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Can tablets really help kids learn to read?

Mon, 2014-09-01 19:15

Can tablets and apps help children learn to read? It feels like a simple question, but the answer is complicated.

For starters, technology is moving fast, and there hasn't been time for solid scientific consensus to develop on whether and how devices like tablets should be used to help children improve their reading skills.

That hasn't stopped school systems around the country from buying in, and we heard this week about tablets in schools from Marketplace's LearningCurve reporter Adriene Hill.

But beyond schools and teachers, what about parents who want their children to have top notch reading skills in a changing environment?

Jason Boog is the author of "Born Reading: Bringing Up Bookworms in a Digital Age." Boog says that there is some agreement in the scientific community on a few important points.

Click the media player above to hear Jason Boog in conversation with Marketplace Tech host Ben Johnson.

One thing neuroscientists seem to agree that kids shouldn't be playing with tablets and smartphones until they're over two years of age. Another is that whatever apps or technology we use to try and improve our kids' reading skills, there is no real alternative for a real human being reading with and to a child. 

 

Tablets: do they really help with reading education?

Mon, 2014-09-01 19:15

Can tablets and apps help children learn to read? It feels like a simple question, but the answer is complicated.

For starters, technology is moving fast, and there hasn't been time for solid scientific consensus to develop on whether and how devices like tablets should be used to help children improve their reading skills.

That hasn't stopped school systems around the country from buying in, and we heard this week about tablets in schools from Marketplace's LearningCurve reporter Adriene Hill.

But beyond schools and teachers, what about parents who want their children to have top notch reading skills in a changing environment?

Jason Boog is the author of "Born Reading: Bringing Up Bookworms in a Digital Age." Boog says that there is some agreement in the scientific community on a few important points.

Click the media player above to hear Jason Boog in conversation with Marketplace Tech host Ben Johnson.

One thing neuroscientists seem to agree that kids shouldn't be playing with tablets and smartphones until they're over two years of age. Another is that whatever apps or technology we use to try and improve our kids' reading skills, there is no real alternative for a real human being reading with and to a child. 

 

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory's dark lost chapter

Mon, 2014-09-01 12:44

If you remember Augustus Gloop, Veruca Salt and Willy Wonka, and of course our hero, Charlie Bucket from "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory," then I have some good news for you.

No, not a golden ticket. A lost chapter of Roald Dahl's classic book has been published by the English paper The Guardian.

In the lost chapter, the children go into the chocolate factory's vanilla fudge room and its rather violent cutting and pounding room. Not all the kids make it out.

You can also catch glimpses of some early character sketches and Dahl's trademark dark humor.

The paper says it was deemed too wild and subversive 50 years ago.

The story of a 1957 Chevy

Mon, 2014-09-01 11:55

Tracing the parentage of a 1957 Chevy is not easy, but for Earl Swift, author of "Auto Biography: A Classic Car, an Outlaw Motorhead, and 57 Years of the American Dream," it became an obsession.

"I met Tommy Arney in 1993 when he was running a go-go bar in Virginia," says Swift.

Swift was, at the time, a newspaper reporter for The Virginian-Pilot. Swift went to Arney’s go-go bar to interview him about a court battle he was involved in. Swift says he walked out of that interview very impressed with Arney.

"He had an intelligent humor that stayed with me for years afterwards," says Swift.  

He met the 1957 Chevy 11 years later.

"Having driven a succession of beaters in college and throughout my twenties, and wondering often back in those days what the cars had been like when they were new and actually functioned as intended," says Swift. "I decided it would be an interesting newspaper story to find an old car and try to trace it back to everybody who had owned and try to tell a bigger story; something about America or about the region or the state through this one car and this otherwise unconnected fraternity of people who had shared it."

Swift tracked down the 13 individuals who owned the ’57 Chevy, and uncovered the story of Tommy Arney, the thirteenth owner, whose mission was to rescue the car from ruin. 

