National News

How the 40-hour workweek became the norm

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2015-01-08 11:15

Until the mid-19th century, the average American worked from dawn to dusk, or longer. But when the industrial revolution changed the nature of work, and more people began punching the clock at factories and mines, workers began calling for a shorter, less physically exhausting workday.

The eight-hour workday didn't become the norm until 1938, when President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the Fair Labor Standards Act.

Now Republicans are pushing to change the definition of a full-time employee from one who works 30 hours a week to one who works 40 hours, for eligibility under the Affordable Care Act.

Some business owners might see some relief by not having to provide health insurance for employees who work less than 40-hour weeks. But for the 7 million Americans who say they want full-time work but can't find it, relief might be harder to come by.

(Raghu Manavalan/Marketplace)

Investigation Finds No Evidence NFL Received Ray Rice Elevator Video

NPR News - Thu, 2015-01-08 11:11

But the inquiry by former FBI Director Robert Mueller also says the league should have more thoroughly investigated the assault by the Baltimore Ravens star of his then-fiancee.

» E-Mail This

Wyoming tries to prepare for life beyond oil

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2015-01-08 10:55

At the Cyclone Drilling offices in Gillette, Wyoming, brothers Patrick and Paul Hladky are arguing over who should to talk to the reporter. They laugh and trade barbs and appear to be in surprisingly good spirits, given that it has not been a very good couple of months for them. 

Cyclone is one of the largest oil drillers in Wyoming, but falling oil prices have forced them to start idling rigs. More than 25 percent of the company’s rigs could be sidelined in 2015. “I’d say that I’d feel fortunate," if 25 percent was all he had to idle, Paul says.

But the Hladkys are less worried about that than you might expect. “When you’re in oil and gas, you realize that there’s going to be highs and there’s going to be lows and you prepare yourself for the lows," Paul says. "If you’re not prepared, you’re not going to be in business very long.”

That’s a lesson states like Wyoming, North Dakota and Alaska have taken to heart. These days, they all have sizeable savings accounts for when prices drop.

A few decades ago, things were different.

Author and journalist Samuel Western learned at a party that at one point in the 1960's, Wyoming had just $100 in its bank account. “And I said, ‘that’s got to be apocryphal, that just can’t happen,'" Western says. "And yet, when I interviewed former governor Stan Hathaway, it was not $100, it was $80 in the general fund. So I kind of said, ‘How could that possibly be with all our mineral resources?’"

It was around that time that Wyoming started saving some of its mineral revenue in order to even out the cycle. Western says those in power have not forgotten the history, though, and the memory of it has shaped a survivalist mentality about the economy.

“You become a stasher. You want to hide your money in coffee cans — and we still do that in Wyoming," he says. "We’re still afraid we’re just not going to have enough that we can survive and we won’t go back to those old days again.”

In Western's view, all that stashing just hides the underlying problem, that Wyoming's economy depends on only one thing: minerals. 75 percent of Wyoming's revenue comes from oil, coal and natural gas.

Western argues that getting out of the cycle takes more than saving and points to Texas, which back in the 1980's was almost as dependent on mineral wealth as Wyoming is today. Texas took oil revenue and built "societies and industries and businesses that are not related to energy.”

It's not just Texas that has diversified and become less dependent on minerals. Stephen Brown, an economist at the University of Nevada, has studied the impact of oil prices on state economies. His analysis shows that virtually every state has become less dependent on mineral revenues since the oil crash of the 1980's. “What we’re seeing is that states are becoming more and more alike and less driven by these boom and bust cycles,” Brown says.

A few states, however, still stand out for their reliance on mineral wealth — Alaska and Wyoming being at the top of the list. Bill Schilling, the president of the Wyoming Business Alliance, wants that to change. His organization has its roots in the coal industry. He says the energy industry has been great for the state, helping to pay for everything from roads to new schools, though he also thinks the state needs to diversify. “There are some clouds on the horizon,” he says.

Diversification is a tricky thing, though, and everyone interviewed for this story had a different excuse for why Wyoming has not managed that trick yet: the cold, the lack of people, the isolation. Even so, most agree that in states like Texas and Colorado, investing heavily in education helped.

“We need people who can be programmers, we need people who can build things, we need manufacturing," Schilling says. "I mean, we need all of those things.” And he sees Wyoming heading down that path, though slowly. Schilling points to the Hathaway Scholarship and the expansion of the University’s business school as positive developments, but says more of that is needed. “What we are today is going not to be good enough for what we need to be tomorrow.”

With Wyoming's main economic drivers — coal, oil and natural gas — all in a slump, tomorrow may be here sooner rather than later.

House changes how bills are evaluated

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2015-01-08 10:50

The House of Representatives approved a change to how bills are “scored,”  that is, how government economists figure out how much a given piece of legislation will cost. The House is moving to a system known as "dynamic scoring" for major bills. It sounds mundane, but it’s actually a big deal, and it’s caused a sizzling debate in economic circles.  

Dynamic scoring is supposed to take into account all of the effects of a bill on the economy. That's "something the Congress should know," says Douglas Holtz-Eakin, chief economic adviser for Sen. John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign and former head of the Congressional Budget Office. 

Holtz-Eakin says dynamic scoring helps members of Congress properly evaluate a bill, and supports the effort to move away from the current system of "static scoring," which doesn’t look at a bill’s impact on the overall economy. “If you have two identical proposals, but one causes the economy to grow and one causes it to shrink, you’d like to know that,” he says.

Not everybody agrees. Bruce Bartlett, a former economic adviser to President Reagan, says dynamic scoring forces economists to make assumptions about the future, which can highlight the economic benefits of tax cuts. 

