Marketplace - American Public Media

Why it's hard times for citrus growers

Wed, 2014-12-31 11:13

Marketplace's David Gura checked in with citrus grower Mark Wheeler, CFO of Wheeler Farms in Lake Placid, Fla.

What difficulties are facing Wheeler's industry? For one, there's citrus greening, a deadly tree disease. "We're basically scouting aggressively for the little critters that spread the disease, the Asian citrus psyllid," Wheeler says. "We've got the research foundations desperately looking for a cure."

But it's not just tree diseases Wheeler has to deal with, competition in the beverage aisle also makes things difficult. "It's tough because a lot of times we're dealing with stuff that's, basically, colored sugar water that we've got to compete with," Wheeler says. "And the inputs into those products are much cheaper than what OJ is."

 

A New Year's Eve history lesson

Wed, 2014-12-31 11:00

People across the country will ring in the New Year watching television – and the ball drop in Times Square, a New York City tradition that dates to 1904, according to a story in Mental Floss magazine.

The first party was held at the behest of the New York Times publisher, who also picked up the tab for the event. There were fireworks and some 200,000 partygoers. But a few years later New York banned the fireworks, leading to perhaps the most famous New Year's tradition: the ball drop.

The first ball had 100 25-watt light bulbs. Tonight's light count totals 32,256.

 

Lean times for the weight-loss industry

Wed, 2014-12-31 11:00

Established weight-loss companies are facing competition from upstart businesses even as they lose customers to changing tastes. Industry watchers say 2015 will be the year that many diet companies ditch celebrity endorsements, and instead focus on the weight-loss struggles of ordinary people. Those seeking to lose weight are increasingly forgoing foods labeled "diet." Many are turning toward licensed professionals for counseling in behavior modification, a shift that some say is attributable to the Affordable Care Act, which requires most insurers to address obesity. 

Marketplace's most popular stories in 2014

Wed, 2014-12-31 10:49
2014 saw big stock market gains, a large drop in oil prices, and the lowest unemployment rate since the recession.

But, which stories did Marketplace readers visit the most?

1. What happens at Netflix when House of Cards goes live

Is cable dead?: Netflix continued its push toward original content, with "Marco Polo," "BoJack Horseman," and new seasons of "Orange Is the New Black" and "Arrested Development."

What happens inside of Netflix HQ when its first original series, "House of Cards," releases its anticipated second season at midnight?

2. You Hate My Job: Football referee (plus, a ref quiz!)

Pretty sure that's a penalty: Despite nearly two decades of experience, retired NFL referee Bill Carollo says the job was always nerve-wracking: “If you say that you’re not nervous, you’re probably kidding yourself – and you probably aren't really prepared."

Carollo recalls one controversial decision in a playoff game that ruled against Tampa Bay's football team. The call resulted in “200 calls [to] my house. I’m unlisted. 15 to 16 people were arrested for death threats. I had to pull my kids out of school. And that’s when [I made] the right call."

3. Why are sticks of butter long and skinny in the East, but short and fat in the West?

Butter cubed: Bonnie Robinson Beck from Larchmont, New York, has always wondered why butter cubes are long and skinny in the east, and short and squat in the west.

Until we fielded this question, we had no idea an unspoken butter battle drew a border between the two halves of America. But when we explored the answer, we found out there's pretty much an expert for everything.

4.How an HBCU with 35 students keeps its doors open

Almost a ghost college: If historically black colleges and universities are an endangered species, Morris Brown College in Atlanta, Georgia, could be closest to extinction. Most buildings on its campus are now boarded up and abandoned.

Before the school lost accreditation in 2003, a few thousand students were enrolled at Morris Brown. But almost overnight, most fled out of fear their degree would carry no weight. Today, only 35 students remain enrolled.

5. The British have solved unemployment, once and for all

The solution to all of our problems: Roll this one idea out into the economy and everyone who wants to have a job would get a job. If it works as promised, not just Britain but the rest of the developed world including the U.S., could have full employment.

Outsourcing of jobs to poorer parts of the world? No problem. Robots and algorithms taking away human jobs, not to worry. And what is this device that would solve what is one of the greatest and most persistent economic problems?

Well, it is not a device in the sense of an electronic contraption. But it is a mechanism, a policy mechanism that is being put forth by experts at the New Economics Foundation in London, among others.

