Health Care and Jobs

December 15, 2009 1:28:08 PM PST
If you've been hard-pressed finding a job recently, have you considered working for the FDIC? Yeah, that's the one ? the one that insures depositors for up to $250,000 in banks. Turns out, the FDIC is something of a growth industry these days. But it's not for any reason that can be described as good news.

Bank failures are hardly ever good news. So far this year, 133 banks have failed the highest number in nearly two decades and there are more than 550 insured institutions that are on the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation's "problem list."

Anyway, the FDIC boosted its budget today by 55%, and said it was hiring more than 1,600 new staffers to add to its existing 7,000 workforce.

You can look up the FDIC on the web; there's a whole section dealing with "Careers with the FDIC." Good luck with that.

What seemed most curious about the FDIC's job news was that it comes two days after the administration decreed the recession over. It might be for the bean counters, but for the bread winners - current or former - it's a long way from finished.

Which is one reason why the heated debate over health care "reform" (and, really, how reformist is a new health care plan that doesn't include a public option or extending Medicare to folks who are 55 years old?) seems misplaced. Do Americans need jobs or health care? The answer is "yes," but one has to come before the other. Hard to talk about monthly premiums when someone doesn't have a weekly paycheck.

I'm just sayin.

We'll have the latest on the economy and the debate over health care (how did Joe Lieberman suddenly become the most powerful U.S. Senator?), tonight at 11.

Also at 11, we're in Pompton Lakes, New Jersey, where officials are expecting a standing-room-only crowd to discuss a state health report that kidney cancer rates in women, and non-Hodgkins lymphoma rates in men are significantly elevated in a neighborhood that sits above chemically contaminated groundwater.

Did anyone think there wouldn't be fallout?

And finally, a note about a retailing giant, who died yesterday. He was such a larger-than-life figure to me personally and professionally that it pains me (oh, the trials of getting older) that most people have no idea who Sol Price was.

In business, Price was a visionary. He founded the first membership warehouse chain called FedMart back in the 1960s, then started Price Club, which later merged with Costco.

His theory was simple: offer people good deals, with no frills. And he was most democratic; the "membership" was hardly country club. Membership gave his companies a revenue stream, and helped ensure customer loyalty.

He was also a most progressive guy. Sol was a liberal Democrat in San Diego back when San Diego was THE Republican stronghold, so much so that Richard Nixon once dubbed it his "lucky city."

There was only one other influential Democrat in San Diego M. Larry Lawrence, the former head of the California Democratic Party and the owner of the Hotel del Coronado. Together, Price and Lawrence were the kingpins of liberal politics in San Diego ? especially during the Vietnam War and the Civil Rights Movement. They bankrolled most progressive causes; they didn't much get along, but they were, in sum, a force.

I knew both men.

I worked at a FedMart when I was in college (a family friend was a franchise owner), and Sol had a remarkably tight rein on his franchise holders: He could force them out in 72 hours if he didn't like the way they did business. So when he'd walk in, we'd all snap to attention. Sol had one bad eye ? I've no idea how it happened ? which made him a bit menacing to the younger crowd.

He sold FedMart to a German mogul, who said he wanted to keep Sol on as a consultant. But the new boss so changed the company's philosophy, that Price left, and started Price Club.

It was far more successful than FedMart.

One of the guys who worked at Price Club was Jim Sinegal. (He too had worked at FedMart for Sol when he was in college, a couple of years ahead of me.) Jim wanted to move up the corporate ladder at Price Club, but Price's son was in charge. So Sinegal left, headed to Seattle, and started Costco ? pretty much a carbon copy of Price Club, but grander.

Years later, he'd return to Sol, but this time with a merger offer. Costco was the company that remained.

(As for Larry Lawrence, after years of covering him as a reporter, we discovered that we were in fact cousins. Distant to be sure, but it ended my coverage of him. I couldn't, after all, report on a relative.)

In any event, I remember Sol Price today. He died yesterday at his home in La Jolla. He was 93. And he was a giant.

We'll also have any breaking news tonight, plus Lee Goldberg's AccuWeather forecast, and Scott Clark with the night's sports. I hope you can join Sade Baderinwa (in for Liz Cho) and me, tonight at 11.