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PODCAST: Predicting truancy

Fri, 2014-11-21 03:00

First up, China's central bank this morning surprised market players by dropped two key interest rates to stimulate the economy. More on that. Plus, student loan debt has topped $1 trillion, with less than 10 percent in private debt, i.e. not through the federal government. Those private lenders have been pressured to work with struggling borrowers to modify the terms of their loans. Now, it seems Wells Fargo has heard that message. And speaking of students, schools are gathering data on kids, and as student databases grow, so does the ability of technology to predict how or what a kid might do next. We take a look at the ways student data is being used to try to see into the future to predict, and change, school attendance . 

Cutting interest rates on student debt

Fri, 2014-11-21 02:00

Wells Fargo has launched a loan modification program for student loan customers who are delinquent on their loans or facing a new financial hardship.

The bank’s John Rasmussen estimates, 600 to 1,000 borrowers will qualify to have their interest rates cut by the end of 2015. He says the company wants to have long-term relationships with its customers.

Kevin Jacques, a professor at Baldwin Wallace University, says the program makes financial sense, too, since it may mean borrowers will continue to make payments instead of defaulting. 

For more on this story, click the media player above.

Inflating art ... No, not Koons' balloon animals

Fri, 2014-11-21 02:00

In honor of Marketplace's 25th anniversary, we're looking at some of the surprising ways prices have changed over the last quarter century.

Today, we're looking at art. Specifically, the prices of art considered so fine it's worth millions. 

Blake Gopnik is critic-at-large for Artnet News, and a contributor to the New York Times. He joined us to talk about thinking of art as an investment, and how some works have seen their value jump by 700 percent in 25 years.

Click the media player above to hear Blake Gopnik in conversation with Marketplace Morning Report host David Brancaccio.

For troubled Detroit, could immigration help?

Fri, 2014-11-21 02:00

On Thursday evening, President Barack Obama announced a plan to use his executive authority to roll out major reforms to the nation’s immigration policy.

Among other things, the action offers temporary legal status to some 5 millions illegal immigrants, along with an indefinite reprieve from deportation.

In the Midwest, immigrants have been sought after as a way to sustain metro economies winnowed by decades of out-migration.

Earlier this year, Michigan Governor Rick Snyder and Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan sent a letter to President Obama to earmark 50,000 visas for workers agreeing to live in Detroit.

Immigration is viewed as one of the few tools available to bring Detroit’s economy back from the brink.

“Immigrants, including those who don’t have a formal education, can really be important to the labor force and to sustaining and revitalizing Detroit neighborhoods,” says Steve Tobocman, Director of Global Detroit, and economic development non-profit.

Tobocman says immigration reform could help reverse the trends of population loss and a rapidly aging workforce. Other outcomes would directly affect future workers.

“It could have a huge impact is on kids,” says Sherrie Kossoudji, an economist at the University Of Michigan School Of Social Work.

“One of the things some of us have always argued is that immigration reform could be on the biggest anti-poverty programs we’ve ever had.”

Kossoudji says granting legal status has been show to increase wages by 6 percent, creating all kinds of spillover benefits for families, consumer spending and tax revenue.

 

 

Silicon Tally: Tweetin' Turkey

Fri, 2014-11-21 02:00

It's time for Silicon Tally! How well have you kept up with the week in tech news?

This week, we're joined by Marty Van Ness, supervisor of the Butterball Turkey Talk-Line, for a food-themed Silicon Tally.

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How immigration reform can change immigration

Thu, 2014-11-20 15:45

On Thursday evening, President Obama announced his executive order for immigration reform:

We’re going to offer the following deal: If you’ve with been in America more than five years. If you have children who are American citizens or illegal residents. If you register, pass a criminal background check and you’re willing to pay your fair share of taxes, you’ll be able to apply to stay in this country temporarily without fear of deportation. You can come out of the shadows and get right with the law. That’s what this deal is.

Now let’s be clear about what it isn’t. This deal does not apply to anyone who has come to this country recently. It does not apply to anyone who might come to America illegally in the future. It does not grant citizenship or the right to stay here permanently, or offer the same benefits that citizens receive. Only Congress can do that. All we’re saying is we’re not going to deport you.

