Things aren't getting any easier for pharmecutical salesmen. Drugmaker Eli Lilly announced it's sending pink slips to 30 percent of its U.S. sales force, which works out to about 1,000 people. Patents are expiring on two of the company's marquee drugs, so competition from generic brands is about to put a big dent in Eli Lilly's bottom line.
The company loses the patent on its antidepressant Cymbalta in December. Next March the game is up for the osteoporosis drug Evista. "Our U.S. revenue with those two medicines makes up about one-fifth of our corporate revenue," says spokesman Scott MacGregor. "It's a pretty significant impact."
When patents expire, generic drug makers will swoop in and sell the product for much cheaper. MacGregor says Eli Lilly is ready to make up for some of the losses, expanding a different sales team to push a new diabetes drug.
But there's something else that's threatening the livelihood of pharmaceutical sales reps. Their relationships with doctors are more restricted after controversy erupted over lavish spending on gifts and expensive meals in exchange for business.
MacGregor blames new health care regulations that further restrict a doctor's time. "That inherently changes the nature of the way they want to interact with us," he says. "And certainly we continue to see access restrictions, particularly in big academic institutions."
So what's a drug company to do? For one, go digital, says Perdue University College of Pharmacy Dean Craig Svensson. "Certainly there are ways of providing information that used to be only by the sales force that now you can provide it digitally," he says, "and it doesn't require that salesperson to interact with the physician or other health care provider face-to-face."
Svennson says using pop-up ads on websites targeted to doctors is becoming more common, along with social media. He says health care providers are also more distrustful of biased information. So a hospital might form an advisory board that makes recommendations on what drugs to perscribe, leaving the sales rep out of the equation.
Very few people in this world wake up in the morning excited to go do tax returns. After 10 years in this job -- and I'm only 34, so I guess I've been doing this now a third of my life -- I actually do wake up every morning excited to go to work. And the reason is, I'm truly helping people.
Of course there are bad days. The phone calls when I have to tell someone they owe $60,000 and they pass out, but there's so many good days. I make most of my income April of each year, so the rest of the year I get to stay home with my kids and have a good time. It really is a great profession.
So tax return pricing -- I personally have a price list. It's per form. So if you have a Schedule C, I'm going to tell you that is going to cost between $85 and $175.
Whether we state this or not, accountants have little extra charges they throw in for the people who make their lives more difficult. So if somebody arrives with everything tied out in a nice, neat pile -- the price is going to be cheaper than somebody that arrives with a shoebox. We might not put that in writing. We might not state that out front. However, jokingly in the industry it's called a PITA fee -- Pain In The (fill in the blank). If you make our life more difficult, if you end up calling a month later and say, 'Oh whoops, I forgot these three things,' then we are going to call it the remailing fee or the reprinting fee.
The more easy you make your accountant's life, the cheaper your price will be. I did actually have for the first time this year somebody that called and said that their dog ate their 1099. So I honestly didn't charge for that excuse because that just cracked me up. So if you also make me smile, sometimes your price is a little cheaper as well.
There's always some pretty memorable clients. For instance, someone works in a hair salon that insists they get to deduct their hair and nails because they're in the industry. And they would talk to the other girls in the shop and everybody would say they are taking the deductions. Well I looked at a couple of returns and I found out that no one was taking the deduction.
What accountants sort of do is shake our heads and smile and nod and say, 'Sure, no problem. We'll take that.' And then we never put it on the return because, of course we don't want to get our clients upset, but we also don't want them doing anything illegal.
Our tax dollars pay for things like pensions, police and firefighters, services that uphold our safety and maintain the peace. But when it gets down to the day-to-day decisions about where our tax dollars should go in a tough economy, how exactly do cities prioritize their spending of our hard-earned cash? Kevin Klowden has tracked this. He's a managing economist at the Milken Institute, where he serves as director of the California Center.
So after we pay taxes, where does all the money go?
"Depending on the state you live in, it can be very, very different. Some states, a lot of it will stay more locally. A lot of states -- like here in California -- because property taxes are limited, most of the money actually goes to the state government who then cycles it around and then sends a bunch of it back locally," says Klowden.
Different parts of the government decide where taxpayer money goes. City councils at the city level or the state legislature at the state level decide what the budget priorities are and how to divide the money, says Klowden. Usually, cities spend taxpayer dollars to fund essential public services, but the amount that's doled out can vary. For example, one municipality might have a larger discretionary fund for their parks than a neighboring city.
"Most of the money tends to go to city salaries or city services or maintaining parks and roads and things we expect from year to year to year," says Klowden. "Then you have that discretionary budget, that certain amount of money, that goes to either fixing problems that they've let sit for years or building or doing something new and interesting."
Problems do arise when cities decide to over-reward employees at a much faster rate than inflation -- especially when it comes to salaries, pensions, and health care benefits. And of course, in bankrupt cities like Stockton, Calif., services like police and firefighters will often go by the wayside because the municipality's focus is paying off its creditors.
The Russian president says the part of the money will go to complete a new launch facility under construction in the country's far east.
Mattel says its "Barbie Dolls of the World" typically come with a passport and "animal friend." It's had to respond to some criticism from this week from some who say the Barbie Mexico doll plays into stereotypes.
The late Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez believed in sharing his country's oil wealth with his Latin American neighbors. But now, Venezuelans are electing a new leader, and there are questions about whether the new president will continue those policies. NPR's Tom Gjelten talks about the effects of Venezuela's oil diplomacy, from Cuba to Connecticut.
At long last, housing is helping the U.S. economy. More new homes are going up, the prices of existing homes are going up too -- more than 7 percent last year, according to the Case-Shiller Index, and it could be even more this year. Builders and roofers and window-installers and home-improvement stores are all hiring.
