National News

What's next for Atlantic City?

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2014-09-08 02:30

Around dusk on a recent sticky summer night, Mark Gawel and his son took turns taking photos of each other standing in front of the big silver letters marking the entrance to the Revel, Atlantic City’s newest casino.

He wanted to “get a couple shots of it, just in case it doesn’t exist [soon],” he said.

In late August, the city was still hoping a last-minute buyer would swoop in and keep the bankrupt casino open. But the Revel closed in early September and workers took down those silver letters. Three other casinos have already closed or will close this year, leaving roughly 6,000 casino workers unemployed and the city searching for a new path forward.

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie will host a summit on the future of Atlantic City on Monday, with local officials, congressmen, and gambling industry stakeholders all pondering the fate of the faded gambling mecca.

“Reinvent Atlantic City again,” advised Gawel, a housekeeping supervisor at a nearby casino. “It’s a shame. After 35 years of having casinos here, we should have been bigger, more like Vegas.”

He thinks the city needs to capitalize on its ocean location and to better cater to families.

“We’re going through a transitional time,” said John Palmieri, the executive director of the state’s Casino Reinvestment Development Authority. “There are 20 new casino operations within a couple hours' drive now, and five years ago they didn’t exist.”

He agrees that Atlantic City needs to bolster its non-gaming options.

“Our role is to create these other reasons for visitation, mostly driven by tourism, but the convention trades and some of the destination retail and the hotel activities that can survive beyond gaming,” he explained.

Gaming revenue peaked in 2006 at over $5 billion, but it’s been on a steep slide since. A few years ago, Atlantic City started using the slogan “Do Anything. Do Everything. Do AC,” trying to market itself as more than just casinos.

Atlantic City Mayor Don Guardian wants the city to host more events, concerts, and conferences.

“What we’ve lost is the older people who used to come,” he says. “The blue-haired Italian ladies aren’t coming here anymore [to] the casinos. What we have is a young crowd, because the casinos that have nightclubs are doing real well.”

He’s hoping a new campus for a local university will open by 2016, attracting even more young people.

But the city could take another hit if plans move forward to build new casinos in northern New Jersey.

Del Rowley was a regular at one of Atlantic City’s closed casinos. Standing on a street corner in Manhattan, he says if a casino opens closer to New York with similar games and “comps,” he’d switch in a heartbeat.

“Atlantic City’s two and a half hours [away],” he said. “So it’s a lot easier to go someplace closer.”

Moreover, all the press over Atlantic City’s troubles doesn’t help its fight for business.

There’s a famous quote often attributed to Mark Twain: “Reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated.” Atlantic City is hoping to be able to say something similar.

For personal finance advice, ask a millennial

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2014-09-08 02:30

Millennials seem to be avoiding credit cards. A study published on Monday by says younger adults prefer debit cards because they don’t want to fall into debt — or, in the case of people with student loans, further into debt.

When Bankrate analyst Jeanine Skowronski first looked at the data, she thought she saw naiveté. These younger adults who shun credit cards didn't seem to know they would need a credit history when they wanted to buy a car or a house.

Then she did some interviewing.

"I talked to a lot of millennials that said they were going to get credit cards, but they weren't so thrilled with it," she says. "They were like, 'I know I have to do this because I want to rent an apartment,' or 'I know I have to do this because I’m getting married, and I want to buy a home — but if I didn't have to, I wouldn't.'"

That sounds pretty smart to Marc Fusaro, an economist at Arkansas Tech. Millennials have figured out what economists — and businesses — have known for years: "Hands down, if people are using a credit card, they will spend more money," Fusaro says. 

One possible caveat is this recent study from researchers at Carnegie-Mellon University, who expected to confirm the general consensus with a new experiment, but then didn't. They gave consumers an incentive to use credit cards for lunch to see if that led them to buy pricier meals. They identified two kinds of credit-card users in their study group: “Convenience users,” who pay off balances in full every month, spent more; “revolvers,” who carry balances and pay interest and fees, spent less.

