National News

Wage growth in the U.S. is stuck in the 70s

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2014-09-01 11:21

When Jamaad Reed started his job as a cashier at a Walmart near Cincinnati, he made $8.15 an hour. That was two years ago.  Since then, he has seen a couple of raises, which have meant his wage has kept up with inflation — but just barely. As of March of this year, Reed was making $9.05 an hour.

“I'm stuck,” he told me recently. “You know what I'm saying? I feel like I'm stuck in the same spot.”

"Stuck" is a pretty good word to describe wages for most American workers over the last few decades. Not just in the case of lower-wage workers like Reed, but all along most of the income spectrum, except for those at the very very top.

In fact, most American workers have seen little to no growth since the late 1970s, if you adjust for inflation, according to Elise Gould. She's an economist with the Economic Policy Institute and author of a new study that analyzes wage data from census surveys over the last several decades.

That's not to say that individual workers haven't seen gains. But, says Gould, “as productivity has continued to rise, typical workers’ wages simply have not.” 

That’s a very different economic picture from a half century ago. In the first few decades after World War II, as the nation's productivity grew, so did wages. So what happened?

“This is one of the questions that people are arguing about right now,” says Linda Barrington, the executive director of the Institute of Compensation Studies at Cornell University.

Barrington says some economists point to a loss of worker bargaining power, meaning workers are less able to claim growing productivity gains in the way they could when labor unions were stronger.

Others blame a shift in business strategy over the years to one that focuses more on shareholder returns, “as opposed to sharing the returns and the gains to all of the employee base,” says Barrington.

Meanwhile, technological advances and globalization have meant there are fewer middle-wage jobs to be had in the U.S. Now, workers who in a previous era might have had relatively well-paying manufacturing or clerical jobs, have to settle for lower-paying jobs in the service sector instead.

Even as economists debate the reasons behind American workers’ stagnating wages—one thing is certain. They don’t just affect individual wallets, but the economy as a whole.

As Barrington points out, “every worker is also a consumer.” And consumers are what drive the modern American economy.

3 Americans Detained In North Korea Urge U.S. To Secure Their Release

NPR News - Mon, 2014-09-01 11:18

The State Department said the men should be released out of humanitarian concern and asked that Kenneth Bae, who has been held for two years, be granted amnesty.

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These 5 Crops Are Still Hand-Harvested, And It's Hard Work

NPR News - Mon, 2014-09-01 10:25

Saffron, vanilla, palm oil, cacao and cottonseed oil are still picked by hand in some parts of the world. Sometimes that manual labor shows up in the price of the food; sometimes it doesn't.

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The Flight Of The Passenger Pigeon, Now 100 Years Extinct

NPR News - Mon, 2014-09-01 10:15

Passenger pigeons were once the world's most abundant bird, but they were also the cheapest protein available. The last passenger pigeon, Martha, died exactly a century ago at the Cincinnati Zoo.

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To Model Manhood, Immigrant Dads Draw From Two Worlds

NPR News - Mon, 2014-09-01 09:55

Many immigrant men in the U.S. work hard to hold onto definitions of masculinity from their native countries — while also rejecting more rigid gender roles that may be the norm in their homelands.

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Cutting Back On Carbs, Not Fat, May Lead To More Weight Loss

NPR News - Mon, 2014-09-01 09:51

A new diet study concludes that a low-carbohydrate diet leads to almost three times more weight loss than a traditional low-fat diet where carbs made up 40 to 45 percent of calories.

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Thriving and surviving at the Fringe Festival

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2014-09-01 09:10

Take a city with half a million people and double its population overnight. It happens each August in Edinburgh, Scotland.

 

"The Festival City" is currently hosting the biggest arts festival in the world. It's such a phenomenon it's spawned copycats including one in Hollywood.

 

Spectators stand shoulder to shoulder along the Royal Mile as it snakes its way down from Edinburgh Castle to Holyrood Palace. Street performers from all corners of the world vie for just a bit of your attention.