Listen to the full interview in the audio player above.

Wage growth in the U.S. is stuck in the '70s

Mon, 2014-09-01 11:21

When Jamaad Reed started his job as a cashier at a Wal-Mart near Cincinnati, he made $8.15 an hour. That was two years ago. Since then, he has seen a couple of raises, which have meant his wage has kept up with inflation — but just barely. As of March of this year, Reed was making $9.05 an hour.

“I'm stuck,” he said recently. “You know what I'm saying? I feel like I'm stuck in the same spot.”

"Stuck" is a pretty good word to describe wages for most American workers over the last few decades. Not just in the case of lower-wage workers like Reed, but along most of the income spectrum, except for those at the very, very top.

In fact, most American workers have seen little to no growth since the late 1970s, if you adjust for inflation, according to Elise Gould. She's an economist with the Economic Policy Institute and author of a new study that analyzes wage data from census surveys over the last several decades.

That's not to say that individual workers haven't seen gains. But, says Gould, “as productivity has continued to rise, typical workers’ wages simply have not.” 

That’s a very different economic picture from a half-century ago. In the first few decades after World War II, as the nation's productivity grew, so did wages. So what happened?

“This is one of the questions that people are arguing about right now,” says Linda Barrington, the executive director of the Institute of Compensation Studies at Cornell University.

Barrington says some economists point to a loss of worker bargaining power, meaning workers are less able to claim growing productivity gains in the way they could when labor unions were stronger.

Others blame a shift in business strategy over the years to one that focuses more on shareholder returns, “as opposed to sharing the returns and the gains to all of the employee base,” says Barrington.

Meanwhile, technological advances and globalization have meant there are fewer middle-wage jobs to be had in the U.S. Now, workers who in a previous era might have had relatively well-paying manufacturing or clerical jobs have to settle for lower-paying jobs in the service sector instead.

Even as economists debate the reasons behind American workers’ stagnating wages, one thing is certain. They don’t just affect individual wallets, but the economy as a whole.

As Barrington points out, “Every worker is also a consumer.” And consumers are what drive the modern American economy.

Thriving and surviving at the Fringe Festival

Mon, 2014-09-01 09:10

Take a city with half a million people and double its population overnight. It happens each August in Edinburgh, Scotland.

"The Festival City" is currently hosting the biggest arts festival in the world. It's such a phenomenon it's spawned copycats, including one in Hollywood.

Spectators stand shoulder to shoulder along the Royal Mile as it snakes its way down from Edinburgh Castle to Holyrood Palace. Street performers from all corners of the world vie for just a bit of your attention.

"It's 3,000 different shows, all of which run pretty much every day for 25 days. If you went to see every show, it'd take you three months," says Neil MacKinnon, the Fringe Society's head of external affairs.

And that's assuming you don't take time to eat or sleep. According to MacKinnon, it just keeps growing.

"This year we are 10 percent bigger than we were last year," he says.

Edinburgh is packed in August. Buses take twice as long. Temporary help wanted signs hang in store windows, and once comfortable pubs don't even offer room to stand. T-shirt screen printer Norm Richardson tells me he's been buried with orders.

"August is a nightmare, to be honest," says Richardson. "As early as you can get in till as late as you can be bothered working. Days and days stretching into the future, like the end of 'Raiders of the Lost Ark,' where there's just boxes going off into infinity."

The festival supplies 15–20 percent of his yearly volume. Kat Brogan of Mercat Tours says it's hard to keep a tour group's attention with so many other things going on.

"We get clever. So we nip down wee streets and closes and alleyways to make sure that the guides can be seen and heard," Brogan says.

Some hotels have been completely booked since January, "and their prices go up exponentially as well," MacKinnon says.

Neil MacKinnon from the Fringe Society says accommodations are hard to come by, but the people who live here have found ways to cash in on the problem.

