Middle Class Hurt by California Mandate for New Home Batteries and Solar Panels

(p. B1) This month, state regulators updated California’s building code to require some new homes and commercial buildings to have solar panels and batteries and the wiring needed to switch from heaters that burn natural gas to heat pumps that run on electricity. Energy experts say it is one of the most sweeping single environmental updates to building codes ever attempted by a government agency.

But some energy and building experts warn that California may be taking on too much, too quickly and focusing on the wrong target — new buildings, rather than the much larger universe of existing structures. Their biggest fear is that these new requirements will drive up the state’s already high construction costs, putting new homes out of reach of middle- and lower-income families that cannot as easily afford the higher upfront costs of cleaner energy and heating equipment, which typically pays for itself over years through (p. B3) savings on monthly utility bills.

. . .

Adding solar panels and a battery to a new home can raise its cost by $20,000 or more. While that might not matter to somebody buying a million-dollar property, it could be a burden on a family borrowing a few hundred thousand dollars to buy a home.

“You’re going to see the impact in office rents. You’re going to see it in the cost of the milk in your grocery store,” said Donald J. Ruthroff, a principal at Dahlin Group Architecture Planning in Pleasanton, Calif. “There’s no question this is going to impact prices across the board.”

. . .

The Sycamore Square townhouses were the last ones developed in San Bernardino before the solar mandate took effect last year. Glenn Elssmann, a partner in the project who hired Mr. Marini’s company as the contractor, said the added cost of the solar requirement would have made construction of the development impossible. Homes in Sycamore Square started at $340,000 for the four-bedroom, three-bath units and reached as high as $370,000.

Jimmie Joyce, 44, who works in payroll at the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, will soon close on the purchase of a house in Sycamore Square after trying for almost a year to buy closer to Inglewood, a city near the Los Angeles International Airport where he lives now. His commute will likely increase from about 40 minutes to an hour and a half.

“I, for one, didn’t even plan on moving out that far,” Mr. Joyce said. “The way the market is, people are just overbidding to just try to get in things.” He said he made an offer $10,000 to $15,000 higher than the asking price on a home that ended up with more than 70 bids, including one that was $60,000 more than his.

His new home is already expensive for him, he said, and adding $10,000 to $20,000 more for solar, a battery and other amenities “would make that much more challenging.”

The changes regulators adopted this month will also require most new commercial buildings, including schools, hotels, hospitals, office buildings, retailers and grocery stores, and apartment buildings and condos above three stories to include solar and batteries. And regulators will require single-family homes to have wiring that will allow them to use electric heat pumps and water heaters, rather than ones that burn natural gas. About 55 percent of California’s homes use electric heat and 45 percent use natural gas.

For the full story, see:

Ivan Penn. “Greener Buildings, for a Lot of Green.” The New York Times (Monday, August 30, 2021): B1 & B3.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story was updated Sept. 9, 2021, and has the title “California’s Plan to Make New Buildings Greener Will Also Raise Costs.”)

Change in Census Question-Wording Drove Seeming Decline in “White” Population

(p. A17) The most common reaction to the release of the 2020 census was summed up in the headline “Census Data show the number of white people fell.” The data show the number of whites declining by 8.6%. This observation was often coupled with a political projection: that while gerrymandering could benefit Republicans in 2022, the political future belongs to the Democratic Party, which commands large majorities among minorities.

. . .

In the 2010 census, 53% of those who said they were of Hispanic origin checked off only “white,” a 58% increase in numbers from 2000. That rise in white Hispanics helped account for the increase in the number of whites from the prior census. But in the 2020 census, a mere 20.3% of Hispanics checked off only “white,” contributing to the 8.6% decline in the total number of people identifying only as white.

That dramatic change probably stemmed not from a shift in social consciousness or demographics, but from a subtle change in the 2020 question about race. In 2010 the census asked respondents to check off whether they were white, black or African-American, American Indian or Alaska Native, various varieties of Asian or Pacific Islander, and “some other race.” They may check off as many race boxes as are applicable.

