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What happens when you put rich and poor students together in charter schools?

Mon, 2014-01-27 05:33

Todd Dickson is trying something a bit unusual for a charter school founder. He’s recruiting students to Valor Collegiate Academy from working class neighborhoods, and Nashville’s wealthiest enclaves.

Dickson addresses a crowd of families with the means to pay private school tuition. But the parents in this room are prepared to give public schools a chance.

A father himself, Dickson also helped start Summit Prep in the San Francisco area. There are similar charters in places like Denver and New Orleans.

Their belief is these charter schools is that all income levels benefit from learning side-by-side, helping them understand multiple perspectives.

“It’s much more authentic and easy to learn to do that well if you are learning with kids who really have different experiences and different backgrounds than you do," say Dickson

The trick is getting everyone in the same classroom.

Jennifer Erickson worries her daughter is being raised in a bubble at her private school.

 “I mean to me, education isn’t just about books. It’s about being well rounded in all areas," says Erickson. "That is a very big piece that my daughter is not getting. Of course, there are negatives that come with that.”

Well-off families often question whether these charters can really push high performers while trying to get disadvantaged students doing double time.  It’s not uncommon for some to come into middle school reading at a second-grade level.

At a recruiting session in an immigrant community center, an interpreter translates in a whisper to a Hispanic mother.

These parents here aren’t so worried about raising kids in a bubble. They’re looking for opportunity.

Hafza Mohamed’s son attends a struggling school now.

“I want him to go forward, not backward," says Mohamed.

A few of these charters with integrated student bodies have been successful getting everyone prepared for college. But advocates say there’s a bigger benefit that doesn’t show up on a report card -- relationships that span the divide between rich and poor.

Court ruling could clear up some Obamacare confusion

Mon, 2014-01-27 05:24

The deadline to sign up for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act -- or face penalties -- is a little more than two months away now: March 31. A survey out today says lots of people don’t know that, highlighting just how much confusion there still is about the health care law.

More than half of Americans don’t know when the deadline is to sign up for health insurance, according to a report from Bankrate.com.

Granted, many of those people already have insurance.

“But we do think our findings about young adults are somewhat worrisome,” says Bankrate insurance analyst Doug Whiteman.

Everyone is counting on the young and healthy to balance out the insurance pool, to keep costs down, says Whiteman.

“We found that young adults between 18 and 29, which is the age group least likely to have health insurance, also is the group that seems least informed about the deadline,” he says.

One thing that might be preventing better awareness: 17 states have passed laws limiting the work of the so-called "navigators" who are supposed to help people sign up on the federal exchange.

Last week a federal judge blocked Missouri’s restrictions on navigators.

“By preventing navigators from doing their jobs, states really undercut and undermine a fundamental purpose of the Affordable Care Act,” says attorney Jay Angoff, who represented groups suing the state and was involved in the initial implementation of the ACA at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Angoff says the Missouri ruling could help opponents fight similar laws restricting navigators in other states.

Coffee's cheap right now, and you should be worried

Mon, 2014-01-27 05:13

Attention latte lovers, Folgers fanatics and espresso enthusiasts, your favorite cold weather beverage is getting cheaper. Coffee prices are near historic lows. Great news, right? Turns out, it’s not. To learn why, I headed to a large waterfront warehouse in Brooklyn’s Red Hook neighborhood to talk with Ed Kaufmann, director of roasting for Joe, a chain of specialty coffee shops. 

He started me off by showing me his coffee roaster, which resembles a large, stainless steel washing machine. Through a small window, you can see cream-colored beans from Mexico being roasted to a deep brown.

"The beans we use are seasonal. We have coffees from Central America and Ethopia and now we’re transitioning into Papua New Guinea, Peru and Colombia, " he says.

Coffee is the second most traded commodity in the world after oil and the price of coffee beans has been on a wild ride: In 2011, coffee hit $3 dollars a pound, a 14 year high. Since then, the price has dropped to less than half that, near historic lows. But that doesn't mean coffee shops like Joe change the price of your morning macchiato every month. "We can’t really fluctuate our prices with the fluctuation of the market," says Kaufmann. "Coffee drinkers are very sensitive to increases in prices."

So, when prices rise, Joe tightens its belt, cutting travel and staffing. When coffee prices drop, staffing and travel get beefed up and Joe uses fancier beans.

But when the prices drop as much as they have recently, it only sets us up for another spike. "Coffee prices are now at such a low level that farmers are losing money," says Ross Colbert, a global beverage strategist at Rabobank. "The risk here is that farmers will replace coffee with other crops."

That could create a shortage of coffee and cause prices to rise. Add speculators and an increasingly global market to the mix and the price fluctuations for commodities like coffee become even more extreme. "The price of a crop rises,  so the farmers say, 'I want to plant more of that crop.'" says  Andrew Burns, economist at the World Bank. "Supply increases substantially and rather than the price falling to that equilibrium position, it actually falls way past it."

To cope with these wild swings, Joe’s Ed Kaufmann is working on drawing up contracts with growers. "We’re hopefully going to be able to lock in prices and work outside of the fluctuating market," he says. Kaufmann hopes the contracts will mean the price is right for him to get the quality beans he needs and for farmers to earn enough to keep our cups full.