 

"It's 3000 different shows, all of which run pretty much every day for 25 days. If you went to see every show, it'd take you 3 months," says Neal MacKinnon, the Fringe Society's Head of External Affairs.

 

And that's assuming you don't take time to eat or sleep. According to MacKinnon, it just keeps growing.

 

"This year we are 10 percent bigger than we were last year," he says.

 

Edinburgh is packed in August. Buses take twice as long. Temporary help wanted signs hang in store windows, and once comfortable pubs don't even have room to stand. T-shirt screen printer Norm Richardson tells me he's been buried with orders.

 

"August is a nightmare to be honest," says Richardson, "As early as you can get in till as late as you can be bothered working. Days and days stretching into the future, like the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark, where there's just boxes going off into infinity."

 

The festival supplies 15-20 percent of his yearly volume. Kat Brogan of Mercat Tours says it's hard to keep a tour group's attention with so many other things going on.

 

We get clever. So we nip down wee streets and closes and alleyways to make sure that the guides can be seen and heard," Brogan says.

 

Some hotels have been completely booked since January, "And their prices go up exponentially as well," MacKinnon says.

 

Neil MacKinnon from the Fringe Society says accommodations are hard to come by, but the people who live here have found ways to cash in on the problem.

 

"There is a long tradition of thousands of Edinburgh residents vacating the city for the month of August," he says. "They rent out their flats, which are occupied for the month."

 

Some apartments require tenants to move out for the month of August. Fringe University's Andrew Jones says some students he helps place are charged three months rent for their one month stay.

 

"Edinburgh in August brings out the Adam Smith in everyone," says Jones.

 

He means Adam Smith, the "Father of Capitalism," who might be proud of his hometown today. But one group that's left out of the windfall? The artists who perform. Jones recalls a conversation he had with a theatre company at the festival.

 

"We've got a budget of 120 thousand dollars, and we plan to make about 20 thousand back on the box office," Jones says.

 

While businesses profit from the festival, Neal MacKinnon says theatre companies? Generally don't.

 

Most companies will either break even or not make a profit," MacKinnon says. "They are here because it's an investment in their career."

 

A long term investment that might never pay off. Screen printer Norm Richardson is skeptical about the likelihood of being discovered .

 

"It's just a bit harder now to get people to kind of notice you," says Richardson, "'cause everyone's fire eating and juggling on a unicycle, so how do you choose which unicycling fire eater to go and see when there's so many?"

Undaunted, the festival continues to grow, as each year more artists come to chase their dream here in the Scottish Capital.

U.K. Seeks To Expand Terrorism Laws To Target British Fighters

NPR News - Mon, 2014-09-01 09:10

Prime Minister David Cameron wants to give police the power to seize passports of Islamist fighters bound for Iraq and Syria. On Friday, Britain raised its threat level to "severe" from "substantial."

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Will Apple's next offering be "insanely great"?

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2014-09-01 08:58

It’s a little more than a week to go until Apple’s next big press event, and the hype is mounting.

Apple is expected to introduce its new iWatch. And if that’s not enough, there's buzz that Apple will also announce that its new iPhone will be an iWallet. Several news outlets said Apple has done deals with American Express, Visa and Mastercard to make this happen.

But what if Apple doesn't produce an “insanely great” product, as Steve Jobs was fond of saying. Three years after Jobs' death, consumers and investors are asking whether Apple can keep churning out products that hit that mark?

“Some of those expectations may be close to phantasmagorical,” said Charles Byers, ca marketing professor at Santa Clara University.

Take the new iWatch, for example. The blogosphere is expecting it to do everything from open your garage door to becoming your mobile doctor.

Trip Chowdhry, an analyst at Global Equities Research, said Apple just needs to ignore the noise. When it comes to the smart watch - or any new product - he said Apple needs to focus on what it does best.

“Apple just has to go back to its roots,” Chowdhry said. “What do they do? Less is more. Make it so easy that anybody can use it. Your grandma can use it.”

