Marketplace - American Public Media

Disney buys Maker Studios for $500 million

Tue, 2014-03-25 06:10

The Walt Disney company will pay $500 million for Maker Studios, and is willing to add $450 million more to the deal if Maker meets performance goals. 

Fueled by a subscriber base of some 380 million people, Maker's content gets more than 5 billion views per month. 

Disney may excel at producing big-budget blockbusters, but Maker Studios is producing what kids and teens increasingly want: short-form videos they can watch on their cellphones.

And since young people are flocking to YouTube productions, so are advertisers. Brad Adgate, a Senior Vice President of Research at Horizon Media says forecasters predict sales of $5.7 billion in online advertising this year.

Adgate says it is unclear whether Maker Studios will be expected to fall in line with the family-friendly Disney brand and focus on PG-rated content, or whether Disney is willing to spice things up a bit for the sake of the particular demographic, among whom, Maker's content reigns supreme: teenagers. 

Disney buys Maker Studios for $500 million

Tue, 2014-03-25 06:10

The Walt Disney company will pay $500 million for Maker Studios, and is willing to add $450 million more to the deal if Maker meets performance goals. 

Fueled by a subscriber base of some 380 million people, Maker's content gets more than 5 billion views per month. 

Disney may excel at producing big-budget blockbusters, but Maker Studios is producing what kids and teens increasingly want: short-form videos they can watch on their cellphones.

And since young people are flocking to YouTube productions, so are advertisers. Brad Adgate, a Senior Vice President of Research at Horizon Media says forecasters predict sales of $5.7 billion in online advertising this year.

Adgate says it is unclear whether Maker Studios will be expected to fall in line with the family-friendly Disney brand and focus on PG-rated content, or whether Disney is willing to spice things up a bit for the sake of the particular demographic, among whom, Maker's content reigns supreme: teenagers. 

Survival of the fittest millennial

Tue, 2014-03-25 01:00

Millennials -- American teens, twenty- and thirty-somethings born after 1980 -- have inherited one of the toughest economic environments in years. Yet, according to new data from Pew, they may be one of the most economically optimistic generations ever.

Alicia Menendez, reporter and anchor for Fusion TV, joins Marketplace Morning Report host David Brancaccio to discuss what's behind the apparent paradox. 

For plumbers, it’s all about the sweet smell of money

Tue, 2014-03-25 01:00

While working underneath a house, Joseph Rosenblum, a plumber in training in northwest Arkansas, confronted a skunk and discovered a talent that he previously hadn’t been aware of: crawling very quickly.

"At least its tail wasn’t facing me," he recalled. "I had a little bit of a chance to get out of there before I got sprayed."

Smelly creatures, sewage baths and late-night emergency calls to fix broken pipes are all part of the mix in Mr. Rosenblum’s chosen line of work.

But the potential to earn a good living, doing a job he finds rewarding, outweighs the drawbacks, Mr. Rosenblum, 34, said. He figures that if he works hard, he can earn from $50,000 to $70,000 a year or even more, once he is fully licensed.

"I know plumbers that make $80,000, $90,000 a year," he said in a recent interview, after spending an afternoon clearing a clogged drain at a local restaurant.

Turns out there may be something to the advice your meddling uncle gave you at your high school graduation, about skipping college and becoming a plumber instead.

Plumbers and the related trades of pipe fitters and steamfitters, who often work in commercial and industrial settings, earned median pay of about $49,000 a year nationally, well above the $35,000 average for all occupations, according to 2012 data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The top 10 percent earn more than $84,000 a year. The average in big markets like Chicago and New York is about $70,000. (One caveat: The statistics are gathered from employers subject to paying unemployment insurance, so they don’t include the roughly 11 percent of plumbers who are self-employed.)

Demand for plumbers and fitters is strong. The number employed is expected to grow 21 percent by 2022, versus 11 percent across all occupations, according to Labor Bureau statistics. Mr. Rosenblum also reasons that plumbers have a fair degree of job security: "No matter how technologically advanced the world gets, plumbing is going to be kind of a basic necessity," he said.

Even former Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York, a billionaire who knows a few things about making money, told listeners to his weekly radio show last spring that working as a plumber makes more financial sense for some students than attending an elite, four-year college: "Being a plumber, actually for the average person, probably would be a better deal, because you don’t spend four years spending $40, 50 thousand tuition, and no income," he said.

While they needn’t have a college degree, most plumbers must undergo years of training to become fully licensed. Requirements vary by state, but prospective plumbers typically spend four to five years as paid apprentices, while also taking classroom instruction in skills like reading blueprints. Then they must pass an exam to obtain a license. Apprentices typically must be at least 18 and have a high school diploma, or the equivalent, to begin training. They also must have a decent grasp of math, especially if they’re working on new construction; they may need to calculate, for instance, the volume of liquids that certain pipes can carry and correctly measure the length of pipe needed for a job.

