We came across Marvin Address at a food truck in downtown Washington. He owns an insurance company now, but his first job was in the Air Force working as an air traffic controller. He was nervous on his first day -- so jittery, he lined up two planes to take off. Facing each other.
“And I got a call in the tower," he says. "And the pilot said, 'Tower, am I looking at another airplane that’s coming my way?'”
Luckily, Address was able to re-route the planes and no one was hurt. But he learned an important lesson that day: Keep your eyes open -- literally.
Another lesson might be "know thyself." Victoria Hernandez got a job at a chocolate bar factory a few years ago -- not knowing she was pregnant and suffering from morning sickness. She says, “I guess the aroma got to me so bad."
Yeah, you know what happened next.
“I threw up all over the conveyor belt," she says. "And all over the chocolate bars and everything. They had to shut down the whole left side of the building because of me."
Kathy Caprino is a career coach. She says if you screw up, or throw up, the first day on the job, admit your mistake. If it’s not too serious, try to laugh it off. But she says it’s best to try to prevent first-day slip ups in the first place.
“Get hip to your own trip,"she says. "What are the things that could trip you up? Look at those and protect against those."
And here’s some advice that could help our new Treasury Secretary. If you’re a new manager, you embody the hopes and fears of your workplace. Or, in Jack Lew’s case, your country. Just do your best. Don’t take anything personally. And have a thick skin. We asked our Facebook fans for their own first day horror stories. Here's what you told us.
[View the story "Worst first days on the job" on Storify]
Much has been made of politicians' unwillingness to negotiate in these last hours leading up to the possible budget sequestration. But not negotiating happens all the time in the business world, says Ed Brodow, a negotiation expert who helps a variety of people and institutions. In business, a tough stance simply means deal or no deal. Will we make money, or lose money?
"In the business world they're much more pragmatic about this," he says. "There's no excuse for not getting the job done because you have to be responsible to your shareholders."
But politicians have a much different relationship with constituents. Looking tough can take precedence over practical matters.
"So they'll go out and make all kinds of outlandish statements," he says. "We're not going to do this and we're going to do that, and then they get into a closed room and they make a deal."
Which is what will eventually happen, he says. But we may have to go over the edge first. Thomas Kockan at the MIT Sloan School of Management says that happens in labor negotiations. The sequester situation reminds him of an air traffic control strike in 1981. The industry and the union were each too beholden to their constituents.
"Both parties allowed themselves to get backed into those corners, and the result was a disaster for everyone," he says.
Lots of jobs and money were lost, and an entire industry had to be rebuilt. He says after the sequester takes effect, negotiation will be more likely, but also more difficult. Making deals once the parties are fully in crisis mode makes everything more tense, he says.
John Siegel is a mediator in the Washington, D.C., area who works with families. He says all the nasty language being thrown around shows that, despite their griping and grousing, politicians are still not really in crisis mode. Because if they were, they'd act and speak very differently.
"When the moment of crisis comes they don't say things to deliberately upset the other people," he says, "because they need the other people for a solution."
Listen for that change in language in the next week or two, he says, as reality of the budget sequestration hits home.
Sturm, Ruger, the publicly traded gun maker, reported a 50 percent increase in sales for 2012. Most of that increase came before the school massacre in Connecticut in December. Sturm, Ruger's CEO, Mike Fifer, told analysts the surge resulted in part from the "current political environment" beginning with President Obama's re-election campaign.
Fifer told analysts today he wishes the Connecticut-based company had amassed a bigger inventory. "We would have sold all of it and then more. But we didn't. And so, all we could sell is what we could make each week."
Fifer says Sturm, Ruger won't be able to build up that inventory for a while now, at least until demand slows down. By the end of last year, it had a backlog a million and a half guns long.
Rommel Dionisio is a firearms analyst with Wedbush Securities. He says that, when it comes to growth, gun makers are very cautious. "One of the real hesitations on the part of the manufacturers to build capacity is the realization that the surge is not going to be that sustainable," he said.
