Marketplace - American Public Media

The thrill of the hunt for discount prices

Tue, 2014-11-18 10:29

The Internet can tell us how long it takes to walk the length of the Great Wall of China (10 months), how many girlfriends George Clooney has had (lots) and even how many snowflakes fall in a year (about a septillion). But consumers still can’t quickly and easily compare prices for a leather purse (big enough to tote a laptop, please) or a 10-quart aluminum stockpot.

Sure, thanks to aggregator sites like Orbitz and Cheaptickets.com, comparisons of airline tickets are easy to come by. And there’s transparency of pricing on wholesale commodities like butter, eggs and sugar. But that leaves a vast middle ground untouched. There is no Kayak9.com for teapots or women’s sweaters.

Perhaps that is because nobody — neither consumer nor retailer — wants it.

“We think we want all access, to know everything about everything in the consumer space,” said Kelly Goldsmith, an assistant professor of marketing at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University. “In reality, when we know everything about everything, it is exhausting,” she said.

Especially if consumers investigate options on their own — from new to used, vendors local to national, warranty or no. Too much information, Goldsmith said, can decrease the odds of a consumer buying anything.

There is a psychological aspect to this, too. Finding deals can make people feel good. For some shoppers, it’s about the thrill of the hunt.

“When there’s something I’ve been eyeing and I see it go on sale, it’s like God just sort of put it there for me,” said Elise Ariel, a 37-year-old legal assistant, as she shopped recently at Century 21 in Manhattan. “How do I feel about sales? Like a moth to a flame.”

And while she admitted that shopping through a price aggregator site for a new pair of pumps, as she might for airline tickets, would be better from a practical standpoint, it would mean an end to her love affair with retail. “You come across something with a little red price tag on it in a bin of God knows what. You feel like it’s destiny.”

Then there is the retailer’s perspective. Consider what happened when Ron Johnson, former chief executive of J.C. Penney, committed to transparency and predictability and decided the chain would stop running sales. Shoppers waiting for the dopamine hit that comes with the unexpected opportunity for a bargain were disappointed, and customers fled in droves.

Advertising discounts, deals and perceived steals are often how retailers get shoppers in the door in the first place, said Barbara Kahn, a professor of marketing at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. “If the sale wasn’t there, well, maybe they wouldn’t go to the store that day,” she said.

For discount chains, slashing prices is crucial and nearly constant. But for midrange retailers, the Lord & Taylors and Banana Republics of the shopping world, sales are meant to be special. Competing solely on price can lead to a downward spiral of ever-deeper discounts.

“I don’t think they want to get into this game that you can’t win,” Kahn said. “They’d rather compete on providing value to the customer.”

Even if retailers agreed that transparent pricing should be more widely available, comparing prices for multitudes of products would take a special kind of brain — one that loves spreadsheets or navigating phone trees run by the Internal Revenue Service.

“There are a limited number of products where consumers have boiled down their understanding to such a limited set of factors that they can be confident truly shopping on price,” said Robert Haslehurst, the managing director of retail practice for L.E.K. consulting, a global management consulting firm.

Take the humble T-shirt and its endless varieties. “The T-shirt from Walmart and the T-shirt from the Gap aren’t the same T-shirt, and you need to be superexpert at the construction of T-shirts, and the shipping of T-shirts and the marketing of T-shirts in order to determine if one retailer was making extra margin off of you,” said Joshua Pollack, an associate partner with the Parker Avery Group, a retail price consulting firm.

Even if you do manage to sharpen your focus — to, say, a black, short-sleeve V-neck in a polyester blend — you will wonder why it costs what it does.

Raw materials are also only one part of the equation, Haslehurst said. “There was the artist who designed it. There was the retailer you bought it from and the person who put it in front of you,” he said. “There’s value in more than just the item. There’s value in the distribution.”

And then there is the variable that retailers rely on, that different shoppers are willing to pay different prices for the same product. Take the ever-changing price of a plane ticket. “One would think that I would pay the exact same price wherever I go,” Pollack said. “But because of this price discrimination capability you actually may not.” When the airline industry first began setting prices based on when customers bought tickets or how many seats were still left, customers were furious, Pollack said. And they still are. “But despite the fact that customers hate the practice, it was so profitable for the travel industry, they just had to bear it out,” he said.

It is unlikely, Pollack said, that consumers will see complete transparency of prices, mostly because comparing products is not always as easy as Apple iPhone to Apple iPhone.

Tell that to Vivian Harrow, 46, a human resources director for a global beauty company, and odds are she won’t mind. Harrow said she enjoyed browsing and scanning, but not online and not with an app. “It’s no fun to go out, and go into a store, buy something at retail, or buy something where you know every place you go it’s going to be priced exactly the same,” she said. “There’s no challenge in that. It’s just not as much fun.”

