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

Fri, 2014-01-24 09:52

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

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

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

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

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

Here are some of the most interesting responses we received:

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

— Brian Virgil (@SafariBear1107) January 24, 2014

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

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

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

— Laura Lundahl (@LauraLundahl) January 24, 2014

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

— Jennifer Rand (@therowdyrands) January 24, 2014

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

— Benjamin Benavidez (@benbenjr80) January 24, 2014

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

— Justine Fred (@PaisleyFred) January 24, 2014

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

— Robin Amer (@rsamer) January 24, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

— Erik Newcome (@ErikNewcome) January 24, 2014

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

— Randi Borys (@RandiB1) January 24, 2014

Advertising on the Grammys 'second screen'

Fri, 2014-01-24 09:15

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

Butterfinger + peanut butter cups: Should candies mix?

Fri, 2014-01-24 09:00

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wealth & Poverty producer John Ketchum had no such scruples:

And editor John Haas may just be the target market:

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

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

Qualcomm snaps up patents

Fri, 2014-01-24 08:54

Qualcomm, the U.S. mobile chip maker, has bought close to 2,000 patents from Hewlett Packard. Many of the U.S. and foreign patents relate to former smart phone maker Palm. (Remember them?) These days Palm's patents are a bit like hot potatoes -- HP bought Palm in 2010 to get into the mobile device game. The company appears to have lost that game and is now selling. So what does Qualcomm want with Palm? Avi Greengart, research director at Current Analysis, tells Marketplace Tech host Ben Johnson. 

PODCAST: The legal marijuana industry's banking problem

Fri, 2014-01-24 08:52

Several states have legalized marijuana, even though the federal government still considers it an illegal drug. Well, a problem is banks are reluctant -- in most cases unwilling -- to do business with the marijuana industry.

When you think of the 21st century American economy, your mind no doubt flips to things digital and mobile. But corporate earnings out this week were a good reminder that an industry that sounds more 19th century is key to the modern economy as well -- railroads.   

Less than five months before Brazil's World Cup kicks off, 6 out of 12 venues are still unfinished -- including a complex in the northern city of Manaus, where construction workers have died and pay for laborers is an issue.

Marijuana, gambling, lotto tickets: Cash only

Fri, 2014-01-24 08:34

Convenience is king. We pay for our coffee with an app and swipe our plastic to buy a pack of gum or to book a trip to Rio. But there's a reason why wads of greenbacks are still exchanged for goods or services. Do you really want your credit card issuer to leave a paper trail on that stuff you did in Vegas? (Don't worry, it stays in Vegas.)

Card issuers agree, but for their own reasons, usually having to do with risk and federal law. This week brought "10 Things You Can't Buy with a Credit Card" from MarketWatch.

Sure, marijuana is now legal in Colorado — and other states might soon follow — but you're going to need green to purchase this green. The government is hinting that federal law is catching up to legal marijuana purchases, but you'd better bet that credit card issuers are not going to step into the middle of this one until the rules are clear.

Legality on other credit card no-no's is more grey; when it comes to gambling or paying for lotto tickets, much depends on state laws.

Online gambling with cards is clearly illegal in the U.S. — hence Swiss accounts and Bitcoin — but after avoiding trouble with the law, card issuers then turn on, or off, the spigot of credit much more on the basis of risk. For example, you probably can't pay for your mortgage, your student loans, your auto loan or even in some cases your college tuition, with a credit card (though, imagine those reward points!). It's simply not good business practice to enable paying one debt with another form of debt.

Then again, those balance transfer checks you receive in the mail aren't necessarily considered credit. The biggest dangers with these card-linked checks are the high interest rate, fees from the card issuer and turning an asset-backed loan (like a car loan) into unsecured debt.