And in many markets this spring, homes are selling again, fast -- multiple offers, sometimes at or above the asking price. At least -- if it’s a nice house, not in default or foreclosure, and spiffed up for sale.
So, what’s worth fixing up, and what’s just as well left alone, to get a deal done in this changing market?
Real estate broker Chris Suarez at Keller Williams in Portland, Ore., has been showing a $425,000 Victorian townhouse in an upscale urban neighborhood full of boutiques and brewpubs. The owner spent thousands on improvements over several years: a new gas fireplace, baby nursery, wine-nook in the finished basement.
That’s a change, says Suarez. “Two and three years ago, I was recommending ‘don’t put money into your home,’” he says. “If you’re in a situation where you need to sell and it’s the right thing for you to do, then let’s try to get as much equity out as we possibly can.”
But Suarez says in many markets, investing in home improvements does make sense now.
The reason? Home prices are rising again. And more and more homeowners who had been on the sidelines, are finally deciding to sell. Suarez says you want your house to be in better condition than the one down the block with a ‘For Sale’ sign.
“It’s more a condition war,” says Suarez. “You’re putting in that money so that you show up well, based on what other product is out there in the market.”
Michael Farr, chief investment officer at Farr, Miller and Washington, follows the housing and home-improvement sectors. He says the challenge for homeowners now is to figure out which improvements to plough their cash into.
“You don’t want to try and repair a house that’s simply falling in market value,” says Farr. “People want to know if they invest more money in their homes to repair or refurbish, that they’re going to be able to get that money out, that it’s going to be worth it.”
And it turns out there is a way to figure out what’s ‘worth it.’ It’s called the Cost Value Report, published annually in Remodeling magazine.
It can tell you how much you’re likely to recover at sale time if you put in a really upscale kitchen for $100,000 or more, versus a no-frills one at half the price.
Sunrooms, home offices and bathroom additions get the lowest return -- often less than 50 percent of the remodeling cost. The biggest bang for the buck comes from improvements that increase curb appeal: a remodeled entryway, new garage door, new siding or exterior paint. Those upgrades matter even more in a market where potential buyers surf the web and see online listings -- along with Google street-views -- first, before they ever drive past your property or get inside for a look-around.
Here’s the catch though: you’re not ever likely to get back 100 percent of what you put in, when you sell.
But realtor Chris Suarez points out: your house isn’t just an asset that you’re going to sell, eventually. You have to live in it now. “Sometimes -- and this is the unfortunate part," he says, "a seller does everything weeks before they put it on the market, when then they realize that they’ve really never gotten to enjoy it."
When you are ready to sell, though, it’s best not to do renovations out of ‘house-love,’ says Justin Riordan of Spade and Archer Design in Portland. He stages homes for sale.
“The idea of doing a bathroom the way you would want it to be done? You should never do that,” says Riordan. “Because, of all the people in the world that might buy your house -- you are not one of them.”
Riordan’s firm will completely furnish and decorate a vacant property, like the $800,000 mid-century colonial where I met him in Irvington, a neighborhood of grand old homes in one of Portland’s most fashionable residential districts.
In this case, Riordan’s decorating touches included an expensive-looking living room set, paintings, Art Deco glassware, vintage ice skates on the mantelpiece.
Riordan has made a study of home-buyer behavior -- he’s sort of a pop real-estate psychologist.
“Buyers are in a condition I call ‘buyer stupid,’” he says. “I was in that state when I bought my house. They’re leading their own life, they’re trying to sell their house, they’re raising their kids. They have the attention span of a gnat. If there’s one thing that pulls their emotional attention away from that house, we’ve lost them. We have five to seven minutes to win them over. And basically all we’re trying to keep them from doing is saying ‘no.’”
Here are more of Riordan’s Rules for getting to yes: Don’t leave out any prescription drugs, alcohol, firearms, political posters. No fur -- live or stuffed. No strong smells, or personal photos of any kind, or mirrors on the ceiling.
“Number one, the house has to be light,” he continues. “Nobody ever walks into a house and says, ‘I love this house, I just wish they had more window coverings.’ They’ll definitely walk in and say ‘This house is dark, we’re out of here...'”
Congress introduced the joint return in the 1940s, to ensure families with equal incomes paid equal taxes. Back then, nearly everyone got married. Couples typically married young, had kids early on, and stayed together for the long term. When marriage equalled family, the joint return made sense.
Today, only half of American adults are married. Kids today may live with married parents, step-parents, or cohabiting parents. More than a third of kids live with single parents.
But the tax law seems to be stuck watching reruns of "Leave it to Beaver" while the rest of us have long since moved on to "Modern Family."
Other countries have already updated their tax laws to reflect the new reality. Most developed nations have adopted individual filing. In countries like Canada and the U.K., every person -- married or unmarried -- pays taxes on his or her own income.
It may be tempting to, well, romanticize the joint return, to see in it a symbol of a shared life. But the joint return doesn't reliably reward marriage. Instead, it generates arbitrary tax penalties and bonuses, depending on how much each spouse earns compared to the other.
The Supreme Court will rule later this year whether the federal tax law should recognize the marriages of same-sex couples. A favorable ruling would mark a critical victory for marriage equality. But the joint return, with its random marriage penalties and bonuses, is a pretty lousy gift to mark the occasion.
Personally, I'm fine with the changing American family. My own modern family includes married, divorced, remarried, and never-married couples. But even if you think that America would be better off if more people got married and stayed that way, you shouldn't put your faith in the joint return. A true pro-marriage policy would start with individual filing as a base and then add marriage incentives provided on equal terms to all married couples.