But in 2020 the census asked respondents who checked off “white” to specify their nationality: “Print, for example, German, Irish, Italian, Lebanese, Egyptian, etc.” No Spanish-speaking nationality was listed. That likely created the impression that Hispanic was another race, notwithstanding the previous question’s disclaimer that “Hispanic origins are not races.”

For the full commentary, see:

John B. Judis. “How the Census Misleads on Race.” The Wall Street Journal (Monday, August 30, 2021): A17.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date August 29, 2021, and has the same title as the print version.)

Pandemic Increased Population Shift to the Exurbs

(p. A1) MURFREESBORO, Tenn.—This bucolic town 30 miles southeast of Nashville, Tenn., was once best known for its nearby Civil War battlefield and state college. Now it is one of the fastest-growing places in the country.

Surging housing costs and remote work are sending droves of people to live in new, fast-growing exurbs of metropolitan areas in the Southeast where suburban living has long been concentrated closer to the city.

Nashville, Charlotte, N.C., Charleston, S.C., and Jacksonville, Fla., are among the places getting the type of outer-ring residential development once found only around the country’s largest cities.

In 2020, net migration into a large group of exurban counties rose 37%, according to an analysis of U.S. Postal Service permanent change-of-address data by The Wall Street Journal. Nearly two-thirds of the flow came from large cities and their close-in suburbs.

Exurban areas, which include 240 counties as defined by the Brookings Institution, grew at almost twice the national rate over the past decade, a shift that began before the pandemic. There are signs it is accelerating this year as Americans prepare for an expected post-pandemic landscape where increased working from home reduces the need to commute.

Researchers differ in defining exurbs, but they gen-(p. A10)erally include the fast-growing outer fringes of large metro areas where single-family homes mix with farms and many workers have traditionally commuted a significant distance to the core of the metro area.”

For the full story, see:

Cameron McWhirter and Paul Overberg. “Pandemic Changes Swell Exurbs.” The Wall Street Journal (Monday, August 30, 2021): A1 & A10.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date August 29, 2021, and has the title “New Life and Work Choices Revitalize Exurbs, Bringing New Strains.” The online version says that the title of the (New York?) print version was “Pandemic Stokes Exurbs Boom.” But my (National?) print version had the title “Pandemic Changes Swell Exurbs.”)

Jobs and Wages Improved for Black Americans During Pre-Pandemic Trump Years

(p. A11) Over the first three years of Mr. Trump’s presidency, blacks (and Hispanics) experienced record-low rates of unemployment and poverty, while wages for workers at the bottom of the income scale rose faster than they did for management. Whether that was the goal of the Trump administration or an unintended consequence is a debate I’ll leave to others. But there is no doubting that the financial situation of millions of working-class black Americans improved significantly under Mr. Trump’s policies.

. . .

. . . job growth accelerated, unemployment kept falling, and economic growth improved. In early 2017, the new president set about implementing what he had promised during the campaign: lower taxes and lighter regulation. He nominated Kevin Hassett, who had published research showing how corporate taxes depress wages for manufacturing workers, to lead the Council of Economic Advisers. He urged Congress to reduce the tax rate on corporate profits, which at 35% was one of the highest in the developed world.

. . .

Between 2017 and 2019, median household incomes grew by 15.4% among blacks and only 11.5% among whites. The investment bank Goldman Sachs released a paper in March 2019 that showed pay for those at the lower end of the wage distribution rising at nearly double the rate of pay for those at the upper end. Average hourly earnings were growing at rates that hadn’t been seen in almost a decade, but what “has set this rise apart is that it’s the first time during the economic recovery that began in mid-2009 that the bottom half of earners are benefiting more than the top half—in fact, about twice as much,” CNBC reported.

