Marketplace - American Public Media

Subscribe to Marketplace - American Public Media feed
Marketplace from American Public Media is the premier business news show on public radio. Hosts Kai Ryssdal, Ben Johnson, Lizzie O'Leary and the Marketplace team deliver news that matters, from your wallet to Wall Street. Online at Marketplace.org.
Updated: 6 min 50 sec ago

Twitter has a hard time with bots because it was designed to be bot-friendly

7 hours 11 min ago
It's been a hard year for social platform companies like Twitter and Facebook. After reports emerged of Russians interfering with the 2016 presidential election by using bots and fake accounts, both companies have come under pressure to clean up their user bases. And for Twitter, this may be especially tricky; as far as platforms go, the site is incredibly bot-friendly.  "This is something that they've struggled with over the years ever since its inception," said Bloomberg's Selina Wang in an interview with Marketplace host Kai Ryssdal. "Twitter, as a company, has encouraged anonymity in various forms, as well as automated accounts." According to Wang, most of those bots on Twitter are innocuous; they handle customer service or tweet articles. But over time, bot use has become more diverse, and in some cases, malicious. But Twitter's business model could make screening for those malicious bots particularly complicated.  "When you look at Twitter, the main metric Wall Street cares about is this number called 'monthly active users.' They want to grow that number as much as possible," Wang said. "As they combat this issue, it will cause an impact, at least in the short term, on this monthly active user number." Click the audio player above to hear the full interview.

Productivity is poised to rise. Finally.

8 hours 36 min ago
Labor productivity, a measure of how efficient workers are, hasn't been improving in recent years. That has caused worry among economists, because worker productivity has a big impact on economic growth. Well, times may be a-changing. The McKinsey Global Institute is out with a new report that says this era of low productivity growth might finally be coming to an end. Click the audio player above to hear the full story. 

