Marketplace - American Public Media

It's jobs day, so here's a picture of a career fair

Sat, 2014-06-07 02:26

Friday morning the Labor Department reported that the U.S. added 217,000  jobs in May, and the unemployment rate stayed the same at 6.3 percent.

Whether it’s here at Marketplace, elsewhere online or in newspapers, stories about the latest unemployment numbers need pictures. In the past, news outlets used images of people in line at the unemployment office. But nowadays, people can sign up for jobless benefits by phone or online.

So today, when news photographers need fresh pictures of lots and lots of unemployed people, they take their cameras to career fairs. Then, each month when the jobless numbers come out, like clockwork, scores of websites and newspapers will dutifully use these photos, repeatedly, in their stories reporting the news.

This endless monthly wallpaper of career fair images got us wondering about what actually happens inside them. Does anyone actually get jobs, or are they a waste of time for job seekers? What kind of companies show up? Who makes money off these events? Are they changing as the economy slowly improves?

Find the answer to all those questions and more, by clicking that play button on the audio player above.

Because, let’s be honest, you can only learn so much about job fairs by looking at these stock photos:

Job fairs are normally held in drab hotel ballrooms

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Organizers sometimes try to dress the joints up with balloons, but it makes it look worse, really. However it apparently makes the image more appealing to photo editors. This particular shot has been used over and over.

Job fairs involve a lot of silently waiting in line

Career fairs tend to be packed, with lines wrapping around the block and job seekers arriving hours before they open to get the first crack at employers. Job seekers do a lot of talking to prospective employers, but hardly talk to each other at all. So while waiting to get in front of employers, they play with their phones…

John Moore/Getty Images

 …stare at their resumes or jot down notes.

Mario Tama/Getty Images

Job fairs keep office supply companies in business

The printed resume is something of a dying artifact as the job application process has steadily moved online. But the printed page is alive and well in the world of job fairs, where job seekers tote stacks of resumes from table to table, which are in turn stacked high with pamphlets and promotional materials from the employers.

Chris Hondros/Getty Images

Job fairs give Millennials a chance to expand their love of vintage items

By introducing them to items their parents refer to as “paper,” “clipboards” and “pens.”

Natalie Behring/Getty Images
Job fairs are an excellent place for briefcase enthusiasts to see these objects at use in the wild.

Possibly, the best place.

John Moore/Getty Images

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Why Restoration Hardware sends 15-pound catalogs

Fri, 2014-06-06 14:10

When the upscale home furnishings retailer Restoration Hardware sent out its annual catalog in 2011, it was 616 pages long. The company was criticized by environmentalists for the move. In the face of that criticism, Restoration Hardware increased the size of its annual tome. In fact, this year’s edition is actually 11 individual catalogs, bounded together in plastic, at a grand total of 3,000+ pages. 

To call it a "catalog" is a bit of an understatement.  In fact, the company has come up with many other names for it, including "Magalog," "Source book" and "Inspiration file".  We wanted to know why it was so big (and, in the meantime, we came up with some uses for it as well...)

We were wrong: The once-a-year Mega-gantalog is actually part of the company’s strategy to reduce waste.

Brian McGough, a managing director of retail at Hedgeye, says most retailers put out catalogs quarterly or monthly. But because Restoration Hardware puts out its Gargantalog once a year, it actually produces less paper than many of its competitors.

“Williams-Sonoma, who no one ever talks about them and their catalogs, they print three times as many pages annually,” says McGough.

Restoration Hardware previously shipped smaller catalogs 10 times per year. But by moving to the one Megalog, the company’s gotten higher sales for fewer pages “and additionally,” says CEO Gary Friedman, “we ship all our Source books bundled together vs. separately, which is also significantly more efficient.”   

Friedman says his company is applying the same strategy to its stores, closing many of them and moving to fewer but larger locations.

Restoration Hardware takes its design cues from antiques, says Kit Yarrow, a professor of business at Golden State University.“They are really trying to create this sense of faux authenticity, if that makes any sense.”

The company produces so many products that only about 20 percent can fit in a store. The only place big enough to show them all is its catalog/source book/Magalog and website, which accounts for nearly half of all sales. 

Hopefully, the incredibly versatile Ginormolog doesn't become a stand in for Restoration Hardware's home furnishings. Though we're actually finding it pretty useful:



Why the U.S. economy is like a donut

Fri, 2014-06-06 13:06

Happy National Donut Day! That’s what the first Friday in June has been since 1938, when the Salvation Army first declared it so, as part of a donut-themed fundraising event for low-income mothers during the Great Depression.

That bit of trivia is just one of many economic stories baked in to those little toroidal treats we call donuts.

A toroid, in case you’re wondering, is the fancy name for the shape of a donut: full on the outside edges and hollow in the middle. And that’s just about what our economy looks like these days — middle class jobs are hollowing out, but there's plenty of growth at the low and high ends of the income spectrum. And in fact, the donut shop economy seems to be following suit.

