with Kai Ryssdal

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Public radio's only national series about the global economy and finance takes a broad view of business, covering any story related to money — most of the world's stories are. Hosted by Kai Ryssdal.

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Let’s do the numbers: the Star Wars empire
Happy 40th birthday, Star Wars! May the Force be with you. Over the past four decades, “Star Wars” has gone from a movie to a multibillion dollar franchise. And if Disney has any say in it, the Star Wars empire is likely to get even bigger. Come December of this year, Disney  —  which bought Lucasfilm for an eye-popping $4 billion in 2012  —  will release “Star Wars: The Last Jedi.” If the last couple of Star Wars movies are anything to go by, the latest movie is likely to rake in close to a billion dollars in box office sales ensuring that Disney gets back every penny it paid for Lucasfilm.  To celebrate the franchise’s four decades, let’s check out some numbers: Where it all began: When the first Star Wars movie opened on Wednesday May 25, 1977, it was playing in just 32 theaters. By Saturday, it was playing at 43 theaters and by August the movie was in more than 1,000 theaters. That first weekend, Star Wars brought in $1.5 million in sales. According to the New York Daily News, that is “about the same as ‘Smokey And The Bandit,’ which opened the same weekend in 300 theaters.” That was only the beginning … The licensed merchandise, aka toys: As Disney prepared to release “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” in December of 2015, Star Wars toys flooded the shelves of all major retailers. One analyst told the Wall Street Journal that Star Wars toys could generate as much as $2 billion in sales in the last four months of 2015. In 2016, at the end of which “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” was released, the Star Wars franchise is estimated to have been responsible for a 4.4 percent bump in the global retail sales of licensed merchandise, which rose to $262.9 billion. Chris Taylor, author of “How Star Wars Conquered the Universe,” estimated that Star Wars raked in about $42 billion by 2014 — $32 billion in merchandise, $4 billion at the box office, and another $6 billion on home video. Most recently, Star Wars fans could purchase a $1.4 million Darth Vader mask. Why so expensive? Because it’s made of solid 24-karat gold. Sadly, even if you could afford it, you would not be able to wear the helmet as it weighs about 33 pounds, reported the New York Times. Records, schmecords: When “The Force Awakens” was finally released that December, previous records didn’t really stand the chance. Thursday-night previews alone bought in $57 million, according to Variety. The movie went on to set a new record for opening weekend with $248 million in sales at the U.S. box office and $529 in worldwide box office sales, according to Bloomberg. Overall, the movie brought in $2.07 billion at the box office — about half of what Disney paid for Lucas Films. In its opening weekend, “Rogue One” earned $29 million in Thursday previews. While it did not beat “Force Awakens” sales, it earned more than $290.5 million in sales over its opening weekend. Overall, it brought in $1.056 billion. George Lucas Arts Museum: We first heard about the museum before “The Force Awakens” opened in theaters (Yes, we now measure time in Star Wars movies). When it was first announced, it was estimated that the museum could generate between $2 and $2.5 billion in direct economic impact over ten years. Earlier this year, Lucas announced that the museum will be built in Los Angeles and that he would put $1 billion towards the project. In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, the LA mayor Eric Garcetti said that the construction of the 275,000-square-foot museum would lead to creation tens of thousands of jobs in construction. Related What women who love Star Wars want ’Star Wars’ and the rise of the money making movie How movie theaters will make the most of 'Star Wars' (05/25/2017)

05/25/2017: The stock market's decline since the roaring '80s
Disappointment over declining oil prices abound. OPEC had agreed to make production cuts to help with an oil glut, but it seems these policy changes aren't helping — and neither is the U.S. We'll look at how America's own production habits undercuts the cartel's. Afterwards, we'll examine how state insurance markets that get waivers for pre-existing conditions would react to the GOP's new health care bill, and then talk about the stock market's inability to yield the magic it used to. (05/25/2017)

Sears’ continuing struggles have its suppliers jittery
The struggle is real for Sears Holdings — the company behind Sears and Kmart. The once-powerful brand warned investors back in March that there was “substantial doubt” about its future. This week, Sears announced it’s pushed back a deadline on a $500 million loan by six months. That’s got Sears vendors even more anxious about a looming bankruptcy. Click the audio player above to hear the full story. (05/25/2017)

NYU program piles on classes for early graduation
Colleges across the country are trying new ways to confront the rising cost of tuition. One increasingly popular option: accelerated degrees. New York University recently announced a program that helps students graduate a semester early by taking extra courses throughout the year and during winter and summer breaks. There are similar programs at the University of San Francisco and American University in Washington, D.C., among others. To fit her coursework into three years of study, 21-year-old NYU student Ashley Korkeakoski-Sears has had to cram. In May, she’ll graduate with a bachelor's degree in English, but she also minored in Spanish and sociology. She’s in NYU’s UNICEF Club and student government. She works two part-time jobs. And she’s doing all of this in three years solely to save money. “It’s just so much cheaper,” Korkeakoski-Sears said. “You save $64,000 basically. I would have had to take out a lot more loans to pay for my fourth year.” Related When going to college becomes a financial risk What does 'college affordability' mean? What employers really want from college grads According to The Institute for College Access and Success, students from public universities graduated with an average of more than $30,000 in debt in 2015. And those at private schools often had more. Priya Malani of Stash Wealth advises millennials. She said debt is one of her clients’ top concerns. It’s why she thinks a three-year degree is a win-win. “Because the sooner you can get done paying off your debt, the sooner you can get for planning the fun stuff, like upgrading your lifestyle, and travel, and down payment on a home,” she said. Think about the money saved from that fourth year plus the salary earned in place of it, Malani said. Finishing school early can show employers drive and hustle. But Corbin Campbell, a professor of higher education at Columbia University, isn’t sold, because time students spend studying is related to how much they retain. “Higher education is not a factory, right?” Campbell said. “So it’s not just that you want to get a diploma and a piece of paper, but hopefully that you’re thinking about the learning, the knowledge, the skills that you want to actually get from this degree.” A study by the National Center for Education Statistics showed that more than one-third of college students change their major at least once. Campbell thinks that’s why students should take the full four years — to figure out whom they want to be. Korkeakoski-Sears, the very busy NYU student, admits an accelerated program is not for everyone. “I think for the student that needs that time to figure that out, a three-year degree isn’t going to cut it,” she said. Up next for Korkeakoski-Sears? One year of AmeriCorps, then law school. (05/25/2017)

