Category: Business Written by CNN
by Tami Luhby
NEW YORK (CNNMoney) -- When Debbie Bruister buys a gallon of milk at her local Kroger supermarket, she pays $3.69, up 70 cents from what she paid last year.
Getting to the store costs more, too. Gas in Corinth, Miss., her hometown, costs $3.51 a gallon now, compared to less than three bucks in 2012. That really hurts, considering her husband's 112-mile daily round-trip commute to his job as a pharmacist.
Bruister, a mother of four, received a $1,160 raise this school year at her job as an eighth-grade computer teacher. The extra cash -- about $97 a month, before taxes and other deductions -- isn't enough for her and her husband to keep up with their rising costs, especially after the elimination of the payroll tax break. Its loss shrunk their paychecks by more than $270 a month.
"If you look at how much prices are going up, you get in the hole really quick," Bruister said. "It's a constant squeeze."
In the wake of the Great Recession, millions of middle-class people are being pinched by stagnating incomes and the increased cost of living. America's median household income has dropped by more than $4,000 since 2000, after adjusting for inflation, and the typical trappings of middle-class life are slipping out of financial reach for many families.
Families with young kids are struggling to afford childcare and save for the ever-climbing costs of college. Those nearing retirement are scrambling to sock away funds so they don't have to work forever. A weak labor market means that employed Americans aren't getting the pay raises they need to keep up -- especially with big-ticket items such as health care eating away at their paychecks.
Economists say it boils down to two core problems: jobs and wages. The traditional "middle-class job" is disappearing.
Mid-wage occupations such as office managers and truck drivers accounted for 60% of the job losses during the recession, but only 22% of the gains during the recovery, according to a National Employment Law Project analysis of Labor Department data. Low-wage positions, on the other hand, soared 58%.
Uncertainty and insecurity are weighing down the middle class, even those who haven't had a break in employment. More than 40% of those surveyed in a recent Rutgers University study said they were "very concerned" about job security.
They're also not very optimistic about the near future. Fewer than one-third believe that economic conditions will improve next year, and an equal number think they will get worse, according to the Rutgers survey, conducted by the university's Heldrich Center for Workforce Development. Only 19% believe that job, career and employment opportunities will be better for the next generation.
The survey's title sums it up: "Diminished Lives and Futures: A Portrait of America in the Great-Recession Era."
Dan Heiden of Eagan, Minn., embodies that life. Before 2007, the union supermarket worker owned an apartment and socked away funds in the bank and in a retirement account.
Then the store cut his hours.
"The economy tanked," said Heiden, who now works no more than 30 hours a week. "They aren't hiring full-time any more because they can pay less."
The 37-year-old had to sell his apartment and move into his parents' basement. He has also curtailed his social life, eating out less and hanging out with friends at their homes instead of going to bars. He's depending more on credit cards and is no longer able to save much for retirement.
"Luckily, I don't have a family, because then it would be a tighter squeeze," Heiden said. "I just pray and hope the economy turns around."
Full-time employment is one casualty of the recession. The number of people working part-time for economic reasons -- meaning that they would like longer hours but can't find work -- has soared to nearly 8 million, up from 4.8 million five years ago.
Those with full-time jobs are also feeling the pressure.
Take Lois Karhinen, 55, who has been working since she was a teen. A state employee in New York, she's worried she and her husband won't have enough money saved by the time she wants to retire in 11 years.
Her husband is a government contract worker, and they fear his job could disappear any day. Their income has taken a hit because she has been furloughed several days since 2011. At the same time, her health insurance payments, union dues and other expenses have gone up.
The couple is no longer able to cover all of their monthly expenses -- including the mortgage, car loans, home repair loans and student debt -- with their paychecks alone.
"I watch every month our savings deplete," said Karhinen, who lives in Queensbury, N.Y. "I'm realizing we're not young enough to save a lot."
The downturn in the housing market also hurts. The couple bought their house in 2006, hoping it would serve as an investment and help support their retirement. But now, they would only break even if they sold it, she says -- if they were lucky.
The mortgage crisis "hollowed out" the middle class, said Tamara Draut, vice president of policy and research at Demos, a public policy research organization. Much of their wealth is tied into home values, but national home prices are still 29% below their mid-2006 high, according to S&P Case-Shiller.
That means some folks have lost all their home equity and may never get it back. Others can't take out loans to finance repairs, college for the kids and other expenses.
There's one more big squeeze hitting households: health care. Since 2002, insurance premiums have increased 97%, rising three times as fast as wages, according to Kaiser Family Foundation/Health Research & Educational Trust.
In Mississippi, Bruister now has an $1,800 deductible, compared to $500 a few years ago. When she goes to the doctor, the bill typically tops $100 -- so she tries to avoid going.
"Health care for me has turned into more of a luxury item," said Bruister, 52. "I go every year for the checkups my insurance pays, but after that you just tough out the other illnesses."
