National News

More jobs, but wages stay flat

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-08-01 13:15

The monthly jobs report showed Friday that the U.S. economy gained 209,000 jobs in July. That's a decrease from the 298,000 added in June, but the overall trend still suggests the economy's on a slow but steady jobs recovery.

Still, when it comes to jobs in the U.S., the question is not just of quantity but quality. And in the quality department, there's a long way to go. Average wages are growing at about 2 percent a year, barely enough to keep up with inflation.

Stagnating wages aren't that surprising in an economy slowly plodding out of recession, where there aren't enough jobs to go around and the number of long-term unemployed Americans has stalled at 3.2 million.

"If you're an employer, you've got many applicants for a job. Some people have been out of work for quite some time and are quite desperate," says Joshua Shapiro, chief U.S. economist at MFR, a financial consulting firm. That means employers "don't have to bid up wages to attract qualified people," Shapiro says.

Sure, wages are still growing fairly rapidly in some specialized fields like computer programming or engineering, which face a shortage of skilled workers. But wages are not accelerating for the "the broad, garden-variety worker," Shapiro says.

Wage growth should eventually accelerate, at least a little, if the economy continues to add jobs and labor markets tighten. But, beyond those supply and demand dynamics, there are deeper forces working against wage growth that got started long before the great recession, including the declining power of unions and the increasingly globalized economy.

"The sheltered economy that the U.S. had after World War II, which allowed us to have high wages and high benefits, is now being tamped down by countries with cheaper wages competing against American manufacturers," says Joseph Blasi, a professor of management at Rutgers University.

It's not just manufacturing that's feeling the pressures of globalization. Companies are increasingly outsourcing white-collar jobs like paralegals and architectural draftsmen. Meanwhile, many of the service jobs that still can't be sent overseas — like stocking shelves or flipping hamburgers — have traditionally paid low wages to begin with.

Damon Silvers, policy director for the AFL-CIO, says workers in those industries have started to demand higher wages but are struggling with confidence.

"Decades of anti-worker policies, and on top of that a profound economic crisis, have really put American workers through an experience of powerlessness," Silvers says. "Everything you see going on right now, in terms of worker protests at Walmart, at fast foods, even those people kind of want to know: is this going to work?"

One way or another, says Shapiro, we should all hope that wages will rise eventually for workers. "Because that's who buys stuff."

And buying stuff is what ultimately keeps our economy running.

NYC Man's Chokehold Death Was A Homicide, Medical Examiner Says

NPR News - Fri, 2014-08-01 12:57

The controversial death of Eric Garner was captured in a video that showed his confrontation with police on a Staten Island sidewalk.

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As Flow Of Migrants Into Mexico Grows, So Do Claims Of Abuse

NPR News - Fri, 2014-08-01 12:44

Like the U.S., Mexico is struggling with a surge in illegal migrants. Mexico criticizes how the U.S. treats its migrants. But it faces similar criticism from Central American migrants in Mexico.

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WWI Diaries Of Poet Siegfried Sassoon Go Public For First Time

NPR News - Fri, 2014-08-01 12:39

Nearly a dozen notebooks and journals by the author, who fought in the British Army during the war, are being released to coincide with the centenary of the start of the conflict.

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Breast-Feeding Is Still Difficult For Many Moms

NPR News - Fri, 2014-08-01 12:18

Access to lactation specialists is slowly improving in the U.S., according to a CDC survey. And that can help many women who want to breast-feed stick with it longer, health officials say.

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Some Public Pension Funds Making Big Bets On Hedge Funds

NPR News - Fri, 2014-08-01 12:14

States and cities have been investing billions of pension money dollars in hedge funds. That's costing a lot of money in fees, and experts say the pensions don't have much to show for it.

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As Ebola Outbreak Worsens, West Africa Turns To Quarantines

NPR News - Fri, 2014-08-01 12:10

Leaders of the three African nations hit hardest by the Ebola virus met to discuss ways to fight the outbreak. With the situation deteriorating, it's likely more of the region will be quarantined.

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President Obama Slams Congress As He Welcomes Economy's Gains

NPR News - Fri, 2014-08-01 12:03

Citing 6 months of strong job gains, President Obama says America's recovery from a debilitating recession is well underway. But he says the economy "could be doing even better" if Congress helped.