First-time homebuyers are taking out more new loans
The number of people taking out new home loans is at a three-year low, according to a report out today from the real estate data firm ATTOM. But one group taking out more new loans, ATTOM said, is first-time homebuyers. Mortgage rates are rising, which means buying the same priced home costs more money every month. And that naturally scares some people away. So what edge do these first-time homebuyers have? “Almost a quarter of first-time buyers indicate that they received a gift from a relative or friend,” said Danielle Hale at the National Association of Realtors. Related Home sales drop 11.4 percent in April Millennials like city homes but not the high prices As in help with their down payment. But that’s not the only friends-and-family boost. Daren Blomquist, a vice president at ATTOM, said if first-time homebuyers can’t get a mortgage on their own, it appears they’re getting Mom or Dad to co-sign. “Twenty-two percent of homes that were purchased in the first quarter had at least two non-married borrowers on the loan,” Blomquist said. So, parents helping their kids. Sounds nice, right? “I see it as a, um, a little bit of a danger,” Blomquist said. Blomquist said, sure, it’s great if parents can afford to help their kid buy a home, but if your kid stops paying, “you’re going to be left holding the bag,” Blomquist said. Which is not exactly a solid foundation for a housing market.  (05/25/2017)

Breaking down the new CBO score on the House's health care act
There's finally a price tag on the amended American Health Care Act that was passed by the House of Representatives almost three weeks ago. The report from the Congressional Budget Office is sort of like the report card for the bill. It explains what it’s going to do and how much it’s going to cost. The CBO score for the previous iteration of this bill, which never made it to a vote, estimated that 24 million more Americans would be without health insurance by 2026. Marketplace host Kai Ryssdal talked through today’s score with Sarah Kliff at Vox. The following is an edited transcript of their conversation. Kai Ryssdal: So a couple of headline numbers to get out of the way: How many more people will be without health insurance under this law than under current law? Sarah Kliff: Twenty-three million is kind of the big headline number. And as you mentioned, that's really similar to the last report. You didn't really see any big policy changes. So again, you're seeing a really big loss in coverage under the Republican plan. Ryssdal: What about then the second headline number, which is going to be money saved? Deficit reduction-wise. Kliff: So that falls a little bit to $119 billion saved over the next decade. There been a few scores, but the most recent CBO score was $150 million saved. Now we're down to $119 billion. Ryssdal: OK, so mostly marginal changes. If I'm Paul Ryan, the Speaker of the House, what am I thinking this afternoon? How am I feeling? Kliff: I don't I'm feeling very great because this just isn't a good report for Republicans. I think their report is very similar to previous ones except in one key way: The CBO really pushes back aggressively against some of the claims that Republicans have made about their plan. There's this one paragraph in the in the report where they say that people who are less healthy — and I'm reading from the report — would ultimately be unable to purchase comprehensive insurance. That's just a kind of devastating finding that really pushes back against this idea of protecting people with pre-existing conditions. Related 'It is a terrible mistake' to vote on health care bill without a CBO score, the former director says CBO director worries some Americans don't know what to believe anymore How a Republican plan to shrink Medicaid could hurt red states Ryssdal: And also, the CBO uses, again from the report, language talking about destabilizing the market. Kliff: Yeah. So, this is one other thing that's new in this report. CBO estimates that one-sixth of the country will live in areas that would be destabilized because of these new waivers that exist in the Republican plan that let states opt out of protections for people with pre-existing conditions. So, you know, that would be a big change in what CBO is saying is if you are one of those one in six people, you might not have access to affordable health insurance if you're a sicker person. Ryssdal: Now this thing is going to go to the Senate, and it's worth a mention here that the Senate basically is going to take this and say, “Thanks very much,” put it in a corner and write its own bill. Yeah? Kliff: Yeah. So they have their own working group. You know, I am curious to see how this lands in the Senate, if they want to get to higher coverage. But I think they really want to say, "Hey, that's the House bill. We're building our own thing. Don't throw that unpopular bill on us. We're starting from scratch." Ryssdal: To the issue of consumers in this economy and the purchasing of health care, the whole thing with the Republicans in the House was, “We have to get the premiums down, we have to get people to be able to pay for the insurance that they want to buy.” This bill still does that, and the CBO has taken all that into account, right? Kliff: Yeah, so this bill does lower insurance premiums by about 15 to 20 percent in the near term, 10 percent in the long term. But the way it does that is essentially by making health insurance unaffordable for sicker Americans. So it's easy to lower health insurance when you kind of kick the sick people out of the pool. And that's kind of the trade-off you're seeing in this bill. Ryssdal: And it would do that basically by letting people just buy the catastrophic, right? And getting rid of or not forcing them to buy what are called essential health benefits. Kliff: Yeah. So you can apply for a waiver, a state could apply for a waiver from these essential health benefits, you can apply for waivers out of a pre-existing condition provisions — all of that just makes it a little bit harder for people who need more care to actually sign up for a health insurance plan. (05/24/2017)

