One of Europe’s top officials has issued a stern rebuke to U.S. companies like Google and Facebook that operate in Europe. The European Union’s Commissioner for Justice, Viviane Reding, says these companies must accept a planned new European law on data protection and stop trying to water it down.
If the tough new law on data security and privacy comes in to force it will have global repercussions for any company that operates in Europe. They will have to apply these new European rules everywhere else in the world that they do business. Chris Green of the Davis Murphy consulting firm says big U.S. corporations like Google and Facebook have been lobbying hard against the measure:
“It’s going to be more expensive for them, more red tape for them, it's more oversight for them," Green points out. “There’s going to be far too many people -- in their opinion -- taking a very, very close look at how they do business.”
Any company that breaks the new law would risk a fine of up to 2 percent of their total annual revenues. U.S. government sources have warned that if American corporations are forced to implement the new law globally, it could trigger an US/EU trade war.
The secret service is investigating a hacker who may have gained illegal access to emails between members of the George W. and H.W. Bush family, reportedly getting access to photos, phone numbers and private addresses.
So how do you avoid that sort of thing -- whether or not you're a former president. Marketplace Tech contributor Chester Wisniewski of the computer security firm Sophos says do yourself a favor: Get rid of that password you chose during the Pleistocene Era.
"Change those passwords. I talked to a couple friends about this recently, they were using the same password as when they created their hotmail account in 1998."
Aside from switching up passwords, Wisniewski recommends falsely answering security questions or filling in an unrelated term. For example, when asked the name of your first pet, answer "green." Lest you forget your false answers, Wisniewski suggests keeping a cheat sheet somewhere in your house as a back up.
Texas Governor Rick Perry (R) is in California this week trying to poach business away from the Golden State. Texas boosters have been running a radio ad where Perry says, “Building a business is tough. But I hear building a business in California is next to impossible.”
So what is the business climate really like in California? It depends on the business. High-tech start-up companies in the Bay Area are booming, according to Stephen Levy, director of the Center for Continuing Study of the California Economy.
“California still gets over 50 percent of the venture capital funding and Texas gets 5 percent,” says Levy.
California has a huge consumer base and the state has infrastructure and skilled labor for the tech and entertainment industries. But Levy suggests manufacturers might want to consider Texas.
“The companies that move are moving because they need a low-cost labor force, or lower cost land and housing,” he says. Others see additional incentives offered by Texas.
Joseph Vranich owns Spectrum Locations Solutions, based in Irvine, California. He helps companies relocate.
“My business is booming. It’s good for me. But it’s bad for California,” says Vranich. “Texas is the number one destination for relocating California companies. Followed by Arizona, Nevada, Utah and Florida.”
Vranich says Texas stands out because “their taxes are lower -- and in the case of income tax, it’s none existent.” He also blames California regulations and labor laws.
For example, Vranich says, “It’s a statutory requirement that over-time be paid if someone wants to work 40 hours in a four-day work week. Well, a lot of employees these days want four day work-weeks. You can go to other states and have four-day work weeks and pay regular rates.”
A recent survey by the California Business Roundtable found that 69 percent of company executives believe it’s harder to do business in California than other states. But if historical trends continue, don’t expect a mass exodus. According to a 2010 study by the Public Policy Institute of California, company relocations accounted for a smaller share of job losses in California than in most other states. The study found that, between 1992 and 2006, only 1.7 percent of all job losses in California were due to companies leaving the state.
President Obama will lay out his second-term agenda Tuesday night in the annual State of the Union address. On the wish list of one group with ties to the Administration: expanding access to preschool. The Center for American Progress is pushing a plan to increase federal funding so that all 3- and 4-year-olds can attend pre-kindergarten.
Many studies have shown that kids who go to preschool end up better off.
“They are much less likely to end up in jail, they’re much more likely to have higher earnings over the course of their lifetime, better health outcomes,” says Michael Linden, the center’s director of tax and budget policy. “There’s all sorts of good economic and broader societal effects that come from investing in quality pre-k.”