Chowdhry said there are already a lot of smart watches out there, with plenty of bells and whistles. But they’re difficult to use and mostly it’s tech geeks who are into them. He said Apple’s magic is in taking existing technology and making it intuitive, simple and universally desirable.

James McQuivey, an analyst at Forrester, said that if Apple doesn’t introduce a breakthrough product soon, the chatter that the company may have lost its mojo will grow even louder.

If they can’t do something momentous by the end of 2014, McQuivey said, investors will conclude that Apple’s days of being an "insanely great" company are behind it. 

What, exactly, does "Made in the USA" mean?

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2014-09-01 08:48

Labor Day is a day to honor the American worker.  And a day, if retailers have their way, for us to go shopping.

So it’s no surprise that there are companies out there, like Walmart, advertising goods that are “Made in the USA.”  Walmart says that when customers are deciding what to buy, where a product was made is second only in importance to how much it costs.

“Made in America is a very important consideration for many Americans,” said Michelle Amazeen, an advertising and legal studies professor at Rider University. 

There’s a perception, she said, that goods made here are better quality. And that buying those goods will help keep jobs in the country. “It is a very powerful label,” she said.

But if you want to put those four words "Made In The USA" on your product, you’d better mean it.

“If a marketer wants to make an unqualified “Made in the USA” or other U.S. origin claim, the marketer needs to have substantiation that product was all, or virtually all made in the USA,” said Julia Solomon Ensor, an attorney with the Federal Trade Commission.

The FTC has published a 37 page document outlining the standard.

It says that a lovely lamp that is assembled in the America, with American-made brass, and an American-made lampshade, but an imported base, doesn't qualify for the label "Made In The USA."

The FTC will go after companies that don’t follow the rules.

“A lot of companies try and wordsmith their way around the law,” said Bonnie Patten from TruthinAdvertising.org.

Look carefully and you'll see labels saying things like “Designed in the USA,” “Made with U.S. labor,” or even “Made in the USA with imported parts.” 

If you want something truly, fully “Made in the USA” — you’re going to need to read those patriotic labels closely.

More Clashes In Pakistan As Pressure On Government Grows

NPR News - Mon, 2014-09-01 08:17

Anti-government protesters in Pakistan briefly forced state TV off the air amid continuing clashes with police and renewed calls for Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's resignation.

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A business with a taste for risk and honey

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2014-09-01 08:13

Every year about 600,000 new businesses open in the United States. Only about half make it past the five-year mark. But of course, that doesn't stop people from trying.

In the early 2000s, Jim Picariello was confident that he had the next great natural foods idea. Just a couple of years before, he and his wife, Jill Day, had moved to a tiny town in Maine. They had just survived the dot come crash and wanted a more peaceful and sustainable lifestyle in rural Blue Hill, Maine. They even built their own home.

After a year of decompressing, Jim woke in the middle of the night with his new product epiphany: Frozen tea pops.

While sitting at his dining room table, he would always make himself a mason jar full of green tea, sweetened with honey, that he would drink while he worked on his laptop. He invariably made too much tea, and would pour the leftovers into a popsicle mold, to freeze and enjoy later. The tea pops were delicious and maybe, profitable.

Picariello quickly raised $25,000 to test recipes and develop his product idea. Before he and his family even realized it, they were starting a new business: Wise Acre Inc.

"When I said go ahead I really didn't feel like we are starting a business," recalls Picariello's wife, Jill Day. "I think that's probably one of the reasons why it even happened, is that I wasn't really aware that that's what we were doing."

The timing was not ideal for the young family: they had a young daughter and a second on the way. But once Picariello began product development, there was great enthusiasm for his idea, and a series of opportunities unfurled in front of him.

In 2007, he took his "Frosteas" and "Frostbites" to the influential Natural Products Expo East trade and was awarded Most Innovative Product, and walked away with a substantial distribution deal.