In Los Angeles, you can go to Donut Friend, a vegan-friendly, custom-made (I’m boycotting the word artisanal) donut shop that opened up recently in the once-blue-collar-but-rapidly-changing neighborhood of Highland Park. There, along sparkly white subway-tiled walls you can order donuts priced between $2 and $6.

Though, since you buy extra toppings like goat cheese, cherry compote and kosher sea salt, “you could go up to like a million dollars” for a single donut, says Devin Mireles, the shift-manager working behind the counter. “If you wanted everything.”

Jannah Maresh, who works at a local university, has come by to pick up some donuts for her office-mates. She spent more than $35 on a dozen. But the total didn’t seem to phase her. “I mean there's one where there's a crown of bacon and that's totally worth it,” she says. “My team will be very happy today.”

Mireles, the guy behind the counter, is aware of the make-fun-ability of these prices. In fact he and his coworkers sometimes make fun of them too. “In the most appropriate way possible,” he adds. “Without getting fired.”

But Mireles says, most people buy them without a wince, and that means he’s got a job.  Up in Portland, where he used to live, employment is hard to come by. “I couldn’t even get a job like this there because they would be like ‘what’s your donut experience?’” he says.

Donuts have of course long been associated with working and middle class jobs — the most famous being the donut-happy the police man. That’s partly because when police car patrols became common in the 1940s and 50s, one of the few places open during the graveyard shift was the donut shop, says Michael Krondl, author of “The Donut: History, Recipes and Lore from Boston to Berlin.”

One of the earliest donut-memories for Tracy Mikuriya, another customer waiting in line at Donut Friend, was courtesy of her dad, a rail-road worker. “My dad used to work nights, and I would wake up in the morning hoping to see the pink box on top of the refrigerator.”

But, like cupcakes a few years ago (and lately, toast) donuts have made the move from convenient middle class treat to upscale food trend.

“Pastry is an incredibly flexible medium,” says Paul Mullins, an anthropologist at Indiana University and author of "Glazed America: A history of the doughnut.”

“You know I don’t know whether I want to spend $7 on a donut, or whether my donut needs a philosophy,” Mullins says. “But there's clearly a place in the market for these kinds of gourmet foods.”

There's clearly still a place for the un-gourmet, but very delicious, kind of donut too, though, according to the line out the door of Monterey Donuts, a cash only, lottery-ticket-selling donut shop a few miles from Donut Friend.

On National Donut Day, Le Phay, originally from Cambodia, is selling a glazed donut to a construction worker. “Gracias amigo,” she tells him. She learned Spanish and English from twenty years of serving her customers she says.  “They are my school.”

The cost of the average donut here: 75 cents.

Editor's note: If you're an ardent grammarian, you'll likely be aware of the heated debate about the correct spelling of the word "donut." We've cited two books about this deep-fried treat, each of which uses different spelling. The Salvation Army and the Associated Press both spell the word "doughnut," but the vast majority of stores in the Los Angeles area, where this story was reported, use "donut." We gave this a lot of thought, and in the end went with the truncated version. Why? 'cause it's quicker. And if we'd debated much longer, there'd have been no donuts left for us!

Tesla: we're not car dealerships

Fri, 2014-06-06 13:06

If you call a Tesla showroom in New Jersey, they’ll call it a “gallery.” You can look, but you can’t buy. For the last six weeks or so, sales have been banned there because Tesla was selling the cars directly, and a state law requires vehicles be sold through dealer franchises. A bill is advancing in the state legislature that would allow companies that sell only electric cars to open their own stores.

One rationale the company is pushing: its cars don’t need much service. 

That’s one thing that attracted Yina Moore of Princeton to the Tesla nine months ago. She used to drive BMWs and Porches. But she likes that the all-electric Model S needs no oil changes or spark plugs.  

“It has few moving parts in which to have failure,” she says. 

That’s a problem for the dealer franchise model, because most car dealers make very little profit on new cars, from a few bucks to maybe one or two percent of the price. The National Automobile Dealers Association says more than half of dealers’ profits come from service, parts, and used cars. 

Tesla says its cars don’t need much service, so it wants to make its profits on the sales.  

“What we have done in New Jersey is make it illegal for them to use their business model to sell cars,” says Tim Eustace, a New Jersey assemblyman who co-sponsored the bill to allow electric car companies to sell directly.

Tesla wouldn’t comment on tape, but the company has called dealers “middlemen.” Dealers, of course, see it differently.  

“The Tesla business model is designed specifically to eliminate price competition,” says Jim Appleton, president of the New Jersey Coalition of Automotive Retailers. 

He argues that dealers are an important buffer between manufacturers and customers, and are more aligned with consumer’s interests. They compete on price. 

And, he says most new cars don’t need much maintenance anyway. “Tesla may know a lot about electric cars, but apparently they don’t know much about internal combustion cars anymore,” he says. 

 And, for all its talk about not needing to go to the shop often, Tesla does offer service plans. Prepaying $1,900 gets you four years of service. 