Under the plan the government would match state funding, on average, up to $10,000 per child per year. The plan would add almost $100 billion to the budget over ten years -- a tough sell in Washington.
The government doesn’t have a great track record with preschool, says Neal McCluskey, associate director of the Cato Institute’s Center for Educational Freedom. Recent studies have shown that the federal Head Start program for low-income kids doesn’t always produce lasting benefits.
“Federal, large-scale pre-k programs are not providing the kinds of outcomes that we’re being told we should expect if it gets further involved,” he says.
The Center for American Progress proposal also recommends increasing child care subsidies for infants and toddlers, citing research that shows parents with reliable child care are more likely to hold down jobs and earn more money.
You know those “black boxes” in airplanes? They collect data and are used to determine why a plane crashed?
Well, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration -- a regulatory body in D.C. -- plans to to require that all new cars and light trucks are equipped with them starting in September 2014.
While everybody calls it a “black box", it’s official name is event data recorder or EDR for short. And about 90 percent of cars today already have one, says Jim Harris, a traffic accident expert. He says the proposed regulation has specific requirements.
The EDR is running all the time, but it’s only required to keep the “5 seconds” of data before a crash. It also tracks, “how fast its going, steering wheel angle, accelerator pedal position, throttle position brake application, things of this nature as far as driver input,” saysHarris. He adds EDR's don’t track location because its only interested in determining what happened in a crash.
But that’s doesn’t mean the proposed rules stop them from tracking more, says Nate Cardozo, a lawyer with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a civil liberties group.
EDR's are valuable but the proposed regulations don’t protect consumer privacy because there are no limits to the data carmakers can collect, he said.
“It’s not required that they track location, it’s not required that they record video or audio, but it’s also not prohibited,” Cardozo says. “There’s nothing that prevent an EDR from recording five minutes or five months of data before a crash.”
According to Cardozo, information could be used against drivers. Could the police access it without a warrant? And what about insurance companies?
“So the scenarios we see are insurance companies using this data to assess risk and set rates based on what they think the EDR shows about your driving habits,” he says.
Some insurance policies already require access to EDR data -- although several states have made it illegal.
Russ Rader at the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety says carmakers rely on the data to develop new safety features. If there are too many restrictions, it may limit innovation.
“We need flexibility in rules that can accommodate safety technologies in the future that perhaps we can’t imagine,” Rader says.
Cardozo, the civil liberties lawyer, says that if automakers need that data, the law should require them to disclose it to consumers.
"Bread, freedom, social justice" -- that's the slogan Egypt protestors used during their successful uprising in 2011. Today, protestors in Egypt have been urged to use the same slogan in protests marking the second anniversary of Hosni Mubarak's fall from power.
But whatever the political situation in Egypt, one thing's for sure, the economy is in a much worse state today than it was in the immediate aftermath of the revolution two years ago. It is growing at a slower rate, unemployment has risen, and the value of Egyptian pound has plunged against the dollar -- driving up the cost of food.
To hear how Egypt aims to stabilize its economy, click on the audio player above.
This final note today, a few facts about the Pope. Pope Benedict XVI is going to leave behind a few perks he had on the job. For one, his new Popemobile: A Mercedes-Benz Modified M Class crossover in papel white. The basic model goes for anywhere from about $50,000 to over $100,000. But the Popemobile itself is believed to have been donated to the Vatican.
Pope Benedict doesn't know how to drive. Never got a driver's license. But he does apparently have a helicopter pilot's license and even likes to fly the papal helicopter. Who knew they had one of those?
Dylan Watkins, who owns a food truck in Southern California called Burger Monster, was casting about for new business ideas. He came up with something called Teabag Buddies, small figurines that perch on the edge of your mug to hold your teabag.
