Marketplace - American Public Media

Wilt Chamberlain stamp signals a shift for USPS

Fri, 2014-12-05 02:00

When you think of stamps, you might picture paintings of ducks, and dead, forgotten presidents. But Friday in Philadelphia, two new stamps will be released, the first ever to feature a pro basketball player.

You could say he’s the basketball equivalent of Madonna or Elvis because the new stamps dispense with his last name and only say “Wilt,” stretched out as if to emphasize his 7-foot-1 stature.

“Wilt is the greatest player to ever play,” said Donald Hunt, a sports writer for the Philadelphia Tribune who headed the effort to get Wilt Chamberlain his own stamp. “He scored 100 points in a game, averaged 50 points in a game... at one point in his career he grabbed 55 rebounds in a game.”

But Chamberlain also did other stuff, including claiming that he slept with 20,000 women. The NBA star joins recent postal honorees like Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix, who died of drug overdoses. But that doesn’t mean they don’t deserve stamps, according to Chad Snee, editor of Linn’s Stamp News.

“If the committee had to weigh personal imperfections when determining whether or not someone could be honored with a postage stamp … we wouldn’t see too many people on our stamps anymore,” he said.

Silicon Tally: Ciao, TTYN!

Fri, 2014-12-05 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 Rusty Foster, who writes the Today in Tabs newsletter, covering the "worst (and occasionally best) in tabs."

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York & Fig: The business of gentrification

Thu, 2014-12-04 12:17

A familiar storyline is often shared in gentrifying neighborhoods about how all the change got started. At some point, it usually involves a cute little café. In Highland Park, California, it’s a place called Café de Leche, which opened in 2008.

The café has also become a favorite target of disgruntled old-timers. They have tagged it with words like “gentrifier,” posted symbolic “eviction notices” to its door and managed to get an expletive directed at hipsters to pop up on laptops used at the café.

This story is not about Café de Leche, or any master plan of its owners. Instead, this story is about the much larger and much less visible network of professionals who surround Café de Leche, and who do make changing neighborhoods their business – a very lucrative one.

Read the rest of this story at YorkAndFig.com

Which government agencies get cursed at the most?

Thu, 2014-12-04 11:00

The Washington Post told us Thursday about Regulations.gov, a site that can tell you which federal government agencies get sworn at the most.

The online database collects the public comments people send in when the agencies propose new rules.

The Post conducted its research using two words. I won't spell them out for you, but one starts with an "F," and the other with an "S."

Not surprisingly, the Internal Revenue Service gets sworn at the most. The Fish and Wildlife Service was No. 2, which doesn't quite make sense although maybe people were using the s-word literally.

Something called the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Administration got the least swears tossed their way. Perhaps because no one knows they exist.

Barnes & Noble move may signal a spinoff

Thu, 2014-12-04 11:00

If someone were to pen the story of Barnes & Noble today, booksellers would probably file it under "mystery."

There’s long been talk about whether Barnes & Noble will split itself into two companies, likely with its retail books division on one side and the Nook – its long-suffering e-reader – on the other. That path might have become a bit clearer Thursday, as Barnes & Noble announced it would buy back Microsoft's roughly 17 percent stake in Nook.

But John Tinker, an analyst with investment bank and brokerage firm Maxim, says it’s still unclear if and how the company might divide itself. Barnes & Noble is currently made up of retail stores, a series of college bookstores and a large equity interest in Nook, which is both a hardware company and a software company.

When a company wants to shed a division, it generally has three options: liquidate it, sell it, or spin it off. University of Pennsylvania professor Emilie Feldman says the Nook still has some value, though finding a buyer could be tough. Spinoffs have become popular lately, she says, citing examples like HP, eBay, and Symantec.

Investors often push for spinoffs when companies have divisions with very different growth trajectories, competitors or paths forward, Feldman says. If Barnes & Noble did spin off the Nook, it’d likely issue new stock in separate company to existing shareholders, letting them decide whether to hold the stock and stick with the Nook or sell.

 

Barnes and Noble may spin off Nook

Thu, 2014-12-04 11:00

If someone were to pen the story of Barnes & Noble today, booksellers would probably file it under mystery.

There’s long been talk about whether or not Barnes & Noble will split itself into two companies, likely with its retail books division on one side and the Nook – its long-suffering e-reader – on the other. That path might have become a bit clearer Thursday, as Barnes & Noble announced it would buy back Microsoft's roughly 17 percent stake in Nook.