Tesla: we're not car dealerships

Fri, 2014-06-06 13:06

If you call a Tesla showroom in New Jersey, they’ll call it a “gallery.” You can look, but you can’t buy. For the last six weeks or so, sales have been banned there because Tesla was selling the cars directly, and a state law requires vehicles be sold through dealer franchises. A bill is advancing in the state legislature that would allow companies that sell only electric cars to open their own stores.

One rationale the company is pushing: its cars don’t need much service. 

That’s one thing that attracted Yina Moore of Princeton to the Tesla nine months ago. She used to drive BMWs and Porches. But she likes that the all-electric Model S needs no oil changes or spark plugs.  

“It has few moving parts in which to have failure,” she says. 

That’s a problem for the dealer franchise model, because most car dealers make very little profit on new cars, from a few bucks to maybe one or two percent of the price. The National Automobile Dealers Association says more than half of dealers’ profits come from service, parts, and used cars. 

Tesla says its cars don’t need much service, so it wants to make its profits on the sales.  

“What we have done in New Jersey is make it illegal for them to use their business model to sell cars,” says Tim Eustace, a New Jersey assemblyman who co-sponsored the bill to allow electric car companies to sell directly.

Tesla wouldn’t comment on tape, but the company has called dealers “middlemen.” Dealers, of course, see it differently.  

“The Tesla business model is designed specifically to eliminate price competition,” says Jim Appleton, president of the New Jersey Coalition of Automotive Retailers. 

He argues that dealers are an important buffer between manufacturers and customers, and are more aligned with consumer’s interests. They compete on price. 

And, he says most new cars don’t need much maintenance anyway. “Tesla may know a lot about electric cars, but apparently they don’t know much about internal combustion cars anymore,” he says. 

 And, for all its talk about not needing to go to the shop often, Tesla does offer service plans. Prepaying $1,900 gets you four years of service. 

Weekly Wrap: A surprise-free 217,000

Fri, 2014-06-06 12:05

Jo Ling Kent of Fox Business and Felix Salmon of Fusion joined Kai Ryssdal to talk about the week's news. Hear their whole conversation in the audio player above.

Some highlights on the May unemployment report:

Felix Salmon:

"[It's] exactly the same as it has been for the past couple of months... it's not spectacular, we're getting better... no surprises."

Jo Ling Kent

"This may be when the Feds starts to think more aggressively about raising those rates eventually... it's interesting... Manufacturing jobs. Good."

Kent on the ECB and negative interest rates:

"This could be an opportunity for small and medium businesses in Europe, pushing money into their hands... could be good for US companies like Boening and big companies like that..."


Six expert secrets to a successful Social Security strategy

Fri, 2014-06-06 11:38

There’s an anecdote Mary Beth Franklin likes to tell about the office of the Social Security Administration having a dartboard with her face on it.

Franklin, an author and contributing editor at Investment News, has spent years exposing helpful secrets about how people can maximize their Social Security dollars. She says that’s information you likely won’t get if you give your local SSA office a jingle – at least, not without the run around – and it’s becoming increasingly difficult for people to understand the right moves to make concerning Social Security. Even the estimate of benefits statements that used arrive in the mail every year were cut from the SSA’s budget in 2011

And so, Marketplace Money and Mary Beth Franklin have come together to present to you the unofficially unofficial Franklin Guide to Scheming a Stellar Social Security Strategy in 6 Easy Steps.

No, really, they’re pretty easy. 

Step 1: Recognize that Social Security isn’t what it used to be (read: simple).

“You retired at 62. You took your Social Security benefits. End of story,” says Franklin. “But that was in the days when people actually quit work at 62. They might’ve had a pension and they probably weren’t going to live 30 years in retirement like a lot of today’s retirees will.”

 Step 2: Commit to making a Social Security strategy.

Franklin says, “Now in an era of disappearing pensions, [and] record low interest rates where you’re getting diddly squat on your CDs at the bank, you really need to make the decision of how and when to claim Social Security in a way that’s going to benefit you. And what will surprise most people is your decision… could mean the difference of thousands of dollars a year on your benefit. And for a married couple, we are talking the difference of more than $100,000 over their joint lifetime. That’s real money.”

 Step 3: Know the basics rules of claiming Social Security.

 “Anybody can claim a Social Security retirement benefit as early as age 62, but their benefit will be permanently reduced for the rest of their lives,” explains Franklin. “ If your normal retirement age is 66 and you take it at 62, you get a permanent 25% hair cut. If your full retirement age is 67 and you take it at 62, you get a 30% hair cut. This is a big deal considering Social Security for most Americans going forward is going to be the only source of guaranteed, cost-of-living adjusted retirement income they’ll ever see.” To determine your normal retirement age (also known as full retirement age), use this simple tool found at

 Step 4: Understand that playing the waiting game isn’t for everyone.