Mayor eyes downtown development for Erie turnaround

8 hours 47 min ago
President Trump pledged sweeping political and economic changes during the campaign. We have no idea if Trump can deliver on those promises, but we can explore what it’s going to take for him to try. It’s all in our series The Big Promise. As you may know from reading our ongoing coverage of Erie, Penn., the city of around 100,000 is divided between those who see the city's economy as a glass half-empty situation and those who see the glass half-full. Someone who's optimistic about Erie's future is Mayor Joe Schember, who has only been in office a month, but has lived in Erie his entire life. Like other mayors in similar-sized cities across the country, Schember is counting on construction of new buildings and a vibrant downtown to bring life back to Erie's economy. He talked with Marketplace host Kai Ryssdal about the challenges of getting residents on board. The following is an edited transcript of their conversation.  Kai Ryssdal: What is the biggest economic challenge you face in the city of Erie? Joe Schember: Well, Erie has been losing jobs and population since the late 1960s, when we were around 140,000 population. We're down under 100,000 now, about 97, 98,000. And so my number one priority is to bring more good, family-sustaining jobs to Erie. I think that's the most important thing we need, and we need to turn that around, and I think we have a really unique opportunity right now to do that. Ryssdal: One of the things the president said during his campaign was he was going to bring jobs back to towns like Erie. He talked manufacturing, specifically. Do you think that the president is capable of doing what you also say you need to do in the city of Erie? Schember: Yeah, I'm not sure on a national level what the president may or may not do, but I really believe locally here in Erie we have the opportunity to do that. And I really believe most job development needs to be done at a local level not at a national level. Ryssdal: Where are the bright spots for you then, sir? Because what was for a long time the biggest employer in town, General Electric, has started pulling down. What's the upside for you? Schember: The upside is there's all kinds of new construction planned and actually already started in Erie. For instance, we have a Fortune 500 company in town here: Erie Insurance Exchange. They just started building a new building maybe six or nine months ago. It's going to take them a couple of years to build it. It will be the biggest building in downtown Erie ever constructed in my lifetime, and it's going to bring 600 new jobs to downtown Erie. So one of the things I'm trying to do is encourage local developers to create more good market-rate housing downtown. Right now, we have a real shortage of market-rate housing. My vision for that is we need to have this housing so downtown Erie can be more like downtown Pittsburgh, where the millennials live and work, walk to work, walk to the restaurants. I want to create that kind of environment in downtown Erie. Ryssdal: Since you mentioned your lifetime, sir, I should note here that you raised your kids in the house that you grew up in. You've been in Erie your whole life, you worked at the same company, PNC Bank, for 40-something years. Why did Erie change so much? What happened between when you were a kid and today? Schember: You know, we are a Rust Belt town, and I think what happened to us isn't unique, it happened throughout the Rust Belt. Some cities have been quicker in recovering than we've been. But again I think we have this opportunity now to really accelerate this recovery. I actually feel lucky that I got elected mayor at this point in time. And I mentioned Erie Insurance, that's like a $135 million project. There's a total of $600 million in projects in downtown Erie that have been announced. Our hospitals are building new buildings. We're getting new development on the bay front, which is one of our unique strengths we've never capitalized on, and something that can attract people here. It can be a great place for our residents to live, work and play. So I'm really excited about the opportunity, and what I'm trying to do is make sure we get the most out of all this opportunity we have right now. Ryssdal: So I've been in Erie probably four times over the past year, talked to a bunch of people. I was at the Polish Falcon about two days ago talking to people, and we've been walking around downtown talking to folks. They are not entirely happy with all the kinds of development that's happening, right? Lots of big giveaways for the hotels and the convention centers and stuff down on the waterfront. And they're not seeing the kind of growth that you're talking about. Schember: You know, what happened with the convention center -- there is controversy about that -- but it is state law what was done there in terms of the tax breaks they got. And to me, that's the first major development we've had on our bay front. What we need now is some for-profit businesses down there. There's a local restaurateur who's announced that in the parking ramp down there he's going to put a real unique restaurant. And I'm anxious for that because that will be the first for-profit thing down there. And he's got three or four restaurants around town, they're all popular. That will draw people down there, and as people start going down there more for things other than conventions, just to recreate, that will draw more businesses and hopefully some good market-rate housing over time. It's not going to be easy. And I understand people are frustrated and unfortunately, we do have a tendency in our town to look at the cup half empty. I want people to start looking at it half full and say, how can we make that even fuller than it is? Ryssdal: Well you know it's interesting you bring that up because as I said, I was in Erie a couple of days ago talking to a bunch of people around town, and there was an interesting generational divide. A lot of the folks who've been in Erie for a long time are very much glass half empty in a four-letter word kind of way that I can't say on the radio, and the younger people that I talked to actually had some optimism. They were hopeful and I think that generational divide is kind of interesting. Schember: Yeah, that is interesting. It's very encouraging to hear that about the younger generation, and I've got some access to a lot of them. I can tell you my mayor's office, the staff I put together, is very diverse which I'm proud of. We have an Indonesian, a new American citizen. We have an African-American. We have a millennial. We have a couple of women. I always say I'm the only old white guy on the team. We've also added a new business development officer, a new grant writer and a new city planner. The city of Erie has never had a planner before. We've never looked beyond the current year to say, where do we want to be five, 10, 15 years from now? And what do we need to do today to start getting there? So this team, I want to say they formed around me, because these are people that kind of came to me, talked to me over the course of the last year or so. Some of them I've known for a lot longer than that, but I feel very lucky to have this team, and I think this team can kind of change the way we look at things from that glass half empty to the glass half full as we start to have some early successes. I'm hoping even the older people, people more my age, will start to say hey, we do have the possibility to move things forward and make the city great again. Ryssdal: When you go to conferences of small- to medium-size city mayors in this country, as I'm sure you all do, what are you seeing from your peer cities across the country? Because there are thousands of cities like Erie all over the United States. Schember: Yes there are, and I've been in office about a month now. I've actually been to one training session where there were other mayors, and that was up at Harvard. That was actually before I took office. But at that particular meeting, I heard a lot of the same things from other mayors from across the country in similar-sized cities: that you've got to encourage the private sector to develop and grow. I don't want to create jobs in government. I want to create good, family-sustaining jobs in the private sector by encouraging them to locate, expand and grow here in Erie. Ryssdal: If I could just ask you to pull back for a second and talk about the national economy, are you worried about the situation that we have with the politicians in Washington running the national economy, their inability to agree, and how that might trickle down and affect you? Or are you just keeping your head down and doing your job? Schember: I do worry about that. And the same thing exists, to be honest, at at state level here in Pennsylvania, where the Democrats and Republicans just seem to oppose each other no matter what. We have a Republican senator, Dan Laughlin, who I've developed a relationship with. In fact, I was in Harrisburg yesterday and spent an hour meeting with him talking about a couple of programs that we might both have interest in trying to propose and move forward. So I don't care if it's a Democrat or Republican, any elected official that represents the same people I represent, I want to work with them to help the people and not worry about who's going to get elected in two or four years from now. That's the type of politics I hate. You know, I'm not a career politician, and I just wish they'd stop and start talking about how can we make the country better, how can we help our people.

Conference of African-American women offers platform for exercising economic and political power

10 hours 9 min ago
This week, hundreds of African-American women will meet in Atlanta for Power Rising, a conference to talk about ways to make their voices better heard in politics, economics and other areas. Black women own about 1.5 million businesses in the country, according to the latest U.S. Census figures, generating more than $42 billion in sales in 2012. Conference organizers say they want black women to find ways to make the most of their political and economic power. Atlanta resident Labriah Lee Holt will be attending and speaking at the conference as a new entrepreneur. She bought a building last year in Atlanta’s west side so she could open up a blow-dry bar specifically for women of color. “As an African-American woman or a woman with textured hair, you don’t always have trust,” Holt said. “I can’t just walk into any storefront and say ‘Can you blow out my hair?’ or 'Give me a hairstyle,’ because they may not be familiar,” Holt said. To Holt, opening up a business geared toward other black women was more than just about stylists being familiar with black hair. The former lawyer said when she was researching the market for her business, she didn’t see a lot of black women ownership represented in big salon chains. “It just shows how so much money is spent on this stuff by our community and by women, and none of that money is really going back to our community,” Holt said. Holt will join other black women at the conference to talk about these issues, including business and the economy, politics, health, education and culture.  “We're looking to come out of the conference at the end with an action plan with some things that we can agree that we will do in the coming weeks, the coming months, to move forward our communities and our nation,” said Leah Daughtry, a Washington, D.C., area pastor and co-organizer of the conference. Daughtry, who was CEO of the 2016 Democratic National Convention, said the idea for a conference of black women came from a Congressional Black Caucus women’s retreat after the presidential election. She said black women have consistently demonstrated the power of their vote, but that hasn’t always translated to being represented in politics. “But beyond that, our consumerism, the amount of money that we control in the American economy, the influence that we have on culture and on business — we are not represented in corporate boardrooms in the way that we should be,” she said. According to the University of Georgia’s Selig Center for Economic Growth, African-American buying power will reach $1.5 trillion by 2021, up from $1.2 trillion in 2016. And a recent Nielsen report shows that black women are a big part of that growth. Black women are also one of the fastest-growing groups of entrepreneurs in the country, according to the National Women’s Business Council. Kimberly Blackwell, a member of the council, said despite that, there are disparities.    “Black women business owners continue to have annual receipts that are much less than the broader populations,” she said. “So a still a lot of work to be done there.” Related Why there still aren't a lot of black women executives Women CEOs outperform men, so why aren't companies giving them the top job? How African-Americans were 'shut out' of the American dream She said black women business owners can face particular challenges, like getting access to capital or finding a network of mentors.    One of Lee Holt’s challenges has been juggling a full-time job while trying to get her business off the ground. She’s been using her own money along with a small business loan. “I would love to see if there’s a way to create more support for black women who may be talented and have brilliant ideas who are just missing funding or potential access to potential funding revenue streams,” she said. Her salon, Sweetroots, is expected to hold its grand opening in May. 

