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What rising interest rates mean for the rest of us

Wed, 2015-02-25 13:12

One takeaway from Federal Reserve Chairwoman Janet Yellen’s recent testimony before Congress is that she and her colleagues are feeling pretty good about the direction of the economy – good enough to “at some point” consider increasing interest rates.

What will those increases mean for the average American?

The Fed doesn’t set all interest rates, but Michelle Girard, chief U.S. economist at RBS, says the rates it does control impact many others, either directly or indirectly.

Ann Owen, economist at Hamilton College, says that could mean higher rates on auto loans, credit cards, and adjustable-rate mortgages, though increases will likely be gradual.

But if this all sounds like bad news, Ken Kuttner, who teaches economics at Williams College, says the silver lining is that interest rates on savings accounts will increase, too. 

NHL team wants to put ticket resales on ice

Wed, 2015-02-25 11:59

At a Nashville Predators game in early December, Greg Atwood arrived at his seat just like he normally does.

"I typically get there right at faceoff. I walked in when it was dark and when they turned the lights on it was pretty shocking just how much,” said Atwood. “I mean it was a majority red.”  That red was a sea of Chicago Blackhawks fans in t-shirts and sweaters supporting their team.  Thousands of fans chanted “Let’s Go Hawks” 

As a reliable Predators fan, Atwood has been coming to games for 14 years and says he actually doesn’t mind seeing out-of-towners. He says one or two thousand opposing fans are okay, but when they fill up half of the arena, that’s where he draws the line.

The Blackhawks won that night 3-1. It was a rare home defeat for the Predators and team president Sean Henry says the complaints came flying in from fans and players.

“I probably got, I don’t know, 50-75 e-mails; 10-12 phone calls,” said Henry. “People are saying ‘I don’t know if I want to come to the game anymore.”

So now, the team is outlining steps to maximize the Predators gold and navy blue in the stands. The team says it’s considering a mandate that season ticket holders clear it with them before re-selling their tickets.  The team is also offering to buy back tickets to certain games at 10 percent above face value.

“The first opportunity and last opportunity to buy Predators tickets should stay right here in our greater market,” said Henry.

Unlike goods that can be bought and re-sold, many professional teams consider their tickets non-transferable licenses.

The New England Patriots took the online site StubHub to court a few years back  over the re-sale of tickets.  And just last year, the Seattle Seahawks tried to ban anyone with a California zip code from buying a ticket to the NFC championship game, in what some say was an effort to keep San Francisco 49ers fans out.

If the Predators end up doing something similar, not only would that keep out-of-town fans away from the arena, it would likely keep them out of Nashville altogether, meaning downtown hotels might lose out.

 John Fleming is manager of the Renaissance Nashville.

 "I had two reactions. One, as a fan, and I said 'absolutely right', the best thing we can do is protect our home ice and go for it,” said Fleming.

But as someone running a hotel?

"We'll lose some business obviously if we do limit that,” said Henry. “It means we'll just have to find other business"

Season ticket holders are conflicted too. Greg Atwood may not like half the arena filled with rival fans, but he also doesn’t want the team to go overboard with new rules.

 "I spent a lot of money on these tickets and when I buy these tickets they're mine to determine what I do with them,” said Atwood.

The Predators say they’re most concerned with building a championship franchise and a regional fan base that will last for generations. They say keeping home-ice advantage is a key to moving in that direction.  

 

BYLINE: Emil Moffatt

BIO: Emil Moffatt is a reporter and news anchor with WPLN in Nashville.  

Google grows, its hometown feels crowded

Wed, 2015-02-25 10:37

It seems as if the whole of Silicon Valley is beset by one giant case of “Keeping up with the Joneses.”  First Apple announced a massive new expansion to its Cupertino headquarters. Then Facebook bought up 56 acres for growth in Menlo Park, and now it's Google’s turn.

Google’s plans have rekindled old tensions between an industry that is built on growth and a region that doesn’t want to change.

It’s tempting to look at Apple, Facebook, and Google and say that Silicon Valley would be nowhere without them, but that’s not necessarily the case. First the defense industry moved in, then the semiconductor manufacturers in the 1980s, then the dot-com bubble, and now the mobile internet.

