We should prepare, not because we may feel personally at risk, but so that we can help lessen the risk for everyone. We should prepare not because we are facing a doomsday scenario out of our control, but because we can alter every aspect of this risk we face as a society.
That’s right, you should prepare because your neighbors need you to prepare—especially your elderly neighbors, your neighbors who work at hospitals, your neighbors with chronic illnesses, and your neighbors who may not have the means or the time to prepare because of lack of resources or time.
Prepper and survivalist subcultures are often associated with doomsday scenarios and extreme steps: people stocking and hoarding supplies, building bunkers and preparing to go off the grid so that they may survive some untold catastrophe, brandishish weapons to guard their compound while their less prepared neighbors perish. All this appears both extreme and selfish, and, to be honest, a little nutty—just check the title of the TV series devoted to the subculture: Doomsday Preppers, implying, well, a doomsday and the few prepared individuals surviving in a war-of-all-against-all world.
It also feels like a scam: there is no shortage of snake oil sellers who hope stoking such fears will make people buy more supplies: years’ worth of ready-to-eat meals, bunker materials and a lot more stuff in various shades of camo. (The more camo the more doomsday feels, I guess!)
The reality is that there is little point “preparing“ for the most catastrophic scenarios some of these people envision. As a species, we live and die by our social world and our extensive infrastructure—and there is no predicting what anybody needs in the face of total catastrophe.
In contrast, the real crisis scenarios we’re likely to encounter require cooperation and, crucially, “flattening the curve” of the crisis exactly so the more vulnerable can fare better, so that our infrastructure will be less stressed at any one time.
New Safety Gizmos Are Making Car Insurance More Expensive
American car insurance rates are going up up up. In the past decade, they climbed 29.6 percent, to an average of $1,548 in 2019 from $1,194 in 2011. Wired reports:
The surge, detailed in a new report from insurance shopping site The Zebra, outpaced both inflation (by far) and the increase in average car prices (more narrowly). And it came even as the rate of crashes has fallen year over year…
It turns out that new features designed to keep vehicles in their lanes and out of trouble are contributing to rising insurance rates.
That’s because the sensors that power those systems make cars much more expensive to fix when they do crash. Dent a steel bumper, and a few hammer blows gets you back on the road. Smash one on a new car, and it could mean replacing a radar, a camera, and ultrasonic sensors, then calibrating them so they work properly. Replacing a cracked windshield now comes with the extra cost of having someone readjust any cameras that look through the glass.
While some studies have shown the effectiveness of emergency braking, insurance companies haven’t yet seen enough evidence to justify a break in rates for most of these features. That’s not to say lane keeping, parking assist, and the rest don’t work. They’re all relatively new, and the actuaries aren’t yet confident that their benefits outweigh the extra costs they incur to repair. Complicating the picture is the fact that each automaker offers its own version of each feature, and that drivers may not keep the systems engaged.
American Households Waste Nearly A Third Of Their Food, Study Finds
According to research led by agricultural economics professor Edward Jaenicke of Penn State University, the average American household wastes nearly a third of its food. The value of that waste is estimated at $240 billion annually. When divided among the 128.6 million American households, that’s an average of $1,866 being wasted per household on a yearly basis. Study Finds reports:
Jaenicke says all that wasted food has far-reaching consequences, and negatively impacts overall American health, food marketing, climate change, and food security.
“Our findings are consistent with previous studies, which have shown that 30% to 40% of the total food supply in the United States goes uneaten — and that means that resources used to produce the uneaten food, including land, energy, water and labor, are wasted as well,” Jaenicke says in a university release. “But this study is the first to identify and analyze the level of food waste for individual households, which has been nearly impossible to estimate because comprehensive, current data on uneaten food at the household level do not exist.”
Comcast Settles Lying Allegations, Will Issue Refunds and Cancel Debts
Comcast has agreed to issue refunds to 15,600 customers and cancel the debts of another 16,000 people to settle allegations that the cable company lied to customers in order to hide the true cost of service. Comcast will have to pay $1.3 million in refunds. Ars Technica reports:
Comcast will have to pay $1.3 million in refunds. The settlement with Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison, announced yesterday, resolves a lawsuit filed by the state against Comcast in December 2018.
The attorney general’s lawsuit alleged that Comcast “charged Minnesota consumers more than it promised it would for their cable services, including undisclosed ‘fees’ that the company used to bolster its profits, and that it charged for services and equipment that customers did not request,” the settlement announcement said. Comcast also “promised [customers] prepaid gift cards as an inducement to enter into multi-year contracts, then failed to provide the cards,” Minnesota alleged.
Refunds to the 15,600 customers will total $1.14 million. Comcast must also pay another $160,000 to the state attorney general’s office, which can use any or all of that amount to provide additional refunds. That brings the total amount Comcast will pay to $1.3 million.