But instead of hiring someone to make prototypes, he did it himself. Watkins walked into an office called Build Shop in Los Angeles, produced several figurines on a three-dimensional printer and started trying to drum up business.
“You can make a unique design, print out a couple dozen on one sheet, and have it ready in one hour,” said Watkins. Each figurine cost $12 to make.
Build Shop offers technology that many expect will bring the next industrial revolution. The one-man company aims to help transform a niche technology into an easily accessible service. Build Shop makes 3D printing available to anyone, from architecture students who need to craft a model to parents who want to give their kids a one-of-a-kind toy.
“It’s almost like a local print shop, but for objects rather than paper prints,” says Bryan Jaycox, Build Shop’s 29-year-old founder.
3D printing is manufacturing for the digital age. First, a model of an object is designed on a computer. The printer then works like an ink-jet device, except the “ink” that jets out is typically plastic filament. The printer head moves left and right, up and down to build the object layer by layer. The product hardens as the plastic dries.
3D printers are already being used to make, among other things, acoustic guitars, gun parts and shoes. Bikinis are spun from 3D printers using a strong, flexible material called Nylon 12.
The technology has been used in industrial production for over two decades. High-end commercial 3D printers cost as much as $100,000. But like all digital technology, 3D printers have become more affordable. There are now desktop 3D printers for as little as $500.
The market for 3D printers is currently $2.1 billion a year, but sales are expected to more than triple in the next seven years, according to consulting firm Wohlers Associates. And that could herald profound changes for both big industry and small business.
3D printers can make customized versions of everything from car parts to iPhone covers, and for some products, the technology may be efficient enough so that manufacturers won’t need economies of scale to turn a profit. The Economist calls the technology the “factory of the future” and predicts that it might even reverse the off-shoring of factory jobs to Asia. Others predict the technology will spur a booming retail market with ubiquities stores for 3D printing, much like Kinko’s did for plain old paper print jobs.
But in the near term, the technology still remains out of reach for many people. That’s where Build Shop and other early adopters fit in.
“There is going to be a lot of hand-holding before people get used to this technology,” said Christopher Barnatt, associate professor of computing and future studies at Nottingham University in England. “It’s where personal computers were in the 1980s when they existed but they were largely owned by enthusiasts and didn’t work quite right.”
But Barnett doesn’t see 3D printers taking off as popular home accessories. “3D printing will grow a lot more from people having access to technology they can go and use when they need to rather than buying themselves,” he said.
Build Shop’s Jaycox, who started his career as a game designer, saw the promise of 3D technology long before most people even knew what it was. He began tinkering with 3D printing as a student. During his last year of graduate school in 2010, he built an open-source desktop 3D printer that’s now sitting at his shop. In 2011, he decided to open a business where even a novice could print out a unique object.
“We’re still at that critical point where we’re on the fence of whether we’re going to do well or whether we’re going to do badly,” Jaycox said.
Build Shop, located between Hollywood and downtown Los Angeles, is the kind of place where art and technology merge. A life-size white skull made with a 3D printer sits on a glass stand near a flashing LED cube. Blown-up photographs of flowers hang from the ceiling. At the back of the store sits a large commercial printer and a laser cutter. Jaycox charges as little as $20 an hour to use the printers and the laser cutter. He also offers basic training for novices.
“The process of making 3D models is a little bit more of a niche skill,” he said. “The 3D printer is still a difficult technology for a lot of people.”
One of his first customers came in to make Angry Birds tokens for his son’s birthday party. As more people heard about Build Shop, small-business owners traipsed in as well.
Ryan Hughes, the chief technical officer of Medical Visors in Woodland Hills, Calif., recently printed out plastic parts for goggles that patients can wear to watch movies during MRI, CT and X-Ray scans.
“It’s a way to do these testing iterations without having to spend a great deal of time or money on it,” Hughes said. The dozen printed parts cost him $150 and he got them within 24 hours. The same parts would have cost him as much as $1,000 and taken two weeks using traditional manufacturing. The parts helped him test the proper position for the lenses and speed up the production of the first 10 goggles.