In some cases — like Mr. Rosenblum’s — the company that hires a prospective plumber sponsors the classroom training. Alternatively, trainees may join the United Association of Journeymen and Apprentices of the Plumbing & Pipe Fitting Industry of the United States, Canada and Australia, the major trade union for plumbers.

About 30 percent of plumbers and pipe fitters belong to unions, according to, a website that estimates union membership based on federal data. The United Association, with 300 local affiliates in 50 states, provides structured training programs and also functions as an employment hub, matching  members with jobs at companies that negotiate contracts with the union.

John Murphy, business manager of United Association Local 1 in New York City, said the local’s 6,000 members work primarily on major construction projects, like office towers and hospitals. Union apprentices at Local 1 start at $14 an hour and make more than $50 per hour after completing a five-year apprenticeship and passing a test to advance to journeyman plumber status, Mr. Murphy said. Experienced plumbers can make $200,000 a year, he said — but that typically means many hours on the job.  Openings for apprenticeships tend to vary with the economy; if the outlook calls for significant new construction, more openings occur. Local 1 tries to maintain its apprentices at about 20 percent of its active membership, said Mr. Murphy.

The union makes 1,000 applications available about every two years, he said, and about 400 applicants are deemed qualified after taking a basic aptitude test and an assessment of manual dexterity. The union draws from that pool for new apprentice classes. Also, a certain number of apprentices come from "direct entry" programs, he said, like those promoting the hiring of veterans. Over the last 18 months, the local has accepted 275 new apprentices.

While historically sons of plumbers often became plumbers, family members don’t get special preference, said Mr. Murphy, a fourth-generation plumber. “My son would have to get on line, along with everyone else.”

Plumbing is still a male-dominated trade; just 1.1 percent of plumbers and those in related trades are women, according to 2013 data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Some union locals have programs to encourage women to become apprentices. United Association 1 in New York works with Nontraditional Employment for Women, or NEW, which aims to bring women into the construction trades, to hire women as apprentices, said Mr. Murphy. The local has 39 female apprentices, 22 of whom joined in the past 18 months.

Mr. Rosenblum, who chose the nonunion training route, is a fourth-year apprentice; he expects to take the test for his journeyman’s license in the spring. A native of tiny Greers Ferry, Ark., he spent time as a young man helping his grandfather build houses. He graduated from high school in 1998 and later enlisted in the Marine Corps. After completing a nine-month tour in Iraq and Kuwait in 2004, he moved to California and completed an associate degree under the G.I. bill.

He worked for about six years as the director of property services for an apartment company that managed 5,000 units in Orange County, but then moved on to work for a friend who owned a plumbing company. (Under California’s rules, he said, individual plumbers do not have to be licensed, as long as they are working for a licensed plumber.)

He found he enjoyed the problem-solving aspect of plumbing. Most anybody, he said, can learn how to change an angle stop — the little shut-off valve found under every sink — or replace a flapper in their toilet tank. “But knowing actually how plumbing works and, you know, determining issues and plumbing problems, that’s kind of one of the things I like to specialize in,” he said.

About a year ago, he became engaged to a California woman who had family back in his home state, and they decided to move to Arkansas. He researched plumbing companies online and after sending out few applications was hired at Allied Plumbing & Drain Service, a firm in Springdale, Ark.

Mr. Rosenblum was taking a bit of a risk; under the rules in Arkansas, his plumbing experience in California wouldn’t necessarily count toward licensing requirements. Fortunately, he said, he had good documentation of three and a half years of work, so state authorities required that he complete just one year of training and instruction to become eligible to take the journeyman’s test. He was accepted at an apprenticeship program at Northwest Arkansas Community College in Bentonville, Ark., and attends classes one night a week.

 Once he passes the journeyman’s test and works for an additional year, he’ll be eligible to apply to take the exam for a master plumber’s license. That means he’ll be able to obtain work permits on his own and also will be able to train new plumbers. “At that point in time, you can basically do anything a plumber needs to get done,” he said.

Mr. Rosenblum solders a copper pipe. Plumbers go through years of training for their licenses. (Beth Hall/The New York Times)

Dan Mallory, 56, founder and president of Allied Plumbing and Mr. Rosenblum’s boss, starts apprentices at $10 to $12 an hour and pays for their training; their hourly wage can increase to as much as $18 an hour over four years. Once they pass their journeyman’s test, he said, they are eligible for commissions based on the cost of the assignments they complete, which gives them the opportunity to make more money.

A few of his plumbers earn six-figure incomes, he said, but a typical workweek is around 50 hours, and the jobs are often physically demanding. His plumbers take turns being on call overnight and on weekends and often work outside in bitterly cold weather. After four years, his plumbers can make a very good income as long as they don’t “have a mind-set of working 8 to 5,” he said.

