Marketplace - American Public Media

Chinese New Year by the numbers

Wed, 2015-02-18 01:30
2.8 billion

That's how many trips the Chinese government estimates citizens will make for the holiday. Bloomberg points out that dwarfs Thanksgiving in the U.S., which AAA projected spurred just 46.3 million Americans to travel. More than six times that many will travel in China by train alone.

21.5 million

Speaking of the impressive number of Chinese citizens traveling for the holiday, larger metropolitan cities turn into ghost towns as people leave the city for the new year. For example, Beijing, which normally boasts a population of 21.5 million people, becomes largely empty. Over at Quartz, they've collected some of the haunting pictures taken by people who stayed in the city and are enjoying some peace and quiet.

942 stores

Fireworks are a big part of the Chinese New Year celebration, but they can also be hazardous to people's health. Chinese officials worried that this year's mild weather may mean that pollution from fireworks would stick around as opposed to being blown away. As reported by the IBT, the city of Beijing has allowed just 942 stores to sell fireworks this year, down at least 100 stores from last year.

260 million

The approximate number of migrant workers in China, according to the Washington Post. Those workers are flooding out of China's biggest cities to return home to their families, and search engine Baidu is charting many of their trips. "It's not just the world's biggest human migration," a company spokesman told the AP. "It's the biggest mammalian migration."

100 tons

That's how many live lobsters will be exported from Canada to China each week at peak this year. Spurred by concerns about domestic seafood, Chinese demand for the luxury shellfish is so high that Canadian exporters are having trouble keeping up, the New York Times reported.

20 percent

The increase in C-section births one doctor reported in the lead up to the new year, mostly by mothers wanting to give birth in the current year of the horse instead of the upcoming year of the goat. The International Business Times reports that uptick is reflected throughout China and elsewhere in Asia. C-sections were up 35 percent in Singapore, for example.

Chinese factories move to a new frontier: America

Tue, 2015-02-17 14:50

You’ve heard the story before: U.S. factories move to China, jobs are lost, whole towns shattered. But lately, things are shifting: Chinese ventures in the United States have spiked.

In 2014, Chinese companies invested more than $12 billion in projects in the U.S, including a handful of big investments in manufacturing. That’s up from about 0 in the mid-2000s.

This shift is obvious in Dayton, Ohio, where a Chinese auto-glass maker is taking over a former General Motors plant, a cavernous building that was left behind when GM closed up manufacturing operations at its Moraine plant in 2008.

Fuyao Glass America, a subsidiary of one of China’s biggest auto-glass makers, bought almost half of the old plant about one year ago, and announced it would be bringing manufacturing operations — along with 800 jobs — to the area. Recently, the number of jobs nearly doubled to more than 1,500.

The former GM Moraine plant was the subject of an HBO documentary, \"The Last Truck,\" about the workers who lost their jobs in 2008. 

Lewis Wallace/Marketplace

Rebecca Ruan-O’Shaughnessy, one of the first employees of Fuyao Glass America, says employees got the keys to the giant maze of a building in July.

“We didn’t know where to come in,” she says. “We just see this big building and had no idea how to get in.”

Just a few years ago, Dayton’s economy was in shards, and the Moraine plant stood as a sometimes painful symbol of the past. Now, a mix of Chinese and American workers are set up at tables and chairs that Fuyao repurposed from GM’s leftovers.

Ruan-O’Shaughnessy opens the door to a classroom filled with dozens of attentive workers in safety vests. It’s the first day for the first 40 production workers, who were hired through a temp agency. She says the company already has had 1,800 applications just for temp jobs here that could turn into permanent, full-time jobs with benefits after 90 days.

Sitting in a bare office, John Gauthier, the president of Fuyao Glass America, says the symbolism is clear: The recession is in the rear-view mirror for this company town.

John Gauthier, president of Fuyao Glass America, gestures towards a chart of leadership positions still to be filled at the company.

Lewis Wallace/Marketplace

“It means something to us here, to be able to come here and reoccupy this [and] bring this factory back to life,” Gauthier says. He moved from Mt. Zion, Illinois, where he was the manager of a glass plant that’s also been acquired by Fuyao and will remain open as a supplier to this plant.