To get a little context on how the President's plans might affect some of the various immigration constituencies in this country, we spoke with Barbara Hines, Co-Director of the Immigration Clinic and professor at the University of Texas, and Emily Lam, vice-president of the Silicon Valley Leadership Group for Health Care & Federal Issues.

McDonald's is not lovin' GMO potato

Thu, 2014-11-20 14:58

The United States Department of Agriculture has approved a new genetically-modified potato.

Among other things, the new spud is supposed to give off fewer carcinogens when cooked at high temperatures, like when it's french-fried. Still its biggest potential customer, McDonald’s, is not lovin’ it.  The burger-and-fries giant seems to be listening to the many consumers out there who worry GMOs are bad for them.  Never mind the Big Mac itself. 

New York University food researcher Marion Nestle has seen this kind of thing before in England. Supermarket chains opted out of carrying tomato paste made from genetically-modified tomatoes.

"The retailers said, ‘You know, we don’t have a dog in this fight. We don’t need to be in the middle of this,’" Nestle says. "Similarly, McDonald’s has plenty of potatoes."

So the company doesn’t need these new potatoes, just like it doesn’t need any new grief from consumers about serving unhealthy food.

Meanwhile, consumer attitudes have changed about what makes food healthy or not. Analyst Harry Balzer has been tracking Americans' eating habits for decades, at consumer-research company NPD.

"I think the move is to, 'I want natural foods' — whatever natural, means to you," he says. "Now, I think part of that process is, 'I don’t want you to make my foods better for me. So, don’t remove the fat, don’t remove the sugar. That way you’re changing the food — you’re altering the food.’"

Balzer says sales of foods designed to be healthy — lower in fat, or lower in sugar — have been declining for years.

He also says the three most-ordered restaurant items are still soda, a burger and fries.

But even if that’s what we’re ordering, health is still — well, call it an aspiration.

Mary Chapman is with the food-industry consulting group Technomic, which polls consumers about their preferences. "We asked specifically, 'Do you want restaurants to offer healthy items, even if you’re not going to eat them?'" she says. "They still want them offered."

So is it the presence of the salad on the menu that makes us feel better about the Big Mac that we're actually ordering?

"It’s true," she says.

As long as the salad isn’t genetically modified.

Firefox Says Goodbye to Google, Hello to Yahoo

Thu, 2014-11-20 13:21

If you are a user of the web browser Firefox in the United States, your default search engine is about to change. Mozilla, the nonprofit that owns Firefox just announced plans to switch the default from Google to Yahoo.

Google was paying Mozilla $300 million a year for the privilege of being the default search engine. Those payments made up more than 80 percent of Mozilla’s income. 

Mozilla and Google are very different companies. Mozilla is a mission-driven nonprofit for starters. It's  built on 10 principles, one of which is "individual’s security and privacy on the internet are fundamental and must not be treated as optional.”

Google has a slightly different take on privacy. "Google is of course, in the business on tracking users," says USC computer science professor Ellis Horowitz, "and Firefox has taken a very strong line on giving users the ability to not be tracked."

In its deal with Firefox, Yahoo has agreed to honor Mozilla’s "do not track" policy. In return, Yahoo gets all of Firefox’s default search traffic and some street cred with users who are concerned about their privacy. Just how much Yahoo paying is for that traffic and street cred hasn't been made public.

As for Google, it ultimately isn't losing a whole lot. "Many people just have the Google home page as the default page, so they don't really need the search engine to do their searching," says Horowitz.

Plus Google has its own competing browser, Chrome, which now has a much larger market share than Firefox’s. And as more and more web traffic shifts to mobile phones, Firefox has created its own mobile operating system. "The firefox OS which they call it, they are getting onto low cost phones around the world," says Liz Gannes, a senior editor with the tech site Re/code.

"Mozilla in some sense, has already moved on from the Firefox battle in that they are trying to take on the next big closed platform, which is mobile."

