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With credit card debt, not all states are equal

Fri, 2014-07-04 02:00

The average American has more than $3,600 in credit card debt, but that number is falling.

“Not a huge decline overall -- about $27 dollars this year compared to last, but it’s still an improvement,” says Gerri Detweiler, director of consumer education at Credit.com. “It’s a good thing for consumers to carry less credit card debt. It’s good for their credit score and it’s good for their wallets.”

So why do some states owe more than others?

Alan Ikemura, senior product manager at Experian, says people have bigger credit card debt in states that have higher costs of living and where the employment picture hasn’t improved.

“The economy hasn’t picked up as well in certain areas and so there might actually be an immediate need for the utilization of credit," Ikemura says. "On the flip side, [people in states] that have recovered really well, [are] more confident overall in the economy, so they’re just spending more.”

Ikemura says the fact that American’s are paying down their credit card debt is a sign the overall economy is improving. 

Experian Decision Analytics released a list of average credit card debt by state for Q1 of 2014. So which states have the highest average debt?

1. Alaska -- $4,472

SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images

2. New Jersey -- $4,431

Craig Barritt/Getty Images

3. Connecticut -- $4,351

Elsa/Getty Images

4. Maryland -- $4,214

  Patrick Smith/Getty Images

5. Georgia -- $4,192

 RAYMOND ROIG/AFP/Getty Images

6. Delaware -- $4,165

 Hulton Archive/Getty Images

7. Washington, D.C. -- $4,115

JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/GettyImages

8. Virginia -- $4,068

 Grant Halverson/Getty Images for Colonial Williamsburg Foundation

9. Rhode Island -- $4,056

 Stacy Revere/Getty Images

10. Texas -- $4,047

   Harry How/Getty Images

Silicon Tally: Independence and surveillance

Fri, 2014-07-04 02:00

It's time for Silicon Tally. How well have you kept up with the week in tech news? This week we're joined by Julia Angwin, author of "Dragnet Nation: A Quest for Privacy, Security, and Freedom in a World of Relentless Surveillance." var _polldaddy = [] || _polldaddy; _polldaddy.push( { type: "iframe", auto: "1", domain: "marketplaceapm.polldaddy.com/s/", id: "silicon-tally-independence-surveillance", placeholder: "pd_1404443731" } ); (function(d,c,j){if(!document.getElementById(j)){var pd=d.createElement(c),s;pd.id=j;pd.src=('https:'==document.location.protocol)?'https://polldaddy.com/survey.js':'http://i0.poll.fm/survey.js';s=document.getElementsByTagName(c)[0];s.parentNode.insertBefore(pd,s);}}(document,'script','pd-embed'));

Colorado marijuana dispensaries have nowhere to put their money

Thu, 2014-07-03 16:28

Let’s say you’re a new retail business owner, and you’ve hit the sales jackpot. The product you’re offering is moving faster than snow-cones in the Sahara, and the cash just keeps coming in.

But there’s one hiccup: You can’t deposit said cash into a bank.

That’s the problem recreational marijuana vendors in Colorado are facing. Because the federal government considers marijuana illegal, and because that same federal government regulates banks, THC retailers in Colorado are sitting on piles of cash they can’t do anything with. These vendors are keeping the mounds of cash in backrooms, specially designed vaults, and specially created security firms to hold the money. Yet, there are still significant security concerns about keeping all that cash on hand (not to mention the hassle when it comes to paying taxes, bills and fees).

The IRS, meanwhile, is so opposed to the cash payments on federal taxes, that they’ve begun charging penalties to businesses that pay in greenbacks.

So to help fix the problem, the Colorado legislature has created a co-op that would act very similar to a bank. It would allow pot vendors to make deposits, withdrawals and even electronic transfers.

The problem is that in order to have the co-op function fully, it needs to get approval from – wait for it – the federal government.

Mike Elliot from the Marijuana Industry Group says the regulatory hurdle with the co-op has to do with the Automated Clearing House (ACH), the same system used to make direct deposits for employees.

As Elliot explains to Lizzie O’Leary, most people in Colorado’s marijuana industry think the chance of this co-op passing federal muster are about the same as finding one of those snow-cones in the Sahara Desert.