"There is a long tradition of thousands of Edinburgh residents vacating the city for the month of August," he says. "They rent out their flats, which are occupied for the month."

Some apartments require tenants to move out for the month of August. Fringe University's Andrew Jones says some students he helps place are charged three months rent for their one month stay.

"Edinburgh in August brings out the Adam Smith in everyone," says Jones. He means Adam Smith, the "Father of Capitalism," who might be proud of his hometown today.

One group that's left out of the windfall? The artists who perform. Jones recalls a conversation he had with a theater company at the festival.

"We've got a budget of $120,000, and we plan to make about $20,000 back on the box office," Jones says.

While businesses profit from the festival, Neil MacKinnon says theater companies generally don't.

"Most companies will either break even or not make a profit," MacKinnon says. "They are here because it's an investment in their career."

A long-term investment that might never pay off. Screen printer Norm Richardson is skeptical about the likelihood of being discovered.

"It's just a bit harder now to get people to kind of notice you," says Richardson, "cause everyone's fire-eating and juggling on a unicycle, so how do you choose which unicycling fire eater to go and see when there's so many?"

Undaunted, the festival continues to grow, as each year more artists come to chase their dream here in the Scottish Capital.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story misspelled  Neil MacKinnon's name. The text has been corrected.

Will Apple's next offering be 'insanely great'?

Mon, 2014-09-01 08:58

It’s a little more than a week until Apple’s next big press event, and the hype is mounting.

 

Apple is expected to introduce its new iWatch. If that’s not enough, there's buzz that Apple will also announce that its new iPhone will be an iWallet. Several news outlets said Apple has done deals with American Express, Visa and Mastercard to make this happen.

 

But what if Apple doesn't produce an “insanely great” product, as Steve Jobs was fond of saying. Three years after Jobs' death, consumers and investors are asking whether Apple can keep churning out products that hit that mark?

 

“Some of those expectations may be close to phantasmagorical,” said Charles Byers, a marketing professor at Santa Clara University.

 

Take the new iWatch, for example. The blogosphere is expecting it to do everything from opening your garage door to becoming your mobile doctor.

 

Trip Chowdhry, an analyst at Global Equities Research, said Apple just needs to ignore the noise. When it comes to the smart watch — or any new product — he said Apple needs to focus on what it does best.

 

“Apple just has to go back to its roots,” Chowdhry said. “What do they do? Less is more. Make it so easy that anybody can use it. Your grandma can use it.”

 

Chowdhry said there are already a lot of smart watches out there, with plenty of bells and whistles. But they’re difficult to use, and mostly it’s tech geeks who are into them. He said Apple’s magic is in taking existing technology and making it intuitive, simple and universally desirable.

 

James McQuivey, an analyst at Forrester, said that if Apple doesn’t introduce a breakthrough product soon, the chatter that the company may have lost its mojo will grow even louder.

 

If they can’t do something momentous by the end of 2014, McQuivey said, investors will conclude that Apple’s days of being an "insanely great" company are behind it. 

What, exactly, does 'Made in the USA' mean?

Mon, 2014-09-01 08:48

Labor Day is a day to honor the American worker, and a day, if retailers have their way, for us to go shopping.

So it’s no surprise that there are companies out there, like Wal-Mart, advertising goods that are “Made in the USA.”  Wal-Mart says that when customers are deciding what to buy, where a product was made is second only in importance to how much it costs.

“Made in America is a very important consideration for many Americans,” said Michelle Amazeen, an advertising and legal studies professor at Rider University. 

There’s a perception, she said, that goods made here are better quality, and that buying those goods will help keep jobs in the country. “It is a very powerful label,” she said.

But if you want to put the four words "Made in the USA" on your product, you’d better mean it.

“If a marketer wants to make an unqualified ‘Made in the USA’ or other U.S. origin claim, the marketer needs to have substantiation that product was all or virtually all made in the USA,” said Julia Solomon Ensor, an attorney with the Federal Trade Commission.

