National News

Wealth gap widens among races

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-12-16 02:00

As the economy recovers, the wealth gap along racial lines is widening.

What’s driving the divide? Recent research shows one big reason is the disparity in asset wealth. 

Click the media player above to hear more.

How will the Fed respond to plummeting oil prices?

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-12-16 02:00

The Federal Reserve is expected to make some big announcements this week on the heels of meetings in Washington where Janet Yellen and her colleagues will discuss the health of the U.S. economy. One subject that will undoubtedly come up: Plummeting oil prices. As of today, oil is hovering right around $60 a barrel. So how will oil’s new low, low price affect the Fed’s anticipated policy changes?

Let’s start with inflation. One of the Fed’s stated goals is to increase inflation in the U.S. from its current 1.7 percent, to a target rate of 2 percent, “and all that’s going on in the energy sector is somewhat disinflationary if not deflationary,” says  Marilyn Cohen, president of Envision capital management. She thinks falling prices in the energy sector could make the Fed cautious about raising interest rates.

But Americans spending less on fuel means consumers have more money for goods and services, “and that,” says former Fed economist Morris Davis, “should create, or at least be correlated, with new job creation.”

Money not being spent on oil would do more good for the economy than the hit that U.S. oil companies will take, and Davis thinks the Fed sees these low oil prices as a new, longer term reality. “If that’s what the Federal Reserve is thinking then they would I guess, assume an extended boom on these low oil prices.”

A continuing boom would be a signal to the Fed that says "go ahead, raise interest rates." The Fed will issue its statement on Wednesday.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Navigating health insurance for small businesses

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-12-16 02:00

This is Mike Brey’s busiest time of year. 

Brey owns four Hobby Works toy stores in Maryland and Virginia, and he’s got about 50 full- and part-time workers. He huddles with one at his store in Laurel, Maryland, in an aisle jam-packed with remote-control cars. They're talking inventory.

Brey is just getting over a cold. There’s no time to sleep around the holidays if you own a toy store, and no time to look over health insurance plans – one of his least favorite chores.

“Yeah, I hate it,” he says.

Still, Brey does provide insurance for his employees, even though he doesn’t have to, because he has fewer than 50 full-timers. Brey leads me to his back office and computer, where he’s been noodling around on Maryland’s SHOP website, which was set up under the Affordable Care Act to connect small businesses with health insurers.

“There we go," he says, clicking on the site and reading. "See details of SHOP plans for 2014 coverage.”

Brey says he used to have only a couple of plans to choose from. But on the SHOP exchange, “You have CareFirst offering, Coventry, Evergreen, Kaiser, United.”

But here’s the thing: Brey’s just browsing, not buying. And he’s not alone.

“It’s been, admittedly, a little slow getting out of the starting gate,” says Sabrina Corlette, a senior research fellow at Georgetown University’s Center on Health Insurance Reforms. 

She says there are a number of reasons enrollment in the SHOP exchanges isn’t taking off. They’ve had technical problems, and a tax credit small businesses get for using SHOP is hard to apply for.

“I’ve heard from some small businesses that they’d have to pay their accountant and broker more than they actually would get back in benefits,” she says.

Still, there is some evidence that businesses could get a deal on SHOP. 

“We found, in general, that plans on the SHOP cost less than those off the SHOP," says Jon Gabel, a senior fellow at NORC, a University of Chicago research center. "Could be 9 percent lower on average.”

Still, Gabel says, it’s too soon to say whether the SHOP exchanges will survive.  

But Brey hopes they stick around. He says he’ll start some serious insurance shopping after the holiday rush.

Will oil’s price affect the Fed?

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-12-16 02:00

The Federal Reserve is expected to make some big announcements this week, coming on the heels of meetings in Washington where Janet Yellen and her colleagues will be discussing the health of the U.S. economy. One subject that will undoubtedly come up is plummeting oil prices. As of today, oil is hovering right around $60 a barrel. So how will oil’s new low, low price affect the Fed’s anticipated policy changes?