Big Ideas: Jeremy Rifkin and the internet of everything

Thu, 2014-07-03 15:34

Now and then we like explore some of the big ideas changing our world.

Like the so-called "internet of everything."

In 2014, it's fair to say that most of us think of capitalism as one of the planet's default economic systems. Markets around the world are interconnected, and even communist countries like China buy and sell internationally.

Jeremy Rifkin is one of the people behind our big idea this week, and he argues that capitalism is, in effect, eating itself. That, thanks to the internet, we've gotten so good at making things cheaply, that everyone can.

Rifkin is an economic theorist who has advised the European Union, and he lays out those ideas his latest book is called the "Zero Marginal Cost Society," which is, he explains,

"The emergence of a news economic system called the 'collaborative commons.' This is actually the first new economic system to emerge since the advent of capitalism and socialism."

On profit motive:

"There's another whole institution that everyone on this planet relies on every day. It's called 'the social economy...' we have millions of organizations that provide all sorts of goods and service from health care to school systems...they're not considered by economists because they create social capital, not market captial."

Listen to the full innterview in the player above.

 

 

Jobs rise, unemployment falls... but the economy?

Thu, 2014-07-03 13:57

Since April, the economy has averaged 275,000 new jobs per month (288,000 in June 2014), according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The unemployment rate is approaching 6 percent (6.1 percent in June 2014) and within the next year will likely be in the mid-5-percent range, low enough for the Federal Reserve to end some of its extraordinary stimulus measures on interest rates and asset purchases. Moreover, long-term unemployment has slowly fallen over the past 12 months (from 36.9 percent to 32.8 percent), and in June more than 80,000 people entered the workforce, reversing a trend during the recession and much of the recovery, of declining participation in the labor force.

But this recovering economy is not yet mirroring a healthy pre-recession economy either, say economists.

The economy has now recovered all of the millions of jobs lost in the recession. Both private payrolls and overall payrolls (including government) are now at record highs.

But that still leaves a significant shortfall in the labor market, considering that millions of people grew up into adulthood or immigrated to the U.S. and needed new jobs, says economist Harry Holzer at Georgetown University. “The fact that we’ve caught up with a number that existed six and a half years ago," says Holzer, "when the population and the labor force have grown way beyond that point - we’re still in a jobs hole.”

Holzer also points out that a high proportion of the new jobs that have been created are in low-paid service industries, such as retail, hotels and restaurants. And a lot are temporary or part-time. Many of the jobs that were lost in the recession were better-paid—in manufacturing, construction, financial services.

Holzer does believe some well-paying middle-class jobs will come back—in business services and manufacturing and construction—if employers see the recovery is strong, steady and long-lived.

Darlene Miller is president of Permac Industries, a precision manufacturing firm outside Minneapolis that supplies a wide variety of industries, including transportation, medical, food, and avionics. The company laid off more than two dozen workers in the Recession. Now the payroll is back up to thirty employees. And there are several open positions—though Miller says she is having difficulty finding skilled, certified machinists to hire.

“I would say the economy is slowly progressing,” says Miller. “I wouldn’t say we’re back to pre-2009. But we are seeing improvement. I’m optimistic—optimistic with caution.”

Jeff Kravetz, investment manager at US Bank Wealth Management, says businesses are increasing their spending on capital equipment, and predicts hiring will also pick up. And he anticipates optimism among American consumers will return to pre-recession levels.

“They see that their portfolios have recovered, and their homes have come back in value significantly,” says Kravetz. “They feel wealthier, and that bodes well for a nice steady recovery.”

Kravetz also says the economy and financial system are on sounder footing than during the boom of the mid-2000s, when inflated home prices, over-leveraging and risky borrowing by consumers and corporations led the economy into catastrophe.

Weekly wrap: Cashing out

Thu, 2014-07-03 13:40

We discuss the week that was with Sudeep Reddy from the Wall Street Journal and Linette Lopez from Business Insider. The magical number this morning was 288,000, which Lopez claims made today “a pretty good day.”

But be wary, Reddy warns. Getting through the issues the economy currently faces is “a whole other story,” he says.

Obama: Immigration reform could lead to growth

Thu, 2014-07-03 13:23

In his interview with Kai, President Obama said that the economy could see $1.4 trillion in additional growth if the government passed immigration reform.