Quickly he went from making his tea pops in tiny saucepans in his kitchen to needing his own factory and employees. For a while his tea pops were in about 800 stores up and down the East Coast. But it wasn't sustainable, because at that point there weren't enough consumers and his products were languishing in the frozen food aisles. Picariello needed assistance with marketing and advertising, as well as a way to fund production with shrinking resources.

Picariello looked for and found a potential investor, who agreed to a million-dollar deal. The backer advised him to expand quickly and to invest in both production and promotion.

"'Get ready, your first summer is about to kick off,'" Picariello says he was advised. "'Go buy some equipment, cause you're going to make this stuff faster.' So that's exactly what I did. Like an idiot."

Jim immediately invested in some large items, including a pricey blast freezer. He quickly went through money he didn't have and after two weeks there was still no check from the billionaire.

"Turns out a couple days after our meeting, the billionaire, tasted our product and said, "oh I can't imagine why kids would like these." And of course it's not a product for kids, it's a product for adults, and kids do like them."

The prospector investor backed out of the agreement.

"And so at this point I'm sort of doing the math in my head over and over," Picariello recalls. "I have this much money, we have this much payroll, we have this much rent, we have this much electricity. All that over and over and over again."

To keep the business afloat, the family went so far as to start putting payroll on their personal credit card. Without an influx of cash, Wise Acre Inc. couldn't last.

"It was just like, I now have no more money, I have to lay all you people off. And it was very sad."

The bank seized the equipment and the factory closed. Their debts went unpaid, and Picariello declared bankruptcy, of somewhere around half a million dollars.

"We're still dealing with the ramifications," Jill Day laments. "To have the kind of significant debt now that we have because of the business tanking is just like the worst thing that could have happened."

Today, the couple has paid off some of their debts, and Picariello now has a steady full time job. Despite what happened with Wise Acre Inc., Picariello says he might still have one more new product idea to try, but promises it will be much less risky.

PODCAST: Economic effects of protests in Hong Kong

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2014-09-01 07:38

China is seeing shades of Occupy Wall Street today as protesters gather in Hong Kong. We talk to Juliana Liu about potential economic effects. Plus: two more casinos closed in Atlantic City this weekend, and 5,000 people lost their jobs. We look at the suffering gaming industry in a city that may need to reinvent itself. Finally, most cases of food-borne illness go unreported, so Chicago health officials are turning to Twitter, with a bot that scans for complaints of food poisoning stemming from area restaurants.

 

Showboat Casino Is Latest In Atlantic City To Close Its Doors

NPR News - Mon, 2014-09-01 07:08

The casino's closure will be followed today by the shutdown of The Revel. The Trump Plaza Hotel and Casino will likely close Sept. 16. They are casualties of competition from outlets in other states.

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Pro-Russia Rebels Say They Will Settle For Autonomy In Ukraine

NPR News - Mon, 2014-09-01 05:38

It's a step back from the full independence they were seeking and may reflect a Russian desire to end the crisis, which has led to Moscow's worst ties with the West since the end of the Cold War.

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Insurers find wiggle room in requirement to cover all

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2014-09-01 04:00

It’s September, which means the enrollment period to get health insurance under the Affordable Care Act is practically around the corner.

If you're signing up later this fall, you should consider this: despite provisions under the health law to guarantee coverage for all, some insurance policies are still designed to keep the sick away.

We all know thanks to the ACA, the days when insurers denied coverage because of pre-existing conditions are over. Cherry picking the healthiest among us is one of the ways many insurers used to make their money. Even though the law has changed, former state insurance commissioner Joel Ario says some companies haven’t.

“We have not eliminated discrimination from insurer DNA yet. So you are still going to see remnants of insurers using strategies that are trying to drive away risk than manage risk,” he says.

One of those strategies is to make drugs for high cost conditions like HIV or multiple sclerosis more expensive through hefty deductibles. Another is to limit the network of doctors and hospitals. If consumers want somebody out of that network, they pay through the nose.

The University of Pennsylvania’s Tom Baker says to thrive in today’s insurance climate companies must accept that sick people are part of the mix. “The health insurance companies that are trying to have fewer of those people, just want to have fewer,” he says.