Citing a graph included in Goldman’s analysis, CNBC added that the “trend began in 2018”—the first year that the corporate tax cuts were in effect—“and has continued into this year and could be signaling a stronger economy than many experts think.”

For the full commentary, see:

Jason L. Riley. “The Trump Boom Lifted Black Americans.” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, January 29, 2022): A11.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date January 28, 2022, and has the same title as the print version.)

The passages from Riley’s commentary quoted above were adapted from his book:

Riley, Jason L. The Black Boom. West Conshocken, PA: Templeton Press, 2022.

Ethnic Russians in Ukraine Identify as Ukrainians, Instead of as Russians (They Choose Freedom and Prosperity)

(p. A8) LSTANYTSIA LUHANSKA, Ukraine—The Russian-controlled areas of Ukraine’s Luhansk and Donetsk regions were once the engines of the country’s economy and dominated its politics.

They produced its richest man, billionaire industrialist Rinat Akhmetov, as well as former President Viktor Yanukovych, ousted by the street protests that triggered the Russian invasion in 2014.

Since then, however, the two areas—now nominally independent “people’s republics” inside the larger regions of Luhansk and Donetsk—have turned into impoverished, depopulated enclaves that increasingly rely on Russian subsidies to survive. As much as half the prewar population of 3.8 million has left, for the rest of Ukraine, more prosperous Russia or Europe. Those who remain are disproportionately retirees, members of the security services and people simply too poor to move. Current economic output has shrunk to roughly 30% of the level before the Russian invasion, economists estimate.

As Russian President Vladimir Putin is massing more than 100,000 troops for a possible broader invasion of Ukraine, the developments in Donetsk and Luhansk show what many fear could happen to the rest of the country if he were to carry that out. The dismal record of Russian rule is one reason so many Ukrainian citizens, including Russian-speakers, are ready to take up arms so that their hometowns won’t meet the same fate.

. . .

Isolyatsiya used to be a popular contemporary art space in Donetsk, hosting exhibitions and performances at a Soviet-era insulation materials factory. When Russian-backed militants took it over in 2014, saying the space was needed to store Russian humanitarian aid, they allowed staff to rescue a collection of Soviet-period social-realist paintings but smashed the contemporary art pieces, melting some of the statues and installations for scrap metal.

. . .

Weeks later, Isolyatsiya’s compound turned into a detention facility operated by the Donetsk republic’s ministry of state security. One of the hundreds of prisoners there was Ukrainian novelist and journalist Stanislav Aseev, who was detained in 2017 after local security officials discovered he was contributing under a pen name to Ukrainian news outlets. Mr. Aseev, who says he was repeatedly tortured with electric shock, was freed in December 2019 as part of a prisoner exchange and now lives near Kyiv.

“They’ve managed to rebuild a Soviet system in the occupied territories—and not the Soviet system of the 1960s and 1970s, but a Soviet system of the 1930s and 1940s, with dungeons, with torture chambers, a system where lives are ruined if you dare to write or say something negative about these republics and their authorities,” Mr. Aseev said.

. . .

Unlike in the wars of the former Yugoslavia, where religion and ethnicity created a permanent identity marker, here whether to consider oneself Ukrainian or Russian is a matter of choice and ideology rather than blood.

. . .

At the Slovyansk local museum, a room is dedicated to the 84 days when the town remained under the control of Russian militias in 2014. Exhibits include rocket-propelled grenades, artillery fragments and ballots of the referendum on independence from Ukraine that pro-Russian forces carried out at the time. Some 100 local residents died in Slovyansk, and more than 2,000 buildings were destroyed or damaged in the fighting. A suburb along the main highway still stands in ruins.

“It’s a big stress. Everyone is afraid, God forbid, that it will happen again,” said one of the museum’s curators, Oleksandr Gayevoy, who lived through the fighting in 2014. “People now prefer not to talk too much, because who knows who will come here next.”