Tunisia's economy still recovering, 3 years after Arab Spring

Mon, 2014-01-27 05:03

A little over three years ago, a Tunisian street vendor set himself on fire and sparked the Arab Spring. A big part of the revolution had its root in economic instability. This weekend was a milestone for Tunisia. The North African country adopted a new constitution.

The lead-up to the new constitution was characterized by political instability that no doubt hurt the economy. Tourism, which makes up 12 percent of GDP, was especially hard hit. But the adoption of the new constitution could assure foreign investors and tourists that it's safe to come to Tunisia. "This is also going to reassure and give confidence to local companies and the local economy," says Riccardo Fabiana, the lead North Africa analyst with the Eurasia Group. "However", he adds, "this is probably not going to be enough."

One of Tunisia's biggest problems prior to the revolution was corruption and cronyism. The good news is that many of those corrupt officials have been removed from power. "Now these cronies are gone. But the barriers and the regulation are still there and are still somewhat of a structural problem for the private sector," says World Bank economist Jean-Luc Bernasconi. Bernasconi believes the new government will have to create policy reforms to solve these larger structural problems.

But Tunisia's slow economic growth is also the result of weak European economies, something the new government cannot control.

What's your Facebook credit score?

Fri, 2014-01-24 14:37

We know that credit goes way beyond the plastic in our wallets -- from how much debt we carry to paying it off on time. Now, some credit agencies are looking into using our social media information in our credit reports.

Credit expert John Ulzheimer says what we post and who we add as friends on social media can have farer reaching effects than we think. “It’s the whole mantra, birds of a feather tend to flock together. And if you tend to connect with people who are high risk or higher risk borrowers, then the perception is that you are as well. And that’s really where the issue lies.”

It's not hard to figure out why credit agencies would want to know what you're like as a person to decide if you're worthy of a loan or credit card, but, is it legal? Ulzheimer says that remains to be seen. "Whether or not it’s legal really is up to how it is perceived in the Equal Opportunity Credit Act. It has to be built using science.”

Social networks like Facebook and Twitter have treasure troves full of information that they could sell, but actually selling personal information could lead to headaches down the road, according to Ulzheimer. “Here is the massive, massive problem that ... social media sites are going to have to deal with. Right now, none of those companies are referred to as a 'consumer reporting agency.' The Fair Credit Reporting Act has a very clear definition of what is a consumer reporting agency. The minute any of these social media sites decide to monetize their information for the purposes of allowing lenders and credit reporting agencies to assess the risk … of consumers, they also become become a consumer reporting agency … you’re going to be in the crosshairs for any number of federal fair credit reporting lawsuits.”

So, should you worry? Ulzheimer says don't go into paralysis over your social media networks, but if there's something you want to remain private, don't post it. "I would just be very careful, that if you’re not willing to tell everybody something, then don’t post it on Facebook, don’t put it on Twitter.”

Sound advice, even beyond credit scores.

Moustaches are up; shaving is down

Fri, 2014-01-24 14:34

Procter and Gamble reported quarterly profits this morning. Turns out they're down 16 percent, in part because sales at Gillette were off, as beards and mustaches are apparently becoming more popular.

Chief Financial officer John Moeller said this to the Financial Times: "While the incidence of facial shaving is somewhat down... the incidence of body shaving is up, and we can take advantage of that."

You can't unhear that.

Giving credit where credit is due

Fri, 2014-01-24 13:34

By writing the next line, I am basically begging Marketplace Money host Carmen Wong Ulrich to wag her finger in my face: I have only checked my credit score once in life.

It was a couple of years ago when I was making my first major "grown-up" purchase – a car.  And I haven’t checked it since.  The good news is, when my credit history was run (that one time), it turned up an impressive 780.  Yay me!  In case you’re not aware of how FICO credit scores are ranked, it goes a little something like this:

BAD 599-649

BETTER 650-699

GOOD 700-749

EXCELLENT 750-800

But did you know there’s an unlisted category of consumers? People who have a credit score of more than 800: the Credit Elite

Okay, we made that label up, but these personal finance high achievers deserve their own title, don’t you think? Only about 18 percent of Americans can say they’re in the 800-plus club. Naturally, we wondered what kind of people are credit perfectionists. 

We asked on Facebook here and here for folks with an impressive score to tell us about how they achieved it and how much work it takes to maintain credit nirvana. The following is a collection of some of our favorite responses, complete with tips on how to get on their level.

Amy writes:

“Being raised on a small family farm, I was taught from a very young age that you don't know if you'll have a crop next year. So you save consistently and live well within your means. This means that I've paid for cars in cash (because i save for them) and only purchase on credit cards what I have the money to pay for right away. My credit score was 804 at last check.”

That being said, I am NOT a homeowner.

Edward says:

“[My credit score is] 830.  For years I have had all accounts set up for auto-pay, and have made sure that the money was in the account. Credit cards never carry a balance, and are paid off every month.”