It's also hard for suppliers to keep up with new demand. Gun sales spiked when Bill Clinton was elected, and when Barack Obama became president. Dionisio says that, in both those cases, gun sales came to a halt one year later. By then, everyone had all the guns they wanted.
The United States expends a lot of energy trying to keep illicit stuff from entering this country: guns, drugs, even illegal immigrants. But Peter Andreas points out that smuggling and piracy were a financial foundation of colonial American society.
Andreas is a political scientist at Brown University, and has a new book out called "Smuggler Nation." He says that, before the Revolution, smuggling was de rigeur.
"You were ripping off the Crown. You could be considered kind of a patriotic smuggler," Andreas says.
That all changed once the U.S. became an independent nation. The newly formed government needed revenue.
"One of the founding pillars was in fact the [United States] Customs Service," says Andreas. "It was really important to re-socialize merchants to a stop smuggling, and it was very hard to do. These people had grown up smuggling, celebrated smuggling, and suddenly it was unpatriotic to smuggle."
Andreas says that smuggling and illicit trade still make up a significant portion of the modern economy, and they always will. But but it's impossible to calculate exactly how much. "Anyone who tells you differently is lying."
But Andreas says not to freak out, and he discourages "alarmist, hyperbolic rhetoric to suggest that somehow we're dealing with an unprecedented fundamentally, new threat to the country and the world."
The threat of broad, sweeping federal budget cuts points out just how dependent a lot of things are on the federal government.
Including our dinner choices.
Sequestration could leave America's meat inspectors sitting on their couches at home, not inspecting meat. Between March and September, inspectors may need to take as many as 15 days off without pay.
Here's USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack at the Agriculture Outlook Forum last week: "The only way we can absorb a cut of this magnitude is by impacting the people who work in the Food Safety area of USDA."
Meat inspections aren't optional. So fewer meat inspectors means less meat and poultry and eggs, and maybe fewer jobs. The USDA estimates, all told, the sequestration could cost the industry $10 billion.
It'll also cost meat-eaters. Mark Dopp, with the American Meat Institute, says, "It could cause some prices to go up. On a particular day, you might not find at your grocery store the product that you wanted."
The bean and tofu lobbies are probably ecstatic. But don't get too worked up... not just yet.
"It's unimaginable to me that we can't find a better solution to the issue of sequestration than that," says John Anderson, deputy chief economist with the American Farm Bureau Federation. "I think that the means to deal with this in less disruptive ways are surely at hand or could be brought to hand fairly quickly."
Over the next 12 months, 34,000 U.S. soldiers are scheduled to return home from Afghanistan, and many of them presumably will be looking to get back into the civilian work force.
But they’re likely to have some competition from Iraq and Afghanistan veterans who’ve already returned.
A new report out from the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago says veterans of those wars have a higher unemployment rate than those who never served and even higher than older veterans.
Take, for example, 35-year-old Stephen D’Allessio, who spent almost eight years in the Marines as a combat photographer. When he got out, he headed off to college and earned a degree in history from Columbia.
But since then, he hasn’t been able to find full-time, permanent work. His most recent gig -- a temporary job with FEMA -- is about to wrap up.
“After getting a degree at an Ivy League institution, and having served my country honorably, I just thought there’d be something better out there,” D’Allessio says. “And I just kept trying at it. But two years later, when I’m delivering flowers in a hooptie van, it gets disappointing.”
It’s not that his phone isn’t ringing -- it is. But it’s what happens during the interview process that frustrates D’Allessio.
“Being a Marine Corp. veteran, I think has a certain stigma," he says. "Whether people realize it or not, what they’re thinking is: ‘Well, gee, I don’t know if I want to hire this guy, because I’m kind of scared of him.’”
The Chicago Fed report finds long deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan have hurt the job prospects for new veterans, whether because of worries over post traumatic stress, or concerns their skills won’t translate to the civilian workforce.