Mr. Gayevoy added that one of his brothers, who remained in the Russian-controlled town of Yenakiyevo, former President Yanukovych’s hometown, was an ardent supporter of the Russian-installed regime there but has since changed his views.

“There used to be a lot of enthusiasm for the Donetsk people’s republic in the beginning, everyone chanted DPR, DPR, DPR! Now, there’s just a lot of disappointment,” said Mr. Gayevoy, who last visited the Russian-held areas in 2019. “My brother now tells me that they are ruled by cretins. The economy there has crumbled, the jobs are gone. There’s nothing good over there.”

For the full story, see:

Yaroslav Trofimov. “Dismal Life in Russian-Occupied Ukraine.” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, February 5, 2022): A8.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date February 4, 2022, and has the title “Dismal Russian Record in Occupied Eastern Ukraine Serves as Warning.”)

Amazon Warehouse Jobs Give “Economic Boost” to English Town

(p. B4) DARLINGTON, England—Many retailers in this old market town have long held Amazon.com Inc. partially to blame for the closures of a raft of local shops in recent years.

Then, Amazon opened a warehouse here.

The facility, which opened in early 2020, employs 1,300 full-time staff, making it one of the town’s biggest employers. It hired 500 additional seasonal workers during the end-of-year holidays. Wages start at £10 (equivalent to $13.25) an hour, above the legal minimum, and benefits include private healthcare and an £8,000 education allowance available in installments over four years.

The new jobs have all delivered an economic boost for the Northern England town of 100,000, while sparking a reassessment of the U.S. e-commerce giant. Nicola Reading, a gift-shop owner, still blames Amazon for the demise of the local retail scene but now sees an upside, too.

“It feels like Amazon employs half the population of Darlington now,” she said.

Already America’s second-biggest employer, after Walmart Inc., Amazon has been advancing in Europe and the U.K., investing €78 billion ($89 billion) since 2010 in a continentwide expansion that has significantly accelerated over the past few years. Amazon employs over 55,000 full-time U.K. staff.

. . .

Local officials in Darlington have applauded Amazon’s arrival, which they say has benefited the town, chiefly by creating jobs. Amazon’s presence is also encouraging young university graduates to stay in the town and attracting other companies, said Mark Ladyman, the Darlington Borough Council’s assistant director for economic growth.

For the full story, see:

Trefor Moss. “The Small Town That Amazon Upended, Then Saved.” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, January 22, 2022): B4.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story was updated Jan. 21, 2022, and has the same title as the print version.)

IBM Sells Failed Watson Artificial Intelligence Health Unit

(p. B3) International Business Machines Corp. agreed to sell the data and analytics assets from its Watson Health business to investment firm Francisco Partners, the companies said Friday [January 21, 2022].

. . .

The Watson Health business uses artificial intelligence to analyze diagnostic tests and other health data and to manage care.

IBM had big aspirations for its Watson artificial intelligence to help in medical research and improve patient outcomes, but the technology’s impact has fallen short of early hopes. Partners and clients have moved away from projects that were built around Watson technology in recent years, although IBM had spent billions of dollars making acquisitions to bolster the business.

“IBM took a risk of becoming a disrupter in the complex health care industry but was only able to garner limited success,” UBS analyst David Vogt said in a note Friday.

For the full story, see:

Matt Grossman. “IBM Sells Its Watson Health Assets To Investment Firm as It Refocuses.” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, January 22, 2022): B3.

(Note: ellipsis, and bracketed date, added.)

(Note: the online version of the story was updated Jan. 21, 2022, and has the title “IBM Sells Watson Health Assets to Investment Firm.”)

Most Private-Sector Workers Do Not Value Unions Enough to Want to Pay Dues

(p. A17) The annual BLS report on union membership released last week shows that unions lost nearly a quarter-million members in 2021, with private-sector membership dropping to a historic low of 6.1%. Even in retail and healthcare, which labor organizers targeted over pandemic-related safety concerns, union membership declined in 2021 from 2020.

