National News

Consumer spending: what we say vs. what we do

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-08-29 13:37

The government reported personal spending fell 0.1 percent in July, following a 0.4 percent increase in June. Personal income rose 0.2 percent in July, a weaker-than-expected gain and the lowest since December 2013.

Meanwhile, the Reuters-University of Michigan Consumer Sentiment Index rose at the end of August, with the current conditions measure hitting its highest level since summer 2007, before the Great Recession hit.

The spending decline in July was partly a function of lower utility and gasoline bills, said economist Chris Christopher at IHS Global Insight. “That can be a good thing in many cases,” he says. “If you have a smaller electricity bill at the end of the month.”

Christopher says lower energy costs in July might result in consumers devoting extra discretionary spending to back-to-school purchases in August.

Still, combined with weak income gains in July, the consumer indicators pointed to a still-weak economic recovery. And yet, consumers now feel better about current economic conditions than they have felt since before the Great Recession.

“The fact that we’re the highest in seven years is good,” said Mark Vitner, senior economist at Wells Fargo. “It means that we’re better off than where we were a year ago or two years ago. But it still doesn’t compare to where we would be if economic conditions were truly great.” Vitner said consumers weren’t showing extremely strong satisfaction with the economy during the 2000s either, in spite of rising home prices and equity markets.

Sarai St. Julien, who was shopping at a neighborhood grocery store in Portland, Oregon, echoed the evidence in the consumer data.

“I feel more confident, but still I have to be careful,” St. Julien said. “We got hit pretty hard, my husband lost his job, and we kind of had to put ourselves back together and sold a lot of personal belongings to do it. We are doing better, he’s got a good job, but we’re still  sort of digging out of a hole.”

Chinese High-Rise Worker Left Dangling After Annoyed Boy Cuts Rope

NPR News - Fri, 2014-08-29 13:08

The 10-year-old watching cartoons reportedly became annoyed at the construction racket outside his window, so he took a knife and sliced through the worker's rappelling apparatus.

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Can the church recruit the young?

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-08-29 12:43

Pope Francis is attracting a lot of attention to the Catholic church, but the church has a recruiting problem. A lot of its clergy its aging, and it's happening in other faiths too as religious leaders retire. 

Some religions advocate student loan forgiveness as a way to attract young people, if they do significant community service, their loans can be forgiven under a federal program.

We spoke with Sister Colleen Gibson, a 28 year old who just took her vows to serve as a nun this month, on the campus of Chestnut Hill College. As far as nuns go, Gibson says she’s pretty young.

Your wallet: Wearing too many hats at the office

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-08-29 12:42

Do us a favor, take a look at the job description for the job you currently work. Do you notice anything missing? Maybe, the 4 or 5 other jobs you work at the office?

Since the recession, many workers have had to cover roles that were once filled by more colleagues. According to Gallup, the average number of hours Americans work per week is 47, almost a full workday longer than a standard 40-hour week.

Gallup

We asked Farnoosh Torabi, personal finance writer and author of "When She Makes More," about what you can do to survive an ever-increasing workload:

"I think you want to take your emotion off the table, and be strategic about the position you are in. If you're the last man standing at your job, at least if you feel that way ... you need to let your employer kindly know that you're happy to take on the extra work, but you'd like to be fair about it. Before you even go to that meeting, gather some research. Go into HR, and find out what is your salary range. If you just got hired and are at a starter salary, and suddenly you're taking on a lot more work, find out the potential increase you can earn."

Click play above to hear more advice on asking for a raise, working from home, and for handling a freelance career

 

Examining women and confidence in the workplace

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-08-29 12:40

You may have heard this statistic before, women apply to jobs when they fill 100 percent of the listed qualifications. Men? Only 60 percent.

Those numbers are cited as evidence that women need to be more confident in the workplace, but author Tara Sophia Mohr thinks that's the wrong conclusion.

She did her own study and wrote about it in the Harvard Business Review.

