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Illustration: Lazaro Gamio/Axios
A cold peace has settled in between Seattle and Amazon after the city enacted a tax to help get homeless people off the street and into affordable housing — dramatizing the new tension in Big Tech's relationship with the cities and countries in which it operates.
Why this is a big thing: Big Tech is under unprecedented scrutiny on both sides of the Atlantic, and the apparent optics of heartlessness toward homeless people — some of the most visible victims of the tech juggernaut — make Amazon's aggressive posture against the tax risky.
The backdrop, reported by WP's Jonathan O'Connell and Gregory Scruggs : "Seattle and King County declared a state of emergency over homelessness in 2015, but since then, cost-of-living pressures have worsened. The number of homeless students in the city’s public schools has tripled, to nearly 4,300 last school year. Seattle home prices are rising faster there than anywhere else in the country. The median price for a house is now $777,000."
In an effort to resolve the crisis, Seattle's city council last week levied a "head tax" of 14 cents an hour per employee on approximately 585 businesses earning at least $20 million. That adds up to about $275 a year for a full-time worker. It takes effect January 1 and runs for five years.
But the episode points up something larger: A prior, largely hands-off attitude toward big tech appears past — in Europe especially, there is a growing push to force big tech companies to pay higher taxes to support more of the cost of services from which they benefit.
Is it fair to single out the big tech companies for taxes and other displays of good citizenship? I asked people in the U.S. tech industry the following question: "Do the tech companies have a distinct social responsibility in the communities where they operate, an outsized responsibility because of their size?"
Google did not respond to an email asking the same question. You can read Amazon and Facebook's responses in our full post in the Axios stream.
Go deeper: Last December, we surveyed the working homeless across the U.S.
We know that major U.S. cities such as New York and Boston are pricing swaths of people out of the housing market. But the cities are also unfavorable ground if you happen to be seeking work in certain lower-paid occupations, like as a trailer mechanic, concrete finisher or freight handler, according to a new report.
Why it matters: The report by the jobs listing site Indeed suggests that big U.S. cities are increasingly bland places — havens for richly-paid data scientists and behavioral therapists who may never mix with a lawn technician or a cable installer.
How to read the chart above: You are looking at the number of wanted ads in expensive U.S. cities, sorted by occupation. The percentages compare job listings in pricey and other, not-so-pricey metro areas. The top grouping are plentiful jobs, and the bottom are listed far less often in wanted ads.
Jed Kolko, Indeed's chief economist, tells Axios that high housing prices not only push less-wealthy people out, but also ostracize certain job categories. Among his findings:
The request: five feet longer. Photo: George Frey/Getty
A side effect of the e-commerce boom is a shortage of truck drivers and an overwhelmed shipping industry. As one solution, carriers including Amazon and FedEx have been — unsuccessfully so far — lobbying Congress to allow nationwide use of longer trailers, hooked one behind the other.
Why it matters: Around the world, people are ordering increasing volumes of stuff online, which is putting growing stress on shippers. Longer trucks, according to the shippers, are one solution to getting packages delivered more quickly.
What's going on: This week, truck shippers are pushing the legislation again, asking a House committee to allow rigs to pull back-to-back, 33-foot-long trailers. That would make them five feet longer than the current federal maximum, allowing for 18% more freight in each trip.
Another issue: Matt Manda, from Firehouse Strategies, a strategic communications firm hired by FedEx, tells Axios that the truck driver shortage is getting worse: the average age of truck drivers is 49, seven years older than the average of all U.S. workers.
A clutch of notable new books in the Future space are out or set to be released soon:
Teacher strike in Oklahoma City. Photo: J Pat Carter/Getty
GIPHY via NASA
Astronauts have grown cabbage and tomatoes in space. They have watched flowers bloom. Now, in a launch tomorrow morning, NASA is sending up mutant seeds to help make such plants more nutritious, easily digestible, and recyclable for oxygen and carbon — as they will have to be if we are to support long-term human colonies, writes Axios' Alison Snyder.
The objectives: The issue is lignin. Researchers are sending up strains of Arabidopsis thaliana, the fruit fly of plant research, which produces different amounts of lignin.
The bottom line, from Washington State University's Norman Lewis, who leads the experiment: "Ask any astronaut, and they will tell you, 'When you see something living in this extreme environment, it is a reminder of home.'"