My favorite star of this list however, is good ol' outlier American Express. They refuse to process payments for online pornography, lotto tickets (no matter the state law), and contributions to Wikileaks. This swipe-for-this-not-that has a long history. Twenty years ago when I worked at Christie's auction house, I remember a kerfuffle at the highest level when a high-rolling buyer tried to pay for a painting with his American Express card. His winning bid was over $1 million. AmEx's reward-points system was already in place and their charging limits were (and still can be) undefined.

Can you blame the guy?

Check, please.

An economic storm in Argentina

Fri, 2014-01-24 07:27

It's been a dizzying 24 hours in Argentina. The peso plummeted 19 percent versus the U.S. dollar. It seems to be stabilized this morning at 7.9, down more than 8 percent from a day ago. The incident is a reminder of the economic turbulence in Argentina a little over a decade ago, with the currency swings that came the country defaulted on its debts. Click the audio player above to hear the BBC's Andrew Walker discuss the story.

5 months before the World Cup, half the venues aren't finished

Fri, 2014-01-24 06:27

Less than five months before Brazil's World Cup kicks off, 6 out of 12 venues are still unfinished -- including a complex in the northern city of Manaus, where construction workers have died and pay for laborers is an issue. Fifa has warned Brazil's World Cup 2014 host city of Curitiba that it could be excluded unless work speeds up. The BBC's Wyre Davies visited the sites of some of the World Cup facilities in Manaus. Click the audio player above to listen to the story.

Banks don't want to hold marijuana industry's stash

Fri, 2014-01-24 06:17

Several states have legalized marijuana, even though the federal government still considers it an illegal drug. Well, a problem is banks are reluctant -- in most cases unwilling -- to do business with the marijuana industry.

Banks worry doing that could subject them to prosecution from the feds, for racketeering or money laundering or aiding and abetting criminal activity.

"The banks have come to the conclusion that the risks are just too great," says Robert Rowe, senior counsel for the American Bankers Association. "Marijuana is still illegal as far as federal law is concerned, and banks are subject to federal law."

Not having access to banks is hard for growers and dispensaries in states where pot is legal.

"You know, it is hard to buy things, it is hard to pay your employees, it is hard to really go about business," says Bill Piper, with the Drug Policy Alliance.

On top of that, it isn't safe when all your business is done in cash. Attorney Genreal Eric Holder made that point yesterday, at an event at the University of Virginia. He said the government is working on new guidance. Dan Riffle, with the Marijuana Policy Project, hopes it will be comprehensive.

"Well, there is a big legal distinction -- for banks, especially, between we're not going to prosecute this crime and we don't consider this a crime."

After all, the Justice Department could reverse a decision not to prosecute banks at any time.

Railroads' earnings -- and their freight -- show where the economy's heading

Fri, 2014-01-24 05:51

When you think of the 21st century American economy, your mind no doubt flips to things digital and mobile. But corporate earnings out this week were a good reminder that an industry that sounds more 19th century is key to the modern economy as well -- railroads.   

For years now, railroads have been smartly and quietly upgrading infrastructure and increasing market share. The days when trains carried grain and coal aren’t over, but they carry a lot more now, too. “They carry just about everything that’s in your house to the materials that built your house,” says Anthony Hatch, head of ABH Consulting in New York. 

For that reason, railroad freight can provide a window on the overall economy. Take Union Pacific’s latest quarterly report. It reported its coal carloads dropped 10 percent, a dip that reflects a broader trend in the economy -- the slow but steady shift to natural gas.   

But the railroad companies are carrying more cars, lumber and piping, which hints at recent growth in auto sales, home construction and fracking. Lee Klaskow, a Bloomberg Industries transportation and logistics analyst, says railroads are playing a key role in the shale boom, “whether they’re hauling crude out or hauling chemicals and sand and water and piping into the places where they’re doing hydraulic fracturing.”

Anthony Hatch says all that hydraulic fracturing will make for more products made from the natural gas they’re drilling in the fracking fields -- plastic wrap and anti-freeze, just to name a couple. Those products will ultimately fill rail cars, too.

