The U.S. Labor Department's monthly employment report for August is expected to show some improvement in the job market from July. The consensus among economists is for 230,000 jobs to have been added to private and public-sector payrolls, and for the unemployment rate to have declined 0.1 percent to 6.1 percent.
The trend is now stable and well-established after five years of labor-market improvement that only came in fits and starts, says economist Gary Burtless at the Brookings Institution.
Burtless points out that private businesses have been adding more than 200,000 jobs per month.
“In the last six months, the government has joined the party,” Burtless said. “Public employment is now rising again, although very slowly. As long as these jobs reports continue, I think everyone should be heartened.”
Burtless and other economists are discouraged by anemic wage growth, though. In the years since the recession ended, paychecks for most Americans have just barely kept pace with inflation.
Economist Elise Gould at the Economic Policy Institute says that shows there’s still significant slack in the labor market. Employers don’t have to offer higher pay to attract and retain workers, and workers don’t have much bargaining power.
“Workers are really not seeing the growing productivity, the growing economy, in higher wages,” Gould said.
The number of American households suffering from food insecurity is down from its peak in 2011, the USDA said in a report released this week.
The decline was a modest 2.7 percent — bringing the number down to 17.5 million households where access to enough food for healthy and active living (how the USDA defines food security) was inconsistent or not dependable.
The report also said the number of households with severe food insecurity, including one member of the household who is going hungry, remained unchanged at almost 7 million. One out of five of these homes include children.
While researchers report that parents often shield their children from hunger, in 360,000 households, food availability was so poor that children were also affected.
“In these households, with very low food security among children, parents reported that children were hungry, but they just didn’t have enough money for food or that children were skipping meals, and in the most extreme situations going the whole day without eating,” says Alisha Coleman-Jensen, co-author of the USDA study.
Nevertheless, the number of extreme food instability households dropped from 1.2 to 0.9 percent.
Households with food instability are not evenly spread out around the country. There are more of them in urban and rural areas, and fewer in the suburbs. Southern states are hit hardest, while North Dakota, which is in the middle of an oil boom, has the lowest rate at 8.7 percent.
The nationwide numbers are grim, despite the fact that the economy has been improving, albeit modestly, and unemployment is decreasing. Coleman-Jensen says when researchers took into account employment, income and other factors, the most significant barrier for improved food security in the U.S. appeared to be inflation in food costs.
Graphic courtesy of USDA Economic Research Service.
“In certain categories, like proteins and dairy, they’ve been incurring double-digit inflation. You also have increasing demand for select commodities around the world, and that’s likely to keep an overall upward pressure on costs,” says Erin Lash, a consumer products analyst with the Chicago-based research firm MorningStar.
Lash says droughts are also partly to blame for higher food prices in certain categories. For example, beef prices rose 10 percent last year, and pork prices rose as much as 7.5 percent. Both meats will likely see price increases this year as well, as consumers feel the effects of a drought in Texas and Oklahoma, and a Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea virus that killed 7 million piglets last year.
In 2015, the USDA predicts food prices overall will see more normal levels of inflation, around 2 to 3 percent. But USDA co-author Coleman-Jensen says it is too early to predict whether that will significantly improve America’s household food security problem.
From the outside, Cheyenne, Wyoming’s Green House Data center looks fairly nondescript, just another boring building in a corporate office park.
But get past security and it feels like something out of "The Matrix" — a long white hallway leads to row after row of blinking servers. They’re extremely well protected, says staff engineer Courtney Thompson:
"Laser grid-based systems on penetrations on the outside of our walls. Kevlar bullet-proofing anywhere there is a window. We like to show people we go to the nth degree to make sure our clients' data is secure.”
The clients that use Green House Data’s cloud hosting services include New Belgium Brewing Company, the National Outdoor Leadership School, and now, the state of Wyoming.
“We are getting higher quality servers, higher quality data protection,” says Wyoming Chief Information Officer Flint Waters. “So it’s more economical for us, but it’s also far more bang for the buck.”
Waters is leading the transition of most of the state’s data from state-owned servers to the cloud — space on the Internet rented from big data companies, like a giant version of Dropbox or Google Drive. Pennsylvania is also moving government data to the cloud.
Waters says there are lots of benefits: He gets access to the very best IT professionals, and the state only has to pay for the storage it needs. He says there’s no way Wyoming can compete with companies that manage data for a living.
“When it comes time to put together a bunch of new trucks for our fleet, we don’t say, ‘Let’s put together a factory and assemble trucks.’ We look at GM, Ford, Chrysler. And this is a very similar paradigm,” Waters says.