But John Tinker, an analyst with investment bank and brokerage firm Maxim, says it’s still unclear if and how the company might divide itself. Barnes & Noble is currently made up of retail stores, a series of college bookstores and a large equity interest in Nook, which is both a hardware company and a software company.

When a company wants to shed a division, it generally has three options: liquidate it, sell it, or spin it off. University of Pennsylvania professor Emilie Feldman says the Nook still has some value, though finding a buyer could be tough. Spin-offs have become popular lately, she says, citing examples like HP, eBay, and Symantec.

Investors often push for spin-offs when companies have divisions with very different growth trajectories, competitors or paths forward, Feldman says. If Barnes & Noble did spin off the Nook, it’d likely issue new stock in separate company to existing shareholders, letting them decide whether to hold the stock and stick with the Nook or sell.

 

The baby bust: U.S. births at record low

Thu, 2014-12-04 11:00

In terms of things to worry about, the U.S. economy already has its share of concerns. Well, add one more to that list: not enough babies.

The U.S. fertility rate is at an all-time low, and doesn’t show signs of rebounding any time soon. In fact, women have never had so few children in the history of the U.S. The tipping point is a term called, “replacement level fertility,” — demographer-speak for the number necessary to replace you, and your partner, i.e., two babies.

And for the longest time that rate was sitting comfortably at about 2.1, until recently.

"So, that's kind of the magic number and over the past several years we've actually dipped below that 2.1, we're now at around 1.9 births per woman," says Mark Mather, a demographer at the Population Reference Bureau.

Mather says many young people might still be feeling the pinch of the Great Recession and have just stopped having children.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Another factor in holding down birth rates could be the simple fact that many more women are primary bread-winners, and are unwilling to pay the opportunity cost of dropping out to have children. “As more and more women are entering the workforce, we'd expect fertility rates to stay at pretty low levels and I don't see any signs of that slowing down in the future,” says Mather.

An aging work force, a drop-off in consumer spending, everything from onesies to college tuition — these just a few negative economic impacts of the baby bust. 

But how much should we really worry?

“I don't think it's an economic disaster but it does create challenges, “says David Lam, an Economist at the University of Michigan’s Population Studies Center. The theory, says Lam, is that as economic conditions improve, people will start having more babies.  But even if we don’t, many other wealthy economies are doing just fine.

“You know, Germany is doing quite well right now economically, relatively speaking, with a lower fertility rate than we have,” he says. 

And if economic incentives to get in a family don't come about, immigration is a button policy makers might still push to help drive the recovery.

Millions are paid less than minimum wage, study says

Thu, 2014-12-04 09:12

A Labor Department-commissioned study found 3.5 to 6.5 percent of wage and salary workers in California and New York are paid less than minimum wage.

"More than 2 million workers are not paid the minimum wage every week, and that’s out of 150 million workers in the workforce," says Steven Greenhouse, labor and workplace reporter for the New York Times. 

The study is based on 2011 data, when the minimum wage in both states was lower than they are now. The study says 11 percent of low-wage workers suffered minimum-wage violations.

"The industry with the worse minimum-wage violations is leisure hospitality, meaning restaurants and hotels," Greenhouse says. "followed by healthcare, education and retail."

Some workers are denied overtime pay while some employers simply do not pay their employees for the full number of hours that they worked, which results in them being paid less than minimum wage.

"I've done front-page stories for the Times about companies that go into the computer to erase hours that people work," says Greenhouse. "Oftentimes, workers don't even recognize that because they don't do a very good job keeping track of how many hours they work."

Quiz: Does hitting the books in summer pay off?

Thu, 2014-12-04 04:40

A new study in The National Bureau of Economic Research shows summer reading programs have little effect on test scores for most students.

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PODCAST: The simple solution to healthcare

Thu, 2014-12-04 03:00

The focus of market players today was a media briefing by the head of the European Central bank, who is trying to cope with some big economies that are flagging including France, Germany, Italy.  Beyond news the ECB will leave interest rates unchanged at near zero, the question is what about quantitative easing. More on that. And one reason why healthcare spending continues to rise is that patients and prescribing doctors often favor the shiniest new treatments. But the Peterson Center on Healthcare - which launches today - has this notion that there's a solution for better care and lower costs that's hidden plain sight. Plus, don't you hate it at the Kansas-Nebraska or Ohio-Kentucky borders, waiting in line to show your passport, get your visa and schlep your stuff through customs? All right, it hasn't gotten that far yet, but free trade does not exist between the American states. We look at why.