In general, though, Fusaro's research shows that some consumers used debit cards to counter the tendency to spend, and to avoid racking up interest.

"A debit card is a check on how much money I can spend," he says.

Millennial spending by the numbers:

63 percent

 That's the big number here. 63 percent of consumers aged 18 to 29 don't carry a credit card at all, and 23 percent carry just one card. Next to no millennials have more than two cards.

35 percent

 That same figure for adults aged 30 or over — only a little more than a third have no cards. The older set was also far more likely to carry a lot of plastic. Of the consumers with two credit cards, Bankrate found, about two-thirds were over 50.

3 to 1

 A recent survey found millennials prefer debit over credit three-to-one, and they don't use cash nearly as often as their elders, especially for small purchases. But young people aren't alone — an April study from the Fed found debit-card use has risen across the board since 2000. And checks? Forget it.


 The average debt for graduating seniors from four-year colleges in 2012, according to Project Student Debts. Entering adulthood with this burden and growing up during the Great Recession could be making millennials very debt-adverse, Bankrate says.

40 percent

 The number of millennials who pay off their credit card bill each month. Per Bankrate's own study, that's only a portion of a pretty small group, but the idea of paying off purchases on time could be scaring other young adults away from getting a card at all.

A separate survey from BMO Harris points to a possible reason for the slow payment. They say 39 percent of millennials — defined here as 18- to 35-year-olds — erroneously believe keeping a balance on one's card can boost credit scores. In fact, the opposite is true.


 The average millennial's credit score, according to Experian. Regardless of their attitude toward paying on time, waiting to get a credit card can make it harder to build a credit score. Let's look back at the older set, with the George Costanza wallets full of credit cards. Baby Boomers average a credit score of 700, and Generation X averages 653.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story stated 63 percent of consumers aged 18 to 24 don't carry a credit card at all. The correct consumer age bracket is 18 to 29. The text has been corrected.

The rise and fall... and rise and fall of Atlantic City

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2014-09-08 02:00

On a recent summer day, Atlantic City’s famed boardwalk was thick with tourists in bathing suits and T-shirts, crossing between casinos and a beach dotted with candy-colored umbrellas. Nelson Johnson, a local historian and author of the book "Boardwalk Empire," stood beside one of the area's oldest buildings, built as a hotel in the 1860s and now used as a casino.

At the height of Atlantic City, he explained, there wouldn’t have been any blank spaces along the boardwalk.

“The thought of an unbuilt piece of property on the Boardwalk in the 1920s was impossible,” he said. “It was such hot property; there were so many people walking by.”

But there are empty spaces on the boardwalk now, plus empty buildings. As the HBO show "Boardwalk Empire" (based on Johnson's book) begins its fifth and final season this Sunday, the curtain is also dropping in real life for some of Atlantic City’s casinos — three have closed this year so far, and another will follow in a few weeks.

So, how’d Atlantic City get here?

A resort for the working class

Johnson says the city got its start with the opening of a railroad in 1854. Originally, the idea was to build a health retreat for the wealthy, though it was the working class from Philadelphia — 55 miles to the northwest — who really made the city into “America’s Famous Playground," one of its slogans. Factory workers could come down for the day, dress up to stroll the boardwalk, and feel like they were a part of the middle class.

“So it was a booming town for close to 50 years, from the late 1870s, past World War I, and into Prohibition,” say Johnson. “Prohibition really was the zenith of this town.”

Authorities in Atlantic City ignored alcohol bans because it was good for business. The city was always a one-industry town, completely dependent on tourists — and keeping them happy.

The playground tires

But when prohibition ended in 1933, there was less reason to come here.

“So after World War II is really when things started to decline in terms of numbers,” says Heather Pérez, archivist at the Atlantic City Free Public Library. “The rise of commercial airplane flights made things much easier for people to go elsewhere, more exotic locations, more interesting things to do and see.”