PayPal's Schulman says the future may not be cashless, but it's definitely mobile
Arguably no company has done more for the cause of digital money than PayPal. But after Venmo, where does PayPal take our money next? And more importantly, how does it keep that money safe? Marketplace host Kai Ryssdal spoke to PayPal CEO Dan Schulman and got some answers about cybersecurity and the digitization of money. An edited transcript of their conversation is below.  Kai Ryssdal: Just as a place to get started, and with a nod to the changes that are common in this economy, I imagine you are now aiming this company at a totally cashless future in this society. Dan Schulman: I think a lot of people have predicted the demise of cash, and they've frequently been wrong. But there's no question that the smartphone is leading to the digitization of money. You really now have all the power of a bank branch in the palm of your hand. And that's a tremendous benefit, to be able to both speed up the time it takes to do a payment and also reduce the cost. Ryssdal: There's a question I usually ask CEOs, and it goes like this: What keeps you up at night? I'm going to go ahead and answer that for you, because I can't imagine it's anything other than cybersecurity and getting hacked. Schulman: Yeah, so obviously cybersecurity is of the utmost importance. But one of the things that helps a lot in cybersecurity is scale. And what I mean by that is you can't just protect people through your username and your password. What you really need to have is a tremendous amount of data and information. We did over 7 billion transactions on the platform, and we take all that data and information and we run algorithms through it to basically identify behavior that's abnormal and stop that behavior. Related Listen to the extended interview with PayPal CEO Dan Schulman Cashless apps: Shopping without a wallet Ryssdal: Can't possibly protect them all, right? I mean, there is some vulnerability out there. I mean, that has to be sort of a given. Schulman: There's always some potential vulnerabilities in any system. But again, if you have a tremendous amount of data and information, and we know so much more about you, we really can look at a full digital identity around you. We look at many, many, many, variables, which I won't reveal publicly, to protect you. We've had a tremendous degree of success with that. Ryssdal: Well, that gets actually to the whole privacy thing. And you are, I'm sure, old enough to remember when you just didn't talk about salaries and money and how much people make. But now, first of all, you all have tremendous amounts of financial data on your clients and your customers. But you own, just for one example, Venmo, which is sort of a peer-to-peer social money-transferring network, where everybody can see who's paying whose babysitter, and what the rent money is. You know? Schulman: Ninety percent of people who use Venmo tag their payment with some sort of comment because it is part of their social feeds. However, that tagging is entirely up to the consumer. They can turn off those feeds. It really is up to them. We take the privacy of our consumers' information as one of the most trusted things that people look to Paypal for, because when it comes to financial services, the single most important brand attribute you can have is trust. Ryssdal: All right, so let me get back to where I started, which is this idea of, at some point, a cashless society. In, say, 10 years, with the digitization of money in this economy, what does Paypal look like? Schulman: So I think if you think out over the next 10, 15 years, mobile is blurring the distinction between online and offline. And for consumers, there is a saying that it's expensive to be poor. Over 50 percent of the U.S. population does not have $400 of savings. And so, if we can help people to do everyday transactions at a fraction of what it would cost other institutions to do that, I think that's a noble mission for us and one that were inspired by.  (05/24/2017)

Trump's NATO visit is going to be awkward
President Trump has arrived in Brussels on the latest leg of his first official foreign trip since his election. Apart from meeting European leaders, he will visit NATO’s shiny new headquarters in the Belgian capital. This could be a tricky visit. During the election campaign, Trump was not overly complimentary about the alliance. Click the audio player above to hear the full story. (05/24/2017)

Google tries to connect the dots between online ads and offline buys
Online shopping is sometimes just that — shopping. The actual buying happens later — in an actual store. Until now, retailers haven’t been able to connect those dots. Google says it has a tool that will let them connect online clicks to in-store buys. Good for Google, which may be able to sell more search ads. But maybe not so good for us.  Click the audio player above to hear the full story.   (05/24/2017)

DeVos faced tough questions about education budget on the Hill
Education Secretary Betsy DeVos was on the Hill today defending the president’s 2018 budget request before a House appropriations subcommittee. The White House has proposed cutting or shrinking more than 30 federal education programs, shaving more than 13 percent off the overall budget. That’s the biggest proposed cut to the department’s discretionary funding since the Reagan administration. And there’s a lesson in that history about the reality of presidential budgets. Click the audio player above to hear the full story. (05/24/2017)

Mobile banking could ruin retail, or save it
Venmo. Bitcoin. If there's one company that's become synonymous with digital money, it's PayPal. On this episode of the Corner Office, Marketplace host Kai Ryssdal spoke with Dan Schulman, the who became CEO of PayPal in 2014. They talked about the future of digital money, how PayPal keeps closes tabs on its users in order to prevent fraud and how mobile banking could change the landscape of small businesses. According to Schulman, mobile banking may not destroy brick-and-mortar stores but re-envision them.   "If you go out 10, 15, 20 years from now, most stores are going to be distribution points for sending materials or products to consumers," Schulman said. "Or having consumers come in and pick up those products. But they'll be ordering those products and paying for those products through their mobile phones and online. And so there's a fundamental transformation going on. And PayPal's platform and scale that we have both on the consumer and merchant side is helping to enable that." (05/24/2017)

How health care is healing Erie's ailing economy
Like a lot of people in Erie, Marc Bryant spent decades in manufacturing. He was an engineer at Hammermill Paper, which became International Paper. And then the mill closed in 2002. Bryant said some of his co-workers retired. Others, “honestly, ended up on a bar stool somewhere complaining about how things were bad until their benefits ran out,” he said. And the rest did what he did. “I elected to, at the age of 48, take a leap of faith and go back to college,” he said. That was 15 years ago. Today Bryant is a registered nurse at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center Hamot, one of Erie’s two largest hospitals. He said he occasionally runs into guys at the hospital he used to work with at the paper mill. Not surprising, given that health care has become what manufacturing used to be – Erie’s biggest industry. But Erie didn’t get there on its own. It had a big assist from Pittsburgh, which is just a couple hours away and brought its own economy back from the brink by turning to health care after the steel industry collapsed. And when Pittsburgh’s two biggest health care systems — UPMC and Allegheny Health Network — needed new territory to conquer, they turned to Erie, and folded its biggest hospitals into their systems. Hamot Hospital was acquired by the University of Pittsburgh Medical System seven years ago. Since then, the hospital has expanded and launched specialties. Erika Beras Competition between the two systems at the time was fierce. But when they came to Erie seven years ago, “that wasn’t really what happened here,” said Scott Whalen, CEO of Saint Vincent Hospital, which is part of Allegheny Health Network.   But it’s happening now. Each system is sinking $100 million into new construction. They’re both offering new specialties. And the doctor poaching is nonstop.  Take Muhammad Asad, a bariatric surgeon. He works at UPMC Hamot, but he used to work at Saint Vincent Hospital. What made him cross the line? The promise of a new assistant in the form of a $2 million robot. “You go to any city of this magnitude and there will be two or three hospitals, and there will be always competition, and that’s a healthy thing,” he said. The robot used in surgery costs upward of two million dollars. Erika Beras Healthy as in jobs. Erie’s two big hospital systems employ nearly 7,000 people. And then there are the other medical-related jobs created by those jobs. There’s also a medical school and a big insurance industry, not to mention a lot of related nonmedical ones, too, like construction. Bryant, who made that shift from the paper factory to nursing, said outsiders might think of Erie in terms of manufacturing, but it’s a health care town now. “I mean, this is a very, very core thing to the community,” he said. And so far, Erie isn’t paying the typical price for those jobs in more expensive health care.  Paul Ginsburg, director of health policy at the Brookings Institution, said when the big guys buy up the little guys, it doesn’t always end well.  Related Erie public schools are consolidating to survive Erie depends on immigrants to boost its economy Rural America weighs the economic realities of proposed federal budget cuts “There’s been an accumulation of research that has shown that hospital mergers raise prices in the community, and as far as whether they improve quality, there’s just no evidence that this happens,” he said. But in this case, “The added premiums that come from more jobs in health care, much of that is paid for by people outside of Erie.” People like the woman having the weight-loss surgery. Erie is a big draw for out-of-towners in need of specialized medical procedures they can’t get at home. And then there’s that other out-of-towner — the federal government. A big percentage of Erie’s residents are covered by Medicaid and Medicare. “So, in its narrow interest, a community like Erie does benefit,” Ginsburg said. But if the Republican health care bill goes through and Medicaid funding is slashed, economists say hospitals could lose those government health care dollars. And that could put a chill on expansion plans and job growth, and bring a whole lot of pain to a community still trying to rebuild its economy.  (05/24/2017)