 

Happy Birthday, Apple Macintosh, on your 30th

Fri, 2014-01-24 05:40

Apple celebrates the thirtieth anniversary of the Macintosh computer on Saturday, Jan. 25, in Cupertino, California. The unveiling of the Mac to the world by Steve Jobs on Jan. 24, 1984 -- also in Cupertino -- was Apple’s most successful product launch to date, as Apple took on IBM’s domination of the fast-growing market for personal computers.

After the Mac was launched, Apple did well, then not so well in the ‘90s (Steve Jobs had been ousted from the company in 1985). Then he came back in 1996, when Apple bought his company, NeXT, and by the early 2000s Apple was doing well again, revolutionizing the personal computing world with the iTunes store, and iPods, and eventually iPhones and iPads.

Apple’s public pre-launch of the Mac came during SuperBowl XVIII on January 22, 1984 (the L.A. Raiders trounced the Washington Redskins, 38 to 9). A dramatic ad directed by Ridley Scott for the Macintosh ran during the game.

An army of grey robot-men march through prison-like corridors to an assembly area, as a Big Brother figure drones at them from a huge screen about conformity and power. Enter a female runner -- in color, representing Apple -- pursued by helmeted riot police. She runs before them, past the oblivious robot-men, turns once, twice, three times, and hurls a sledgehammer into the screen, smashing Big Brother, unleashing air and light, waking the robots from their authoritarian trance, and ushering in the Age of Macintosh.

“That day the earth’s axis shifted a little bit,” says Guy Kawasaki with a small laugh. At the time, Kawasaki was the Apple Macintosh division’s software evangelist. He was there two days after the Superbowl ad aired, when Steve Jobs unveiled the Macintosh.

“It represented an entirely new way of interacting with computers and accessing information,” says Kawasaki. “This was your computer, and you could do what you wanted with it.”

Technology writer John Battelle was an early adopter and covered Apple for MacWeek; he went on to cofound Wired and The Industry Standard (he’s now CEO of Federated Media). He says Mac’s graphical user interface -- clicking and dragging the mouse across screen displays -- made the personal computer something everyone could use.

“Simply put—you saw yourself mirrored in that machine,” says Battelle. “What you did was directly reflected in the interface of that machine. When you moved your hand, something moved on the machine. The WYSIWYG -- ‘what you see is what you get’ -- interface was magical, and it began a journey of our society into becoming digital and understanding what it means to be data.”

That first post-apocalyptic Mac ad ended with an announcer saying these words as they scrolled down the screen: “On January 24th, Apple Computer will introduce Macintosh. And you’ll see why 1984 won’t be like ‘1984.’”

The beige Macintosh personal computer that Steve Jobs described as being ‘for the rest of us’ -- the one that he believed would unseat IBM’s dominance of the market, and change the world -- had arrived.

Listen to an extended interview with Guy Kawasaki here:

What other technology was "born" in 1984? According to this timeline:
  • The Olivetti PC
  • Flash memory
  • 3D printing
  • The first portable computer (weighing in at 30 lbs)
  • The first desktop laser printer
  • Tetris!

Great Wall of Wyoming? This week's Silicon Tally

Fri, 2014-01-24 05:22

It's time for Silicon Tally. How well have you kept up with the week in tech news?

This week, Kara Swisher, formerly of All Things D, currently co-executive editor with Walt Mossberg of the new tech news and reviews website Re/Code, takes on the tech gauntlet in our weekly Silicon Tally quiz. Play along at home, below.

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Strutting in style at the Grammys doesn't come cheap

Fri, 2014-01-24 05:05

Singer, actress, and model Colette Falla moved to Los Angeles five years ago, and is used to the ups and downs that accompany life as an emerging artist in a city chock-full of emerging artists.  She’s also used to the expense that her career incurs. 

“When I was a kid I had singing lessons and piano lessons,” Falla said. “I did summer workshops for acting. Then, I went to university and and a course which was theater studies and English.” There was also private vocal coaching and music school in LA. These days, she shells out for studio time, PR, and U-Haul vans to get her to gigs.