Economists say they don't expect much improvement for the middle class any time soon. The recession is officially over, but the recovery is fragile, and its gains aren't evenly spread. Between 1993 and 2011, the top 1% of America's earners saw their income soar by 58%, while everyone else only got a 6% bump.
That's making it even harder for most households to get ahead.
"The middle class was always synonymous with economic security and stability," Draut said. "Now it's synonymous with economic anxiety."
Last Updated on Tuesday, 05 March 2013 14:31
Category: Business Written by Associated Press
WORLD”S RICHEST-- Mexican telecommunications tycoon Carlos Slim speaks during news conference at the Soumaya museum in Mexico City. (AP Photo/Dario Lopez-Mills, File)
Last Updated on Monday, 04 March 2013 18:18
Category: Business Written by CNN
by David Goldman
BARCELONA, Spain (CNNMoney)—AT&T would like everything you own to connect to its network, and it wants all those connected possessions to show up on your monthly wireless bill.
It’s not as audacious as it sounds. Smartphones and tablets are hardly the only wirelessly connected gizmos anymore.
Everything from medicine to door locks to dog collars are connected to wireless networks nowadays. Even cars have essentially become smartphones on wheels.
AT&T says this new “Internet of Everything” presents a path for the company to become far more ingrained in its customers lives. And with its new Mobile Share plans that give you one data bucket for all your connected gizmos, AT&T expects to profit. Customers will have to pay AT&T for all the new gadgets they’ll be connecting and all the new services the company will be providing.
“We’re sitting on the greatest growth opportunity in history,” said Ralph de la Vega, CEO of AT&T Mobility, in an interview with CNNMoney. “With Mobile Share, we don’t care so much anymore about what you’re doing on the network ... but all those things like cars and home security are where the monetization opportunity is.”
At the Mobile World Congress wireless technology conference on Monday, AT&T announced a perfect example of this evolving strategy: a partnership with General Motors to provide 4G service for the car company’s OnStar service.
It was hardly just an announcement about directions and automatic accident reporting. AT&T will be selling a service that can make your Chevy into a mobile Wi-Fi hotspot. The telecom giant will also soon start selling a U-Verse service that streams TV to the back seat of equipped GM cars.
GM said it believes more than 50 percent of its cars will have wireless capabilities by 2015.
“Everyone is going to be impacted by this sooner rather than later,” said de la Vega.
Connected cars are just the tip of the iceberg. Last year, AT&T unveiled a home security service that allows users to control their home’s lights, alarm systems, locks and doors from a tablet or smartphone. A year earlier, the company showed off pill bottles that send text messages to remind people to take their medications.
“At AT&T, our goal is to wirelessly enable everything,” said Glenn Lurie, AT&T’s vice president of partnerships, at a press conference on Monday.
These new services may be useful, but they’re also changing our behavior on the mobile Internet. Consumers are downloading more and more data as a greater number of things become connected and mobile broadband speeds become blazing fast with the nationwide rollouts of 4G networks.
In its latest annual Visual Networking Index, Cisco predicted that the average American will use 6.2 GB of data on their mobile devices each month by 2017. To put that into context, Americans used just 752 MB on average last year.
If data plans stay the same five years down the road, the average user’s smartphone bill could grow by $40 a month.
Not to worry, AT&T says. There are as many smart people thinking about how to solve the wireless data overload issue as there are people working up new ways to connect to the network.
“Don’t give up on technology innovators,” said de la Vega. “As we’ve seen major technology shifts in the past five years, from 2G to 3G to 4G, the cost per megabyte has always come down. We have to make these services affordable for customers, or else it will be impossible to use them.”
Last Updated on Friday, 01 March 2013 09:57
Category: Business Written by William Reed
(NNPA)—“Direct my footsteps according to your Word”—Psalm 119:133
The gospel song, “Order My Feet in Your Word,” happens to be a popular tune. It’s a good theme for life and a personal request to God to “Prepare my goings in your paths and not let evil rule over me.” However, to impose order on “your steps” requires practical techniques and applications.
What procedures are involved if you want to “walk worthy” through life? A new and empowering book titled, “The Spirit Within: Embracing God’s Living Spirit for a Healthier Life,” just might be the answer. It’s a timely guide that helps readers “order” their lives in both practical and spiritual ways. Author Alan E. Miller said, “Knowledge of God and his works in your life is empowering.” Miller said, “You can enjoy a healthy life by having an accurate view of God in your heart and mind and letting that shape your life every day.”
In Africans’ traditional life, spirituality is the foundation of one’s being. A believer’s destiny is bound up in spiritual pursuits throughout his life. In contemporary America, many Blacks search for their “spiritual enlightenment” and “true selves.” But, empowerment is achieved only through utilization of fundamental leadership and management techniques. In the book, “The Spirit Within,” Miller shows readers “how to walk” in productive and spiritual ways. The book provides a combination of plans for one’s life, scripture references, and exercises to refresh your spirit, refine your life, and refocus your goals and passions.