Believe it or not, there are two $1.4 trillion figures the White House has mentioned when it comes to immigration reform and they mean two completely different things: One comes from the Congressional Budget Office. And one comes from the Center for American Progress.

At the heart of both is the idea that citizenship brings higher wages. That's something multiple researchers have studied, including Madeleine Sumption with the Migration Policy Institute.

"We found that citizens earn between 50 percent and two thirds more than non-citizens," she says. "Most of that is explained by the fact that citizens are more educated and they speak better English and they've been in the country for longer."

But, she says, once you control for those factors, citizens still get a 5 percent wage boost or more.

More wages means more spending and more tax revenue. The Center for American Progress added up the ripple effect of that and got … $1.4 trillion in GDP growth over ten years.

"The $1.4 trillion in our report was more of a hypothetical thing," says Patrick Oakford, who co-wrote that report. "What if they got legal status and citizenship status right away."

That report also looked at different timelines for naturalization with different economic outcomes. Big picture: the timing of citizenship matters for economic growth.

But of course in the immigration debate, there is no overnight path to citizenship. The Congressional Budget Office scored the Senate's actual bill, with its decade-plus path, and came up with … about $1.4 trillion in growth over twenty years.

Manual Pastor directs the Center for the Study of Immigrant Integration at the University of Southern California.

"The numbers, the $1.4 trillion, look very much the same," he says. "But the difference is one is scoring the actual legislation and the other is a thought exercise."

The CBO looked at comprehensive immigration reform which is about more than just the path to citizenship.

What education was like in 1776

Thu, 2014-07-03 10:56

On-the-job training ruled. Learning was all about apprenticeships back then, according to Paula Fass, a history professor at UC- Berkeley. Blacksmiths, brewers, printers and other tradesmen learned their crafts on the job.  Women learned most of  their skills--spinning, cooking, sewing, at home.  "In our school-centered obsession we forget that learning used to take place in a much more broad-based way,"says Fass.

Only white men were formally educated. While some white men never received much formal education, almost nobody else received any.  Girls were sometimes educated, but they didn’t go to college. Blacks were mostly forbidden to learn to read and write, and Native Americans were not part of the colonial education system.  They relied mainly on oral histories to pass down lessons and traditions.

Classroom, what classroom? Actual schools were found mainly in cities and large towns. For most other people, education meant a tutor teaching a small group of people in someone's home or a common building.  And the school year was more like a school season: usually about 13 weeks, says USC historian Carole Shammas.  That meant that there was almost no such thing as a professional teacher.  

Books were few and far between. There were no public libraries in the country in 1776.  The biggest book collections were at colleges.  Books were so expensive that getting a large enough collection to provide a serious education was one of the biggest barriers to founding a college.  When Harvard was founded in 1636, it had a collection of about 1,000 books, which was considered an enormous amount at the time, according to Paula Fass.

Writing joined the other R’s. Teaching students to read was a lot easier than teaching writing, and writing was not necessary in a lot of professions.  So many students learned just to read and do math.  By 1776, teaching writing was becoming much more common.

No papers, pens, or pencils.  Most students worked on slates--mini-chalkboards that allowed students to erase their work and keep at it until they got it right.  Paper was expensive, so it was not commonly used, which also meant pens were not often used.  Pencils had not yet been invented.

Before Facebook, there was Tuskegee and Milgram

Thu, 2014-07-03 09:40

It turns out the Facebook mood experiment was just the tip of an unsettling-sounding  iceberg. The Wall Street Journal reports that the company’s research division has been running all kinds of studies on us— hundreds of them—with very little oversight. Here's a quick recap of why universities don't do things that way:

For decades the U.S. government ran a study on African-American sharecroppers, to see what happened when you didn’t treat syphillis.  

"You could argue: 'Yes, but how interesting! We can see what the effects of untreated syphillis are," says Columbia University bio-ethicist Robert Klitzman

When the story came out in the early 1970s, people didn’t see things that way.  "As a society, we've decided that we can't turn people into human guinea pigs," says Klitzman.

By then, there were also second thoughts about a couple of social psychology’s greatest hits. Like the one where Yale psychologist Stanley Milgram got people to flip a switch they thought was going to kill someone.