And Meredith  (FICO score 806) adds:

“My ‘secret’? Get a credit card early on. Use it sparingly. Pay on time. Pay the balance in full, if possible. The end :)”

They make it sound so simple, don’t they? Well, not everyone who got in touch with us had an easy row to hoe.  Cindy in Fishers, Ind., shared her story of how she went from having a mountain of credit card debt to scoring an 820:

And Frederick of San Diego, California readily admits that he probably would have gone down a bad financial path if his mother hadn’t given him a sound financial education:

Now I’m thinking, since I’m so close to being a card-carrying member of the 800 Plus Club, should I strive for credit perfection? Well, maybe I’m already there.  Like I said, it’s been a while since I checked my score…

Are you in the Credit Elite? Tell us your story with a comment below or Tweet us your score @LiveMoney with the hashtag #800plusclub. 

Ask Carmen: How to rebuild credit after a bankruptcy

Fri, 2014-01-24 13:15

We asked you to send us your credit questions, and here to help us wade through the maze of credit conundrums is Liz Weston, a personal finance columnist and author of the "Ten Commandments of Money: How to Survive and Thrive in the New Economy."

Michael in St. Paul, Minnesota, asked us his daughter, currently a freshman in college, should get a credit card to start building her credit record. Michael's wife thinks opening a credit card is a post-college thing to do, but Michael thinks she's better off building a credit history now.

Weston says: “She would probably need a co-signer, since she doesn’t have an income.” Due to new restrictions in the CARD act, college students without income don't have available access to credit cards like they did in the past. “I would argue, don’t wait until she gets out of college. Although it's a little more difficult to get a credit card, it’s still going to be easier to get one in college than afterward.

"If you don’t have kids that are quite to college age yet ... I might want to start them with a credit card before they even graduate high school. This would have been anathema a few years ago, but the idea is you are kind of putting training wheels on a credit card. You are having them use a credit card while they’re still under your roof, still have some influence on them, you can talk about the importance of paying off the balance in full, every single month.”

Yvette, also from St. Paul, Minnesota filed for bankruptcy in late 2013 and also went through a divorce. She now wants to recover and fix her credit. She's been approved for a credit card with a $400 line, but with a $35 annual fee and 18 percent interest. Should she also look at an auto loan to rehab her credit score?

Weston says: "The interest rate on the card doesn't matter because you won't be carrying a balance. The best way to have a credit card is to pay it in full. Use only a small portion of the credit limit and pay it off in full before the due date. Add an installment loan such as a personal or auto loan to further help rehab your credit."

“I think the mistake a lot of people make with credit cards, is that they carry a balance thinking that will help them. It doesn’t help you, it doesn’t benefit you at all. So don’t do it. And the other thing they do is, they max out that card, because they think, ‘$120, how much will that get me?’ Don’t use it as a buying tool, use it as a tool to build credit, which means small purchases, pay them off in full. Use that card lightly, but regularly."

“I’m not a big fan of going after an auto lan right after a bankruptcy, because you are going to pay through the nose in interest. But a personal loan, you can borrow a small amount, pay that back over time, not have an outrageous interest rate, and that too will build credit. The idea of having both an auto loan and a credit loan, is you want both types of credit. You want revolving credit and you want an installment loan.”

To listen to more questions from listeners on protecting yourself from identity theft and separating finances from a spouse, press play above. Have a question of your own? Ask Carmen on Facebook, Twitter, or email us!

Tech on the bayou: Louisiana and New Orleans make a play for start-ups

Fri, 2014-01-24 12:45

In this post-Silicon Valley world, and especially in this slow economic recovery, lots of cities and regions are desperate to attract start-ups. Whether it’s the Silicon prairies of the Midwest, or Silicon Beach in Los Angeles, cities want their own piece of the technology pie. Add to that list: Silicon Bayou in Louisiana.

If Silicon Bayou has a center, it could be the 500 block of Capdeville Street in New Orleans’ Central Business District.

On that block is a bar, aptly named: Capdeville. Last Thursday at 5 p.m., only one person was at the bar, a guy on his laptop nursing a glass of red wine. But within an hour the place was packed.

The bartender, Myesha Dunn, helped open the bar four years ago. "Capdeville was originally a rock'n'roll whiskey-themed bar, and we evolved into this hub for this really awesome tech group of New Orleans," she says, before rushing off to pour whiskey for someone in a dress shirt and khakis.

Many of the regulars work next door, in the IP building. The first floor is home to a coworking space called Launchpad.

Inside Launchpad, Paul Teall leads a monthly gathering of video game developers. Before moving here, Teall worked for Electronic Arts (EA) on the blockbuster game Madden. He moved to New Orleans to work for TurboSquid, a company with about 80 employees.

"TurboSquid is a marketplace similar to a stock photo marketplace, like iStockphoto, or Getty images, but focused on 3D models," Teall says.

When you play a video game, or watch a digitally animated movie, every object on the screen has to be made by a game developer or an animator. Or, they could buy those objects on TurboSquid.

Teall pulls up a digital model that’s a replica of the microphone I’m holding.

"You can see the lines on it, that’s the mesh, so that’s how he built it," Teall says, pointing to a grid of curved lines that covered the microphone like elastic jail bars. The price: $199.