The FTC has published a 37-page document outlining the standard.

It says that a lovely lamp that is assembled in America, with American-made brass and an American-made lampshade, but an imported base, doesn't qualify for the label "Made in the USA."

The FTC will go after companies that don’t follow the rules.

“A lot of companies try and wordsmith their way around the law,” said Bonnie Patten from TruthinAdvertising.org.

Look carefully and you'll see labels saying things like “Designed in the USA,” “Made with U.S. labor” or even “Made in the USA with imported parts.” 

If you want something truly, fully “Made in the USA,” you’re going to need to read those patriotic labels closely.

A business with a taste for risk and honey

Mon, 2014-09-01 08:13

Every year about 600,000 new businesses open in the United States. Only about half make it past the five-year mark. But of course, that doesn't stop people from trying.

In the early 2000s, Jim Picariello was confident that he had the next great natural foods idea. Just a couple of years before, he and his wife, Jill Day, had moved to a tiny town in Maine. They had just survived the dot come crash and wanted a more peaceful and sustainable lifestyle in rural Blue Hill, Maine. They even built their own home.

After a year of decompressing, Jim woke in the middle of the night with his new product epiphany: Frozen tea pops.

While sitting at his dining room table, he would always make himself a mason jar full of green tea, sweetened with honey, that he would drink while he worked on his laptop. He invariably made too much tea, and would pour the leftovers into a popsicle mold, to freeze and enjoy later. The tea pops were delicious and maybe, profitable.

Picariello quickly raised $25,000 to test recipes and develop his product idea. Before he and his family even realized it, they were starting a new business: Wise Acre Inc.

"When I said go ahead I really didn't feel like we are starting a business," recalls Picariello's wife, Jill Day. "I think that's probably one of the reasons why it even happened, is that I wasn't really aware that that's what we were doing."

The timing was not ideal for the young family: they had a young daughter and a second on the way. But once Picariello began product development, there was great enthusiasm for his idea, and a series of opportunities unfurled in front of him.

In 2007, he took his "Frosteas" and "Frostbites" to the influential Natural Products Expo East trade and was awarded Most Innovative Product, and walked away with a substantial distribution deal.

Quickly he went from making his tea pops in tiny saucepans in his kitchen to needing his own factory and employees. For a while his tea pops were in about 800 stores up and down the East Coast. But it wasn't sustainable, because at that point there weren't enough consumers and his products were languishing in the frozen food aisles. Picariello needed assistance with marketing and advertising, as well as a way to fund production with shrinking resources.

Picariello looked for and found a potential investor, who agreed to a million-dollar deal. The backer advised him to expand quickly and to invest in both production and promotion.

"'Get ready, your first summer is about to kick off,'" Picariello says he was advised. "'Go buy some equipment, cause you're going to make this stuff faster.' So that's exactly what I did. Like an idiot."

Jim immediately invested in some large items, including a pricey blast freezer. He quickly went through money he didn't have and after two weeks there was still no check from the billionaire.

"Turns out a couple days after our meeting, the billionaire, tasted our product and said, "oh I can't imagine why kids would like these." And of course it's not a product for kids, it's a product for adults, and kids do like them."

The prospector investor backed out of the agreement.

"And so at this point I'm sort of doing the math in my head over and over," Picariello recalls. "I have this much money, we have this much payroll, we have this much rent, we have this much electricity. All that over and over and over again."

To keep the business afloat, the family went so far as to start putting payroll on their personal credit card. Without an influx of cash, Wise Acre Inc. couldn't last.

"It was just like, I now have no more money, I have to lay all you people off. And it was very sad."

The bank seized the equipment and the factory closed. Their debts went unpaid, and Picariello declared bankruptcy, of somewhere around half a million dollars.

"We're still dealing with the ramifications," Jill Day laments. "To have the kind of significant debt now that we have because of the business tanking is just like the worst thing that could have happened."