In 1974, Congress passed the National Research Act, which led to the development of regulations for any research done by an institution receiving federal money.

The regulations boiled down to three things:  First, minimize risks to study participants.  Second, disclose those risks, so people know what they're getting into. And third, get an internal group at your institution has to sign off. That group is an Institutional Review Board, or IRB.

However, the existence of IRBs doesn't guarantee that social science experiments get the most careful review, says Jesse Goldner, a St. Louis University law professor and co-author of a book on human-subjects research rules and ethics.

"IRBs are kind of overwhelmed," he says. "There’s a little bit of a tendnecy to say, 'Gosh, you know, there’s so much of this biomedical research where there’s, quote, real risks of people dying, or becoming disabled.' You know, 'How much attention should we be giving to this little stuff?'"  

The "little stuff" being the kinds of emotional risks that got so much attention with Facebook's mood study.

Obama: Middle-class issues drive my agenda

Thu, 2014-07-03 08:43

Marketplace host and senior editor Kai Ryssdal sat down for an Oval Office interview with President Barack Obama on July 2, 2014.

Kai Ryssdal: Mr. President, good to have you with us.

President Barack Obama: Great to be here.

Ryssdal: Last time we had you on the show, sir, March of 2012, unemployment was 8.3 percent, the Great Recession, financial crisis were really fresh in everybody's memory. Now, you know, numbers are better, right? Unemployment is down, economy's growing, recovery's underway, and yet, for so many millions of people out there, it just feels lousy. And I want to know how you reconcile the headline numbers with what's going on in the real economy that people actually live in.

President Obama: Well, first of all, people took a really big hit in 2007, 2008, 2009. We had the worst recession since the Great Depression. In some ways the contraction was even sharper than what happened in the late 20s and 30s, so people have still been in recovery mode throughout this period. In some cases they've gotten back to square one, but that doesn't take away some of their long-term worries about retirement or saving for their kid's college education. The other thing that we've seen is that although the economy has been growing, wages and incomes continue to be relatively stagnant, and that's been a 20- to 30-year trend, and that involves some structural issues that we've really got to work on. But, having said all that, what is indisputable is that the economy is much better now than it was when I took office and than it was the last time we spoke, and that does make a difference. It makes a difference that we've created 9.4 million new jobs, it makes a difference that manufacturing continues to strengthen for the first since the 90s, it makes a difference that we've been able to slow the rise of healthcare costs, it makes a difference that we have seen housing recover in many communities so that people are finally getting their houses back above water. So all these things add to confidence, add some momentum to the economy, but that underlying trend for middle-class families -- that they don't feel like no matter how hard they work, they're able to get ahead in the same way that their parents were able to get ahead -- that's something that we continue to tackle and drives a lot of my agenda now.

Ryssdal: I get that and I appreciate it, but I want to take you to the speech you gave earlier this week out by Key Bridge, and many other speeches you've given throughout your presidency, in which you've said we have to grow the economy from the middle, we can't grow this economy top down. Now, setting aside the irony of you, the ultimate guy on top, trying to grow an economy from the top down, right, we sit here in an economy where corporate profits are up, but the money's not being spent, where the jobs that are being created are low-wage, low-skill jobs. How's that supposed to work? How do you reconcile the disconnect there?

President Obama: Well, there's some things we could be doing right now that would make a huge difference. When I was at that bridge in Georgetown, Washington, D.C., yesterday, we were talking about the fact that we've got $2 trillion of deferred maintenance: roads, bridges, an air-traffic control system that's creaky, an electrical grid that wastes too much energy and is highly inefficient, and we could be putting hundreds of thousands of folks back to work right now and not only put a big boost to the economy in the short term, but also lay the foundation for economic competitiveness in the long term. That creates a lot of middle-class jobs. The challenge we have is not that we don't know what to do. The problem is that we've got a Congress right now that's been saying no to proposals that would make a difference. And so, part of our task this year and perhaps next year, is to look at what can we do administratively, or by partnering with states and local governments or by partnering with the private sector to boost wages, to improve job training so that people have better skills, to make sure that we're matching up jobs that are out there with people who are looking for work. And a lot of those steps are ones that are reflected in my budget and my agenda.