Holding out on claiming Social Security to increase benefits generally works, according to Franklin.  However, “the idea of delaying a SS benefit until it’s worth more later is a little bit like the lottery: You must be present to win. If you’re in a state of health where you may not make it to the average life expectancy, which is closer to 80 or beyond for most people, don’t delay. It’s not going to be in your best interest. But if you’re relatively healthy you can expect to live a long and delaying your benefit until it’s worth more later is really smart.”

 Step 5: Remember there are huge benefits of waiting to claim, if you can afford to.

“For every year you postpone collecting your Social Security benefit beyond your full retirement age up until age 70, you get an extra 8 percent per year,” says Franklin. “That means if you wait til 70, you’re going to get a 32 percent bump in your Social Security benefit and that means you’ll have a larger benefit going forward, and each year when you get an annual cost of living adjustment, it’s going to be that much bigger.”

 Step 6: Don’t worry too much if you pick the wrong strategy.

There are a couple of options should you need a “do-over,” says Franklin. “If you are in 12 months of first claiming Social Security benefits, you can change your mind, say ‘Nevermind I am going to withdraw my application for Social Security benefits,’ but you have to pay back everything you’ve received. But if you missed your 12 month window, you may be out of luck. People also don’t realize that once they’ve reached their full retirement age (66), you can voluntarily suspend your benefit. Now that means you wouldn’t get any benefit temporarily, but if you suspend your benefits, you earn those 8 percent per year delayed retirement credits between 66 and 70.”

Click the audio player above for more on successfully strategizing your personal Social Security plan of attack, including information on how to factor in medical expenses and what young people should think about long before retirement age. And if you’ve got your Social Security strategy all figured out, tell us how you did it. Leave a comment below or tweet us @LiveMoney.

The tip jar gets a digital makeover

Fri, 2014-06-06 10:30

The humble tip jar is getting an upgrade. Gone are the days when you could just slip in a dollar or two without the cashier noticing how much you think their job is worth.

Instead, welcome to the brave new world of electronic tipping, where life is more complicated, interactions are awkward and the pressure is high. Electronic tipping is now sweeping into coffee shops, bars, bakeries and delis across the country as mobile payment apps grow in popularity.

San Francisco-based reporter Rachel Levin recently wrote about the interaction between technology and tipping for Pacific Standard magazine.

"Maybe there's a tip jar next to the counter but increasingly you're seeing an iPad swivel towards you prompting your finger to press either 15 percent, 20 percent, 25 percent or sometimes, in cautionary bright yellow: 'No Tip'," she says, "which no one wants to press because you'll feel like a jerk."

Jerkiness aside, consumers are being asked to tip more and more frequently these days and not everyone is happy about it.

"People like baristas and bakers and sandwich makers are seeing an upside. They're getting more tips, which is great for them, but from the customer's perspective it's creating a stressful awkward moment up there at the counter."

Even as mobile payment systems like Square, Shopkeep and Revel are growing in popularity, some companies are bucking the trend and eliminating the need for the snap-judgement tip.

"People are silently appreciating the technology where it's used by, say, Uber taxi where you don't have to pay a tip. Tip is included, 20 percent automatically deducted from your account," Levin says.

"So you hop out of the Uber taxi without doing any mental math or figure out how much change to ask for and you just go on your way and say thank you."

But the 'automatic tip' scenario comes with its own set of problems since conventional wisdom is that tipping is supposed to be used as a reward for good service.

But Levin says that's not always the case.

"It turns out that our motivations for tipping are not for rewarding service necessarily," she says. "Economist Michael Lynn at Cornell says it's to win the approval of the server. So now when that server is standing before you, that creates the pressure for you to bestow a bigger tip."

Good jobs report? Bad jobs report? It all depends

Fri, 2014-06-06 10:24

The unemployment rate didn't budge from its 6.3 percent mark in May, and employers added fewer jobs than economists expected. 


Employers created a substantial number of new jobs for the fourth straight month and the unemployment rate held steady at 6.3 percent, the lowest rate in more than five years.

Those two sentences don't seem to be in complete agreement, and yet their conclusions were drawn from the same data. The government and business numbers that are reported every day, and especially the monthly jobs report from the U.S. Labor Department, all depend on context; the reaction to them is in the eye of the beholder.

If you're a glass half-full economist, a slow report can be cause of optimism. If you're a worrywart, a strong number can find a way to scare you.

Try our jobs number headline generator above and you can see what we mean. Pick whether you think the jobs report is happy, sad or mixed... and it'll spits out a headline to match you're thinking. 

The numbers: They're boring, but they matter

Fri, 2014-06-06 09:06

This final note today, an observation or two about our through-line this week, riffing off the live show we're taking on tour this summer and fall, How We Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Numbers.

There is, in fact, a whole lot to worry about with economic numbers. One, they can be really boring. Two, they can be cherry picked to suit one side or the other. And three, there are just so many of 'em that it can really make your head spin. 

But they matter. They matter a lot. 

So you kind of have to learn to love 'em.



