National News

The Fed and your feelings

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2015-07-28 13:00

Consumer confidence is one measure of how we feel about the economy – and our confidence was way down in July. 

You might think the Federal Reserve, which is meeting this week on interest rates, would be concerned with how we feel. But while feelings are important, on their own, an economy they do not make.  

“Consumer confidence is a low-ranking indicator to policymakers at the Federal Reserve,” says Richard DeKaser, corporate economist for Wells Fargo & Company.  “The Fed’s primary focus remains on two indicators: the labor market and inflation.”

That is, of course because the Fed is legally obligated to deal with the labor market and inflation.  DeKaser says consumer confidence tends to follow these things, not predict them. And when it comes to feelings about the future,  he says “people say one thing and then do another.”

“Consumer confidence measures don’t have  such a strong link to economic performance,” says Carl Tannenbaum, senior economist for Northern Trust.  “They don’t lead the way you think they might.”

But, he says “ignore them at your peril.” Just because the Fed doesn’t parse them , doesn’t mean your feelings aren’t important.

“We should care about feelings because consumers have been excellent predictors of recession,” says Lynn Franco, director of Economic Indicators for the Conference Board, a key source of consumer confidence data. “They can give us advance notice of when the economy is heading south.” 

Consumer expectations tend to be a little ahead of the game when it comes to the bounce back from a recession, Franco says. She says consumer confidence is also "a good indicator of people’s willingness to buy.” 

Northern Trust’s Tannenbaum says the Fed does pay attention to our feelings on some level, because they reflect how the Fed's message is being received.

“When the Fed communicates with the public, they’re figuratively trying to put their arm around our shoulders and assure us that what they’re doing will be something that pleases us all,” he says. 

So consumer confidence is, in a way, also a sign of how well we feel the Fed is doing its job. 

California leads in lowering health insurance premiums

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2015-07-28 13:00

Covered California Executive Director Peter Lee is wearing a big smile these days.

"We've turned expectations on their head and delivered affordable rates for all Californians," he says. "That's a big deal."

Lee is excited because for two years in a row, premium increases on California's healthcare exchange are about 4 percent - well below the 10 percent increases California consumers paid in the years running up to the Affordable Care Act.  That ranks among the top performances compared to other states that have released rates, according to industry group Avalere.

California does have an edge.

Insurers want to play in this lucrative pool, with two new companies signing up earlier this month. The state embraced Obamacare, giving Covered California a lot of authority most states declined to give their exchanges. That includes negotiating directly with the insurers.

Lee chalks up a chunk of their success to this power. But this is negotiating with a twist.

"Health plans in California win by enrollment, and what we want to do is help them win, get people enrolled in the plans that get them the care they need," he says.

The secret sauce, says Lee, is rather than pound premium prices down like hamburger patties, the exchange shares data with companies.

The goal is not to find the lowest price, but the right price. That means urging companies to come in around the same premium, so nobody gets rich, but nobody loses their shirt either.

Kaiser Permanente's Bill Wehrle says when he's come in too high, he's been told to "sharpen his pencils" or risk losing business.

"It's never something you want to hear," Wehrle says. "But it's certainly important to know, because it does force us to go back and figure out whether there's anything more we can squeeze. And I don't want to get into details, but that's happened."

Covered California says this kind of back and forth has shaved $200 million off of insurance premiums this year.

While rates will go up for many, 20 percent of consumers will pay less, most between 1 and 4% less.

Covered California looks at these results and thinks the federal exchange, healthcare.gov, should follow suit.

"I don't see the federal government being in a position to actively negotiate with insurers," says Larry Levitt of the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Levitt says it's hard to imagine the federal government getting approval to negotiate on behalf of 30-some states.

But he does think healthcare.gov could standardize plans, another essential ingredient that's helped keep rates down in California. While the ACA requires basic benefits for all plans, Covered California goes a step further and standardizes things like deductibles and co-pays, what Levitt calls bells and whistles.