05/24/2017: Are financial advisers trying to help you or themselves?
The Congressional Budget Office is set to release its assessment of the GOP's new health care bill this afternoon. The CBO estimated 24 million would lose health insurance under the first draft of this plan. We'll examine whether fewer people will lose coverage under the most recent proposal. Afterwards, we'll discuss a downgrade in China's creditworthiness, and look at how the United States' new fiduciary rule works.  (05/24/2017)

Dramatically different views emerge on the future of oil
OPEC nations meet this week to discuss cuts to oil production, as prices for crude remain in a slump. Price volatility, changes to car technology, and other major uncertainties are leading to widely divergent views on the future of oil – namely, whether the world will see a peak in demand anytime soon. Click the audio player above to hear the full story. (05/24/2017)

For students in the foster care system, college can be an elusive goal
Ashley Williams' ambition to become a lawyer has a lot to do with her experience as a kid in foster care. “I want to be a lawyer because when I grew up in the foster care system, I didn’t have many lawyers who could advocate for me,” Williams said. “I figure I want to help other youth.” Williams said she moved around to 36 foster homes and 26 schools after she entered the system at 10 years old. “Education was just what kept me going,” she said. “I loved being in school.” Williams, who told her story as she was studying for her law degree, is an unusual success story. Every year, around 28,000 young people in the United States age out of the foster care system. According to a University of Chicago longitudinal study of foster youth, around 58 percent graduate from high school by the time they’re 19 years old, compared to about 86 percent of the general population. And while the data show an overwhelming number of foster youth want to attend college, most won’t achieve that goal. Related Foster care is costly, and some states send more kids to relatives A new approach to increasing low-income college grads When going to college becomes a financial risk Amanda Yard is director of support services at the Los Angeles Youth Network, a nonprofit that provides housing and other support for foster youth. She said bouncing around from placement to placement disrupts a kid’s educational progress. Different schools may not recognize previous work, and often students have to retake courses they’ve already been through. “That’s a way of retraumatizing a young person that’s just been literally removed from their home, and now they have to struggle with what their education is going to look like,” Yard said. “So we try to break those barriers for them as well.” Raynetta Smith (left) and Amanda Yard (right) stand on the porch of the administrative offices of Los Angeles Youth Network. The non-profit provides housing and educational support to local foster youth.  Libby Denkmann/Marketplace Since many foster youth will age out of the system at 18, Yard said, teenagers are forced to think about survival skills — like where they’re going to live — instead of college applications. “They’re just kids who’ve had unfortunate circumstances and want to get ahead and be successful in life and be successful adults,” she said. “And they need us to do that, because they don’t have anyone.” Starting in 2008, the federal government began offering to reimburse states for extending the eligibility age of foster care. About half of U.S. states now allow young people to stay in the system until they’re 21 years old. And there are a variety of state and federal programs to help foster youth pay for college. Many states have scholarship or grant programs. Some waive tuition at public universities and vocational training fees. But the numbers show most foster youth aren’t equipped to take advantage of this support. Multiple studies indicate under 10 percent get a bachelor’s degree. Williams said too often, foster youth aren’t aware that they can ask for help. She wants kids in the system to think about building a team to help them get ahead. “Take advantage of the money. Take advantage of everything. If something’s not going right, put your social worker to work,” Williams said. “Put the judge, put the lawyers, everybody that’s supposed to be there to protect you — put them to work. Let them do their job.” Williams is now 27 years old, and plans to continue advocating for foster youth as her career progresses.  She just received her law degree in May. The bar exam is up next. (05/24/2017)

CBO score tallies how many will be covered by revised GOP health plan
The Congressional Budget Office will release its assessment, or “score,” of the House GOP’s revised health plan this afternoon. When the first draft was released back in March, the CBO estimated 24 million people would lose health insurance under that plan. Among the questions are, will this revised plan cover more people than the last one and is more actually better?  Click the audio player above to hear the full story. (05/24/2017)

