National News

Marketplace’s inflation calculator: some fishy prices

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2014-09-08 01:00

In 1989, the year Marketplace first went on the air, the average cost for a year of a private, four-year college was $11,474 for tuition, room and board. If those costs had risen only with inflation, the average price would be $22,045 these days. According to the College Board, the actual cost for the 2013–2014 academic year was $40,917. We plan to dig deeper into the cost of higher ed later this fall in our inflation series.

I am currently paying for two college tuitions, so I find the subject too grim to discuss right now. And when I am feeling down, there’s nothing like something on a bagel to cheer me up. Something like smoked salmon.

We are conditioned to assume that everything gets more expensive over time. However, that is not necessarily the case, which is why silky, red-orange fish comes to mind. When I was a kid, my family treated smoked salmon like it was caviar. Somebody would bring back from the deli just an eighth of a pound, which we would carefully apportion as morsels on the bagel like scraps of gold leaf. The cream cheese completely overwhelmed the salmon. These days the cream cheese has lost the battle. There is a place near me where you can get a fresh, toasted bagel with a good three-quarters-of-an-inch slab of smoked salmon for $6.50.

What has changed? In part, aquaculture. A fisheries economist tells me that more than half of the fish the world eats now is, essentially, farmed. In the last 25 years, countries from Scotland to Chile have taken to large-scale-farming the salmon that become smoked salmon. Fish farming can have an environmental cost, and done poorly the practice is unsustainable and can hurt the wild salmon fishery. Yet there is no doubt the practice has altered the wholesale and retail markets. For a time, prices dropped and smoked-salmon sandwiches got a lot thicker.

But the story of smoked salmon does not end there. There is salmon production and there is salmon consumption. Around the world people have developed a taste for the stuff, nowhere more so than in China with its burgeoning middle-class. All this demand could have put smoked salmon back into caviar class.

One man who knows is Saul Zabar, president of New York City’s legendary grocery Zabar’s. Saul figures he sells about 2,000 pounds of smoked salmon a week. That’s, literally, a ton. He sees the gradual shift from wild salmon to farmed helping to keep prices under control.

“The fact that we have farmed salmon has kept the product at a reasonable level so that it’s available to the people who are not wealthy,” said Zabar. “It’s kept it as a middle-class product, which is great. It’s enabled us to sell product to a wide variety of people, where if it had remained wild, it would be only available to people who have the means to buy it.”

Zabar couldn’t remember what he was charging for smoked salmon 25 years ago. However, I did find a New York Magazine from that year that mentioned a Zabar’s sale price: $15.95 a pound, Scotch salmon, pre-sliced. That’s like $30.65 today. And what is Saul actually charging today, routinely, no special sale? $23.95 a pound. In real terms, that’s a 22 percent decline in 25 years. 

Also interesting is why the price hasn’t come down further at Zabar’s. Saul told us his prices have to reflect not just the wholesale price of the salmon, but his other costs. He owns his famous building, so that’s not the problem. He does single out what he has to pay for health care for his employees. Now that’s a whole other kettle of fish where deflation has certainly not been the trend. 

Yosemite Fire Prompts Helicopter Evacuation Near Half Dome Peak

NPR News - Mon, 2014-09-08 00:00

About 100 Yosemite National Park visitors were evacuated by helicopter Sunday when a wildfire that started weeks ago in the park's backcountry grew unexpectedly to at least 700 acres, officials said.

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Archaeologists Chase Private Funds To Preserve Greek Antiquities

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The country's prized archaeology sites are suffering, thanks to austerity measures and slashed budgets. But archaeologists face strict laws mandating state ownership of Greece's ancient treasures.

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The Start Of School Is Not The Only Risky Time For Campus Rape

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It's sometimes called "the red zone" — the first few weeks of college, when freshmen women are more vulnerable to sexual assault. But researchers say it's more complicated than that.