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Fla. Judge Orders Lawmakers Back To Work On A New Congressional Map

NPR News - Fri, 2014-08-01 12:01

A Florida judge has ordered the state legislature to come back from recess for a special session. Lawmakers will be expected to draw up new maps for congressional districts found unconstitutional. The judge says he may push back the November 4 election date and order special elections in the affected districts.

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In July Jobs Numbers, Fodder For Cautious Optimism

NPR News - Fri, 2014-08-01 12:01

According to new numbers, the U.S. economy continued to add jobs at a steady pace in July. Employers added 209,000 jobs to their payrolls, and while the report showed the unemployment rate ticking up slightly to 6.2 percent, even that was a somewhat positive sign.

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In Gaza, A Glimmer Of Hope For Cease-Fire Is Snuffed Out Early

NPR News - Fri, 2014-08-01 12:01

Fighting in Gaza took an ominous turn Friday, as a 72-hour humanitarian cease-fire fell apart within 90 minutes and the Israeli military announced its belief that one of its soldiers was captured by Hamas militants.

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August Comes To The Hill, But House GOP Hasn't Started Recess Quite Yet

NPR News - Fri, 2014-08-01 12:01

House Republicans are delaying their August recess, sticking around Washington to try passing a bill meant to address the border crisis. Democrats and President Obama have already voiced their opposition to the bill on the table.

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As Evangelical Clout Grows, Brazil May Face New Culture Wars

NPR News - Fri, 2014-08-01 11:33

The nation's political campaigns are in full swing, and evangelical Christians play an increasingly large role. Some Brazilians worry that U.S.-style battles over social issues may be on the way.

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How U.S. Hospitals Keep Deadly Germs Like Ebola Virus Contained

NPR News - Fri, 2014-08-01 11:20

If all goes according to plan, patients with Ebola virus will soon enter the United States. How does a hospital care for critically ill patients while protecting other patients, staff and the public?

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Wall Street sees an opportunity in baby boomers

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-08-01 09:25

Fed up with hearing about millennials? So is Wall Street. At the moment, an enormous amount of energy and money at America’s biggest financial firms is focused on a very different generation, with trillions of dollars at stake: Big banks want baby boomers, big time.

Boomers are hot targets for banks and financial advisers eager for a slice of their retirement savings. While wary of Wall Street’s aggressive sales pitch, more and more older Americans feel they could use some advice. Why? Because they face the most challenging retirement landscape in modern U.S. history, one that is complicated by longer lifespans, the slow disappearance of pensions and rapidly multiplying offerings of complex financial products.

Sandy and Jim deBettencourt are typical examples of Wall Street’s current obsession. On a recent morning, they looked over their financial picture while sitting at their dining room table in Skokie, Illinois. For them - like most Americans - this is more of a puzzle, made up of piles of paper and scrolling screens of online text and graphs. It’s a lot more complicated than what their parents had to deal with.

“My dad never had to do this,” Sandy deBettencourt says, speaking longingly about his far simpler landscape of pension and Social Security checks.

Sandy deBettencourt is 58 and teaches second grade, which means she expects a pension. But she has worried in recent years, as pensions have come under pressure and governments come up short of funding.

Jim is 62, a tech consultant and teacher. Like many Americans, he has worked at several places, which means his savings are an increasingly typical grab bag of different retirement accounts and investments. Lately, the deBettencourts have sought professionals to sort everything out and plan ahead.

“It has, partially, become way too complicated to really understand what’s going on and it’s very hard to figure out who you should trust,” says Jim deBettencourt.

For a long time, banks and advisers weren’t exactly lining up to earn that trust and win that business. The deBettencourts heard little from financial marketers until about five years ago. These days, they get pitched all the time. They get all sorts of fliers in the mail and see endless ads on their favorite shows and websites from banks, financial advisers and insurance companies.

“Now, I feel like they’re marketing toward me,” Sandy deBettencourt says.

They certainly are.

"Financial Gerontology" revitalized

We can get a peek at just how hard Wall Street is gunning for older Americans inside a corner meeting room in a tower high above Midtown Manhattan. Bank executive Cyndi Hutchins is talking strategy with Jeff James, a longtime financial adviser with many older clients. She’s got quite a title: Director of Financial Gerontology for Bank of America Merrill Lynch.