Other firms are springing up to help laymen who don’t want to go through the process of creating their own 3D model.
“I wouldn’t be surprised at all if 10 percent of all products we buy in five to 10 years will be made using 3D printing,” said Peter Weijmarshausen, chief executive of Shapeways. His company can print out 3D objects in over 30 materials, including metals and ceramics, and ship them to customers.
MatterHackers, in Lake Forest, south of Los Angeles, originally specialized in custom software solutions for small businesses. It recently refocuses its business on 3D printing mainly for small businesses and individuals.
“It’s the next revolution after digital distribution,” said Kevin Pope, MatterHackers’ chief operating officer. He sees a future where people will no longer have to go to the store or order something online. A 3D printer will spit out whatever they want.
“We’re still probably a couple of years away from being to the point where grandma can use the 3D printer to print whatever she wants,” said Pope. “But we’re getting there.”
The countdown has begun to Valentine's Day. But for those of you who are still seeking someone to celebrate with, you're not alone. Right now millions people are also looking for love in a very specific place -- online dating sites. And they're willing to spend serious money to find romance. The average online dater dishes out about $240 a year for access to sites like eHarmony and Match.com. But are they getting their money's worth? Dan Slater, author of "Love in the Time of Algorithms: What Technology Does to Meeting and Mating" and Kate Bergstrom, creator of the podcast and blog, Dates With Kate, provide their insights into the online dating world.
Sites like Match.com and eHarmony charge a subscription fee while others like OkCupid are free, so why pay for something you can get for free?
"There's something called the 'velvet rope theory.' If you go to a really fancy restaurant or club, the idea is that it's more exclusive and the people that you get access to are of higher caliber. So the Match.com's will say look, yes you pay $20 a month, maybe $40 a month, to belong to the site, but we have better daters. We have folks who are more serious about it."
Bergstrom has mostly used Match.com for her online dating and says that if you have to put a little bit of effort into getting onto the site, like giving your credit card information, daters are likely to take finding a mate more seriously. One site that Bergstrom isn't likely to log onto anytime soon, though, is eHarmony.
"I started to fill out their personality profile and it was -- I give them props -- incredibly extensive. I don't know that I was willing to work that hard. I'm willing to work obviously a little bit, but it's a lot of work," says Bergstrom.
"I met a lot of people who are on eHarmony and the thing I heard over and over again was that if you are the kind of person who's patient enough to fill out 450 questions, there's a chance that you may be compatible with another person who's also patient enough to fill out that many questions," adds Slater.
But one of the issues people have with online dating is that people could be lying about things like their salary or occupation. How big of a factor is lying in online dating?
"The studies that have been done show that the actual amount of lying in online dating is not as big as you think. So men will tend to exaggerate their height by a couple of inches. The women will tend to shave 5-10lbs off their weight. As far as, is money important, is your job important? It's really a person-to-person thing. There are so many people who are doing online dating right now that you'll find as big a mix within the online dating sphere as you will the offline dating sphere," says Slater.
Bergstrom says salary isn't an important factor when she uses online dating sites, though she wants to find someone who is generally within her economic bracket. But she has found in her dating experiences that she has encountered people who have stretched the truth about their salary.
"I don't think that people are generally outright lying, but I think that they are exaggerating the truth and I think that everybody knows that everybody's doing that in a way so [you expect it]," says Bergstrom.
Over the years she has spent online dating, Bergstrom says she has spent over $1,000. "Oh boy, if only I had invested that money, look where I'd be," she says. Still, she's found the experience -- and the spending -- well worth it.
"If nothing else, online dating gives you a kind of confidence. It used to scare me to death to walk into a bar or restaurant and meet a guy and try and strike up a conversation and now, it ain't nothing but a thing. I can do that without being nervous at all," says Bergstrom.