From engineer to coffee shop owner in Erie, Pennsylvania

12 hours 8 min ago
President Trump pledged sweeping political and economic changes during the campaign. We have no idea if Trump can deliver on those promises, but we can explore what it’s going to take for him to try. It’s all in our series The Big Promise. Hannah Kirby is a 30-year-old resident of Erie, Pennsylvania, originally from Waynesburg. She first came to Erie to earn her engineering degree from Gannon University and later got an MBA. She got a job as an engineer at a manufacturing company in town, but eventually realized she wanted something else: to open up a coffee shop. She studied coffee, visited roasters across the country, and now Kirby owns Ember + Forge in downtown Erie, the only coffee shop within the city limits besides Starbucks. The following is an edited transcript of Kirby discussing how the coffee shop came to be and how she hopes it will contribute to Erie's growth.  So I came to Erie in 2006 to go to Gannon University here in downtown Erie. I really fell in love with the people that were here, really just decided that this is where I want to stay. I bought a house right out of college here inside the city limits. And it's kind of been my thing to support this city and help it grow and develop. So when I chose it as my home, it just made sense for me to build the business here in Erie. So this building was built in 1951 and it originally was a chandlery [a candlemaker]. And so the chandlery idea is where it kind of came up with the "ember," so candles and that kind of flame-fire aspect. And then the "forge" part of it comes from Erie's history as a manufacturing town. And then when we started looking a little bit deeper, we thought about what an ember was. It's the remnants of a once blazing fire, and we thought that was just so appropriate for where Erie is. We have lost a lot of jobs and people see it as kind of a declining city, but really, you know, I see it as that heart of a fire that really can be turned into flames so easily. You know, a lot of people say Erie has a lot of potential, and it most certainly does, but saying that it has potential [implies] it's not totally living up to it. And I think that Erie already is doing a lot. Growth is certainly welcomed, but I think that we have a lot to offer. You know, the younger generation, I feel like we don't expect to have those jobs that an older generation had. They have never existed for us — so where you come out of high school and work in a manufacturing job, and that is a wage you're able to raise a family on. We've never had that opportunity. So we realize that we have to make those jobs that are family-sustaining, life-sustaining. I think that people are starting to realize — the younger generation, specifically — that we're not going to be able to turn to our federal government, we're not going to be able to turn to our state government to build cities and that the cities are going to have to do that themselves. So it's really becoming more obvious that this is a growing city. I hope that we can just be here for a long time. And what would make this dream absolutely set in stone would be that two people come in and talk about an idea and come up with a plan inside these walls and then execute it outside of them that really helps our city grow. That would be kind of the ultimate dream. Ember+Forge in downtown Erie, Pennsylvania. Daisy Palacios/Marketplace

Who's better off in Erie's changing economy?