While many states are looking into the cloud, a nationwide survey last year found that most are worried it could violate privacy laws. Waters says he understands the concern, but it is silly to think that government-owned servers are any safer.
“Folks say, 'It’s more secure because I control the server.' Well, yeah, but I can pick it up and walk out to my car with it. And that citizen data isn’t secure anymore.”
Electronic Frontier Foundation attorney Lee Tien isn’t convinced. “If you are controlling your own data center, you have the control that matches your responsibility,” he says. “When you move into the cloud, something could go wrong.”
Tien points to an example out of California as a reason to worry. School kids in that state use a cloud service called Google Apps for Education. But last spring, it came out that Google had been clandestinely mining their emails for ad research.
Tien says governments need to be good stewards of their citizens’ data. "There is a tendency for there not to be whole lot of public oversight over these kinds of decisions, even when they can be quite fateful for everyone involved.”
For small governments, navigating the world of cloud computing can be confusing. Thankfully, there is Australia.
“Australia has always been a country where the citizens have valued their privacy," says John Sheridan, Australia’s information minister.
The Australian government is moving a lot of information onto the cloud, too, and last year it came out with one of the most extensive guides to data privacy out there.
Sheridan says government cloud computing contracts need to be able to hold private companies accountable. “We need to look at their security. So we don’t want someone hacking our websites or doing those sorts of things.”
And, Sheridan says, if there is a hack, governments need to be sure they know about it, and know how it’ll be fixed.
In Cheyenne, Courtney Thompson would be one of those fixers if something went wrong. Pointing at the banks of humming servers, he says Wyoming is just the beginning for states heading to the cloud.
“Massive data centers like this, they’re the future of computing."
I actually enjoy reading about "The Beige Book," the Federal Reserve's regular look at regional slices of the American economy.
I know this makes me sound incredibly dull, but bear with me.
The latest installment came out today, and so we know (thanks to The Wall Street Journal):
- Theme-park attendance in and around the Atlanta region was soft, because family vacations were delayed due to snow-day makeups at the end of the school year.
- Aerospace manufacturers near San Francisco are worried about titanium supplies, because of sanctions on Russia.
- A mildew outbreak in North Dakota may reduce sunflower yields. My personal favorite.
C'mon... fascinating, right?
How do you add more than $590 million to the value of your company in just one day? Hire Gisele Bundchen.
That’s what Under Armour has done. The athletic apparel company has been aggressively marketing itself — it even tried to steal away one of Nike’s most popular endorsers, NBA star Kevin Durant (he stayed with Nike).
Under Armour has traditionally appealed to male jocks, but it’s trying to broaden its customer base to include more women. For a company that started out in the mid-'90s catering to male football players, Under Armour has come a long way. Its sales rose 34 percent in the second quarter, and the company is on track to pull in $3 billion in revenue this year.
That’s still peanuts compared to Nike, but Under Armour is flexing its marketing muscle. A host of celebrity athletes have signed on to endorse its products, including ski racer Lindsey Vonn and ballerina Misty Copeland. “The fact that they’re willing to put money behind these celebrities signals to others that, yeah, we’re going to be playing against the big guys,” says Amna Kirmani, a business professor at the University of Maryland.
Kirmani says Under Armour has always had a good reputation among serious athletes, but now the company needs to broaden its appeal with “everyday individuals.” That includes people who may never step foot near a gym. Matt Saler, director of sports marketing at IMRE, says active sportswear is becoming more of a mainstream fashion trend. “Under Armour’s really at the forefront of it with Nike and their competitors. They’ve really established their place in the category as one of the leaders.”
This is the view from Apple headquarters this week:[&amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;lt;a href="//storify.com/Marketplace/response-to-celebrity-nude-photo-hacks" target="_blank"&amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;gt;View the story "Response to Celebrity Nude Photo Hacks" on Storify&amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;lt;/a&amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;gt;]
The story led to speculation about weaknesses in iCloud security, and all this less than a week before a major announcement from Apple, likely the unveiling of an iPhone 6.
“It’s a hit to Apple,” says Colin Gillis, a senior technology analyst at BGC Financial. He says Apple should be looking forward, and presenting consumers with new security tools like biometrics — requiring a fingerprint instead of just a password to access accounts.
“They will offer you solutions that you’ll have, you know, extended on new iPhones to help prevent these types of things," Gillis says.
So, just buy a new iPhone and everything will be fine, right?
Not quite, because the celebrity nude photo dump is so much more personal than a credit card data breach.
“It’s like someone, you know, going through your personal trash," says Jeff Howe, head of the media innovation program at Northeastern University. "I think it absolutely engenders a sense of violation.”