"Silicon Graphics has come and gone, Sun Microsystems has come and gone, and companies stepped in to fill their place," says Mountain View City Councilman Michael Kasperzak.  Mountain View is headquarters to some 20,000 Google employees.

Unlike, say, Ford Motor Company a generation ago, companies like Google aren’t necessarily as enmeshed in the local economy. "Google doesn't do anything to generate sales tax, we don't tax the internet, we don't tax searches, we don't tax ad revenue," Kasperzak says. 

He notes there are plenty of other benefits that Google does provide, such as leasing city land and providing funds for local schools.

But, unlike previous eras, when a company with the size and clout of Facebook or Google could essentially own a town the size of Mountain View, population 80,000, that is not the case in 2015.

"To call the Silicon Valley communities new ‘company towns’ may be a bit of an overstatement," says Michael Woo, dean of the College of Environmental Design at Cal Poly in Pomona.

"As much as the high-tech companies might want that level of control, they don't have that level of control or influence,” says Woo, “and even some of their own employees as voters, wouldn't necessarily vote to support what might be in the best interest of the companies."

Woo says the Googles and Apples of the world have largely resisted the urge to throw their weight around in local politics.  And to its credit, he notes that Google is even talking about ways it might create new affordable housing for its employees.

TJMaxx and Marshalls set to increase minimum wage

Wed, 2015-02-25 08:59

TJX — the retail conglomerate including TJMaxx, Marshalls, HomeGoods and Sierra Trading Post — announced in its Q4/full-year earnings report that it will boost pay for its lowest-wage associates to $9 per hour in June. Minimum base pay for full- and part-time workers will rise to $10 per hour for employees with at least six months tenure sometime in 2016. The announcement comes on the heels of similar base-wage-hike plans announced in recent months by Walmart, Starbucks and The Gap.

Orthodox economic theory says this is what should be happening to wages in a tightening labor market. Strong, steady job growth and gradually falling unemployment should make employers compete harder to find and keep workers.

“I think the tightening labor market, combined with public pressure, combined with the bandwagon effect, is driving what we’re seeing,” says Linda Barrington, executive director of Cornell University’s Institute for Compensation Studies.

Barrington points out that if employers were experiencing a significantly tighter labor market though, wages would be rising across the board—at multiple income levels, and in multiple occupations and labor sectors. Instead, inflation-adjusted (real) wages have not risen in recent years. A recent study by the Economic Policy Institute found that real wages fell or were stagnant in 2014 in all income percentiles, except the bottom 10 percent of wage-earners. Wages for that income-decile rose 1.3 percent in 2014, because, EPI says, eighteen states raised their minimum wage above the federal minimum  wage, which has been $7.25 per hour since 2009.

Arun Ivatury at the National Employment Law Project believes pressure by labor and consumer advocates is mostly what’s driving these wage increases. But they also make good business sense.

“Part of your business strategy is to have people who work for you who consumers like to interact with, and who represent your business well," says Ivatury. "And you’re going to have to pay a little better, especially as the labor market tightens.” 

Disparity in minimum pay between retail and service employers could induce some employees to chase a slightly higher paycheck, which could in turn increase competition for workers, and drive wages higher across service industries. But workers we spoke with were not inclined to switch jobs for a small increment in pay.

“No, I won’t jump on the bandwagon at T.J. Maxx just because they make more,” says Roderick Livingston, a 27-year-old fast-food worker who is employed part-time at both Taco Bell and McDonald’s in St. Petersburg, Florida. He makes the state's minimum wage of $8.05 per hour. “Where I am now I like my job, as far as my manager and everything. I don’t feel like the grass would be greener on the other side. But how come we can’t make $9-an-hour at a fast-food restaurant?”

Livingston is active in the movement pushing for a $15/hour minimum wage for fast-food workers, which has included strikes and other labor actions. He pays child support for two young children, and says he tries to send money to his parents in Georgia when he can.

Lisa Pietro, 57, works 32 to 39 hours per week at a Walmart in Winterhaven, Florida. She earns $8.95 per hour stocking produce, and says the increased take-home pay from Walmart’s planned new minimum wage of $9 per hour will mostly go to pay her taxes. But the increase to $10 per hour in 2016 will make a material difference to her.