But this Midwestern story also reflects a trend: Chinese companies are opening up shops from Texas to Indiana, with more on the way. Experts say that’s partly because wages are on the rise in China — but in the United States, real wages for manufacturing workers have been in steady decline, particularly in the case of auto-parts workers.

Thilo Hanemann is the research director at the Rhodium Group, a research firm in New York. He says China is also less dependent on cheap labor in general.

“The growth model in China is changing very rapidly and so companies are moving from low value-added goods, [such as] socks and underwear, towards more advanced goods and services,” he says.

So Chinese companies need more of the kinds of skilled labor available in the United States. Plus, they want to be close to their customers — in this case, U.S. automakers. Between that and changes in U.S. and Chinese policy, companies like Fuyao calculate they can actually cut costs in the long run by setting up here.

Mike Fullenkamp, a supervisor at Fuyao, takes me outside the plant on a golf cart. He says not long ago, this place looked bad — a parking lot with cracked cement, overgrown with weeds.

“The guards said they used to see a bunch of coyotes running across and all that,” he says. “We’ll probably still see that, but we’re trying to tame them down a little bit. Let 'em know it’s our home now instead of theirs.”

Fullenkamp says the company hopes to have nearly 20 lines up-and-running, shaping and finishing glass for almost all the major auto makers, by 2018. At five o’clock, the workers on their first day file out to their vehicles and drive off, looking ahead through glass that could, soon enough, be made in Dayton.

Is the NSA monitoring foreign hard drives?

Tue, 2015-02-17 14:48

A report released Monday by Russian software company Kaspersky Lab finds that more than 500 computers in 30 countries have been infected by a new form of malware.

Security researchers say it is the first time hackers have used a method of reverse engineering to hack into the computers' hard drives, or "firmware," code that operates beneath the surface of a device. Because of the hack's scope, sophistication, targeted nature and similarities to the Stuxnet attack on Iranian centrifuges, security researchers suspect it is the work of a state actor such as the National Security Agency.

The hack targeted hard drives made by more than a dozen companies, essentially the entire hard drive market.

Stephen Cobb, senior security researcher at ESET North America, says that hacking firmware can be particularly effective because it is so hard to eliminate.

It's also particularly challenging to do, says Jean Taggart, security researcher at Malwarebytes. "Doing this on just one brand of hard drive would be an almost Herculean task," he says. "You have to understand the hardware as well--if not more--than the original manufacturer."

Vincent Liu, a former NSA analyst and partner at security consultancy Bishop Fox, says the hard-drive makers will now have to pay not only to secure their systems, but to demonstrate that security to foreign customers.

Brussels finance talks have Greeks feeling cornered

Tue, 2015-02-17 13:53

Greece will soon run out of money, and while finance talks in Brussels are ongoing, there's still no answer yet as to whether Greece will remain a part of the Eurozone or if it will break away and go back to using the drachma currency. 

"It's what everybody is talking about at cafes at taverns. Whenever friends meet, it's the number one topic," says Giorgos Christides, a correspondent at Spiegel Online based in Thessaloniki, Greece.

According to Christides, the finance conflict is actually increasing pro-government sentiment.

"Everyone is cheering for the government, whether they belong to the left, the center or the political right," says Christides. "Most people feel they are being cornered by the 18 other members of the Eurozone."

Christides thinks many Greeks would see a Greek exit from the Eurozone — or a 'Grexit' as it's called — as a huge waste of time and money.

"I think the general consensus, both among the people and the government, is that, after five years of recession, huge unemployment rates and 240 billion euros being spent bailing out Greece... it would be suicide to say Grexit is the only way," Christides says.

The blueprint for Oscar winners

Tue, 2015-02-17 11:00

Months before any cameras roll, sets are built or lights are set up, Alex Hillkurtz is making the movie.

As a storyboard artist, Hillkurtz sits down with the director to create a detailed blueprint that's used throughout production, drawing the major beats of the entire movie.

"Storyboards are kind of a comic book version of the film," Hillkurtz says. "I'll do little thumbnail sketches, I'll flesh them out a little bit and basically I'll come up with a stack of drawings that represent all the camera angles for any given scene."

And the storyboards dictate more than just where the camera should sit. Hillkurtz is one of the first people to apply the specific, movie-making craft to the script and the director's vision, so his work can have ripple effects on every aspect of the production.