TurboSquid could be headquartered anywhere. But when it comes to hiring employees, New Orleans has an advantage over cities where living expenses are higher: "I feel like it was the best move I’ve ever made. I love living here," says Teall.

What is also luring tech companies to Louisiana? Some of the most generous tax credits in the country. Digital media companies can get 25 percent back on what they spend on production and 35 percent on payroll. EA built its North American Testing Center in Baton Rouge, and says it brought nearly $7 million in payroll to the state.
"I think there are businesses where you have a natural competitive advantage by being in New Orleans," says Chris Shultz, the founder of Launchpad. He also has his own startup, Niko Niko, and he’s the self-described pied piper of the Silicon Bayou.

For startups that want to develop software related to food,  music, or the oil and gas industry, Silicon Bayou is ideal. And, Shultz says, the culture of New Orleans itself is a big draw. "New Orleans serves as this creative muse for a lot of people."

At the same time, the idea of a Silicon Bayou, a Silicon Prairie,or a Silicon You Name It, is becoming meaningless, because technology is becoming a part of all businesses.

"A lot of traditional industries are becoming tech enabled,” Schultz said. "As Mark Andreessen says, software is eating the world."

To understand what happens when software eats the world, I talked to Brian Bordainick, the CEO of Dinner Lab, a New Orleans startup that built software to eat, appropriately, the restaurant industry. "Dinner Lab hosts pop-up events in about 10 cities across the United States," Bordainick says.                                                                                                

Dinner Lab is a twenty-first century supper club. Members pay an annual fee plus an additional $50-$70 per dinner, where up and coming chefs serve food in places like warehouses and rooftops.

But the whole experience is really about data that comes in the form of feedback cards. "Typically restaurants see about 0.25 percent fill out a feedback card. We bat about 95 percent," says Bordainick.

Dinner Lab is essentially a focus group. Bordainick believes the feedback his company provides chefs will help them plan new menus and take some of the risk out of opening a restaurant.

When he started Dinner Lab, several people told him that no one would fund a New Orleans start up. But he said, "we are living proof it’s not true. We had one employee this time last year, we have 50 now. We are a high growth, fast moving startup and we’re located in New Orleans."

Super Bowl commercials get their own commercials

Fri, 2014-01-24 12:27

The Super Bowl is still more than a week away, but try telling that to the advertisers. Not content to wait for the big game, they’re rolling out teaser ads online and on TV. Yes, essentially ads promoting the ads.

Take this Toyota teaser on YouTube. Actor and former football player Terry Crews drives down a dusty road and encounters a seemingly abandoned painted bus.

“Anybody need help?” he calls. 

It looks pretty much like a movie trailer, which makes sense because there is a tie-in with the new Muppets movie coming out in March. But this trailer is promoting Toyota’s Super Bowl ad, coming out in the second quarter of the game.

“We want to build as much engagement before the game,” says Russ Koble, advertising manager for Toyota Motor Sales USA, “where people are talking about it with friends and family, and hopefully people are keeping their eye open for our ad specifically.” 

Ah, the magic word of marketing in the age of social media: engagement. This isn’t the first time advertisers have teased their Super Bowl spots – or even released the ads themselves days in advance, hoping to generate buzz on Twitter and Facebook. But the pre-game frenzy seems to have reached a new level.

“This year, we’re seeing more elaborate campaigns in advance of the Super Bowl than we have ever seen before,” says Tim Calkins, professor of marketing at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management.

He points to Bud Light. It’s running six different teasers, on the Web and on TV.

“I suspect when everything’s done, Bud Light would have spent as much on the teaser spots as they would have spent on the actual Super Bowl, or perhaps even more,” he says 

All told, a Super Bowl campaign can run around $10 million these days, says Justin Osborne, general manager of advertising and marketing communications at Volkswagen of America.

But that can buy a lot of attention. 

“Now all of a sudden for this two week period, everyone in America is actually interested in advertising and actually wants to watch it, and so it’s a great way for us to extend the actual spot itself,” he says. 

The strategy has paid off for Volkswagen in the past. The company’s Super Bowl ad for the Passat three years ago, featuring a young boy dressed as Darth Vader, went viral after it was released several days before the game. To date the ad has attracted nearly 59 million views on YouTube.

Volkswagen unveiled a teaser for this year’s spot this week, poking fun at the advertising mania. (Let’s just say the car is the least memorable part.) Osborne says the company will release the spot itself sometime next week.

Some companies still prefer the surprise attack. For several years Chrysler has kept mum about its plans for the big game -- and then made a big splash.

Amy Beamer with the ad-tracking website Spotbowl.com recalls last year’s “God Made a Farmer” ad for the Dodge Ram, featuring a speech by the late broadcaster Paul Harvey.

“It was a surprise, people were engaged” she says. “All that stuff was just tied up in a very neat bow and they got a lot of traction there.” 

Because -- teaser or no teaser -- more than 100 million viewers tune in to watch the Super Bowl, and Beamer says as many as half of them are there just for the ads. 

Weekly Wrap: Does Jamie Dimon deserve a raise?