13 hours 29 min ago
President Trump pledged sweeping political and economic changes during the campaign. We have no idea if Trump can deliver on those promises, but we can explore what it’s going to take for him to try. It’s all in our series The Big Promise. Erie, Penn. was built on manufacturing, but a lot of those companies and the jobs they offered have up and left, and that's left a lot of people in Erie feeling left behind — which is how we found ourselves back at the Polish Falcons Social Club. It's a neighborhood gathering spot where people of all ages come after work for a drink or two. We were here last January, right before the inauguration, to see how people were feeling about their economies going into a new administration. We heard people lamenting the lack of jobs, cuts at G.E. and the death of manufacturing.  Now we're back, one year later, to see how things have changed. Marketplace host Kai Ryssdal talked with several Polish Falcon regulars, beginning with Fred and Nancy Dash. They're retired and living on about $3,000 a month. Nancy Dash: Erie is pretty much poverty stricken. Sorry. There's not a lot of good paying jobs for the - I have grandsons, I have grandchildren. They can't find a decent job here. One just started working at a dog training place. Started today. Kai Ryssdal: How much is he gonna make? Do you know? Nancy Dash: Probably nothing.  Ryssdal: So what do you think is the future of this city?  Nancy Dash: I think it sucks. I think it's done. I really do. I don't think Erie is gonna go too far. Ryssdal: What do you think of the future of this country — of the businesses and the companies and of the people that make things in this economy? What's your guess as to how that's gonna go? Nancy Dash: I think they're all gonna make it. I think they know now how to make the country better and they are gonna make it better. Ryssdal: Did you vote for Mr. Trump? Nancy Dash:  I can't really honestly tell you that. Ryssdal: How you feeling about how he's doing? Nancy Dash: I think he's great. Ryssdal: You happy with him?  Nancy Dash: I think so. My husband is. Fred Dash: Mr. Trump left a billionaire lifestyle because he's an American and loves this country. That's how I look at it. And you have these idiots, like Pelosi. They're idiots. What's wrong with them? They can't accept that they lost the election. Ryssdal: You think that's what it's still all about? Fred Dash: Absolutely!  Ryssdal: Are you better off today than you were a year ago?  Fred Dash: Because of Trump, yes. Ryssdal: So, you like what Mr. Trump is doing on the economy, the tax bill and regulations. All of that? Fred Dash: Absolutely. For years, GE Transportation was Erie's main economic driver. But in 2016, there were 1,500 job cuts and plans for another 600 in 2018. Now, most of the decent-paying jobs here are at the hospital, the university or Erie Insurance Company, places that require skills that are different from the ones a lot of the lifelong residents of this city have. Bob, who did not want to give us his last name, is 62 and an assembler at General Electric. He's been there for 14 years and makes around $72,000 a year. Bob: I am very angry. I'm very angry, very angry at what's happening to this country. Coming to the end of my working life and to see this happening and watch the younger guys I work with — they're going to have to struggle for 20 years. They don't know from month to month what's going to happen. And you should go to work and be able to know that you have a job, that you can make your house payments, or whatever, send your kids to school. That's just the uncertainty of everything now. The American people better wake up if they haven't. We're done. I believe we're done as a country. Ryssdal: So, are you just getting up in the morning and putting in your time at GE? Bob: I get up in the morning, I put on the news to see if we're at war. Every morning, 5:00 in the morning, then I check the weather. Johnette Kent has lived in Erie her entire life. She's 66 years old and retired from the state Department of Public Welfare. Johnette Kent: Are we better off? No. You can promise everybody roads. You can promise them housing. You can promise them jobs. You're going to start printing money? Where is this going to come from? With Donald Trump, it's smoke and mirrors. Ryssdal: Here's a question though: I mean, the economy is growing. Jobs are being added. Consumers are extremely confident. They're spending money. Kent: Let me ask you this: Now, how many jobs? When they say jobs are added, does that balance the jobs lost? I'm not sure they are. Lower-paying jobs are being added, instead of the manufacturing jobs that paid a decent living. Ryssdal: Here's the other part of the economic equation. There's a big tax-cut law that just went into effect. Right? People are going to start seeing money in their paychecks. Businesses are happy because regulations are being cut. You're not having that? Kent: It'll all come home to roost when the company is bankrupt. Who's going to pay the bills then? People who were eating bread, suddenly you're giving them cake. It may look good, but again it's all smoke and mirrors. The money for a revitalization of the infrastructure has to come from somewhere. The way the government gets money is taxation, come on. What was interesting about that night at the Polish Falcon was that there was a kind of divide — an economic generational divide between who was feeling alright and who wasn't. Sitting at a table at the back of the bar is a group of 5 friends. Two of them, Elspeth Koehle, 41, and Martha Nwachukwu, 25, work as regional organizers for Erie County United.  Elspeth Koehle: I'm doing much better this year than I was last year, and I think it's a bit of a reaction to recent events.  Ryssdal: The organizing business is good? Koehle: Right. Yes, it is.  Ryssdal: How about your own personal economy? How are you feeling? Koehle: I feel good. Ryssdal: Do you? Koehle: Yes. I mean, my brothers and sisters in Erie, I don't feel so great about how they're doing. And that's why I'm doing the work I do. Martha Nwachukwu: I graduated college, and I got a job, and I think I'm making the natural progression I'm supposed to. Ryssdal: So, you're feeling pretty good. Nwachukwu: I'm feeling OK, yeah. Ryssdal: What would make it better for you?  Nwachukwu: If I didn't have student loans to pay. Ryssdal: Can you afford a car and an apartment and all of that? Nwachukwu: Yeah, but all on loans. I hate having debt. I hate the idea of debt. Ryssdal: So, in five years, where do you think you are economically? I mean if you're doing fine now at 25, not great, but fine, how you gonna be doing at 30? Nwachukwu: I hope to have my student loans paid off. I would love to own my car. And I honestly don't know, I don't know where I will be at 30. Beyond this, I hope. Ryssdal: Are you two optimistic? Not just about Erie, but about your own economic futures? Elspeth? Koehle: Of course. I mean, she's 25 years old. I hope she has optimism, because if she doesn't, she's gonna have a hard go, you know? But yeah. Right? Nwachukwu: Yeah.  

