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Updated: 34 min 12 sec ago

Congress' long to-do list may make it more productive

Mon, 2014-12-08 02:00

On Capitol Hill, a lame-duck session is underway. There are just a few weeks left until the 113th Congress is over, and the 114th Congress begins and ushers in a Republican majority in both the House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate. Before then, lawmakers have to figure out how to fund the government, and they have to deal with both a defense bill and tax breaks that are set to expire.

According to the Pew Research Center, lame-duck sessions “are shouldering more of the legislative workload than they used to.” Sarah Binder, a political science professor at George Washington University, argues they have become more important in this era of stopgap spending bills. “They provide that final deadline,” she says. “An action-forcing deadline.”

Pew says productivity may increase as a congress winds down. But Linda Fowler, a government professor at Dartmouth College, says there are consequences to leaving; for example, budgeting to the last minute. “A government can’t plan when it doesn’t know how much money it has to spend,” she notes.

Mark Peterson, a public policy professor at UCLA, says this lame-duck session is going to seem especially productive.

“The congress during the regular session came close to doing nothing," he says. "So, the proportionality of actually getting work done is going to look more impressive in the post-election period.”

That is thanks in part to how much time lawmakers spent on recess this year, campaigning to stay in Congress. 

H&R Block bundles taxes and health insurance

Mon, 2014-12-08 02:00

The tax preparation company H&R Block releases its earnings report on Monday. And this year, the company has broadened its services; it will not only help file your taxes, it’s also offering to help you sign up for health care. This is a direct result of the way that taxes and healthcare have become linked by the Affordable Care Act.

“Presumably low- and middle-income households are where the action is on this issue of health insurance and tax filling,” says Bill Gale, a tax policy expert at the Brookings Institution.

Many of the people signing up for healthcare for the first time are from low- and middle-income households. This is the same segment of the population that makes up the bulk of H&R Block’s customers, whose satisfaction is directly tied to the size of their tax refund. This year, those refunds could be smaller for people who don’t sign up for health insurance.

“You could pay a penalty of $285 for not enrolling,” says Nicole Smith, an economist with the Center on Education and the Workforce at Georgetown University.

For people who don’t sign up for coverage, that penalty gets larger each year. There are subsidies available for people who earn less than four times the poverty rate. All of this means that filing taxes this year will be more complicated than in previous years.

Companies like H&R Block owe much of their existence to the complicated nature of filing taxes. And now with healthcare thrown into the mix, their services have expanded accordingly.

 

Weekly Wrap: Gentrification and and the jobs report

Fri, 2014-12-05 16:00

Joining Kai to talk about the week's news is Fortune's Leigh Gallagher and Cardiff Garcia from FT Alphaville. First up, we widen the scope of our "York & Fig" series to look at gentrification on a national scale. Then: we look at Friday's "unambiguously good" jobs report.

York & Fig: How gentrification flips a neighborhood

Fri, 2014-12-05 14:05

For 23 years, Frank Cordova owned a little shop on Figueroa Street in Highland Park. It’s one of those shops that sold a bit of everything: Shampoo, car speakers, picture frames, dictionaries, all at a deep discount. Frank had been behind the counter, selling this stuff every day since 1991, when he hired a mariachi band to play at his grand opening.

In all the years since, he’d taken no vacations, no sick days, no days off for anniversaries or birthdays. His motto: “If it’s raining you come to work. If it’s sunny you come to work. If it’s cold you come to work. If it’s windy you come to work. No matter how it is, you always come to work.”

That is, until the day you don’t.

Read the rest of this story at YorkAndFig.com

York & Fig: How gentrification flips a neighborhood

Fri, 2014-12-05 14:05

For 23 years, Frank Cordova owned a little shop on Figueroa Street in Highland Park. It’s one of those shops that sold a bit of everything: Shampoo, car speakers, picture frames, dictionaries, all at a deep discount. Frank had been behind the counter, selling this stuff every day since 1991, when he hired a mariachi band to play at his grand opening.