"It's a classic strategy for companies to add bells or whistles to their products and get consumers to pay more," he says.

So in California, here's the trade-off: Consumers have fewer options, but it's easier to shop, because they are comparing based on price and networks of doctors and hospitals.

But if the goal of Obamacare is to get lots of people to sign up, Avik Roy, with the Manhattan Institute, questions the approach.

"Some consumers might want a different range of copays and deductibles," he says. "These things can't be done if the government is preemptively limiting the range of products they can choose from."

It's a classic free-market versus regulated market argument. The question for the Obama administration is: Does it want to enter a fight over limiting consumer choice in the name of lower healthcare costs?

 

During Pool Season, Even Lifeguard Numbers Are Taking A Dive

NPR News - Tue, 2015-07-28 13:00

This summer, even the most crowded pools are struggling to hire enough lifeguards, and are cutting hours as a result. In a rebounding economy, teens are opting for higher-paying jobs or no job at all.

» E-Mail This

Twitter's earnings report in one tweet

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2015-07-28 13:00

Twitter reported profits on Tuesday afternoon. Turns out it's doing pretty well; revenue is up 61 percent. No news on a full-time CEO. Boom.

140 Characters.

Not counting the bit after "boom."

Rio de Janeiro adapts as it prepares for the 2016 Olympics

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2015-07-28 13:00

The Summer Olympics will be coming to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in 2016, but is the city prepared for it? Since the country won the bidding process, it has undergone all sorts of economic changes. Juliana Barbassa, author of "Dancing with the Devil in the City of God: Rio de Janeiro on the Brink," has been covering Rio de Janeiro's evolution as it prepares for an influx of visitors and worldwide attention. 

Barbassa grew up in Rio and returned in 2010. As she tells Marketplace, she'd noticed that Brazil had transitioned from political instability and economic difficulty to an effervescent country that was evolving.

“As a journalist, this was a big story. Brazil had always been the country of the future and now it looked like the future had arrived…or was arriving, and I wanted to be there to cover that story,” Barbassa says.

The country has been preparing for the Olympics by building transportation systems, adding hotel rooms and expanding capacity at stadium, she says. However, these changes are benefiting the already wealthy west side, and ignoring the needs of the working class and poor, Barbassa adds.

“I feel like those events were...promoted to the Brazilian population as ways of showing the world that we’ve made it," she says. "That’s what people wanted. What they had not known (was) the sheer financial cost of building all that infrastructure,” she says. 

Just a few years ago, Barbassa says, Rio de Janeiro was once an optimistic place with economic opportunity, but it is now stagnant. Inflation rates are ticking back up and the president’s approval ratings are very low, and “there’s a deep ambivalence about hosting these big events in the country that Brazil is today,” she says.

Lions, and Tigers, and Bears! Well, just Lions

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2015-07-28 12:43

Yelp is good for a couple of things — finding restaurants in your neighborhood, locating the nearest free Wi-Fi. Now, it would seem public shaming could be added to that list.

Walter J. Palmer, a dentist from Bloomington, MN, was on a safari hunt in Zimbabwe when he shot a lion with a bow and arrow, according to the StarTribune. Palmer had paid $54,000 for a professionally guided hunting trip. Unfortunately for both him and his prey, that lion turned out to be the beloved Cecil, a resident of a national park who was part of an Oxford University research project.

As our colleagues at Minnesota Public Radio reported, Palmer said he had no idea of the lion’s importance in a written statement released Tuesday. His guides allegedly lured Cecil out of the park, and then removed his collar.

In the statement according to MPR, Palmer also apologized for the killing, writing “...I deeply regret that my pursuit of an activity I love and practice responsibly and legally resulted in the taking of this lion."  

But that hasn’t halted the vitriol of the internet, with Yelp users taking to Palmer’s dentistry page to voice their frustrations. 

"You should pay for what you have done, and you should financially pay to support Lion Conservation!" says user Charmie P. in one review. 