Fri, 2014-01-24 12:10

JPMorgan Chase has been in the news a lot recently, for it's fines and legal settlements. Today the bank made headlines when the board of directors approved a 74 percent pay raise for CEO Jamie Dimon. The bank announced on Friday that Dimon's total pay package for this year was $20 million.

"Look at it this way. This board has stood behind Jamie Dimon over-and-over again, if you remember when there was pressure for him to split the chairman and CEO roles," says Leigh Gallagher from Fortune Magazine. "The company is doing very well. And this is what happens when companies do well. Their CEO's get rewarded."

But, if you remember, Dimon faced a pay cut last year after criticism of his management following massive trading losses in the so-called 'London Whale' affiar.

"Here's the big problem with his big raise: It makes a mockery of his pay cut last year. Because he just gets it all back," adds John Carney from CNBC. "This is a terrible lesson for CEOs everywhere. It's like, 'Okay, we'll pretend to punish you one year, and so really all you got was a delay in your extra $10 million."

How to live off the credit card grid

Fri, 2014-01-24 12:02

Your credit -- or lack thereof -- not only determines if and how you borrow money, but if an employer will hire you. If not having credit could mean not getting a job, can you afford to not use credit at all?

Michelle Singletary, Washington Post Columnist, has taken her own cleanse from credit cards in the past, and tells us how you can afford to live credit free.

“There are people who can live without credit, but they tend to be much more financially secure,” Singletary says. “They’ve already established credit at some point, and now they don’t want to use it anymore, so they already laid that groundwork.”

One big plus is you’re less likely to use money, since you don’t have readily available access to money. “Studies show when you use credit, you spend more than when you use cash. And you can go off the grid when you want to.”

But, credit is being used for many more things than getting more credit -- it's being used by insurers and nearly two-thirds of employers now use it to screen job applicants. How can you go off the credit grid and still land that next job?

Singletary says honesty is the best policy: “Just let the employer know, ‘Listen, there’s nothing going on, I just decided that I want to use cash.’ What they’re looking for is people who have low credit scores, or people who have misused credit. You have to let them know upfront.”

“Particularly if you have a government job, and you’re looking for security clearance, let the investigator know this is what’s going on … it’s the negative stuff that will hurt you.”

How to live off the credit card grid

Fri, 2014-01-24 12:02

Your credit -- or lack thereof -- not only determines if and how you borrow money, but if an employer will hire you. If not having credit could mean not getting a job, can you afford to not use credit at all?

Michelle Singletary, Washington Post Columnist, has taken her own cleanse from credit cards in the past, and tells us how you can afford to live credit free.

“There are people who can live without credit, but they tend to be much more financially secure,” Singletary says. “They’ve already established credit at some point, and now they don’t want to use it anymore, so they already laid that groundwork.”

One big plus is you’re less likely to use money, since you don’t have readily available access to money. “Studies show when you use credit, you spend more than when you use cash. And you can go off the grid when you want to.”

But, credit is being used for many more things than getting more credit -- it's being used by insurers and nearly two-thirds of employers now use it to screen job applicants. How can you go off the credit grid and still land that next job?

Singletary says honesty is the best policy: “Just let the employer know, ‘Listen, there’s nothing going on, I just decided that I want to use cash.’ What they’re looking for is people who have low credit scores, or people who have misused credit. You have to let them know upfront.”

“Particularly if you have a government job, and you’re looking for security clearance, let the investigator know this is what’s going on … it’s the negative stuff that will hurt you.”

Juggling multiple jobs: Hey, at least its not boring.

Fri, 2014-01-24 12:00

Workforce trends in the U.S. are transforming work-life among Americans, making people more transitory between jobs, and less settled in any single job.

 

Over the past five years, the number of Americans working part-time involuntarily, for economic reasons (because their hours have been cut or they can't find full-time work) has hovered near record highs. The figure has doubled since before the Great Recession, and now totals more than 7.5 million, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

 

Meanwhile, there's been an increase in temporary and contract jobs — where you don't get on the payroll, and before long, the job's over and you have to go find something else. There are now 2.8 million temps, the highest number since BLS started tracking the category in 1990.

 

I met Jake Gerke around 12:30 a.m. on a Sunday morning at a 7-Eleven in Portland, Ore. It's in a lower-middle class neighborhood east of downtown -- a vagrant was asleep just outside the front door.

 

Gerke was working the graveyard shift -- at the moment he's working at 7-Eleven just one night per week. 

 

"I work here," he said. "I work at a place called MDC Research, I recruit for focus groups, it's a call-center. I also teach ESL. And I do data entry on the side. So there are four, for those keeping track."

 

Gerke was getting off his shift later that morning around 8 a.m. He'd have to be at the call center in a distant suburb by noon, and then expected to work through early evening — though Gerke said the employees on that shift are often let go early if work is slack. He would be napping on the bus to the call center — he said he catches some shut-eye but never misses his stop.

 

Both the 7-Eleven job and the call-center job pay just above minimum wage ($9.10 per hour in Oregon, the second-highest in the nation). But Gerke said 7-Eleven is more interesting.

 

"You can't have a conversation with somebody at 3 o'clock in the morning inside a 7-Eleven and it not be interesting," he said, "drugs, music, movies, current events."