Six online dating tips by Kate Bergstrom
Be Ready -- You should be divorced or over your last relationship and be an emotionally ready dating candidate and not still trying to get over a break-up.
Be Real -- You should look like your pictures and your date should be able to recognize you. They should not be 10 years ago, 50 pounds ago or three hairstyles ago.
Be Relaxed and Receptive -- Avoid "Vending Machine Dating," which means going through dates like they are snacks that you know you can get a whole lot more of. Don't, however, be so desperate to be married or have a kid that your date feels some kind of ridiculous pressure. Just be relaxed and let it happen.
Be (a little) Removed -- The Internet is still the Internet and not everyone you encounter on there is going to be safe and sane. I have been put in a headlock and had hateful emails that had me fearing I had a stalker, so be careful.
Rally Time -- Have a planned, shared exit plan that, if you want to use it, makes it easy for you to get out of the date if you want to. Don't go somewhere so crowded that you can't find your date, be able to hear them or find somewhere to sit. And keep it simple. Plan on meeting for a cocktail and then, if you like your date, you can get dinner, another drink or move to another venue.
Remember to Have Fun -- After all, you aren't trying to create world peace, but just meeting someone who could be really cool and getting to know them. There doesn't need to be any more pressure than that.
As for whether you should sign up for an account on a dating website just ahead of Valentine's Day, both Slater and Bergstrom caution against it.
"The problem with Valentine's Day is it puts so much pressure on people to have a special experience," says Slater.
"I could see why people would want to join around Valentine's Day, but I think you're going to get a lot of amateurs maybe or people that are maybe going to be around for a little bit and then realize they are no longer interested any longer," adds Bergstrom.
The Chicago Auto show is on, but one of the hot new trends isn't so new. Diesel engines are in the spotlight. Chevrolet, Mazda and Mercedes are introducing new diesel car models this year, hoping to match the success Volkwagen has had. One out of every five cars VW sold in the U.S. last year was a diesel.
"It’s a huge boom for diesels right now," says Lou Ann Hammond, CEO of Drivingthenation.com. "I’m at the Chicago Auto Show and they just brought out the Chevy Cruze diesel. Chevy has not had a diesel sedan in probably 30 years."
Why are they back? Christopher Knittel, professor of energy economics at MIT's Sloan School of Management, says diesel engines get 20 percent to 40 percent more miles per gallon than gasoline cars. And that appeals to carmakers, who are under pressure to raise fuel efficiciency to meet new requirements, as well as consumers.
"From the consumer’s perspective, the big draw of diesel is more fuel efficiency and, in times of high gas prices, that becomes more and more important," Knittel says.
To be sure, diesel fuel is often more expensive than regular gas, and diesel cars cost a little extra. But Knittel says the fuel savings usually offset that.
For now, diesel car sales make up a tiny fraciton of the U.S. market and they have some very real obstacles to overcome, says auto analyst Stephen Schork, publisher of the energy newsletter The Schork Report. "We can all remember back to the 1970s and those old diesel Mercedes chugging down I-95 like a Panzer tank. They were loud, they were dirty and they were unsightly. So diesel fuel has a bad market memory."
New diesel technology has cut those emissions, and MIT’s Knittel says that once you take fuel efficiency into account, diesel cars are slightly cleaner than regular models.
A cloud of pollution three times the size of California blanketed China last month that was so dangerous residents were warned to stay indoors and avoid outdoor activities. Many locals reported visibility so poor that buildings down the street were obscured. Images of Beijing covered with murky brown air were a startling reminder of how rising pollution from factories and automobiles can spoil the air in that industrializing nation.
In cleaner cities around the globe, those images of Beijing -- like the one at left -- served as an effective tool for understanding what it's like to live and breathe Beijing-quality air. Marketplace's China correspondent Rob Schmitz has been covering China's bad air for years (today on Marketplace he reports on the economic boom of bad air) and notes that on bad days the visibility is, at most, 50 feet to 100 feet in front of you.