Over the next few decades, Atlantic City began to fade; its hotels failed to keep up with their counterparts elsewhere. When the Democratic National Convention was held here in 1964, the press gave the city terrible reviews, says Pérez.

Atlantic City needed something to draw the crowds back, so in 1976, New Jersey passed a law allowing casinos here. And for a while, gambling worked.

Casinos as (temporary) salvation

“The first casinos opened late ’70s and there were crowds of people waiting to get into them,” says Pérez. “The boardwalk was filled with these lines and, one by one, the casinos popped up along the beach and along the marina.”

For years, Atlantic City enjoyed a monopoly on gambling on the East Coast. But in the mid-2000s, the city’s luck turned along with the nation’s economy. Gamblers abandoned Atlantic City for new casinos in the region, including Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Delaware. Casino revenues are now roughly half their 2006 peak.

About two years ago, developers cut the ribbon on the Revel, a sleek, blue-glass hotel and casino with a $2.4 billion price tag. It was supposed to help revive the city.

But last month, a customer rode down the elevator of the Revel shouting "Last time." It closed on September 1, just a day after its neighbor, the Showboat.

Mary Thomas and her husband made a last stop at the Revel a few weeks ago. There’s a new casino just a few miles from her home in Hanover, Pennsylvania, but they still prefer to come here.

“We drive three hours to Atlantic City because we just enjoy the ocean and the boardwalk and all the shops on the boardwalk,” she says. “It’s just a nice little getaway.”

Thomas comes to gamble, too — and that’s encouraging to Don Guardian, the mayor of Atlantic City. Dressed in a sharp cream suit and bright blue shirt, he sits in his office overlooking downtown. He has big plans for the city, but he believes a large part of the city’s future lies in its roots with tourists like Thomas.  

“Where you came here, it was a casino. I think now you come to a place like the Borgata, like Harrah’s, cause it’s a resort,” he explains. “So a nice room, water views, a spa, a nightclub, a theater, fun food, fine food, conference rooms and, oh by the way, gambling as well.”

Four casinos are closing, but eight will remain, and Atlantic City gets a nice cut of their gaming revenue. Guardian thinks the gambling business here will stabilize and continue to be a mainstay of the local economy.

The city’s shuffling the deck and hoping for a better hand this time.

Congress is back in town

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2014-09-08 02:00

As Congress returns to Washington on Monday, Republicans and Democrats expect to pass a continuing resolution in the coming weeks to keep the government open.

Unlike recent years, when we’ve had our share of partisan economic drama, this fall looks calm as we approach the midterm elections. 

Politically, that’s smart, says American University Professor James Thurber. With an approval rating in the cellar — nearly 8 out of 10 Americans think Congress is doing a bad job — you want to tread lightly.

Thurber says passing a continuing resolution to keep funding the government is the epitome of treading lightly. “A continuing resolution, or a CR, which continues spending at the same level, avoids making hard choices,” he says.

This approach means federal programs that are performing well don’t get extra funding, and the programs that need to be eliminated keep getting cash.

Thomas Mann of the Brookings Institution says it’s nice to have less drama in the early fall air. But he recommends the public guard against any sense of optimism.

“What [is really going on] is just another indicator of how our government can no longer work when power is divided between the two parties,” he says.

Mann says given the general dysfunction, Congress isn’t expected accomplish much else in the coming weeks, when members have campaign trail commitments. 

Salsa helps drive Latin music higher

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2014-09-08 02:00

The Latin Grammys are coming: Nominations will be out September 24, and the 15th annual broadcast will be held in Las Vegas on November 20.

The popularity of the show is a sign that the Latin music market is strong, and getting stronger. One category within Latin music — salsa, or “tropical” as it is designated in the awards — is gaining more fans among non-Latinos in the U.S., and abroad as well.