In all the years since, he’d taken no vacations, no sick days, no days off for anniversaries or birthdays. His motto: “If it’s raining you come to work. If it’s sunny you come to work. If it’s cold you come to work. If it’s windy you come to work. No matter how it is, you always come to work.”

That is, until the day you don’t.

Read the rest of this story at YorkAndFig.com

Changing neighborhoods: York & Fig

Fri, 2014-12-05 12:53

Marketplace Weekend goes from New York  to a special satellite bureau set up in the Highland Park neighborhood of Los Angeles. An entire team of Marketplace reporters and producers spent four months there, at the intersection of York Boulevard and Figueroa Street. The name of this project is York and Fig. It's an area undergoing rapid gentrification. There are obvious changes in the neighborhood, and more subtle stuff you only learn from close careful observation. Krissy Clark of Marketplace's Wealth and Poverty desk, spoke with Lizzie O'Leary about her reporting. 

York & Fig: Perspectives on gentrification

Fri, 2014-12-05 12:15

Marketplace's Wealth and Poverty Desk spent four and a half months in Los Angeles' Highland Park neighborhood to report on gentrification as it happens. The result is the the week-long project York & Fig.

As the series came to a close, Marketplace host Kai Ryssdal returned to the Highland Park bureau to chat with three residents, old and new, about what gentrification means to them and how they've been effected by the area's changing demographics.

Vidal Reyna and Miki Jackson have lived in Highland Park for decades, and Erica Daking moved to the neighborhood three years ago and owns the vegan café Kitchen Mouse.  

81 years ago today, we repealed prohibition

Fri, 2014-12-05 11:00

On this date in 1933, Utah became the 36th state to ratify the 21st Amendment, repealing prohibition.

So go ahead and have a beer. It's in the Constitution.

Adapting to a changing neighborhood: Book Show

Fri, 2014-12-05 10:09

Independent bookstore Book Show hosts readings, workshops, and performances in a changing community, LA's Highland Park neighborhood. The space is also home to Madame Pamita's Parlour of Wonders. How does this new business adapt to meet the needs of it's new home? Owner Jen Hitchcock spoke with Marketplace Weekend. 

Listen to the full story in the audio player above.

How do chain restaurants embody gentrification?

Fri, 2014-12-05 09:49

This week, we took a little field trip to explore how big businesses move into gentrifying neighborhoods.

Think about chains. Starbucks, Panera, Chipotle... they mean something different in communities and cities across the country. Jed Kolko is the Chief Economist at Trulia he's studied why chains open where they do.

He joined Marketplace Weekend at Starbucks.... from 3,000 miles away.

Your Wallet: How do you budget your holiday season?

Fri, 2014-12-05 09:42

Next week, we're talking about budgeting for the holidays. 

We want to know how you spend during the holiday season. Do you save for decorations? Shop the sales? Bargain for a tree or stock up on candles for a menorah?

Tell us your stories by visiting our website, or tweet us, we're @MarketplaceWKND.

York & Fig: How Highland Park has changed in 6 charts and maps

Fri, 2014-12-05 06:46

Check out the rest of our series on gentrification in Highland Park at YorkAndFig.com

This summer, Marketplace's Wealth and Poverty team opened a bureau — not in a large city like Chicago or Atlanta, but in a neighborhood called Highland Park that's about 10 miles north of Marketplace HQ in Downtown Los Angeles.

Unless you've lived in LA, you've probably never heard of it, but you probably have your own Highland Park. It's a working-class neighborhood that became popular, fast. People with money started in, new businesses started opening up, and everything started to change.

Home values have increased since 2009:

...And are projected to keep rising through 2019:

Rent has increased, too, by about 30 percent:

The net worth of residents are rising

And the population of Highland Park has decreased:

But, as of 2012 (the latest Census data available), the Latino population has remained constant:

Quiz: Race against the clock

Fri, 2014-12-05 04:45

Graduating on time is not the norm at most colleges and universities, according to a report by Complete College America.