All U.S. Metros Enjoyed Income Gains For First Time in 26 Years
Americans in every U.S. metropolitan area experienced economic prosperity in 2018, according to a recent report from the Bureau of Economic Analysis. For the first time in 26 years, no metro area saw per-capita incomes fall that year — the latest available data — and it was only the fourth time since 1970 that every U.S. urban region experienced prosperity. Bloomberg reports:
Americans in fewer than 6% of metropolitan areas have experienced uninterpreted gains in personal income since 1970. In contrast, as the country began to recover from the Great Recession in 2009, residents of 84% of metro areas saw incomes decline. A large number of areas saw significant decreases in 2013 and to a lesser extent in 2016.
Metros that haven’t experienced per-capita income drops in recent years include Washington D.C. and Pittsburgh. The nation’s capital is buffered from sector-based recessions by a federal government that pulls tax revenue from a variety of sources and geographies. The Pennsylvania city, meanwhile, has emerged as a health care, education, and technology hub even as its population declines.
Wages for Typical Workers Are Rising at Their Fastest Rate in a Decade
Wages for nonsupervisory employees — who make up 82% of the workforce — are rising at the fastest rate in more than a decade, The Wall Street Journal reports.
Workers at the bottom of the pay scale have been feeling positive effects on their wages at the end of 2019 — especially when compared to those at the top.
Super Saturday Set Record as the Biggest Single Day in U.S. Retail History
Holiday shopping set records over the weekend, with Super Saturday sales reaching $34.4 billion, the biggest single day in U.S. retail history, according to Customer Growth Partners. Bloomberg reports:
“Paced by the ‘Big Four’ mega-retailers — Walmart, Amazon, Costco and Target — Super Saturday was boosted by the best traffic our team has seen in years,” said Craig Johnson, president of the retail research firm.
Job growth and fatter wallets, along with stronger household finances, have put consumers in a buying mood this season, Johnson said. And more of them are shopping online. As retailers offer improved web platforms, online spending so far this season has accounted for 58% of sales growth from a year earlier, he said.
Super Saturday’s results topped Black Friday’s $31.2 billion in sales by 10%. The next biggest shopping days were Dec. 14, with $28.1 billion, and Cyber Monday, with $19.1 billion.
A $45,000 Loan for a $27,000 Ride: More Borrowers Are Going Underwater on Car Loans
Consumers, salespeople and lenders are treating cars a lot like houses during the last financial crisis: by piling on debt to such a degree that it often exceeds the car’s value. This phenomenon—referred to as negative equity, or being underwater—can leave car owners trapped.
Some 33% of people who traded in cars to buy new ones in the first nine months of 2019 had negative equity, compared with 28% five years ago and 19% a decade ago, according to car-shopping site Edmunds. Those borrowers owed about $5,000 on average after they traded in their cars, before taking on new loans. Five years ago the average was about $4,000.
Rising car prices have exacerbated an affordability gap that is increasingly getting filled with auto debt. Easy lending standards are perpetuating the cycle, with lenders routinely making car loans with low or no down payments that can last seven years or longer.
Robocall Fines Rise to $10,000 Per Call Under Newly Passed Law
After months of negotiations, Congress approved a landmark bill on Thursday to stop the flood of illegal robocalls. The president is expected to sign it into law within the next few days. The Verge reports:
The Telephone Robocall Abuse Criminal Enforcement and Deterrence Act, or the TRACED Act, empowers the federal government with new abilities to go after illegal robocallers. Once TRACED is enacted, the Federal Communications Commission could fine robocallers up to $10,000 per call. It also would require major carriers like AT&T, Verizon, and T-Mobile to deploy a new technology called STIR/SHAKEN into their networks, which will make it easier for consumers to know if they’re receiving a call from a spoofed number.
The House voted overwhelmingly to approve the measure earlier this month, and Thursday’s unanimous Senate vote means the bill only requires President Trump’s signature to become law. Rep. Mike Doyle (D-PA) said that the bill should be signed into law within the “next week or so.”
More Americans Delaying Medical Treatment Due to Cost
A record 25% of Americans say they or a family member put off treatment for a serious medical condition in the past year because of the cost, up from 19% a year ago and the highest in Gallup’s trend. Gallup reports:
Another 8% said they or a family member put off treatment for a less serious condition, bringing the total percentage of households delaying care due to costs to 33%, tying the high from 2014 …
Reports of delaying treatment for a serious condition jumped 13 percentage points in the past year to 36% among adults in households earning less than $40,000 per year while it was essentially flat (up a non statistically significant three points) among those in middle-income and higher-income households.
As a result of the spike in lower-income households this year, the gap between the top and bottom income groups for failure to seek treatment for a serious medical condition widened to 23 percentage points in 2019. The income gap had averaged 17 points in the early years of Barack Obama’s presidency, but narrowed to an average 11 points in the first few years after implementation of the ACA, from 2015 to 2018.