What an influx of legal workers might mean

Thu, 2014-11-20 12:00

This country has 11 million undocumented workers give or take, according to the Pew Research Center, and workers without papers make up 5 percent or so of our labor force.

It’s a varied group, but large numbers of them rent rather than own, speak English poorly and live at 150 percent of the poverty line. That translates to around $18,000 a year for an individual, or roughly $36,000 for a family of four.

(Courtesy of: Migration Policy Institute)

This group works largely “in the hospitality industry, in construction and in places with agriculture,” Audrey Singer of the Brookings Institution says. “But people would be surprised at the variation that is behind those numbers.”

So what happens if and when many of them get permits to work legally? The Migration Policy Institute figures a change could affect upwards of 3.7 million people, freeing them to chase better jobs.

(Courtesy of: Migration Policy Institute)

“As people get legal status they are going to be more mobile,” the institute’s deputy director, Marc Rosenblum, says. “There are some unauthorized immigrants who are unable to change jobs, because they don’t have proof of work eligibility. It’s difficult to quit a job and look for another one.”

Legal working papers can also give workers confidence to bargain for higher wages, Rosenbaum says.

In a study of people who got new green cards, the only people who moved up the wage ladder had high-skills. Less than one in five do, says Laura Hill of the Public Policy Institute of California.

“It was really the high skilled workers who were able to translate this new status into better paying jobs,” institute senior fellow Laura Hill says. “The lower skilled unauthorized workers, which are the majority, were not able to make the transition.”

If that’s an indication, only those with good skills and English may be emboldened by work papers. And any change may be temporary. It would come via executive order, which means the next president could move in and press the “undo” button.

UC proposes to raise tuition every year for 5 years

Thu, 2014-11-20 11:00

The University of California is about to get a lot more expensive.

After a three-year tuition freeze, the UC Board of Regents approved a plan today that would raise prices by as much as 5 percent a year for the next 5 years, unless the state comes up with more funding. That would ultimately push tuition well past $15,000 a year. 

The reason? UC President Janet Napolitano says state funding hasn’t kept up with rising costs.

Ten years ago, the state covered about 60 percent of a UC student’s tuition, according to an editorial in the Los Angeles Times. Families were on the hook for about 40 percent. Now, it’s the other way around.

“In the last decade, tuition has doubled for California students,” says Michele Siqueiros, president of the Campaign for College Opportunity.

She says there’s good reason for taxpayers to invest more in higher education.

“College-educated Californians earn more money, pay more taxes and use less of the social service costs that the state has to spend,” she says.

After years of steep cuts, the state has increased funding for higher education in the last few years. According to the university, the increases are not enough to keep up with growing demand for a college education in the state. Napolitano says the increases will allow the university to admit 5,000 more California students.   

All over the country, states face higher health care and pension costs, says John Douglass, a senior research fellow at the Center for Studies in Higher Education at UC Berkeley. So there’s less money to go around.

“Legislators and governors are making lots of choices as to, well, how much can we really invest in higher ed when we have all these other obligations?” he says.

Most states have started restoring some of the deep cuts made during the recession, says Andy Carlson of the State Higher Education Executive Officers Association.

“The recovery is definitely happening at a much slower pace, and there’s certainly continued budget pressures,” he says.

Consumer advocates worry that could make college less accessible for low-income and middle-class students.

According to Jacob Jackson, a research fellow with the Public Policy Institute of California, extra financial aid has – so far – kept costs for those families roughly the same.

“Students from low-income families are largely insulated from these tuition increases,” he says. “But only if they apply for and receive federal financial aid.”

University of California approves tuition increase

Thu, 2014-11-20 11:00

The University of California is about to get a lot more expensive.

After a three-year tuition freeze, the UC Board of Regents approved a plan today that would raise prices by as much as 5 percent a year for the next 5 years, unless the state comes up with more funding. That would ultimately push tuition well past $15,000 a year. 

The reason? UC President Janet Napolitano says state funding hasn’t kept up with rising costs.

Ten years ago, the state covered about 60 percent of a UC student’s tuition, according to an editorial in the Los Angeles Times. Families were on the hook for about 40 percent. Now, it’s the other way around.

