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Job Growth Slows and What’s Wrong with Silicon Valley?

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THE ECONOMY

The US added 136,000 jobs last month as growth slowed: “Unemployment hit a fresh 50-year low in September even though nonfarm payrolls rose by just 136,000 as the economy nears full employment, the Labor Department reported Friday. The jobless rate dropped 0.2 percentage points to 3.5 percent, matching a level it last saw in December 1969. A more encompassing measure that includes discouraged workers and the underemployed also fell, declining 0.3 percent points to 6.9 percent, matching its lowest in nearly 19 years and just off the all-time low of 6.8 percent.

“Also, the jobless rate for Hispanics also hit a new record low while the level for African-Americans maintained its lowest ever. At the same time, the economy saw another sluggish month of growth. The nonfarm payrolls count missed the 145,000 estimate from economists surveyed by Dow Jones; the expectation on the jobless rate was to hold steady at 3.7 percent.”

AGRICULTURE

President Trump’s secretary of agriculture says there’s no guarantee small businesses can survive: “President Donald Trump’s agriculture secretary said Tuesday during a stop in Wisconsin that he doesn’t know if the family dairy farm can survive as the industry moves toward a factory farm model. US Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue told reporters following an appearance at the World Dairy Expo in Madison that it’s getting harder for farmers to get by on milking smaller herds. ‘In America, the big get bigger and the small go out,’ Perdue said. ‘I don’t think in America we, for any small business, we have a guaranteed income or guaranteed profitability.’

“Perdue’s visit comes as Wisconsin dairy farmers are wrestling with a host of problems, including declining milk prices, rising suicide rates, the transition to larger farms with hundreds or thousands of animals and Trump’s international trade wars. Wisconsin, which touts itself as America’s Dairyland on its license plates, has lost 551 dairy farms in 2019 after losing 638 in 2018 and 465 in 2017, according to data from the state Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection. The Legislature’s finance committee voted unanimously last month to spend an additional $200,000 to help struggling farmers deal with depression and mental health problems.

“Jerry Volenec, a fifth generation Wisconsin dairy farmer with 330 cows, left the Perdue event feeling discouraged about his future. ‘What I heard today from the secretary of agriculture is there’s no place for me,’ Volenec told reporters.”

SILICON VALLEY

Tech-savvy residents of Silicon Valley don’t want self-driving cars in their neighborhood: “‘I’m not skeptical long-term,’ said [Karen Brenchley, a computer scientist with expertise in training artificial intelligence], who has lived in Silicon Valley for 30 years. ‘I don’t want to be the guinea pig. I don’t want my husband to be the guinea pig.’ Brenchley and others who live among the world’s technology giants represent a surprising Silicon Valley paradox: Residents believe in the power of technology to change the world for the better, but they are skeptical of the role it might play in their daily lives. This is especially visible as driverless cars from numerous tech giants arrive en masse in the streets of Silicon Valley neighborhoods.

“Some residents say they’re confident the technology can work in limited settings, such as test tracks or simulations. But the software that controls the cars needs to be trained on real-life situations: left-hand turns, bikers, children running out into the streets. And, some residents say, that brings a form of disruption that will tangibly change the fabric of their communities and could even prove dangerous. That became apparent last year, when an Uber robocar struck and killed a pedestrian in Arizona. … Silicon Valley types can be most skeptical of advanced technology because they know how it works and what its risks are.”

Vanity Fair’s Nick Bilton writes a scathing critique of Silicon Valley, focusing on fraudulent business practices—including how DoorDash co-founder Tony Xu stole toner from Stanford’s library printers: “DoorDash has built a business out of price arbitrage, or, if you prefer, stealing. The food-delivery company was a pioneer of a business model in which customers were misled about the real price of their food, allowing Xu to siphon extra dollars off each menu item. (For example, a pizza that cost $10 would be listed as costing $15 in the DoorDash app.) … What makes the DoorDash story so perfectly emblematic of Silicon Valley—even more so than those of the mammoth Facebooks, Googles, and Amazons of the world—is that someone like Xu can take an industry as innocuous as delivering hummus and pizzas and find a way to be utterly immoral while disrupting it. What’s more, and where Xu really encapsulates the entirety of malevolent tech culture, is that he is oblivious to the fact that what he is doing is morally repugnant. He stood up in front of those students at Stanford, bragged about stealing from the school, and made it sound like an act of heroism.”

