Business/Economy | KERA News


Amazon said today it's planning to hire 50,000 workers to pack and ship orders at its fulfillment centers around the country. It’s holding job fairs nationwide on August 2, which it’s calling “Amazon Jobs Day.” The company plans to make thousands of on the spot job offers next week at the locations holding events, which include Baltimore, Maryland; Kenosha, Wisconsin; and Chattanooga, Tennessee. For some perspective, 50,000 is about a quarter of the jobs the entire economy has been adding in each of the past few months. But how big a deal is it, really? 

Virtual reality filmmaking moves forward

7 hours ago

Google wants to make virtual reality films easier to create. It’s investing in a technology called VR180 — virtual reality in 180 degrees, rather than 360. The company is launching a new VR180 file format on its YouTube platform and partnering with Lenovo and LG to make affordable 180 degree cameras. Could Google jump-start virtual reality filmmaking?

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A House energy and water spending bill has a provision that would help the Trump administration get its desired repeal of the Waters of the U.S. rule, the rule by which the federal government regulates land use in the name of water quality.

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More Americans are working through cancer

9 hours ago

Sen. John McCain made headlines this week by returning to the Senate just days after surgery and a diagnosis of brain cancer. He’s not the only American working through cancer treatment. About 7 million of the 15 million cancer patients and survivors in the U.S. are working, according to data compiled by Cathy Bradley, health economist and associate director of cancer prevention and control at the University of Colorado Cancer Center.

How McDonald's serves as a refuge for local communities

10 hours ago

You might not think of a global multi-billion dollar conglomerate as the tie that binds local communities.

But it can be, and it sells Chicken McNuggets at the same time. 

07/27/2017: The health care reform saga, part three

11 hours ago

Senate Republicans are putting together a third health care bill as they scramble to repeal the Affordable Care Act. The new measure will reportedly allow employers to stop offering health insurance and taxes on medical devices would also end. On today's show, we'll talk about about the show of unity in Washington against the Senate's efforts. Afterwards, we'll discuss how more Americans with cancer are continuing to work, and then look at whether Google could jump start virtual-reality filmmaking.

07/27/2017: Farewell, Flash

11 hours ago

The practice of getting a virus onto someone's machine or network, locking up the data, and demanding a payment for the key has become popular and lucrative in a short period of time. The result: $25 million in paid ransom over two years. On today's show, we'll look at the "business model" behind this form of malicious hacking. Afterwards, we say our parting words to Adobe Flash amid news that the company is going to stop producing new versions. 

After decades of losing ground to overseas manufacturers using cheap labor, the U.S. textile industry is showing signs of revival. The resurgence is fueled in part by increased R&D into advanced fabrics — like fire-retardant material and smart garments filled with high-tech sensors. It's meant a growing number of textile industry jobs — but jobs that are pretty different from those that came before. 

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Ford can’t seem to catch a break

Jul 26, 2017

Ford shares have been on a steady slide for the past three years now. That's quite a remarkable place for Ford to be, especially given the company continues to put out the F-150 pickup, the hottest selling truck in the world. Shareholders don’t seem very impressed by Ford’s plans to transition into a future powered by driverless technology and electrification. Tesla by comparison has seen its market capitalization explode, despite the fact that it has yet to turn a profit.

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In the back of Two Ten Jack restaurant in East Nashville, Tennessee, chef and owner Jess Benefield lowers a basket of small peppers into a vat of hot oil.  These are shishitos, a Japanese pepper with just the right balance of sweetness and spiciness.

Most are mild. "We say, like every one out of 10 is hot. When you get a hot one, it's kind of super-crazy hot," Benefield said.

How tycoon William Jenkins cashed in on the Mexican Revolution

Jul 26, 2017

William O. Jenkins isn't exactly a household name, but he was once among the richest and most influential men in Mexico. Jenkins was born in Tennesee in the 1870s. In his 20s, he moved to Mexico and started investing in everything from sugar to movies. Eventually, he became a millionaire magnate with a lot of friends in high places.

07/26/2017: Inside the mind of Janet Yellen

Jul 26, 2017

The Federal Open Market Committee wrapped up its meeting today. No changes in interest rates, as we all knew there wouldn't be. But the Fed did change its narrative of the American economy. We'll try to read the tea leaves in Chair Janet Yellen's statement. Then: Amazon says it's hiring 50,000 people for fulfillment centers all around the country. That's about a quarter of all the jobs the entire economy has been adding every month. But is the hiring spree actually as big a deal as it seems? Plus: A Nashville organization tries to pair refugee organizations with hipster restaurants.

It sounds like the start of a dystopian novel. A company called Three Square Market inserts microchips in the hands of its employees, right between the thumb and pointer finger. Being part machine does not hurt much, Tony Danna, vice president of international development at the company assured us.

“It stings you when it goes in. It takes about two seconds to go in,” Danna said. You may think it is weird, but according to Danna, it’s not weird, it’s “advanced.”

Is Venmo making us petty?

Jul 26, 2017

The mobile payment app Venmo has experienced huge growth since PayPal first acquired it in 2013. Last year alone, users transferred over $17 billion using Venmo. The app is known for its popularity among millennials, who’d rather settle debts instantly on a smartphone than go searching for an ATM to cover their half of the bar tab.

In a series of tweets this morning, President Donald Trump said he would ban transgender people from serving in the U.S. military, citing "tremendous medical costs."

His statements on Twitter undermine policies set forth by President Obama's administration, which said last year that transgender people could openly serve in the military. Trump's declaration comes amid Congress' consideration of a $700 billion spending bill to fund the Pentagon. 

