Archive for April, 2010
Tuesday, April 27th, 2010
“A federal agency is undertaking an effort to school youngsters in the ways of Madison Avenue,” The New York Times reports. “The initiative seeks to educate children in grades four through six—tweens, in the parlance of marketing—about how advertising works so they can make better, more informed choices when they shop or when they ask parents to shop on their behalf.”
Smeal’s Marvin Goldberg coauthored a 2007 paper on teaching children how to think critically about the messages contained in advertising, except Goldberg and his colleagues focused on advertisements for alcoholic beverages. Their results suggest that education about advertising tactics and persuasive language can make children think more critically about the constant barrage of advertising that targets them.
The researchers designed a weeklong intervention to educate children about the persuasive tactics used by advertisers. Teachers presented the lessons to students in 50-minute sessions once a day for five days. The instruction provided students with persuasion knowledge and equipped them with critical thinking skills and processing strategies to question alcohol advertising and better deal with the ads’ persuasive messages, ultimately reducing the children’s inclination to drink.
“Our basic premise was that getting youths to better understand advertisers’ motives and tactics would result in heightened vigilance and a reactance response,” Goldberg and his colleagues write in the paper.
What they found bodes well for this new Federal Trade Commission education initiative. Their results show that the students who learned about advertising strategy and critical thinking, particularly those who had previously consumed alcohol, expressed more critical attitudes toward alcohol advertising and stronger intentions not to drink in the future.
According to Goldberg, who has spent decades studying alcohol, food, and tobacco advertising and its effects on young people, the relative simplicity of the instruction makes this kind of program viable for schools. Past alcohol and drug programs have been canceled or phased out because of their expense, time consumption, or lack of results. A program like this one, in which teachers administer the short lessons taking up little class time, could be feasible and produce results.
Monday, April 12th, 2010
“A number of scientific studies have found that the amount of sugar we consume is a major factor in how big Americans have become. In the last half-century, consumption of sugars by the average American has increased by more than 24 pounds a year, expanding waistlines and crowding out more nutritious foods,” The New York Times reports. “To improve the health of its residents and its coffers, New York State, among others, is considering an excise tax of about one penny per ounce on high-calorie sweetened beverages.”
Smeal’s resident tax expert, Charles Enis, supports this new tax to help the state’s bottom line while improving the health of its citizens.
Tony the Tiger says, “Sugar Frosted Flakes are grrreat!” Baby boomers will recognize from their youth this slogan that encouraged consumption of overly sweetened breakfast cereals. Boomers are also painfully aware of the devastating effects of Type 2 diabetes and morbid obesity on the health of friends and family members. The former can quickly lead to impaired vision, neuropathy, amputations, and organ failures described as falling dominos. Such health issues should not be passed along with massive deficits to subsequent generations. Thus, I applaud the New York proposal of an excise tax on high-calorie sweetened beverages.
The thought of a new tax makes many bristle. However, state governments are facing serious fiscal crises, and they do not have that magical printing press found only in Washington. If taxes must inevitably be raised, the sugar tax appears as an excellent alternative. To begin with, it is an avoidable tax. Individuals only have to substitute non-sweetened beverages for the sugary kind to dodge the tax. The tax would be relatively painless as it would be paid only when sugar consumers have the wherewithal to make such purchases, and the tax would be paid in small increments at points of purchase.
The tax should reduce sugar consumption if the tax is added to the price of sweetened drinks. One cannot rule out competitive pressures restricting the extent to which marketers can increase prices. Fierce competition could result in the incidence of the tax falling on shareholders and employees. However, price increases can be avoided if producers reduce the sugar added to their products. Adding sugar to natural orange juice converts an otherwise healthy drink into a potentially deadly elixir for a diabetic, or one struggling with a weight problem.
An issue with the sugar tax is that it is local. New Yorkers could stock up on sweetened beverages when they happen to be in a state that does not have a sugar tax. This could shift income and tax revenues out of New York.
The sugar tax may not go far enough if other sweetened products are substituted for sugary beverages. Perhaps the tax could be extended to donuts, breakfast cereals, or anywhere added sugar can be reduced. If taxing sugar catches on, this commodity tax will join the group of “sin” taxes that apply to heavily taxed tobacco and alcohol, the latter of which is metabolized as sugar.
Friday, April 9th, 2010
“With job openings scarce for young people, the number of unpaid internships has climbed in recent years, leading federal and state regulators to worry that more employers are illegally using such internships for free labor,” The New York Times reports. “Convinced that many unpaid internships violate minimum wage laws, officials in Oregon, California and other states have begun investigations and fined employers. Last year, M. Patricia Smith, then New York’s labor commissioner, ordered investigations into several firms’ internships. Now, as the federal Labor Department’s top law enforcement official, she and the wage and hour division are stepping up enforcement nationwide.”
According to Smeal’s Robin Stevens, director of Career and Corporate Connections, unpaid internships are a common occurrence for many of today’s college students. While she is concerned that a handful of companies may be taking advantage of this free labor, she is afraid that a government crackdown might limit opportunities for some students.
More from Stevens:
Unpaid internships are, for better or worse, a fact of life for many students today. In addition to the nonprofit sector, we see them more often in two areas: highly competitive fields like the entertainment and sports industries and at smaller local firms and brokerages.
For students who want to break into these competitive fields—like sports marketing, for example—an unpaid internship is often the only option because there are so many more candidates than there are opportunities. Even entry-level jobs in fields like these require long hours at a low wage. However, our students who complete internships in these fields find them very rewarding because of the exposure they get to the industry, the events they may be able to attend, and the people they meet. Unfortunately, though, unpaid internships often preclude students whose families can’t afford to support them while they work for nothing in expensive locales like Manhattan or Los Angeles.
We also see a lot of students, particularly first-year and sophomore students, accepting unpaid summer internships at smaller, local brokerages in their hometowns. These are often the only options available for younger students who are overlooked by larger firms but who want to get some experience in the field. These opportunities also allow students to keep expenses down by living at home while they intern. A crackdown on unpaid internships could cause many of these opportunities to vanish.
To me, the bigger issue with those internships is that the experience itself is too often lacking. The point of an internship is to get exposure and experience in a chosen field in return for working for free or a low wage. Unfortunately, some organizations view interns as nothing more than free or cheap labor, delegating tasks to them that no one else at the company wants, or has the time, to do. It’s not the norm—all of the companies that we work with regularly have respectable internship programs that greatly benefit our students—however, there are a handful of organizations that use students as free labor.