All one has to do is to Google the phrase "I want to go salsa dancing tonight" in any major American city, and multiple venues for social dancing will pop up. They often feature live, multipiece bands, and are packed several nights per week with dancers spinning, dipping and flipping their partners across the floor.

Learning to do this flashy, athletic and intimate dance form takes time and money.

Sarah Riddle owns The Viscount studio in Portland, Oregon. She’s done good business teaching salsa to Latinos and others — even through the recession. “People are struggling and they want to spend money on things that feel good,” says Riddle, “and so there’s an increase in that market.”


Here's Sarah Riddle demonstrating various styles of salsa. In order: ballroom, Puerto Rican, Cuban, and L..A. styles. (Video cred: Mitchell Hartman)

The Latin market — not just salsa from the Caribbean (which also includes salsa variants bachata, timba and kizomba), but also Mexican regional and pop music — is one of the bright spots for the industry. Latin digital-music sales were up twice as much as the rest of the music market last year (14 percent vs. 7.6 percent), according to the Recording Industry Association of America.

Music marketing consultant Peggy Dold of Navigation Partners has penned the “Latin Corner” blog for the Association of Independent Music Producers. She points out that this a promising market for a struggling music industry. The U.S. Latino population skews young; Hispanics listen to radio, use online streaming services such as Pandora and watch music and dance videos, more than other demographic groups.

Salsa is now expanding across the U.S. and overseas, with flashy competitions hosted in several hundred cities now. According to Albert Torres, a Los Angeles–based salsa promoter, interest and participation is growing, from North America and South America to Europe, Asia and North Africa. He regularly travels to Japan, Germany, Morocco, Turkey and other countries to host Salsa Congresses.

“I don’t care why people walk in the door — whether it’s to watch, to dance or to perform in a show themselves, it just gets into your core,” says Torres. “All these African beats that came over from 1533 until now — sooner or later you have to put your seat belt on because you’re hooked.”

At the annual Salsa & Bachata Congress in Portland, Oregon, in June, partner teams from as far away as Idaho and British Columbia spent hundreds of dollars each on travel and sequined costumes to compete. Latinos and non-Latinos were represented among the top competitors. The winners — including Erika Lachen Meier and Malik Delgado — will go on to compete at Torres’s World Latin Dance Cup in Miami in December.

“I go out there onstage, and when I come back and remember nothing, that’s when I know it went well,” said Lachen Meier after the competition. Delgado added: “It’s great just to feel the energy, and next thing I know her foot’s up in the air and she’s in a dip and I’m asking, ‘Are we done?’”

Latin rap artist Carsello was in town from New York, showcasing his "urban salsa" — a crossover genre — at the Portland event. “Now we’re taking salsa to a pop-culture level, by English-rapping, but with traditional salsa music,” he said. “Salsa is here to stay, and it’s just going to get bigger.”

Click the video player at the top of the article to see Sarah Riddle giving reporter Mitchell Hartman a dance lesson at The Viscount studio in Portland, Oregon. (Video cred: Cliff Rees)

Marketplace’s inflation calculator: some fishy prices

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2014-09-08 01:00

In 1989, the year Marketplace first went on the air, the average cost for a year of a private, four-year college was $11,474 for tuition, room and board. If those costs had risen only with inflation, the average price would be $22,045 these days. According to the College Board, the actual cost for the 2013–2014 academic year was $40,917. We plan to dig deeper into the cost of higher ed later this fall in our inflation series.

I am currently paying for two college tuitions, so I find the subject too grim to discuss right now. And when I am feeling down, there’s nothing like something on a bagel to cheer me up. Something like smoked salmon.

We are conditioned to assume that everything gets more expensive over time. However, that is not necessarily the case, which is why silky, red-orange fish comes to mind. When I was a kid, my family treated smoked salmon like it was caviar. Somebody would bring back from the deli just an eighth of a pound, which we would carefully apportion as morsels on the bagel like scraps of gold leaf. The cream cheese completely overwhelmed the salmon. These days the cream cheese has lost the battle. There is a place near me where you can get a fresh, toasted bagel with a good three-quarters-of-an-inch slab of smoked salmon for $6.50.