Why low unemployment might not lead to higher inflation

15 hours 23 min ago
Our ideas about the relationship between the unemployment rate and inflation may be all wrong.  The latest jobs report revealed that the unemployment rate is at 4.1 percent for a fourth straight month — the lowest level since 2000. But that means that the economy may be heating up, which also means that the Federal Reserve may want to put the brakes on that by raising interest rates. The group at the Fed that regulates interest rates, the Federal Open Market Committee, is gearing up to release detailed records of their latest closed-door meeting — the last with Janet Yellen as chair. The Fed has already suggested it wants to hike interest rates three times this year, but the big question this time around is whether the Fed wants to hike them even more frequently. Chris Farrell, a Marketplace economics correspondent, joined us to explain why there's room for unemployment to drop even lower. Below is an edited transcript.  Sabri Ben-Achour: So, there is a general assumption out there that as the unemployment rate gets lower and lower, we flirt more and more with an overheated economy where there is too much inflation. You question that. Chris Farrell: Yeah. I mean, you can almost hear Karl Marx in the background muttering: "I told you, capitalism needs a reserve army of the unemployed." And yet there's the notion that more people working and more people earning money depreciates the value of the dollar, which is another way of saying "inflation." There's a lot of research that says that's a deeply flawed idea. Ben-Achour: Well, why is that? I mean, doesn't it kind of makes sense? You’ve got a pretty low unemployment rate, 4.1 percent — wouldn't you imagine companies would have to compete with wages? Farrell: Part of it is there's this idea that's out there called the natural rate of unemployment. It's the lowest rate consistent with stable prices. So when unemployment drops below that level, price pressures — you just can't contain them. And the relationship held up pretty well several decades ago, but it's broken down. The fundamental problem is no one really knows how low unemployment can go before inflation picks up. Ben-Achour: Are you saying, in other words, that even though we have an unemployment rate of 4.1 percent, there's still a lot of slack out there? There's still a lot of people who still could work? Farrell: I think there is still a lot of slack out there. If you look at the employment to population ratio, it’s still below pre-recession levels. But here's really the key. Wages have been going up — and, by the way, this is a good thing — but there's fear that that's what's going to lead to inflation. But you have to ask the question: why are wages going up? And the reason seems to be right now that companies are doing better. And so what the higher wages reflect is a better economy. It doesn't reflect too much money chasing the same amount of goods.

Texas legislature taking on college costs

17 hours 29 min ago
A panel of Texas lawmakers meets Wednesday to take a look at how the state funds higher education each year. Legislatures across the country — who all face rising costs of higher ed and are trying to contain tuition hikes — will be watching for portable solutions that might work in other states. Click the audio player above to hear the full story. 

Builders battle freezing temps to keep construction boom going

19 hours 40 min ago
For people who work indoors, snow, ice, and subfreezing temperatures are often nothing more than an inconvenience. But for construction companies and their employees, harsh winter weather can be something more — a financial and physical hazard. Cities across the country — from large urban areas like Chicago to smaller ones like Cleveland — are in the midst of a multiyear building boom, with developers racing to meet pent-up demand for housing and office space. And with billions of dollars in play and deadlines to meet, the work rarely stops even when the weather turns ice cold. “It’s all about maintaining a schedule,” said Bill Trump, a manager at Arbor Construction in Cleveland, Ohio, which began work last September on what will eventually be a 29-story apartment building costing at least $60 million called The Beacon. On a recent January morning, the job site, located atop a parking garage in the city’s downtown neighborhood, was silent. The temperature was 5 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 15 with the wind chill), and much of the equipment and scaffolding was covered in a layer of snow.   That day, Trump (no relation to the president), along with his subcontractors, decided to cancel production because under such frigid conditions even basic tasks can become impossible: you can’t pour concrete because it will freeze; you can’t weld because the metal will crack if it cools too fast; you can’t even use the Porta-Johns because the liquid inside turns to ice. “When the blue stuff freezes, you want to find somewhere else to go,” Trump said. There are a few workarounds though. For instance, heated water can be used to mix cement, steel beams can be covered with special blankets to protect fresh welding seams, and open areas can be enclosed with plastic to provide workers some shielding from the elements. But all of these adaptations add to the time and expense of wintertime construction. “I could retire off the money I’ve spent [each year] on winter conditions,” said Trump. For The Beacon, the additional expense could easily run about $100,000 this season. But even with these challenges, Trump said the decision to shut down production isn’t easy. That’s because for builders, every day lost to weather can potentially cost thousands of dollars in the long run. Like most major construction projects, Arbor’s contract with the developer, Stark Enterprises, contains a penalty clause (also known as a “liquidated damages” clause) that kicks in if the project isn’t finished on time. In this case, the damage could be $4,000 for every day the project is late. The goal, said Trump, is to finish by March 2019. But due to weather delays, they are already about two weeks behind schedule, he said. It’s not just owners or project managers who feel the financial pressure to keep production moving, however — so do the workers. A few days later at the Beacon site, the mercury was in the high-20s — not tropical, but warm enough for the crews to head back to work. “If I had a dollar for every time I said, ‘I think I got frostbite,’ I wouldn’t be out here,” said carpenter Thomas Cole Crew. Adrian Ma/ for Marketplace Other than dressing in layers and trying to stay dry, Kai Yee, a laborer with Local 310, said there’s no special trick to working in subfreezing temperatures. “You just gotta suck it up,” said Yee, who spends about 7.5 hours outside each day, only breaking 10 minutes for coffee and a half-hour for lunch. “There’s a deadline to everything, and whatever that deadline is we have to meet,” he said. Although workers can choose to stay home when the weather turns foul, Yee said it is an option they rarely exercise. “These are guys from the union,” he said. “If they can’t do the job they’ll bring somebody else who can. Everybody’s replaceable.” Despite the pressure to keep producing, both Yee and Trump said safety is always a top concern. But there’s no escaping the fact that winter weather can make construction, an already dangerous profession, even riskier. “You can be working hard outdoors and work up a sweat,” said Dr. Donald Ford, a family physician at the Cleveland Clinic, “unless you’re perfectly insulated, that sweat is going to serve to conduct heat away from your body.” The combination of heat loss and moisture, said Ford, increases the risk of hypothermia and frostbite. “If I had a dollar for every time I said, ‘I think I got frostbite,’ I wouldn’t be out here,” said carpenter Thomas Cole Crew. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, employers have a duty to protect workers from “recognized hazards” including frostbite and hypothermia, but there aren’t hard-and-fast rules. The agency does recommend that workers who spend hours outside in subzero temperatures take frequent breaks. But that doesn’t always happen, Crew said. “Nobody out here wants to be the weak one, so a lot of times your pride and ego will keep you out there longer than you really should,” he said. On top of watching their body temperature, workers who are outdoors in the winter also need to watch their step. According to a 2013 study by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, on-the-job falling injuries that result in bone fractures occur more often during the months of December, January, and February than during any other time of year. Still, despite the risk of injury, illness, and the hours of discomfort, Crew said there’s no need to feel sorry for them. Come springtime, “when it’s 70 and sunny, we’re the lucky ones.” This story originally ran in Ideastream  on Jan. 14, 2018.  Related Construction workers needed as building industry booms Mild winter helps some businesses, hurts others  

