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As numbers of homeless kids rise, resources fall short

Wed, 2015-01-28 02:10

On Katie Jeffery’s seventeenth birthday, her mom kicked her out of the house—She then spent four months living on the streets of Cheyenne, Wyoming. Jeffery stayed in hotels, friends’ places, cars, even a shed for a couple of weeks. All the while, she worked to finish up her final year of high school.

“Worst part is, nobody really noticed that I was homeless,” Jeffery says. “Because I showed up every day to school and did what I had to do.”

The number of students experiencing homelessness in the U.S. has increased 85 percent since before the recession, according to Department of Education data. But the resources available to help them have remained flat.

States with small populations—like Wyoming—have seen some of the biggest increases in homeless students, but have the fewest resources. In Cheyenne, there are shelters for adults living on the streets, but nothing for unaccompanied minors like Jeffery.   

“If I was a 35-year-old ex-con, there’s housing, there’s jobs. There’s no problem,” Jeffery says. “I’m a 17-year-old female who’s trying to finish high school and I was given a box of food and a blanket and told to stay out of trouble.”

Kids who, like Jeffery, are crashing temporarily with friends or in hotels, account for the majority of the country’s 1.3 million homeless students. But the Department of Housing and Urban Development, or HUD, only counts people sleeping on the streets or in shelters as homeless. 

“Eighty percent of the children who are identified by public schools are not considered homeless by HUD, and are not eligible for some of the critical services they need to get back on their feet,” says Barbara Duffield, policy and programs director for the National Association for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth.

That’s why lawmakers have introduced a bill that would amend HUD’s definition to include the rest of these kids. Opponents say the change could mean fewer HUD services for homeless adults. But Duffield says prioritizing students makes sense long-term.

“By not paying attention to the urgency of child development now, we’re actually creating a system where adult homelessness is being perpetuated,” says Duffield.

Sponsors of The Homeless Children and Youth Act hope to see their legislation taken up by Congress this year. 

 

 

The Koch brothers' $900 million war chest

Wed, 2015-01-28 02:00

Even in the big-money world of politics, $900 million dollars is a striking amount. Some Washington watchers say the fact that the money will come from just a handful of people ought to raise concerns that the U.S. is teetering on the brink of becoming an oligarchy.

Big donors are a relatively rare breed. Data from the Center for Responsive Politics shows that, in the 2012 election cycle, only about 0.4 percent of Americans donated more than $200 to a candidate, political party or political action committee. And, as the 2012 presidential campaign illustrated, the party that spends the most doesn't necessarily win.

Click the media player above to hear more.

How big banks turn prisons into profit centers

Wed, 2015-01-28 02:00

Greg Cavaluzzi spent four years in federal prison, eating cold oatmeal and white bread for breakfast and bologna for lunch and dinner. So the first thing he wanted to do when he was released was to eat "something normal." When his parents picked him up from Fort Dix in New Jersey, he took them to Wendy's.

"We didn't really talk," he says. "We ate. We were just so happy to be next to each other."

He ordered two bacon, egg and cheese sandwiches, and paid for the meal with a JP Morgan Chase debit card featuring a photo of him in his prison-issued khakis, a backdrop measuring his height in the background. The cards are standard in the federal prison system for giving discharged inmates money sent by friends and family or earned at in-prison jobs.

Cavaluzzi's meal cost about $10. Or as Cavaluzzi puts it: "Everything. It was everything. I was used to making $10 a month."

He made that money as a librarian in prison, where wages start at 11 cents an hour. But those hard-earned dollars disappeared faster than he expected, and when he called Chase, he found out the reason was fees.

"It just seemed a little..." Cavaluzzi trails off. "It was sketchy."

The fees on prison-issued debit cards were agreed to in a 2011 contract with a branch of the Department of the Treasury, which provided the schedule of fees below.

It costs 45 cents to check your balance at an ATM, $1.50 if your account is inactive for 90 days, $2 to withdraw money at a non-Chase ATM, and $7.50 to replace the card a second time within a year.

The absolute numbers aren't radically high, but experts say even small penalties can be both more significant – and more insidious –for newly released prisoners, who tend to have less money and banking experience, and face many other barriers to reintegrating into society.

"It's bus fare to a job, it's a meal, it's a room for a night," says Karin Martin, an associate professor at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York. She researches debt and fees in the criminal justice system. 

"There's this split mentality – on the one hand, we are saying we would like to re-integrate people, and on the other hand, we are having lots of policies that undermine their ability to reintegrate," she says.

