Cybersecurity, Christmas-themed cats and HealthCare.gov gained spots in the news this week, along with some coverage of innovative gaming. Plus, Tell Me More launches a discussion on blacks in the technology industry.
When it comes to financial resolutions, David, a physicist in Washington D.C., says he knows what he's supposed to say:
If David is like most Americans, he's being honest -- he probably won't make or keep a personal finance resolution this January. According to a study from the Journal of Clinical Psychology, monetary self-improvement ranks third on the national list of most common New Year's resolutions, behind "losing weight" and "getting organized." With "staying fit and healthy" clocking in as a strong fifth, researchers concluded that concern for the thickness of one's wallet doesn't compete with the thickness of one's waistline.
In short, a glowing credit score just isn't as sexy as a bikini body.
Social scientists love to analyze the annual, logic-defying cycle of the New Year's resolution -- and, of course, so does Marketplace.
What goes into making -- let alone keeping -- a personal finance resolution?
We took to the streets with a microphone for an (admittedly unscientific) survey.
Reason 1: Those pesky outside factors.
When I asked Jackie, an office assistant at a church in Washington, D.C., why she thinks it is so difficult to keep personal finance resolutions, she paused to think. Then:
Jackie has resolved to find a new job in 2014. And no matter how resolute she may be, she won't be surprised if she joins the 92 percent of Americans whose New Year's promises do not come to pass.
Jackie's friend Chiquita, a program assistant for the federal government, has resolved to stop using her credit cards. She is writing down every penny she spends (when we spoke, she was at $2.24), but she, too, worries external factors will get in the way:
Reason 2: Don't even think about instant gratification.
Clinton does international health work, and he's made a financial resolution or two over the past few years. Yes, he wants to find an affordable place to live, and yes, he plans to put money in a savings account. And it's going to take time.
Reason 3: So many small toys.
Eleven year-old Taylor knows what that waiting is like.
Reason 3: Hey, I was getting by.
Jeff, a physician from Houston, Texas, (and Taylor's dad) empathizes with his daughter's quandary. When he decided to "bite the bullet" and pay off his household debt, it meant making a choice between buying something new and paying for something old. There were quite a few false starts. Until his finances changed for the better, he just wasn't mentally ready to make what felt like a sacrifice.
Reason 4: Where to start?
For the uninitiated, the world of personal finance can look like a matrix. For Josh, a college student in Iowa, the practical decisions of a financial resolution seem confusing. Too confusing.
Reason 5: We need help! What else?What are your financial resolutions? We'd love to hear on Facebook or in the comments below.
Marketplace Tech concludes our Mind Games series this week with another look at the intersection of video games and mental health. You may remember yesterday we went to University of Southern California, where they're building virtual reality programs for soldiers with post-traumatic stress disorder. Today we're going to a VA hospital in New York City where these programs are being administered.
Dr. Michael Kramer tries to help his patients by recreating their own traumatic experiences. He brings host Ben Johnson into a windowless room with a computer control center and a swiveling chair that sits on a platform. Click the audio player above to hear Dr. Kramer give Ben a tour of his facility and tell him about how the virtual reality therapy works.
The question of whether to renew unemployment benefits for more than one million Americans has surfaced as part of federal budget negotiations.
The benefits, meant to be temporary, have been extended repeatedly, most recently through Dec. 28.
"If we allow these extensions to expire, it’s going to cause a lot more pain for Americans," says Elise Gould, an economist at the Economic Policy Institute. She says the whole economy would take a hit if the unemployment benefits aren’t extended because unemployment checks are spent right away.
A former head of the Congressional Budget Office, Robert Reischauer agrees.
"The money comes in and it goes out very rapidly for food, clothing, gas for the car and so on," he says.
That money ripples through the economy, and the White House argues that without that spending, 240,000 jobs will be lost next year.
It adds up to make a tough vote in Congress, says Douglas Holtz-Eakin, another former Congressional Budget Office director and an economic adviser for Senator John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign.
"When push comes to shove, saying I’m not willing to fund the unemployment insurance for those who have been out of work for two years -- pretty tough vote to take," he says.