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Cheap Drinks And Risk-Taking Fuel College Drinking Culture

NPR News - Sun, 2014-09-07 23:22

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Harvard Receives Largest-Ever Donation

NPR News - Sun, 2014-09-07 21:27

The $350 million gift pledged to Harvard University's School of Public Health will help bolster research in several key areas including global pandemics, officials said.

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U.S. Border Patrol Apprehending Fewer Central Americans

NPR News - Sun, 2014-09-07 13:24

Increased Mexican patrols along that country's southern border may be one factor in the drop in numbers seen by the U.S. Some migrants appear to be giving up and staying in southern Mexico.

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As Scotland Eyes Independence, Poll Gives Edge To Leaving The U.K.

NPR News - Sun, 2014-09-07 13:03

For the first time, a poll shows the push to break away from the United Kingdom now has the edge over the "unity" vote in Scotland.

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Serena Williams Wins U.S. Open For 18th Grand Slam Title

NPR News - Sun, 2014-09-07 11:54

The U.S. Open win ties Serena Williams with Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova for fourth on the all-time list of Grand Slam winners.

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Black, Gay Cowboy: Michael Sam Steps Up

NPR News - Sun, 2014-09-07 10:18

Gay football player Michael Sam didn't make an NFL team, but he will play for the Dallas Cowboys practice squad. Writer Michael Arceneaux says that's an important step forward for gay black men.

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New Ebola Vaccine Is Tested In Humans, After Success In Monkeys

NPR News - Sun, 2014-09-07 09:37

The vaccine was developed by researchers at the National Institutes of Health and at Okairos, a Swiss-based biotech company owned by the British drug company GlaxoSmithKline.

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Cuomo Gets More Of An Opponent Than He Bargained For

NPR News - Sun, 2014-09-07 07:23

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo was expected to cruise to victory in next Tuesday's Democratic primary. But he faces a surprisingly vigorous challenge from the left.

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Obama To Speak Wednesday On U.S. Strategy Against Islamic State

NPR News - Sun, 2014-09-07 06:54

Citing a broad threat posed by the Islamic State, President Obama said Sunday that he will deliver a national address Wednesday to discuss the U.S. approach to the group.

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U.S. Pacific Blue Whales Seen Rebounding Close To Historic Levels

NPR News - Sun, 2014-09-07 06:12

With their population estimated at roughly 97 percent of historical levels, blue whales off the West Coast are being called a conservation success story.

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NPR News - Sun, 2014-09-07 03:58

U.S. fighters and bombers carried out the attack in western Iraq's Anbar Province, trying to protect a key piece of Iraq's infrastructure.

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U.S. Launches New Airstrikes To Protect Iraqi Dam

NPR News - Sun, 2014-09-07 03:52

NPR's Lynn Neary speaks with correspondent Alice Fordham from Baghdad about the latest round of U.S. airstrikes to support Iraqi forces on the ground in Iraq.

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In Kiev, A New Patriotism Cemented In Russia's Shadow

NPR News - Sun, 2014-09-07 03:52

Residents of the Ukrainian capital say the conflict has been devastating, yet has also helped forge a real sense of Ukrainian identity.

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Congress Returns To A Plateful Of Foreign Problems

NPR News - Sun, 2014-09-07 03:52

Congress returns next week in the midst of a crisis in Ukraine and the rise of the Islamic State. NPR's Lynn Neary talks to Mara Liasson about Congress's role in shaping foreign policy strategy.

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For Lack Of Mississippi Silt, The Gulf Is Losing Coastal Land

NPR News - Sun, 2014-09-07 03:52

Thousands of miles of Louisiana's coastline have been disappearing over the last century. NPR's Lynn Neary talks to fishing guide Ryan Lambert about what's happening to his community.

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Will Apple Sell A Smart Wallet For Your Smartphone?

NPR News - Sun, 2014-09-07 03:52

Rumors are swirling about the unveiling of the newest iPhone this Tuesday. But will it be enough to keep Apple at the top of the pack? NPR's Lynn Neary talks with Farhad Manjoo of the New York Times.

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