Still, contracting with private companies that charge inmates for their services is hardly exceptional.

"The Bureau of Prisons contracts out all kinds of goods and service type things," says Jack Donson, who was a case manager in the federal prison system for more than two decades. "The institution has food vendors, vending machine vendors, halfway houses."

In all of these cases, companies have a (literally) captive market, and prisoners frequently complain about being overcharged. Though there is no competition for the business of prison inmates, there is typically competition for the contracts – as there are for most such contracts with the federal government – for sound economic reasons.

"When it comes to products or service that are somewhat standard, easy to describe, where the deliverables are clear and reasonably measurable, then competitive bidding is by far the most efficient method of procurement," says Steve Tadelis, a UC Berkeley associate professor of business and public policy who has studied government contracts.

A good example of this kind of standardized good or service is a pencil.

"If you're a government agency and you want to procure pencils, well there are gazillion producers of pencils," says Tadelis. An open competitive bidding process asks all pencil producers to make an offer and allows that competition to drive down the pencil price.

But a Center for Public Integrity investigation found that the contract with JP Morgan Chase – as well as a contract between the Department of Treasury and the Bank of America for financial services inside of prisons –were not subject to an open, competitive bidding process.

"When I hear 'no bid contract,' forget prison environment, that does surprise me a little bit," Donson says.

From an economist's view, Tadelis says, it could make sense to skirt competitive bidding, but only if the goods or services are complicated, evolving or difficult to describe.

"From what I've read and heard about these issues with the bank accounts and debit cards, I think it's pretty clear this looks a lot more like a pencil than a fighter jet or a complex IT system," Tadelis says.

Treasury's Office of the Inspector General is now investigating the contracts with JP Morgan Chase and the Bank of America and is expected to issue a report later this year.

Gregg Cavaluzzi now works at the Fortune Society, helping to find jobs for other newly released prisoners.

"Until these banks find a way to make money on the rehabilitation of people, and not the incarceration," he warns, "this will continue."

The Koch brothers' $900 million warchest

Wed, 2015-01-28 02:00

Even in the big-money world of politics, $900 million dollars is a striking amount. Some Washington watchers say the fact that the money will come from just a handful of people, ought to raise concerns that the U.S. is teetering on the brink of becoming an oligarchy.

Big donors are a relatively rare breed. Data from the Center for Responsive Politics shows that, in the 2012 election cycle, only about .4 percent of Americans donated more than $200 to a candidate, political party or PAC. And, as the 2012 Presidential campaign illustrated, the party that spends the most doesn't necessarily win.

Click the media player above to hear more.

How big banks turned prisons into profit centers

Wed, 2015-01-28 02:00

Greg Cavaluzzi spent four years in federal prison, eating cold oatmeal and white bread for breakfast and bologna for lunch and dinner. So the first thing he wanted to do when he was released was to eat "something normal." When his parents picked him up from Fort Dix in New Jersey, he took them to Wendy's.

"We didn't really talk," he says. "We ate. We were just so happy to be next to each other."

He ordered two bacon, egg and cheese sandwiches, and paid for the meal with a JP Morgan Chase debit card featuring a photo of him in his prison-issued khakis, a backdrop measuring his height in the background. The cards are standard in the federal prison system for giving discharged inmates money sent by friends and family or earned at in-prison jobs.

Cavaluzzi's meal cost around ten dollars. Or as Cavaluzzi puts it: "Everything. It was everything. I was used to making ten dollars a month."

Cavaluzzi made that money as a librarian in prison, where wages start at $.11 an hour. But those hard-earned dollars disappeared faster than he expected, and when he called Chase, he found out the reason was fees.

"It just seemed a little..." Cavaluzzi trails off. "It was sketchy."

The fees on prison-issued debit cards were agreed to in a contract with a branch of the Department of the Treasury in 2011, who provided the below schedule of fees.

Fees for JP Morgan Chase debit cards provided to newly released federal prison images

Department of Treasury

It's $.45 to check your balance at an ATM, $1.50 if your account is inactive for 90 days, $2.00 for withdrawing money at a non-Chase ATM, and $7.50 for replacing the card a second time within a single year.

The absolute numbers aren't radically high, but experts say even small penalties can be both more significant—and more insidious—for newly released prisoners, who tend to have less money, less banking experience and many other barriers to reintegrating into society.