Why people are moving

Fri, 2014-06-06 08:52

The U.S. Census Bureau released its survey detailing how many Americans moved from one residence to another, and for what reasons. The results showed that compared to the past, fewer Americans have been moving, and those that did were motivated to move mostly due to housing related reasons like wanting a better residence.

Some of the numbers aren't surprising, as one might expect fewer Americans to move amid the economic downturn, or for housing problems to force people to move.

However, a closer look at the numbers, which track 2012 to 2013, reveals some interesting trends, as the report highlights that moves related to jobs were not as frequent as housing or family-related moves, and that some demographics are more likely to move due to job-related reasons than others. Here are some points in the report that stood out:

Coutesy of the U.S. Census Bureau

Housing-related reasons for moving

Moves related to finding housing made up the largest portion of responses in the survey, coming in at 48 percent. In that group, 15 percent of people said they moved to find new or better residences, which decreased from 21 percent in 1999.

African American respondents were the most likely to move for housing-related reasons of any race

Over half of African American respondents said their main reason for moving was housing related. This was compared to white respondents, 46.8 percent of whom said housing was their motivation for moving.

Young people were the least likely to move for housing reasons

Respondents 18 to 24 and 25 to 29 years old had the most housing-related reasons for moving, but the two groups had the lowest percentages for reasons in that category compared to other age groups. Movers 18 to 24 years old instead said reasons like moving for college were big motivators for them, while respondents 25 to 29 years old had more job-related reasons for moving.

Family-related reasons for moving

This category included reasons like changes in marital status and wanting to establish one's own household. Family reasons were the second largest category at more than 30 percent.

Married people had the least family-related reasons to move

Respondents who split up with spouses had high family-related reasons for moving at 47 percent. For those who stayed married, family was not an issue for moving, with only 26.1 percent in that category. Married respondents instead moved more for job-related reasons, with 24 percent saying a change in employment status caused them to move.

Coutesy of the U.S. Census Bureau

Job-related reasons for moving

Moving for work came in around a little under 20 percent for all respondents, a rate that has remained pretty steady since 1999.

Men were more likely to move for work than women

According to the survey, while more women moved, 20.4 percent of men said they moved for job-related reasons, compared to 18.5 percent of women. The report did not mention whether this indicates men are more willing to move for work, or if there are differences in how men and women select jobs based on location.

More educated people are more likely to move for work

Again, while housing-related reasons dominated most responses, the survey found a split according to education level. The more education a respondent had, the more likely they were to move for a job, with 28.3 percent of bachelor degree holders saying they moved for job related purposes. People on the other end of the spectrum, such as associate degree holders, had much higher percentages for housing and family related reasons for moving, with high school dropouts having 54.2 percent of their responses in the housing category.

Mona Simpson on the economics behind 'Casebook'

Fri, 2014-06-06 08:50

Success in publishing is about a lot of things. Sales, of course. Staying power. And the business of words.We've asked some of our favorite contemporary authors to share the numbers they think about as they write -- how they infuse the economic world around them into storytelling.

Listen to this installment from best-selling author Mona Simpson ("Anywhere But Here", "Off Keck Road") in the audio player above. She talks about how the economy for a fiction writer is more about time than money. She also talks about her new book, "Casebook." We've reprinted an excerpt below:

I was a snoop, but a peculiar kind. I only discovered what I most didn’t want to know.

The first time it happened, I was nine. I’d snaked underneath my parents’ bed when the room was empty to rig up a walkie-talkie. Then they strolled in and flopped down. So I was stuck. Under their bed. Until they got up.

I’d wanted to eavesdrop on her, not them. She decided my life. Just then, the moms were debating weeknight television. I needed, I believed I absolutely needed to understand Survivor. You had to, to talk to people at school. The moms yakked about it for hours in serious voices. The only thing I liked that my mother approved of that year was chess. And every other kid, every single other kid in fourth grade, owned a Game Boy. I thought maybe Charlie’s mom could talk sense to her. She listened to Charlie’s mom.

On top of the bed, my dad was saying that he didn’t think of her that way anymore either. What way? And why either? I could hardly breathe. The box spring made a gauzy opening to gray dust towers, in globular, fantastic formations. The sound of dribbling somewhere came in through open windows. My dad stood and locked the door from inside, shoving a chair up under the knob. Before, when he did that, I’d always been on the other side. Where I belonged. And it hurt not to move.

“Down,” my mother said. “Left.” Which meant he was rubbing her back.

All my life, I’d been aware of him wanting something from her. And of her going sideways in his spotlight, a deer at the sight of a human. The three of us, the originals, were together locked in a room.

My mom was nice enough looking, for a smart woman. “Pretty for a mathematician,” I’d heard her once say about herself, with an air of apology. Small, with glasses, she was the kind of person you didn’t notice. I’d seen pictures, though, of her holding me as a baby. Then, her hair fell over her cheek and she’d been pretty. My dad was always handsome. Simon’s mom, a jealous type, said that my mother had the best husband, the best job, the best everything. I thought she had the best everything, too. We did. But Simon’s mom never said my mother had the best son.