Mr. Mallory still goes out on calls himself because, he says, he enjoys the work. He began working for a plumber in Oklahoma as a teenager and passed the state’s equivalent of the master plumber test at age 20 — he was told he was one of the youngest in the state to pass the test at the time. He recalls working 100 hours a week, until his schedule strained his marriage and forced him to cut back. He later became a home builder, but he said he returned to plumbing when he had trouble finding enough plumbers to work on the houses he was building. He built Allied into a regional firm and now employs 15 plumbers and apprentices.

His company does both new construction work and service plumbing, responding to both residential and commercial customers. Doing both helps the company ride out the ups and downs of the economy. “If you’re a service plumber,” he said, “it’s pretty much recession-proof.”

Still, there’s no avoiding the downsides, including the potential for encountering raw sewage. Mr. Rosenblum said he wore gloves as much as possible on the job and made sure his immunizations were up-to-date to avoid becoming ill. Sometimes, “it’s just nasty,” he said.

And the unpredictable work hours are another negative. “You can’t just drop your pipe wrench and say ‘O.K., it’s 5 o’clock, I’m going home,’ and they still don’t have water to their house,” he said.

But Mr. Rosenblum, who typically gets going with a 5:30 a.m. workout at the gym, says long days don’t faze him, and more hours mean more income. He also plans to complete a business degree at a local university to fully prepare for his career.

Work in America: Our special series in partnership with the New York Times looking at how the improvements in technology, combined with companies’ increased ability to outsource, have conspired to make radical changes to work in America. 

"If you’re just a guy that goes in and puts in your 40 hours a week, you’re going to make minimal salary,” he said. “But if you put in a little extra time and a little extra work, you’re going to do well."

It may (or may not) help homeowners on the receiving end of pricey plumbing bills that Mr. Rosenblum said he often feels bad when toting up the cost of a repair, especially in tough economic times.  "I hate to be the bearer of bad news when it comes to my customers," he said, especially since having water and proper drainage is a necessity. It’s hard, he said, to present someone with a bill for $150 or $200, when they might be tight on cash. But, "at the end of the day, they called me out, and they need to get it done," he said. 

Bringing more women into the startup ecosystem

Tue, 2014-03-25 01:00

Started in 2005, Y Combinator has served as the birthplace for some of the best known companies in the tech industry - Reddit, Dropbox, and Pebble are just a few of the organizations that benefitted from one of the incubator's bi-annual startup smorgasbords. Since its inception, over 630 startups have taken 3 months to move to Silicon Valley, during which they prepare to pitch to investors during the final Demo Day. Being selected as a Y Combinator participant can be a huge jumping off point for entrepreneurs with a good idea and the motivation to see it through.

Though, the organization hasn't been without controversy. Former President Paul Graham came under fire for comments that seemed to disparage women's potential as leaders of startup companies (Graham insists he was misquoted).

Regardless, it seems one of the goals for the organization, or at least for newly appointed President Sam Altman, is to promote more female entrepreneurs into the program. According to Altman, the most recent class of Y Combinator participants is 24% female, which is higher than what the tech industry at large can claim.

As far as successfully pitching to investors, Altman points to classic missteps in public speaking as the first hurdle Y Combinator participants have to clear; things like remembering to speak clearly and make eye contact with the audience. The next step is a little bit trickier.

"But really if you look at a fundamental level, in a two and a half minute pitch, all you're trying to do is convince investors that there is a chance, however small, that you could be the next $10 billion startup."


Putting student debt on trial

Tue, 2014-03-25 01:00

You may have to find a new way to make mom proud.

A new report from the New American Foundation shows problematic debt levels for graduate students -- an 8 percent annual rise for the last four years. Law school in particular is known for its hefty tuition bills --  the average debt load for law students in 2012 was just over $140,000.

And applications have plummeted in the past few years.

American Bar Association

At the same time, John Cashman, vice president for law firm recruiting at Major, Lindsey & Africa says the state of the job market right now for lawyers is "dicey."

"I think the value of a law degree is basically the same," Cashman adds. "What's changed, is the calculation of risk and return is much more important."


*CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story misstated the spelling of the name of the law firm Major, Lindsey & Africa. The text has been corrected.

Being uninsured versus underinsured

Tue, 2014-03-25 00:29

As Monday's deadline to sign up for health insurance or face a penalty approaches, there's plenty of attention on the uninsured. But how about the underinsured? 

Nearly 32 million people were underinsured in 2012, meaning they had insurance but that it wasn't robust enough to protect them from major medical costs, according to a new report from the Commonwealth Fund

The figures are from before individuals could buy insurance on Affordable Care Act exchanges, but some say the problem persists. 

Suzy Jeffreys, who runs the North-by-Northeast Community Health Center in Portland, Ore., says often the patients who don’t qualify for *Medicaid choose the next cheapest healthcare option.

Commonwealth Fund

*CORRECTION: A previous verions of this article misstated that patients who didn't qualify for Medicare, instead of Medicaid, were seeking other healthcare options. The text has been corrected.


Interview with Box CEO Aaron Levie

Tue, 2014-03-25 00:20

You've heard plenty about cloud computing, but have you heard of the company called Box?