"It's bus fare to a job, it's a meal, it's a room for a night," says Karin Martin, an associate professor at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice who researches debt and fees in the criminal justice system. "There's this split mentality—on the one hand, we are saying we would like to reintegrate people, and on the other hand, we are having lots of policies that undermine their ability to reintegrate."

Still, contracting with private companies that charge inmates for their services is hardly exceptional.

"The Bureau of Prisons contracts out all kinds of goods and service type things," says Jack Donson, who spent 23 years as a case manager in the federal prison system. "The institution has food vendors, vending machine vendors, halfway houses."

In all these cases, companies have a (literally) captive market, and prisoners frequently complain about being overcharged. Though there is no competition for the business of prison inmates, there is typically competition for the contracts themselves—as there are for most such contracts with the federal government—for sound economic reasons.

"When it comes to products or service that are somewhat standard, easy to describe, where the deliverables are clear and reasonably measurable, then competitive bidding is by far the most efficient method of procurement," says Steve Tadelis, an associate professor of business and public policy at UC Berkeley who has studied government contracts.

A good example of this kind of standardized good or service is a pencil.

"If you're a government agency and you want to procure pencils, well there are gazillion producers of pencils," says Tadelis. An open competitive bidding process asks all the pencil producers to make an offer, and let's that competition drive down the pencil price.

But a Center for Public Integrity investigation found that the contract with JP Morgan Chase—as well as a contract between the Department of Treasury and the Bank of America for financial services inside of prisons—were not subject to an open, competitive bidding process.

"When I hear 'no bid contract,' forget prison environment, that does surprise me a little bit," says Donson.

Tadelis says, from an economist's point of view, it could make sense to skirt the competitive bidding process, but only if the goods or services are complicated, evolving or difficult to describe.

"From what I've read and heard about these issues with the bank accounts and debit cards, I think it's pretty clear this looks as lot more like a pencil than a fighter jet or a complex IT system," says Tadelis.

Treasury's Office of the Inspector General is now investigating the contracts with JP Morgan Chase and the Bank of America, and is expected to issue a report later this year.

Gregg Cavaluzzi now works at the Fortune Society, helping to find jobs for other newly-released prisoners.

"Until these banks find a way to make money on the rehabilitation of people, and not the incarceration," he warns, "this will continue."

A sign in the lobby at the Fortune Society, where Gregg Cavaluzzi now works as an account manager.

Stan Alcorn/Marketplace

That article you're reading might just be an ad

Wed, 2015-01-28 02:00

Did you realize the article you're looking at in your favorite magazine might actually be paid advertising? You may soon be seeing more of that in publications like Wired, Vanity Fair and The New Yorker. Their publisher, Conde Nast, announced this week that it will deploy magazine editors and digital video staffers to shape some of the paid ads in its print and digital editions. 

“Native advertising is all the rage,” says media consultant Ken Doctor at Newsonomics.

Doctor says Conde Nast's venture isn't the first of its kind. Time, Inc. has also deployed editorial staff to help develop paid content. But Doctor says the practice is still controversial.

“So, at WIRED magazine for instance, the new 3-D smart watch comes out, and you're expecting to get WIRED’s take on this,” he says. “But what if Samsung is actually paying to have their ad about the 3-D smart watch written by a WIRED staffer?”

Publishers' ad revenue has shrunk as more competitors pop up online. And Doctor says you can charge a lot more for native ads.

Media consultant Alan Mutter says readers need to be on guard. 

“We have to do more work than ever before to figure out what's real and who to believe,” he says.

Mutter hopes Conde Nast will help readers discern truth from spin by taking extra care to label its paid content.

Alibaba wants to give credit where credit is due

Wed, 2015-01-28 01:30
74.5 million

That's how many iPhone shipments Apple reported in its first quarter. As Quartz reports, that number beats last year's record by almost 50 percent, proving that bigger really is better.

4

The number of homes currently owned by Mitt Romney. According to the Boston Globe, Romney went on "something of a real estate spree" after losing the 2012 presidential election, buying a house in Utah and starting construction of two more while selling his condo in Massachusetts. Now Romney is taking steps to sell his lavish but yet-unfinished house in La Jolla, California, possibly in anticipation of another run at the White House in 2016. Romney's wealth was used to paint him as out of touch in the last election.

$2.00

That's how much JPMorgan Chase charges inmates using prison-issued debit cards when they withdraw from out-of-network ATMs. That may not seem like a lot, but it's devastating when considering someone like Greg Cavaluzzi, who only made $10 a month while in a federal prison. Plus, when newly released prisoners like Cavaluzzi have to deal with finances in the outside world, they tend to have less money, less banking experience and many other barriers to reintegrating into society.