Colleges pledge to graduate more low-income students

Thu, 2014-12-04 02:00

Hundreds of college leaders gathered in Washington, D.C. Thursday, armed with ideas to tackle one of higher education’s thorniest issues.  Just 1 in 10 people from low-income families has a college degree by age 25, according to the White House,  compared to half of people from wealthier families.

This is the second summit the Obama Administration has held this year that focuses on getting more low-income kids across the college finish line.  

Among the participants is Pat McGuire, president of Trinity Washington University, in Washington, D.C., where only around 35-40 percent of the school’s low-income students graduate on time. The college aims to raise that to 60 percent.  

One step is a new partnership with D.C. Public Schools to better prepare students in math.

“We get a lot of students who want to be nurses, but they have no idea how much math and science nurses have to have, so they’re unable to do well in those courses,” McGuire says. “If we could prepare students better starting in middle school and high school, we’d have better completion rates in college.”

Other initiatives announced today focus on improving college counseling in high schools, where the average counselor serves hundreds of students and has little training in college advising.

“Often school counselors only have their own personal experience to draw from,” says Alice Anne Bailey with the Southern Regional Education Board, a nonprofit group that works with southern states to improve public education.

The group’s College and Career Counseling Initiative trains school counselors in 14 states to help students through the process of preparing for and applying to college. Today the group announced an expansion of that program.

At the college level, leaders pledged to work together to help students graduate once they get in the door. The University Innovation Alliance, a group of 11 public research universities, pledged to graduate an additional 68,000 students in the next decade.

The alliance was created to share ideas, says Mark Becker, president of Georgia State University.  

“We’re trying to actually produce real evidence of what works, as opposed to just doing this shotgun approach of everybody’s going to make a commitment and try something,” Becker says.

One approach that’s catching on: big data.

In a little over a decade, Georgia State has raised its graduation rate from around 30 percent to more than 50 percent, Becker says, partly by analyzing patterns to predict which students are at risk of dropping out, and then stepping in to help them. 

A separate group of 14 state college and university systems also plans to use so-called predictive analytics to help students stay on track, according to the White House.

Trinity Washington University’s Pat McGuire had been critical of the Obama Administration’s previous efforts. The first summit in January favored Ivy League colleges and other elite schools, she says.

 “Just because a school is wealthy and prestigious doesn’t mean they’ll do a good job with a low-income student,” says McGuire. 

And just because hundreds of college leaders pledge to improve college completion rates doesn't mean it will be easy to move the needle.

The issues that get between students and college degrees have never been more complex or expensive to resolve. 

Colleges pledge to graduate more low-income students

Thu, 2014-12-04 02:00

Hundreds of college leaders gathered in Washington, D.C. Thursday, armed with ideas to tackle one of higher education’s thorniest issues.  Just 1 in 10 people from low-income families has a college degree by age 25, according to the White House,  compared to half of people from wealthier families.

This is the second summit the Obama Administration has held this year that focuses on getting more low-income kids across the college finish line.  

Among the participants is Pat McGuire, president of Trinity Washington University, in Washington, D.C., where only around 35-40 percent of the school’s low-income students graduate on time. The college aims to raise that to 60 percent.  

One step is a new partnership with D.C. Public Schools to better prepare students in math.

“We get a lot of students who want to be nurses, but they have no idea how much math and science nurses have to have, so they’re unable to do well in those courses,” McGuire says. “If we could prepare students better starting in middle school and high school, we’d have better completion rates in college.”

Other initiatives announced today focus on improving college counseling in high schools, where the average counselor serves hundreds of students and has little training in college advising.

“Often school counselors only have their own personal experience to draw from,” says Alice Anne Bailey with the Southern Regional Education Board, a nonprofit group that works with southern states to improve public education.

The group’s College and Career Counseling Initiative trains school counselors in 14 states to help students through the process of preparing for and applying to college. Today the group announced an expansion of that program.

At the college level, leaders pledged to work together to help students graduate once they get in the door. The University Innovation Alliance, a group of 11 public research universities, pledged to graduate an additional 68,000 students in the next decade.