In the world of online storage and big data, Box is the David to tech Goliaths Microsoft and Oracle. The company had filed for an initial public offering earlier this year and now Box has made the details of that filing public. CEO Aaron Levie and company hope to raise $250 million, though Box isn't profitable yet. In its regulatory filing, the company says it has 25 million registered users.

We spoke with 29 year-old Aaron Levie about Box before his company released the details of his IPO.

Q: Give me a basic description of the Box mission.

At Box what we’re really focused on is helping businesses take all the data that they create and generate, all the files and information in their company, and move that to the cloud. So they can securely share information, collaborate around it, work with partners and colleagues and distribute all of the data they need to all of the right people in and outside of their company. And that’s what we do for now 200,000 companies across the globe.

Q: It's an interesting time for companies like yours. Why is this such a moment for service companies?

Right now, I think we’re in a really important and interesting time in the software ecosystem, particularly as it relates to the enterprise world. You have nearly $300 billion that is spent every single year on traditional software and hardware that goes into managing the sort of information backbone of enterprises. And the vast majority of that technology’s going to migrate to the cloud.

We’ve seen companies like Workday and Google and Salesforce that have delivered next generation technologies that help companies use their information, and it means that the enterprise doesn’t have to have any of that software or hardware in their business anymore. And so what we try and do at Box is we are trying to power the content layer of the next generation enterprise that can let you collaborate and share much more efficiently.

The exciting part is how much this can change how businesses operate and work with their information. So we’re seeing companies from manufacturing to health care to financial services that are beginning to change the very nature of how they work and the products they deliver, because now they have so much data they can work with from anywhere.

Q: Your particular area has some pretty big competitors. Microsoft is a competitor. Amazon is a competitor. How is Box different?

We, for some reason, just really enjoy pain. We chose one of the more dynamic markets that are out there from a competitive standpoint. But, interestingly, when we started the company nine and a half years ago, we had this idea that as the cost of storage went down, as mobility increased, and as bandwidth increased, that you’d want to be able to get to your files from anywhere.

That led us to being early enough in the market where we were able to create early competitive advantage by always focusing on delivering the absolute best customer experience while also ensuring that enterprises of all sizes could use our technology. Our real differentiation is: Whether you’re a company of 10,000 employees or 50,000 employees or 250,000 employees, you can use our product as the most secure solution for sharing and collaborating on data, but as an individual, you experience our service just as you would any consumer application. And it’s that sort of balance and pairing of a consumer focus with an enterprise technology set that allows us to compete very effectively for large enterprises like Proctor and Gamble and E-bay and Eli Lily and Schneider Electric, all of which have rolled Box out to tens of thousands of their employees.

Q: If one of your big competitors came to you and asked to buy, would you say yes?

No. We’re very focused on building out an independent company. We’re only a couple percent of the way thought this journey that we’d like to go on, and as we look at the space and time that we operate in right now, we’ll look back at this period and it will be very similar to the early 1980s, when PCs entered the enterprise and changed every single thing about IT within organizations. We’re in one of those periods right now with the combination of mobile computing and cloud [computing] coming together. This is going to enable every business in the world to change how they’re going to work and how they build products and how they compete in their own marketplaces. We’re very early in what we want to create and accomplish in this market, so we are definitely not selling.

Q: You’re 29. What are the pressures that come with that? Do you feel pressure related to your age and what you’re doing? What people expect from you and what people expect from your company?

Well actually, I’m feeling quite old these days. Most of the up and coming founders are 21 and 22 -- I literally have grey hair -- and I’ve been through quite a bit with Box. I think we’ve certainly been through a lot of the learning events that startups go through, and I think that’s helped us mature as a company. The space that we play in, the enterprise world, means that we have to surround ourselves with incredible talent that can allow us to go execute. So I think we’re very fortunate to have built up a company where age hasn’t been as much of an issue, because we’ve built a very strong team around us. But there’s a lot of pressure to always be growing the company and always be competing as effectively as possible.

Q: Is there a form of software or hardware that doesn’t exist that you’re waiting for that will make a huge change to what you do?

About a week ago I would not have had a good answer to that question, and now I do. We’re really starting to see some pretty tremendous use cases for our technology and for lots of enterprise technologies out there. As an example, there are a lot of conversations about drones. So if you’re a construction company and you want to be able to have aerial imagery of your construction site -- to be able to either monitor it, or be able to see certain angles that are really hard to get to -- if you’re in agriculture and you want to be able to study your crop yield or be able to see different kinds of patterns from a weather standpoint, you can now have drones that basically are augmenting our ability to collect information and gather data.

What we didn’t realize was that a couple of these commercial drone companies are using Box as the storage platform for the data that they generated. So all of this aerial imagery can go into our platform where you can look at it, share it, collaborate around it and have a secure place for accessing that information. Every day we’re seeing all these new use cases for information that is going to change the competitive dynamics of companies that begin to take that information. If you’re a farm and you’re using drones to augment your talent force, you’re going to be much more competitive than the farm that’s not getting that information.