Map: Emerging tech hubs and what they're specializing in
When we think of tech, we think Silicon Valley. But that could change. Places like Omaha, Nebraska and Philadelphia are becoming promising areas for startups to develop and grow. In this series, we’re looking for cities that might become home to the next big thing. Becoming a region known for innovation doesn't necessarily have to mean becoming Silicon Valley.  Various places throughout the U.S. are gaining momentum in the tech world by focusing on specific areas of high-tech, often because of legacy industries or nearby university programs. Experts say we're entering an era where cities are taking advantage of what makes them unique.  "You see a lot of activity in these regions with historical expertise. People are becoming more entrepreneurial in general," said Sean Ammirati, a partner at Birchmere Ventures, which helps build high-growth tech companies, and an adjunct professor of entrepreneurship at Carnegie Mellon University. For example: Omaha, Nebraska, which has a long history of farming and now has companies building tech specifically geared to help farmers at their jobs. Emily Cox Pahnke, a professor at the University of Washington, said it makes sense that cities like these would be well-equipped to come up with ways to tackle issues in industries they're familiar with. "Entrepreneurship is really about solving problems that's compelling to other people to pay for those solutions," she noted.  "And people have the best understanding of problems that they have faced." There are other ingredients that have led certain cities to become potential tech hubs and specialize in an industry. Some cities house strong research centers and universities that provide them with the brain power to compete in a given sector, like Pittsburgh's Carnegie Mellon University, which has one of the world's strongest robotics facilities.   Based on input from experts in the field, here are some cities showing strengths in specific sectors. Agree or disagree? Let us know in the comments. Plus: tell us if your city is becoming an established tech hub and what it's becoming known for.  Icons by Abdo, Aneeque Ahmed, b farias, Hopkins, Oksana Latysheva and Aleksandr Vector via the Noun Project.  Related The next big tech hub might surprise us all Can Pittsburgh keep its workers from being replaced by smart machines? Will your city be the next tech hub? (05/23/2017)

Is selling half of the US petroleum reserve a good idea?
The Trump administration in its budget proposes to sell off half of the country's strategic reserve of crude oil. The idea is that putting more than 300 million barrels of energy onto the market could raise more than $16 billion over the course of a decade. Proponents note that the oil market is more open, and the U.S. produces more of its own crude than in the 1970s, when the Strategic Petroleum Reserve was created. As for the thinking behind keeping up a big oil stockpile? We are still very much an oil-dependent nation, and our domestic supply doesn’t meet domestic demand. Click the audio player above to hear the full story.  (05/23/2017)

Rural America weighs the economic realities of proposed federal budget cuts
The Trump administration’s proposed 2018 budget calls for deep cuts in non-defense discretionary spending, including a 21 percent reduction for the U.S. Department of Agriculture.  And the town of Goldendale, Washington, population 3,400, is one of many rural communities that could see those budget cuts at USDA and other federal agencies, such as the Environmental Protection Agency, the Interior Department and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, play out at the local level. These agencies are deeply involved in rural life and economics in America, managing vast federal lands across the West, as well as rivers and streams, mining and energy development, air quality, fire suppression and hydropower. Goldendale is on the high, dry prairie east of the Cascade Mountains, surrounded by farms and ranches. Like many small towns, the downtown is struggling, with boarded-up storefronts sporting “For Lease” signs next to long-established shops and restaurants. Jeanne Morgan has run Golden Photo Services on Main Street for nine years. She said the mid-2000s recession hit hard, but the economy is improving now. And she’s not concerned about possible cuts to federal employment and spending in Klickitat County and the surrounding area. “The jobs that are here are jobs that have been here, mainly from the county and the state, and not so much money flowing in from the national coffers,” Morgan said. “So it doesn’t really affect us, I don’t think.” On the outskirts of town is one of the government offices that could be impacted by budget cuts. The Farm Service Agency in Goldendale administers farm subsidy, disaster relief, conservation and other programs for the U.S. Department of Agriculture.  County Executive Director Tomy Gertsch said some of the USDA employees in her office live on nearby farms and depend on a steady government income and benefits. “One family member will have the farm, the other will work in the office and keep up on policy, keep an eye out for the family,” Gertsch said. “I know they do get concerned when they hear things about the budget. So many things could happen — all we can do is go along and just wait.” Related How local communities are trying to rebuild America New York town struggles to keep well-paid factory jobs Which areas will see cuts under Trump's budget? Approximately 1.5 percent of jobs in Klickitat County are federal, about the same percentage as in urban areas such as Seattle and Portland. But in some rural counties in Oregon and Washington, 10 percent to 20 percent of jobs are federal. Funding from federal programs supports additional jobs in state and local government. “There definitely is a higher dependence on government in rural areas compared to urban ones,” said Damon Runberg, the state employment economist for Central Oregon, based in Bend. “They’ve been fairly consistent employers, the local government side — the school districts and local administration, or we're looking at the federal side, with the Forest Service and BLM.” The president proposes reducing farm subsidies by billions of dollars over the next decade and eliminating several USDA programs, including the Rural Business-Cooperative Service, the McGovern-Dole International Food for Education program and the Rural Water and Waste program. Spending would be cut for rural development and housing assistance, conservation and land acquisition by the U.S. Forest Service. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue released a video message about the budget to USDA employees, in which he said: “There’s no denying such budgetary restrictions could possibly mean a reduction in staff. We’ll be looking at options to achieve those savings, through normal attrition, early retirements, or other least disruptive means.” Runberg said deep federal budget cuts could weaken rural employment, which has not fully recovered since the recession, and could also negatively impact “critical services that those workers provide: firefighting, resources to the agriculture industry, hydropower.” Neal Slater is a third-generation rancher in Goldendale and a strong Donald Trump supporter. He’s been pleased with the new administration’s pledges to renegotiate trade deals and get rid of environmental regulations that he said interfere with local farming and ranching. He also has strong praise for the local USDA Farm Service Agency, which has helped him get funding to drill new wells, making his ranch more profitable. But still, he said this about possible cuts to USDA: “I don’t think cuts are a bad thing. I think there’ll probably be more benefit than adverse. Because you take some of these counties where they can’t log on federal lands. Counties have gone broke. So, you get back to managing the forest and managing the land, you’re going to see some of these revitalized and come back to life.” At the USDA office, Gertsch, who grew up in a small farm town just across the Columbia River in Oregon, said she’s aware that many local people want to see the federal presence downsized to reduce regulations and the cost of government. When she introduces herself to someone new, she said she keeps a low profile. “I might wait a little bit until I know what their feelings are,” she said. “If they do have issues with the government, at least I can be there to answer questions and smooth things over.” (05/23/2017)