$111,000

The average base salary of a physician's assistant, which Glassdoor just named the "best job of 2015," based on its troves of user-submitted data. This is the first time the website has released such a list, Forbes reported, and it was compiled by weighing current openings, average salary and other factors. PA is an especially desirable job because of its fairly high pay and low barrier to entry, compared to physicians.

$80

That's the maximum price for driveway-clearing service from Plowz and Mowz, a service Bloomberg calls "Uber for snowplows." The recent blizzard in the Northeast has put a spotlight on Plowz and other similar private plowing businesses.

300 million users

Ant Financial, an Alibaba owned company, will look into the spending and saving habits of their 300 million registered users to establish a new system of determining creditworthiness. As reported by the New York Times, the venture is called Sesame Credit Management, and will use primarily online data to assign a credit score from 350 points to 950 points. The system aims to address the difficulties many Chinese citizens face in building credit and receiving loans.

Tell us what the economy feels like to you

Tue, 2015-01-27 14:13

It’s doing better by lots of measurements – but people don’t feel it. Which is part of what President Obama was out stumping for through November.

The data says the economy’s doing better – much better. But does it feel better? How’s your economy doing? 

Tell us your story below, and we might include it in the show.

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Looking for meaning in a fractional gas price increase

Tue, 2015-01-27 12:58

The long slide in oil and gas prices might be coming to an end.

Tuesday was the first time in four months that the price of a gallon of gas was more expensive than it was the day before, according to the American Automobile Association.

Specifically, on Monday the national average was $2.033, and Tuesday it rose to $2.038.

Maybe I'm just reading too much into statistics.

Doing the numbers on the Northeast's snowstorm

Tue, 2015-01-27 12:03

As New England digs itself out from two and a half feet of snow, New Yorkers are taking stock of the Snowpocalypse that wasn't.

But the forecasts, the hype and the precautions have real economic cost, says Scott Bernhardt, president of the weather economics analysis firm Planalytics.

"The economic impact of today is going to happen whether it was eight inches or 18 inches in Central Park.," Bernhardt says.

Widespread travel bans, school closures, flight cancellations, extra city workers and the like all come with serious cost. Locally, hardware, grocery and convenience stores enjoyed a spike in sales while sit-down restaurants lose revenue they can't make up. Meanwhile, some states are still getting hammered. 

"Tomorrow it'll be like it never happened in Philadelphia, probably New York as well," Bernhardt says. "When you get into Boston? Not so much. Hartford? Not so much."

The total economic cost remains to be seen. Let's do the numbers on the storm so far:

30 inches

The peak snowfall in Massachusetts, CNN reported, with drifts reaching up to six feet. As of Tuesday afternoon, parts of Maine, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New Hampshire and Massachusetts were under blizzard and winter storm warnings. New York City got off easy in comparison, with a paltry 7.9 inches falling in Central Park.

26.9 inches

New York City's record snowfall, recorded in February 2006 in Central Park. At that time, the city deployed 2,500 workers to help with cleanup, flights were grounded and trains were delayed, but the subway didn't shut down as it did Monday night.

4,727

That's how many domestic and international flights were cancelled Tuesday in anticipation of a historic nor'easter, with another 2,290 delayed. On Monday airlines cancelled 2,866 flights.

$160 million

The cost of lost labor if 10 percent of New York City's workforce stays home, The New York Times' Upshot reported. That might be a conservative estimate, since the majority of workers take the subway, which shut down for the first time in more than a century. Or it could be overstated, since so many people are wired to work from home.

$500 million

The estimated cost of the storm, a senior VP for Planalytics told CNBC Tuesday morning. That's far from the GDP-shrinking impact some analysts talked about Monday. In the case of New York City,  one economist told Bloomberg any lost output should be made up by the end of the week.

Hate performance reviews? So does human resources

Tue, 2015-01-27 11:15

The Society for Human Resource Management says about 90 percent of companies give employees performance appraisals during the year. But only a small share of people who work in HR give their appraisal process high marks.

A few big companies like Microsoft and Kelly Services have acknowledged flaws in the traditional appraisal process and have retooled some major parts of it. So has software giant Adobe.

“For too long we've appeared as the police people, if you will, the regulators of processes that weren't necessarily valued by the intended audiences, whether it be by managers or employees,” says Donna Morris, senior vice president of People and Places at Adobe.