So we think a lot of these technologies are going to come together to change competitive advantage in ways we never imagined.

New contact lenses have night-vision capability

Mon, 2014-03-24 14:00

Researchers at the University of Michigan say they've discovered a way to make contact lenses that have night vision capability.

It's all about using super-thin layers of graphene, if you want to know the science of it.

Call me a geek, but I mean... cool, right?


[<a href="//" target="_blank">View the story "Who can see in the dark?" on Storify</a>]

The impact of sanctions against Russia

Mon, 2014-03-24 14:00

President Obama was in Europe Monday, discussing economic pressure on Russia. He’s also warning of potentially stronger sanctions, “a greater cost,” if Russia keeps at it in Ukraine.

Current sanctions include a number of Russian government officials and oligarchs, as well as Bank Rossiya, described by the U.S. Treasury Department as “the personal bank for senior officials of the Russian Federation.”

On its face, sanctioning one bank and a handful of Russian billionaires may not sound like a sweeping move. But because of their broad network of affiliated companies and deep involvement with Russian business and politics, the impact could potentially be more widespread than it may first appear.

Russia’s currency and stock market have both fallen in recent days, impacting an economy that was lacklustre even before the crisis in Ukraine. Now potential investors in Russia are thinking twice, worried that the next round of sanctions could target their interests. That means Russia could lose out on the business deals and investment it needs.

Russia’s Economy By The Numbers, by Marketplace’s Tobin Low


How much Russia’s key index is down. YTD, representing tens of billions in company value destroyed.


How much the conversion rate of 1 ruble to $1 has fallen.

Mark Garrison: Russia’s key stock index is down nearly 14% this year. That’s tens of billions in company value gone. This as the ruble has sunk. Cliff Kupchan of Eurasia Group lays out the sanctions so far.

Cliff Kupchan: We sanctioned a number of oligarchs very close to Mr. Putin, but only one company, Bank Rossiya, which is alleged to run a lot of the Kremlin’s money.

A handful of Russian billionaires may not sound like a sweeping move, but it’s more than you might think.

Christopher Swift: It’s also every single entity that these individuals own or control.

International lawyer Christopher Swift of Foley & Lardner points out that these oligarchs weave tangled webs.

Swift: Because a lot of these individuals operate their business empires through third-party proxies and shell companies in Europe and North America, the scope is much broader than most people assume just looking at this list.

And that’s before we get to what else the U.S. and allies could do.

Juan Zarate: These are the initial stages of what could be a more comprehensive financial isolation campaign.

Juan Zarate is senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Russia had economic trouble well before the crisis in Ukraine.

Zarate: I think there had already been questions as to the strength of the Russian economy. And then you add to this the uncertainty as to what may come and I think investors are starting to worry as to what the next stages are.

Which means, says Cliff Kupchan, that even companies not on the list could suffer.

Kupchan: Everybody’s now wondering what Russian companies indeed are off limits. Should I consummate a deal with x Russian company or will I be sanctioned?

Harsher sanctions aren’t in place yet. But global business leaders are starting to act like they’re coming. That means Russia could lose out on deals and investment it needs. I'm Mark Garrison, for Marketplace.

25 years after the Exxon Valdez crisis, we've learned...?

Mon, 2014-03-24 13:24

It’s been 25 years since the Exxon Valdez hit a reef and spilled millions of gallons of oil, polluting hundreds of miles of Alaska’s shoreline.

If you were alive during the spill, you can probably still recall the video footage: black shorelines, dead sea otters, oil soaked birds.

“It was vivid,” said Zygmunt Plater, an environmental law professor at Boston College who worked on the Alaska Oil Spill Commission after Valdez. “It pointed to the problems of the oil mega-system." Along every step of the process, he said, “there was repeated cost cutting to increase risk. Our commission concluded that this mega-system was dominated by complacency, collusion and neglect.”

Those are words heard after the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill, nearly 20 years later.

Valdez also showed us just how vulnerable the environment can be, in a way that previous oil spills, including the Santa Barbara spill in 1969, had not.

“It underscored the enormous risk that we place natural resources at when we produce and distribute oil,” said Bob Deans, a spokesperson for the Natural Resources Defense Council.

The risk was something we hadn’t quite come to terms with, he said. “There was this perception that it was safe to do this,” Deans said, “and that if the oil got in the water, surely industry had a way to clean it up. Surely there was a way to save the oceans and marine life from the consequence of a spill like this, and we found out that none of that was true.” 

After the Exxon Valdez and again, after the BP oil spill, regulations were tightened.

But spills are not things of the past.

Over the weekend, about 170,000 gallons of oil gushed out into Galveston Bay when an oil barge and cargo ship collided.

Apple + Comcast = ?

Mon, 2014-03-24 13:20

Apple and Comcast are reportedly discussing a deal that would give Apple special access to Comcast's wires, the ones that bring cable TV into your home. According to the Wall Street Journal, Apple would then deliver streaming television through a set top box.