Ryssdal: We'll get to the Congress in a minute, and your recent executive orders on the economy. We'll talk about that in a minute. I want to talk for a second about Wall Street and its role in the economy. The Dow today sits plus or minus 17,000, right? Record highs. Banks' profits are up; the big banks are bigger than they were during the financial crisis; their appetite for risk is growing, as we've seen; and all of this is happening after Dodd-Frank -- the financial reform bill that we were told was going to prevent all these things from happening. It was going to rein in the banking system. So how do you look at the American people and say, "You know what? 'Too big to fail' has been taken care of. What happened in 2008 is not going to happen to you again."

President Obama: Well, keep in mind that the goal of Dodd-Frank was to prevent another catastrophic financial crisis. It wasn't expected that it was going to solve all the problems --

Ryssdal: But you get that it's small steps, right?

President Obama: Well, some of these are not small steps. I mean, the fact of the matter is, for example, we have massively increased the capitalization requirements in banks, and what that means is that they've got more of a cushion. If they screw up and make a bad bet, they are less likely to need to be bailed out because they've got to have a certain amount of capital on hand. We have mandated that they all have what we call living wills, so that if they do screw up, there is an orderly process of winding them down, and their creditors and shareholders are taking hits, so that taxpayers don't have to do so. The consumer finance protection provisions in the law make a big difference in preventing ordinary families from being taken advantage of by predatory lenders of the sort that helped to cause the crisis in 2007, 2008. So, those aren't small steps, those are big steps, and relative to what's been done in other parts of the world, we are way ahead in terms of regulating the financial sector. Here's the problem, the problem is that for 60 years, we've seen the financial sector grow massively. Now, it's a great strength of our economies that we've got the deepest, strongest capital markets in the world, but what has also happened is that as the financial sector has grown, more and more of the revenue generated on Wall Street is based on arbitrage -- trading bets -- as opposed to investing in companies that actually make something and hire people. And so, what I've said to my economic team, is that we have to continue to see how can we rebalance the economy sensibly, so that we have a banking system that is doing what it is supposed to be doing to grow the real economy, but not a situation in which we continue to see a lot of these banks take big risks because the profit incentive and the bonus incentive is there for them. That is an unfinished piece of business, but that doesn't detract from the important stabilization functions that Dodd-Frank were designed to address.

Ryssdal: Would we be better off if banking was boring again?

President Obama: Absolutely. And I've said that repeatedly. Some of the work to get that done, though, involves restructuring the banks themselves -- how they work internally. Right now, if you are in one of the big banks, the profit center is the trading desk, and you can generate a huge amount of bonuses by making some big bets; you will be rewarded on the upside. If you make a really bad bet, a lot of times you've already banked all your bonuses. You might end up leaving the shop, but in the meantime everybody else is left holding the bag. Now what we've been able to do is to try to prevent taxpayers from being the folks who are left holding the bag. But it's still not a real efficient way for us to run a financial system. That's going to require some further reforms. That's going to require us looking at additional steps that we can take. But keep in mind that one of my key focuses over the last couple of years has just been to make sure that we've got a circuit breaker so that if certain banks are making bad decisions, they are less likely to bring down the entire system, which is what happened in 2007, 2008.

Ryssdal: You've turned increasingly to the private sector in your second term and in the last couple of years. Penny Pritzker at Commerce, Jeffrey Zients at healthcare.gov although he's been around for a while and most recently Bob McDonald for Veterans Affairs, former CEO of Procter & Gamble. About Veterans Affairs, a report from your office, your chief of staff, your deputy chief of staff maybe, said there is a corrosive management culture at the Department of Veterans Affairs, and you have brought Bob McDonald in to fix that. The VA is an office with a great sense of command responsibility, right, a lot of military people in there. The question then is, what is your risk tolerance for Bob McDonald going in there and holding people responsible? How many people are you going to let him fire? How many people are you going to let him clean out to get veterans the care that they have earned and deserve?

President Obama: Well keep in mind, first of all, that we've already fired a whole bunch of folks who were responsible for cooking the books on some of these waiting lists --

Ryssdal: Phoenix, yeah.