Let’s start with inflation. One of the Fed’s stated goals is to increase inflation in the U.S. from its current 1.7 percent, to a target rate of 2 percent, “and all that’s going on in the energy sector is somewhat disinflationary if not deflationary,” says  Marilyn Cohen, president of Envision capital management. She thinks falling prices in the energy sector could make the Fed cautious about raising interest rates.

But Americans spending less on fuel means consumers have more money for goods and services, “and that,” says former Fed economist Morris Davis, “should create, or at least be correlated, with new job creation.”

Money not being spent on oil would do more good for the economy than the hit that U.S. oil companies will take, and Davis thinks the Fed sees these low oil prices as a new, longer term reality. “If that’s what the Federal Reserve is thinking then they would I guess, assume an extended boom on these low oil prices.”

A continuing boom would be a signal to the Fed that says go ahead, raise interest rates. The Fed will issue its statement on Wednesday.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Taking the pulse of SHOP exchanges

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-12-16 02:00

This is Mike Brey’s busiest time of year. 

Brey owns four Hobby Works toy stores in Maryland and Virginia, and he’s got about 50 full and part-time workers. He huddles with one at his store in Laurel, Maryland, in an aisle jam-packed with remote-control cars. They're talking inventory.

Brey is just getting over a cold. There’s no time to sleep around the holidays if you own a toy store, and no time to look over health insurance plans — one of his least favorite chores.

“Yeah, I hate it,” he says.

Still, Brey does provide insurance for his employees, even though he doesn’t have to, because he has fewer than 50 full-timers. Brey leads me to his back office and computer, where he’s been noodling around on Maryland’s SHOP website, which was set up under the Affordable Care Act to connect small businesses with health insurers.

“There we go," he says, clicking on the site and reading. "See details of SHOP plans for 2014 coverage.”

Brey says he used to have only a couple of plans to choose from. But on the SHOP exchange, “You have CareFirst offering, Coventry, Evergreen, Kaiser, United.”

But here’s the thing: Brey’s just browsing, not buying. And he’s not alone.

“It’s been, admittedly, a little slow getting out of the starting gate,” says Sabrina Corlette, a senior research fellow at Georgetown University’s Center on Health Insurance Reforms. 

She says there are a number of reasons enrollment in the SHOP exchanges isn’t taking off. They’ve had technical problems, and a tax credit small businesses get for using SHOP is really hard to apply for.

“I’ve heard from some small businesses that they’d have to pay their accountant and broker more than they actually would get back in benefits,” she says.

Still, there is some evidence that businesses could get a deal on SHOP. 

“We found, in general, that plans on the SHOP cost less than those off the SHOP," says Jon Gabel, a senior fellow at NORC, a University of Chicago research center. "Could be 9 percent lower on average.”

Still, Gabel says, it’s too soon to say whether the SHOP exchanges will survive.  

But Brey hopes they stick around. He says he’ll start some serious insurance shopping after the holiday rush.

Pulling the Ruble out of the rubble

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-12-16 01:30
17 percent

Russia raised its interest rate in the middle of the night to 17 percent, as reported by the New York Times. The move came in response to a slip in the worth of the ruble by 10 percent on Monday. 

$5 million

That's how much money the nonprofit Invisible Children made in just 48 hours after their video "Kony 2012" redefined viral. The windfall was soon followed by a wave of criticism that cost donations and irreparably damaged the group's reputation. Two years later, Invisible Children has announced it will let most of its staff go, Buzzfeed reported, and raise $150,000 for a planned phase-out of its programs in 2015.

$60

That's about where the cost of a barrel of oil currently rests. The record low prices have some wondering how upcoming announcements (expected this week) from the Federal Reserve will be affected.

0

The number of people who lead the practices outlined in the Senate's CIA torture report who are still working in government. All of them are now retired or in the private sector. Mashable has a "where are they now?" feature.

50 full-time employees

Small businesses with fewer than 50 full-time employees are not required to provide health insurance. But in the case that they do, many are having a tough time navigating exchanges under the Affordable Care Act, specifically in what is known as a SHOP exchange.