This story is part of a collaboration between Marketplace and The New York Times called “A Guide to Buying Just About Anything.” 

Trying to outrun aging

Tue, 2014-11-18 09:57

For thousands of years, people have sought to escape or outrun their mortality with potions, pills, and elixirs, often blended with heavy doses of hope and will.

In the “Epic of Gilgamesh,” a Mesopotamian king searched for the secret of immortality after the death of his best friend. At least three Chinese emperors in the Tang dynasty died after consuming treatments containing lead and mercury that they hoped would make them immortal. In the late 19th century, a French-American physiologist seemed to have found the elixir of life by injecting the elderly and himself with extracts from animal testicles.

Despite this enduring quest, most scientists say we are no closer to eternal life today than we were all those years ago. The word “immortality” elicits a mixture of laughter and earnest explanations about the difference between science and science fiction.

Conversations about longevity, however, are an entirely different story. Researchers are optimistic about recent efforts to delay the effects of aging and, perhaps, extend life spans.

But at the same time, the scientific community is wary of how quickly these findings are packaged and resold by companies promising a fountain of youth. “It’s probably worse today than it’s ever been,” said Dr. S. Jay Olshansky, a professor in the School of Public Health at the University of Illinois at Chicago and a research associate at the Center on Aging at the University of Chicago. “As soon as the scientists publish any glimmer of hope, the hucksters jump in and start selling.”

Understanding the process of aging and developing treatments that might slow the rate at which people grow old could help doctors keep patients healthy longer. We won’t be able to stop or reverse aging, but researchers are interested in slowing down its progress, such that one year of clock time might not equal a year of biological time for the body. That could delay the onset of diseases like cancer, strokes, cardiovascular disease and dementia, which become more prevalent as people age.

“By targeting fundamental aging processes, we might be able to delay the major age-related chronic diseases instead of picking them off one at time,” said Dr. James Kirkland, a professor of aging research and head of the Robert and Arlene Kogod Center on Aging at the Mayo Clinic. “For example, we don’t want to have situation where we, say, cure cancer and then people die six months later of Alzheimer’s disease or a stroke. It would be better to delay all of these things together.”

This is where the field known as the biology of aging is moving — to develop drugs that will increase life span and what researchers refer to as health span, the period of life when people are able to live independently and free from disease.

Dr. Kirkland said at least six drugs had been written up in peer-reviewed journals and he knows of about 20 others that appear to affect life span or health span in mice. The goal is to see if those benefits can be translated into humans to increase their longevity, “to find interventions that we can use in people that might, say, make a person who’s 90 feel like they’re 60 or a person who’s 70 feel like they’re 40 or 50.”

Other researchers are studying centenarians, seeking to understand whether certain genes have carried them past 100 years old and kept them in good health.

“Everybody knows someone who’s 60 who looks like he’s 50, or someone 60 who looks 70,” said Dr. Nir Barzilai, the director of the Institute for Aging Research at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine who is currently studying centenarians and their children. “Intuitively, we understand that we age at different rates, so the question is, really, ‘What’s the biological or genetic difference between those who age quickly and those who age slowly?’” Drugs that mimic the effect of those genes might be beneficial to the rest of the population who wasn’t born with them.

Dr. Barzilai said that as a scientist his goal wasn’t to help people live longer, but to live healthier, although he does occasionally get emails from people interested in how his work might benefit their quest to live forever. He doesn’t respond — he says he has nothing to offer them.

The global anti-aging industry was worth $195 billion in 2013 and was projected to grow to $275 billion by 2020, according to the market research firm Global Industry Analysts. Products include beauty creams,  Botox,  dietary supplements and prescription medications, not all of which seek to reverse aging as much as minimize its visible effects.

Dr. Olshansky points to resveratrol supplements and human growth hormones as products that were marketed as having anti-aging benefits soon after initial scientific studies suggested promising results. But resveratrol, often made from the skin of red grapes, is still being studied and commercially available products are premature, he said. Growth hormones are a more severe risk, he said, because they can actually be dangerous for those who take them.

Dr. Barzilai noted many of the centenarians he studied had naturally lower levels or activity of growth hormones.

“We think that’s important for their survival,” he said.

Other dietary supplements promise to help consumers reverse the aging clock. Such products aren’t required to prove their effectiveness or safety with the Food and Drug Administration before their sale, although the F.D.A. can take action against products with misleading labels or that claim to treat diseases.

After being approached to sell a line of supplements, Melanie Young, a health coach who advises clients on weight and stress management, decided to try a series of products that promised to protect her body against the “ravages of aging.” She’d recently survived breast cancer and left behind a public relations and event management career. “A lot of health coaches supplement their own income by selling supplements,” she said.