President Obama: -- that generated so much attention. It's also important to keep in mind that the VA is the largest agency we have outside of the Department of Defense and probably touches more Americans than any other federal agency. So, let's just take the example of waiting lists. It is inexcusable, terrible that there were some folks who thought it was appropriate to pretend like they were serving our veterans when in fact, they were not -- and huge wait times for folks to get in. It's also important to recognize that they're dealing with six million appointments a day. It is a massive system. So, what we need to do, and what I expect Bob will do, is set a tone at the top of accountability, of transparency, recognizing you're not going to solve every problem at the VA overnight. Keep in mind this is an agency that has been chronically underfunded in the past. I increased funding for Veterans Affairs more than any president ever has. We had problems with the homeless veteran, and we have significantly cut homelessness among veterans. We had a problem with folks with PTSD -- post-traumatic stress disorder -- or brain trauma who weren't getting quality treatment; we've been chipping away at that. Agent Orange, a legacy from Vietnam that hadn't been dealt with in three, four decades. We said, "You guys have access to the system." All that raised backlogs in terms of disability claims. We started chipping away at that. So, what we've tried to do is systematically work through a massive agency with some big legacy problems, and what I've said to Bob is that I expect the kind of attention to detail, structural reform, staffing with people who are about results as opposed to just being in a job. And Bob has a really strong track record -- and obviously Procter & Gamble is one of the biggest corporations in the world, so he's accustomed to dealing with large agencies. The fact that he was an Army Ranger and a West Point grad, I think, is going to give him some good credibility. And the fact that his own family needed Veterans Affairs -- his wife's uncle was a victim of Agent Orange and is still getting serviced at the VA -- all those things I think will contribute to a real energy and passion. He really wanted the job, and I think he's going to do a great job.

Ryssdal: Another culture question -- the culture of this town. Your mantra this year has been "pen and phone," right? "I am going to do whatever it takes with executive order to govern," basically. And you have done that on immigration, you have done it on the minimum wage for new federal contract workers -- all kinds of things. The question, though, is -- and I understand your frustration with the Republican majority in the House of Representatives -- is that where we are now? That it's one guy with a pen in this town, who is running the American economy?

President Obama: Well, unfortunately, we have a Congress that's broken down. And I know that a lot of times people who are watching what's happening in Washington sort of feel like, "You know, a plague on both their houses. Democrats, Republicans, they're all the same. None of them care about us." But the truth is that we have a very specific problem. We have a House of Representatives that is so ideologically driven at this point that they are not able to carry out basic functions of government. So we saw this during the government shutdown. The idea that we would shut down the government based on a notion that we've got to drastically cut the basic safety net -- despite the fact that the deficit has come down by more than half during my presidency -- is not based on common sense, it's not based on any sound economic theories. It's based on the ideological predispositions of a handful of folks who are currently calling the shots in the House of Representatives. The same is true, we just recently saw, with immigration reform; we have bipartisan support for immigration reform. We know that the economy would grow faster, that we would end up seeing $1.4 trillion in additional growth in the United States if in fact we passed immigration reform. We know that there are companies across the country, particularly in the high-tech sector, that are begging to have highly skilled immigrants -- who we've trained, we've paid for and are now going back to their home countries to start businesses -- stay here in the United States. Despite all that, we still couldn't get the House of Representatives to act, primarily because of politics, primarily because they're captive of a small ideological band inside their caucus. And so, I don't think this is a permanent state of affairs; I think over time the Republican Party will move back to the center, mainly because if they don't, they'll never win the presidency again. And at a certain point people are just going to get fed up. But in the mean time, what I have to make sure I'm doing is looking for every opportunity to go ahead and help the married couple that is struggling, working hard, paying their bills, but at the end of the month still don't have any savings and still don't feel like they're getting ahead. If I can help them on childcare costs, if I can help them boost their wages a little bit, if I can help them save for their kid's college education and keep college cost down, if I can do those things, then I will at least have the satisfaction of helping some people. And in the meantime I'm going to continue to reach out to Republicans wherever and whenever they're willing.

Ryssdal: We do this thing, every now and then, with CEOs that I have on the broadcast -- did it with Meg Whitman at HP, did it with Tim Armstrong at AOL -- and I ask them to tell me what their company does in five words or less. So in five words or less, what's your job?

President Obama: My job is to keep the American people safe and to create a platform for hardworking people to succeed.

Ryssdal: That's more than five words, sir, I mean I get that --

President Obama: But I could have edited that down if I had to.