Here's the idea: the 21-hour work week.

6. Silicon Valley has a dress code? You better believe it

Strictly casual: Silicon Valley is known for its 'casual' dress, which means T-shirts, jeans and sneakers. But don't be fooled, techies care a lot more about appearances than they let on. Put another way, there’s a lot of code in the Silicon Valley dress code.

7.Why women's pockets are useless: A history

The purse lobby is stronger than you could have ever imagined: The iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus descended upon society in 2014. Amid loving descriptions of its crisp camera, its intuitive operating system and the near-reverence for its sleek lines, one question (quite literally) looms large: Is the bigger iPhone 6 Plus a "pocketable" size?

There's one problem: Women's pockets have always had a history of being unable to hold a phone, or much else, for a long, long time.

8. Two obsessed guys and a radical motorcycle design

Zen and the art of motorcycle designing: Ten years ago, J.T. Nesbitt was one of the top motorcycle designers in the world. His picture graced the cover of magazines. Celebrities sought out his extravagantly expensive machines. But in 2005, while he was visiting a prince in the Middle East, hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans and destroyed Confederate Motorcycles, the company that built Nesbitt’s bikes.

Seven years later, his career hadn’t recovered. He was about to take a job waiting tables in the French Quarter, when a stranger showed up on his doorstep and turned his life upside down.

9.Why do gas prices end in 9/10 of a cent?

...and everything else you've ever wondered about gas stations.



Nine-tenths of the answer: To answer the most wondered-about question in the history of "I've Always Wondered" (seriously, like 15 people asked), we headed to Three Lakes, Wisconsin, to meet with Ed Jacobsen (known as "Jake, the Oil Guy"). Jacobsen worked for Esso and then bought a half-dozen gas stations he ran for decades. Now, he runs the Northwoods Petroleum Museum — a collection of at least 4,000 items, from drill bits to vintage gas pumps to antique oil company freebies.

"We have to go way back to when the oil companies were selling gas for, let’s say, 15 cents, and then the state and federal boards decided they wanted a piece of that to keep the roads going, so they added 3/10 of a cent. And the oil companies said, ‘Well, we’re not going to eat that,’ so they passed that on to the public." Raising prices a penny would have been disastrous when gas only cost $0.15. But why has it stick around?

10.Making it to the 1 percent is more common than you think

The 1 in 100: Back when the Occupy Wall Street movement chanted “We are the 99 percent,” author Mark Rank got curious about some of the assumptions buried in that chant. Who exactly is the 99 percent? And what’s their relationship to that remaining, increasingly notorious 1 percent?

Small investors still skipping stocks

Wed, 2014-12-31 08:41

Every year, Bankrate.com takes the pulse of average Americans with a survey, called the financial security index. And every year since the financial crisis, people have said they’re staying away from stocks, even as the markets rose.

“Risk aversion among individual investors still remains very, very high,” says Greg McBride, Bankrate’s chief financial analyst. 

Seventy-three percent of the people interviewed for the 2014 survey said they were not more inclined to invest in stocks. McBride says usually at this point in a financial recovery, small investors do flock back to the markets, but not this time.

“They bought in right before the market peak in 2000, they sold out at the bottom, got back in and then got burned again," McBride says. "And a lot of those individual investors simply have never come back to the equity markets.”

There can be consequences for investors who stay out of stocks, because, historically, the markets have been your best investment for retirement. 

“You’ve got two choices" if you skip stocks, says Stuart Ritter, a senior financial planner with T Rowe Price. "One, you need to save more to make up for the earnings you’re not getting, or two, you need to recognize you’re going to have a smaller balance, and a lower lifestyle in retirement.”

Ritter says over every 15-year-period since 1926, the S&P 500 has gone up.

He says your best strategy is to ride out the short-term ups and downs, and invest for the long term.

Quiz: The most popular Advanced Placement classes

Wed, 2014-12-31 04:49

There are more than 30 AP courses, but not all of them are widely offered.