She thought the company, which she didn’t want to name, had “all the right science.” But the half dozen pills she took each morning and evening didn’t improve her energy as promised; they instead left her feeling dizzy. She quickly stopped taking them and told her clients to eat a balanced diet to get the nutrition they needed.

“People are aware of the aging process and they want to interfere,” Dr. Barzilai said, but he thinks it’s a mistake to turn to Internet remedies. “Some are causing harm. Some, maybe, you couldn’t care less, and some might be even good, but we don’t know that.”

It is a message Dr. Olshansky echoes — instead of spending money on aging “fixes,” he suggests people accept the bland prescription doctors have been offering for decades: a healthy diet and exercise. “You don’t need to spend money,” he said. “Maybe a good pair of running or walking shoes would work. Exercise is roughly the only equivalent of a fountain of youth that exists today, and it’s free to everyone.”

This story is part of a collaboration between Marketplace and The New York Times called “A Guide to Buying Just About Anything.” 

Can curried crust and balsamic drizzle help Pizza Hut?

Tue, 2014-11-18 09:47

Pizza Hut, the nation’s biggest pizza chain, is overhauling its brand. There’s a new logo, a more casual uniform, and fresh leadership, but the biggest upgrade is the menu.  

Taking a hint from fast casual stars Chipotle and Chop't, Pizza Hut will allow customers to design their own pies with curry-flavored crusts and Sriracha sauce. They're doubling flavor options and going exotic. 

The question is, can those changes help Pizza Hut get back on track?  It's reported same-store sales declines for eight straight quarters, while rivals like Domino’s Pizza and Little Caesars have enjoyed gains. 

At Pizza Hut’s Plano, Texas headquarters, chief marketing officer Carrie Walsh shows off what looks like artisan pizza – a thin-crust pie with bright green spinach and red Peruvian peppers, topped with a spiral swirl of balsamic.

There are more than two dozen new ingredients on Pizza Hut’s “Flavor Of Now” menu. Customers will be able to choose flavors to brush onto crusts – like “Pretzel Piggy” and “Ginger Boom Boom”. There are four drizzles, and a skinny lineup for those seeking a lighter, healthier pie.

“In fact there are now two billion ways you can customize your pizza,” Walsh says.

Walsh says customers want flavor adventure. Why not let them play mad scientist with each pie?

“Pizza is America’s favorite food, we thought it made sense to bring new flavor experiences to pizza,” she says.

But two billion customization options is overkill, says Rich Duprey. He writes about fast-casual dining for The Motley Fool, and he's a former pizza deliveryman.

Duprey says Pizza Hut needed to sprinkle in a little spice, but not drop in the whole spice bottle.

“Sales 101 says keep it simple,” he says. “A confused mind always says no.”  

To keep out chaos behind the counter, Pizza Hut undertook its biggest training endeavor ever. Walsh is confident the plethora of new options won’t slow down service or delivery.

“We’ve been working on [rebranding] for a year,” Walsh says.

The new menu will be up in 6,000 Pizza Hut stores Wednesday.

A new product from a notorious name in entertainment

Tue, 2014-11-18 06:00

For years, the file-sharing service BitTorrent has been associated with piracy, as millions of people streamed creative content—movies, or music—for free.

Now, BitTorrent—with 170 million users—says it wants to empower artists, musicians and filmmakers.

While this is a bit ironic for some, the plan is to become a platform where musicians and others sell songs, albums and merchandise. 

The company’s Director of Content Strategy Straith Schreder says you can think of it a bit like Etsy.

“It’s built to kind of bring people together over the content and creativity that they keep in common. That’s very much our mission here,” she says.

The hope is BitTorrent's so-called ‘bundles’ —what the company calls content in this new model—will slow the piracy that’s plagued the entertainment industry; the piracy that some associate with BitTorrent.

Complete Music Update editor Chris Cooke says while it’s not clear yet how to protect artists, direct to consumer models offer some hope.

“Artists now can know pretty precisely who their core fan base are, what sort of people they are, where they live, what they like to spend money on. And then provide products and services that excite those fans,” he says.

Cooke says the music industry is just learning how to capitalize on this new model.

He says the best thing about internet is that’s its putting artists in direct relationship with their fans. 

Bob Marley family launches global pot brand

Tue, 2014-11-18 04:50

The family of Jamaican-born reggae star Bob Marley launched a first-of-its-kind global cannabis brand on Tuesday. The brand, Marley Natural, is meant for both medical and adult-recreational use (21-and-over), and will hit the market in late 2015. It is a venture of Bob Marley’s widow, Rita, who is also a reggae musician, and Marley's children and grandchildren, in partnership with Seattle-based Privateer Holdings, a leading cannabis-focused private equity firm.