The Trump budget’s fuzzy math
The Trump administration's budget proposal is coming under fire from economists and tax experts who say it uses some math that just doesn't add up. In short, there’s a roving $2 trillion in it that nobody can really explain. Click the audio player above to hear the full story. (05/23/2017)

For advocacy groups, the federal budget is mainly a blueprint for battle
The federal budget released today is pretty much a fantasy document that will be dead on arrival when it gets to Congress, economists say. But even scaled back, proposed budget cuts to Medicaid, food assistance and other programs for the poor are likely to tear a hole in the safety net the likes of which we haven't seen in years. For many nonprofits and advocacy groups, cuts like that are good for nothing but raising awareness and money.  Click the audio player above to hear the full story. (05/23/2017)

Inside Trump’s budget, a big cut for Obamacare’s
In President Trump's budget plan, proposed $1.6 trillion reductions to Medicaid have taken center stage. But tucked into the raft of health care cuts is something that's attracted less attention: cuts for, the website where about 10 million Americans go to shop for insurance. Last year, President Obama thought needed $2.1 billion to run smoothly. This year, Trump thinks it just needs $1.7 billion. “So that means 20 percent less funding for things including helping people enroll, running, outreach and marketing, running the call center,” said Aviva Aron-Dine, a former Health and Human Services senior adviser during the Obama administration. To Aron-Dine, it seems odd to propose a 20 percent haircut when the Trump administration has already made changes that arguably call for more resources, like tightening up the enrollment period and beefing up eligibility requirements. But ultimately, she said, she's not surprised. “We've seen a consistent pattern from the administration of actively undermining the marketplaces, and not doing what needs to be done to make the markets work,” Aron-Dine said. One of Trump's first moves in office was relaxing the mandate to have insurance. Then the administration temporarily pulled ads urging people to sign up for coverage. And just this week, officials pushed off a decision on subsidies likely forcing insurers to jack up premiums. Jessica Altman, chief of staff at the Pennsylvania Insurance Department, said if these proposed cuts to go through, it'll just make it that much harder for the millions who use the site to get coverage. “It will be more difficult to navigate,” Altman said. “There will be more hoops for consumers to jump through to get access to that insurance, or the system won't work as well as it needs to.” Altman said everybody remembers the fiasco when the site first rolled out, giving consumers fits. The point, Altman said, is to get as many people insured as possible. And, that’s something Trump’s budget doesn’t do. Related How small businesses are dealing with health care limbo Medicare's free wellness visits sound great, but in practice, there are challenges Why a proposed Medicaid cut terrifies the parents of a severely disabled man (05/23/2017)

18: A source familiar with the matter
The Trump administration has released its proposed budget, and supply side economics is back on the menu. Plus, Mollie Hemingway of The Federalist recently wrote an article about why readers should be careful with anonymous sources, so we got her on the program to explain. USC journalism professor Vince Gonzales puts on his decoder ring and helps us understand what news organizations are actually saying about their sources. Best of all, you can finally get a Make Me Smart PopSocket! (05/23/2017)

Penn Station is a drag for commuters and the economy
The busiest stretch of road in the entire country is Interstate 405 in Los Angeles, which carries more than 350,000 drivers a day, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation. But on the East Coast, a single train depot handles nearly twice as many people every day. New York’s Penn Station is stretched past capacity, with two train derailments in the last month, track closures, delays and cancellations. "It always adds hours," said Joe Peterson of Ronkonkoma, New York. "What are you gonna do? Can't fight it." Peterson said he's late to work on a regular basis, no matter how early he leaves. The ripple effects of Penn Station delays affect the economy of the whole East Coast, according to Mitchell Moss, director of the Rudin Center for Transportation Policy & Management at New York University. "The entire productivity of the Northeast relies on the movement of people in and out of Boston, New York and Washington, and even further down into Florida," Moss said. "So unless we have a functioning Penn Station, there’s a severe problem for the movement of people, and this means that the economy slows down." Moss said the underlying problem is that Penn is actually three train stations rolled into one: Amtrak, New Jersey Transit and the Long Island Rail Road all share the same tracks. This makes delays and congestion inevitable at Penn Station. Or, as New York state Sen. Todd Kaminsky refers to it, "the bane of [his] constituents' existence." “New York Penn Station is at the heart of the Northeast corridor, which is the most important revenue-generating component in Amtrak,” said President and CEO Wick Moorman.  Ryan Kailath/Marketplace Kaminsky represents the 9th district, on Long Island, which sends nearly 250,000 commuters into Penn Station each day. "I've had constituents call me from the bathroom of trains," Kaminsky said. "They're literally sitting in the bathroom because there are no seats. That's something you would hear in a different country." According to a report from New York's state comptroller, delays and cancellations on the Long Island Rail Road alone cost the region $60 million in lost productivity last year. Now Amtrak, which owns and operates Penn Station, plans to close down a quarter of the tracks this summer for overdue maintenance work. Kaminsky said the timing couldn’t be worse. "We on Long Island really depend on a summer economy," he said. "So to say that, “Hey, this summer we're going to take your trains offline,” could really be devastating to the Long Island economy that relies on city people coming out." But in general, commuter traffic dips over the summer. So while it might hurt the Long Island beach scene, a summer closure will affect the fewest number of riders overall. Related More than 500 infrastructure projects are pitched to Trump, who will favor private money and speed A lot of people are worried about crumbling infrastructure America's infrastructure is underachieving Perhaps no one has more to lose at Penn Station though than Amtrak itself. "New York Penn Station is at the heart of the Northeast corridor, which is the most important revenue-generating component in Amtrak," said President and CEO Wick Moorman. "It's literally at the heart of what we do, from a financial standpoint." Moorman said that because of Penn Station's centrality to the company, Amtrak has more incentive than anyone to improve conditions there. But others think the company is not invested enough. Recently, governors Andrew Cuomo of New York and Chris Christie of New Jersey issued a joint letter calling for a new, private operator to take over Penn Station. And Cuomo has reached out to President Trump for federal funding, calling Penn Station an "emergency situation." Moorman said neither funding nor Amtrak's management are the problem. "The fundamental problems at Penn Station have to do with the fact that it is at or beyond capacity," Moorman said. "Nothing changes that, with a private operator." Rather than money, Moorman said, Amtrak lacks New York's most precious commodity. "Time," Moorman said. "We just have to take the time to do this work and to get it right." But as the complaints--and the trains--pile up, Amtrak may find its time is running out. (05/23/2017)