Today, the couple has paid off some of their debts, and Picariello now has a steady full time job. Despite what happened with Wise Acre Inc., Picariello says he might still have one more new product idea to try, but promises it will be much less risky.

PODCAST: Economic effects of protests in Hong Kong

Mon, 2014-09-01 07:38

China is seeing shades of Occupy Wall Street today as protesters gather in Hong Kong. We talk to Juliana Liu about potential economic effects. Plus: two more casinos closed in Atlantic City this weekend, and 5,000 people lost their jobs. We look at the suffering gaming industry in a city that may need to reinvent itself. Finally, most cases of food-borne illness go unreported, so Chicago health officials are turning to Twitter, with a bot that scans for complaints of food poisoning stemming from area restaurants.

 

Insurers find wiggle room in requirement to cover all

Mon, 2014-09-01 04:00

It’s September, which means the enrollment period to get health insurance under the Affordable Care Act is practically around the corner.

If you're signing up later this fall, you should consider this: despite provisions under the health law to guarantee coverage for all, some insurance policies are still designed to keep the sick away.

We all know thanks to the ACA, the days when insurers denied coverage because of pre-existing conditions are over. Cherry picking the healthiest among us is one of the ways many insurers used to make their money. Even though the law has changed, former state insurance commissioner Joel Ario says some companies haven’t.

“We have not eliminated discrimination from insurer DNA yet. So you are still going to see remnants of insurers using strategies that are trying to drive away risk than manage risk,” he says.

One of those strategies is to make drugs for high cost conditions like HIV or multiple sclerosis more expensive through hefty deductibles. Another is to limit the network of doctors and hospitals. If consumers want somebody out of that network, they pay through the nose.

The University of Pennsylvania’s Tom Baker says to thrive in today’s insurance climate companies must accept that sick people are part of the mix. “The health insurance companies that are trying to have fewer of those people, just want to have fewer,” he says.

Baker says the insurers who find the sweet spot between healthy and less healthy will be the ones at the top of the industry.

LinkedIn censors its members in China...globally

Mon, 2014-09-01 02:55

Not long after I posted my Marketplace story about the 25th anniversary of the Tian’anmen Square protests on LinkedIn, the company sent me an email:


Australian journalist Fergus Ryan received this email, too. His post, a story he did about artist Guo Jian being detained in the run-up to the Tian’anmen anniversary, was also removed.

“I felt outraged, really. Because professionally, as a journalist, I feel that this is why a lot of people would follow me on LinkedIn," says Ryan.

LinkedIn says it did not come to its decision to censor posts from its members in China lightly.

“It is difficult," says LinkedIn's Director of Communications Hani Durzy. "We are strongly in support of freedom of expression. But it was clear to us that to create value for our members in China and around the world, we would need to implement the Chinese government’s restrictions on content.”

But LinkedIn isn't just blocking this content inside China. The company is removing these posts from its site worldwide. In LinkedIn’s email to me, the company explains it does this to "protect the safety of our members that live in China."

“Yeah, well, I mean, bullshit,” says Chinese social media expert Jeremy Goldkorn. “Their Chinese members should be able to choose what they should post and they know better than a foreign company how to protect themselves from the government.”

LinkedIn got help from Shaun Rein, director of China Market Research, to develop its China strategy. Even he’s disappointed in the company’s censorship policies. “A lot of western players, they so want to make money that they actually do more to heed what they think the authorities want," says Rein.

LinkedIn seems to have recognized this. Durzy says his company will continue to block sensitive content inside of China, but,"after talking to a number of people, we recognized that it may be better if we were to change our policy and allow that content and profile to be viewed outside of China,” he says.

Which leaves me wondering what will happen when I post this story to LinkedIn.

Atlantic City loses again as more casinos close

Mon, 2014-09-01 02:07

Two of Atlantic City’s casinos, the Revel and the Showboat, closed down this past weekend, bring the total closures to three this year.