“In the last decade, tuition has doubled for California students,” says Michele Siqueiros, president of the Campaign for College Opportunity.

She says there’s good reason for taxpayers to invest more in higher education.

“College-educated Californians earn more money, pay more taxes and use less of the social service costs that the state has to spend,” she says.

After years of steep cuts, the state has increased funding for higher education in the last few years. According to the university, the increases are not enough to keep up with growing demand for a college education in the state. Napolitano says the increases will allow the university to admit 5,000 more California students.   

All over the country, states face higher health care and pension costs, says John Douglass, a senior research  fellow at the Center for Studies in Higher Education at UC Berkeley. So there’s less money to go around.

“Legislators and governors are making lots of choices as to, well, how much can we really invest in higher ed when we have all these other obligations?’” he says.

Most states have started restoring some of the deep cuts made during the recession, says Andy Carlson with the State Higher Education Executive Officers Association.

“The recovery is definitely happening at a much slower pace, and there’s certainly continued budget pressures,” he says.

Consumer advocates worry that could make college less accessible for low-income and middle-class students.

According to Jacob Jackson, a research fellow with the Public Policy Institute of California, extra financial aid has—so far—kept costs for those families roughly the same.

“Students from low-income families are largely insulated from these tuition increases,” he says. “But only if they apply for and receive federal financial aid.”

Netflix is king of bandwidth in North America

Thu, 2014-11-20 11:00

The latest figures from the Canadian networking company Sandvine show Netflix accounts for 35 percent of all the bandwidth usage during peak periods in North America.

As Quartz points out, there are a few caveats to the data. For one, "peak periods" means mostly at night when we're home watching stuff. Also, the report doesn't account for internet usage on cell phones.

Netflix's closest competitor is YouTube, which accounts for about 14 percent of the bandwidth. Not to mention it clobbers other video streaming services like Amazon Video (2.58 percent) and Hulu (1.41 percent).

Farm-to-table movement comes to school cafeterias

Thu, 2014-11-20 10:59

This story is part of Marketplace's partnership with Youth Radio

School lunchrooms are sometimes referred to as "the biggest restaurant chain in America," and in districts across California a new program is trying to get local ingredients on the menu. It's part of a big push in the state to promote healthy eating and local agriculture – and to bring the fresh high-end cuisine that California is known for into the cafeteria.

Two questions: How will districts pay for it? And will California kids eat it?

California public schools serve 560 million lunches a year. In a state that also grows a lot of this country’s food, it makes sense that young Californians would eat California-grown meals.

That’s the idea behind a new school lunch plan called California Thursdays that debuted last week. Fifteen districts across the state have partnered with the program, including such big ones as Los Angeles and San Diego. Yet the large-scale change is starting small.

“What we like to call a bite-sized implementation strategy,” says Zenobia Barlow, co-founder of the Center for Ecoliteracy. For the past 20 years, her organization has been promoting sustainable living through schools. Because school lunch is such a big enterprise, Barlow says it could change the way we eat outside the cafeteria, too.

“By institutional purchasing, we’re going to trigger demand that will result in greater production of sustainably grown and sustainably produced food,” Barlow says. “Just from a business perspective, when kids start eating fresh and freshly prepared delicious meals, there are economies of scale that make it possible.”

But school lunch is bound by federal requirements and a strict budget.

Alexandra Emmott, Oakland Unified School District's “farm-to-school supervisor," figures that “for an entree, which needs to be a serving of protein and a serving of grain, we have a budget of 60 cents per entree.”

For the fruit or vegetable, its 20 cents, she says, and 25 cents for the milk.

A California Thursdays dish can cost more. The district pays 40 cents for a locally sourced and antibiotic-free chicken leg, Emmott says. High-schoolers need two drumsticks to meet USDA protein requirements, which puts the entree over budget.

Sometimes the district balances the extra cost over the course of the lunch calendar, or hits the price point by replacing a second piece of chicken with, say, red beans and rice. It involves some creativity, but Emmott says this type of thinking is starting to catch on.

