Corporate wellness programs have become a $6 billion industry for one, possibly flawed, reason: they help reduce companies' healthcare costs, while saving their employees money.
To some degree, they have been a success. Growth in premiums has hit its lowest point in the last 16 years. A new survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation shows that 71 percent of employers believe corporate wellness programs are either "very" or "somewhat" effective at reducing spending on providing benefits for their employees, who would be rewarded with these benefits by meeting various incentives.
But companies can also impose a penalty. They can charge an employee more for smoking or being overweight. It's the very reason why, says Professor Nancy Koehn of the Harvard Business School, these programs don't work.
"What's really happening in many instances is that costs are getting shifted to employees, whether it's because they don't meet certain goals or they don't conform in certain ways," she says. "Healthcare costs are going down for companies, but not so much for individuals and families."
And they're not having any lasting effects on their health, either, she adds.
"All these incentives, all these hurdles, greatly increase the cost of testing employees. So these things are more costly than you might think."
Listen to the full conversation in the audio player above.
There's now a billion websites, according to online tracking firm Live Stats, and the internet is getting a little crowded.
A bunch of new top-level domains — those letters that go at the end of a web address — were released to go alongside ".com." We have ".nyc," ".sports," and so on. But one of the most interesting — and popular — domains is ".tv," and it says a lot about the way television is changing.
Marketplace Tech host Ben Johnson says ".tv" has been around for a while, but it’s being used more and more for branding by emerging media companies. That could be good for the tiny island nation Tuvalu, which was originally assigned the domain and has made a pretty penny from leasing it out.
But more interesting than the rise of ".tv" is the parallel rise of Internet video — just look at Twitch(.tv).
"Video is a vastly expanding area of our vastly expanding internet," says Johnson. "Cisco estimates 70 percent of total internet traffic by the year 2017 is going to be video, and a lot of that is going to be mobile video."
That sea change is affecting the physical networks the web is built on and the way video is being delivered to our devices. On a recent visit to Bell Labs, Johnson spoke to researchers looking for ways to make a wireless connection respond to the environment for seamless streaming.
"Say you're a passenger in the seat of a car or maybe you're on a train in the future... and you're about to go into a tunnel," Johnson says. "They want to use the GPS on your device to tell the network you're that going underground, and then they want the network to deliver you more data faster before you go into the tunnel."
So whether your preferred video service is a ".tv" or ".com" website, you're probably taking up a lot of bandwidth, but the Internet of the future is going to accommodate you better.
Financial insecurity is on the rise in American urban areas, even as the economy slowly recovers from the Great Recession, as unemployment falls, as foreclosures dwindle and as home prices rise again in many markets.
Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen highlighted the problem in an address, delivered by video, to the nonprofit Corporation for Enterprise Development’s 2014 Assets Learning Conference in Washington, D.C.
“The financial crisis and the Great Recession demonstrated in a dramatic and unmistakable manner how extraordinarily vulnerable are the large share of American families with very few assets to fall back on,” Yellen said. “We have come far from the worst moments of the crisis, and the economy continues to improve. But the effects of the recession are still being felt by many families, particularly those that had very little in savings and other assets beforehand.”
This week, the Corporation for Enterprise Development released new analysis of financial insecurity nationwide, drilling down on data at the state, regional and local levels. The group found that nearly 45 percent of households in cities with population of 200,000 or more, are “liquid-asset poor.” That means they don’t have enough in savings, or in assets that can be easily liquidated (such as stocks, bank accounts or retirement accounts), to cover their basic living expenses for three months. The threshold is set for a family of four living at the poverty level, which would need $6,000 to live.
Andrea Levere, president of Corporation for Enterprise Development, pointed out that this financial insecurity doesn’t just affect the poor, it affects those who are unemployed or working at minimum-wage jobs, too..
“Twenty five percent of American families in the fourth quintile of income — which is roughly $50,000 to $90,000 — are in liquid asset poverty,” said Levere.
Randy Albelda, an economist at the University of Massachusetts-Boston, isn’t surprised by the findings. Or, that levels of financial insecurity have risen during and after the recession.
“Given the very slow recovery for most people, given the last 20 years of very slow income growth for the bottom 50 percent, people have depleted their savings,” Albelda said.
Albelda thinks improvement in the situation would require lower costs for basic necessities such as rent, energy and food, and/or higher wages for a wide range of jobs (from low- to high-skilled), to allow more people to save and build a cushion against financial emergencies. She said a more comprehensive publicly funded social safety net would also help, one that delivered longer-term income support and food assistance for the poor and unemployed.
Levere said financial insecurity would also be less prevalent if mainstream consumer banking services were more readily available to the working poor. People have more financial resilience where there are more banks, and where working people use them. Highly “unbanked” cities, such as Newark, N.J.; Cleveland, Ohio and San Bernardino, California, also have high levels of liquid asset poverty.
“On average, an unbanked person spends $1,000 per year on financial services—getting their checks cashed because they don’t have a bank account, going to payday lenders, or rent-to-own,” said Levere.
Bottom line: It’s expensive to be poor.
View Estimates of Household Wealth and Financial Access in a full screen map