Baker says the insurers who find the sweet spot between healthy and less healthy will be the ones at the top of the industry.

LinkedIn censors its members in China...globally

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2014-09-01 02:55

Not long after I posted my Marketplace story about the 25th anniversary of the Tian’anmen Square protests on LinkedIn, the company sent me an email:


Australian journalist Fergus Ryan received this email, too. His post, a story he did about artist Guo Jian being detained in the run-up to the Tian’anmen anniversary, was also removed.

“I felt outraged, really. Because professionally, as a journalist, I feel that this is why a lot of people would follow me on LinkedIn," says Ryan.

LinkedIn says it did not come to its decision to censor posts from its members in China lightly.

“It is difficult," says LinkedIn's Director of Communications Hani Durzy. "We are strongly in support of freedom of expression. But it was clear to us that to create value for our members in China and around the world, we would need to implement the Chinese government’s restrictions on content.”

But LinkedIn isn't just blocking this content inside China. The company is removing these posts from its site worldwide. In LinkedIn’s email to me, the company explains it does this to "protect the safety of our members that live in China."

“Yeah, well, I mean, bullshit,” says Chinese social media expert Jeremy Goldkorn. “Their Chinese members should be able to choose what they should post and they know better than a foreign company how to protect themselves from the government.”

LinkedIn got help from Shaun Rein, director of China Market Research, to develop its China strategy. Even he’s disappointed in the company’s censorship policies. “A lot of western players, they so want to make money that they actually do more to heed what they think the authorities want," says Rein.

LinkedIn seems to have recognized this. Durzy says his company will continue to block sensitive content inside of China, but,"after talking to a number of people, we recognized that it may be better if we were to change our policy and allow that content and profile to be viewed outside of China,” he says.

Which leaves me wondering what will happen when I post this story to LinkedIn.

Atlantic City loses again as more casinos close

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2014-09-01 02:07

Two of Atlantic City’s casinos, the Revel and the Showboat, closed down this past weekend, bring the total closures to three this year.

Five thousand people lost their jobs, and a fourth casino – Trump Plaza – will shut down in two weeks.

“We’re trying to ease the blow,” says Ben Begleiter, an analyst with UNITE HERE Local 54, the union which represents many casino workers in Atlantic City. The union booked the convention center to get resources to people laid off. “We want to make sure that people have unemployment benefits, health benefits, utility and food assistance.”

Atlantic City is experiencing something that many cities have experienced before it. It hitched itself to a star, and that star faded.

“Atlantic City was predicated on being an east coast monopoly in the casino industry now there’s no monopolies any place,” says James Hughes, dean of the school of planning and public policy at Rutgers University.

All the neighboring states have casinos now, allowing those states to retain their own gamblers and poach some of New Jersey’s. 

Despite that, Atlantic City still draws millions of visitors and some of its casinos are still quite profitable. But, says Hughes, “it’s going to have a permanently smaller economy.” 

Gambling revenue is still half what it was in 2006.

“The big question is what Atlantic City does in the future to rebuild and diversify,” says Oliver Cooke, professor of economics at Stockton College. “There’s a whole countless litany of proposals that have been put forward,” he says, from expanding resort offerings to making the city a concert destination. 

The future of Atlantic City will be the topic of a forum hosted by Governor Chris Christie, on Sept. 8. 

Federal Judge Blocks Enforcement Of Louisiana Abortion Law

NPR News - Sun, 2014-08-31 20:48

Lawyers and advocates disagree over whether the judge's order affects doctors at all five abortion clinics in the state or only those at three clinics whose lawsuit challenges the measure.

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PTSD Goes Largely Untreated In Iraq's Kurdish Region

NPR News - Sun, 2014-08-31 13:40

The U.S. military's attention to PTSD is well-documented but Kurdish fighters living with the same disorder haven't received nearly as much care. Arun Rath talks to journalist Jenna Krajeski.

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