Good luck watching the Winter Games in 4K

20 hours 58 min ago
Watching the Winter Olympics on your phone is great and all, but if you’ve spent a pretty penny on an ultra-high-definition TV, an iPhone probably won’t cut it. How, then, does one watch the winter games in glorious 4K? Well, it’s complicated. NBC is delivering 4K video of some events the day after they air, but that video is difficult to access even with the right TV and set top box. Sam Machkovech wrote about this very problem for Ars Technica. He spoke with Marketplace Tech host Molly Wood about the Olympic 4K rigmarole. The following is an edited transcript of their conversation.  Sam Machkovech: One major reason [accessing 4K broadcast is difficult] is because we need all of these cameras in the pipeline, either in 4K or even 8K, that can get out there. And especially in a sports broadcast, that means a lot of upgraded cameras and also just to slow down adoption in terms of how we get access to this content. What kind of streaming box, what kind of device do we need, and the confusion that results. Molly Wood: What I find extra amazing about that is that in watching Olympics coverage, there will occasionally be bragging. It'll say, "These Olympics are being filmed and broadcast in 4K for the first time." It's eight to 24 hours later, right? They say that, but it's not like if I had that TV I could turn it on and actually watch it? Machkovech: I'm amazed that they aren't required by the FCC to put amazing levels of fine print when they boast that stuff in ads. Because, yes, an eight- to 24-hour delay for whatever sport you're watching and a very limited selection of sports. We have a selected range of hockey games, not every single one, figure skating, short track and ski jump. And that's it. No luge, no curling, no snowboarding. A lot of major popular winter sports are not getting that 4K treatment, even though it appears they're being filmed with newer 8K cameras and things. Wood: So we talked to NBC, and they said, "We're going to be providing 4K coverage through our partner OBS." What do you think is so hard about this? Machkovech: I do believe that the delay is partially because of OBS controlling this 4K package of content. And I will say the best part about the 4K content I've watched, is that there's no ads. But otherwise, Comcast is doing something really funky as the broadcasting partner. They are forcing everybody to go through a cable television provider. The 2016 Rio Games had a streaming app. That option is gone. It has to be through a proprietary cable box in every option that I found so far. I think it's a clear example of Comcast using its dominance in the market to say, "Oh you want to watch 4K, huh? Oh, there's really not many options, so come through our whole box ecosystem of cable TV that people aren't using as much in the cut-the-cable days." Wood: Is it also possible that the market is never going to be ready for 4K? This is a little bit conspiracy-theory sounding, but it sort of feels like TV manufacturers want to sell 4K TVs, but at least so far in the U.S., that's a harder sell. You know, the files are really big, the cameras are really expensive. I mean, is it possible that 4K is just not really going to come to pass in the way that HD did? Machkovech: I will never go on the record and say that a fancy new technology is just not going to get adopted. Now, I totally agree that some 4K stuff you'll look at and go you, "You know, don't really see a difference." But the figure skating stuff I saw, I'm going to tell you, sparkles are unreal in 4K, which is a funny thing to say out loud. But there's something about a really wide-angle shot of a full skating arena in an Olympics broadcast, and seeing a dancing sequence and trick sequence with all of that benefit of the whole 4K pipeline. I look at that and go, "You know, I don't need 4K, but I can see the difference here."  Related The Beatles and Beyoncé are now part of Olympic figure skating, but who pays for it? Dan and Dave, and the most famous Olympic ad campaign of all time The darkest building on the planet is at the Olympics

Should credit card companies tackle gun sales?

Tue, 2018-02-20 14:58
Andrew Ross Sorkin had an interesting column in the New York Times yesterday — a business and economic take on how to make mass shootings less common. PayPal and Square, Sorkin pointed out, decided years ago not to let people use their services to buy guns. What about Mastercard and Visa, he wondered. Or the big banks that issue credit cards? Why can't — or won't — they do the same? Click the audio player above to hear the full story. 

The turf war over taxes

Tue, 2018-02-20 14:57
New polling shows that public sentiment is growing more favorable toward the recent tax law. Maybe chalk that up to the little extra money many people are seeing in their paychecks as a result of new tax brackets. But in Washington, D.C., there's still a fight going on about the new tax code — specifically, how to interpret it. It's between the IRS, a bureau of the Treasury Department, and the White House Office of Management and Budget. Click the audio player above to hear the full story. 