After Hope For Early Release, Prisoners' Applications Stuck In Limbo

NPR News - Tue, 2015-07-28 12:36

The Obama administration offered help to non-violent offenders like Dana Bowerman, but more than half the applications sent to the Clemency Project 2014 have not been processed.

» E-Mail This

Imprisoned Israeli Spy Jonathan Pollard To Be Released In November

NPR News - Tue, 2015-07-28 12:07

Pollard, a former Navy analyst, received a life sentence for trying to sell classified information to Israel. He has served nearly 30 years.

» E-Mail This

Human Error Caused Virgin Galactic Crash, Investigators Say

NPR News - Tue, 2015-07-28 11:39

SpaceShipTwo broke apart during an October test flight because the co-pilot unlocked a section of the spaceship's tail too early, the National Transportation and Safety Board announced.

» E-Mail This

Me-Tea-Morphosis: Tea Bags Get Second Life As Works Of Art

NPR News - Tue, 2015-07-28 10:49

Artists are reinventing the humble tea bag, letting its contents and simple shape and color shine in beautiful, fragile art. Some are even farming out the tea drinking to get to the used bags.

» E-Mail This

NFL's Goodell Confirms Tom Brady's 4-Game Suspension

NPR News - Tue, 2015-07-28 10:44

Until June, New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady did not acknowledge to investigators that he had destroyed his cellphone, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell says.

» E-Mail This

Beyond Brothels: Farms And Fisheries Are Frontier Of Human Trafficking

NPR News - Tue, 2015-07-28 10:19

The State Department's annual human trafficking report this year gives special attention to slavery in agriculture and fishing. Human rights advocates say there's much work to be done to fight it.

» E-Mail This

Political Campaigns Go Social, But Email Is Still King

NPR News - Tue, 2015-07-28 10:16

Campaigns are Periscoping, Tweeting, Facebooking, Snapchatting and Instagramming. But campaigns and strategists say the biggest bang comes from new ways of using the ol' email list.

» E-Mail This

As Twitter Flirts With Hearts, Will You Miss The Stars?

NPR News - Tue, 2015-07-28 09:53

A different Twitter greeted some users when they logged on Tuesday as the social media company tries to win more hearts — and users.

» E-Mail This

Arizona Cardinals Hire Female Coach For Training Camp And Preseason

NPR News - Tue, 2015-07-28 09:00

"I am honored to be a part of this amazing team," says Jen Welter, an athlete and sports psychologist.

» E-Mail This

Look Out Pelley, Muir And Holt. Rapping Reporters Could Give You A Jolt

NPR News - Tue, 2015-07-28 08:43

Uganda is bringing young eyeballs to the evening news with a team of rappers who inform and amuse.

» E-Mail This

Bones In Church Ruins Likely The Remains Of Early Jamestown's Elite

NPR News - Tue, 2015-07-28 08:19

Scientists say remains of four men exhumed from what was once an Anglican church suggest they were well-nourished, "high-status" leaders in the early 17th century colony. And one was likely Catholic.

» E-Mail This

Donald Trump's Flipping Political Donations

NPR News - Tue, 2015-07-28 08:16

The man making a strong showing for the GOP presidential nomination also has a remarkably inconsistent track record as a conservative.

» E-Mail This

Giant Panda Jia Jia Celebrates 37th Birthday And 2 Guinness World Records

NPR News - Tue, 2015-07-28 07:37

Jia Jia, who lives at a Hong Kong amusement park, became the oldest panda ever living in captivity and the oldest panda currently living in captivity. In human terms, Jia Jia would be more than 100.

» E-Mail This

Former N.Y. Prison Employee Enters Guilty Plea Related To Inmates' Escape

NPR News - Tue, 2015-07-28 07:14

Joyce Mitchell, the Clinton Correctional Facility worker who was charged last month with aiding two convicted killers' escape, has reached a deal with prosecutors.

» E-Mail This

Pages