He's done this for dozens of movies, including "Argo," "Vanilla Sky," "Anchorman," "Captain America: The Winter Soldier," "Almost Famous" and most recently "Unbroken," which is nominated for three Academy Awards. There's no award for storyboarding, but that's why Hillkurtz is the first in our series of unsung heroes of the Oscars.


Landlords have the upper hand in many rental markets

Tue, 2015-02-17 10:11

The vacancy rate for apartment rentals is at an historic low nationally, while demand is high. That puts landlords in a strong position.

Renters ... not so much.

“We're just sitting ducks in the rental market,” says Charlie Blasky, a 28 year-old renter in Minneapolis.

Blasky says his landlord gave notice in January that his rent would go up this spring if he and his wife renewed their lease on their one-bedroom apartment. Blasky says the cheapest option, a 12-month lease, would push the rent from $795 a month to $875, a 10 percent increase. That didn’t appeal to Blasky, who found the landlord to be inattentive to complaints about problems like noisy neighbors.

“Sure I could try to haggle,” says Blasky. “But when everyone's trying to rent, what's to stop the landlord from saying, 'Yeah right. I've got someone who will pay that and won’t argue about it.'"

“Clearly, the pendulum has swung in the favor of landlords,” says Ryan Severino, senior economist with the real estate research firm Reis.

Severino says there's a squeeze on apartments in many metro areas around the country, in big coastal cities and as well as metros like Minneapolis, Detroit, Knoxville and Omaha, to name but a few. Low vacancy rates in those cities are pulling the national average down to about 4 percent, by Severino's measure, a level last seen — and only briefly — during the dot-com boom-and-bust days.

Severino says the reasons for the dynamic are clear: More people are renting these days. Despite low interest rates, mortgages are harder to get post-housing crisis. Meanwhile, the supply of rentals is low. That’s partly because apartment construction stalled during the economic downturn.

“It's like economics 101. You have growing demand, and you have more or less static supply,” he says.

Severino says that makes it a great environment for landlords to raise rents.

“Landlords are rational, self-interested actors like anyone else,” he says.

Jeff Arnold understands that. He manages a building in St. Paul, Minnesota. with 57 studio apartments. Like landlords in many cities, Arnold has been raising rents, and he's become a lot choosier about his tenants.

“Ten years ago, back when we were offering a free month’s rent as an incentive, I'd sometimes be a little more willing to overlook if they had a small collection item or something like that,” Arnold says. “Now I'll look at that and say, 'You know, I think I can probably find someone better.'”

His father, Bob Arnold, the owner of the building, says tenants with bad credit should work hard not to “mess up” once they land a place.

“Because then you can establish a track record. When you come up against a choosy manager, you made some mistakes but now you're better,” he says.

Bob and Jeff Arnold both say when vacancy rates were higher, tenants could get away more easily with making late rent payments so long as they came up with some money. Today, Jeff Arnold says he wants to be compassionate if someone loses a job and pays rent late — but only up to a point.

“I might work with them for a month,” he says. “But if they can't clean up their act and get me something within that time, in this kind of market, hey I’m going to find someone new.”

A Minnesota tenants' rights group, HOME Line, tries to help renters understand that reality. Mike Vraa, the managing attorney, gives renters legal advice if landlords boot them out unjustly. Vraa also helps renters understand when they don't have grounds to object.

“After two, three, four years they think the place is theirs forever as long as they don't mess up. But it's just not the case. It's a temporary, renewable, or nonrenewable agreement,” he says. “We give people bad news about that all the time. It's not just renewable just at your whim. The landlord is involved, too.”

That’s one reason Charlie Blasky wants to stop renting and eventually own. But first he has to save some money, which is hard to do as a renter. He’s leaving the apartment where rent’s going up. But his new apartment isn’t any cheaper. He just thinks it’s a better value.  

“Rent is going up everywhere. It’s harder to put that money way for a down payment on a house,” he says.

One bit of hope for renters, apartment construction is picking up nationally. That should increase supply and thereby loosen up rental markets.

You too can have a Nobel Prize

Tue, 2015-02-17 09:56

We're well past Nobel Prize season, but there's Nobel news to pass along.