Home sales drop 11.4 percent in April
About 569,000 new single-family homes were sold in April, the Commerce Department announced this morning, about 50,000 homes short of what Wall Street expected. The disappointing April number was accompanied with upward revisions for March, when an estimated 642,000 homes were sold. That’s the highest since October 2007. Despite the stumble in April, the new-homes sales trend still looks up. Compared to March, April’s figures were down 11.4 percent. However, compared to the same period a year ago, they were 0.5 percent higher. One of the reasons that these numbers are not higher is that there are not that many new homes for sale, according to Danielle Hale, economist at the National Association of Realtors. “We’ve been talking about low inventory for the last couple of years, and in that time instead of getting better, the inventory has gone in the opposite direction,” she told Marketplace last month. According to Hale, homebuilders would need double the current level of construction to meet existing demand. Yet builders say they need more developed land and skilled labor, such as electricians and plumbers. The number of homes available for sale at the end of April was 268,000. A limited supply of newly constructed homes paired with high demand could lead to increased prices. In April, the average sales price for a single-family home was $368,300. However, many aspiring homeowners are already having a hard time coming up with the funds required to buy a home. Tim Gurner, a millionaire and a real estate developer in Australia, speculated earlier this month that the reason why young people were not able to afford homes was because they spent their money on avocado toast and expensive coffee. “When I was trying to buy my first home, I wasn’t buying smashed avocado for $19 and four coffees at $4 each. We’re at a point now where the expectations of younger people are very, very high,” he said. “We are coming into a new reality where a lot of people won’t own a house in their lifetime. That is just the reality.” Related How to save for a house and have your avocado toast, too These blue-collar workers are getting priced out of the cities that need them Could the reality be that homes are just too expensive? A recent study from real estate website Trulia found that teachers and first responders, such as firemen and police officers, are slowly being priced out of the cities where they work. Even doctors are getting priced out of San Francisco, where the median list price was $1,249,000. “I am not sure how in touch an Australian millionaire will be with the habits of the U.S. millennials,” David Kelly, chief global strategist at J.P. Morgan Asset Management, told Marketplace. According to him, it’s not that millennials don’t want to own a home, it’s that they can’t afford one. And, no, not because of avocado toast. “The banks are reluctant to lend money to younger people. They’ve got more college debt. They don’t have great jobs in terms of earning potential.” Middle-income and poor millennials can’t afford to live the American dream, he said. (05/23/2017)

Trump administration proposes selling half of U.S. oil stockpile
President Trump has proposed selling half of the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, America’s emergency stockpile of oil, as part of his 2018 budget proposal. The White House says that would lower the federal deficit by nearly $17 billion over a decade. We'll take a look at how the reserve came about – and why there’s a debate over it. Click the above audio player to hear the full story. (05/23/2017)

05/23/2017: Environmental scientists, wanted
With the stock and bond markets reacting to global events differently, Julia Coronado from Macropolicy Perspectives joins us to explain the disconnect. Afterwards, we'll look at the job market for EPA employees amid uncertainty about their future with the agency, and then explore what will happen with health care premium costs if Obamacare subsidies disappear. (05/23/2017)

Islamic State group claims deadly Manchester concert bombing
MANCHESTER, England (AP) — The Islamic State group claimed responsibility Tuesday for the suicide attack at an Ariana Grande show that left 22 people dead as young concertgoers fled, some still wearing the American pop star's trademark kitten ears and holding pink balloons. Teenage screams filled the Manchester Arena just after the explosion Monday night, and members of the audience tumbled over guardrails and each other to escape. Fifty-nine people were injured in what British Prime Minister Theresa May called "a callous terrorist attack.'' "We struggle to comprehend the warped and twisted mind that sees a room packed with young children not as a scene to cherish but as an opportunity for carnage,'' she said. Campaigning for Britain's June 8 election was suspended. Greater Manchester Police said the bomber was killed in the attack. They announced Tuesday that they had arrested a 23-year-old man in the south of the city, in connection with the bombing. The attack sparked a nightlong search for loved-ones — parents for the children they had accompanied or had been waiting to pick up, and friends for each other after groups were scattered by the blast. Twitter and Facebook were filled with appeals for the missing. Some concert-goers said security was haphazard before the show, with some people being searched and others allowed inside unhindered. The bombing took place at the end of the concert when the audience was streaming toward the exits of the Manchester Arena, one of the largest indoor concert venues in the world. Witnesses said they saw bolts and other bits of metal, indicating the bomb may have contained shrapnel intended to maximize injury and death. "There was this massive bang. And then everyone just went really quiet. And that's when the screaming started,'' said 25-year-old Ryan Molloy. "As we came outside to Victoria Station there were just people all over the floor covered in blood. My partner was helping to try to stem the blood from this one person ... They were pouring blood from their leg. It was just awful.'' Public transport shut down, and taxis offered to give stranded people free rides home, while residents opened their homes to provide lodging. Grande, who was not injured, tweeted hours later: "broken. from the bottom of my heart, i am so so sorry. i don't have words.'' May said authorities believe they have identified the attacker, but did not release the name. She said authorities were trying to determine if he had an accomplice. Hayley Lunt was staying at a hotel nearby and had taken her 10-year-old daughter Abigail to her first concert at Manchester Arena on Monday evening. She said the explosions rang out as soon as Grande left the stage. "It was almost like they waited for her to go.'' "We just ran as fast as we could to get away from that area,'' Lunt said. "What should have been a superb evening is now just horrible.'' Police cars, bomb-disposal units and 60 ambulances raced to the scene as the scale of the carnage became clear. More than 400 officers were deployed. "A huge bomb-like bang went off that hugely panicked everyone and we were all trying to flee the arena,'' said 22-year-old concertgoer Majid Khan. "It was one bang and essentially everyone from the other side of the arena where the bang was heard from suddenly came running towards us as they were trying to exit.'' Home Secretary Amber Rudd decried "a barbaric attack, deliberately targeting some of the most vulnerable in our society — young people and children out at a pop concert.'' The local ambulance service said 59 people were taken to hospitals. The city's regional government and its mayor, Andy Burnham, were among scores of Twitter users who circulated the MissinginManchester hashtag, used by people looking for family members and friends. The first confirmed victim was Georgina Callander, whose death was reported by her former school. Bishop Rawstorne Church of England Academy in Croston, northwest of Manchester, posted a photo of Georgina on its website, smiling and looking smart in her school uniform. It described her as "a lovely young student who was very popular with her peers and the staff.'' U.S. President Donald Trump, in Bethlehem, said the attack preyed upon children and described those responsible as "evil losers.'' "This wicked ideology must be obliterated. And I mean completely obliterated,'' he added. Islamic State's claim of responsibility echoed others the group has made for attacks in the West, on an established communications channel but with vague details that leave room for an opportunistic attempt at propaganda. The attack was the deadliest in Britain since four suicide bombers killed 52 London commuters on subway trains and a bus in July 2005. The Dangerous Woman tour is the third concert tour by 23-year-old Grande and supports her album of the same name. After Manchester, Grande was due to perform in London on Thursday and Friday, and later at venues in Europe, including Belgium, Poland, Germany, Switzerland and France, with concerts in Latin America and Asia to follow. Pop concerts and nightclubs have been a terrorism target before. Most of the 130 dead in the November 2015 attacks in Paris were at the Bataclan concert hall, which gunman struck during a performance by Eagles of Death Metal. In Turkey, 39 people died when a gunman attacked New Year's revelers at the Reina nightclub in Istanbul. Manchester, 160 miles (260 kilometers) northwest of London, was hit by a huge Irish Republican Army bomb in 1996 that leveled a swath of the city center. More than 200 people were injured, though no one was killed. (05/23/2017)