So while being invited to an awards show is an honor, it’s not necessarily an excuse to splurge. Falla gets her hair styled at the popular but inexpensive Blow Dry Bar, opts for makeovers at the MAC store (free with a purchase) and even tries to save money on clothes.

“I can wear something simple like a little black dress,” Falla said. “Every girl has one in her closet.” Asked if she ever feels intimidated at events where A-list stars are wearing one-of-a-kind gowns, Falla, always good-natured, laughs.

“I think I get a secret boost out of being like, ‘my dress is from Forever 21,’” she said.

Colette’s wardrobe stylist Catherine Joubert is living her own kind of Hollywood dream. After years working for big movie studios, she struck out on her own, following her passion for fashion. Joubert says the competition in LA can be fierce, but she stays focused and has no trouble making a living. She admits that every stylist dreams of taking on a young client who becomes a superstar. That’s why she’s sometimes willing to reduce her hundred-dollar-per-hour fee.

“In LA, anything can happen,” Joubert said. “You can be working with a fresh, new, young face. And they might land a big role on a TV series and all of a sudden, they take you with them.”

Joubert’s philosophy is that no matter how broke the struggling artist, there is no excuse to look like anything other than a million bucks. For clients with more aspirations than cash, she’ll search department stores for something stunning and, hopefully, on sale.

“A singer’s going to take singing lessons,” Joubert said. “Actors will take workshops. It’s important to think about investing in your image as much as the other parts of your career.”

Days before the Grammys Colette Falla was still hoping to snag an invitation.

“’Im in a relationship with a really successful songwriter/producer,” she said. “He might get an invite and I could be his plus one, which would be great for me.”

She paused a second, apparently realizing how such a statement could be interpreted in a land of vaulting ambition. “I’m not in it for that,” she said with a laugh. “He’s my boyfriend. I love him.”

High stakes question: How many times will Peyton Manning say 'Omaha'?

Thu, 2014-01-23 15:43

You have heard, no doubt, of Peyton Manning's affinity for the word "Omaha." As he brings the Denver Broncos to the line of scrimmage.

It could be a decoy. It could be serious. He's not telling. But come Sunday next, at Super Bowl XLVIII, guessing how many times he's going to say it could win somebody some serious money.

The over/under on "Omaha" has been set at 27 and a half by the online betting firm Bovada.lv. It's just one in a series of what are called proprietary bets, that get set up around the game.

You choose "over" and he says it  28 or more times: You win. On the other side, if you choose "under" and he says it 27 times or less: You win.

 Kai says over. 32, to be specific. He also says: Broncos by a touchdown.

'Is it just me, or are we raising campaign money earlier?'

Thu, 2014-01-23 15:28

Hillary Clinton has not declared her candidacy for 2016. 

 That, of course, has not stopped Priorities USA Action – the largest liberal SuperPAC – from fundraising for her campaign.

 If you are shocked, don’t be.

 “We’ve had a permanent campaign for many, many years. Really, decades,” says Larry Sabato, professor of politics at the University of Virginia.

But even if fundraising isn’t happening any earlier, there is more pressure to get organized sooner. In part, that’s because outside groups or ambitious billionaires can throw money into a race at any time.

Bob Biersack, senior fellow at the Center for Responsive Politics, says you basically have to have your guard up. “In a world where one or two people can decide they really want this [or that] person to be the next president, and they’re going to invest tens of millions behind that effort, and that can come at any time, you can’t afford to wait,” he says.

What about the amount of money that’ll be spent in 2016? Candidates in 2008 spent $1.7 billion, in 2012 they spent just over $2 billion. Sabato say there are a few things that may push 2016 to break a new record.  

“With every additional cycle you have new technologies that have to be funded,” Sabato says. For example, Obama pioneered voter data mining and tracking technology in ’08 and ’12, now every candidate will feel they need that.

But, Sabato says, "they don’t do away with the television advertising, they still have all of that and the radio advertising and the direct mail and the polling and everything else they do.”