Bob Marley’s name and legacy—attached to a mass-marketed global marijuana brand—could be a killer app in this booming industry. Legal marijuana sales are expected to grow from $2.4 billion in 2014 to $10 billion by 2018, according to the cannabis investment group ArcView. The meteoric growth in revenue is predicated on an expected transition of current and new cannabis consumers from purchasing marijuana on the illegal black market, to purchasing it in state-regulated and taxed retail stores and dispensaries.

However, marijuana is still illegal under federal law, and there are many obstacles to success for investors and brands. It is currently extremely difficult for cannabis-related businesses to obtain banking services, and many business expenses can’t be deducted under federal tax law. Production, processing and distribution can generally be done only within the state where the marijuana is sold. Interstate and international shipping of marijuana is not permitted.

Marley Natural products will include heirloom Jamaican cannabis strains in smokeable and vaporizable form, said Privateer CEO Brendan Kennedy in an interview at a huge  pot trade show—the Marijuana Business Conference and Expo—in Las Vegas last week. The brand also features therapeutic cannabis and hemp-infused lotions; pot paraphernalia, such as smoking implements; carrying cases and the like. The Jamaican marijuana strains offered will be similar to those Bob Marley himself favored during his life, said Kennedy, including “Lamb’s Bread” and “Pineapple Skunk.”

Marley Natural will only be available for sale in local, state, and national jurisdictions where marijuana use is legal, according to Privateer. 23 states and the District of Columbia now permit marijuana use for medical purposes; four states plus the District of Columbia have legalized recreational adult-use, including Colorado, Washington, Oregon and Alaska (the latter two by voter initiative in November 2014, with implementation pending under state law). Legalization advocates predict California, Nevada, Arizona, Missouri, Massachusetts, Maryland, Delaware, Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont and Hawaii could pass similar initiatives by 2017 (see map below). Several European countries and Uruguay also permit some legal use of marijuana.

A new online ad for Marley Natural begins with sweeping aerial views of a tropical jungle and a voiceover saying: “In Bob Marley’s vision for a better world, one united by love, respect and social justice, he advocates for the positive power of the herb,” as reggae music swells in the background. The brand's logo appears in the video; it includes an image of the Lion of Judah, a powerful spiritual symbol for the Jamaican Rastafari movement, which reveres cannabis.

“In many ways our father helped start this movement at least fifty years ago,” said Cedella Marley, Bob Marley’s daughter, in an interview before the launch. “He said it himself: ‘When you smoke the herb, it reveals you to yourself.’ So it feels very natural to us to use his voice on a global scale, getting the message across of the many benefits of cannabis.”

But even as public opinion appears to be gradually shifting toward more support of legalization for adult users, most Americans still don’t see cannabis as a beneficial recreational or mind-altering pastime. And they may not be ready for slick marketing of everything from joints, to powerful pot cookies and candies.

Rachel O’Bryan is a lawyer and mother in Denver. She co-founded the group Smart Colorado, which advocates for tighter regulation of marijuana. She said her goal is to prevent use and access by young people, as well as inappropriate marketing of edibles and other products to children.

“I think if we end up with national brands, the federal government will have no choice—there will have to be more attention on the safety of these products,” O'Bryan said.

Members of the Marley family insist their new brand is aimed at legal adult users 21-and-over, and not young people. They promise that both the labeling and the marketing will be clear on this point.

“Children like music,” said Rohan Marley, Bob Marley’s son. “But just like with other adult products—tobacco, consumption of alcohol, going to a nightclub—people have to be responsible. Our label will always gear toward adults and steer away from children. We want people to have a responsible mind, to have full knowledge, to understand the benefits of cannabis. It’s not a toy.”

States labeled 'adult use' are predicted to pass recreational marijuana legalization for adults 21 or older, or medical marijuana. As predicted, voters in Oregon, Alaska and the District of Columbia approved recreational-marijuana legalization in November 2014. Voters in Colorado and Washington State voted to legalize recreational marijuana production, distribution and retail sale in 2012.

The ArcView Group, ArcView Market Research

 

Quiz: Taken for granted

Tue, 2014-11-18 04:10

States doled out more than $9 billion in higher-ed grants during the 2012 school year, according to the National Association of State Student Grant and Aid Programs.

What percentage of state grant money awarded to students in 2012 was need-based?

PODCAST: Taxing marijuana

Tue, 2014-11-18 03:00

The people with their PhD's in economics were thinking wholesale prices would fall for October. How could they not with oil prices dropping and dropping? What happened instead today, an uptick in the producer price index. More on that. Plus, when choosing iPhone versus Android, you might see Apple and Samsung as rivals. But a deal is reportedly in the works for Samsung to once again supply most of the microchips inside Apple phones and tablets. And there's news that some cities in Oregon are looking at legal options to see if they can tax marijuana sales once recreational use becomes legal next summer. The ballot measure voters approved the other week says only the state can tax pot. 