. . .

. . . thinking well of unions and wanting to pay dues to be represented by one aren’t the same. I recently moderated focus groups of workers 18 to 29 in the Midwest and on the East and West coasts. While most said positive things about unions, only a handful wanted to join one.

. . .

The “historic” worker strife that has drawn media attention is more fiction than fact. Don’t take my word for it: The socialist magazine Jacobin reviewed the new BLS data on work stoppages and concluded that 2021 “was a quiet year, even by recent standards.”

For the full commentary, see:

Michael Saltsman. “Big Labor’s Resurgence That Wasn’t.” The Wall Street Journal (Monday, January 24, 2022): A17.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Jan. 23, 2022, and has the same title as the print version.)

30 Million Workers May Have the Skills, but Not the Degrees, to Move to Jobs That Pay 70 Percent More

(p. B1) Over the last two decades, workers without four-year college degrees have lost ground in the occupations that used to be ladders to middle-class lives for them and their families.

While the trend has been well known, putting a number on the lost steppingstone jobs has been elusive. A new study, published on Friday, estimates that such workers have been displaced from 7.4 million jobs since 2000.

The research points to the persistent challenge for the nearly two-thirds of American workers who do not have a four-year college degree, even as some employers have dropped the requirement in recent years.

“These workers have been displaced from millions of the precise jobs that offer them upward mobility,” said Papia Debroy, head of research for Opportunity@Work, the nonprofit that published the study. “It represents a stunning loss for workers and their families.”

. . .

(p. B2) A previous study by Opportunity@Work, with academic researchers, dissected skills in different occupations and found that up to 30 million workers had the skills to realistically move to new jobs that paid on average 70 percent more than their current ones.

Some major companies have started to adjust their hiring requirements. Rework America Business Network, an initiative of the Markle Foundation, has pledged to adopt skills-based hiring for many jobs. Companies in the group include Aon, Boeing, McKinsey, Microsoft and Walmart.

. . .

“The country as a whole will benefit from not stranding human capital,” said Erica Groshen, an economist at Cornell University and a former head of the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

For the full story, see:

Steve Lohr. “Requirement For Degrees Curbs Hiring.” The New York Times (Monday, January 17, 2022): B1-B2.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Jan. 14, 2022, and has the title “Millions Have Lost a Step Into the Middle Class, Researchers Say.”)

Side Gigs Can Lift Mood Enough to Improve Performance in Main Job

(p. R4) Contrary to the popular wisdom, moonlighting doesn’t leave people worn out and unproductive from 9 to 5. Instead, side gigs can make people feel more empowered—and thereby more productive at the office.

Dr. Sessions and his colleagues—whose results were recently published in the Academy of Management Journal—posted ads on large social-media networking groups, asking people to take a series of surveys about the nature of their supplementary work.  . . .

The study showed that supplementary work frequently enables side hustlers to feel empowered by taking ownership of self-directed work—which was especially true for those who were motivated beyond making money, says Dr. Sessions.

. . .

Side hustlers self-reported that they were preoccupied with their after-hours gigs the next morning, due to being deeply engaged in that work.

. . .

But that wasn’t the whole story: The moonlighters’ colleagues rated their co-workers’ performance significantly higher on those same days.

So, the uplift in mood had a statistically stronger positive effect on employee performance than the negative effect of being distracted—even if the moonlighters didn’t see things that way.

For the full story, see:

Heidi Mitchell. “When Two Jobs Can Be Better Than One.” The Wall Street Journal (Thursday, Nov. 4, 2021): R4.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date November 1, 2021 , and has the title “How a Side Hustle Can Boost Performance at Your Regular Job.”)

The comprehensive review by Prof. Stephan mentioned above is:

Stephan, Ute. “Entrepreneurs’ Mental Health and Well-Being: A Review and Research Agenda.” Academy of Management Perspectives 32, no. 3 (Aug. 2018): 290-322.