Five thousand people lost their jobs, and a fourth casino – Trump Plaza – will shut down in two weeks.

“We’re trying to ease the blow,” says Ben Begleiter, an analyst with UNITE HERE Local 54, the union which represents many casino workers in Atlantic City. The union booked the convention center to get resources to people laid off. “We want to make sure that people have unemployment benefits, health benefits, utility and food assistance.”

Atlantic City is experiencing something that many cities have experienced before it. It hitched itself to a star, and that star faded.

“Atlantic City was predicated on being an east coast monopoly in the casino industry now there’s no monopolies any place,” says James Hughes, dean of the school of planning and public policy at Rutgers University.

All the neighboring states have casinos now, allowing those states to retain their own gamblers and poach some of New Jersey’s. 

Despite that, Atlantic City still draws millions of visitors and some of its casinos are still quite profitable. But, says Hughes, “it’s going to have a permanently smaller economy.” 

Gambling revenue is still half what it was in 2006.

“The big question is what Atlantic City does in the future to rebuild and diversify,” says Oliver Cooke, professor of economics at Stockton College. “There’s a whole countless litany of proposals that have been put forward,” he says, from expanding resort offerings to making the city a concert destination. 

The future of Atlantic City will be the topic of a forum hosted by Governor Chris Christie, on Sept. 8. 

The Marketplace Inflation Calculator

Mon, 2014-09-01 02:00

There is a famous British comedy sketch called the “Four Yorkshiremen,” performed at various times by some or all of the cast of Monty Python. Four well-heeled fellows chat as they smoke cigars talking about the bad old days. They are competing for who can spin the worst tale of hardship from their childhoods. One gentleman claims that when he was a lad, for supper he had to make due with just a cup of tea. Another says he had to make due without milk, sugar…or tea. Another says all he had was a cracked cup. Another says things were so hard when he was a kid, a cup would have been a luxury, because in his household you had to suck tea from a damp cloth. The tales get worse from there.

We misremember the past, and inflation is part of the reason.

My dad likes to tell the tale of how little he was paid early in his career. We didn’t suck tea out of a damp cloth, but he once mentioned to me how in 1968, he was paid an annual salary of $8500 in his job as a college professor. At first blush, that number seems shocking. True, we only had one modest car, didn’t own a home, and our TV was a 14 inch black and white model from Sears, but I was in no way deprived.

One reason is inflation. We stare at the raw number, but we constantly forget to factor in the general erosion of the value of a dollar over time. My dad’s $8500 salary in current dollars, is worth $58,193. That’s not a king’s ransom for someone with a BA, an MA, and a PhD, but it is what some professors get paid today.

One defining feature of inflation is that in the past, you might not have been paid as much, but things do often (but not always) cost less. When my father remembers paying a nickel for a New York City subway ticket when he was ten in 1944, his recollection is spot on. The fare wasn’t hiked to a dime until 1948. But let’s not forget to factor in inflation. If you turn a 1944 nickle into 2014 money, that subway ride costs the equivalent of 68 cents, which remains an amazing bargain when you note the actual cost of a 2014 subway ticket in New York these days is $2.50.

This fall on Marketplace we are going to have some fun examining inflation. We have chosen as our time frame changes in prices over the last quarter century, if for no other reason than this year is Marketplace’s 25th anniversary. You may be amazed what got cheaper. You may be outraged what got much more expensive beyond the rate of inflation. Embedded in this inflation topic are crucial questions about our society: For instance, does a low-income family living at the margins care if a DVD player gets radically cheaper if the cost of eating a decent breakfast is spiking?

When I started out in the radio business as a teenager in 1976, I was paid $2.25 an hour as an announcer on a local radio station. That was minimum wage at the time. Using this meager number, I have tried to impress my own children with the austerity of my youth. In doing so, I have again failed to compensate for inflation. $2.25 an hour is $9.42 in today’s money. That is rather higher than current federal minimum wage of $7.25, but don’t tell my kids. 