Can Elon Musk deliver on Tesla's Model 3s?

Tue, 2018-02-20 12:59
There are a handful of electric cars that are all somewhat in the same price range: the Chevy Bolt ($36k), the Nissan LEAF ($30k) and Tesla's Model 3, Elon Musk's flagship electric vehicle, priced at around $35,000. But in a classic tale of highly popular, very rare consumer goods, the Tesla Model 3 has got to be the most famous. Supply is so low that Bloomberg's senior reporter Tom Randall decided to figure out for himself how many the company is making. He started operating a Tesla Model 3 tracker that estimates how many of these fancy cars are being delivered to those desperate to start driving one. He says Tesla's ability to keep up with demand — or lack thereof — is imperative to the company's future. Click on the audio player above to hear the full interview, and for more Tesla-related content, click below to listen to Kai's 2015 interview with Musk for Marketplace's Corner Office

52: Rahm Remixed

Tue, 2018-02-20 12:54
Rahm Emanuel likes to talk. The two-term mayor of Chicago and former White House chief of staff to President Barack Obama spoke with us at length about everything from populism to immigration. He told us that Chicago is a "welcoming" city, not a sanctuary city. He's got a special chair. And he's got some sharp words for "Mr. Moody's Doom and Gloom," otherwise known as Kai Ryssdal. Plus, Emanuel takes the longest pause ever to answer our Make Me Smart Question.  On March 6th, we'll release our teaser episode for Season 2 of Make Me Smart, and on March 13th we'll be back with our first full episode. #MMS2 is almost here!     

Satisfied with Trump in rural Pennsylvania

Tue, 2018-02-20 12:02
President Trump pledged sweeping political and economic changes during the campaign. We have no idea if Trump can deliver on those promises, but we can explore what it’s going to take for him to try. It’s all in our series The Big Promise. Last year, we spent a lot of time in Erie County, Penn. Union City is on the outskirts of Erie. The small, rural town was once known as the “chair capital of the world,” because manufacturers like Ethan Allen made furniture there. But when Ethan Allen and other companies left, Union City changed. Marketplace host Kai Ryssdal visited Union City to see how locals there are feeling about their economies after Trump’s first year in office. At Ma-Donna’s Restaurant, a local gathering spot, Ryssdal talked with Robert Blakeslee, Bob Mitchell, Norm Troyer, and Mery Troyer over breakfast. The following is an edited transcript of their conversation.  Kai Ryssdal: Talk to me, sir, about the lumber business. Robert Blakeslee: Business has really come up in the last year, tremendously. In the last 10 years, we've only had two good years before this last year, but it is looking good and it looks like it's going to be even better next year. Ryssdal: The folks who work for you - since business is going so well for you, you're going to give them raises? Blakeslee: I already have. Ryssdal: You already have? Blakeslee: Yes. Ryssdal: How much more do they get? Blakeslee: 20 bucks [per] thousand. Say the company as a whole produces 50,000 feet a week. So, 20 bucks a thousand. Kai Ryssdal: Oh, twenty bucks a thousand feet of wood. Blakeslee: Yeah. Ryssdal: Oh, OK, got it. Blakeslee: So that's significant. Ryssdal: Mr. Troyer, let me ask you something. So I’ll tell you what, every time we come here and we have you on, people write in to Marketplace and they say, "Oh, those Troyers, they own half the damn town out there, they've got more money than they know what to do with." So, you're doing pretty well for this neck of the woods, yeah? Merv Troyer: We've done well. We have no complaints about this country. I love this country. And I love the guy that's running the country. I have a few disagreements with him, but I like what he's doing. He's gotten rid of a lot of regulations, and that's helping my business. And I'm very happy about that. Ryssdal: What about the rest of the country, though, Mr. Troyer? Folks who maybe aren't doing as well as you are. Merv Troyer: I don't know. I don't know about that part of the country. Ryssdal: I mean all you have to do is drive up and down Route 8 and see folks that aren't doing so well. Merv Troyer: That's been that way for a long time. And it's just getting better, I think. I really do. I think that people are going to be getting an increase in their paychecks here, and they're going to be paying less taxes. I think it's going to be nothing but better. Marketplace Ryssdal: Mr. Blakeslee, you're a small business man, I guess you'd say, right? Do you believe this tax bill was geared for you, or was it geared for the big giant companies out there? Blakeslee: You know, for the last administration the business guy was the evil guy, the greedy evil guy. And it looks to me from what happened that they were basically pressed down, so that it was very hard to make money. If the big guy isn't making money, how can he hire? How can he pass it on? The people in this town here, this is sort of a bedroom community. A lot of people work in Erie. You know, G.E. going basically bad has really hurt this community. So, I believe that the big guy has to succeed in order to help us little guys. You know, we can't all work for the government. Someone's got to be making money. Ryssdal: Mr. Mitchell, tell me about the tax law and regulations. Oil and gas is a pretty heavily regulated industry. Bob Mitchell: Yes, it is. And there is a lot of tax breaks for the investor in the gas and oil business, which moves money. Puts it into circulation, is what I'm trying to say. And it's like Rob said, Blaskelee here, he increased that $20 [per] thousand. And that's a pretty good increase. It's a very good increase. And it's because of this tax bill that Trump put in. I think I understand what he's talking about. You know, everybody says it's not for the little guy, it's for the big guy. But when the big guy can, you know, get ahead a little bit, he can hire more people. Ryssdal: So, you believe in trickle-down economics? Mitchell: Yes, I do. Ryssdal: Norm Troyer, let me ask you this: real estate, right? How's business? Norm Troyer: I have a variety of - I do brokerage and that's been holding in there. I also own apartment complexes, and they're 90 percent occupied, was 100 percent, but give winter time to get a little moving in and out. Ryssdal: So, you're doing great. Norm Troyer: It's OK. We don't get the high-end rental amounts here, and here we're getting killed with real estate tax increases. So those are huge problems. Ryssdal: How are we going to pay for schools and roads and bridges and infrastructure if folks don't want to pay taxes? Norm Troyer: There are other ways to raise revenue. I'm not saying there shouldn't be some real estate taxes, but I'm saying now it's becoming disproportionate. You know, I'm not a kid. I'm still working. I'm 82 years old, sir. Most of the people in other little candy things retired at 60. There's a difference. Ryssdal: Y'all at this table are mostly doing pretty well. You're working, but you're doing alright. Right? Anybody going to shake their head? OK. Blakeslee: Except for one thing: We work our tails off. Ryssdal: I understand that, and that's what I said: You all are working, but you're doing all right. Blakeslee: Then you have someone who isn't working, doesn't want to work, and we're always on the pay end. We're never receiving, what are we receiving? We're always paying out. Ryssdal: Well, so that gets the question. Y'all seem a little, I don't want to say angry, but irritated. But you got Mr. Trump in the White House doing what you want him to do, yet you're still irritated... because it hasn't changed enough? Is that where we are? Norm Troyer: The man has been in office for one year. The economy has rebounded. We've had a lot of improvement. Everybody expects a miracle in one year. There have been a lot of regulations that have already been slashed. Get rid of regulations. Cut the thing down. Cut the cost down. Give the man a chance. It's just like, we're in the first quarter of a four-quarter ball game. I don't know if you've been watching the football teams, but it's pretty hard to think that you know how the whole game is going to turn out if you're only watching the first quarter. Related The new tax law is working out for this manufacturing town How Erie is rewriting the Rust Belt narrative 100 days into Trump's presidency, Union City, Pennsylvania, stands behind him