The deal, if it becomes a deal, would give Apple access to what's called "the last mile" -- the last section of cable that runs from a neighborhood box into individual homes.

"Apple would get what's called managed service access," says Kevin Werbach, a telecom consultant and professor of business ethics at The Wharton School of Business. "So their content would go over a distinct high-priority pipe across the Comcast network and not be mixed in with other internet traffic."

As you've probably noticed, the quality of video on your TV can vary greatly between traditional cable TV and streaming TV. Take Netflix, for example: lots of people had trouble streaming the new season of "House of Cards". So Netflix agreed to pay extra to Comcast for more bandwidth.

A managed service deal with Apple would be great for Comcast because it would allow the cable company to maintain its role as a gatekeeper for content, says Craig Aaron, president of Freepress, a consumer advocacy group.

"Apple should be a competitor with Comcast, Netflix should be a competitor with Comcast, helping bring down prices, offer more choices," he says. But under a managed service deal, Apple's content would have to go through the cable companies infrastructure, effectively turning Comcast's biggest threat into a source of revenue.

It also solves another problem for Comcast. Increasingly people are not signing up for cable. Instead, they are using apps and internet devices to watch video. A deal like this would also make Comcast relevant in the new media landscape.

Will you get rich? Your last name may tell you

Mon, 2014-03-24 12:48

Here's a depressing thought: Your last name is a pretty good determination of how educated you will be, what class you'll be in, and when you will die. And chances are, you won't change that for your children, grandchildren, or any of your offspring.

That's the conclusion of a new book by University of California Davis economics professor Gregory Clark called "The Son Also Rises". Clark studied surnames over hundreds of years from the U.S., Sweden, England, India, Japan, China, Korea, Taiwan and Chile, and he found that social mobility is not only tied to your last name, it's kind of a sealed deal:

"If you take any level of social status and then look at people by surname groupings, it'll pretty reliably show which are the high status groups and which are the low status groups. And one of the interesting things with the surnames is that we actually detect groups that we hadn't even thought of as distinctive (in the U.S.).

He points to people with French surnames, who statistically fall into the lower class. Clark says many governments pour huge resources into try ing to increase economic and social mobility, but his book concludes that's kind of a waste of time:

"Even societies that have spent much more effort than the U.S. in trying to increase rates of social mobility have not, by and large, succeeded. Modern social mobility rates are no higher than in Medievel England or in pre-industrial Sweden. Even dramatic events like the Communist revolution in China had very little effect on social mobility rates.

Clark laughs off the idea that employers or colleges will ever use last names in hiring or admissions, but he does say there's one realm where his research could come in handy.

"The only case that the book finds that this would matter would be if your goal in life was to produce high status children. It would actually be a guide to dating. So the idea of the book is you shouldn't look at, you should go to If that's your ambition."

In the U.S., there are two metrics that Professor Clark says can help you determine your last name's social status:

1) How many doctors there are per thousand people with your surname.

2) The average age of death. 

We had Professor Clark break down the surname social status of some famous folks. Here's what he found:

Its all in the name... | Create Infographics

Millennials at work: Young and callow, like their parents

Mon, 2014-03-24 11:51

The generation now entering the work force, people in their late teens and early 20s, are consistently panned by many employers as not ready for the workplace. But while there are real differences, their behavior on the job might not be so different from that of previous generations.

In surveys, middle-aged business owners and hiring managers say the new workers lack the attitudes and behaviors needed for job success. They don’t have a strong work ethic, these reports say. They’re not motivated and don’t take the initiative. They’re undependable and not committed to their employers. They need constant affirmation and expect rapid advancement.

A recent report by Bentley University for example, found more than half of corporate recruiters rated recent college graduates with a grade of C or lower for preparedness; nearly seven in 10 said young workers were difficult for their organization to manage. The Pew Research Center found that more than half of college presidents thought today’s students were less prepared, and studied less, than  students did a decade ago.

But complaining about youth on the cusp of adulthood isn’t novel. Back in the Middle Ages, masters complained about their apprentices’ work habits.

"You can find these complaints in ancient Greek literature, in the Bible,” said Peter Cappelli, director of the Center for Human Resources at the Wharton School. "It reflects the way old people see young people."

Professor Cappelli said that young peoples’ attitudes toward work and career had not changed significantly since the baby boomers came of age in the 1960s. There’s no evidence millennials are different," he said. "They’re just younger."

 Adam Tratt, 42, manages several employees in their 20s. From an employment standpoint, he and his friends looked a bit aimless at that age too, he said.

"I remember very explicitly when I was graduating from college, this stereotype of Gen-Xers as slackers," he said, referring to those born between roughly 1965 and 1982,  and who are now in their mid-30s and 40s.  Mr. Tratt, who runs a software start-up in Seattle, said his generation gained a reputation in middle age as entrepreneurial and hard-working.