If $7 billion in Obamacare subsidies disappear, insurers will likely raise premiums
Legal wrangling between the Trump Administration and House Republicans leaves $7 billion of Obamacare subsidies in question. That has health insurance executives reaching for antacid, because it means they may have to jack up premiums. They have to assume that fewer people will buy health insurance if they don’t get subsidies to pay for it, and that means price increases for everyone left on the individual market.  Click the audio player above to hear the full story. (05/23/2017)

Prospective cuts have EPA workers weighing their options
The White House’s budget mirrors initial proposals to cut funding for the Environmental Protection Agency by about 30 percent. While the budget still faces negotiations in Congress, the agency seems to be preparing for major reductions, including staff.  The agency announced last week it’s setting aside $12 million for buyouts and early retirements. EPA employees who feel unsure about their future with the agency have been seeking other options, and there are employers who want to give them jobs. The California Public Utilities Commission is one. The state agency regulates power, which includes helping California meet its ambitious climate change goals. Michael Picker, CPUC president, said the agency has 250 open jobs to fill. On a recent trip to Washington, D.C., he added recruiting to his agenda. “I figured, well, you know, budget cuts coming at EPA,” Picker said. “And these are really good high-level, skilled people. Maybe some of them would be interested in continuing to do their work on climate change in California.” Related Critics say HONEST Act undercuts EPA's use of science What happened when an industry-friendly EPA leader in the '80s went too far Which areas will see cuts under Trump's budget? Picker’s agency is just one of several state offices currently hiring. So, his staff created a website where interested people could sign up for more information on positions at the CPUC, the California Air Resources Board and the California Energy Commission. For his trip, he packed 2,000 fliers, advertising the agencies as great places to work. He made signs that read “Fight Climate Change, Work for California.” “And I just went out to Metro stops close to the Department of Energy on the first day and then EPA on the next day, because those are the agencies that probably had the most skill sets that would be relevant to the work we do at the three agencies who are joining with me,” Picker said. He stood outside the stations, wearing a heavy coat and scarf, trying to snag the attention of shivering passersby, and convince them that he genuinely was trying to hire some of them. Word of his recruiting efforts spread, and strangers began arriving to help him pass out the fliers. “One day we had as many as seven people show up at the EPA to leaflet,” Picker said. “It was pretty phenomenal to see folks I had never met before, who I had not talked to, just kind of showed up to help.” The tactic worked. “Since then, we’ve had 500 inquiries,” Picker said. EPA staffers have been dealing with massive shifts in the way their agency operates, with executive orders that have mandated reviews or canceled several environmental initiatives and rhetoric about reducing regulation. One union leader said the shifts have taken a toll. “Morale is so low, you need a ladder to get out of the gutter,” said John O’Grady, president of the American Federation of Government Employees, National Council of EPA Locals #238, which represents about 9,000 EPA workers. O’Grady said the union hasn’t seen an uptick in people leaving the EPA, but fears of budget cuts and uncertainty about the agency’s mission run high. “A lot of them are waiting for the hammer to fall,” O’Grady said. “A lot of them just can’t believe that we’re in this situation right now, where we have an administrator that denies climate science, that we have an administration that wants to roll back environmental protections.” Many staffers are weighing their options, according to Ellen Weinreb, a headhunter for corporate sustainability. Weinreb said she’s been getting a lot of EPA resumes. “I’ve had about four times more than I normally would have coming in,” she said. Her advice for environmental federal workers looking for a change? “Get out of Washington,” Weinreb said. She said while many non-governmental organizations are based or have offices in Washington, D.C., a large exodus of workers from the EPA would flood the market. “Within Washington, it’s fiercely competitive for these roles,” Weinreb said. Other places will have more options. In California, Michael Picker said his agency has already made offers to 10 employees from Washington, D.C. Four have accepted. He said passing out fliers also had the side benefit of providing validation for employees, many of whom thanked him for doing it. “They felt like at least somebody was interested in what they do, and valued their time and energy and skills and life choices; and on our side, we think we’ve found some pretty good recruits,” Picker said. (05/23/2017)

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