If you've got a spare $150,000 lying around, you too can have a Nobel of your very own. Well, you can have the prize that Simon Kuznets won in 1971 for  his "empirically founded interpretation of economic growth which has led to new and deepened insight into the economic and social structure and process of development."

Or in laymans terms, growth and inequality, which is the economic thing that's going on right now ... 45 years later.

Kuznets's son consigned the medal to an auction house out here in California; you've got eight days left to find that $150,000.

Texas ruling makes immigrants' future uncertain

Tue, 2015-02-17 09:47

A federal judge in Texas temporarily blocked President Obama’s executive order on immigration on Tuesday. The order would have granted a temporary reprieve from deportation to around 4 million people currently in the U.S. illegally.

Going from illegal to legal status gives undocumented workers an average 8 percent increase in wages, and would add some $210 billion to the nation's GDP over 10 years, according to the White House Council of Economic Advisers (pdf). Pro-immigration advocates say the more people who sign up for the program, the greater the economic boost will be. Opponents say the supposed economic benefits are overstated.

The judge’s ruling might yet be overturned, but critics of the ruling say it may already have altered the economics of immigration reform. They fear that some people who might qualify for the reform will now be reluctant to come forward and sign up.  

West Coast ports resume loading and unloading

Tue, 2015-02-17 09:42

After a weekend shutdown, ports on the West Coast were back in business on Tuesday.

The White House dispatched U.S. Labor Secretary Tom Perez to San Francisco to try to broker a deal between  dockworkers and shipping companies. They've been locked in a contract dispute that for months has slowed the flow of cargo and caused ripples throughout the global economy.

But, even when a deal is reached, port officials say it could take weeks to clear the backlog.

Quiz: Breaking breakfast records

Tue, 2015-02-17 05:06

The federal School Breakfast Program fed more low-income student students than ever before in the 2013 school year, but it's still small in comparison to the national lunch program, according to the Food Research and Action Center.

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PODCAST: An impasse in Greece

Tue, 2015-02-17 03:00

A fog of uncertainty creeps across financial markets as negotiations over Greece's debt hit an impasse. More on that. Plus, Vice President Joe Biden is expected to visit Baltimore this afternoon to talk about the troubling backlog of rape kits around the country that have never been analyzed. Hundreds of thousands of these kits containing potential DNA evidence from sexual assaults. The White House has proposed new funding to help clear that backlog. And there's talk (not confirmed) that Etsy might try to sell stock to the public sometime this winter. We look at new competitors that are jumping in.

To get to Hollywood, make a left at YouTube

Tue, 2015-02-17 02:00

For the second edition of From the Hills to the Valley - our series comparing Hollywood and Silicon Valley - we spoke to someone who belongs to both worlds. Issa Rae created and stars in Awkward Black Girl, an award-winning web series on YouTube, and she’s also working on a pilot for an HBO show. Last week, she released a memoir of sorts: The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl.

Rae believes it was her success on YouTube that brought her the opportunity with HBO.  

“HBO would never have heard of me or even seen any of my stuff had it not been for YouTube,” she says.

Why YouTube? Rae had pitched a few shows to networks, but she soon realized that they had a different perception of what the audience wanted to see on TV. She found that her ideas, especially those that involved “content of color,” were often met with reluctance or a lack of enthusiasm.

“I wanted to create a show about black people in college, and they were saying that’s too segmented,” she says. “When I wanted to make 'Awkward Black Girl,' I knew if they didn’t want to see a show about something as mainstream as black people in college, they would never go for 'Awkward Black Girl.' They would never believe they exist even.”

Rae thinks Silicon Valley companies, such as Netflix or Amazon, are good for creativity because they produce show they respect and believe audiences will like. And this, she says, will lead to more diverse programming, because online content is so closely tied to social media, which itself is very diverse.

But the biggest challenge to creating online content, Rae says, is the pressure to produce consistently.  

“Had I been consistently releasing content on a weekly basis, I would have had a much bigger following,’ she says. “People will forget about you if you're not on their radar constantly. Audiences are just really fickle. There’s no formula online outside of being consistent.”


Vice President aims to address untested rape kits

Tue, 2015-02-17 02:00

Vice President Joe Biden is expected to visit Baltimore Tuesday afternoon to talk about the troubling backlog of untested rape kits around the country. Hundreds of thousands of these kits, containing potential DNA evidence from sexual assaults, have been languishing in police storage units and crime labs. The White House has proposed $41 million in new funding to help clear that backlog.