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PODCAST: AirTran gets grounded

Wed, 2014-12-31 03:00

The perils of predicting interest rates on New Year's Eve. And more than marking the new year, tonight will also be the most expensive night to take an Uber. More on that. Plus, for nearly two decades, AirTran Airways has been the "scrappy" airline. It consistently did more with less, kept airfares in check, and thrived even when other airlines went bankrupt. AirTran flew for the final time Sunday night. It's been a slow process merging with Southwest Airlines; almost five years now. So what will Southwest do to keep the AirTran-spirit alive?

PODCAST: AirTrans gets grounded

Wed, 2014-12-31 03:00

The perils of predicting interest rates on New Year's Eve. And more than marking the new year, tonight will also be the most expensive night to take an Uber. More on that. Plus, for nearly two decades, AirTran Airways has been the "scrappy" airline. It consistently did more with less, kept airfares in check, and thrived even when other airlines went bankrupt. AirTran flew for the final time Sunday night. It's been a slow process merging with Southwest Airlines; almost five years now. So what will Southwest do to keep the AirTranspirit alive?

AirTran Folds its wings

Wed, 2014-12-31 02:02

It’s taken nearly four years, but Southwest Airlines Sunday completed its $1.4-billion acquisition of AirTran Airways with one last flight.

Cheers erupted as AirTran’s Boeing 717 took off Sunday from Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport bound for Tampa. AirTran Flight 1 was long sold out, and more than 800 hopeful travelers added their names to the standby list. 

Southwest’s Bob Jordan has been running AirTran’s operations for the past few years.  Over a scratchy PA system, he thanked AirTran’s employees. 

“This is awesome. It’s a fantastic way to commemorate this last flight, and a fantastic way to move forward as one awesome company,” he said. 

The journey traced ValuJet’s 1993 inaugural flight. After a deadly crash in the Florida Everglades in 1998, ValuJet struggled to survive. It eventually re-emerged as AirTran. 

Trish Krider worked as a flight attendant under both names. She says AirTran’s final moment is a proud one. 

“The fact we fought from ValuJet all the way to where we are, to be a company that Southwest wanted to own, is just the most amazing, amazing experience,” Krider said after the flight landed in Tampa. 

By airline standards, Southwest’s merger with AirTran was smooth. For one thing, there were no layoffs. 

AirTran flight attendant Tana Thomas says the airlines’ family-like corporate cultures were a lot alike. And that helped. 

“I see their scrappiness being one and the same,” she said. “It’s like they’re on full-throttle.” 

The merger allowed Southwest access to key markets, like Washington-National and Atlanta. The merger also opened up international routes for the first time. 

And although it’s been a long merger, it’s proving to be a profitable one. Air Transport World just named Southwest its airline of the year. And the Dallas-based carrier’s stock was the year’s best performer on the S&P 500.

Catching an Uber on New Year's Eve? It'll cost you.

Wed, 2014-12-31 02:00

Uber expects to be busy New Year's Eve, and its policy of raising rates when demand is high, or surge pricing, is economics 101. Low demand leads to lower prices. Higher demand means a company can jack up prices and customers will still pay.

Defenders of the surge pricing policy say Uber is transparent, warning riders that getting from point A to point B will cost them more. Still, the concept is a new one for many people,so even if there's no trickery involved, there's still likely to be pushback from frustrated users whocan't understand why their car delivery service raises prices, right when they most need a ride.

Click the media player above to hear more.

Uber surges for New Year's Eve

Wed, 2014-12-31 02:00

Uber expects to be busy New Year's Eve, and its policy of raising rates when demand is high, or surge pricing, is economics 101. Low demand leads to lower prices. Higher demand means a company can jack up prices and customers will still pay.

Defenders of the surge pricing policy say Uber is transparent, warning riders that getting from point A to point B will cost them more. Still, the concept is a new one for many people, and so even if there's no trickery involved, there's still likely to be pushback from frustrated users who just can't understand why their car delivery service raises prices, right when they most need a ride.

Click the media player above to hear more.

American Apparel closes a challenging year

Wed, 2014-12-31 02:00

American Apparel once stood for some combination of sexy, creepy, and made-in-the-USA. But after a year of flat sales, the company is making some changes, at least at the top. As of January 5, the company will have a new CEO, as its infamous self-proclaimed "dirty guy" was fired after a long string of harassment allegations (and flat sales). And now hedge fund Lion Capital is reportedly pushing the company to find a new owner. But can a change at the top alter the brand's bottom line? 