That could make consumers more wary of sharing personal stuff online. Could something like that happen to our data in the cloud?
Cathy Boyle, a senior mobile analyst at eMarketer, said she's definitely noticed more wariness from consumers.
“But I think if you tell them that if you share a certain amount of your information with us in exchange for something valuable, then people seem to be more accepting of sharing their information,” she says.
So companies would have to offer us a discount or special treatment for our online data. Otherwise, hey — stay off my cloud.
The cloud is a tricky place to put your information, pictures or other things you consider private.
Turns out, every major cloud storage service — Dropbox, Apple's iCloud, Google Drive and so on — all use the "mutual responsibility model" in their terms of service. This means if you give away your credentials, then the cloud service provider cannot be held accountable if you get hacked.
"They count anything," says Ben Johnson, host of Marketplace Tech. "Even if you don’t know that you are giving it away. So if you get phished, or if someone gets you to click on something and they hack into your computer or your phone, that counts as ‘willingly giving it away.’"
With those terms of service, you might need to compromise some privacy for the convenience of using any cloud storage. Or, like Kai, you can turn the setting off altogether.
Listen to the Kai Ryssdal's full conversation with Ben Johnson in the audio player above.
The technology of recorded music is a lot older than vinyl albums spinning on '60s-style turntables and singles — 45s — popping onto a jukebox needle.
The very earliest records held two to three minutes of music per side. They measured 10 inches of shellac, and were played on Victrolas that were more of a furniture design statement than a means to a musical end. The needles were so crude they gouged out the grooves on the records.
Moving at 78 rotations per minute, the remaining records are a technological relic that holds some of the earliest American music. There are few remaining metal masters, the engraving technology that can resuscitate the original recording sessions of, say, the Beach Boys' "Pet Sounds." So the record itself becomes an obsession for collectors who seek out 78s.
"It's a high-stakes treasure hunt, in a way, because they're saving these songs from certain death," said Amanda Petrusich, who interviewed collectors for her book, "Do Not Sell at Any Price: The Wild, Obsessive Hunt for the World's Rarest 78 rpm Records".
The "wildness" includes Petrusich's own scuba-diving adventure into the Milwaukee River, after getting a tip that some 78s might be wasting away underwater. Not to mention the hours collectors spend at yard sales, scouring eBay, and the high price a rare disc can command.
"There was a very public sale recently on eBay of a record for $37,000," Petrusich said, adding, "That's not uncommon."
The stereotype of the collector was partially true and partially not, Petrusich found. Overwhelmingly male? Definitely. A kind of tight-knit fraternity? Check.
But older, sort of pale, doughy middle-aged men, à la Steve Buscemi's character in "Ghost World"? Petrusich says "not so much."
Some of the obsession seems to be driven not only by the hunt, rarity and preciousness of the music 78s may contain. It's also a way for collectors to surround themselves with true antiques.
"The idea that these are men who feel in some way isolated by or excluded from modernity is very much true. They end up ultimately collecting these things as a way of insulating themselves from that, or slowing down the acceleration of culture."
Fortunately for new fans of prewar blues or Creole music, a lot of songs have been digitized. For example, a song that Petrusich fell in love with, Blind Uncle Gaspard's "Sur Le Bord De L'eau," is on YouTube, iTunes and Amazon. Not least because it was included on the soundtrack to HBO's "True Detective."
Petrusich and her fellow collectors hope more of these songs survive their fragile 78 form.
"Not all old records are good, but there's a sense that we don't even know what has fallen through the cracks."
Even so, she said, there's a special quality to holding an old disc, hearing the scratches as it plays on the equipment it was first heard on.
Listen to the full conversation in the audio player above.
New York City’s Fashion Week begins Wednesday night, and one of the first shows will be in Central Park — on horse-drawn carriages.
"We'd like to refer to this as a moving runway," says Tobi Rubinstein Schneier of the Tahor Group, which dreamed up the idea for designer Victor de Souza. Seven models dressed in couture will ride seven carriages drawn by white horses in a loop. "The horses are iconic New York, and they’re majestic and they’re beautiful," says Schneier. "You know, they’re models themselves."
It's just one of many techniques clothing brands are using to stand out in a crowded field. Ultrahip label Opening Ceremony is putting on a one-act play, co-written by film director Spike Jonze and actor Jonah Hill; British designer Gareth Pugh is creating an "immersive experience." Less established designers are thinking unconventionally as well. Emily Saunders would say only that her models would be static, and that the theme of her collection is a song.
"The 1968 Iron Butterfly song 'In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida,'" she says.