“I think it would send an extremely powerful message to the law enforcement agencies that have allowed the kits to collect dust that this will no longer be accepted,” says Linda Fairstein, a former sex crimes prosecutor in Manhattan and part of the End the Backlog campaign.

Almost six years ago, more than 11,000 kits were found in a police storage facility in Detroit. Testing so far has led to 15 convictions. The Michigan Women’s Foundation has turned to private donors to help clear the remaining backlog.



Research shows hiring bias based on self-identification

Tue, 2015-02-17 02:00

It's no secret that African-Americans may face bias — either conscious or unconscious — when it comes to being hired and promoted.

But some worrying new research shows that bias may be exacerbated for job candidates who self-identify as 'black' rather than 'African-American.'

Click the media player above to hear more.

Want to get crafty? Help is only a click away

Tue, 2015-02-17 02:00

The Internet has made crafting a lucrative business — and it’s not just for selling goods. Lately, a growing number of crafters are willing to pay to learn new skills.

For help, they’re turning to companies like CreativeBug or the Denver-based company Craftsy.

Compared to many free YouTube videos shot with one camera, Craftsy tutorials look pretty slick with graphics and multiple camera angles. In one popular class called "Quilting Big Projects on a Small Machine," students pay about $35 for eight lessons.

Craftsy Founder and CEO John Levisay says this course has been a blockbuster.

“It’s a skill that scares people because they spend a lot of time making this beautiful quilt, and then when they go to sew it together, people are afraid they’re going to wreck it,” Levisay says.

Craftsy seeks out the best instructors across 16 categories like cooking and woodworking. Overall, classes range in price from $15 to $60. What makes the courses, Levisay says, are the social features Craftsy has built into its courses.

“While we wanted to capture the anytime anywhere nature of online learning, we also wanted people to be able to ask their instructor a question, ask fellow students questions, and to interact with others,” he says.

It’s paying off. In 2014, the company nearly doubled its revenue, bringing in $43 million. In November, the company raised more than $50 million in venture capital. IBISWorld Industry Analyst Zeeshan Haider says the appeal for investors is the company’s large potential customer base.

“For example, there are more than 21 million plus quilters that spend anywhere around $4 billion annually on quilting,” says Haider. “So there’s still a tremendous market for the company to tap.”

Right now, Craftsy has just 6 million registered users, and there’s room for growth. Many millennials are interested in Do-It-Yourself fashion — which Craftsy has also tapped into. On the company’s website you can learn how to make your own jeans, skirts, and shirts — even your very own undergarments. 

It's not a happy new year for employees of Alibaba

Tue, 2015-02-17 01:30
$300 a day

That's how much one West Coast customs broker says her customers are being charged for containers stuck at ports along the California coast, as reported by the WSJ. As the ongoing contract dispute between port workers and employers continues, businesses both large and small are beginning to feel the pinch.

10 countries

That's how many countries in which Sony will sell its augmented reality smart glasses. As reported by the BBC, sales for the glasses will begin next month, with a single pair costing $840. However, some industry insiders are not optimistic—Google faced difficulty in normalizing the technology, and Sony's design is even larger and more obtrusive.

$4 billion

That's how much the quilting industry pulls in annually. And lately, a growing number of crafters are willing to pay to learn new skills. Online craft tutorial site Craftsy, for example, brought in $43 million in 2014. The company is hoping to capitalize on millennial interest in the Do-It-Yourself industry.

$25 billion

That's how much Alibaba pulled in its IPO in September. Yet its revenue results in the third quarter fell below estimates. As reported by Quartz, disappointing earnings are why CEO Jack Ma says he will not be giving out the customary red envelopes for Chinese New Year to employees.

10 days

That's how many days are left before Athens' credit line expires—Talks between Greece and the euro zone broke down Monday night. As reported by Reuters, failure to reach a deal could result in Greece becoming the first country to leave the euro zone. 

Why you have the emoji choices you do

Mon, 2015-02-16 14:11

Emoji users sent a lot of ❤s over the Valentine's Day weekend. Maybe a kissy face or cat heart eyes face too.

But, what about when the message you want to send is a little less kissy, and more obscure? Have you ever wondered why you have the emoji choices you do?