Using tablets to teach reading

Mon, 2014-09-01 02:00

More and more often, kids have access to tablet computers--They share their parents' devices, have their own, or their school hands them out.  

Sure, some parents use iPads as little more than distraction devices to keep kids quiet during a dinner out.  

But for many educators and parents, the hope is that tablets could be a tool to help kids learn to read. Right now, only about a third of 4th graders have reading skills that are considered proficient.

Could iPads and other tablets help? There's reason to be hopeful.  

Michael Levine from the Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop says strong literacy and reading apps can be an improvement on boring learning devices--like flashcards.  

But, he says, tablets are still only a tool. Teaching kids literacy skills will always require caring and responsive adults.

 

 

Micro-unit apartments: Tiny and booming

Fri, 2014-08-29 14:31

Having roommates gets old. And having roommates is cramped, says New Yorker Marcos Sanchez.

“Nine people, five cats, and a number of regulars who are guests,” Sanchez describes the residents of his Bushwick loft as he gives a tour. “This building used to be a warehouse.” 

The metal stairwell is dark, but brightened by some impressive graffiti featuring yellow jellyfish. An old bucket of sand holds legions of cigarette butts, and rust has eaten through one of the steps. 

Inside the apartment, the ceilings are high. Art supplies fill one communal room, an old film crane frames the couches in another.

In many ways, this loft realizes a romanticized ideal of youth and resourcefulness. The roommates host salons and potlucks, artist exhibitions and game nights. They sip beer on the roof in view of the Manhattan skyline. There’s a dilapidated water tower atop the building that offers entertainment for the adventurous and tetanus-resistant. Many of the roommates wouldn’t have it any other way.

Perhaps best of all, the rent is around $900 – about as cheap as it gets in New York City.

There is an additional price to be paid, however.

“You hear sex through the walls,” Sanchez says with a laugh. “You hear some bathroom noises. There are frequently dirty dishes in the sink. The cats are really nice but I think they’re gross. They’re the nicest creatures. It weighs on my conscience when I speak ill of them.”

But he does anyway. And he’s right, they smell.

“When I have my lotto fantasies, one of the first things I do is I get a place of my own near my job," he says.

The Desire To Live Alone

Marcos Sanchez is not alone.

“More people are living alone than at any time in the history of our species," says Eric Klinenberg, professor of sociology at NYU and author of "Going Solo". “Contemporary people, given the option, would rather go solo, which is why we see such incredible demand in the real estate market."

The key phrase there is “given the option.” Many people aren’t given any option at all, he notes.

"The problem is that real estate has become so expensive in the central urban areas that many people are priced out of the rental market,” Klinenberg says.

A one-bedroom in Manhattan easily goes for $3,000 a month or more. Rents are higher than before the recession and renters' incomes are lower. Mass migrations to urban centers have continued, pushing rents up even more.  

Compounding the simple imbalance of supply and demand, there is a mismatch across the U.S. between the type of housing desired and the type of housing available. 

“The population of singles and couples far exceeds the number of studios and one bedrooms,” says John Infranca, research affiliate at NYU’s Furman Center for Real Estate and Urban Policy. He is coauthor of a report examining this mismatch. In many cities, the available housing is 50-70 years-old on average, and thus designed for a different era. In his words, it was “a time when we had more large families [and] people weren’t living alone until they start[ed] their own family.”

Infranca says this means families today are paying a price for the lack of housing for singles.

“The demand for housing of this population is currently being met instead by our stock of two- and three-bedroom units...pricing families out of those units because they have to compete with two or three single individuals.”

Finding Answers in Tiny Places

One possible solution is the micro-unit. It’s a small – sometimes very small – single-person apartment. Inside of an immense factory space in the Brooklyn Navy Yard, Tom O'Hara, Vice President of Sales and Marketing at Capsys Corp., stands over the emerging skeleton of one such unit.