That’s a brand new position, previously unheard of at big financial firms. Its mere existence demonstrates how seriously the company takes the older demographic. Wall Street’s historic gold rush for older Americans’ money has brought to prominence a once obscure field called financial gerontology. Firms across Wall Street are currently looking for folks like Hutchins, with financial experience, but also special understanding of older clients (in her case, a graduate gerontology degree). A lot of money is up for grabs.

“It’s $22 trillion that will be money in motion over the next several years with these clients that are retiring,” Hutchins says. “It’s not a small opportunity. It’s a huge market that we’re looking at.”

She, and many others in finance who want the business of older Americans, need to learn new tricks. Chief among those tricks is grappling with an era of longer lifespans and crushing medical expenses. Hutchins says clients are deeply concerned about how to save for a retirement that may last 40 years and how to put enough money away to take care of future medical expenses. Modern advisers also need to know how to deal with the increasingly shaky ground under the longtime pillars of American retirements: pensions and Social Security.

With Wall Street racing to figure out what older clients today need and how to win their business, the aggressive push is worrying those who look out for retirees. One false move in financial planning can ripple for decades.

“People really have to do a lot of homework to make sure they’re going to be both with an adviser and then also with the type of products that can meet their needs,” says AARP's executive vice president Debra Whitman. “It has to be from somebody that the individual trusts and is looking out for their interest, not just trying to sell them something.”

Back at the deBettencourt’s dining room in Illinois, this isn’t about bank profits or a marketing opportunity or some interesting demographic trend. It’s their life. And it can be a little scary.

“We’re the ones that all these changes in retirements, the loss of pension funds, things like that, we’re the experiment in seeing whether or not it works,” says Jim deBettencourt.

Just think: You and people you love are living that high-stakes financial gerontology experiment right now, the very thing Wall Street wants in on.

Restaurant's 'Prayer Discount' Sparks Mix Of Praise, Anger

NPR News - Fri, 2014-08-01 09:22

When a patron of Mary's Gourmet Diner in Winston-Salem, N.C., posted a photo of her tab denoting a 15 percent discount for "praying in public," the post went viral.

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Photographing the wage gap over time

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-08-01 09:03

Jim Goldberg, photographer of "Rich and Poor", says he was interested in looking at the ways people spoke about wealth and poverty.

"I wanted to open up the discussion and ask interesting questions about how discussions of wealth and poverty are framed," says Goldberg. "And look at the language that is used to describe them, and who gets to use that language."

His collection of photographs compares two economic classes of San Francisco. Each photograph is accompanied by comments written by the subjects themselves.  

As Goldberg’s work became more known, he ran into many of the wealthy people he photographed at museums or openings. Their worlds began to coincide. The poor, however, usually disappeared over time.

"As much as I tried to be present in their lives, they would have to move on, or go to prison or die," says Goldberg. "Not to be dramatic, but the life of the poor is somewhat dramatic in that sense. It’s an interesting contradiction."

Goldberg says his beat has changed since he started taking pictures decades ago. He says yesterday's wealthy would have looked poor today.

"It’s as if the income gap has grown exponentially between the wealthy and the poor, I think the wealthy now are able to exhibit their wealth in ways that the wealthy of the past could not."

How Cultures Move Across Continents

NPR News - Fri, 2014-08-01 09:03

Researchers have mapped the travels of 150,000 artists, politicians and religious leaders over the past 2,000 years. The videos reveal how cultural achievements ebb and flow across the U.S and Europe.

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These Ivory Coast Cacao Farmers Had Never Tasted Chocolate

NPR News - Fri, 2014-08-01 08:46

Ivory Coast is the world's No. 1 producer of the cacao beans that are the base of our beloved chocolate bars. But as a TV report shows, some cacao farmers have never enjoyed the final product.

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A Conservative Mayor Fights To Expand Medicaid In North Carolina

NPR News - Fri, 2014-08-01 08:17

After a small North Carolina town lost its hospital, Belhaven's Republican mayor decided it was time to demand that North Carolina cover more people through the Medicaid program.

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