$2.44

The cost of a half-gallon of milk, one of many items featured in the New Yorker's "gift guide for the boyfriend who has nothing."

Judge Regrets Harsh Human Toll Of Mandatory Minimum Sentences

NPR News - Tue, 2014-12-16 00:03

Thousands of people are imprisoned for decades, if not life, because of tough drug sentences. Now judges, lawyers and advocates ask whether it's time to dial back those penalties.

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From Judges To Inmates, Finding The Human Casualties Of Mandatory Sentencing

NPR News - Tue, 2014-12-16 00:03

Amid the backdrop of debate inside Washington and across the country, an NPR series will focus on the human toll of these mandatory prison sentences.

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Kurdish Officials Worry About Kurds Joining The Islamic State

NPR News - Mon, 2014-12-15 23:46

In the Kurdish city of Halabja, young men have been disappearing to join ISIS. It's a trend the authorities don't really want to discuss. But they are clamping down to try to make it stop.

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'Reshoring' Trend Has Little Impact On U.S. Economy, Study Finds

NPR News - Mon, 2014-12-15 23:36

"Reshoring," or bringing U.S. jobs back from overseas, is not as prevalent as has been reported, a consulting firm's research finds. The study found a total of 300 cases from 2013.

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Alaska's Governor Eager To Expand Medicaid

NPR News - Mon, 2014-12-15 23:28

The state's last top guy was hostile to Obamacare. But Gov. Bill Walker, an independent, sees Medicaid expansion as a cost-effective no-brainer. Can he convince Republicans in Alaska's legislature?

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President's Task Force To Re-Examine How Police Interact With Public

NPR News - Mon, 2014-12-15 23:26

Tensions between police and communities of color are grabbing the nation's attention — all the way up to the White House. The Obama administration has announced a new task force to tackle the problem.

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Argentina's Approach To Inflation: Ditch The Peso, Hoard U.S. Dollars

NPR News - Mon, 2014-12-15 23:24

The country's inflation rate is running around 40 percent this year, according to private economists. As a hedge, Argentines are always looking for ways to get their hands on U.S. dollars.

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At Last, Muslims Can Savor A Halal Spin On Spain's Famous Jamon

NPR News - Mon, 2014-12-15 23:22

Authentic jamón ibérico from free-range pigs fed on acorns is a key Spanish food that observant Muslims can't enjoy. But a Tunisian émigré is now making halal ham from lamb and beef in southern Spain.

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2015 Rock Hall Of Fame Class Includes Lou Reed, Joan Jett, Green Day

NPR News - Mon, 2014-12-15 22:03

The Smiths and N.W.A. were left off of the list of inductees for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, as Hall voters opted for acts such as Lou Reed, Bill Withers, and Joan Jett and the Blackhearts.

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Hustle Behind The Wheel: What It's Like To Be An Uber Driver

NPR News - Mon, 2014-12-15 15:26

The ride hailing service says it is creating 20,000 driver jobs every month. While this makes the service better for customers, drivers worry it will drive prices — and their earnings — down.

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The U.S. Has A Surgeon General, For The First Time In 17 Months

NPR News - Mon, 2014-12-15 14:31

A job that's been open in President Obama's administration since July of 2013 was finally filled Monday, as the Senate voted to confirm Vivek Murthy as America's new surgeon general.

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Russia Boosts Interest Rates To 17 Percent Amid Currency's Slide

NPR News - Mon, 2014-12-15 13:50

The central bank says the move to raise rates from 10.5 percent is aimed at limiting the ruble's slide and curbing inflation. The ruble is the world's worst-performing major currency this year.

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Chinese Man Cleared Of Rape, Murder 18 Years After His Execution

NPR News - Mon, 2014-12-15 13:20

Chinese authorities offered a rare apology to the family of the 18-year-old from Inner Mongolia. Another man had confessed to the crime after his arrest in 2005.

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Dr. Kent Brantly: The Lessons He's Learned From Fighting Ebola

NPR News - Mon, 2014-12-15 13:12

"We run the risk of going from hysteria to a sense of indifference," says the now-recovered physician. "And I think that is even more dangerous than our fear."

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