 Still, there is a limit to how much campaign spending can grow, and Steve Ansolabehere, professor of government at Harvard, thinks we’re reaching it. “In general, over the long stretch of American history, the amount of money that goes into campaigns tracks with the amount of money in society, the real GDP.”

 So the $3 billion presidential race may be a ways off.

Ukrainian economy goes from bad to worse

Thu, 2014-01-23 15:10

Vice President Biden got on the phone today with Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovich.

The vice president said there would be "consequences" for the U.S.-Ukraine relationship if the violence and protests in Kiev continued. Demonstrations have been going on for months now.

David Stern is the BBC correspondent in Ukraine.

He says no matter what shakes out politically in Kiev, the economic damage has been done:

"It's difficult to see how they can extract themselves out of this situation. What Mr. Yanukovich seems to have done with his deal with Russia where he got $15 billion in prospective loans and also cheaper gas is to have fended off an economic disaster. And I've been told it was possibly just weeks away. Now he's managed to buy himself a little bit of breathing room. But he's definitely not bought himself a successful economy. Ukraine is in recession right now. It doesn't look like it's going to get out. And the turbulence doesn't make it look like a very (economically) attractive place. But let's be honest, if the turbulance wasn't there it wouldn't be that attractive of a place."

 

Actually, not much has changed about American economic mobility

Thu, 2014-01-23 14:10

There has been rare bipartisanship in Washington lately over the need to regain economic mobility in the United States. But a new study out of Harvard suggests those politicians are wrong – mobility hasn’t really changed much in the past few decades.
 
The study is part of the Equality of Opportunity Project, which is based on tens of millions of anonymous tax records. 

“The level of mobility throughout the past thirty or forty years or so has not been very high compared to most other developed countries,” says Harvard economist Raj Chetty, one of the co-authors of the study.

“We should be quite concerned about mobility in a society with a lot of inequality, because kids who don’t get a chance to move up in the income distribution are really getting left behind in today’s economy.”

And while his study found that mobility hasn’t changed much in the U.S., the rise of inequality is very much a concern. “If you’re born to a high income parent verses a low income parent, that’s going to generate a wider difference in your income level as a child today than it did 30 years ago, when we had a more equal society.”

The study found that geography mattered when it came to the rate of mobility – certain cities had more than others.

But Chetty says there’s still more research to be done: "We don’t know exactly what that secret sauce is."

Flaunting their riches is not for the "stealthy wealthy"

Thu, 2014-01-23 12:30

I knew this wouldn’t be the easiest story. It’s not like you can just send out a mass email saying "I want to talk with rich people on national radio about the very thing that they don’t want to talk about with anyone."

But, that’s essentially what I did. I emailed my friends asking if they had ever had the experience of discovering that someone they knew was wealthy after already knowing them a good while. (For the purposes of this story, I defined wealthy as "never needing to work again if you don’t want to.") I explained that I'd had that experience and wondered, "How did I miss this? It seems like a pretty fundamental fact about that person."

I got a message back saying, “Sean, we used to know each other. I might be able to be of some service on your story. My contact info is below. Adam Blank.” Adam went to school with a close friend of mine. We’d crossed paths a few times almost twenty years ago. At first, I didn’t even know why he was writing to me. Turns out he’d inherited millions of dollars from his grandfather and his father. On the phone, he described himself as a “high net-worth individual.” He suggested we do the interview at his house. 

Adam lives in Brooklyn. I live in Brooklyn. I don’t know any other people who live in Brooklyn, the way Adam does. As soon as I walked through his front door I started laughing.

"Conspicuous, is it not?" he said.

 "It" is a three-story house with floor to ceiling windows looking out on a back deck and backyard. "It" has a garage. A garage. In Brooklyn. In most other respects, though, Adam is a lot like me. He had crappy jobs as a kid, worked in social services after college, and then in the film industry. In the league of the "stealthy wealthy," he’s about as stealthy as they come. 