 

His co-worker behind the counter, Mandy Johnson, chimed in as she checked-out two guys buying beer. They'd just recognized some of their friends on the front page of a tabloid that publishes mug shots of alleged perpetrators of local crimes.

 

"You could put a lot of different things on a resume from this job," said Johnson, "referee, counselor, babysitter."

 

Gerke added some more: "psychologist, bartender."

 

Gerke is 26; he left high school before graduating, and eventually finished his high-school equivalency along with earning an associate's degree from a local community college. He says this is not what he was raised to expect from work. His mother worked full-time as an accountant, for two different companies over nearly 20 years, each of which eventually laid her off.

 

"I definitely saw that if you go and work somewhere, it's going to be longer-term," said Gerke. "Things have changed in the last twenty years. That's not to say that I don't make relationships with my coworkers, I definitely do. And while it would be nice to just settle down at one job, I would miss this aspect of seeing a wide variety of people."

 

So Jake Gerke sees a social silver lining in his roving, varied, chopped-up work-life.

 

But Stephanie Coontz, a family historian at the Evergreen State College in Washington, who also serves as research director of the Council on Contemporary Families, says there's also a high social cost to these work arrangements.

 

"There's been a huge increase in involuntary part-time work and temporary work," she says. "We have a higher proportion of low-wage work and contingent work than most other countries of comparable wealth. It means that you're constantly insecure, often there's rotating shifts, you don't know how long you're going to be on."

 

Coontz says psychological and sociological research demonstrate the toll this takes on families and communities.

 

"That kind of economic insecurity is a relationship killer, it erodes good parenting," she says. "People take less notice of the good things that their partner or their child does. They're much more sensitive to the irritating things, and all of these erode family life."

 

At the very least, the multiple-job scramble keeps 35-year-old Layne Yacapin-Montrose busy day-in and day-out. Yacapin-Montrose works at a suburban gym where she's employed part-time teaching zumba classes — that's a dance-fitness style using Latin music.

 

"Wednesdays are my long days," she told me after teaching a packed class on the gym's basketball court. "I start at 8:30 a.m.—the dance-fitness class. Then I drive over to the bar, I bartend from 10:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., then I drive back over to the gym and teach another class."

 

She teaches at two locations — at the second, she rents space and offers classes independently. At various times in recent years she's bartended, waited tables, and been a manager at the restaurant — a large national chain with full menu and bar.

 

Yacapin-Montrose is married, no kids. She says the bartending pays pretty well. But she's looking for yet another part-time job, even as she continues bartending, teaching zumba, and volunteering at a nonprofit where she teaches Hawaiian culture and arts, such as hula dancing.

 

The restaurant chain — where she's worked for fourteen years — has been cutting back on her shifts; lately she's been working there 20-25 hours per week.

 

"It's a corporate restaurant, so even though my managers love me they still have many people above them that they have to answer to," she says. "Recently like I said my hours have been cut so I just lost all my medical.

 

Yacapin-Montrose is from a military family, and even though she likes her work — all of it — she feels somehow that she's underperformed her expectations.

 

"It's a little frustrating on my part that I feel like I'm supposed to have a career," she says. "I'm 35-years old and I don't have a job that's feeding into my 401k or any of those things that I'm supposed to be doing to prepare for my adulthood. I was raised to go to school, get a job. And I kind of feel like I'm not living up to what mom and dad said I was supposed to do."

 

And yet, like Jake Gerke, Yacapin-Montrose says she wouldn't trade in her runaround life for a steady 9-to-5 job, either.

 

"I kind of like the gypsy employment," she says. "I like that roaming around. I meet so many great people in all the different places that I've worked. And I don't get bored at one place. I'm not working with the same people day in, day out."

 

None of the people interviewed for this story have chosen this style of work entirely voluntarily. To some extent, they're hustling multiple part-time jobs because there aren't enough full-time jobs out there.

 

But they've also come to think — or perhaps have convinced themselves — that they genuinely like the daily churn: the different workplaces, clients, and co-workers.

 

Maybe — if you can't beat the new economy, you might as well join it.

Legal pot businesses would love to take cash to the bank

Fri, 2014-01-24 12:00

Retailers who sell marijuana, even in states where it's legal, may have access to bank accounts – eventually. Attorney General Eric Holder said the administration may propose new rules to deter prosecutors from prioritizing legal marijuana sellers. In the meantime, marijuana dealers continue to pay a high price to operate only with cash.

Retailers of legal recreational marijuana in Colorado say business is good. Tim Cullen, co-owner of Evergreen Apothecary and Colorado Harvest Company, says while perhaps a cash-only business would work for some small companies, he’s at the point where not having a bank account is not an option.

 “We have over a 100 hundred employees. At this point, we lease six different buildings. We will pay somewhere north of $100 thousand in sales tax this month,” he says.  

There’s just one drawback to selling all that cannabis – all the cash.  According to federal law, marijuana is illegal – so banks won’t take retailer’s money.  That means businesses like Cullen’s have to find a work around.

“We use a third party that we pay pretty substantial fees to. That allows us to have access to bank accounts.”