What has changed? In part, aquaculture. A fisheries economist tells me that more than half of the fish the world eats now is, essentially, farmed. In the last 25 years, countries from Scotland to Chile have taken to large-scale-farming the salmon that become smoked salmon. Fish farming can have an environmental cost, and done poorly the practice is unsustainable and can hurt the wild salmon fishery. Yet there is no doubt the practice has altered the wholesale and retail markets. For a time, prices dropped and smoked-salmon sandwiches got a lot thicker.

But the story of smoked salmon does not end there. There is salmon production and there is salmon consumption. Around the world people have developed a taste for the stuff, nowhere more so than in China with its burgeoning middle-class. All this demand could have put smoked salmon back into caviar class.

One man who knows is Saul Zabar, president of New York City’s legendary grocery Zabar’s. Saul figures he sells about 2,000 pounds of smoked salmon a week. That’s, literally, a ton. He sees the gradual shift from wild salmon to farmed helping to keep prices under control.

“The fact that we have farmed salmon has kept the product at a reasonable level so that it’s available to the people who are not wealthy,” said Zabar. “It’s kept it as a middle-class product, which is great. It’s enabled us to sell product to a wide variety of people, where if it had remained wild, it would be only available to people who have the means to buy it.”

Zabar couldn’t remember what he was charging for smoked salmon 25 years ago. However, I did find a New York Magazine from that year that mentioned a Zabar’s sale price: $15.95 a pound, Scotch salmon, pre-sliced. That’s like $30.65 today. And what is Saul actually charging today, routinely, no special sale? $23.95 a pound. In real terms, that’s a 22 percent decline in 25 years. 

Also interesting is why the price hasn’t come down further at Zabar’s. Saul told us his prices have to reflect not just the wholesale price of the salmon, but his other costs. He owns his famous building, so that’s not the problem. He does single out what he has to pay for health care for his employees. Now that’s a whole other kettle of fish where deflation has certainly not been the trend. 

Harvard Receives Largest-Ever Donation

NPR News - Sun, 2014-09-07 21:27

The $350 million gift pledged to Harvard University's School of Public Health will help bolster research in several key areas including global pandemics, officials said.

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U.S. Border Patrol Apprehending Fewer Central Americans

NPR News - Sun, 2014-09-07 13:24

Increased Mexican patrols along that country's southern border may be one factor in the drop in numbers seen by the U.S. Some migrants appear to be giving up and staying in southern Mexico.

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As Scotland Eyes Independence, Poll Gives Edge To Leaving The U.K.

NPR News - Sun, 2014-09-07 13:03

For the first time, a poll shows the push to break away from the United Kingdom now has the edge over the "unity" vote in Scotland.

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Serena Williams Wins U.S. Open For 18th Grand Slam Title

NPR News - Sun, 2014-09-07 11:54

The U.S. Open win ties Serena Williams with Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova for fourth on the all-time list of Grand Slam winners.

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Black, Gay Cowboy: Michael Sam Steps Up

NPR News - Sun, 2014-09-07 10:18

Gay football player Michael Sam didn't make an NFL team, but he will play for the Dallas Cowboys practice squad. Writer Michael Arceneaux says that's an important step forward for gay black men.

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New Ebola Vaccine Is Tested In Humans, After Success In Monkeys

NPR News - Sun, 2014-09-07 09:37

The vaccine was developed by researchers at the National Institutes of Health and at Okairos, a Swiss-based biotech company owned by the British drug company GlaxoSmithKline.

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Cuomo Gets More Of An Opponent Than He Bargained For

NPR News - Sun, 2014-09-07 07:23

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo was expected to cruise to victory in next Tuesday's Democratic primary. But he faces a surprisingly vigorous challenge from the left.

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