Marshal Cohen, chief retail analyst at the NPD Group, says it faces new competition in the "fashionable basics" category. And Jennifer Black, CEO of Jennifer Black & Associates, says to succeed in this new environment will take both low prices and to nail the next fashion trend.

Click the media player above to hear more.

Doing the numbers on New Years Eve

Wed, 2014-12-31 01:30
11,875 pounds

The weight of the ball set to drop in Times Square at midnight. This year's time ball is decorated with 32,256 light bulbs, compared to 100 on the first ball to drop in New York back in 1907.

3,000 pounds

Speaking of Times Square, that's how much confetti will be thrown out when that ball drops.

19

That's how many cities allow public drinking in some fashion, including New Orleans; Lincoln, Nebraska; Las Vegas and Erie, Pennsylvania. The Huffington Post has a map and a history of public drinking laws in the U.S.

Courtesy:Huffington Post 50x

That's Uber's maximum surge pricing multiplier. It's a ceiling they've never actually hit, save for one experiment in Sweden. Still, the car service expects Wednesday night to be among its busiest ever, and the company advises requesting a ride before midnight or after 2:30 a.m. to avoid peak rates.

71.2 percent

The portion of Jawbone Up fitness tracker users who are awake at midnight on New Year's, lower than most other countries with a high number of Up users.

$7.3 billion

That's how much ESPN is paying to broadcast seven college football playoff games a year over 12 years. The first in 2015 is the Rose Bowl, starting at 5 p.m. Thursday. 

Who's the real-life inspiration for L.A. noir?

Tue, 2014-12-30 13:56

Who was Samuel Marlowe? That's something Los Angeles Times writer Daniel Miller spent a year trying to find out. 

A Jamaican immigrant, Marlowe fought in World War I. After settling in Los Angeles, he became one of California's first African-American private detectives, frequenting the speak-easies of 1930s L.A. and getting private investigative work from the Hollywood studios.

If Marlowe is starting to sound like a real-life noir character, it's because he probably is. Miller thinks Marlowe was friends with LA noir writers Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett, whose novels seem to immortalize him in fiction.

"One of the best examples is a claim that Dashiell Hammett sent an early draft of a story called 'Night Shade' to Samuel Marlowe," Miller says.

But Miller's detective work on Marlowe ultimately has no conclusion. Many of the records that might have proven when Marlowe started as a PI are lost, and Hammett and Chandler aren't around to reveal their artistic inspirations.

As Miller says "Noir stories, they don't always end tidily, with all the loose ends tied up." 

Fuhu: The company that grew 158,000 percent in 2014

Tue, 2014-12-30 11:00

Fuhu, maker of the Nabi tablet for kids, is growing fast.

"Last year, I would estimate it at 158,000 percent growth," says Fuhu CEO Jim Mitchell. "When a company is growing this fast, you're constantly running and you're running at full speed," he says. 

But Mitchell and Fuhu co-founder Robb Fujioka say they don't want their company to lose its entrepreneurial spirit, its startup mentality amid all the expansion. 

"When you look at big corporations, they are really made to have measured growth and to have measured losses. We're not really built that way," Fujioka says.

And there's another way Fuhu differs from your everyday corporation: Its conference room.

"In the middle, instead of an open space, it's a big ball pit, with thousands and thousands of red balls that you might see, like, if you were at a McDonald's or something like that," Mitchell says.

Fujioka's son came up with the idea for the ball pit idea and, in the end, it made sense for the company to get playful with its conference room. With the ball pit, Fujioka says he wants to, "remind everybody that they're in a company that was made for kids."

 

Fuhu: The company that grew 158,000 percent in 2014

Tue, 2014-12-30 11:00

Fuhu, maker of the Nabi tablet for kids, is growing fast.

"Last year, I would estimate it at 158,000 percent growth," says Fuhu CEO Jim Mitchell. "When a company is growing this fast, you're constantly running and you're running at full speed," he says. 

But Mitchell and Fuhu co-founder Robb Fujioka say they don't want their company to lose its entrepreneurial spirit, its startup mentality amid all the expansion. 

"When you look at big corporations, they are really made to have measured growth and to have measured losses. We're not really built that way," Fujioka says.

And there's another way Fuhu differs from your everyday corporation: Its conference room.