Miller said that “inspirational and religious book buyers, church members and leaders” are the target audience. He said it is a valuable tool that “no home should be without” and that “it should be read by every house member.” He said the book’s “first-hand accounts of spirituality” can lead to “better, healthier lifestyles.” In the “Spirit Scripture Index” section, readers can find a complete list of spiritual references that appear throughout the Bible.
Traditional and contemporary studies relate happiness, morale, and health to spirituality. Many older Blacks are saying that “religion helps them cope or adapt with losses or difficulties.” For insights on “the Spirit inside each of us,” Black church groups, book clubs, parents and student groups, or other gatherings, should give Miller a call. Instead of booking the local TV weatherman, church members, business executives and organizations would do well in their outreach, training, spiritual coaching and fundraising utilizing Miller and his publication for their programs. In conjunction with the publication, the Miller Group also offers one-day seminars comprised of discussion groups, testimonies, and spiritual awareness sessions.
“Freedom begins with the freeing of the mind and soul” said Miller. Regarded as a modern-day Renaissance man, Miller is an artist, published poet, accomplished playwright and a corporate diversity marketing counselor. Miller’s also a certified “Fruit of the Spirit” instructor. Better grounded than those whose job it is just to read the news on TV, Miller knows how to help navigate obstacles and chart paths to solid solutions. He appears on news networks and his writings have been featured in national publications. Miller has spoken at numerous seminars and taught business, diversity and entrepreneurial leadership classes across America. He’s created, developed and implemented Diversity Marketing program activities among industry and church audiences.
(William Reed is head of the Business Exchange Network and available for speaking/seminar projects through the Bailey Group.org.)
Last Updated on Friday, 01 March 2013 09:59
Category: Business Written by Charlene Crowell
(NNPA)—Although Feb. 14 is typically remembered for Valentine Day, this year that date brought new findings on the cumulative costs of the Great Recession—$13 trillion in cumulative losses in household wealth and high unemployment are the result of the Great Recession, according to a new Government Accountability Office.
Earlier research by the Center for Responsible Lending found that the spillover effects of foreclosures wiped out nearly $2 trillion in family wealth. From 2000-2010, African-American family wealth dropped 53 percent, and Hispanic families lost 66 percent. By comparison, average White household wealth dropped only 16 percent. The foreclosure crisis and resulting economic downturn have turned back the clock on previous wealth gains, especially in communities of color.
The GAO report was performed at the request of the Senator Tim Johnson (SD), chair of the U.S. Senate Banking Committee, and Rep. Michael Capuano (Mass., the ranking member of the House Subcommittee on Housing and Insurance.
Responding to the report’s findings, Capuano said, “I thank the GAO for this comprehensive report. Millions of Americans lost their homes to foreclosure, Millions more lost retirement savings and too many Americans found themselves unemployed. . . Any costs associated with implementing Dodd-Frank pale in comparison to the trillions of dollars in losses that have already occurred. Congress must ensure that Dodd-Frank is implemented comprehensively and effectively so that the tools are in place to prevent another crisis.”
Despite the independent, non-partisan GAO findings, Consumer Financial Protection Bureau opponents insistently call for changes to Bureau, the centerpiece of Dodd-Frank Reform. These critics either do not know or are ignoring how the Bureau returned $425 million in consumer refunds and levied another $70 million in fines for abusive financial practices.
Nor would these critics likely acknowledge that new CFPB rules will ensure that no mortgage borrower will be given an unaffordable and unsustainable loan. Thanks to CFPB, each lender is now required to determine and verify borrowers’ ability to repay before the loan is issued. Additionally, consumer-friendly changes in mortgage servicing means borrowers will no longer incur costly surprises with their loans or be given a runaround by a servicer.
Had CFPB and these mortgage rules existed before the housing crisis hit, communities of color would not have been financially devastated. Every consumer can be encouraged by the Bureau’s actions to increase greater transparency in financial services, coupled with common sense rules of the road. America’s families need nothing less.
Responsible businesses have recently begun speaking up in defense of CFPB. For example, John Arensmeyer, founder and chief executive of the Small Business Majority, recently said, “The financial industry wrote its own rules for too long. Honesty and transparency are not too much to ask from institutions that helped run the economy into the ground. Lawmakers—many of whom talk a lot about protecting small businesses—should be the first in line asking for more accountability.”
The U.S. Senate is charged to advise and consent on presidential nominees. On Valentine’s Day more than half—54 in all—wrote to President Obama to express their strong support for the CFPB and Director Richard Cordray.
Last Updated on Thursday, 28 February 2013 20:02
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