I was skeptical, because the times I had decided not to apply for a job because I didn’t meet all the qualifications, faith myself wasn’t exactly the issue. I suspected I wasn’t alone.

So I surveyed over a thousand men and women, predominantly American professionals, and asked them, “If you decided not to apply for a job because you didn’t meet all the qualifications, why didn’t you apply?”

According to the self-report of the respondents, the barrier to applying was not lack of confidence. In fact, for both men and women, “I didn’t think I could do the job well” was the least common of all the responses. Only about 10% of women and 12% of men indicated that this was their top reason for not applying.

My money story: Storyteller Brian Finkelstein

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-08-29 12:37

Every week, we have someone tell us their story about money. This week, Los Angeles-based storyteller Brian Finkelstein tells us about a time when the bubble bursts.

The first time I made a lot of money, I was in my twenties and I was broke. I was that broke in your twenties where you have sleep for dinner. You know that feeling where it’s like, “Oh, it’s 8 o'clock and I'm just gonna go to bed because I have no money."

And that’s the way I lived my life. I was living in Brooklyn. And I moved there because it was an arts scene. I didn’t paint or have any sort of artistic desires, but I wanted to be part of that community, so I moved there. And I was living in Williamsburg and I just would go to different jobs all the time. Make a few dollars an hour then leave. And then go on to the next one.

And I got a job at this place Kiehl's, which is a skin care store on the East Village in Manhattan. And I didn’t know what it was, I’m not the type of person who uses skin care. But I got a job as a door man. And that I could do. I went to Queens college, so I had enough education to say hello and goodbye. And I was doing that, I was making $8 an hour and after like 6 months, I quit.

[That night], I get a call at my house from this woman who owned Kiehl's, and she told me to stay. She wanted me to train people on skin care. And I was like, “No, no. That’s not for me. I’m a schlubby white straight dude.” And I worked in a place with fabulous beautiful woman and gay men. They sold skin care. I couldn’t. no one would want to buy it from me. I was not a poster for a good living. And she was like, “but you represent a certain demographic that we don’t have and we want to keep you there. We really want you."

And, so now I was making $8 an hour, I was living hand-to-mouth and she goes, "Well, we will pay you $90,000 a year to start , plus commissions. Which came to over $100,000 a year. She gave me her American Express black card to go shopping in SoHo, and buy myself "fabulous clothes," her words. A gym membership to Equinox. And benefits including a 401K.

That was the first time in my life that I made a lot of money. And that just sort of changes the way you feel about things at that point … like, the art idea just went away. Like any sort of integrity I had was bought that night in that phone call for the rest of my life. 

I worked at that job for seven years. And it was great. I got myself out of debt. I paid my friend’s rent. I was very sort of the guy in that group of artists that had money.

I lived in Williamsburg, and I worked in the East Village, and both places were still independent and mom-and-pop. Kiehl's was this independent place that was owned since the 1800s by [one family]. But then one day we held this meeting, and [the owner] had told us that L'Oreal had bought it.

When L'Oreal bought it, they loved the brand of it, and they did everything they could to change it, because of course they were not going to pay people that much. They just fired all of us.

Slowly, as I looked around, Union Square was this beautiful place where there was very independent restaurants and stuff.  But the L'Oreal-ization of New York happened. There was two Starbucks, a Toys R' Us, a Barnes and Noble, a Virgin Megastore, it just happened overnight where it was all over.

So, I just spent all the money I had over the next five years pursuing a job as a comedian and a writer and I started doing a lot of shows and then eventually moved to Los Angeles.

'I Am Not An Inmate ... I Am A Man. And I Have Potential'

NPR News - Fri, 2014-08-29 12:28

Many of the 2 million men serving time in the U.S. have formed their sense of manhood while incarcerated. And becoming a different kind of man isn't easy — either behind bars, or beyond them.

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NFL Commissioner On Controversial Suspension: 'I Didn't Get It Right'

NPR News - Fri, 2014-08-29 12:07

Robert Siegel talks with ESPN sportswriter Jane McManus about the NFL's new domestic violence initiative under its personal conduct policy. The plan comes the league leveled what some called a lenient penalty for running back Ray Rice's alleged domestic abuse.