There's a whole lot of turbulence in Washington, yet the markets are going up. There's uncertainty. The economy is doing all right (but not fantastically). And company earnings reports are just OK. So what gives? Julia Coronado, an economist at Macropolicy Perspectives, joins us to chat about the strange nature of the stock market. Afterwards, we'll talk with the Eurasia Group's Ian Bremmer about the new sanctions bill against Russia, which has bipartisan support here in the U.S., but isn't getting a warm reception in Europe.

The National Cyber Security Alliance, a public-private partnership supported by the Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Trade Commission, is holding workshops to help small businesses around the country defend against cyber threats. Hackers have launched successful data thefts against companies large and small in recent years, and the FBI reports that ransomware attacks are on the rise.

As the Federal Reserve concludes its July meeting, many expect it won’t announce a hike in the interest rate. One big thing that factors into that decision is inflation. One of the Fed’s mandates is to keep prices stable – to prevent rampant inflation. Raising interest rates can help, but the Fed has been in a holding pattern waiting to see whether economic growth is enough to spur inflation, too.

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Why the sanctions bill against Russia is controversial

Jul 26, 2017

In a rare moment of bipartisan support, the House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly in favor of new sanctions on Russia, Iran and North Korea. But while the proposed sanctions bill will likely pass the Senate, President Donald Trump may veto the measure.

Ian Bremmer, president and founder of the Eurasia Group, joined us to talk about why certain industries are against the measure, why both Democrats and Republicans happen to be on board with it, and the fear that exists over North Korea's nuclear's capabilities. Below is an edited transcript.

The company Three Square Market provides software that runs vending machines, self-checkout kiosks and, soon, microchips that can be implanted into its employees' hands. Vice President of International Development, Tony Danna, joins us to share what exactly these chips are capable of. Afterwards, we'll chat with Anatrope founder Tiffany Rad about two of the biggest hacking gatherings in the U.S.

While everyone's watching the latest health care news, there's another important issue being discussed in Washington, D.C. — the cost of borrowing. As the Federal Reserve wraps up its policy meeting, we'll talk about what the future of interest rate hikes might hold. Afterwards, we'll take a look at stock market volatility, and then discuss how small businesses are trying to prepare against cyber criminals. 

Dallas Area Habitat For Humanity / Facebook

Habitat for Humanity, the nonprofit that builds homes for people on the financial edge, just signed a deal to buy nearly four dozen lots in the rapidly gentrifying neighborhood of West Dallas. Getting people into the homes that will be built there, though, will take years.

Many would agree that the key to economic growth, in the U.S. and elsewhere, has long been productivity — how many widgets produced per hour worked.

Many would also agree that the U.S. is suffering from a downturn in productivity. But Neil Irwin, senior economics correspondent for The New York Times, thinks it may be time to rethink the supposed productivity “slump.”

Jimmy Choo has been among the biggest names in high-end shoes for decades, but the company put itself up for sale in April. Today, fashion house Michael Kors announced it’ll buy the British footwear brand for $1.2 billion. Kors has been struggling recently and announced in May it’s closing more than 100 stores. Can this acquisition help turn things around?

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A scientist worries about a climate "hostile to science and the truth"

Jul 25, 2017

My Economy tells the story of the new economic normal through the eyes of people trying to make it, because we know the only numbers that really matter are the ones in your economy.

For today's installment of our ongoing series, we hear from Geoff Reeves, a space scientist at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico.

Commodity trading — often a big money maker for banks and hedge funds — has been subdued in recent months, leading to significant drops in revenue. Goldman Sachs recently said its commodity trading unit had the worst quarter on record, and other banks are in a similar situation. The reasons behind the slump? Lack of volatility and weak oil prices seem to be two of the main culprits.

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Big business puts some pressure on big banks

Jul 25, 2017

The Federal Reserve probably will not announce a rate hike on the second day of its Federal Open Market Committee meeting on Wednesday. But there's a decent chance it will again by year's end. And since the Fed started raising rates 18 months ago, we've seen the federal funds rate rise a full 1 percent. This is the benchmark interest rate for the economy. When it goes up, so do other rates. And yet, in our bank accounts, nada. Big banks have barely changed the rate they pay, with one big exception: corporate deposits. 

Farmers struggle with low commodity prices

Jul 25, 2017

Tom Giessel is a fourth generation farmer near the city of Larned, Kansas, who considers his commodities to be his currency.

Giessel had a fine crop this year, thanks to the good weather in central Kansas. After his landlord took a cut, Giessel made $240 dollars an acre. But, he figures that one acre can’t buy even one bag of seed corn, his second crop this summer, because it costs $300.

“I used 500 acres of my total wheat crop just to buy that corn,” he said, “let alone any fertilizer, herbicide, machinery, my time.”

25: The police can just take your stuff

Jul 25, 2017

Attorney General Jeff Sessions recently rolled back federal restrictions on civil-asset forfeiture. Local police and other enforcement agencies can take your property if they suspect that property has been involved in or purchased with profits from some illegal activity — even if you haven't been charged with a crime. Economist Jennifer Doleac talks with Kai and Molly about the policy.

The Senate's effort to repeal-and-something Obamacare inched forward a bit today, and the next 24 hours or so are going to be busy. We'll walk though what happens next. Then: The Federal Reserve meets tomorrow, so let's talk interest rates. The benchmark federal funds rate has gone up a full percentage point since the Fed started hikes. So why isn't your saving account making a thing? Plus: Farmers are struggling thanks mostly to low commodity prices amid a global grain glut. We'll look at the view from the wheat fields.