And those perceptions might also be holding back officers who’ve spent most of their lives in the military, like Col. Mark Gardner. In June he'll become just “Mark” after having served his maximum 30 years in the Army.
“The realization that I had to move on, to do something in the commercial world, was a little daunting, actually,” he says.
Gardner started the job hunt two years ago with a resume that read like a dictionary of Army terms. His background in the Army’s logistics put him on par with an upper-level manager, but those aren’t the jobs generally posted on the web.
So when someone suggested he network to drum up leads, “I said, ‘Well, how in the heck do I network? I don’t know anything about networking.’”
Gardner tried to bone up wherever he could. When a big company had a hiring fair geared toward veterans, he’d show up. But he often found hiring managers equated him with the image of veterans they had burned in their minds -- the image of a kid on the front lines with a gun.
Eventually, he found a good job in logistics management.
But this preconceived idea of what a veteran ‘is,’ or how one ‘acts,’ that’s hard to overcome, says Kurt Ronn. He’s president of HRWorks, a nationwide recruitment firm whose business is heavily involved in military transition hiring.
“This stereotype of this unthinking, sort of robotic person -- I’m not exactly sure where it comes from. But it’s still out there, because we still hear it,” says Ronn. “This is one of the most intelligent workforces that you can have.”
Ronn says HR managers who are on the fence should just hire a veteran -- even just one. See what it’s like.
And Marine veteran Stephen D’Alessio would be glad if someone took that chance on him.
“I’m married now. I’d like to have some stability for my wife. I’d like to start a family. I’m kind of waiting for that permanent gig where somebody hires me and I can do that,” he says. “That’s really my one wish.”
The U.S. is now just a day away from the sequester -- the $85 billion in across-the-board federal spending cuts that came out of the debt ceiling debacle of 2011. While it’s tough to find an economist that thinks the cuts are smart policy, the sequester is unlikely to be averted before tonight's midnight deadline. U.S. Senator Charles Grassley (R-IA) joins Marketplace Morning Report host Jeremy Hobson to discuss the sequester and its likely impact on the economy.
J.C. Penney had another tough quarter. Sales were down 28 percent -- more than half a billion dollars. What's got the retailer down?
And Japan's prime minister Shinzo Abe said today that he wants to bring some of the country's nuclear plants back online. That reverses a decision to phase out nuclear energy following the Fukushima disaster. In his speech to parliament, Abe said Japan cited the need for energy security. The country, which does not have its own energy resources, must import large volumes of natural gas, oil and other fossil fuels from around the world in the absence of nuclear program.
DiamondCandles is a North Carolina-based online business which sells eco-friendly candles that come with a surprise ring inside.
"It's kind of like a Cracker Jack box," says CEO Justin Winters.
Depending on your luck, you can win a ring worth anywhere from $10 to $5,000.
DiamondCandles attracts customers mostly over the web. But what online activity actually leads to candle sales? Banner ads, Facebook "likes", links to the time you were on public radio?
To make sense of it all, DiamondCandles turned to a New York startup called SumAll, which has come up with a way to let clients look under the hood and see the stats on what online action caused what online reaction.
SumAll's founder Dane Atkinson says big Internet companies have a mountain of data on this, but getting the information and then parsing it is tricky.
"It's terrifying how much data they actually collect on your behalf, but they don't show it back to you," says Atkinson. "Google is actually one of the better tools out there, but many of them keep 90 percent of the information in the cloud, invisible to you."
That's where SumAll steps in. The company seeks out all of its client's information and, as their name suggests, sums it up in easy-to-understand stats and figures. So what's a Facebook "like" worth?
"On average across all our customers, a 'like' is worth a little bit under $1, an Instagram photo is worth a lot more, a post can be worth hundreds of dollars," says Atkinson.
To hear more about the value of social media advertising, click on the audio player above.
The government has revised its latest GDP figures, saying the economy grew at a rate of 0.1 percent during the last three months of 2012. Still, the increase was the weakest GDP performance in two years.
