Welcome to Curious Business

Every Friday, I post a small insight into running Curio City and/or Blue Hills Editorial Services. My most recent posts are directly below. You can also start with the first post, or use the subject labels to the right to home in on particular topics. Feel free to comment on anything that interests you.
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Friday, October 16, 2009

You Can Go Crazy Being Public Spirited

I needed to write a Whisky Stones ad for Google AdWords. I came up with:

“Chill your wine or spirits without
ruining the flavor with melting ice”

The “without…with” construction offends my inner grammarian, but it fits the template. Except that Google forbids the word “spirits.” I placated the software by changing “spirits” to “liquor” (apparently less objectionable). Yet, they approved the ad that I'd written just minutes before:

“Whiskey Stones are soapstone cubes
To cool your spirits without water”

Go figure. Maybe "wine and spirits" was the formulation that got their panties in a bunch.

I’ve never been able to advertise the Crazy Clock on Google, either, because “crazy” is a forbidden word. I wonder if I could rechristen the product "Insane Clock".

Incidentally, Whiskey Stones are going to be a hit this Christmas. I’ve sold 3 out of 12 in the first week. One of my customers suggested the product some months ago.

Health Insurance: The Topic That Makes Me Sick

Our coverage downgrade finally went through. Yay! Our premium fell from $924 to $770 per month, which is below any retail price that I’ve seen anywhere, including the Mass. Connector. With a higher deductible and copays and lower reimbursements, we can’t afford to actually see our doctor or fill our prescriptions…but we couldn’t afford to use our earlier plan, either, so the $150/month saved up front trumps the out-of-pocket expenses that we can’t pay in either case. We’d have to cut our coverage to near-nothing and give up our doctor to save any more money.

Two potential game-changers remain: (1) Congress looks increasingly likely to renew the federal COBRA subsidy that’s kept us going for the past nine months; and (2) today’s Boston Globe says that the state’s Medical Security Program for laid-off workers is nearly out of money. This state equivalent to the COBRA subsidy -- separate from the Commonwealth Care that I explored earlier – is news to me. From what this story says, it could reduce our insurance costs to nearly nothing, if I can get in. Here’s the money quote:

The health insurance program, which is funded solely by a tax on employers, helps middle-income people who make too much money to qualify for Medicaid and other state-subsidized health care programs designed for the poor. Since January, enrollment in the program has doubled, the state said, to roughly 34,000 people.

Traditionally, the state program has paid 80 percent of a laid-off worker’s monthly health insurance premium for as long as the worker is collecting unemployment benefits. But the federal government designated stimulus money earlier this year to reimburse some of the health insurance costs of the unemployed, so most recipients are now paying about 9 percent of their monthly premiums.

Why, that would be us! I obviously need to investigate that this afternoon. Of course, what’s good for workers is bad for employers:

The unrelenting rise in unemployment will also trigger an automatic 40 percent increase in the tax businesses are required to contribute for unemployment benefits. In January, the tax will increase from an average of $594 per employee to $832.

Crap. I was planning to raise my payroll percentage by another quarter-point next month, but not if my unemployment tax bill is going up by 40%. I wonder if falling unemployment will eventually trigger an automatic decrease. Hah!

At the risk of turning this blog into a soap opera about my personal life, I’ll run with the tangent. My wife’s unemployment checks were interrupted when she exhausted her initial 26 weeks. Next week we’ll get a token check for the 27th week of partial benefits that Massachusetts adds automatically. Then a 50-week federal extension kicks in. Obama is talking about tacking 26 more weeks onto that. Thanks to that interrupted unemployment checks and the expiring COBRA subsidy, October’s budget is perilous. But it looks like we’ll have an income floor for almost a year after that, and perhaps even longer. Maybe the moribund journalism/publishing job market will revive by then.

Did you know that there are 6.7 unemployed Americans for every job opening? That’s the worst ratio since they started keeping track, and it doesn’t include the underemployed or those who are trapped in bad jobs. Most of those job openings are in highly skilled, specialized areas like health care and biotech. The ratio of unemployed writers to available publishing jobs would be a frightening number indeed.

OK, back to Curious Business: Sales are still booming and Curio City is generating much larger paychecks than expected. Today's pay works out to $6.61 per hour based on two 40-hour weeks, or $7.56/hr using the 35-hour weeks that I really work. That’s very near my longstanding goal of earning minimum wage (currently $8.00 in Massachusetts and $7.25 in the hinterlands). Ordinarily I only see those big bucks for three weeks in December.

Generating a substantial paycheck from my own business, without an employer, feels really good. Kraken Enterprises could still fail, but I can't be laid off! The sales surge that I’ve enjoyed for the past month depends almost entirely on the phase-out of Panther Vision’s 2-LED caps. Once those are gone, things will drop back to normal. But since “normal” is now getting into Christmas-normal, I can expect a non-trivial income for the rest of this year.

1 comment:

  1. Massachusetts Unemployment Level Trends - September 2009

    Massachusetts Unemployment Trend Heat Maps:
    A map of Massachusetts Unemployment in September 2009 (BLS data)

    versus Massachusetts Unemployment Levels 6 months ago


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