"You didn’t know I was wealthy because you never came to my house," he told me, in his home office, which has a door. "I don’t dress wealthy. If I had wealthy friends, you probably wouldn’t know me. My peer set is more like you, right? Writers, designers. So I can’t go, ‘Oh! Sean! Whaddaya think about private equity investing? How does it make you feel to have the money that you have?' Because it mirrors exactly how I feel about the money that I have."  

As a result, he doesn’t tend to talk about his money overmuch. But it comes up. He told me about a casual conversation he had, with a casual acquaintance, years back. 

"We were talking about our kids," said Adam. "And I said what schools they went to and he goes, ‘I don’t mean to be indelicate…’ basically saying ‘I’m going to be indelicate.’ ‘How in the hell do you afford sending your kids to school like that? You’ve got three of them.’ Which indicates a lot of things: he didn’t know that I had money, just based on our casual relationship. And then I had to deal with identity issues for this guy, who was, like, wanting something out of that."     

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

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

Burke was 19 years old at the time. Not long after The Day of the Ledger, he went traveling in Mexico. Soon, he came to the belief that people are poor in the world because other people are rich. 

"And because I had just realized that I was a millionaire," he said, "I saw myself on the wrong of that divide. That was a moment where I started to enter into pretty deep depression… because of feelings of shame and guilt around who I was, and my background."

"There’s very little resources for people to go and talk," said Jamie Traeger-Muney with Wealth Legacy Group. She describes herself as a coach and consultant for the wealthy, who draws on her background as a psychologist. 

"You know if you say to someone, ‘Wow I just found out that I have a ten-million dollar trust fund and I’m really overwhelmed by it,'" she said, “That isn’t usually met with a lot of sympathy. People are usually like ‘Waaah-waah, I wish I was in your position." 

That’s what you were thinking right? Me too. 

"I know it’s a lot of fun sometimes to bash the wealthy," Traeger-Muney said. "But it’s sort of a lose-lose proposition. Because people go underground. They don’t use their resources in positive ways and… one of the most important things they want to do is be part of something larger than themselves, make a positive difference in the world. And when they’re caught up with the shame in the guilt and the hiding, it doesn’t allow them to move as freely and to use those resources to benefit the world in the ways they’d like to."

Burke Stansbury was lucky. He found a group called Resource Generation, which mainly helps young, wealthy people leverage their money toward the social causes they care about. He met other inheritors who were interested in issues of economic justice and wealth disparity. As a side benefit, Burke was able to take part in group-discussions about issues that his non-wealthy friends and co-workers would never be able to relate to. These days he’s a lot more comfortable talking openly about his financial situation. 

"I call it my rich kids unpack their [expletive] group," said Rachel Schragis, another member of Resource Generation. "And I say to people ‘You are so glad that I have rich kids unpack their [expletive] group. ‘Cause otherwise I might wanna unpack it on you. And that’s not appropriate.'" 

Rachel’s a graduate student, studying art and also teaching it in New York Public Schools. She also does "cross-class activist work" and designed a poster that became a totem of the Occupy movement. Artists who come from money aren’t rare birds. What sets Rachel apart is that she weighs her complicated feelings about her class privilege in the work itself. 

"It’s okay to have a creative life that takes up a lot of my time,” she told me in her studio,  "But if I’m going to do that, I have an obligation to be transparent about the economic realities that make that possible." 

Still, Rachael said there are still times when it’s not easy to join a basic conversation – especially when people are commiserating, as people do, about not having enough money. 

"At different points in my life," she said, "I would play along… and be like ‘oh I’m broke.’ And realized oh, that’s a game. When I mean I’m broke, I mean there’s no more in my checking account and I just have to transfer some more. That’s not what other people mean! They mean broke! And so sometimes you just have to like… not talk. Right? Like not say anything." 

Does the U.S. government live paycheck to paycheck?