“I talked to folks in Maine who were sourcing local proteins up there, even fish. So there are districts all across the country who are starting to do this," she says.

Just last month, Minnesota Thursdays launched its own local lunch program for students in the Twin Cities. Back in Oakland, 17-year-old Ayana Edgerly says “the food is way better in the cafeteria on Thursdays.”

Over the summer, she worked with the Center for Ecoliteracy to conduct peer taste-tests on California Thursdays recipes. Students were given a dish, then asked to rate it from one to five in terms of taste and appearance, Edgerly says. They also were asked: "Would you get in a lunch line for it?" 

Me personally? I haven’t eaten a school lunch since fourth grade, but my colleagues at Youth Radio offered to prepare one of the new dishes.

 They whipped up a bowl of shredded chicken and broccoli over brown rice. It looked kind of cute and even tasted pretty good, like a home-cooked meal but served at school.

Soon we’ll see if more kids feel the same.

Quiz: What kids these days are reading

Thu, 2014-11-20 05:01

School-aged girls read more words and less nonfiction compared to boys, according to a report by Renaissance Learning.

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PODCAST: Pirates off the coast of West Africa

Thu, 2014-11-20 03:00

At first glance, there was no inflation last month.  The news this morning is the consumer price index is flat. But, you already knew gasoline and heating oil prices are down and what that masks is rising prices in other areas. More on that. And a new Senate report warns that taxpayers and consumers could end up holding the bag when banks own big stashes of commodities like oil and metals. The senate report also highlights the possibility of risk to the overall financial system. Plus, when we say pirates and Africa, thoughts turn to the east coast of the continent including Somalia. But we were talking to our BBC colleagues and their correspondents are pointing out that there are more attacks on shipping off West Africa, especially the coast of Nigeria.

Falling oil won't mean huge savings on home heating

Thu, 2014-11-20 02:30

Temperatures plunged to the freezing point or below in all 50 states this week, and home heating costs are expected to be somewhat lower this year, thanks to cheaper oil prices. But don’t look for a windfall of savings just yet.

The unseasonably cold weather has raised the specter of last year’s polar vortex, when a surge in demand for heating oil and propane upset household budgets and kept consumers out of restaurants and stores.

“It’s a little unnerving when you have 15-degree weather in mid-November,” says Mark Griffin, President of the Michigan Petroleum Association. Despite the temperatures outside, Griffin says it’s still too early to call this a vortex 2.0.

“Our fingers are crossed that we’ve done everything we can to meet the needs of the marketplace, and there won’t be any supply disruptions going forward," he says.

The cheaper price of crude oil (currently about $75/barrel) is expected to put some downward pressure on energy costs, but Chris Christopher, director of consumer economics for forecaster IHS Global Insight, notes that oil isn’t necessarily the primary driver of heating costs.

“What we should expect is relatively the same type of costs, maybe a bit lower, and they have been lowering, but it all depends on demand,” says Christopher.

In terms of consumer psychology, Christopher says the cost of gasoline at the pump plays a much bigger role in juicing the economy.

Predicting Apple's next big move

Thu, 2014-11-20 02:00
870 miles

That's how many miles of railway China has agreed to build along the coast of Nigeria. Not for nothing, though. The two countries signed a deal worth $11.97 billion.

1.51 percent

That's Visa's credit card processing fee, charged to merchants with every purchase. It's a key number in the surprise rivalry brewing between Apple Pay and mobile payment system CurrentC. The latter is backed by a consortium of retailers including Wal-Mart, Rite-Aid Target and CVS, which all shut down Apple's system in their stores on launch day. Venture capitalist Jean-Louis Gassée breaks down both sides in his Quartz column, cutting through the PR to conclude CurrentC is all about saving merchants the card processing fee, while Apple Pay is more user-focused.

110,000

That's how many people subscribe to the Beats Music streaming, but that could change with Apple's recent acquisition. The Financial Times reported Apple will bundle Beats Music on all iOS devices early next year, possibly with the launch of Apple Watch. Insiders said the details are still being hammered out, but insiders told the New York Times a subscription would cost $5 to $10. The plans are likely to make Spotify sweat; as we learned during the U2 debacle, Apple has 800 million iTunes accounts.