Mapping New York's massive public wi-fi needs

Tue, 2014-11-18 02:00
10,000

The number of pay phones New York City could replace with pylons providing free public Wi-Fi and domestic calls under a new proposal called LinkNYC. The program would be the largest of its kind in the country and, the Verge notes, would provide dizzying speeds many homes don't have access to yet. The plan would be funded by advertising on the kiosks, which are projected to rake in $500 million in 12 years. It's all very ambitious, with a long road ahead.

2.5 million

That's how many children in the U.S. experience homelessness annually, according to a new study. The numbers represent a historic high and the root causes are primarily economic. In states like California that have a high cost of living, families surviving on minimum wage can't afford the average two-bedroom apartment, which generally costs $28/hour in income.

495

That's how many satellites the U.S. has in orbit, more than a third of the at least 1,200 orbiting earth right now. Using data from the Union of Concerned Scientists, Quartz has compiled massive, beautiful interactive graphic showing them all. You can watch the pace of the satellites at varying altitudes and sort them by country, purpose and more.  

3.5 years

The portion of a life sentence Lindy Chamberlain served after being wrongly convicted for killing her infant daughter in the early 1980s. New evidence came to light showing Chamberlain's claim, that little Azaria has been stolen from the family's campsite by a dingo, was actually true. Chamberlain was released, but for decades she fought public opinion, which had long condemned her, and the state, which long refused to change Azaria's official cause of death. Her struggle went largely ignored as "a dingo took my baby" became a pop culture punchline completely divorced from the tragedy. The Retro Report has a new mini documentary on the case.

$10 billion

That's how much legal marijuana sales is projected to bring in by 2018. The family of Jamaican-born reggae star Bob Marley launched a first-of-its-kind global cannabis brand on Tuesday. The late performer could become a powerful messenger for the emerging marijuana market. As his famous quote goes: "When you smoke the herb, it reveals you to yourself."

Samsung and Apple: It's complicated

Tue, 2014-11-18 02:00

We’ve been seeing reports that Apple and Samsung have reached a deal for Samsung to supply most of the chips for Apple iPhones and iPads, starting in 2016.

There's no confirmation from Apple, but there’s no denying that Samsung has been a major supplier for Apple, which could be surprising, considering they’re competitors. 

Apple and Samsung have fought in court over patents. But, like many a squabbling couple, they find they need each other.

“It’s a complicated relationship,” says Jon Erensen, research director in the semiconductor group at Gartner.   

Erensen says Samsung needs Apple because it’s a big player, ordering lots of chips. Apple needs Samsung because it can reliably spit out lots of chips for Apple products.

“They want to make sure they don’t create a bottleneck in their supply chain for a key component,” Erensen says.

But how can they be so intertwined, when they seem to hate each other? It’s simple. Samsung has compartmentalized its relationship with Apple.

“It’s different parts of Samsung," says Michael Palma, the IDC research manager for consumer semiconductors. "Samsung is a huge corporation. The chip business is run separately.”

So, while the Samsung division that sells phones may hate Apple, its chip business found a way to Apple’s heart. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The number of homeless kids is on the rise

Tue, 2014-11-18 02:00

A new report on child homelessness in America finds that 2.5 million children experience homelessness annually.

The numbers represent a historic high and the root causes are primarily economic.

The study, published by the National Center on Family Homelessness, finds that as many as one in thirty children are homeless at some time during the year, an increase of 8 percent.

“The largest group is families that are doubled up and living place-to-place. They’re moving in with families and friends, and they’re kind of moving around a lot,” says Carmela DeCandia, Director of the National Center on Family Homelessness.

DeCandia says part of the reason for the shockingly high numbers is that previous studies on child and family homelessness often didn’t count families living outside the [homeless] shelter system.

High living costs are a particular problem in California, which accounts for more than one-fifth of all homeless children in the country, nearly 527,000.

According to the report, California's high cost of living means an average two-bedroom apartment in California costs $28/hour in income.

“Which means that that even if you had two parents working at minimum wage, they would still not be able to afford that kind of apartment,” notes Colette Auerswald, a pediatrician and professor at the UC Berkeley School of Public Health. Minimum wage in California is $8/hr.

Auerswald says homeless children need to become a funding priority for state and federal agencies, much like chronically homeless adults and homeless veterans. 

Meet Generation Z

Mon, 2014-11-17 12:08
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One sure sign that college application season is in full swing at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School, outside of Washington, D.C.: Students are pouring in to the office of CollegeTracks, a program that helps students from low- and moderate-income families navigate the process.