The U.S. Embassy in Beijing, which tracks the tiny toxic particles that cause the sky to turn dark, known as PM2.5 particles, reported levels last month that were off the charts -- topping out at 755 on the air quality index (AQI), a system of measurement that officially maxes out at 500.
Simulating smog We wondered what other cities around the globe might look like under these pollution conditions, so we built a simple simulator to illustrate. Using side-by-side photos of Beijing to calibrate our not-so-scientific "obscurity filter," we applied the tool to photos of some major cities around the globe. Play around with the sliders below to see what these cities might look like with a Beijing-level air quality index.
Visibility an indicator The science backs this up, according to Sam Atwood, a spokesman for the South Coast Air Quality Management District, one of 35 districts in California that monitors air quality to comply with state and federal requirements. He explained that the PM2.5 particulates that pollute the air directly correlate with visibility.
"Essentially, these very tiny particles absorb and scatter light coming from the sun," Atwood said.
Another pollutant, nitrogen oxide, is known for creating the whiskey-brown haze. And moisture also reduces visibility and enhances particulates, making the air look more polluted than it actually is, Atwood added.
"We focus on PM2.5 because that’s the size of particle that the federal government now sets its health standard by," he added. "The very tiniest of them can even pass through the lung tissue into the blood stream. That’s why PM2.5 has been associated with a wide-range of health effects, including thousands of premature deaths every year in California."
Here's a look at how some other cities might look like with the haze we see in Beijing and Shanghai. Want to see what your city might look like under a toxic cloud of pollution? Tweet us a photo @MarketplaceAPM.
Photo Credits: Baltimore courtesy Daniel Ewald via Twitter; San Francisco by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images; New York by Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images; Beijing by Ed Jones/AFP/Getty Images; Paris by Eric Piermont/AFP/Getty Images; Toronto via Twitter.
There's news out today that the U.S. is importing less crude oil from foreign countries - the lowest amount in a decade. That's often bad news for the economy, but measured alongside oil exports, it looks like a good number. It means the trade gap is narrowing. The U.S. is spending less money on foreign crude oil, and other countries are actually buying refined oil from here.
But the funny thing is, other countries are not buying U.S. oil from U.S. refineries.
"We are basically importing crude oil from other countries," says Amy Myers Jaffe, an energy expert at the University of California, Davis. "Then we are bringing it to our country, refining it, using what we need, and of the refinery output that we do not need, we're exporting that for a profit."
A Gulf Coast refinery might spin Venezuelan crude into diesel fuel, and send it to Mexico, for example. The refineries make money on this, but it doesn't lower gas prices here. So why send refined fuel away?
"Because we have no pipelines or not enough pipelines from East Coast to the Gulf Coast, to move that extra product, " says John Hofmeister, a former oil executive now running the nonprofit Citizens for Affordable Energy. He says U.S. laws and infrastructure don't allow fuel to flow freely around the country.
OIL THROUGH THE AGES: view the interactive map
Increased U.S. domestic oil production, from the North Dakota shale, for example, helps improve energy independence - but not that much.
"It comes nowhere near eradicating the continued import of crude oil to just feed our gas tanks every day," Hofmeister says.
When the economy is strong, he says, the U.S. needs about 20 million barrels of oil a day. Current U.S. oil production covers about one-third of that.
"Unless Congress acts by March 1st," according to a fact sheet released by the White House today, "a series of automatic cuts -- called a sequester -- that threaten thousands of jobs and the economic security of the middle class will take effect."
The report lists 30 reasons why Congress should act now to ensure that doesn't happen.
"From a macroeconomic perspective, in terms of ... the overall economy, the Congressional Bugdet Office is saying that it would shave close to a percentage point off of GDP growth," said New York Times economics correspondent Catherine Rampell.
That might not sound like a lot Rampell explained, "but when you think about the fact that we've been under 2 percent growth for a while, that's actually quite significant."