Bartlett says that’s why House Republicans changed the rules to require government economists to use dynamic scoring. “By tying their hands and forcing them to make assumptions that will give them the answer they want which is that tax cuts are vastly expansionary,” he says.

“In principle, dynamic scoring is a perfectly reasonable technique,” says Robert Pollin, a distinguished professor of economics and co-director of the Political Economy Research Institute at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst.

The problem with dynamic scoring is you can pick and choose, Pollin says. You could just look at the positive effects of a tax cut, like people spending the extra money, and not the possible negatives of lower government spending. “There’s a wide range of potential effects, and so the technique to susceptible to this kind of cherry picking,” he says.

In principle, dynamic scoring is better, Pollin says. But it’s hard to do well, and easy to manipulate.

When You Gotta Go: Manila Police Asked To Use Diapers During Pope's Visit

NPR News - Thu, 2015-01-08 10:04

The city's "traffic enforcers" will be on duty for up to 24 hours at a stretch during the pontiff's visit, with no time to run to the toilet.

» E-Mail This

After Leelah Alcorn's Suicide, Trans Youth Fight Broader Bias

NPR News - Thu, 2015-01-08 10:03

The media response to Leelah Alcorn's suicide has prompted young transgender people — especially people of color — to demand greater awareness about the discrimination they face every day.

» E-Mail This

From Threats Against Salman Rushdie To Attacks On Charlie Hebdo

NPR News - Thu, 2015-01-08 09:17

When Iran's leader called for the killing of the British writer in 1989, it shocked the West. Now, such threats from Islamic radicals are becoming common and actual attacks are becoming more frequent.

» E-Mail This

'Charlie Hebdo' Will Print 1M Copies Of Its Next Issue

NPR News - Thu, 2015-01-08 08:40

The satirical French magazine that was the target of a deadly attack typically prints 60,000 copies and sells about 30,000. Separately, news organizations and Google donated money to Charlie Hebdo.

» E-Mail This

Texas Abortion Case May Hinge On Definition of 'Undue Burden'

NPR News - Thu, 2015-01-08 08:28

A federal appeals court this week is once again weighing whether Texas restrictions on clinics that perform abortions are too onerous for women who seek the procedure. How far is too far to drive?

» E-Mail This

Why Bill Gates Is Commissioning Fine Art

NPR News - Thu, 2015-01-08 08:19

From stylized photography that looks like a fashion shoot to a comic book journey about lockjaw, artwork from around the world illustrates the value of vaccines.

» E-Mail This

Sen. Barbara Boxer Won't Seek 5th Term In Senate

NPR News - Thu, 2015-01-08 08:10

The California Democrat's announcement ends speculation about her political future. Boxer, 74, had been a favorite to retain her seat; she said she would work to ensure it remains with her party.

» E-Mail This

United Attendants Battle Firing After Security Concerns

NPR News - Thu, 2015-01-08 07:43

The airline's former employees are filing a federal whistleblower complaint over their termination for refusing to fly after discovering what they said was threatening graffiti on an aircraft.

» E-Mail This

NASA Map Shows Just How Cold It Is In Eastern U.S.

NPR News - Thu, 2015-01-08 07:24

Arctic Air moved as far south as Florida and Texas on Wednesday. The low temperatures will persist today.

» E-Mail This

How Food Shopping Turns New Year's Resolutions Into 'Res-Illusions'

NPR News - Thu, 2015-01-08 06:33

Many people aim to make healthier food choices in the New Year. A study finds that while people buy more healthy food, they spend just as much on unhealthy foods as they do during the holidays.

» E-Mail This

Weavers Turn Silk Into Diabetes Test Strips

NPR News - Thu, 2015-01-08 05:59

In India, where silk is plentiful, the luxe fabric turns out to be more efficient — and cheaper — than paper or plastic for testing a diabetic's glucose levels.

» E-Mail This

France Observes Moment Of Silence For 'Charlie Hebdo' Victims

NPR News - Thu, 2015-01-08 05:46

Many in France marked the deadly assault yesterday on the offices of a satirical magazine by observing a minute of silence for the journalists and police killed by suspected Islamist extremists.

» E-Mail This

Measles Makes An Unwelcome Visit To Disneyland

NPR News - Thu, 2015-01-08 05:34

An outbreak among visitors to two California theme parks shows once again that this super-contagious virus doesn't respect borders. Most of the afflicted people had not been vaccinated.

» E-Mail This

What's Known About The Suspects In The Paris Shooting

NPR News - Thu, 2015-01-08 04:44

One of the men, Chérif Kouachi, was convicted on terrorism charges in 2008. He served 18 months for helping to funnel fighters from France to Iraq.

» E-Mail This

Quiz: Where edtech money went in 2014

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2015-01-08 04:25

Venture investors poured more than $640 million in the k-12 edtech market in 2014, according to NewSchools Venture Fund.

var _polldaddy = [] || _polldaddy; _polldaddy.push( { type: "iframe", auto: "1", domain: "", id: "which-edtech-category-received-most-venture-funding-in-2014", placeholder: "pd_1420723263" } ); (function(d,c,j){if(!document.getElementById(j)){var pd=d.createElement(c),s;;pd.src=('https:'==document.location.protocol)?'':'';s=document.getElementsByTagName(c)[0];s.parentNode.insertBefore(pd,s);}}(document,'script','pd-embed'));

The Unstoppable Selfie Stick Trend Is Now On American Shores

NPR News - Thu, 2015-01-08 03:03

You can't miss them, and some folks can't resist them. Selfie sticks — monopods that help you take phone photos of yourself — are only growing in popularity.

» E-Mail This