Diane Swonk, chief economist at Mesirow Financial, joins Marketplace Morning Report host Jeremy Hobson to discuss the underlying factors behind the numbers and whether the sequester could threaten GDP growth going forward.
Japan's prime minister Shinzo Abe said today that he wants to bring some of the country's nuclear plants back online. That reverses a decision to phase out nuclear energy following the Fukushima disaster.
In his speech to parliament, Abe said Japan cited the need for energy security. The country, which does not have its own energy resources, must import large volumes of natural gas, oil and other fossil fuels from around the world in the absence of nuclear program.
Despite Mr. Abe's intentions, heavy opposition and tougher regulations set to come into effect this summer will make it harder for idled plants to re-open. Not to mention the costs -- some experts estimate it may cost $11 billion to get the plants back online.
J.C. Penney had another tough quarter. Sales were down 28 percent -- more than half a billion dollars.
When Ron Johnson became J.C. Penny’s CEO, in 2011, he crunched the numbers.
“And his argument was,'This is ridiculous,’” says Jean-Pierre Dubé, professor of marketing at the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business. “‘People are just coming for deals. What J.C. Penney needs to do is offer value.’”
So, Johnson invested in new merchandise, and built specialty boutiques in J.C. Penney stores. He also got rid of two things J.C. Penney was known for: Sales and coupons.
That backfired, and last summer, he brought some of them back.
According to Ken Homa, a marketing professor at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business, the retailer has sent some mixed messages.
“I think that consumers out there just have no idea what to think about J.C. Penney at this time,” he says.
Yesterday, on a conference call with investors, CEO Ron Johnson defended himself.
“I told you transformations are unpredictable and can be bumpy, and this one has been,” he said.
When Johnson started at J.C. Penney, he predicted there would be profits in a matter of months. Yesterday, he said the company’s transformation will take years.
Bankers in Europe could be facing a cap on their bonuses as early as next year. EU officials announced an agreement today that would restrict pay at all banks based in Europe -- and any units of European banks based abroad.
If passed, bankers' bonuses may not exceed the amount of their basic salary, but the amount can range higher with shareholder approval. Predictably, reaction from the banking community has been unfavorable.
"It is going to exert at the very least some kind of constraint on what bankers can get paid and they would really rather not have any such restrictions," says the BBC's Economics correspondent Andrew Walker.
There is a fear that if the bonus cap is made into law, banks may decide to move operations to the United States or other business centers in Asia that do not have such tight restrictions.
The U.S. is now just a day away from the sequester -- the $85 billion in across-the-board federal spending cuts that came out of the debt ceiling debacle of 2011. While it’s tough to find an economist that thinks the cuts are smart policy, the sequester is unlikely to be averted before tonight's midnight deadline.
U.S. Senator Charles Grassley (R-IA) joins Marketplace Morning Report host Jeremy Hobson to discuss the sequester and its likely impact on the economy.
On whether the sequester can still be avoided:
It's a done deal for a short period of time, possibly a long period of time, but there is no way there is going to be a bill to the president for signature before March 1, so then you do go into sequester. I don't think there is going to be any immediate impact, but people will seriously negotiate [at that time].
On whether the sequester will be undone retroactively:
It's pretty difficult for me to predict. But strategy and the way congress operates and the fact that most people don't believe these automatic, across-the-board reductions are the best way to do business. Common sense dictates that you go to the table and you work out something. But if it doesn't get worked out, then this is going to be the policy through September 30.
On Washington's continual fiscal deadline crises:
To be perfectly candid, I think legislative bodies -- not just the Congress -- tend to function under deadlines. But you also have to remember that Congress is not the only player here. The president of the United States suggested this during the summer of 2011 because he didn't want to have any votes on increasing the debt limit prior to the election. Now it looks like the president is showing the leadership that he should have shown over the last 18 months.
On whether Washington will face a government shutdown next month:
Absolutely not. We learned a lesson in 1995 that you don't save any money by shutting down the government. Continuing resolutions will be passed to fund the government at the same level [as the last six months]. It's pretty common sense, if government can function for six months under X-number of dollars, they can fill out the year under those same X-number of dollars.