"In the middle, instead of an open space, it's a big ball pit, with thousands and thousands of red balls that you might see, like, if you were at a McDonald's or something like that," Mitchell says.

Fujioka's son came up with the idea for the ball pit idea and, in the end, it made sense for the company to get playful with its conference room. With the ball pit, Fujioka says he wants to, "remind everybody that they're in a company that was made for kids."

 

Fuhu: The company that grew 158,000% in 2014

Tue, 2014-12-30 11:00

Fuhu, maker of the Nabi tablet for kids, is growing fast.

"I think last year, I would estimate it at 158,000 percent growth," says Fuhu CEO Jim Mitchell. "When a company is growing this fast, you're constantly running and you're running at full speed," he says. 

But Mitchell and Fuhu co-founder Robb Fujioka say they don't want to see their company lose its entrepreneurial spirit, its startup mentality amid all the expansion. 

"When you look at big corporations, they are really made to have measured growth and to have measured losses. We're not really built that way," Fujioka says.

And there's another way in which Fuhu differs from your everyday corporation: their conference room.

"In the middle, instead of an open space, it's a big ball pit, with thousands and thousands of red balls that you might see like if you were at a McDonalds or something like that," Mitchell says.

It was Fujioka's son who came up with the ball pit idea, but, in the end, it made sense for the company to get playful with their conference room. With the ball pit, Fujioka says he wants to, "... remind everybody that they're in a company that was made for kids."

 

Estimating costs and benefits of the auto bailout

Tue, 2014-12-30 11:00

Remember the 2008 auto bailouts?  The Treasury Department is just now closing the books on the controversial chapter by selling its last remaining stake in Ally Financial Inc., formerly known as the auto-lender GMAC.

President Obama has hailed the official end of the auto bailout as a roaring success, claiming that taxpayers recouped the $60 billion loaned out under his administration. The Treasury’s final reckoning, however, shows the bailout cost taxpayers about $9 billion, out of a total investment of around $80 billion between Presidents Bush and Obama.

But some say simply looking at money spent vs. money returned is not accurate.

“The cost of doing nothing was not free, and that’s not taken into account in the government’s $9 billion number,” says Kristin Dziczek, a director at the Center for Automotive Research in Ann Arbor. Had the government let GM and Chrysler go belly up, she says, taxpayers would be out much more than $9 billion in the form of unemployment payments and decreased tax revenue.

Dziczek says the government-led bankruptcy and bailouts ultimately saved about a million jobs and helped the companies get back on their feet much faster. 

But others say simply labeling the bailout a “success” based on the fact that GM and Chrysler are now turning profits also misses the mark. “If you call a bailout a success, then it becomes a viable option next time, and the debate over whether or not to engage in it will be stunted,” says Dan Ikenson, a trade economist at the Cato Institute, a free-market think tank.

Ikenson says the bailouts effectively robbed Ford, Honda and other automakers of the spoils of capitalist success, and that future bailouts will likely follow.

Economists might have a sense of humor after all

Tue, 2014-12-30 11:00

Economists have a reputation for being a relatively serious lot. But maybe it's time to rethink that stereotype.

At next week's meeting of the American Economics Association in Boston, there will be a panel called the 7th Annual AEA Economics Humor Session.

Among the papers that'll be presented is one titled "A Few Goodmen: Surname-Sharing Economist Coauthors." It's written by four non-related economists ... all with the last name Goodman.

"Our main contribution is showing that such a collaboration is feasible," they write. 

Why AirAsia insurance payouts could vary

Tue, 2014-12-30 11:00

The CEO of AirAsia today pledged compensation for the persons aboard flight 8501, but the amount that families of the deceased will receive could vary widely.

Indonesia has not signed the newest aviation convention setting updated payouts for deadly air disasters, so if a person's ticket starts and ends in Indonesia – where the flight took off from – the grieving family could receive less.

In reality, airlines can pay what they see fit. Very often, they make initial payouts within the first two weeks to cover funeral and other up-front family expenses.

Robert Jensen, of Kenyon International Emergency Services, says most airlines have agreed to a minimum payment, typically about $25,000. He advises a follow-up payout of at least $175,000. Insurance companies may not pay up, but the airlines should, he says.

“You take care of the people and the bottom line is always enhanced,” he says.

Moreover, the alternative could be costly litigation.

 

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