“That’s groceries,” she says. Pietro is active in the Our Walmart campaign by labor and consumer groups to push for higher pay and better schedules for Walmart workers.

Pietro says she has little choice about where to work and could not easily chase a higher wage at another retailer. She can’t afford a car or gasoline, she says, so she walks to work at Walmart, 1.5 miles from her home. She says there aren’t other potential employers she could work for, within walking distance of her home.

Explaining deflation: Why falling prices can be bad news

Wed, 2015-02-25 08:07

It must be hard enough for European financial leaders to sleep through the night lately, chances are they've been haunted by the particular specter of deflation. To see how deflation can terrorize an economy, they only have to look southwards a few miles to Greece, where prices have been falling for coming on two years now.

So what if prices have to fall? Isn't that a good thing? Stuff gets cheaper and that means people can buy more of it, right? 

Well, yes, that is right ... at first. If prices fall a wee bit, it can be stimulative to the economy because people often do shop more, and spend the money they save. But falling prices are a bit like cliff jumps: A small drop can be fun, but if the cliff is too high and you fall too far too quickly, you crash.

If people think prices will keep falling, they stop buying. Why buy something at a 10 percent discount if it'll be 20 percent off next week? And 50 percent off in a month? If people stop buying, inventories build up and retailers stop ordering from manufacturers who have to slow down production and lay people off. Then, those jobless folks stop shopping, and the sight of rising unemployment numbers immediately makes people more conservative, which means they shop less. And if people stop buying ... can you see the negative spiral?

The next thing that happens is people who do have cash start hoarding it. And not in banks — they don't trust the banks to not fail — so they keep their money at home. Now, money isn't making its way through the system at all, it's not being spent in stores and it's not being lent by banks. Companies can't grow, and the economy stalls out.

But the spiral doesn't stop, deflation keeps gnawing the heart out of the economy, hollowing it out to the point of collapse.

Warren Buffett eats like a six-year-old

Wed, 2015-02-25 08:05

Warren Buffett is about to issue his 50th annual letter to investors in his holding company, Berkshire Hathaway.

Mr. Buffett's observations are always a highlight of the financial year, but fun fact: Despite being 84 years of age and one of the richest men in the world, he apparently eats like a six-year-old.

He has five Cokes a day — sometimes, they're Cherry Cokes. He also indulges in Utz's Potato Stix. And for breakfast? Chocolate ice cream.

How to improve education for juvenile offenders

Wed, 2015-02-25 08:00

On any given day, 60,000 kids are in secure juvenile justice facilities around the country. Thousands more pass through the system each year. Many of these kids are already failing in school — or are far behind when they come into the system — and many end up in even worse shape academically when they leave.  

Late last year, the Department of Education and Department of Justice issued guidance urging states to make education a top priority for kids who are locked up. David Domenici directs the non-profit Center for Educational Excellence in Alternative Settings. He spoke to Marketplace's senior education and technology reporter, Adriene Hill. 

Adriene Hill: Why is the federal government making education in juvenile facilities a priority now?

David DominiciA lot of people in the country are starting to question our criminal justice system, why are so many people locked up … and without giving them some chance to be successful when they return, isn't that sort of morally wrong, and isn't just economically stupid? The juvenile justice system is a part of that awakening.

AH: What kinds of changes are we talking about?

DD: Most important, the federal government wants kids who are locked up to have the same sort of educational opportunities that their non-incarcerated peers do.

President Obama has made it really clear through his My Brother’s Keeper initiative and otherwise he and the federal government care about kids of color, and poor kids of all races, and we can’t forget about them and throw them away. An overwhelming disproportionate number of kids of color are locked up.

AH: Why are so many facilities doing a poor job when it comes to education?

DD: In about half the facilities, the agency itself runs its own education program, and in some cases that works well. But in many cases they are large human services bureaucracies, they don’t have systems in place the educational reform movement has shown are critical to making schools work, so there are no standards for what high-performing schools look like.