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Quiz: So many classes, so little time

Fri, 2014-12-05 04:45

Graduating on time is not the norm at most colleges and universities, according to a report by Complete College America.

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Quiz: Two years too little

Fri, 2014-12-05 04:45

Graduating on time is not the norm at most colleges and universities, according to a report by Complete College America.

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PODCAST: Adjusting for exclusivity

Fri, 2014-12-05 03:00

The Labor Department released its jobs report this morning for the month of November. And the headline number is a big one. Plus, in honor of Marketplace's 25th anniversary, we're looking at some of the surprising ways prices have changed over the last quarter century. A little inflation can be good for an economy, a lot can be dire. So what happens when the price of retail goods goes up faster than inflation? We're taking a look at what's happened to the price of Chanel bags over the last two-and-a-half decades.

Wilt Chamberlain postage stamp signals a shift

Fri, 2014-12-05 02:00

When you think of stamps, you might picture paintings of ducks, and dead, nearly forgotten presidents. But Friday in Philadelphia, two new stamps will be released, the first to feature a pro basketball player.

You could say he’s the basketball equivalent of Madonna or Elvis because the new stamps dispense with his last name and only say “Wilt,” stretched out as if to emphasize his 7-foot-1 stature.

“Wilt is the greatest player to ever play,” said Donald Hunt, a Phildelphia Tribune sportswriter who headed the effort to get Chamberlain his own stamp. “He scored 100 points in a game, averaged 50 points in a game ... at one point in his career he grabbed 55 rebounds in a game.”

But Chamberlain is also well known for other things, including claiming that he slept with 20,000 women. The NBA star joins recent postal honorees like Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix, who died of drug overdoses. But that doesn’t mean they don’t deserve stamps, according to Chad Snee, editor of the weekly Linn’s Stamp News.

“If the committee had to weigh personal imperfections when determining whether or not someone could be honored with a postage stamp … we wouldn’t see too many people on our stamps anymore,” he said.

Christmas comes early, via the November jobs report

Fri, 2014-12-05 02:00
321,000

That's how many jobs were added in November, according to the Labor Department's report on job creation and unemployment for last month. Economists have also been predicting a strong hiring season for seasonal retail jobs.

6,341,973,470

The number of geotagged tweets in this stunning map, created by Eric Fischer, a developer at Mapbox. Fischer tracked tweets over three and a half years, and by the end about 10 million were coming in each day.

240%

The cost of the Chanel Classic Flap bag has increased 240% since 1994 (from $1762.32 to $6000, when you adjust for inflation). But there's more to blame than inflation. Think of it as an exclusivity tax.

100

The number of upscale coffee shops Starbucks has planned, with the first opening in Seattle, the New York Times reported. The concept, Reserve Roastery and Tasting Room, will eschew the green mermaid branding and sell single-origin beverages at $4-$7, in a bid to compete with boutique roasters like Stumptown, Blue Bottle and Intelligentsia.

50 percent

That's the American divorce rate tossed around frequently in the media, but lately there have been efforts to debunk it. Divorce has, as far as anyone can tell, actually been on the decline. But as Quartz reports, divorce rates are extremely difficult to measure, making the conventional wisdom around marriage malleable.

50 percent

Speaking of divorce, it was recently reported that the messaging service WhatsApp is cited in nearly 50 percent of Italian divorce cases. But you already knew that, didn't you. So head over to Silicon Tally, our weekly quiz on the week in tech news, and prove how smart you really are.

Think of it as an exclusivity tax

Fri, 2014-12-05 02:00

On the upper east side of Manhattan in a very elegant apartment, just a few blocks away from the Chanel boutique, Jean Shafiroff is a fan of the brand. 

"Styles come and go and brands come and go but it seems to me that Chanel remains," she says. 

Shafiroff is wearing a forest green wool jacket (Chanel) and she's taken out a few of her Chanel bags to show to a reporter some of the classics. They have the signature quilted flap and interwoven metal and leather chain shoulder strap. She says, "If I’m willing to use a bag that I bought over twenty years ago, I think it’s pretty much a classic, don’t you?"