A "third party"? Is Cullen renting a bank account? Borrowing one from a friend, with an accompanying fee? 

“I’m going to leave it at vague and mysterious,” says Cullen, “because I need to keep my bank accounts open.”

But most marijuana sellers,  notes Taylor West, Deputy Director of the National Cannabis Industry Association, are stuck with cash only.

“People are literally having to bring bags of cash in to pay licensing fees, state taxes, even utility bills that can run in the thousands of dollars a month,” she says.

Then, says West, there’s the issue of safety.

“We have heard of members that have to use decoy cars and multiple people leaving at the same time and going in different directions.”

But all retailers still have to pay state sales tax. (Colorado businesses take note - February 20  is the last day you can pay taxes for the month before). And until the rules change, the Colorado Department of Revenue would like retailers to know that it accepts state tax revenue in a number of ways, and cash, it says, is one of them.

Food labels will get their first makeover in 20 years

Fri, 2014-01-24 12:00

We know a lot about our food these days – the calories, the fat, the protein that comes in a single serving of Cheeze-its. And i's all thanks to that little box on the back of the box.

Now for the first time in about 20 years, nutritional labels are getting a make over.

The FDA won't say exactly when the changes will come, or what the new labels will include. But there are some hints: easier to see calorie counts, more up-to-date serving sizes and information on added sugars.

Phil Lempert, editor of Supermarketguru.com says the time for change has come. He attributes some our unhealthy eating habits to consumer confusion over nutrition labels.

"If we can get people to understand that they are consuming too much food, or too many empty calories vs. nutritive calories, we can finally change behavior," he says.

Lempert believes new labels could clear things up for shoppers, and put some pressure on food companies.

"Food manufacturers are going to look very carefully at this, and try to take advantage of this, so their ingredients and the nutritional information becomes a marketing advantage," he says.

So does that mean we are going to see an explosion of whole wheat, tofu and kale in everything?

Ann Yaktine, interim head of the Food and Nutrition Board at the Institute of Medicine, says to expect baby steps.

"I’m not convinced that manufacturers are going to radically change what their food products are now."

Yaktine says over the past several years, food companies have already started to offer consumers different choices.

Just walk down the 50-mile long chip aisle.

"You can see all kinds of different products. Low-sodium, low-fat, low-calorie," she says.  

More than anything, Yaktine thinks new labels will make it easier for consumers -- at least, easier to find information. We haven’t yet met a label that makes it easy to put down the Flamin’ Hot Cheetos.

'A slow motion trainwreck': Argentina's currency woes

Fri, 2014-01-24 12:00

Currencies across the developing world have been sliding recently, but none more so than Argentina. The Argentine peso slid a whopping 16 percent against the dollar this week.

"Fear, uncertainty, abandonment, and confusion," are the reigning sentiments in the country right now, according to Augustino Fontevecchia, a reporter for Forbes and a native Argentinean who travels there regularly. "There’s been problems finding basic supplies from food to electronics. Inflation has led to police going on strike in several provinces, which has in turn, caused crime waves."  The government, he says, has done little to substantially address the problems.

A TRAIN WRECK

"It’s been a slow motion trainwreck," says Win Thin, global head of emerging markets strategy at Brown Brothers Harriman. "Many analysts, including myself, have been predicting a crisis for several years."

2001 DEFAULT SETS THE STAGE

In 2001, Argentina defaulted on its sovereign debt. It did so in an aggressive way that left many investors displeased, says Thin. Since then, the country has been locked out of global credit markets. In other words: It can't borrrow.

That hasn’t stopped the Argentinian government from spending, however.

Peter Hakim, president emeritus of the Inter-American Dialogue, says the government, fueled by revenue from commodity exports, embarked on massive subsidy programs: "Huge expenditures on social programs, subsidies to the airlines, energy subsidies."

During all this time, investment and productivity growth were essentially stagnant. Eventually, when the export boom slowed, “the party ended,” as Thin puts it. 

INFLATION, CURRENCY, AND ECONOMIC WHACK-A-MOLE

The spending contributed to intense inflation, reaching nearly 30 percent. When the government tried to impose price caps, that led to shortages – already exacerbated by subsidies.

"They tried to use policies that have largely failed in other places," says Inter American Dialogue’s Hakim. Each time, it created another problem.

Inflation pushed Argentinians (and investors) to convert their pesos to dollars (or other foreign currencies) to prevent their value from eroding. That caused depreciation of the currency.

"What’s happening is a flood of capital out of Argentina," says Hakim. 

The government tried to prevent more currency from leaving the country, using dollars it had earned from exports to buy its own currency in an effort to prop up its value. That was expensive, and drained the central bank’s reserve of dollars. It finally had to relax its pressure yesterday, and the currency devalued quickly. 

That made people who hold Argentine pesos even more anxious, and even more desperate to sell, which made the currency problem even worse.

All of the policies Argentinians have tried come with "some short term benefits," says Hakim. "But over the long run, they make everybody very nervous about the economy," or have unintended consequences.

TOUGH CHOICES, NO GOOD ANSWERS

"It’s a classic situation of what happens to emerging markets when policy is ineptly followed," says Keith Savard, senior economist at the Milken Institute.