Many teachers under those systems aren't held accountable to the same teacher evaluation standards that the states have put out, same with the principals. The system is an amorphous blob inside of a youth service agency or corrections agency.

The other half are run by local school districts … and in some places, like Utah, that works great because the school districts really care, and the state office of education is really on them, so it’s a great team. But in other cases it doesn't work, because you’re running this big school district … it’s just nearly impossible for you to prioritize what goes on in those little schools. So who ends up there mostly? Your worst teachers.

AH: What would it cost to improve education in secure facilities?

DD: Money is really important, but it’s not necessarily the key issue. The way we hold ourselves accountable so we can deliver these kids the education they need, that doesn't necessarily require more money, it requires a radical change in philosophy. You have to approach this saying, ‘I believe this 16-year-old deserves a great education, the same education my teenager gets or the neighbor’s teenager gets.’ That’s about everybody walking into the building, putting everything aside, and saying, ‘My No. 1 job is to help this kid get a really terrific education.’ That dollar investment produces many-fold times its cost when that kid goes out and gets his high school diploma.

AH: How do you balance educational improvements with safety and security?

DD: It is a totally artificial construct to say, ‘We can either give kids the high-quality, high-engagement individualized education, or keep places safe and secure.’ It’s a totally false dynamic.

The safest, most secure facilities in the country are the ones that have thoughtful, pro-social disciplinary practices that are built around positive youth development and not built around punitive discipline practices, that almost inevitably lead you to break the law around special education law.

What is not a technology solution is to take young people who are already behind and stick them at a computer and tell them to use a very non-robust online curriculum for six hours a day, where they … don’t learn anything. Technology can be an incredible lever that supports the transformation of education in youth facilities. It isn't the answer alone.

Click here to share your thoughts on this story.
Email us at learningcurve@marketplace.org or send us a tweet @LearningCurveEd

Quiz: Climbing the college ladder

Wed, 2015-02-25 07:52

More than a quarter of students who started at a community college in 2008 earned a degree from a different school within six years, according to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center.

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SubTropolis? Yeah, it's pretty underground

Wed, 2015-02-25 07:31

The largest industrial park in the world probably doesn’t look the way you might expect.

Occupying an abandoned mine 100 feet below Kansas City, Missouri, SubTropolis is host to an assortment of businesses, and still boasts room for more. It’s currently home to 52 tenants who take up almost as much floor space as in the Pentagon.

Nate Bunnyfield/Flickr

Carved from 270-million-year-old limestone deposits, businesses flocked to the cavernous work space when it opened in 1964. They were attracted to its consistent temperature (68 degrees), low rent (about $2.25 per square foot) and for its almost vault-like security.

“The walls are carved out of limestone deposits and they’re not polished to a sheen by any means, so it’s certainly a rough-hewn working environment. On the other hand, if you are renting warehouse space, you know, you’re not looking for the finest of finishes,” Bloomber Business reporter Patrick Clark says.

Clark profiled the space in a recent Bloomberg article. Tenants include the U.S. Postal Service, companies storing film, and cheese distributors.

Meanwhile, two of the more peculiar events held in SubTropolis are the 10K and 5K races that have taken place for the past 33 years.

Clark says, “I think 4,500 people were down there. Come on, wouldn’t you go for a run down there? I think it’s about the only thing that would get me to run a 10K road race.”

Though SubTropolis currently hosts 6 million square feet of businesses, Clark says there's still about 8 million square feet left to develop — that’s nearly 10 times the floor area of Kansas City’s tallest building.

Americasroof/Wikipedia

PODCAST: Will June be busting out interest rates?

Wed, 2015-02-25 03:00

Imagine June: the smell of freshly cut grass, barbecue ... and higher interest rates? More on that. Plus, a sex discrimination suit in Silicon Valley involving the venture-capital firm Kleiner Perkins opens another window on complaints that women are treated unequally in the tech world. Also, we talk Allan Sloan at the Washington Post about two companies that recently merged with inverted companies after failing to invert themselves.

Campbell tries a new recipe for success

Wed, 2015-02-25 02:00

Campbell Soup Company reports its second-quarter earnings on Wednesday, and it's already warning it expects those numbers to be down given the strong dollar.