50 states

All 50 U.S. states experienced freezing or below temperatures on Tuesday. Good news: cheaper oil prices mean home heating costs are expected to be lower. Bad news: don't expect a windfall of savings any time soon.

$11.9 billion

That's how much in outstanding student loans is currently held by Wells Fargo & Co. As the Wall Street Journal reports, the lender announced that this month, for the first time, it will lower interest rates for eligible borrowers. 

$4 billion

That's how much the Disney Princess line makes on merchandising in a year, which doesn't include the mind-boggling numbers "Frozen" has made on licensing. A recent New York Times column looks at last year's surprise mega-hit as a case study for children's movie licensing as a whole. Turns out spending on "Frozen"-branded toothpaste, food, dresses, toys, etc. bucks trends in most other industries. This might be because one party (parents) are almost always buying for someone else (children), making the business of Elsa dresses surprisingly similar to the pharmaceutical industry. 

With low gas prices, Thanksgiving travel hits the road

Thu, 2014-11-20 02:00

AAA releases its holiday travel forecast on Thursday. The big takeaway: lots more people will be hitting the road this Thanksgiving, due in no small part to plummeting gas prices. Drivers aren't alone with their lower fuel expenses—The airline industry saved $1.6 billion in fuel costs this past year; meanwhile, airfares have gone up. 

During the holiday season, the vast majority of people will travel by car. "Usually accounting for about 85 to 90 percent of all travelers," says AAA spokesperson Heather Hunter.

For people taking incredibly long trips, or very short trips, the choice to fly or drive is clear. "But it is the medium length trips, say between 200 and 1,000 miles, where it gets more complicated," says Jon Lal is the CEO of befrugal.com and the creator of Fly or Drive calculator, which takes into account lots of factors. For example: Will you need a rental car if you fly? Are you checking bags? What are current gas prices and how much wear and tear will the trip put on your car?

Dan Sniadoski lives in Seattle. He’s been invited to Thanksgiving dinners at his mom’s place in Montana and at a friend’s house in Portland. "And I still haven't made up my mind if I’m going to travel, and if I do, where am I going to go," he says. Flying is out of the question; he can’t afford last minute airfare. So at this point, his decision comes down to whether to spend the holidays with friends or family. 

 

Designers gave us the Doublemint twins – and much more

Wed, 2014-11-19 14:23

The new book "Dorothy and Otis: Designing the American Dream" explores the life and work of designer Dorothy Shepard and her husband, Otis. Regarded as giants in early 20th century advertising, the pair had a hand in creating the Doublemint twins and uniforms for the Chicago Cubs. 

Their association with P.K. Wrigley, son of chewing-gum magnate William Wrigley Jr., gave the Shepards a platform for their now-iconic work, which included planning and promoting Catalina Island as a resort.

The book's authors, Norman Hathaway and Dan Nadel, marveled at how ahead of their time the Shepards were.

"Wrigley owned the Cubs, as he owned the chewing gum, as he owned Catalina Island,” Nadel says. “And I think he trusted Otis so much that it was just sort of, 'Oh, somebody needs to do this … so why not the guy I entrust with everything else?'"

 

The couple that designed the American dream

Wed, 2014-11-19 14:23

"Dorothy and Otis: Designing the American Dream" explores the life and work of designer Dorothy Shepard and her husband, Otis.

The pair had a hand in creating the Doublemint twins and uniforms for the Chicago Cubs, and authors Norman Hathaway and Dan Nadel marveled at how ahead of their time the Shepards were.

Their association with P.K. Wrigley, son of chewing gum magnate William Wrigley, gave the Shepards a platform for their now-iconic work.

"Wrigley owned the Cubs, as he owned the chewing gum, as he owned Catalina Island,” Nadel says. “And I think he trusted Otis so much that it was just sort of, 'Oh, somebody needs to do this … so why not the guy I entrust with everything else?'"

 

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