Or, as Reischauer puts it: "They certainly don’t want to be Scrooge in the middle of the holiday season."
Because tales of the hardships of those denied benefits could haunt re-election campaigns like the ghost of Christmas past.
Hundreds of health care types gathered in Washington, D.C., today at an event sponsored by the Alliance for Health Reform.
And it wasn't to talk about problems with the government's health care website, healthcare.gov.
This panel discussion highlighted a different source of confusion in the healthcare world, what it means to be “admitted” to the hospital.
As millions of Medicare patients are finding out, the answer can be surprising and expensive.
Carol Levine, an advocate with the nonprofit United Hospital Fund and a member of the panel, tells the story of a woman on Medicare who went to the emergency department after a bad fall.
Doctors, says Levine, couldn’t really tell if it was safe for the woman to go home, so they kept her for observation.
“She was brought to a regular floor, she was given an x-ray and blood work. When it was meal time she was given food,” says Levine.
But eventhough the woman spent two nights in the hospital, she was never officially “admitted.”
She was considered an outpatient.
Outpatients are responsible for certain costs that inpatients are not.
That includes the costs for rehab after the woman’s fall.
“They would have billed her as a private patient, it would’ve cost tens of thousands of dollars,” says Levine.
The practice of keeping patients for observation more than doubled from 2001 to 2009, according to a recent report from the AARP Public Policy Institute.
“Medicare recommends that observation be used usually for less than 24 hours. But we found that length of stay exceeding 48 hours had grown by more than 250 percent,” says Keith Lind, Senior Strategic Policy Advisor for the Institute.
Under the Affordable Care Act, hospitals are being slapped with fines for readmissions.
But when you don’t admit a patient, you can’t be penalized.
“The hospitals are not doing this to inconvenience patients,” says Dan Mendelsohn the CEO of Avalere Health.
“They are trying to make things work financially for themselves,”
Mendelsohn says the policy is intended to lower costs and improve care.
But what it may do instead is shift the cost to the patient.
Apple effectively put its sales force in your pocket today. If you’re in an Apple Store with the right app turned on, you could get a message saying, essentially: “Hey, I see you’re standing in front of the new iPad. Want to upgrade? Let me see if I can get you a discount on that." Or: "Like that accessory? If you tap the screen right here, you could just walk out of here with it right now. How about it?”
We’ve mostly gotten used to geo-location: That's tech that lets you ask your phone, “Where’s the nearest gas station?” Of course, it also lets the government ask your phone company, “Where were you yesterday at 2 p.m.?”
This is cicro-location. The iBeacon feature in the Apple Store app uses Bluetooth to pinpoint where you are in the Apple store. Other stores, like Macy’s, say they’re going to use it too.
Attorney Jennifer Lynch monitors privacy issues with the Electronic Frontier Foundation. She says iBeacon could actually be an upgrade from what we’ve seen before.
"At least for this one, the user knows that the app is downloaded onto the phone," she says. "There are other location-tracking systems that stores use, where the user has no idea."
Do we care? Kathryn Zickuhr from the Pew Research Center has done surveys. She says about a third of adults say they’ve turned off geo-location services on their phone, at least sometimes.
Yes, people get a little concerned about how much of this data companies keep. "But really, people tend to be more concerned about personal threats," she says, "like hackers."
But there’s another anxiety here: When Apple shows me a deal, is it as good as the one you’re getting? Harvard professor Ben Edelman studies online commerce and advertising.
"There’s no particular guarantee, in the long run, that we’ll have a world of posted prices," he says, "where everyone walks into the store, sees the same price on a paper label on the shelf."
We’re kind of used to price discrepancies with, say, airfares.
"In the retail context, though, you kind of feel like that can of soup on the shelf should be the same price for everyone," he says. "You don't need to worry about being the sucker who's paying the high price, the way we all worry about airfare."
Some Californians are choosing plans that don't comply with the Affordable Care Act to save money. They have only a few weeks left to pick coverage that will last a year. It will eventually be replaced by health insurance that includes a full range of essential benefits, but at a higher cost.
India is poised to supplant Britain as the chain's largest market outside the U.S., Domino's Pizza CEO J. Patrick Doyle says. The company's Indian menu emphasizes vegetarian options and boosts the food's spiciness.