"There’s no question that cutting through the clutter is what every smart business person is trying to do today," says Alison Kenney Paul, vice chairman of retail and distribution at Deloitte. But in her view, the biggest change to Fashion Week is how the Internet and fast fashion have shortened the distance between the shows and the streets.
"I believe you’re going to see some of the looks if they really resonate with people almost within weeks, not months," says Paul. "It’s much more of a short, uh, runway, if you will."
Based on current economic conditions, Paul predicts more consumers at the end of that runway this season.
Oh, yeah, and more neutral colors.
According to Gallup, families in America spend roughly $150 dollars a week on food:Gallup
Marketplace Weekend wants to know, how do you save money at the grocery store?
@MarketplaceWknd Plan meals around what's on sale (esp for meats) not just what you feel like eating.
— Karen Luck (@WhereIsMyKindle) September 3, 2014
Eat fast food whenever possible RT@MarketplaceWknd: What are your favorite tips and tricks to save money at the grocery store?
— SevenPointBuck (@SevenPointBuck) September 3, 2014
@MarketplaceWknd Reach for the back of the shelf (bread, meats, eggs, and so on). Later expiration dates for the same price.
— Dylan Campbell (@dylancampbell) September 3, 2014
For David Bunzel, the bad news came in a letter, in March.
“I opened it up,” he says, “and I was surprised.”
Bunzel lives in Scarsdale, New York, just north of New York City. The community is doing its first town-wide property value reassessments in 45 years. And the letter Bunzel got came from the assessment office.
“The estimated value, from their perception, of our home went up overnight by about 30 percent,” he says.
The estimated value of your home helps determine how much you pay in property taxes.
Bunzel lives in a neighborhood of multimillion-dollar homes, and a 30 percent increase would be a lot of money. (He wouldn’t say exactly how much.) Things were even worse for some of his neighbors. Some even saw their assessments double.
So Bunzel and a bunch of his neighbors are now challenging the revaluations. He says he understands property assessments were way overdue in Scarsdale, but the way their homes were assessed and the sudden spike, he says, aren’t fair.
“Who has sympathy for these people?” says Robert Berg, another Scarsdale resident. “They were getting a great deal that we were paying for, for 45 years in many cases.”
Berg was one of the people who pushed for the property revaluations. He says the owners of what are now some of the most expensive homes in town weren't paying property taxes that reflected that. So people in more modest homes had to pay more than their share of property taxes to make up for it, he argues.
“If someone's paying too little,” Berg says, “someone's paying too much. And the whole purpose of a revaluation is to periodically and systematically review all the property valuations in town, so you can get equity in the tax rolls.”
The state of New York doesn't require periodic revaluations, but they recommend cities reassess properties every few years. Some towns in the state haven't had property reassessments since the Civil War.
New York's not alone in these infrequent assessments. In California, for example, your property tax is based on how much you paid for your house. If you've been sitting on a home for 40 years, you're paying way fewer taxes than someone who bought a similar home at today's prices.
Kim Rueben, a senior fellow at the Tax Policy Center at the Urban Institute, says to avoid revaluation controversies like the one in Scarsdale and similar situations in California, cities need routine state-mandated property assessments. They keep property taxes smoother for everyone, Rueben says.
“I think it would be easier,” she says, “for the county and the local governments if the state did mandate it. And so they could just say that it's the state law to do this.”
But if cities and towns have been collecting property taxes for centuries, why haven't they figured this out yet?
“Some of this is much more political than fiscal,” Rueben says. “So the whole idea that you're not going to reassess properties has more to do with who has political power and who's going to end up being winners and losers.”
She says reassessments usually put the biggest dent in the pocketbooks of the upscale homeowners, so politicians might avoid enforcing reassessments to avoid upsetting wealthy voters.
“But,” she says, “it's never going to be any easier for them to do the reassessment.”
At some point, towns that have held off on reassessments are going to have to bite the bullet. Scarsdale's property revaluations are still under review, but they should go into effect later this month.
For trading stocks and other securities there are stock exchanges, which are highly regulated. Then there are alternative trading systems, called "dark pools," which are lightly regulated.
Now, there's news on Wednesday that IEX, an upstart, alternative system, has gotten some big new investors to help it try to become a fully-fledged, regulated exchange.
IEX is designed to mute the effects of high-speed trading: advanced technology that some argue serves Wall Street middlemen and not investors. The CEO of IEX, Brad Katsuyama, was even cast as the protagonist in Michael Lewis' best-selling critique of high-speed trading.
Click the media player above to hear Brad Katsuyama in conversation with Marketplace Morning Report host David Brancaccio.