STARTUPS

This Peter Thiel-backed startup makes drone-killing robots: “The Pentagon has spent years searching for reliable ways to combat consumer drones that have been repurposed as reconnaissance craft or bombers. Anduril Industries Inc., the two-year-old startup in Irvine, Calif., … began shipping Interceptors to military clients in the US and the UK earlier this year; it’s sent dozens so far and has hundreds more in production. The company says its most recent contract is to deploy Interceptors overseas to conflict zones, though it declines to provide details. This summer it raised $120 million from Founders Fund, General Catalyst, Andreessen Horowitz, and other venture capital firms. Investors valued the company at about $1 billion, four times its last funding round in 2018.”

CUSTOMER SERVICE

Gladly helped JetBlue reduce time spent on customer service calls, now the airline will roll out the tech to in-flight crews: “By looking at in-flight tablets, flight attendants could see, for example, whether a specific passenger boarded the plane after the frustrating experience of missing a different flight and offer them a free drink. The software can also prompt crew members to offer complimentary perks or seats with more leg room to frequent fliers who have problems during the flight, such as a broken TV screen. … JetBlue has been using Gladly software in its customer-service centers for about three years. The software shows call-center employees a timeline of each customer’s interactions with JetBlue—including by text, email and phone—so that customers don’t have to recap their previous conversations. The software also lets agents see a snapshot of the customer’s loyalty status, favorite seats, upcoming flights and flight status in one tab.”

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HUMAN RESOURCES

More states are attempting to protect black employees who want to wear natural hairstyles: “Several states have recently taken steps to push employers, schools and the broader culture to move with them, and help dismantle a culture of discrimination experienced by black women and men who say they continue to face implicit or explicit pressures to conform, unwelcome comments or even outright discrimination. New Jersey, Tennessee, Michigan, Wisconsin, Illinois and other states have proposed legislation to explicitly ban race-based hair discrimination—tackling a remaining loophole in the law governing discrimination in workplaces, schools and other public places. California and New York were the first to sign legislation into law in July, and New York City issued guidelines on the issue earlier this year.”

HEALTH CARE

Hospitals like Denver Health are starting to invest in housing patients, partly because that costs less than an extended inpatient stay: “Hospital executives find the calculus works even if they have to build affordable housing units themselves. It’s why Denver Health is partnering with the Denver Housing Authority to repurpose a mothballed building on the hospital campus into affordable senior housing, including about 15 apartments designated to help homeless patients transition out of the hospital. … That will still be far cheaper than what the hospital currently spends. It costs Denver Health $2,700 a night to keep someone in the hospital. Patients who are prime candidates for the transitional units stay on average 73 days, for a total cost to the hospital of nearly $200,000. The hospital estimates it would cost a fraction of that, about $10,000, to house a patient for a year instead.”

REGULATION

The FAA is allowing UPS to deliver medical supplies via drone: “The certification will allow UPS to use multiple drones to deliver health care supplies within federal regulations and to fly drones beyond the visual line of sight, according to a statement from the FAA. … The FAA certification for UPS’s drone airline comes at a time when the United States is making a push to remain at the forefront of unmanned aviation, the agency said. ‘This is a big step forward in safely integrating unmanned aircraft systems into our airspace,’ said Elaine L. Chao, the United States secretary of transportation. So far, the FAA has awarded only one other certificate to fly drones. That was granted to Wing, the drone-delivery unit of Alphabet, Google’s parent company. The two certifications are different. Wing is allowed to use only one pilot and one drone at a time, while UPS is allowed to use several pilots and numerous drones simultaneously, said Tammy Jones, an FAA spokeswoman.”

VENTURE CAPITAL

Mon Ami, a developer of an online marketplace designed to find and book companions for elders to spend time or engage in an activity, raised $3.4 million of Seed funding.

Unqork, a developer of an enterprise application platform for insurance and financial services, raised $80 million of Series B funding.

And that’s what’s ahead.

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