Professor Cappelli challenged middle-aged managers to remember when they were 22. "You probably wanted to get out of the office in a hurry — you were interested in what was going on after work," he said. "You had these bursts of energy and great enthusiasm about something, but you also didn’t have a lot of resilience."

 Many people who supervise young workers, though, do echo the prevailing view that millennials have some troublesome work habits.

Robert Boggs is an administrator at Corinthian Colleges in Southern California and has managed several people under 30 on his staff. "They tend to be very self-absorbed; they value fun in their personal and their work life," said Mr. Boggs. "Because they’ve grown up multitasking on their mobile, iPad and computer, I can’t expect them to work on one project for any amount of time without getting bored."

Thomas Gallagher has hired several young athletes over the years in his sporting equipment business in Wilmington, Del. He says he thinks many young workers lack perseverance. "I worry that if I give someone a long-term task, if things don’t work out in the short term, I’m going to get an email or phone call saying, 'You know what? This isn’t for me. I give up, I can’t do this,'" Mr. Gallagher said.

Some of these negative views are even shared by many in the generation in question.

"I see a lot of students cheating their way through, just sliding by," said Claire Koerner, 21, a student at the University of Washington in Seattle.

Ms. Koerner is finishing a B.A. in business administration while working at a wedding-planning start-up, OneWed. She does social media for the company while in class, she admitted. But she said many of her peers had not held a job at all. (According to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, teenage labor force participation  is at record lows.) "They just aren’t going to have the skills to work as hard as they’re expected to," she said.

Camille Perry, 26, of Portland, Ore., said her generation had a poor work ethic, although her own schedule was filled with labor. She holds two jobs: bartending at a neighborhood karaoke lounge and serving at a downtown lunch restaurant.

"We are a generation that spent a lot of time in front of the television or playing video games," she said. "There’s just a prevalent laziness."

Academics who study this generation said its members did differ from Generation X and baby boomers, those born from 1946 to 1964,  and the differences may persist through their work lives.

"This is the most affirmed generation in history," said Cliff Zukin, a senior research fellow at the Heldrich Center for Workforce Development at Rutgers University, where he is also a professor of public policy. "They were raised believing they could do whatever they wanted to, that they have skills and talents to bring to a job setting.

"And when they’re lucky enough to get a job they’re basically told, ‘Be quiet, you don’t really know anything yet.’ For a lot of them, this is a tremendous clash between their expectations and the reality of the job."

The generation may be shaped more by the Great Recession than by their overprotected, tech-saturated upbringing. If they lack the loyalty and commitment that employers want in entry-level workers, is that really such a surprise?

"I think it has less to do with lack of conscientiousness — it’s more a recognition that no company is going to bury you when you die," said Scott Ruthfield, 39, who runs Rooster Park, a recruitment firm in Seattle. "You’ve seen your parents go through large companies that don’t take care of them, and you realize that you’re responsible for your own well-being."

 In a potential plus for employers, young people have learned — at home, at school, through their shared online networks — to value collaboration and teamwork over competition, so everyone can win, said Paul Taylor, executive vice president of special projects at the Pew Research Center.

"They are a generation that is not conflictual," Mr. Taylor said. "They don’t want to get into fights. That augers well for their ability to adapt and get along in a workplace."

Work in America: Our special series in partnership with the New York Times looking at how the improvements in technology, combined with companies’ increased ability to outsource, have conspired to make radical changes to work in America.


Young people’s multitasking on mobile devices might seem like a distraction at work, but it also has an upside.

John Scrofano, 31, who is Ms. Koerner’s boss at OneWed in Seattle, appreciates the comfort his younger employees have with social media. "They don’t have that line between work and home that used to exist, so they’re doing Facebook for the company at night, on Saturday or Sunday," he said. "We get incredible productivity out of them." 

Diabetes' new frontier: China

Mon, 2014-03-24 09:04

It was last September when doctors realized how bad China’s diabetes epidemic really was. The most comprehensive survey ever conducted in China, published by the American Medical Association, revealed 114 million Chinese – a population the size of Mexico’s – now has the disease.

Paul Zimmet, honorary president of the International Diabetes Federation, says the sheer number of diabetics in China is catastrophic. It’s forced him to frame the global epidemic in a new way. "We’re now saying that if diabetes was a country, it would be third, actually, after China and India as a country," says Zimmet, "because we’re now seeing something like 380 million people worldwide with diabetes."

1 in every 3 of them now lives in China.

They’re people like Ye Bin, a 35 year-old salesman who meets me for lunch near his Shanghai office. Before the food arrives, he arranges a handful of pills beside his chopsticks – medicine to treat type 2 diabetes. He places the pills in his mouth, one by one. “It’s been a year since I was diagnosed," says Ye Bin between gulps of water. "Now I try not to eat anything with sugar. I used to drink soft drinks all the time. I can’t do that anymore.”