The Baby Boomer generation is expected to live longer than any other generation that preceded them. And with the current state of the economy and the possibility of a future without pensions and social security to fall back on, more and more of them are putting off retirement.
But maybe it's not such a bad thing.
In his new book, called "Unretirement," Chris Farrell argues that work has always been an essential part of our community, and that putting off retirement can be a good thing for everyone.
Click the media player above to hear Chris Farrell in conversation with Marketplace Morning Report host David Brancaccio.
First up, news that Chrysler owned by FIAT is reporting very strong sales today—up 20 percent in August, in part because Jeeps and pickup are moving out of dealerships like crazy. Nissan also handily beat expectations with sales up 11 percent. That and geopolitics are defining the mood on markets. And later today, several bank regulators, including the Federal Reserve and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, the FDIC, will vote on a rule that's designed to improve the way banks manage risk. More on their efforts to prevent the next financial crisis. And you've heard it before: Too many older people who haven't saved enough are forced to work until their dying day. Marketplace's senior economics contributor Chris Farrell doesn't see it this way. He's just written a book that argues there's cause for celebration about what we'll get to do in our later years.
On Wednesday, several government regulators, including the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, will vote on a rule that’s designed to improve the way banks manage risk.
After the last financial crisis, regulators started to worry about the next one. At a meeting in Basel, Switzerland, they proposed a “liquidity coverage ratio.”
According to Oliver I. Ireland, a partner with Morrison & Foerster, it would require banks to hold high-quality assets “that presumably you could sell into the market at a reasonable price in order to generate liquidity to meet, for example, customer withdrawals.”
For several years now, regulators have wrestled with what constitutes a “high-quality” asset.
“There are all kind of securities that have varying degrees of liquidity,” says Lawrence G. Baxter, the William B. McGuire Professor of the Practice of Law at Duke University. There is debt you can get rid of quickly, like U.S. bonds, and there is debt that is harder to sell. For example, there wasn’t much of a market for mortgage-backed securities in 2008.
“The more liquid the assets, the safer they are, but also the less yield-bearing they are likely to be,” Baxter explains, noting the liquidity-coverage ratio could pose a problem for banks. They have been bringing in record profits, he says, and they are under pressure to keep doing that.
On Thursday, more than 50,000 4-year-olds in New York City get to go to full-day pre-kindergarten. The best part? It's free, in a place where early education is the most expensive in the nation, according to the National Institute for Early Education Research.
It's an initiative of Mayor Bill de Blasio.
So what are parents in New York thinking about the citywide universal pre-K program?
"It's about time!" says Mildred Warner, who studies the economic impact of early education at Cornell University.
She says preschool education makes kids more ready for school and less likely to drop out. As for parents, they have to skip work less often.
"It also increases productivity of parents at work, because they know their children are in a good, developmentally appropriate place," she says.
Steven Barnett, director of the National Institute for Early Education Research, says many working low-income families previously had to rely on family or neighbors for childcare, which can be unreliable.
He says for middle-class families, universal pre-K frees up money for them to buy more stuff, take more vacations, and spend more on a mortgage.
"You could maybe do some more saving for college," he says.
Barnett says for that, it's never too early to start.
Today we hear from Courtney Young, president of the American Library Association, on how they're changing libraries. From services libraries offer to the actual layout and contents of some brick and mortar library buildings, new tech has had an impact.
Young says that it's important for libraries to change with the times, but that one challenge for librarians is making sure patrons are aware of new services. Also, keeping up with high costs.
Click the media player above to hear Courtney Young in conversation with Marketplace Tech host Ben Johnson.
H&R Block is expected to report its earnings Wednesday afternoon, and analysts feel good about the tax-prep giant’s future. Actually, they feel pretty great about the industry as a whole.
The source of their optimism is the Affordable Care Act, thanks, says George Brandes with Jackson Hewitt, to the tax-prep business truism: “Complicated taxes equals more people needing help.”
Brandes says his company assumes that figuring out the tax implications of the ACA will be tricky for millions of consumers.
“A study by the University of California, Berkeley, suggests as many as a third of all tax credit recipients will owe some money back, and so that adds another layer of complexity on how you handle something like this,” he says.
A person could owe money because their subsidy is based on estimated earnings; if someone underestimates, they’re on the hook to Uncle Sam.
The IRS says 140 million people file tax returns every year, with about 60 percent being done by professionals. Northcoast Research analyst Kartik Mehta expects that percentage to increase.
“We haven’t seen this type of a complication to the tax return in a long, long time,” he says.
Mehta says the real winners will be the brand-name preparers who can afford to blitz the airwaves come tax time.