Ryssdal: (Laughs)

President Obama: I thought that was pretty succinct.

Ryssdal: Sir, thanks very much for your time.

President Obama: Really enjoyed it. Appreciate it.

Finding a job isn't just a young person's problem

Thu, 2014-07-03 05:30

On Thursday, the Labor Department reported that the U.S. added 288,000 jobs in June, with the unemployment rate falling to 6.1%.

Those numbers are influenced by -- as has been predicted, but hasn't really happened yet -- people returning to the job hunt after having given up in spite of having the need and want to work.

Marketplace reporter Mitchell Hartman has been looking at one group of workers where there's likely a lot of people in that category: workers who are 55 and older.

Click the media player above to hear reporter Mitchell Hartman in conversation with Marketplace Morning Report host David Brancaccio.

President Obama's job in 19 words

Thu, 2014-07-03 04:00

Marketplace's Kai Ryssdal had the opportunity to ask President Barack Obama seven questions on Wednesday.

It took fifteen minutes or thereabouts for the entire interview.

In that same spirit of conciseness, Kai asked the President: "In five words or less, what's your job?"

President Obama answered: "My job is to keep the American people safe and to create a platform for hardworking people to succeed."

For those counting, that means the president used 19 words:

Kai has used the "5 words or less" question before. The first time was quite by accident, during an interview with Hewlett-Packard CEO Meg Whitman in late 2012. Kai asked Whitman to cut the "marketing gobbledy-gook," to explain "what, exactly, HP is":

Whitman's answer wasn't particularly clarifying...:

...so a few minutes later, Kai tried again:

Eventually, Kai gave Whitman a word limit. At the very end, he tried asking what HP is "in five words or less". Whitman used 22 words, with the caveat that "it's a big, complicated company."

A month later, Kai interviewed AOL chairman and CEO Tim Armstrong about his business. Armstrong also was unable to keep his company's mission to five words. He eventually whittled it down to 12:

In an interview with Stephen Friedman, the president of MTV, Kai tried the question again. Friedman got close - just six words:

Only one interviewee so far, Duke Energy CEO Lynn Good, has managed to answer the question as succinctly as requested. Good described Duke Energy as: "Industry leading innovative energy company." Five words and counting:

Brevity is the soul of Marketplace. (...count 'em)

So, in brief: We want to see how many of our listeners can beat the President's word count. How would you describe your job in five words or less? Comment below, tweet @Marketplace, or send us an email at marketplaceweb@marketplace.org

PODCAST: Jobs are up for June

Thu, 2014-07-03 03:00

With the jobs report for June looking strong, more on how the last couple months became some of the strongest in recent memory for job gains. Plus, a look at a demographic of unemployed workers that are often overlooked: those over 55 who are looking to get back into the workforce. Last up, Kai Ryssdal interviewed President Barack Obama on the state of the U.S. Economy. Hear a preview of the full interview airing later today.

Pop-up bus service looks to reinvent mass transit

Thu, 2014-07-03 02:00

Big data has already changed how we interact with many aspects of our cities, as well as how cities deliver services and enforce regulations. In New York, for example, the city has had success using public data to find restaurants illegally disposing grease waste, and stores selling untaxed cigarettes. In the realm of public transit, agencies have been able to make their data easily accessible online for app developers, adding value to the commuter.

Matt George, the founder of the Massachusetts-based startup Bridj, is looking to apply the potential for big data to transit. The service, which launched last month with three bus routes in Boston, takes the self-reported home and workplace data of each of its subscribers, as well as data from other sources, including census data and municipal data, and plots out potential bus routes accordingly. While the service is still in its infancy, there are plans for more dynamic routing in the future, such as routes to special events in areas not normally served by public transit. These more direct routes are capable of significantly reducing commute times over public transit. 

Aside from the innovative, purportedly faster routing, Bridj is one of a number of transit startups — perhaps most controversially symbolized by ridesharing service Uber — that aims to provide a luxury experience, complete with wi-fi enabled busses with plush seats. There is a price to that: the cost of a ride on Bridj ranges from $5 to $8, over double the fare range of Boston’s public bus operator. Though, anecdotal evidence suggests that the Bridj buses are faster than standard transit.