UPDATE: Campbell reported a second-quarter profit of $312 million. That's down from the reported $361 million from the same period a year ago. The company also said that sales decreased 2 percent, citing "the negative impact of currency translation."

The company recently announced a restructuring aimed at cutting about $200 million in annual costs over the next three years. Campbell will use that money to invest in new product lines, moving away from its iconic soup, whose sales have thinned over the past few years.

Campbell is trying to capitalize on consumers’ interest in organic and fresh foods. In 2013, it acquired Plum Organics, maker of organic baby food. Erin Lash, senior equity analyst at Morningstar, says organic baby food has a lot of growth potential.

“A lot of times parents are willing to pay up for products for their kids while pulling back spending in other areas,” she says.

Campbell also acquired Bolthouse Farms a few years ago. Its products include baby cut carrots and smoothies.

“There seems to be a slow but steady shift towards fresh consumption,” says Darren Seifer, the food and beverage industry analyst at the NPD Group.

 

Crowd-sourcing hits the bookshelf

Wed, 2015-02-25 02:00

Next month, Amazon’s Kindle Scout will publish its first set of books. The platform was launched in October, and was quickly dubbed a publisher’s version of crowd-sourcing - readers vote for books to be published based on excerpts.

Steve Gannon’s cop thriller, L.A. Sniper, is among the 10 titles that will be released in March. Gannon had been publishing books on Kindle for a while when he decided to try out Kindle Scout. One advantage of publishing online that he enjoys is interacting with the reviews.

“Reviews on Amazon are so immediate,” says Gannon. “I can reply too. I like that.”

He’s also had readers point out typos and parts of a storyline that don't make sense. One reader wrote about a hole in a plot line and said, “I know a lot of writers put that in there just to see if anyone is paying attention!”

Gannon’s response? “I said, 'I wish I could say that, but you caught it, and I fixed it.'”

“It’s good to get a really broad viewpoint from readers,” he says. “They keep you on your toes.”

For all the recent friction between Amazon and authors, Gannon is quite optimistic. He sees it as a great partnership for independent authors like him who need the publicity that a big company like Amazon would bring.

“They are able to lift you from the other hundred-thousand independent authors out there,” says Gannon.

 

 

Sex discrimination suit set to start in Silicon Valley

Wed, 2015-02-25 02:00

There’s a civil suit set to go to trial this week. Ellen Pao, a former employee at Silicon Valley venture capital firm, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, is suing the company, saying  she was discriminated against. The case is drawing attention to an industry where women are still struggling. 

“It’s a boys’ club,” says Susan Duffy, executive director at the Center for Women’s Entrepreneurial Leadership at Babson College.

A decade ago, 10 percent of venture capital decision-makers were women, according to a study published by Babson last fall. “And now in the United States only 8.6 percent of those decision-makers are women, and globally only 6 percent, so we’re actually going in the wrong direction,” Duffy says. 

 

 

Adjunct faculty demonstrate for better conditions

Wed, 2015-02-25 02:00

Like many part-time college instructors, Basak Durgun doesn’t have an office. She often meets students or other faculty in the food court on campus.

“My office is my backpack,” she says.

That’s a problem, because Durgun has nowhere to meet privately with students in her Cultural Studies classes. Last semester, she says, serious issues like mental health and plagiarism came up.

“All of these intense moments I had to have right in front of the classroom in public,” she says.

On Wednesday, thousands of adjunct faculty and their students around the country are planning demonstrations to demand better working conditions. More than half of college classes are taught by temporary and part-time instructors, often for low pay and no benefits. Organizers are calling it National Adjunct Walkout Day. Given the precarious nature of the job, it’s not clear how many will actually leave their classrooms.

In Virginia, it’s illegal for public employees to walk off the job. So adjuncts at George Mason are planning a teach-in to talk with students and faculty about their working conditions. In addition to private space, they want to be paid for the time they spend prepping for classes, and a cancellation fee when classes are cut at the last minute.

On the other side of the country, Larry Cushnie and his fellow adjuncts are planning a walkout. Cushnie teaches political science at Seattle University, where he says adjuncts make up more than half of the faculty. Adjuncts there have been fighting to form a union.