The recent study co-authored by Dr. Sessions mentioned above is:

Sessions, Hudson, Jennifer D. Nahrgang, Manuel J. Vaulont, Raseana Williams, and Amy L. Bartels. “Do the Hustle! Empowerment from Side-Hustles and Its Effects on Full-Time Work Performance.” Academy of Management Journal 64, no. 1 (Feb. 2021): 235-64.

Entrepreneurs Are Happier Because Autonomy and More Meaningful Work Matter More Than Stress and Workload

(p. R1) “If you look at the data, it turns out that entrepreneurs on average earn less money than a typical employed person, work 13 hours more a week and report that it’s a very stressful occupation,” says Boris Nikolaev, assistant professor of entrepreneurship at Baylor University in Waco, Texas. “But despite that, there’s overwhelming evidence in the literature that entrepreneurs report significantly higher levels of job satisfaction.”

. . .

“Entrepreneurs are happier in terms of all indications (p. R4) of life satisfaction and work satisfaction,” says Ute Stephan, professor of entrepreneurship at King’s College London, who conducted a comprehensive review of more than 100 academic studies on entrepreneurship and well-being. “However, they might be more stressed than the rest of us, as well.”

This unusual mix of stress and happiness comes about, she says, because entrepreneurs tend to be deeply invested in their businesses, and their passion is a double-edged sword: It gives them a strong sense of purpose and autonomy, but it can also lead to worry, late nights, overwork and stress.

. . .

The stress and workload have a strong negative effect, as is evident in other studies, but the sense of doing something important and being their own boss is so gratifying that it outweighs all those negatives and leaves them happier overall.

“What they are doing is important to them, it’s part of who they are, it’s part of their identity, and that’s why it has such a positive impact on well-being,” says Prof. Stephan.

. . .

. . . in a recent study, Prof. Stephan discovered that autonomy alone isn’t enough. It’s important, to be sure—but what entrepreneurs need, above all, is meaning. She analyzed survey data from over 22,000 people in 16 European countries, comparing their feelings of happiness with the extent to which their work gives them a sense of meaning and autonomy.

. . .

She found that entrepreneurs experienced higher levels of happiness than wage-earning employees (4.37 vs. 4.28 on a scale of 1 to 6), as well as higher levels of meaning (4.56 vs. 4.25 on a scale of 1 to 5) and autonomy (2.66 vs. 1.95 on a scale of 0 to 3). Using regression analysis, she discovered that meaning was the decisive factor in entrepreneurial happiness.

“What we found is that much more important than decision-making freedom is the sense of doing something profoundly meaningful,” she says. “That really energizes you, and as an entrepreneur you really need that energy to be creative and to do the work that’s important to you.”

But finding meaning in work doesn’t have to be about changing the world. Framing work in terms of performing an important service can help even entrepreneurs in less glamorous industries find meaning and happiness—such as contractors who help people build a dream home, or accountants saving people from disastrous money problems.

For the full story, see:

Andrew Blackman. “Are Entrepreneurs Happier Than Other People?” The Wall Street Journal (Thursday, Nov. 04, 2021): R1 & R4.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story was updated Nov. 3, 2021 , and has the title “Are Entrepreneurs Happier Than Everybody Else?”)

The comprehensive review by Prof. Stephan mentioned above is:

Stephan, Ute. “Entrepreneurs’ Mental Health and Well-Being: A Review and Research Agenda.” Academy of Management Perspectives 32, no. 3 (Aug. 2018): 290-322.

The recent study by Prof. Stephan mentioned above is:

Stephan, Ute, Susana M. Tavares, Helena Carvalho, Joaquim J. S. Ramalho, Susana C. Santos, and Marc van Veldhoven. “Self-Employment and Eudaimonic Well-Being: Energized by Meaning, Enabled by Societal Legitimacy.” Journal of Business Venturing 35, no. 6 (Nov. 2020): DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jbusvent.2020.106047.