"We’ve seen this play out. When people lose confidence, you have a run on the exchange rate, they try to impose capital controls to ameliorate it, and it’s an impasse,” says Savard. "Governments don’t do what needs to be done."

Unfortunately, what Savard says needs to be done – higher interest rates, less government spending, including on subsidies - would reduce standards of living and employment for Argentinians already badly afflicted with a broken economy.

"The state of denial of policy makers in Argentina is just huge," says Hakim. "They have this unwillingness to recognize how serious this is."

Twitter Chat Roundup: Do you tell people how much you make?

Fri, 2014-01-24 09:52

Earlier this week we aired a report on the “Stealthy Wealthy” – people who have a lot of money, but don’t necessarily want you to know about it.   Reporter Sean Cole's piece raised some good points:  like the fact that a lot of these folks didn’t know they were inheriting large sums of money.

 In my adventures with the stealthy wealthy, I noticed a few commonalities among the folks I interviewed. For instance, none of them seemed to know the money was coming to them until it did, and all of them were thrown by it, to one degree or another. Probably the most unsettled among them was Burke Stansbury. He’s a political activist living in Seattle with his wife and son. He remembers the day his dad handed him a four-page printout of his investments, and trust fund, etc. 

"I laughed," Burke told me, "More than anything it struck me as totally ridiculous that I would have that kind of money. The absurdity of why I, of all people, should have a million dollars coming to me, it struck me. Like I had never done anything to deserve that money."

The story got us thinking: Do the non-rich feel comfortable telling people how much money they have?

On Twitter, the majority of respondents said they prefer not to share their net-worth out of embarrasment.  Some said they work hard to earn what they do, and they're happy to share the amount.  Others said that sharing income is awkward, whether you're rich or poor.  

Here are some of the most interesting responses we received:

@MPWealthPoverty yes, because everyone else in my field makes twice as much!

— Brian Virgil (@SafariBear1107) January 24, 2014

@MPWealthPoverty @MarketplaceAPM Yes. I would be embarrassed for my much more educated friends to know how little we have.

— Apron Boobsface (@1eyedstolenmare) January 24, 2014

@MPWealthPoverty Yes - some people make less than me, some make more. I feel bad when its the former, and awkward when its the latter.

— Laura Lundahl (@LauraLundahl) January 24, 2014

@MPWealthPoverty @MarketplaceAPM No because I don't tell others! It's no ones business but mine what I have. People share way too much info

— Jennifer Rand (@therowdyrands) January 24, 2014

@MPWealthPoverty we don't talk salary because prevailing emotions are either guilt, envy, or pride - all negative

— Benjamin Benavidez (@benbenjr80) January 24, 2014

@MPWealthPoverty @MarketplaceAPM Yes, because certain people might then ask to borrow said money.

— Justine Fred (@PaisleyFred) January 24, 2014

@benbenjr80 @MPWealthPoverty And because workers knowing how their salaries compare gives them more power in negotiating w management

— Robin Amer (@rsamer) January 24, 2014

@MPWealthPoverty Generally people don't ask, most make assumptions. If it really matters to someone to the point the need to ask (1/2)

— Ingrid R Shepard (@IngridRShepard) January 24, 2014

@MPWealthPoverty most times they get uncomfortable when they get the answer. (2/2)

— Ingrid R Shepard (@IngridRShepard) January 24, 2014

@MPWealthPoverty Sometimes. If I know its similar $ to the person asking or I know them very well I done mind. Otherwise it can get awkward.

— Erik Newcome (@ErikNewcome) January 24, 2014

@MPWealthPoverty I don't like the conversation that comes after. I am not where I wanted to be at my age and people always ask or assume why

— Randi Borys (@RandiB1) January 24, 2014

Advertising on the Grammys 'second screen'

Fri, 2014-01-24 09:15

It's awards season, and one of the big events will be this Sunday when the 56th annual Grammys air on CBS. Last year 28 million people watched the show on TV. But more and more, some of the action and the ads will be happening on the so-called second screen. Slate tech blogger Will Oremus tells Marketplace Tech about the online ads for the Grammys.

Butterfinger + peanut butter cups: Should candies mix?

Fri, 2014-01-24 09:00

As busy, thorough, and of course, highly conscientious journalists, we were concerned. We'd raised the question "Can Butterfinger take on the peanut butter cup?"  - but left the investigation incomplete.

To protect the good name of public media, there was only one thing to do. And it wasn't going to be easy.

We took our fake Butterfinger cups to the denizens of the American Public Media/Marketplace offices with the question: What actually happens when Butterfinger meets Reese's?

Rico Gagliano, host of the Dinner Party Download, didn't really care, so long as he got free candy:

Marketplace Sustainability Desk reporters Adriene Hill and David Weinberg decided it was a question of proportions:

Wealth & Poverty Desk reporter Noel King responded with pure disgust to the entire enterprise.

Wealth & Poverty producer John Ketchum had no such scruples:

And editor John Haas may just be the target market:

But engineer Brendan Willard comes out strongest for the candy combo. He prefers "both together to either individually."

The final verdict? It really shouldn't be this difficult to give your coworkers free candy. 

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