Ye grew up as an only child. He belongs to a generation defined by China’s one-child policy -- a hundred million individuals nicknamed ‘Little Emperors.’ Ye admits his parents –business types who became rich off of China’s growth– spoiled him. They grew up surrounded by famine and violent political campaigns. Like many Chinese parents in the 1980s, they wanted an easier life for their only son.

“When I was young, we ate out three or four times a week," remembers Ye. "At home, my parents always fed me Ferrero Rocher chocolates. We had lots of those at home. They were a sign of wealth back then.”

Another sign you made it was dining out at the increasing number of American fast food restaurants in China.

In one of many McDonald's ads on Chinese television, a girl screams “I’ve got a magic box!” She holds up her Happy Meal and smiles as her friends cheer. The commercial is a reminder of how the diabetes epidemic began in the United States.

Video of McDonalds Happy Meal TVC - via Mumbrella Asia

But in China, say experts, the conditions seem even more ripe: globalization, urbanization, and - in terms of exercise - stagnation.

"Fewer people ride bicycles in China these days, fewer people walk," says Xu Zhangrong, deputy secretary of the China Diabetes Society. "More people are driving cars. And think of the environmental factors - the air is often smoggy, so fewer people go outside to exercise."

In 1980, less than 1 percent of Chinese adults had diabetes – now it’s at least 10 percent. Zhang says 1 in 4 Chinese have abnormal blood sugar levels – a precursor to the disease. Doctor Xu says the sudden rise of diabetes in China is not only a health threat, but an economic one. He says it could bankrupt the country’s healthcare system.

“It’s a big problem – about 80 percent of the expenditures on diabetes treatment in China goes to treating complications, the most expensive type of treatment," says Zhang. "But because many Chinese can’t afford proper healthcare, they’re forced to wait until they experience complications.”

In the waiting room of a diabetes clinic in Shanghai, it's standing-room only. More than a hundred people take a number and wait for an automated voice to direct them to an available doctor. With plans to move 100 million people to the city in the next five years, Doctor Xu says waiting times in China will only become longer.

But Xu says one thing can’t wait: China needs to shift its focus from treating diabetes to preventing it.

Grab your coat, we're going to the frozen food aisle

Mon, 2014-03-24 07:34

From the Marketplace Datebook, here’s a look at what’s coming up Tuesday:  

PODCAST: China, the U.S. dollar, and learning to code

Mon, 2014-03-24 02:04

In the past two weeks, we've seen the most rapid fall in China's currency in decades, apparently due to some financial engineering by central bankers in Beijing. But it's a new week and the "Great Fall" seems to have stopped. The U.S. dollar fell about 0.5 percent on Monday. 

Apple is reportedly in talks with the cable and internet giant Comcast about a new streaming and on-demand TV service.  According to the Wall Street Journal, Comcast might be persuaded to offered a private instead of a shared channel for all the data required. 

And in partnership with the New York Times, we're exploring the changing face of work in America. Today we take a look at some mid-career switchers who are learning to write software, that is to say, learning to "code."


Natural gas could help Cyprus' economic growth

Mon, 2014-03-24 01:00

It's been one year since the second largest bank in Cyprus, Laiki Bank, was shut down leading to a $13 billion European Union bailout.  The country's financial services sector was a big part of the economy and its resulting overhaul lead many bank depositors to lose a chunk of their savings. The BBC's Lucy Burton joins Marketplace Morning Report host David Brancaccio to explain how the country is doing one year later -- and how it hopes to recover. 

From, a look at previous coverage about Cyprus:

-Lessons from Cyprus: How to work without cash
-How the Cyprus crisis has some thinking of Bitcoin
-Where will money launderers go after Cyprus

The economic benefits of attending the G-8 summit

Mon, 2014-03-24 01:00

The future of the G-8 is in question, as seven of its eight members meet in the Netherlands. Russia, which annexed Crimea last week, didn't get an invite.

According to Ian Hurd, an associate professor of political science at Northwestern University, Russia could lose its permanent membership.  

"I think there is a lot of value in symbolic terms to having a seat at the table," Hurd says.

But Eswar Prasad, a professor of international economics at Cornell University, says the G-8's influence has waned, and the G-20, which includes emerging economies, has become more important. There's an irony here, he says.

"This particular grouping takes on more significance when it excludes somebody," Prasad says, "rather than when it includes somebody."

Starbucks is expanding serving alcohol and small plates

Mon, 2014-03-24 01:00

The coffee giant Starbucks has announced plans to expand the number of shops that sell the alcoholic beverages from several dozen today to 40 by the end of the year. With this come practical costs like liquor licenses, training staff, washing dishes – but former Starbucks executive John Moore, who runs the marketing consultancy Brains on Fire, says here’s the big concern: "There is an old saying that is so true. There is no ‘and’ in brand.’ If you try to stand for everything, you ultimately stand for nothing,” he says.

This beer and wine move comes after Starbucks spent hundreds of millions to expand its reach into juice, baked goods and tea. The risk, says Moore, a diluted brand – a word no coffee company ever wants to touch.

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