Philanthropist Jean Shafiroff with a classic Chanel bag and a biography of the designer.

Sally Herships

But this is about more than just fashion — Shafiroff sees her choices as investments. "Like buying a piece of art," she says. 

A philanthropist on the board of seven charities, Shafiroff hosts a lot of fundraising events, and she bought her first Chanel bag, the classic one —  with the quilted flap and the leather and metal chain — in the 80’s. She still carries it.

"It's more chic now than it was then, because it’s vintage," she says.

But there’s nothing vintage about the price. In the mid-eighties, a classic Chanel bag was under a thousand dollars. Adjusted for inflation, the price today should be about double. But a similar purse now costs north of $4,000 dollars, way past the rate of inflation. The cost of labor is up, not to mention leather. Then there’s the euro versus the dollar — But, says Paul Swinand, an analyst with Morningstar, there’s another big reason the prices for Chanel bags have climbed so high.

"There are more rich people in emerging markets, and they’re getting richer faster than we are," he says.  

Says Swinand, in markets like Asia, wealthy consumers have an enormous appetite for western goods: "They want Cognac. They want LVMH bags. They want Swiss watches."

And they want Chanel purses, but they don’t want everybody else to have them too.

 

A sequined Chanel bag owned by Jean Shafiroff 

Sally Herships

"Think about it. You wouldn’t want everybody to have a Tiffany ring. You wouldn’t  want everybody to have an Hermes bag," says Swinand. "The allure of a Patek Philippe watch or a special signature Chanel bag is to walk in and say, 'Oh my gosh, those are hard to get, you must have paid a lot of money for that.' Maybe you don’t say that explicitly but that’s the allure."

And Chanel knows it. So it keeps raising prices. Think of it as an exclusivity tax.

"This is not inflation increases, this is something that is really extraordinary, and replicates the index of living extremely well," says Thomai Serdari, a professor of  marketing at NYU’s Stern School of Business.

She adds, "it is a manufactured, namely, an artificial market that keeps going up, as long as there are people who are wiling to spend."

And Chanel isn’t the only brand to have taken this approach. Think Ferrari. Even Nike, says Serdari, used pricing to set its sneakers apart. Burberry famously raised its prices after its trademarked plaid started becoming too popular.  

From a business point of view, Jean Shafiroff can appreciate the exclusivity strategy — After all, she has an MBA.  

“They’re making it less accessible and I think that’s a very smart business technique,” she says. But from a personal point of view, Shafiroff says she doesn’t have plans to buy a new Chanel bag anytime soon.

Just stop by Chanel's Madison Ave boutique and you can see the brand's strategy at work. To reinforce how precious they are, purses are presented on pedestals, one by one. 

"Displayed the way objects would be displayed in a museum," says Sedari. “It is intimidating. It is done on purpose, it should intimidate you. You shouldn’t feel like anybody can participate in that world.”

Improved job creation expected for November

Fri, 2014-12-05 02:00

On Friday, the Labor Department reports on November job creation and unemployment. Economists predict companies and government offices added 230,000 jobs, and that the unemployment rate was unchanged at 5.8 percent.

Over the past year the economy’s been adding on average 220,000 jobs per month. And the quality of jobs has gradually improved, says Mark Hamrick at Bankrate.com. One year ago, he says, the strongest job growth was in relatively low-skilled, low-paid sectors: bars and restaurants, hotels, retail.

“We’re seeing a greater collection of sectors participating in job creation,” says Hamrick, including “professional and business services, health care, construction, occasionally manufacturing.”

Outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas has predicted a strong hiring season for seasonal retail jobs, with companies including Amazon, Macy’s, Fedex, UPS, Walmart, Kohl’s and GameStop planning to increase hiring over last year. But after disappointing sales on Black Friday, “companies look at the traffic in their stores,” says John Challenger, “and if it’s really going to be down longer-term, they’ll pull some of those people back.”

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