Unemployment Rate Drops to 50-Year Low of 3.5%
Employers added 266,000 jobs in November and the jobless rate fell to a 50-year low of 3.5%, matching September’s level, the Labor Department said Friday. Wages advanced 3.1% from a year earlier. The Wall Street Journal reports:
The U.S. job market strengthened in November, as hiring jumped and unemployment fell, adding fuel to the economic expansion.
The stronger pace of hiring could help juice up the broader U.S. economy, which is still expanding but at a slower pace than last year. U.S. stock futures and government-bond yields rose Friday after the data was released.
Hiring was strong in health care, restaurants and transportation jobs. In November, manufacturers added 54,000 jobs, 41,000 of which were in auto manufacturing. General Motors Co. workers, who were on strike in October, helped drive the bounceback.
48 Million Americans Are Still Paying Off Credit Card Debt From Last Holiday Season
Overspending, however, is too easy. In fact, about 48 million Americans are still paying off credit card debt from last holiday season, according to a NerdWallet survey conducted by The Harris Poll. USA Today shows how to avoid financial regrets in 2020 by shop intentionally. Here’s how:
Understand why overspending is easy: Pressures and emotions run high. Ideally, your holidays are full of joy. But they may be loaded in other ways, like the pressure to buy everyone presents …
Learn to shop intentionally: Acknowledge emotions and triggers. Recognize feelings, like sadness, and that they may lead to overspending. Plan to cope in another way, like calling a friend …
2 Million Americans Don’t Have Access to Running Water and Basic Plumbing
More than 2 million people in the U.S. lack running water and basic indoor plumbing, according to a new report by the human-rights nonprofit DigDeep and the nonprofit U.S. Water Alliance — and race and poverty are key determinants of who has access to clean water and sanitation. MarketWatch reports:
Native Americans are 19 times more likely to lack indoor plumbing than their white counterparts, putting them in the worst spot of any group, and African-American and Latino households lack indoor plumbing at almost twice the rate of white households, the report found.
“The United States is home to some of the most reliable water and wastewater systems on earth, and many Americans believe access is universal,” the authors wrote. “But in fact, millions of the most vulnerable people in the country — low-income people in rural areas, people of color, tribal communities, immigrants — have fallen through the cracks.”
Lacking access to safe water and sanitation “makes it difficult to stay healthy, earn a living, go to school, and care for a family,” they added.
FCC Bars Huawei, ZTE from Billions in Federal Subsidies
In a unanimous vote during its November open meeting, the FCC approved an order that blocks the use of USF funds to purchase equipment and services from companies that pose a national security threat. The order also establishes a process for barring more companies in the future. So far, just Huawei and ZTE are on the list.
“Given the threats posed by Huawei and ZTE to America’s security and our 5G future, this FCC will not sit idly by and hope for the best,” said FCC Chairman Ajit Pai in a statement Friday.
The main issue with Huawei and ZTE is their cozy relationship with the Chinese government. National security officials fear that equipment from these manufacturers could be used to spy on other countries and companies. The Commerce Department blacklisted Huawei following a May executive order from President Donald Trump that effectively banned the company from US communications networks.
Workers Continue to Struggle Despite ‘Strong’ Jobs Reports
There’s plenty of anecdotal evidence that America’s workers are being left behind. But now a group of researchers and economists have identified a key part of the problem — the kinds of jobs increasingly available to America’s workforce. And what they’ve found, as illustrated in a new U.S. Private Sector Job Quality Index (JQI), is troubling. The Hill reports:
Since 1990, the United States has been creating an overabundance of low-quality service jobs. In fact, 63 percent of the production and nonsupervisory jobs created over the past 30 years have been in low-wage and low-hour positions. That’s a marked contrast from the start of the 1990s, when almost half of these jobs (47 percent) were high-wage.
For more than a year, economists from Cornell University, the Coalition for a Prosperous America, the University of Missouri, Kansas City and the Global Institute for Sustainable Prosperity have been sifting through private sector jobs data to develop the JQI. And they’ve found that, in the past three decades, the U.S. economy has become increasingly dependent on jobs that offer fewer hours of work and at lower relative wages.
What exactly do these low-hour, low-wage positions look like? They could be one of the almost 15 million nonmanagement jobs in leisure and hospitality. These offer an average of 24.6 hours of work per week at $14.65 an hour. That’s $360 a week. Or they could be one of 13.5 million retail jobs offering 30.3 hours a week at $16.73 an hour. That’s $506 weekly.
There are now roughly 105 million production and nonsupervisory jobs in the U.S. That’s 83 percent of all private sector jobs. And more than half of them — 58 million — pay less than the average weekly U.S. wage of $793. Many of these jobs don’t offer health care or other benefits. These are the best jobs that many Americans can find and the most hours they can get.
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