With many of these services, there have been fears in some quarters of a “two-tier” transit system — one of luxury for the technologically savvy elite, another, underinvested public system for the poor. Bridj has not faced these complaints yet, but it is an issue that may arise as the service expands elsewhere.

Another area that has bedeviled transit startups has not yet been an issue for Bridj -- According to founder Matt George: “One thing we thought would be a bigger challenge would be municipal cooperation.”

However, at least in Massachusetts, there has been a relatively welcoming response from local governments.

Five million stick to private health insurance

Thu, 2014-07-03 02:00

We all know people have signed up for insurance through the healthcare exchanges, or enrolled in Medicaid.

But a new report in the New England Journal of Medicine shows about five million people bought coverage straight from an insurance company.

There’s nothing new about people buying insurance policies directly from insurers; it’s been happening forever.

But Harvard’s Ben Sommers says not for everybody.

“It’s a good market if you’re healthy, but if you have pre-existing conditions, you either faced really high premiums or were denied coverage,” he says.

The Affordable Care Act blocks insurers from doing that anymore. Plus, the ACA requires most everyone to have insurance.

Because of all that, Sommers estimates 20 percent of the people who bought directly from companies are newly insured.

It could be the start of a dominant trend.

“As the marketplace matures, it will be folks with higher incomes that won’t be subsidy eligible that will be buying insurance in the future,” says Paula Sunshine with Independence Blue Cross in Philadelphia.

She says her company has invested heavily to make it as easy as possible for consumers to buy policies.

Ultimately, Sunshine says her industry will grow as employers stop buying coverage for their workers, and workers start shopping for their own insurance.

Tech and train-hopping

Thu, 2014-07-03 01:00

My family likes to tell stories. Sometimes they get changed and exaggerated in the retelling: Dad got chased by a grizzly. No, it was two grizzlies. It was two grizzlies and he was on a horse. Wasn't it?

But one story I know to be true, at least in its simplest form: My dad used to hop trains out west.

I remember him telling me how dangerous it was. Sometimes the train would stop where you wanted to get off, sometimes it wouldn't. You had to hit the ground running as fast as you could just to stay on your feet and avoid falling into the tracks and under the wheels.

My family is from Colorado, and this is the type of story that reminds me of our roots. 

That's why when I heard about Ted and Asa Conover's story, I had to talk to them. This father and son duo is from New York City, but they've both caught the train-hopping bug --Ted first, then Asa -- and went on an adventure together to do it.

I can vaguely remember adventures like that with my own father. Not as dangerous or as illegal, but walking the line. Linking arms so we could pull something out of the rubble at the town dump because it wasn't trash. Hopping a fence here or there. As a kid you have to learn boundaries by pushing against them, and if you're lucky you have a guardian who helps you learn how to do that and survive it. 

The interesting thing about this week's conversation with the Conovers is that technology has changed the game of train-hopping. It used to be an oral tradition of sorts -- knowing the right moves and knowing when and where a train might stop. Heck, at any given time you could be riding a train and have no real idea how far you'd traveled or how close you were to your destination. But now there are smart phones and PDF documents shared among the hoppers that detail the gathered knowledge of this illegal pastime. There's even a rumor -- almost a tech ghost story -- about a special infrared scanner that law enforcement uses to catch people train-hopping near Cheyenne, Wyoming.

Ted Conover was saying that no matter how tech has changed the process, your success still depends completely on your own ingenuity. I thought that sounded like hacking, and he agreed. 

We all see our world change as we get older, and we lament the change. School shootings make for exhaustive visitation rules. More lawyers make for neighbors who don't invite you to use their pool on a hot day. Smart phones make for staring at screens instead of interacting with and meeting strangers. In the case of train-hopping, technology seems to hinder and help; depending on how you define "bad" and "good," it's got a bit of both.

Yeah, I know hopping trains is illegal and dangerous, and I'm not trying to encourage others to do it. In fact I would discourage people from doing it (for the record, Ted Conover probably would too). But that doesn't mean it's a story we shouldn't tell. It's part of my own family history -- part that's always made me proud to have a connection to the west. Like riding horses or knowing how to start a fire in the snowpack, there's something about train-hopping that makes me feel proud of the people and place where I come from. This July 4th week, that feels just about right. 

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