The alliance was created to share ideas, says Mark Becker, president of Georgia State University.  

“We’re trying to actually produce real evidence of what works, as opposed to just doing this shotgun approach of everybody’s going to make a commitment and try something,” Becker says.

One approach that’s catching on: big data.

In a little over a decade, Georgia State has raised its graduation rate from around 30 percent to more than 50 percent, Becker says, partly by analyzing patterns to predict which students are at risk of dropping out, and then stepping in to help them. 

A separate group of 14 state college and university systems also plans to use so-called predictive analytics to help students stay on track, according to the White House.

Trinity Washington University’s Pat McGuire had been critical of the Obama Administration’s previous efforts. The first summit in January favored Ivy League colleges and other elite schools, she says.

 “Just because a school is wealthy and prestigious doesn’t mean they’ll do a good job with a low-income student,” says McGuire. 

And just because hundreds of college leaders pledge to improve college completion rates doesn't mean it will be easy to move the needle.

The issues that get between students and college degrees have never been more complex or expensive to resolve. 

NASA's unmanned test flight is a step toward Mars

Thu, 2014-12-04 02:00

The spacecraft Orion was set to launch on Thursday after 10 years of planning, though it was eventually scrubbed due to weather conditions and issues with rocket valves.

The idea behind Orion is to eventually get astronauts all the way to Mars.

But a successful launch would also symbolize NASA’s exit from the more mundane aspects of space travel.

In 1972, President Richard Nixon predicted the space shuttle would “revolutionize transportation into near space by routinizing it,” and that is what happened.

Phil McAlister, director of commercial space flight at NASA, said "it’s still very hard to do, but it had become a little routine over the years.”

So routine that the shuttle program was axed, and we now pay Russia over $70 million each time we put an astronaut in their Soyuz craft for a ride to the International Space Station. It’s a relationship so far unsoured by growing U.S.-Russia friction.

"I think for now, we have seen space be outside of those normal political tensions, and I think that's really good," McAlister says.

Private American companies like SpaceX hope to send humans to the ISS, just 260 miles above us, for a fraction of the cost. Doug Stanley, the President of the National Institute of Aerospace says an Orion mission to Mars, which is tens of millions of miles away, is still very much a galactic dream.

"The biggest problem we have now is not just funding, but a lack of direction and decision-making and leadership," says Stanley.

To say nothing of the nonexistent pressure from the public.

The solution to rising healthcare costs could be simple

Thu, 2014-12-04 02:00

One reason why healthcare spending continues climbing is our fascination with all that’s shiny and new—the blockbuster drug and the latest in laser surgery.

But what if the key to improving health and lowering cost is hidden in plain sight?

The Peterson Center on Healthcare — which is launching Thursday — thinks that is the case.  

To that end, the Center will act like some crusty, old baseball scout freezing his tuchus off on the bleachers.

They'll be hunting for high quality/low cost best practices, says Executive Director Jeffrey Selberg.

“The question is finding them, validating them and then figuring out how to facilitate the rapid adoption across the country,” he says.

Selberg says the Institute of Medicine has found it takes 17 years to spread a good idea across healthcare.

With $200 million from its parent, the Peterson Foundation, the Center promises to speed that up, and help make adoption easy.  

Avalere Health’s Dan Mendelson says the Center comes at an opportune time.

“There is really no consensus right now on what to do about the cost issue and how the system needs to be changed to improve quality and reduce costs simultaneously,” he says.

To avoid being just the latest in a long line of shiny new things, the Center must do what many have struggled to do before, get good ideas to stick.

She's got a really expensive ticket to ride

Thu, 2014-12-04 02:00
0.05%

On Thursday morning, the European Central Bank announced it would keep its main interest rate at 0.05%, as reported by the Wall Street Journal. The announcement keeps the interest rate at a record low.

9

The number of notable deaths involving New York City police, of the 12 since 1990 examined by the New York Times, in which officers were cleared of all charges. One of those cases involved Eric Garner. A Staten Island grand jury declined Wednesday to charge the officer who put Garner in the choke hold that lead to his death, spurring protests throughout the city.

$200 million

That's how much funding the Peterson Center on Healthcare, which launches Thursday, has received from its parent organization. With healthcare costs on the rise, the Center believes the solution might be pretty simple. Their goal is to find high quality/low cost best practices, and then adopt their usage across the country.