The office is packed with students seeking help, because this generation of high school students has heard over and over again — from their parents, their teachers, their president — that college is a must.

“Nowadays you need a degree to get a good job,” says Daniel Roa, 17.

“It’s kind of something that everyone does now,” says Alexandra Haller, 18.

“That’s the extra step we need to fulfilling what we want to be when we’re older,” says Adam Mungani, 17.

These students — all seniors at Bethesda-Chevy Chase — are part of the first wave of Generation Z. If you haven’t even heard of Gen Z, don’t worry. Neither had they.

“I have no idea what that means,” says Haller, blond with pink lipstick and glasses. “The last generation?”

Gen. ZReality 42% expect to work for themselves in their career11% of working Americans are self-employed 36% expect to pay for college mainly with scholarships or grants59% of undergrads received grants in 2011 $100monthly student loan payment most students said was manageable$242average monthly student loan payment 29% consider a $100,000 annual salary rich22% of Americans earn $100,000 or more annually 17% expect to pay for college mainly with student loans67% of undergrads received loans in 2011 Source: Northeastern University

Gen Z, or the iGeneration as some have called it, refers to those born since roughly 1995. These are kids who have never known a world without the Internet and smartphones. And they’re just starting to hit college.

Marketplace teamed up with Northeastern University to survey the latest crop of college-bound teenagers, aged 16 to 19. About two-thirds of them plan to attend at least some college right out of high school.

The big question is how to pay for it. Two-thirds said they were “concerned” about being able to afford college. When I bring up the notion of loans, the students I talk to recoil.

“Last resort,” says Haller.

“It’s not worth the debt,” says Tamara King, 17, who has long hair and braces.

It’s no wonder they’re down on debt. The first wave of Gen Z watched their parents struggle through the recession. They saw older brothers and sisters graduate and not be able to get jobs.

 “Didn’t the president just finish paying off his student debt, like, a year ago?” asks King.

Actually, it was like 10 years ago. But still.

“I mean he’s the president,” she says. “In the end, it was a good result, but I wouldn’t want that.”

So where will the money come from? Almost a quarter of the students surveyed said mainly from their parents. More than a third expect grants and academic scholarships to foot most of the bill. That may be unrealistic, says Heather O’Leary, who studies Gen Z as an analyst with the higher ed research and advisory firm Eduventures.

“Our research also has shown that students are expecting an inordinate amount of merit-based and need-based scholarships, even students whose families are coming from very high income levels,” she says.

Colleges are partly to blame for the false expectations, O'Leary says, because they set high tuition prices, then compete for students by offering them discounts in the form of financial aid.

“It also falls to parents who have been telling them from a very early age they’re all very special snowflakes and they should be recognized for that individuality,” she says.

The individuals I talked to don’t expect college to come easy. They plan to work, or to save money by starting at community college. What they do expect, just like most of the kids who took the survey, is for college to prepare them for careers. They want schools to offer courses in entrepreneurship and to build in practical experience through things like internships.

Tiffany King, Tamara’s twin sister, plans to complete as many internships as possible.

“Even if you graduate and you wave around, 'Hey, I got my college degree,' where’s your experience in that field?” King says.

Despite their worries, this is a confident bunch. A striking number of them — 42 percent — plan to work for themselves during their careers. That’s nearly four times the percentage of American workers who are self-employed.

Almost two-thirds expect to be better off financially than their parents. Mungani, the son of Somali immigrants who didn’t go to college, says his generation has time.

“Our economy now will change after we graduate college,” he says. “So just keep your head high and your hopes up that you can get a job.”

Not that these kids have the luxury worry much about life after college.

“I honestly can’t think that far, because I’m worried about getting into college,” says Haller.

Tires and civil war: America's business with warlords

Mon, 2014-11-17 12:07

Back in 1926 an American named Harvey Firestone cut a deal with the government of Liberia.

The African country, which had been founded in 1847 by freed American slaves, sold Firestone a million acres of land chalk-full of rubber tree plants for just six cents an acre. The deal created the world's largest rubber tree plantation and deeply intertwined Liberia and the Firestone Tire Company. But starting in the late 1980s, the relationship became much more complicated. A series of political uprisings and coups led to the takeover of a large portion of Liberia by infamous warlord Charles Taylor. 

“Charles Taylor became the first person since Nazi Germany as a head of state to be convicted of crimes against humanity,” says T. Christian Miller, a ProPublica’s reporter who worked on the documentary “Firestone and the Warlord" with Frontline. The film focuses on a decision Firestone made after Taylor took over: the decision to go back and try to rebuild the plantation.