"Why are we risking it?" asked Heidi Moore, the economics correspondent with The Guardian. "Maybe something bad will happen, maybe something bad won't happen, but we know how to prevent it, which is to just stop this and come to a decision about what we're going to do about the deficit."
"Unless Congress acts by March 1st," begins a fact sheet released by the White House today, "a series of automatic cuts -- called a sequester -- that threaten thousands of jobs and the economic security of the middle class will take effect." It goes on to list 30 reasons why Congress should act now to ensure that doesn't happen.
Flightaware, an aviation industry website, says the number of flights cancelled in the United States because of the massive East Coast snow storm is near 5,000 -- and could go higher. That means changed plans and possible airport sleep-overs for thousands of passengers who've been inconvenienced.
But it's not just about passengers. Sara Keagle is a flight attendant based in Houston, and also blogs about the professionn at the TheFlyingPinto.
"For the most part, if you're just sitting there without being on the aircraft and the door closed, then you're not getting paid," said Keagle. "However, if your flight cancels, then you could be in luck and you could be pay-protected."
Otherwise, Keagle says flight attendants dread delays just like passengers.
"The worst scenario is just the same as the passengers," she added. "Being stuck on board with the door closed and not enough amenities for everybody. You know, luckily there's been some laws put into place to protect the passengers, which also protects us. We don't really want to be stuck on there either."
The aviation website flightaware says the number of flights canceled in the United States from yesterday through tomorrow is now 4,700 and climbing. But for all the passengers -- business or pleasure -- who've been inconvenienced, there are also those for whom flying is a job.
Sara Keagle is a flight attendant who's worked in the air for 20 years. She talks about what it's like to be grounded in the snow.
The average tax refund last year was $2,800 -- enough to feel like a bonus pay check or a surprise inheritance.
“Many people, when they get that refund check, it’s their one day of the year of solvency,” says Richard Thaler, a professor of economics at the University of Chicago. “I’ve preached that we should try to exploit this opportunity by making it as easy as possible to take some of that money and save it.”
That’s the idea behind an experiment by Washington University in Saint Louis and Intuit during tax season this year. Approximately 1.2 million households that use Intuit’s free TurboTax to file their taxes will see their refund amount and, at the same time, they might see a suggestion for much of it they should save.
One potential message reads, “Have a family or thinking about starting one? Start planning a bright future for them.”
Tax filers will then have the option to send their refund or a portion of it directly to a savings account or use it to buy a U.S. savings bond.
It’s crucial to give people an easy way to save before they have their checks in hand, says Michal Grinstein-Weiss, an associate professor at the Brown School of Social Work at Washington University.
In fact, she calls it the “golden moment.”
“That’s the moment when they need to decide what they’re going to do with it,” she says. “And that’s when we’re intervening.”
Grinstein-Weiss will use a control group who don’t receive the messages to see if the approach increases savings.
She’s hoping that she’ll succeed where the recent financial crisis did not. Despite an initial uptick in savings during the height of the recession, savings rates did not significantly change.
Harvard professor Brigitte Madrian says, actually, this new experiment has a better strategy than the crisis.
“If you got an email in your inbox that said, ‘The financial crisis is happening, do you want to save more, click here,’ that would lead to bigger behavioral changes than just people watching it on the television,” says Madrian.
When Kate Bingaman-Burt was a college student, like many young people, she fell into credit card debt. But she came up with an innovative way to get control of her budget. She started meticulously drawing all of her credit card statements by hand, until they were paid off. Then in 2006, she started drawing something she purchased every day. Many of those drawings are collected in Burt's most recent book, "Obsessive Consumption: What Did I Buy Today?"
"I had just spent the 28 months photo documenting everything that I had purchased and sharing it online. I was kind of this person who was very transparent with their purchases and very open with the things that she was purchasing," says Burt. "But then the flip side of that was, I had $25,000 of credit card debt that I wasn't telling anyone about and it was making me ill. So I found myself with another monthly round of these machine-generated credit card statements that looked like no human had looked at them, touched them. It was just kind of these statements of doom, essentially. I felt absolutely powerless."