There are new numbers today about just how deep the technology gap is when you compare richer and poorer school districts in America. A new study by Pew Research Center's Internet and American Life Project finds that 8 out of 10 teachers think technology is leading to wider disparities between the haves and have-nots.
In richer districts, 52 percent of teachers had students look up information online as part of the class discussion. The report shows it drops to 35 percent in poorer areas. The teachers surveyed taught AP classes or were part of the National Writing Project.
Lee Rainie, Director of the Pew Research Center's Internet & American Life Project, joins Marketplace Tech host David Brancaccio to explain what's behind the disparity and how it is affecting classrooms.
See the report below:
You've heard of a bullseye. What about a ball's-eye? A Carnegie Mellon post-doc student and Japanese researchers have come up with a way to get smooth video from inside a spinning football.
Kris Kitani at CMU's Robotics Institute says regulation footballs may not be able to include the technology but the system might be cool for TV coverage of games or for training.
The trick: Stabilizing the image on a football that can rotate at a nausea-enducing 600 rpm. Don't miss the side by side comparison of the stabilized and unstabilized video from a tossed ball below.Video of BallCam - Video Stabilization for Spinning Cameras (GoPro Hero 2)
If the massive budget cuts known as "sequestration" come to pass, federal workers aren’t the only ones who will get a pay cut. Some of the hardest hit will be those who can afford it least -- the long-term unemployed.
After state unemployment insurance benefits run out, usually after 26 weeks, the federal benefits kick in. Those generally last for an additional 37 weeks, paid for with federal money.
Under sequestration, that extension would get a serious haircut.
“That’s going to translate into an 11 percent reduction in benefits,” says Maurice Emsellem, policy co-director at the National Employment Law Project. “It’s going to have a devastating impact on about two million unemployed workers who are receiving federally-funded benefits.”
Over the course of the fiscal year, Emsellem says a total of four million workers could be impacted. And the cuts will also reduce the funds that pay state employees to administer the program.
Sherri Summitt of Unionville, Indiana, relies on long-term unemployment benefits. She says her state administrators are under enough pressure already.
“Any time you call, you get no answers. You speak to people with no experience,” says Summitt.
It could have been worse.Until yesterday, Indiana threatened to suspend the federal program altogether. Now it plans to pay the long-term unemployment benefits at least through March 9th.
The Supreme Court is expected to take up same-sex marriage in March, and the business community has something to say about it. Yesterday, more than 200 employers signed onto a "friend of the court" brief making the business case for marriage equality. Today lawyers are expected to file a similar brief.
If you scan down the list of companies signing on to the documents, one industry stands out: Tech -- big deal tech, like Apple, Facebook and eBay.
So, why do it?
“I think it’s a mix of idealism and pragmatism,” says Stanford law professor Jane Schacter. Idealism, she says, in that a lot of these companies support marriage equality, plain and simple. And, says Schacter, “I think on the pragmatic side, they’ve made the calculation that for a number of reasons this is actually good for their business.”
One reason, companies in states like California -- that don’t allow same sex marriage -- are at risk of losing employees to states that do.
But it’s also a reflection of how much things have changed culturally.
“Opinion has shifted enough in the last couple of years that they are more worried alienating people by not taking a position than they are by taking a position,” says Harvard professor Michael Klarman.
But whether or not it matters to the court, we’ll have to wait and see.
We're just a day away from the sequester -- the $85 billion worth of federal spending cuts due to kick in Friday. Unless Washington changes its mind, some federal workers stand to lose as much as 20 percent of their pay.
Erika Townes is a nurse at Andrews Air Force base in Maryland. She makes less than $50,000 a year, and has been fighting foreclosure. So when Townes heard she might have to take unpaid leave one day a week because of sequestration, her first thought was, "Will I keep my house? What bills will I be able to pay?"