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The Spectacle Of The Beheading: A Grisly Act With A Long History

NPR News - Fri, 2014-08-29 12:07

Videos and other images of beheadings have appeared with increasing frequency in recent weeks. Dawn Perlmutter, director of the Symbol Intelligence Group, discusses the symbolism of this grim ritual.

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Residents Join Soldiers In Shoring Up Defenses Of Key Ukrainian Port

NPR News - Fri, 2014-08-29 12:07

In Ukraine, civilian volunteers are digging trenches outside the port city of Mariupol in an effort to defend their city from assault by separatist forces.

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Justice Department Supports Native Americans In Child Welfare Case

NPR News - Fri, 2014-08-29 12:07

For the first time, the department wades into a federal district court case involving the Indian Child Welfare Act, a law meant to keep Native American families together.

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The Co-Discoverer Of Ebola Never Imagined An Outbreak Like This

NPR News - Fri, 2014-08-29 11:30

In 1976, scientist Peter Piot was part of the team that discovered the Ebola virus. The epidemic today in West Africa, he says, is "absolutely unexpected and unprecedented."

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Holiday Gas Prices Lowest In Four Years

NPR News - Fri, 2014-08-29 11:29

The national average for regular is $3.45 per gallon, down from an all-time high of $3.83 per gallon over the Labor Day 2012 holiday.

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An App Can Reveal When Withdrawal Tremors Are Real

NPR News - Fri, 2014-08-29 11:20

You probably haven't thought about whether your phone could help diagnose alcohol withdrawal. Well, it can. An app for doctors measures tremors and may help tell if someone's faking it to get drugs.

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Study: Kids In Orphanages Can Do As Well As Those In Foster Care

NPR News - Fri, 2014-08-29 11:13

Policymakers worldwide have been calling for countries to get rid of institutions for orphans and abandoned children. A study out of Duke University offers a different perspective.

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Real Vanilla Isn't Plain. It Depends On (Dare We Say It) Terroir

NPR News - Fri, 2014-08-29 11:02

There's no such thing as plain vanilla — at least if you're talking about beans from the vanilla orchid. Whether it's from Tahiti or Madagascar, vanilla can be creamy, spicy or even floral.

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Anti-Bloomberg ad signals new political trend

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-08-29 10:58

Experts expect between $6 and 7 billion will be spent on messaging during the 2016 campaign season and its run-up. The Supreme Court’s “Citizens United” decision opened the door to more outside spending on advertising, and that has changed a lot of things – including who gets attacked by attack ads.  

Last week, the National Rifle Association kicked off a multi-million dollar ad campaign with a 30-second spot.

“Liberals call this flyover country,” it begins. “It’s an insult.  But nobody insults your life like this guy: Michael Bloomberg, billionaire, elitist, hypocrite.”

The NRA says Bloomberg “has declared war” on the organization and its five million members. The former mayor of New York City has pledged to spend at least $50 million pushing for more background checks on gun buyers.

But Bloomberg is out of office.  He is not running for anything – at least right now.  And according to Michael Franz, co-director of the Wesleyan Media Project, that is what makes the NRA’s campaign so novel.

“To see him be the target of the ad is, in many ways, something we have never seen before,” he says.

In the past, attack ads have tied politicians to other politicians and donors to their campaigns. Franz believes this is the first advertisement not tied to a candidate or a campaign.

“This is the post-'Citizens United' world that we live in,” he says.

Franz and others say it is hard to overstate how much the landscape has changed over the last few years.

“The way we’ve organized now, since ‘Citizens United,’ essentially everything is on the table,” says Danilo Yanich, a professor of public policy at the University of Delaware. Everything and everyone.

Ken Goldstein, a political science professor at the University of San Francisco, says Michael Bloomberg and other big donors are being cast as outsiders.

"The message here is that there is something improper about these people being involved in politics," he says. "That their money is trying to fool you."