A few years ago, Adobe spiked the traditional annual review.  Managers and workers now do regular, verbal check-ins every couple months. There's no paperwork. Employees get clarity on their goals and can ask for support to help get their jobs done.

“People just really want to have an ongoing dialogue. They want to know that there's no surprise in terms of how they're performing, how they can make a difference in the organization,” Morris says.

Adobe’s part of what some experts say is a burgeoning trend of companies dumping the traditional performance review. Experts say the performance review can turn adversarial when talk of rankings and raises gets mixed into a conversation about an employee's growth and development. And if the conversation only happens once a year, that creates all the more pressure. 

But Sam Culbert, a management expert at the University of California, Los Angeles, says the trend to scrap the annual review needs to move faster. He's an outspoken critic of the traditional review, as the title of his book suggests: "Get Rid of the Performance Review: How Companies Can Stop Intimidating, Start Managing — and Focus on the Results That Really Matter."

“The metrics [of reviews] are baloney. One manager's team player is another manager's conflict avoider. There's no consistency,” Culbert says.

The annual employee review took off in the postwar era as companies tried out new management techniques. In the 1980s, Jack Welch, a chief executive at General Electric, popularized a way of ranking workers as a part of performance management, Culbert says.

“So you could give 20 percent ‘excellent’ and then you had to give 10 percent either 'improve’ or ‘get fired,’” Culbert says. “And the rest of the 70 percent were some form of average.”

Adobe's system may not put to rest the fear of getting fired that many workers associate with performance conversations. The company says it’s retaining more of its top workers under its new approach, it's also letting go of weaker employees at a higher rate.

Telecommuting is killing the snow day

Tue, 2015-01-27 10:40

As parts of the Northeast dig out from Tuesday's snowstorm, many workers will still be dealing with emails, presentations and phone calls that they've usually handled in the office.

One reason the storm's economic impact will be a relatively low $500 million is the rise of telecommuting, according to estimates by Planalytics, a firm that helps businesses plan for weather-driven changes.

The 2010 census figures show that 2.4 percent of workers telecommute full-time, an increase from 1.4 percent in 2000, says Nicholas Bloom, a Stanford University economics professor. When Bloom studied telecommuting, he discovered workers can be 13 percent more productive and prefer working from home one or two days a week.

A snowstorm is the perfect time for companies to experiment with letting workers telecommute, he says, because they can see if it works for them. Telecommuting seems to be increasing among workers with lower-level jobs (such as IT call center assistants) and upper-level management positions, according to Bloom.

What goes into the 'durable goods index'

Tue, 2015-01-27 10:38

Orders on durable goods were down almost 3.5 percent in December from a month earlier, according to a report issued Tuesday.

Figures on orders for durable goods are one way to judge the relative health of the American manufacturing sector.

Here's some of what goes into that index:

It starts with the U.S. Census Bureau, says Dale Jorgenson, a Harvard University economics professor.

"They collect information on what the shipments were, what they actually shipped out to their customers, what they are holding in terms of inventory, and finally what they received in terms of new orders," he says.

 

How a strong dollar can be a corporate weakness

Tue, 2015-01-27 10:36

DuPont, Procter & Gamble and Pfizer are among the multinational corporations blaming the strong dollar for earnings that missed analysts' expectations this quarter. But the strong dollar isn't a weakness for the reason you might expect. 

The dollar has spiked rapidly and broadly because the U.S. economy is doing relatively well, says Sameer Samana, global strategist at Wells Fargo.

How the U.S. dollar compares to the British pound, euro and Japanese yen.

Raghu Manavalan/Marketplace

That has hurt multinational corporations not necessarily because this makes exports more expensive but because of what Steven Englander, head of G10 foreign exchange strategy at Citigroup, calls the "translation effect."

Mauro Guillén, a professor of international management at the Wharton School, says this is when profits abroad are "lost in translation." They are reduced by the exchange rate when they are repatriated back to the United States. It may hurt a company's stock price, Guillén says, but it's not a threat to the broader economy.

Koch brothers' 2016 war chest is $889 million

Tue, 2015-01-27 09:29

Conservatives Charles and David Koch's big Monday announcement: A network of political groups the brothers back plans to spend $889 million ahead of the next election. To put that in context, this would put their political organization in league with the two major parties financially. Their spending goal would be more than twice what the Republican National Committee spent in 2012. 