The bed went quiet and it seemed then that both my parents were falling asleep. My dad napped weekends.

NOOO, I begged telepathically, my left leg pinned and needled.

Plus I really had to pee.

But my mother, never one to let something go when she could pick it apart, asked if he was attracted to other people. He said he hadn’t ever been, but lately, for the first time, he felt aware of opportunities. He used that word.

“Like who?”

I bit the inside of my cheek. I knew my dad: he was about to blab and I couldn’t stop him. And sure enough, idiotically, he named a name. By second grade everyone I knew had understood never to name a name.

“Holland Emerson,” he said. What kind of name was that? Was she Dutch?

“Oh,” the Mims said. “You’ve always kind of liked her.”

“I guess so,” he said, as if he hadn’t thought of it until she told him.

Then the mattress dipped, like a whale, to squash me, and I scooched over to the other side as the undulation rolled.

“I didn’t do anything, Reen!”

She got up. Then I heard him follow her out of the room.

“I’m not going to do anything! You know me!”

But he’d started it. He’d said opportunities. He’d named a name. I bellied out, skidded to the bathroom, missing the toilet by a blurt. A framed picture of them taken after he’d proposed hung on the wall; her holding the four-inch diamond ring from the party-supply shop. On the silvery photograph, he’d written I promise to always make you unhappy.

I’d grown up with his jokes.

By the time I sluffed to the kitchen he sat eating a bowl of Special K. He lifted the box. “Want some?”

“Don’t fill up.” She stood next to the wall phone. “We’re having the Audreys for dinner.”

“Tonight?” he said. “Can we cancel? I think I’m coming down with something.”

“We canceled them twice already.”

The doorbell rang. It was the dork guy who came to run whenever she called him. He worked for the National Science Foundation and liked to run and talk about pattern formation.

Excerpted from Casebook by Mona Simpson. Copyright © 2014 by Mona Simpson. Excerpted by permission of Knopf, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

The resurgence of HELOCs

Fri, 2014-06-06 08:45

Home equity lines of credit, or HELOCs, were all the rage in the early 2000s.  People borrowed against their homes to fund all types of things: New cars, college educations, even second homes.

Now, HELOCs are making a slow return to the market after all but disappearing during the recession.  

The resurgence is slow because, as financial journalist Ilyce Glink says, "The idea of a home equity line of credit is, get this, you have home equity. You don't have home equity, which is a problem for most Americans, unless you were very lucky and bought in 2009-2012.”

For those who were able to secure a HELOC back in the day, Glink says that they may find themselves in a precarious and surprising financial situation as the bill comes due for these loans. “Many of the home equity lines of credit that were set up back in the early [2000s] were interest-only for the first ten years. And then they have a little clause in them that says either you pay them off or whatever the balance is converts to a 15-year rate loan,” Glink says.

Glink says that this means that millions of people who were only paying interest on their loans will essentially be hit with a 15-year mortgage that now includes billions of dollars in principal.  Some homeowners could see their payments triple.

Refinancing is a great option for people who find themselves in this situation, but Glick says that many people wouldn’t qualify for a refi in the current market.  

“Ten million people are still functionally underwater with their mortgages. That means if they tried to [refinance] today, they wouldn’t have enough equity in the house or they literally have zero or negative equity, and there’s no way for a regular lender to refinance them.”

For a few years, at least, Glink suspects that there will be a number of people who will not be able foot the bill and this could have a larger affect on the economy.

“From now through 2017 when the big bulk of these HELOCs start to convert and come due, we’re going to see an increased amount of people who can’t pay them. So there’s going to be increasing defaults and maybe an increase in the level of foreclosures due to HELOCs…,” Glink says.

Ilyce Glink is a financial journalist and the founder of

Friday the 13th and a full moon

Fri, 2014-06-06 08:30

Here's an extended look at the Marketplace Datebook for the week of June 9:

Let's begin with something musical. Musician, inventor, and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee Les Paul was born on June 9th, 1915.

On Tuesday, the Commerce Department reports on wholesale inventories and sales and the Labor Department issues its job openings and labor turnover survey for April.

June 10 is the 79th anniversary of Doctor Bob and Bill W founding Alcoholics Anonymous.

And remember that action film with the bus that would blow up if it didn't maintain 50 MPR on LA highways? "Speed" was released 20 years ago.

Mid-week we get a look at the nation's balance sheet. The Treasury Department is scheduled to release its monthly statement for May.

A House subcommittee on Communications and Technology holds a hearing on "Media Ownership in the 21st Century."

On Thursday the Commerce Department reports on retail sales for May.

It's a bird...It's a plane...It's the 36th annual Superman Celebration getting underway in Metropolis, Illinois.

And on Friday the Labor Department issues its Producer Price Index for May. That's Friday the 13th. Sounds like a movie rental opportunity.