“With the sequestration, now we’re talking about full-on juggling," Townes says. "Let me put something on this, let me put something on that.”
Ironically, Townes could lose her job if she runs up too much debt, trying to make up for the sequester pay cut. Her job requires a security clearance. She has to maintain a certain credit rating to keep her clearance and her job.
“The Department of Defense is not going to say, oh well, you know, sequester, that’s OK," she explains. "That’s not how it works.”
Since borrowing could put their jobs in jeopardy, Defense Department workers will have to turn to other sources of aid if they’re forced to take unpaid leave. The union office on Andrews Air Force base has prepared packets of information on local shelters, food banks and counseling services.
Octavia Hall, president of the local branch of the American Federation of Government Employees, says the sequester would lop 20 percent off of her members’ paychecks when their take-home pay is barely enough to cover their bills, as it is.
“Take home, $900," she says. "For two weeks. So cancel 20 percent off of that.”
That 20 percent pay cut would ripple through the economy. Stephen Fuller, an economist at George Mason University, says the sequestration cuts would shave one percentage point off of economic growth this year. He says an economy that’s been staggering anyway will be punch drunk after sequestration.
“You can have a good time without getting smashed," he says. "And the sequester is getting smashed and it will have enormous short term consequences that won’t achieve any purpose.”
Fuller says those consequences won’t be felt immediately if sequestration kicks in. Federal workers have to be given at least 30 days notice of any unpaid leave.
Erika Townes says that’ll give her time to think up a plan B, and maybe start looking for a second job.
Think about your favorite foods. About how they taste and how they make you feel. A lot of the foods we crave -- and we use that word intentionally -- are so good because of three main ingredients: Salt, sugar and fat.
When mixed in just the right amounts, they're an almost irresistible combination. And the food industry knows it.
"Salt, Sugar, Fat" is also the title of Michael Moss's new book about how food companies keep us coming back for more. They've built a sophisticated system, from food engineers looking for the exact combination of flavors to inspire the deepest craving, to marketing departments that coach kids to beg parents for Lunchables and sugary snacks.
One of the tricks of the trade? Vanishing caloric density. "If you can fool people into a product that melts in their mouth, their brain is less apt to detect that there's a ton of calories in there."
But Moss says it's not quite as black and white as "healthy" or "unhealthy." Food companies may have goals to provide healthy food, but they're also sensitive to what shoppers are putting in their carts. And there's financial pressure. "Every time the companies cut back a bit, Wall Street is there, watching the sales, watching the profits, urging the companies to go back to salt, sugar, fat. And they do."
As for his own favorite tastes? Moss says he usually craves salty and fat-filled treats.
There's some new data out today from Brandeis University on the racial wealth gap in this country. It has tripled in the past 25 years. Whites getting richer, African-Americans not. The study's ongoing -- the same set of families, black and white; 25 years of research into total wealth, not just paychecks.
Tom Shapiro did the analysis, which points to housing as a huge factor, how where you live affects how much wealth you have.
"As homes are bought a little lower down in the socioeconomic ladder, housing wealth does grow," Shapiro said. "But the point is it doesn't grow nearly as much or as fast."
When Shapiro first started the study in 1984, the total wealth gap between blacks and whites was $85,000. In 2009, that gap had tripled to $236,500.
"For a typical white family, a $1 increase in average income over the 25 years returns about $5 of wealth," Shapiro said. "For that same typical African-American family -- that same $1 average increase in income -- returns only 69 cents in wealth...Part of the equation there is that that typical African-American family has less wealth to start out with than the typical white family."
Shapiro said data show that the wealth in the African-American community has gone up tremendously over the past 25 years, but "we need to keep growing in a way that bring the African-American, or the communities of color, line closer -- that is, put it on the same trajectory of growth and prosperity as that of the white wealth growth line."
And if we don't, Shapiro said, "I fear. I know what toxic inequality looks like. Shared economic prosperity needs to be spread much more broadly for the United States to compete globally as an economy."