“This is the combined living-dining area. [The] kitchen goes back in this corner. This is about 300 square feet.”

Capsys builds modular residences – pre-fabricated, stackable, movable homes or apartments or hotels. 

Sabri Ben-Achour/Marketplace

The apartment he shows me is being made for the MyMicro project, an experiment launched under Michael Bloomberg when he was mayor of New York City. 

It’s small, concedes O'Hara, but that is the point.

“I don’t know that anyone would live in a space this small in Peoria, but in New York City, you have a place like this because you live in the city, and this is where you take a shower and sleep.”

The kitchen island will fold down from the wall; the bed will be either a Murphy bed or a convertible sofa. 

The 55 units being built in Brooklyn will include 22 rent-restricted units, which will run from $939 to $1,873 a month depending on the income of the renter. The remaining 33 will be market rate, which means they could go for higher.

In dense cities, people live their lives outside – the coffee shop down the street, the bar around the corner. At least, that is the bet that a lot of cities are beginning to make as they allow developers to experiment with building micro-units, from Austin to Denver to Washington, DC. In most cities, minimum apartment size requirements and zoning codes make micro-units either impossible or cost prohibitive without express sanction from local authorities. 

So far, the experimentation has confirmed a deep need.

“These units are renting out very quickly, if not fully rented the moment construction is finished,” says Infranca.

In that sense, it has been a success: the city is meeting demand for housing with new supply.

Then there's the question of whether this kind of apartment represents good urban planning. In Seattle, micro-units as small as 120 square feet have been built in not-very-dense parts of the city. Some residents worry about parking problems and other issues created by a sudden increase in population that could come from the creation of this kind of housing.

Those irks may be the lesser of two evils. If young people or single people can’t move to a city because there’s nowhere affordable to live the way they want, they'll just go somewhere else. And that's a far greater existential threat.

Suction on Leith: The EU bans high-power vacuums

Fri, 2014-08-29 14:26

The EU is banning the manufacture of vacuums over 1600 watts, starting September 1st.

What will that mean for Patricia Ware, owner of a vacuum repair shop in Edinburgh? Ware demonstrates the difference in sucking power from her shop, Radio Electrics.

"When you have pets with a lot of dog hair and cat hair, you need to have that suction [a more powerful vacuum provides]," says Ware. "Why they're doing this, I have no idea. This is the EU crap that goes on in Brussels. But nevermind about all the racing cars that raise all the emissions in the air, that's ok, we're going to worry about a vacuum cleaner that's ... on for a half hour."

 

Tech IRL: A smart way to stay cool

Fri, 2014-08-29 14:26

It's boiling hot out. Want to come home to a cool house, without running up your electric bill? There’s an App for that. The device is from SmartAC. And it’s free.  So, what’s in it for power companies? Marketplace Tech’s Ben Johnson and Lizzie O’Leary experiment with controlling a coworker’s air conditioner… from their office.  

What was your first job?

Fri, 2014-08-29 14:26

Remember your first day in an office (or, for some, a barn)?

Our first jobs shape us, how we view work and see ourselves as part of a bigger team.

We went around Los Angeles to find stories of first jobs and what lessons you still hold from your first time employed. Lizzie O'Leary told us about her first job in a sandwich shop, I was something called a 'video game quality assurance tester,' what was yours?

Weekend Brunch: A new (fe)line of credit and Burger King grows his empire

Fri, 2014-08-29 14:26

This week, Lizzie O'Leary sits down for brunch with New York Magazine contributing editor Jessica Pressler and online editor for Reuters Ben Walsh to discuss the economic news of last week and what's on their plate this week (get it?).   Topics:   Bloomberg: Jobless Claims in U.S. Little Changed as Economy Strengthens   The New Yorker: Burger King May Make Tim Hortons Less Canadian   The Guardian: Russian bank offur-ing cats to mortgage customers – with just one claws
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