This is an update, Goldstein says, of a technique campaign operatives have used for a long time.

“One of the first things one does in opposition research is see if they can tie the other side to someone who is unsavory or unpopular."

What the NRA is hoping, Goldstein says, is that this ad — and others it plans to run nationwide — will affect how Americans see Michael Bloomberg and the cause he backs.

Texas Voter ID Law Goes To Trial

NPR News - Fri, 2014-08-29 10:46

A federal court will hear a challenge to the controversial law next week. It's an important and closely watched voting rights case that could end up before the Supreme Court.

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The business of preventing sexual assault on campus

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-08-29 10:09

The federal government is cracking down on college sexual assaults by putting more than 70 schools under investigation for their handling of such cases - and entrepreneurs and consultants are finding business opportunities. 

They’re creating smartphone apps to let students easily notify friends or campus police if they get into a scary situation, and developing training programs for campus-led sexual assault investigations.

“With a heavily-regulated industry, you're going to see a lot of products and services offered,” says Peter Lake, a campus safety expert at Stetson University College of Law.

Stetson says many schools aren't set up to deal with new rules governing sexual assault prevention and reporting. They need the extra help.

“A lot of us were using coconuts and Dixie cups with string to communicate, and now we have complicated software programs that actually work to get data in real time,” he says.

One app, called LiveSafe, lets students give campus security anonymous tips about crimes or potentially dangerous situations in real time. Schools pay a few bucks per student on up for the services. 

By some estimates, as many as 80 percent of sexual assaults on college campuses go unreported. LiveSafe chief executive Jenny Abramson thinks apps like hers can help change that.

“We find that in a number of places we're in, they're getting twice as many - or even ten times as many - tips from a student to the safety official, around things they ordinarily wouldn't share by calling or other more traditional means,” she says.

In addition to entrepreneurs like Abramson, lots of consultants and lawyers are marketing videos and training programs around sexual assaults. They're betting schools would rather pay their fees than face much stiffer penalties from the government. Without the proper programs in place, colleges can jeopardize federal funding and get fined hundreds of thousands of dollars.

But Dana Bolger is skeptical about some of the products getting marketed as a means to reduce sexual assaults, such as a nail polish that can detect date rape drugs when you dip your fingers into a drink.  Bolger was a rape victim in college and is now an activist and co-founder of the organization Know Your IX. She's worried the technology may be more dazzling than effective.

“These products, while often well-intentioned, try to lull us into a false sense of security,” she says, “as though we can just innovate our way out of systemic violence against women.”

Abercrombie abandons logos to keep up with the trends

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-08-29 09:40

Abercrombie & Fitch, the retailer that's known for its hunky models and clothes that scream "Abercrombie" says it's ditching its logo. From now on, the retailer says its clothes will be logo-free, at least in North America.

It’s an odd twist considering Abercrombie helped create the demand for teen clothing with big logos.

Well, no surprise, teens are fickle, said Barbara Kahn, a marketing professor at Wharton.  

“In general, I think there is a trend that kids are not into logos as they once were because there’s more of an emphasis on showing your own individuality,” Kahn said, adding that it also depends on the logo - and right now Abercrombie’s is out of fashion.

Ronnie Moas, an analyst at Standpoint Research, says the the fast-fashion trend has created a big shift in the teen clothing industry and knocked Abercrombie off its perch. He downgraded the stock in early July. Moas said retailers like Forever 21 and H&M are putting out the newest fashions quickly and cheaply.

“At Abercrombie you’re paying $50-$60-$70 for a dress and at H&M it’s $20,” Moas said.

There’s no logo, so teens can mix-and-match and feel like they’re creating their own, individual style. While this is good news for young shoppers, it’s bad news for retailers, said Simeon Siegel, an analyst at Nomura.

“Leaving the brand premium means your pricing power probably erodes,” Siegel said.

Siegel said it’s not just Abercrombie that's having problems, but all teen retailers that have relied on brands in the past.

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