Cushnie has a PhD and this year is making $48,000 teaching full-time. Next year, though, he has no idea what and where he’ll be teaching. Nationally, a typical adjunct makes about $2,700 per course.

“What life is like is kind of just scrapping quarter to quarter, year to year, to put together a schedule that will kind of meet your needs of basic income,” he says.

The administration at Seattle University declined to be interviewed. At George Mason, Provost David Woo says the university relies heavily on adjuncts not just to save money. Because it’s close to Washington, D.C., he says, George Mason can take advantage of local talent. Many instructors have other careers at, say, the State Department or Lockheed Martin, he says.

“The vast majority of our faculty are working professionals,” Woo says. “A relatively small percentage of them are actually doing adjunct teaching as their primary occupation.”

Career adjuncts make up a growing share of the faculty on campuses, though, many of which charge students $50,000 a year. According to the American Association of University Professors, more than three-quarters of instructors are not on the tenure track.  If all of them were to walk out today, activists say colleges would grind to a halt.

Campbell's Soup tries a new recipe for success

Wed, 2015-02-25 02:00

Campbell Soup Company reports its second-quarter earnings on Wednesday, and it's already warning it expects those numbers to be down given the strong dollar.

The company recently announced a restructuring aimed at cutting about $200 million in annual costs over the next three years. Campbell will use that money to invest in new product lines, moving away from its iconic soup, whose sales have thinned over the past few years.

Campbell is trying to capitalize on consumers’ interest in organic and fresh foods. In 2013, it acquired Plum Organics, maker of organic baby food. Erin Lash, senior equity analyst at Morningstar, says organic baby food has a lot of growth potential.

“A lot of times parents are willing to pay up for products for their kids while pulling back spending in other areas,” she says.

Campbell also acquired Bolthouse Farms a few years ago. Its products include baby cut carrots and smoothies.

“There seems to be a slow but steady shift towards fresh consumption,” says Darren Seifer, the food and beverage industry analyst at the NPD Group.

 

The best part of waking up ... is no longer Folgers

Wed, 2015-02-25 01:30
125

That's how many episodes "Parks and Recreation" aired over seven years, wrapping up Tuesday night with an hour-long finale. The critically acclaimed sitcom was never a ratings giant, but it enjoyed a long run thanks to a combination of factors unique to the television business. Vulture has a good case-study.

$2,700

That's how much adjunct professors in the U.S. make on average per course taught. Thousands of adjunct faculty—often part-time, and underpaid without benefits—are planning demonstrations on Wednesday as part of National Adjunct Walkout Day. The American Association of University Professors says as many as three-quarters of professors in the U.S. are not on a tenure track.

$312 million

That's the reported second-quarter profit for Campbell Soup Company, which is down from the reported $361 million in profit from the same period a year ago. Campbell's has seen sales of traditional soups slip in recent years. It's why the company is exploring other products like organic baby food.

138,324 percent

That's how much coffee pod sales increased in the past ten years, about 30 percent annually these days. The pods, popularized by Keurig's single-cup coffeemakers, are leading a surge in low-end coffee sales both at home and in cafes, the Washington Post reports.

Washington Post $4.7 billion

Whole Foods Markets' sales last quarter, a four-year record. The upscale grocer may be pulling out of the sales slump and stock price tailspin its seen in recent years, Quartz reported, thanks in large part to lowering its prices.

85 countries

That's how many countries Gemalto, a Dutch SIM card maker, operates in. As reported by the BBC, the company says that the NSA and GCHQ likely did hack into it systems as alleged by the documents leaked by Edward Snowden. Elaborating on two specific attacks, Gemalto said fake emails were sent to a customer that appeared to come from an employee, and a hacking attempt was made to spy on messages sent between workers in their French office.

In Boston, just getting to work is a job in itself

Tue, 2015-02-24 14:18

Just in case you haven’t heard, Boston has been getting pounded with snow.

Roads are so clogged that some two-way streets have temporarily been designated one-way. Like a lot of other institutions in the city, Boston’s mass transit system – the oldest in America -- broke down under the strain. Trains and buses are running late, if at all. Exasperated Boston residents agree it’s tough to get anywhere these days.

