animal and lab studies, finding that erythritol resulted in an increased risk of clotting in mice and in blood and platelet samples.

    "Dr. Hazen says he is telling patients to look carefully at labels on foods they buy, although he notes that erythritol might not always be specifically named with amounts as an ingredient. Products with ingredients such as 'sugar alcohol' or 'natural sweeteners' could include erythritol.  He recommends avoiding foods and drinks sweetened with sugar alternatives. Use fruit or honey in moderation, or a little bit of sugar, if you want to sweeten something, he suggests."

    The Journal notes that "the Calorie Control Council, a trade group representing the low-calorie food and beverage industry, said in an email that the safety of erythritol is backed by years of research. It said that findings from a study focusing on people already at risk for cardiovascular issues shouldn’t extend to the wider population."

    KC's View:

    Isn't that what lobbying groups always say, often for years, before evidence comes out that the product they are representing is bad for folks?

    It doesn't always work that way.  But sometimes, and enough for me to take its comments with a grain of … salt?

    Published on: March 9, 2023

    Interesting piece in Fast Company that starts out this way:

    "These are a smattering of things you can make from mycelium (aka fungi): sneakers, makeup sponges, batteries—and meat. All are getting eyeballs but only the last one has a glimmer of a chance at reducing our climate woes. And yes, we know that plant-based meat has its haters right now.

    "But Tyler Huggins isn’t one of them, and he’s betting the farm on making meat from mycelium. Huggins is the CEO of Meati, a food-tech startup based in Boulder, Colorado, that’s growing mycelium in giant steel tanks and forming it into happy little 'steaks' you can feel good about … Technically, what Meati is producing - chicken and steak from mycelium - isn’t plant based. If you like foraging for mushrooms, mycelium is the mass of tiny white fibers you’ll find growing underground."

    You can read the entire story here.

    KC's View:

    Fast Company says that it isn't the same thing, but when I read "fungi" and "tiny white fibers," I think about HBO's "The Last of Us."  Which means I think I'll pass.

    (Loving "The Last of Us," by the way.  I'm just catching up with it, and finished episode three last night.  Big wow!)

    Published on: March 9, 2023

    Ford yesterday released a new commercial for a first-ever Men's Only Edition of its Explorer SUV.  Check it out:

    Published on: March 9, 2023

    •  From CNBC:

    "Companies added jobs at a brisk pace in February as the U.S. labor market kept humming, payroll services firm ADP reported Wednesday.

    "Private payrolls increased by 242,000 for the month, ahead of the Dow Jones estimate for 205,000 and well above the upwardly revised 119,000 jobs gain, from 106,000, in January.

    "Wage growth decelerated slightly, with those remaining in their jobs seeing a 7.2% annual increase, down 0.1 percentage point from a month ago. Job changers saw growth of 14.3%, compared with 14.9% in January.

    "The report comes with Federal Reserve officials watching jobs data closely for clues on where inflation is headed. Remarks Tuesday from Fed Chairman Jerome Powell, who called the jobs market 'extremely tight,' triggered a sell-off on Wall Street amid expectations that the central bank could accelerate the pace of its interest rate increases."