“This becomes a story about choices,” Miller says. “The choices that a big American corporation faces when it comes into contact with a violent guerrilla leader, which happens all the time.”

The film digs up more than 200 documents that for the first time reveal a deal cut between Firestone and Taylor to bring their business back to Liberia. To many Liberians and even some U.S. diplomats, Miller says, the deal helped fund the warlord’s rampage and reign, thereby leaving the company with blood on its hands. But Firestone insists to this day that it was just conducting business as usual.

“They would deny that,” Miller says. “They were not there to help Charles Taylor fight a war. They were there to run their business. And as part of having to run their business they had to pay taxes to the guy who was in charge. At that time Charles Taylor was in charge.”

A setback for Japan's 'Abenomics'

Mon, 2014-11-17 11:00

On Monday, Japan released gross domestic product numbers that signaled the country has officially slipped into recession. Instead of the modest economic growth that had been forecast, the economy shrank by 1.6 percent — the second consecutive quarter of contraction.

It was seen as a setback for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's "Abenomics" program. Abe's government has sought to revive the long-stagnant Japanese economy primarily through stimulus, but officials recently raised a red flag on the country's ballooning debt load. They said they needed to deal with the debt issue at the same time as the growth issue, and decided raising money by increasing the sales tax was the best approach.

It was, in a sense, the result of a treatment for one ailment (ballooning debt) exacerbating a second malaise (low growth).

"Sometimes in medical treatments there are certain kinds of medicines that are lethal in large doses but beneficial in small doses," says David Stockton, senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics. "Maybe in this case the dosage was just too hard for the patient, and the patient has relapsed now."

 The “dosage” in this case was a 5 to 8 percent increase in the sales tax, beginning in April of this year.

"Sales taxes are typically on goods," says Liz Malm, economist at the Tax Foundation research group. "You’ve got the classic law of demand kicking in here where if the price of a good goes up, you tend to get less consumption of a good."

 In Japan’s case, those goods included  durable, big-ticket items like homes.

"If you’re buying eggs every week, you’re not going to stockpile eggs, because they’re gonna go bad," says  Josh Hausman, an assistant professor of public policy at the University of Michigan.

Japanese consumption increased prior to the April tax hike, but then decreased afterward. Many economists expected this to result in contraction in the second quarter, but most expected the economy to revert to growth in the third quarter. 

"I think this sort of adds to a growing body of evidence that contractionary fiscal policy – so raising taxes or cutting spending –can be quite damaging," says Hausman. "More damaging than many economists might have expected."

 Abe is now widely expected to delay a second dose of sales tax increases scheduled for October, 2015.

How a sales tax pushed Japan into recession

Mon, 2014-11-17 11:00

On Monday, Japan released GDP numbers that signaled the country has officially slipped into recession. Instead of the modest economic growth that had been forecast, the economy shrank by 1.6 percent—the second consecutive quarter of contraction.

It was taken as a set-back for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's "Abenomics" program. Abe's government has sought to revive the long-stagnant Japanese economy primarily through stimulus, but officials recently raised a red flag on the country's ballooning debt load. They said they needed to deal with the debt issue at the same time as the growth issue, and decided raising money by increasing the sales tax was the best approach.

It was, in a sense, the result of a treatment for one ailment—ballooning debt—exacerbating a second malaise—low growth.

"Sometimes in medical treatments there are certain kinds of medicines that are lethal in large doses but beneficial in small doses," says David Stockton, senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics. "Maybe in this case the dosage was just too hard for the patient and the patient has relapsed now."

 The “dosage” in this case was a 5 to 8 percent increase in the sales tax, beginning in April of this year.

"Sales taxes are typically on goods," says Liz Malm, economist at the Tax Foundation. "You’ve got the classic law of demand kicking in here where if the price of a good goes up, you tend to get less consumption of a good."

 In Japan’s case, those goods included  durable, big-ticket items like homes.

"If you’re buying eggs every week, you’re not going to stockpile eggs, because they’re gonna go bad," says  Josh Hausman, Assistant Professor of Public Policy at the University of Michigan.

Japanese consumption increased prior to the April tax hike, but then decreased afterwards. Many economists expected this to result in contraction in the second quarter, but most expected the economy to revert to growth in the third quarter. 

"I think this sort of adds to a growing body of evidence that contractionary fiscal policy, so raising taxes or cutting spending, can be quite damaging," says Hausman. "More damaging than many economists might have expected."

 Abe is now widely expected to delay a second dose of sales tax increases scheduled for October, 2015.

Falling oil prices hurt state budgets

Mon, 2014-11-17 11:00

Oil prices are falling. Good news, right? 

It all depends on where you sit. If you’re trying to balance a state budget that relies heavily on oil taxes, it’s crunch time.