Kenneth Williams, 65, takes the bus to his job as a detox counselor and over the past few weeks has regularly been an hour late.

“The management looks at me like what’s up, again? Again?” he says.

Williams’ bus ride takes twice as long because traffic on snow-constricted roads moves at a crawl. The trains are no better – many of the above-ground lines aren’t running. Punishing weather has broken so many parts of the archaic transit system that officials say it’ll take a month to recover.

It’s all made for “total frustration on the part of both employees and employers,” says Paul Guzzi, president of the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce. The economic research firm IHS estimates that the Massachusetts economy is taking a $265 million dollar hit every day the situation continues.

“Some employers have allowed their workers to work from home – those particularly who have technology that allows for that,” Guzzi says.

But, of course, technology doesn’t help the many businesses that need employees on-site. Kevin Long, executive chef of the restaurant Red Lantern, says challenges have been overwhelming for businesses like his. Like many employers whose workers get paid by the hour, Long sats when his employees don’t show up, he can’t pay them. But he’s trying to be flexible and understanding.

“We’ve put employees in Ubers and taken care of taxis and carpooled, picked people up, dropped them off,” he says. But that hasn't always worked.

“Obviously we’ve had some days that we’ve had to close. We hate to close – you hate to shut the doors to people that might be trying to get out.”

While there’s no law against laying off people for not being able to get to work, Professor Tom Kochan of the MIT Sloan School of Management said if employers go that route, it might backfire.

“I think these are times that are testing the bonds between employers and workers,” he says. “I think in the majority of cases it is strengthening those bonds. But in some cases it may fray them if one party or the other thinks the other one is taking advantage of the situation.”

These times are also testing the bonds between businesses and their customers. Bright Horizons Family Solutions -- one of the state’s largest employers – provides back-up emergency childcare for employees of places like hospitals and law firms. CEO David Lissy says to keep that service going over the past few weeks, Bright Horizons had to find  alternatives to public transportation for its own workers. 

“Times like this really are times for us to shine and really engender a lot loyalty with our clients,” he says.

And for those companies that can’t shine just now, they’re soldiering on with the hope that winter will soon end.

Priority Bicycle's quest to build a better bike

Tue, 2015-02-24 14:12

Dave Weiner, founder of Priority Bicycles, quit his job running a tech company to reinvent the bicycle. Why?

"I had this desire to bring my knowledge of supply-chain technology and bicycles together to build a simpler bicycle," Weiner says. 

For Weiner, that meant rethinking every part of the bicycle, from the tires to the handle bars.

"The most noticeable feature on our bike is the belt-drive. That was the hardest part of the engineering," he says.

But Weiner had to deal with more than just engineering challenges.

"The big bike manufacturers want to work with the big well-established companies," Weiner says, so he had to go all over the world sourcing parts for his bike.

With a background in the bicycle industry, Weiner was confident in his ability to build a better bike, but he needed funding too.

"And that's where we went to Kickstarter and said 'Does our idea make sense? Do you like it as much as we do?'"

According to Weiner, the Kickstarter campaign was a success. "We had over 1,500 backers back us for bicycles. They all received their bicycles on time or early. And they're all happy."

'Audit the Fed' illustrates the politics behind policy

Tue, 2015-02-24 11:28

The Federal Reserve's Janet Yellen delivered her semiannual update to Congress today amid calls to audit the Fed's monetary policy decision-making. Yellen denounced efforts to increase Congressional oversight of how and why the Fed decides to print or buy back money, and Fed experts say it was designed to be insulated from political pressure. 

Unlocking the digital classroom for kids in lock up

Tue, 2015-02-24 11:01

Technology has become an integral part of education. Students are increasingly learning with help from laptops, iPads and other digital technology. Schools are embracing blended classrooms, which mix traditional and online learning.

But technology presents unique hurdles for the juvenile justice system, which has been reluctant to introduce computers and the internet into secure facilities.

Since 2013, San Diego County has been confronting the challenges of introducing laptops — and digital learning — into its juvenile justice facilities.

On Tuesday, Feb. 24, Marketplace takes a look at the surprising results. Check back then for the full story.

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