41 percent

The portion of Staten Islanders supported criminal charges in Garner's death, compared to 64 percent in the rest of New York City. That's according to a survey featured on FiveThirtyEight, which also found Staten Island residents were more supportive of police overall, and about 60 percent of those surveyed felt officers treated people of all races equally. Just 31 percent of people from the other four boroughs agreed.

$70 million

The U.S. Space Program now pays Russia over $70 million each time an astronaut catches a ride in their Soyuz craft to the International Space Station.

$.10

That's about what charitable organizations pay about a pound of surplus food, compared to $2 for the same food at retail, Slate reported. That's one of many efficiencies in holiday food drives: sorting and inspecting all those cans consumes more resources than the food itself saves, and a lot of the food ends up going uneaten anyway. Overall, you might be better off donating money. 

1

That's the number of people in North Korea allowed to have the name "Jong-un," according to the New York Times. Anyone with that given name has had to give it up since Kim Jong-un came to power in 2011.

Robots invade holidays ... but don't take over

Wed, 2014-12-03 13:56

When it comes to this holiday season, the future is now.

"We've been talking about robot helpers in the home for decades.... And we're kind of finally getting there," says Marketplace Tech host Ben Johnson.

A company called ECOVACS recently sold 70,000 robotic vacuums in one day. What's more, Amazon will use its new Kiva robots to help ship packages on time this holiday season.

But that doesn't mean robots are ready to take over yet. According to Johnson, artificial intelligence just isn't there yet. Just ask Ryan Calo at the University of Washington.

"It is a non-trivial task for the robot even to understand what is a part of your desk," Calo says.

If robots can't figure out how to organize your desk, we probably don't need to worry about the robot apocalypse just yet.

Who's coming home for the holidays? Robots

Wed, 2014-12-03 13:56

The bulk of the holiday season is in the future, but it's also in the future.

"We've been talking about robot helpers in the home for decades... And we're kind of finally getting there," says Marketplace Tech host Ben Johnson.

A company called ECOVACS recently sold 70,000 robotic vacuums in one day. What's more, Amazon will use their new Kiva robots to help ship packages on time this holiday season.

But that doesn't mean robots are ready to take over yet. According to Johnson, artificial intelligence just isn't there yet. Just ask Ryan Calo at the University of Washington.

"It is a non-trivial task for the robot even to understand what is a part of your desk," Calo says.

If robots can't figure out how to organize your desk, we probably don't need to worry about the robot apocalypse just yet.

York & Fig: The House on Meridian Street

Wed, 2014-12-03 11:02

Gentrification often comes with, well, let's call 'em "uncomfortable feelings." There can be a kind of culture clash between the people who lived in the neighborhood before it was hot, and the new folks moving in  — who often have more money and different tastes.

As neighborhoods gentrify, house prices rise. Some homeowners take advantage and cash out, while others buy high. 

Marketplace's Noel King has been looking at this dynamic at a house on Meridian Street in Highland Park. with three "generations" of owners going back 25 years.

 

 

Inside the 'investor economy'

Wed, 2014-12-03 11:00

What do record amounts of corporate debt, a continuing rally of American stocks and a precipitous decline in commodity prices all have in common? Investors. 

Marilyn Cohen of Envision Capital Management says low interest rates have been great for bond sellers and haven't scared away bond buyers. Alex Bryan at Morningstar investment research says commodities are a different story – with oil falling, they look a little scary right now. And Quincy Krosby, a market strategist for Prudential Financial,  says the portfolio rebalancing that happens between these asset classes also happens between stocks, at the end of every year.

 

Highlights from the Fed's beige book

Wed, 2014-12-03 11:00

The Federal Reserve released the beige book today, which is its periodic look at the U.S. economy on a regional basis, released eight time per year.

There are always great tidbits in there that the Wall Street Journal pulls out so we don't have to.

Here are some highlights:

  • In Pennsylvania, analysts said this may be the first year in which a majority of households eat their turkey and pumpkin pie at restaurants rather than at home.
  • Logistics and delivery companies in the Atlanta region said recent growth was driven mostly by e-commerce. Duh.
  • And average daily hotel room rates in Southern California are back to where they were before the recession, but holiday bookings by Western Europeans are down from last year.

Come on, how could you not love the Fed?

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