Louisiana, which has relied on oil and gas tax revenue for 12 to 15 percent of its budget in recent years, is adjusting its revenue forecasts. They now expect $90 million less from fossil fuel taxes than planned. Greg Albrecht, chief economist at the Louisiana Legislative Fiscal Office, says this past spring they expected oil prices to stay around $95 a barrel well into 2015.

“In fact, for a couple months into this fiscal year, we had hundred-dollar-plus a barrel of oil prices,” says Albrecht. 

Oil has been trading for under $80 a barrel recently. Political observers in Louisiana expect some cuts in healthcare and higher education as a result of the revenue shortfall.

In North Dakota last year oil and gas taxes made up over half of all state revenue. But Pam Sharp, director of the state’s Office of Management and Budget, isn’t predicting a disaster. State law requires most of that money go into various reserve funds, not the general fund. 

“The way the oil taxes are structured in North Dakota … I think it puts us in really good shape to weather that kind of storm,” Sharp says. 

Falling oil prices do mean less money for North Dakota's reserve funds, including the Strategic Investment and Improvements Fund. That pot of money goes to much-needed infrastructure in the oil boom state, including roads and school construction loans. Sharp does expect, however, that in this two-year budget cycle alone, North Dakota will collect $6 billion dollars in oil and gas taxes.

Lower oil prices hurt state budgets

Mon, 2014-11-17 11:00

Oil prices are falling. Good news, right? 

It all depends on where you sit. If you’re trying to balance a state budget that relies heavily on oil taxes, it’s crunch time.

Louisiana, which has relied on oil and gas tax revenue for 12 to 15 percent of its budget in recent years, is adjusting its revenue forecasts. They now expect $90 million less from fossil fuel taxes than planned. Greg Albrecht, chief economist at the Louisiana Legislative Fiscal Office, says this past spring they expected oil prices to stay around $95 a barrel well into 2015.

“In fact, for a couple months into this fiscal year, we had $100 dollar-plus a barrel of oil prices,” says Albrecht. 

Oil has been trading for under $80 a barrel recently. Political observers in Louisiana expect some cuts in healthcare and higher education as a result of the revenue shortfall.

In North Dakota last year oil and gas taxes made up over half of all state revenue. But Pam Sharp, director of the state’s Office of Management and Budget, isn’t predicting a disaster. State law requires most of that money go into various reserve funds, not the general fund. 

“The way the oil taxes are structured in North Dakota… I think it puts us in really good shape to weather that kind of storm,” Sharp says. 

Falling oil prices do mean less money for North Dakota's reserve funds, including the Strategic Investment and Improvements Fund. That pot of money goes to much-needed infrastructure in the oil boom state, including roads and school construction loans. Sharp does expect, however, that in this two-year budget cycle alone, North Dakota will collect $6 billion dollars in oil and gas taxes.

Snapchat partners with Square to present ... Snapcash

Mon, 2014-11-17 11:00

Snapchat, the app that lets you send pictures or videos that disappear after a couple of seconds, is getting into the mobile payment business.

It's a peer-to-peer payment system called Snapcash. You can use it to send money to your friends.

All you have to do is enter your bank account information, type in a dollar amount and hit the green button.

What could possibly go wrong?

To announce its new partnership with mobile payment service Square, Snapchat rolled out a promotional video. It imagines what is going on inside your phone while you are using Snapcash as a Monopoly-meets-Emerald-City, Broadway-style crossover universe.

See for yourself:

 

Snapchat partnered with Square to present: Snapcash

Mon, 2014-11-17 11:00

Snapchat, the app that lets you send pictures or videos that disappear after a couple of seconds, is getting into the mobile payment business.

It's a peer-to-peer payment system called Snapcash. You can use it to send money to your friends.

All you have to do is enter your bank account information, type in a dollar amount and hit the green button.

What could possibly go wrong?

To announce their new partnership with Square, Snapchat rolled out a promotional video. It imagines the inside of your phone while using Snapchat as a Monopoly-meets-Emerald-City, Broadway-style crossover universe.

See for yourself:

 

Quiz: Me and Gen Z

Mon, 2014-11-17 09:55

Northeastern University, in conjunction with Marketplace, surveyed American teens ages 16 to 19 to create a "Portrait of Generation Z."

Answer these 10 questions from the survey to find if you're in sync with Gen Z, and share your results.

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var pymParent = new pym.Parent('me-genz-container', 'http://danhillreports.com/news-quiz/index.html', {});

Quiz: When universities partner abroad, who learns?

Mon, 2014-11-17 04:52

American universities are increasingly teaming up with international colleges, according to the American Council on Education.

How many international joint and dual degree programs enroll only non-U.S. students?

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