Burt continues, "In the process of trying to figure out what to do, I was also calling credit card companies trying to get my APR lowered because it was ridiculously high. I found that even though I was talking to a person, they were still reading from a script that had been automated and I couldn't have a real, personal conversation that was specific to my needs. I felt like I also wanted to draw these credit card statements with black pen, my shaky hand. And the replications of these credit card statements I tried to humanize them a little bit more."
Burt says her drawings were also a sort of punishment. "I feel like I made a lot of really stupid, child-like decisions by being so far in debt," she says.
Eventually, she started drawing items she bought everyday.
"I really like elevating kind of mundane things," says Burt. "I'm trying to infuse personality into these everyday items that we might take for granted."
She says that process of drawing the things that she buys helps make her more mindful of the things she purchases. And now she has a huge archive of little snippets of her everyday life.
"It's a really good indication that little things add up to a lot," she says.
Americans wasted a total of $121 billion -- or an average of $818 per person -- sitting in traffic in 2011, according to a new report from the Transportation Institute at Texas A&M.
Drivers in urban areas were delayed an average of 38 hours a year by traffic congestion. Washington D.C. ranked as the most congested city, where commuters wasted 67 hours a year in traffic. Los Angeles, Orange County, and San Francisco were tied for number two at 61 hours. Drivers in the greater New York City area came in third, wasting 59 hours a year on the road. Boston, Houston, Atlanta, Chicago, Philadelphia and Seattle round out the top ten.
2005 remains the worst year for traffic congestion on record.
America's Top 15 worst cities for Traffic by hours wasted (Texas A&M):
UPDATE: More than a year ago, Marketplace Money and The New York Times teamed up to tell the story of home ownership in America three years after the housing bubble burst. In a special report called "Which Way Home," we share the stories of the people who own homes, want homes, and have lost homes during this turbulent period.
While our reporting teams were hard at work finding, recording, and telling the stories that appeared in The Times (now online at NYTimes.com), and on the public radio airwaves on Marketplace Money, we on the digital team went in search of data to tell the story.
We put to work former Marketplace intern Ryan Faughnder, a USC journalism graduate student who has compiled the data for a number of our Marketplace Maps. What he put together for us this time stark. It revealed a nation underwater. This week, we've updated the map with the latest data to reveal that while the housing situation is improving across the U.S., pockets of the country like Nevada, Florida, and California still suffer from a high percentage of underwater homes.
In Nevada, for instance, 57 percent of homeowners owe more on their mortgage than their house is worth. The data comes from research and analytics firm Corelogic, which produces a quarterly negative equity report that reveals just how many borrowers are underwater.
The second data set we included comes from the Federal Housing Finance Agency, which regulates mortgages by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. The FHFA tracks a data point called the House Price Index. That calculation of housing purchase prices and appraisal data measures changes in home values over time. It's the same data that the St. Louis Fed uses when graphing out the housing bubbles for each state.
When you line up home price data with the number of underwater mortgages, you can see why so many borrowers are in trouble. Housing prices have fallen far from their peaks in many states. There goes your equity.
Finally, we looked at a report that shows the worst of it; those homeowners falling behind in mortgage payments or those who just gave up and walked away. RealtyTrac's foreclosure report counts the number of homes that received a foreclosure filing of some kind during the quarter. RealtyTrac explains it like this on its website: "If the number is 100, you could say that one in every 100 housing units received a foreclosure filing during the quarter."
Here are a few notable ones: In California, 1 out of 43 housing units received foreclosure filings down from 1 in 88 reported a year ago. In Nevada, it was 1 out of 37 housing units down from 1 in 44.
Want to see how your state stacks up? All of this data is easily explored and sortable in our latest Marketplace Map: America Underwater.