Journalist Hannah Rosefield from Vice's Motherboard wrote about the politics of emoji diversity  and where the future of the miniature illustrations is headed:

When Lego designed its stocky, squared-off human figures in the 1970s, it chose for the skin colour a bright, primary yellow. The yellow was recognisably human, yet artificial enough not to be identified with any particular race. You can see the same principle at work in the first 58 emoji on the Apple emoji keyboard: eight rows of yellow circles, raceless and genderless, each with a different expression.

After that, there’s a boy in a Chinese cap and a man in a turban. From then on, every human emoji is white. White couples hold hands, kiss, and nestle a white child between them; white girls in pink tops cut their hair and paint their nails. White hands clap and wave.

Not for much longer. Earlier this month the Unicode Consortium, the company that enables emoji to appear across different devices, released a draft report that includes a proposal for diversifying their emoji provision. While most emoji fans have been celebrating the news, others have reservations. Bernie Hogan, a research fellow at the Oxford Internet Institute, recognises that current provisions are inadequate but fears that diversification will lead to a new set of problems. “When emoji become personally representative, they become politicised,” he told me.


A visit to LA-based shoe company Zuzii

Mon, 2015-02-16 13:50

Zuzii is a family-owned footwear manufacturing business that operates in Downtown Los Angeles. Ryan Campbell started the company six years ago with her sister Alex and mother Nikki. 

The three Campbells work 16-hour days and make up to fifty pairs of shoes per day in their 4,000 square-foot studio. Zuzii makes shoes for women and children by hand, and they plan on launching a men’s collection this Summer.

Marketplace visits Zuzii Shoes from Marketplace on Vimeo.

The Campbells have created a three-station system: Ryan cuts Italian leather into the five pieces that create a shoe, Alex adds the shoe eyelets and size numbers, and Nikki sews and glues the shoes together. 

All of the shoes are handmade to order, yet Zuzii keeps their prices relatively low.

“We feel like it’s a very fair price point for goods that are made in the U.S. We structured our manufacturing in a way that we could offer that,” says Ryan Campbell. “We don’t use sales reps and traditional advertising – that’s something we decided to abandon. We rely on Instagram and Facebook and our customers and their experience with the product and word of mouth to get the brand out there.”

The ladies are proud of their business and are glad they are able to manufacture their goods in the U.S. – while being debt free.

“We’ve grown slowly but it’s allowed us to make really stable decisions,” Ryan says. “As a U.S. manufacturer, there were a lot of uncertainties. Would it work? Would it be accepted? Would it continue to grow? So we didn’t want to bury ourselves in debt and have it not work out.”

Egypt finds alternative to U.S.- made warplanes

Mon, 2015-02-16 13:45

In 2013, angered at the Egyptian government's slow transition to democracy, the U.S. suspended some military aid to Egypt. By purchasing French-made jets, Cairo may be sending Washington a message: We have other suppliers.

"Military aid," though, is a tricky term. In this case, it means that Washington gives Egypt a grant of more than $1 billion a year to buy American-made tanks, jets, and armored personnel carriers. If aid is suspended, American military industries take the hit. Thus, the economic implications of a U.S.-Egypt fallout may be as worrying to some as the geopolitical implications. 

Amy Hawthorne, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council's Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East, thinks Egypt's purchase is mostly about French economics. The defense sector is an important part of France's struggling economy. Egypt's $5.9 billion purchase could offer France an important boost. Hawthorne says the terms of the deal suggest that if Egypt should default on the loan for the weapons, the French government will cover the cost. 

Hackers steal up to $1 billion from banks

Mon, 2015-02-16 13:45

As first reported by the New York Times, an international group of hackers has allegedly stolen as much as $1 billion from banks around the world, one of the largest bank heists ever.

The hackers used elaborate phishing schemes to impersonate bank employees, delivering malware through attachments which then lay dormant for months gathering key information. Thus far no banks have acknowledged the theft.

At the White House Summit on Cybersecurity last week, President Obama called for a new law requiring public disclosure  in cases of compromised personal or financial data.

Correction: A previous version of this story misstated how much hackers were able to take from the banks. It's unclear exactly how much the thieves made off with, but the cybersecurity company reporting the breach said they could have taken up to $1 billion.