The U.S. unemployment rate has fallen to 7 percent, its lowest point in 5 years. Employees added 203,000 jobs to payrolls in November, a bit better than economists' predictions of 180,000. But Julia Coronado, chief economist, North America for BNP Paribas in New York, says that like a lot of good economic news lately, this one comes with an asterisk.
"You need to be careful here. The government shutdown impacted the numbers. There's been a lot of volatility," Coronado says. "If we smooth over the last few months, the picture is still one of the labor force is declining. The participation rate has been dropping quite rapidly, and that combined with decent job gains is driving a fairly rapid decline in the unemployment rate."
But while many different kinds of employers are adding jobs on paper, out in the real world, searching for a job is still tough for too many Americans. Maureen Cunningham is one of them. The 51-year-old recently moved to Venice, Florida from Philadelphia with her retired husband. She was working for a company from home until October, when her employer eliminated her position. So far, Cunningham is having a difficult time finding a replacement.
"I'm finding that the wages here are quite a bit less than what I currently make, so I'm thinking I might need to go into something else," Cunningham says.
While Cunningham says her husband is happy to have her at home with him all day "making pancakes," she says being out of work is taking a psychological toll on her.
"I feel like I need to work," she says. "It gives me a sense of fulfillment to have a job, have a place to go to and be at. I don't do well when I don't have a job, so it's a little bit depressing."
Also of concern to Cunningham is how she will deal with health insurance. Since she was insured through her previous employer, Cunningham says she hasn't paid much attention to recent news about how to sign up for the Affordable Care Act, and now she's playing catch up.
"Now, all the sudden, I'm in a panic, and I'm trying to figure out what my options are and what I should do. And I guess my hope is I'll find something right away and won't have to worry about it. As it is, I'm in a high deductible plan, so getting sick wasn't an option either. But to have nothing and have to find something, I just don't know. It's scary."
NPR's Gregory Warner speaks with Renee Montagne about the scene near the family home of Nelson Mandela in Soweto, South Africa, where people are gathered to mourn the former president's life.
The death of Nelson Mandela is being mourned around the world -- including university campuses where students, faculty and staff fought the apartheid in South Africa through disinvestment. In 1982, the University of Maine became one of the first 10 universities in the country to completely divest from country. Philosophy professor Douglas Allen was one of those people who ultimately convinced the board of trustees to pull its $1.9 million from South Africa.
“It was a difficult argument, and it took years of work, research, providing all the documentation, lobbying,” he says.
Click the above audio player to hear more from Douglas Allen about university divestment efforts amid the anti-apartheid movement.
Politics in Minnesota and Wisconsin historically have been pretty similar, but that's no longer the case. Wisconsin is now advancing conservative policies and lending a Midwestern face to the Republican Party, while Minnesota's agenda has been among the most liberal.
Renee Montagne talks to South African musician Johnny Clegg about his relationship with Nelson Mandela, who died Thursday at age 95. Clegg says his banned 1980s song that named Mandela and became an anthem came to him one day when he woke to gunshots and wondered "who can bridge you and me, every South African."
For the first time the federal government has tallied up the arts and culture contribution to the nation’s economy. It turns out that sector, movies, painting, publishing, cable and more, was worth half a trillion dollars -- 3 percent to the gross domestic product in 2011. That’s more than the travel and tourism industry.
“Here you have for the first time, comprehensive empirical evidence from the point of view of economists that the arts play a substantial role in the nation’s economy,” says Sunil Iyengar who runs the Office of Research and Analysis for the National Endowment for the Arts.
In an instant, writers, app designers, publishers and painters just got a bunch of "street cred." Nearly two million people work in the arts and culture industry which exported about $40 billion in goods and services in 2011. Some economists say ideas, innovation, and creativity are essential to growing the United States economy.
University of Minnesota culture economist Ann Markusen says putting a dollar value to the sector could lead to policies that promote it. “The recognition of the significance of art skills, is going to really be a big boost for artists and also for encouraging young people to go into the arts,” she says.
Who knows, maybe that whole starving artist thing will finally be on its way out.