Lastly, look up in the sky to see the Full Strawberry Moon. The name is related to strawberry harvesting season. Now picture a giant strawberry in the sky.

Russo brothers on the numbers of branded entertainment

Fri, 2014-06-06 08:21

Hot off their success in directing Captain America: The Winter Soldier, the Russo brothers are diving into a type of directing not normally associated with creativity, technological innovation, and narrative storytelling. They’re starting a company that makes commercials.

The pair have launched Bullitt, a branded entertainment company that will make long-form commercials with ‘Fast and Furious’ franchise director, Justin Lin. The company is named after the Steve McQueen film from 1968 which they call a great advertisement for Ford Mustang.

Joe and Anthony Russo directed a three and a half minute commercial for Smirnoff Vodka earlier this year. The commercial ran as a 30-second spots on television while the full version was posted online, with the hopes that it would go viral.

The pair has directed commercials since they first got into filmmaking – it was something they did between TV and film projects. “We kind of fell in love with the creative possibilities that you have shooting commercials, “says Anthony. The process is faster than a feature length film or television show and there’s more freedom to be experimental.

The two draw a line between traditional product placement and what they plan to do. Joe points to FX’s Sons of Anarchy as a sort of commercial for Harley Davidson where the product is seamed into the storyline – it’s not overt product placement. “It’s finding new ways to use money to advance creativity.”

And they’re pretty sure advertisers will get on board as services like Netflix get more popular. Joe says, “these are non-advertiser based services, right? So the brands are going to have to find new ways to reach eyeballs.”

PODCAST: 217,000 new jobs

Fri, 2014-06-06 07:24

More on the numbers from the jobs report for May. Plus, despite being a prize-winning horse, California Chrome isn't expected to fetch top dollar. Why bloodline determines price more than prizes. Also, hear what businesses should learn from professional soccer teams when it comes to diversity.

3, 2, 1… 3.5 million?

Fri, 2014-06-06 06:45

Seven years ago I stupidly blew all of my savings on a backpacking trip to Asia. I was 26-years old and had planned to come back in three months. Instead I was gone for a year, returning to New York only when I was completely broke and a little tired.

I had a few contacts and started trying to make my way as a freelance writer, but I struggled at first. I was earning a pittance and moved into a crappy apartment with a couple of friends.

A year later I had landed my first full-time journalism job and was making enough to leave the place and the two roommates (who were themselves moving into their own new apartments) and move into a slightly less crappy place with just one. And two years after that, I accepted another new, much better job, which I still have now – and I could finally afford to live alone.

At the risk of sounding like a crank, I've never enjoyed living with others, so I was thrilled that the size of my household had quickly gone from three to two to one.

In a healthy economy, this would be a typical experience shared by many young adults in their 20s and early 30s as they climb their way up the employment ladder.

The economic recovery since the recession of 2008 has been profoundly unhealthy, of course, but especially for young adults. Unemployment for those without college degrees – and that’s a majority – has been brutally high. And a historically big share of recent college graduates have also been forced to accept low-paying jobs for which they’re overqualified. There simply aren’t enough good jobs to absorb them all.

This is a huge deal for the entire economy, and not just for young people.

Think about it this way. Both times that I parted ways with ex-roommates, each of us had to buy some of the usual stuff that goes with moving into a new place: furniture, kitchenware, lighting, cleaning equipment.

When enough people do this, the extra spending on these items gets money flowing through the economy, generating activity in the industries that make them. If a lot of people are moving into new homes at the same time, the construction sector also reacts by building more houses or apartments. And as neighborhoods get more crowded, restaurants and barber shops and laundromats pop up in response to serve the newcomers.

The virtuous cycle means more jobs in those peripheral sectors, higher wages, more people getting their own place, and so on.

Yet since the start of the recession, the percentage of people aged 18-34 who were still living with their parents has climbed dramatically – a result of their difficult economic circumstances. According to estimates from Goldman Sachs economists, there would have been 3.5 million fewer young adults living with their parents at the end of 2012 if that percentage had stayed the same. It started to fall very slightly just last year, but it needs to decline much further.

Young adults in the post-recession period entered a much tougher labor market than people in earlier generations. That they have little wealth and low incomes (when they even have jobs) has resulted in the abysmally slow pace at which new households have been formed.

The recovery has been poorer because of it – for all of us.

Goldman Sachs report that asks, "Will the Kids Move Out of the Basement?"

How much tech in the classroom is too much?

Fri, 2014-06-06 06:42

Earlier this year, I audited a computer-science course at Pomona College, my alma mater. And I was shocked, when on the first day, the professor told us it would be a closed-laptop class. Computer science without the computer!

That's how concerned some teachers are about distractions created by digital devices.  But the  temptation to text, email and play Candy Crush isn’t the only concern. It’s digital note-taking itself.  A recent Princeton University study showed that students remember information more effectively through handwritten notes.

LearningCurve surveyed teachers and professors from kindergarten through graduate school to learn about their policies on laptops, tablets, smart phones and other technology in the classroom.  