Thu, 2014-01-23 12:30

That new era in Washington, heralded by the budget deal we got last week, where compromise is on the table?  It's about to be put to the test: Treasury Secretary Jack Lew says lawmakers will need to raise the debt limit come late February, or the U.S. won't be able to pay its bills.

After we hit the debt limit on Feb. 7, the Treasury Department can keep us solvent for a little while longer using what’re called “extraordinary measures.”

“The ‘X-date’ is when the extraordinary measures run out,” says Steve Bell, with the Bipartisan Policy Center. He pays close attention to that X-date, and how much cash the government has on hand.

If the government is robbing Peter to pay Paul, it would seem the government is living paycheck to paycheck.  A better analogy? Maybe it is like the government is living payday loan to payday loan. (Of course, the government gets a much better interest rate than you’d get at a payday lender.)

Now, it is hard to say precisely when the government will come up short. On any given day, it doesn’t know for sure how much money is coming in and how much money is going out. But Bell says if history is any guide, “This is the worst possible time you could have this happen.”

It turns out February is a tough month budget-wise.

“Treasury is going to have a lot of payments going out relative to receipts coming in,” says Alex Gelber, who teaches public policy at the University of California at Berkeley. That is because a lot of Americans file their taxes in February – namely, Americans who know they are going to get refunds.

According to Rudy Penner, a fellow with the Urban Institute, on top of those payments, the government will cut a lot of other checks.

“They make a gargantuan number of payments,” he says.

There are interest payments, Social Security payments. In all, we’re talking about three to five million payments each and every day.

Rural Americans have fewer - and costlier - healthcare options

Thu, 2014-01-23 11:54

When you think of the healthcare marketplace, you think of options and choices. 

But since the rollout of the Affordable Care Act, one thing's been clear: Options are not a given. Alabama is among a dozen or so states where every county has just one--or maybe two-- insurers. Experts are noticing a pattern: Folks in rural towns seem to have the fewest choices, and the costliest plans.

In Blount County, Ala., most people work at either the school board or at a chicken processing plant. On a recent Saturday morning, a handful of locals gather at a church to learn about their health insurance options.

Chris Mosley, a supervisor with Birmingham Health Care, tells them that here, as far as insurance companies go, it's slim pickings.

"In Blount County, if an individual is going to participate, they're going to have to buy either a bronze, silver, gold or platinum plan specifically from Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Alabama," he tells the audience. "Because as I say, the other competitor is not competing in your county, OK?"

In Alabama, Blue Cross and Blue Shield pretty much owns the health insurance market. In 64 of Alabama's 67 counties, it's the only insurer through the federal healthcare exchange. People in the other three counties also have Humana as an option. But, Mosley says, "Most people don't know about Humana. It's not a company that people are very familiar with."

Cynthia Cox, a policy analyst with the Kaiser Family Foundation, says most insurers under the Affordable Care Act are offering multiple plans to choose from. The issue is, it's usually just one company offering all the plans.  

"Enrollees in these areas will be able to choose between different levels of coverage, but the bigger issue is the lack of competition," she says.

Mike Doonan, executive director of the Massachusetts Health Policy Forum, says that can have a profound effect on consumers.

"So the less competition there is in the marketplace, the less incentive there is for health insurance companies to keep their premiums low," Doonan says.

And Cox adds that where one insurer dominates, you see higher premiums.

"For example, a 40 year-old in an area with just one insurer might pay $20 a month more than if they were living in an area with multiple insurers," Cox says.
 
Access is tougher in areas with just one carrier. In rural New Hampshire, Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield is the only carrier through the exchange, and it just cut the number of hospitals in its network.

So why are rural areas being hit so hard? Well, because there are fewer people there.

But Mike Doonan, of the Massachusetts Health Policy Forum, says even in states where there's virtually no competition, there's one huge incentive to keep premiums affordable.

"They do want to attract people and get them enrolled," he says. "And if they do put their premium rates too high, then people are going to opt to pay the penalty."

Especially healthy people, he says.

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