The news comes out of the Freedom Partners annual winter meeting held outside of Palm Springs, California.

"We’re talking about a few hundred people here who have committed to give money to this network ahead of the campaign," says Marketplace’s David Gura.

Much of that money will go to ads, but the Koch brothers have also heavily invested in data and technology.

So what does all of this money – being raised by a private organization and being spent by a private organization – say about the fate of the two national parties: Democrats and the Republicans?

"They’ve both got to be worried," says Gura. "You’ve got these outside groups who are setting the message, they’re controlling the message to an extent, and I think even more fundamentally, they’re doing things that parties used to do or that they have been doing. I mentioned the ground game and collecting data – that was the providence of parties for a really long time."

Quiz: States pick up the tab for preschool

Tue, 2015-01-27 07:29

All but six states funded local pre-K programs in 2014-2015, according to the Education Commission of the States.

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Net neutrality: Whole lot of drama in those two words

Tue, 2015-01-27 06:43

In just 30 days, the entire FUTURE OF THE INTERNET will be revealed! 

Well ... maybe.

On Feb. 26, the Federal Communications Commission will rule on proposed rules regarding "net neutrality" and how the Internet can be used by consumers and Internet Service Providers.

"Net neutrality."  Could they have come up with a more boring term? It even has the word "neutral" in it. As in plain. Dull. Tedious.

Here's a quick and dirty explainer on "net neutrality":

The idea behind the term is that all data transmitted across the Internet should be treated equally, or neutrally. In theory, that's the way things work, but some cable companies and Internet Service Providers want to disrupt that model.

Perhaps the cable companies coined the phrase "net neutrality"? That would be genius. Just mention the two words, and the whole world switches off. It would free you up to have a conversation about how to make money off the Internet without facing too much opposition.

Not everyone has switched off. A handful of sleep-resistant lobby groups and consumer-rights advocates have teamed up with companies and set off alarm bells across the Internet. Consumers are bombarding the Federal Communications Commission and Capitol Hill with a simple plea regarding the FCC: Continue to require information to be transmitted equally across the Internet, without discrimination or prejudice.

Will the will of American consumers prevail? Or will the cable behemoths crush their resistance? Despite its ho-hum name, the battle over "net neutrality" has the makings of a dramatic saga.

PODCAST: Preparing for a power outage

Tue, 2015-01-27 03:00

Warnings about company profits put a tremor into the stock market today. More on that. Plus, two big steel companies revealed their profits today. So, how is the industry looking? We'll also talk about how more and more Americans are making their own power, either by installing solar panels, or in areas with frequent storms, backup home generators.

Mortgage program rates due to reset this year

Tue, 2015-01-27 02:00

Hundreds of thousands of homeowners who got a break on their mortgages during the financial crisis are about to see their monthly payments start going back up.

Known as the Home Affordable Modification Program—or HAMP—the government project provided relief for struggling homeowners by reducing monthly mortgage payments for five years. HAMP was rolled out in 2009, but really took off in 2010. Participants reduced their mortgage rates to as low as 2-percent, shaving hundreds of dollars off their payments.

Greg McBride, Chief Financial Analyst for Bankrate.com says as HAMP begins to sunset, incomes and wages remain stagnant and many of those same people are still strained.

"For a lot of people their situation hasn't changed drastically in the last five years to the point where they're now able to handle those higher payments as the payments normalize," says McBride. 

Still, others don’t see the end of HAMP driving up foreclosures. For one thing, home prices are much higher in 2015, meaning fewer people are under water.

"Nobody wants to necessarily throw money at a depreciating asset,” say Mark Munzenberger, Director of Housing for GreenPath Debt Solutions, in Metro Detroit, “fortunately about 90 percent of homeowners in the United States do have some positive equity." Munzerberger also points out that the rate increases are capped at a one percent per year, meaning most people will initially only pay around $50-75 more on their monthly bills (each year).

U.S. steel makers face challenges to profits

Tue, 2015-01-27 02:00

Three big steel companies report earnings Tuesday; Nucor, AK Steel and U.S. Steel.

First, what’s good for American steel makers: the strong U.S. economy and car sales, says Benjamin Liebman, chairman of the economics department at St. Joseph’s University. But, “the other side is that you have a surge in imports. And that is putting down pressure on prices,” he says.

The other challenge? Plunging oil prices. Thorsten Schier, steel editor at American Metal Market, says that means oil drillers are doing less drilling. And drilling uses lots of steel pipe. 

Click the media player above to hear more.

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