Very few teachers had a blanket-ban on tech in the classroom: only 13 out of 219. By contrast, 102 said that students are allowed to freely use technology,  and 104 said they allow it "under limited circumstances."

Many college professors felt it was not their place to tell students to shut down their screens.:

College students can make the decision about whether or not it is worth their time and money to attend class, pay tuition, and then spend the class period browsing through Facebook. - Lee Cornell, professor, Computer Information Science, Minnesota State University, Mankato.

The first night of my policy analysis class, I demonstrate with a comparison of possible classroom policies on laptops and their potential impacts on learning and other outcomes. Students get the idea! - Marieka Klawitter, professor, Policy Analysis, Social policy and Statistics, University of Washington, Seattle, WA.

Some teachers with open-use policies had mixed results:

Theoretically, I allow my 8th graders to listen to music in their headphones if they're working, but have found it almost impossible to stop them from going onto other social media aps and playing games on their phone, so often have to retract the privilege. - Gina Beavers, 8th-grade teacher, Art, Brooklyn, NY. Perhaps I am old-fashioned, but I am always surprised that students will text, or leave their ear buds in during a lecture. - Janet Peterson, professor, Nutrition and Exercise Science, Linfield College, Newberg, OR.

There were strong feelings on both sides of the issue:

Frankly, I find restrictive device policies ridiculous. If we expect college students to become mature adult thinkers, then holding them to prohibitionary rules seems to undermine that effort. - Tim Mahoney, professor, Teacher Education, Millersville University.We allow laptop/device usage only with direct, explicit teacher permission. Otherwise, students are expected to keep them closed. Frankly, any other policy, in my opinion, would be complete foolishness, no matter the educational level. As it is, the teachers at our school must police diligently the student use of devices. - Craig Copeland, teacher, Humanities, McDonogh School, Parkton, MD.

Some teachers got creative:

Laptops and tablets can be used by students only if they sit in the front row. My teaching style is to walk around as I teach, so if they are in the front row, I can see the screen from time to time as I pass their desks. - Sylvia McGeary, professor, Religious Studies, Felician College, Lodi, NJ. I know they will use them, and frequently for something that is far from chemistry. I don't wish to foster ill will; therefore, instead of banning them, I "commandeer" them using the wireless network by sending them questions that they can answer for extra credit points. - Vanessa Castleberry, professor, Chemistry, Baylor University.

One teacher feels his classroom is a good place for students to learn the life skill of appropriate technology-use behavior:

The kids need to learn when and how to use their phones appropriately. High school is the perfect place for this. If a student is clearly playing a game or having a long conversation via text, I remind them that it's disrespectful, and potentially detrimental to their learning. I frequently say "If you need to use your phone, then use it. Don't make a big deal about it, and don't take too long." - Jeff Castle, teacher, Graphic Design, Film Production, Computer Science, Albany High School, Albany, CA.

A few teachers just felt their subject was not one where technology should be used at all:

Philosophy classes call upon people to listen and discuss. It is not information driven. Technology tends to divide people's attention and draws them away from active listening and participating. Thus, it actively works against the very habits necessary to critical and philosophical practices. One might as well be holding a smart phone during ballet training--it's that diversionary - David Hildebrand, professor, Philosophy, University of Colorado Denver, Denver, CO.

Others though, argued that all teachers need to give students access to classroom tech:

It is a moral imperative, not only to provide equal access to all students regardless of socio-economic background, but also to prepare students for the technology skills expected in the world today. - Jerred Erickson, teacher, Social Studies, Spanaway Lake High School, Puyallup, WA.

If you are a teacher, parent or student, we want to know what you think. Tell us if you think technology should be used in the classroom in the comments section below, or tweet at us @LearningCurveED.

What the work place can learn from professional soccer

Fri, 2014-06-06 05:41

Diversity is good for team performance in soccer, according to a new study by political scientists Edmund J. Malesky and Sebastian M. Saiegh. With the World Cup just days away, we take a look at the benefits of diversity in the field and what the world's biggest businesses can learn from the sport. Sebastian M. Saiegh joins Marketplace's Mark Garrison to share more on their findings.

Click on the audio player above to hear more.

Silicon Tally: Tetris turns 30 and we all feel old

Fri, 2014-06-06 05:31

It's time for Silicon Tally. How well have you kept up with the week in tech news? This week we're joined by New York Times Tech columnist Jenna Wortham. var _polldaddy = [] || _polldaddy; _polldaddy.push( { type: "iframe", auto: "1", domain: "", id: "silicon-tally-tetris-is-30-we-all-feel-old", placeholder: "pd_1402062055" } ); (function(d,c,j){if(!document.getElementById(j)){var pd=d.createElement(c),s;;pd.src=('https:'==document.location.protocol)?'':'';s=document.getElementsByTagName(c)[0];s.parentNode.insertBefore(pd,s);}}(document,'script','pd-embed'));

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