With deportation looming, Haitian workers highlight their role in Florida's tourism industry

Tue, 2018-02-20 10:44
Every morning, hundreds of uniformed workers file into the employee entrance of the “most magical place on Earth” — Walt Disney World, where they are responsible for keeping the resort’s lavishly themed rooms clean and guests happy. This was Wilna Destin’s routine at Disney before being hired by the hospitality workers' union, Unite Here Local 737. She stands in the employee parking lot entrance one morning, eyeing a group of housekeepers. “Good morning, do you sign this already?” she points to a clipboard. The 41-year-old union member is gathering signatures to raise the wages for more than 70,000 employees. But it’s tough, she said, to convince Haitian workers with temporary protected status — like her — to sign the union petition. They are thinking ahead to next year when they will face deportation. “I know people who want to sell their stuff and go,” Destin said. “Where you going?” An executive order will end the temporary protected status program in July 2019 for more than 55,000 Haitians living and working in the United States. The TPS program began in 1990 to offer a safe haven to immigrants facing natural and political disasters at home. Many Haitians gained protection after the 2010 earthquake destabilized the country. Florida is home to more than half of the Haitians with temporary protected status who face deportation. Many, like Destin, work in the state’s $111.7 billion hospitality industry. “We are the one who cleans. We are the one who cooks. We are the one who put food on the table. We all work for this country. We make it great,” Destin said. Wilna Destin says she cannot imagine returning to Haiti after fleeing for Florida on a boat at age 24.  Monivette Cordeiro Destin grew up in Thomassique, a small township in central Haiti. She said she fled the country for Florida on a boat 17 years ago, at age 24. She didn’t qualify for asylum at the time, so she got her start working off the books in hotels. She finally received temporary protected status in 2008. “There is a lot of opportunities, and I go to work and paying taxes and doing whatever I can do and support my family paying my bills. This is what I do for my life,” Destin said. Her husband also has temporary status. Her 14-year-old daughter and 7-year-old son were born in Florida, so they are U.S. citizens. Destin hasn’t returned to Haiti since she left, though she keeps in touch with her family and sends money back regularly. “I don’t want to go and leave my kids because those kids, I give them birth. I give them love, you know?” she said.  The Center for Migration Studies of New York estimates Florida has more than 32,000 Haitians with temporary protected status and that 81 percent of them are part of the state’s workforce. Many work in the hospitality industry.   “I mean, it’s massive,” said Geof Paquette, a union leader for Unite Here Local 737. The group represents hospitality workers, including 400 Disney employees with temporary protected status. “Everyone who’s Haitian, I would definitely say that they know someone — their neighbor has TPS. Their uncle has TPS," he said. Annie St. Fleur, who immigrated to the U.S. from Haiti, is a hotel worker for Walt Disney World resorts in Kissimmee, Florida.  Monivette Cordeiro In the past year, the union has been one of the most vocal opponents of the executive order to end TPS. It helped organize a protest in November with hundreds of workers outside President Donald Trump’s estate at Mar-a-Lago. Members of Congress have expressed a need for a path to citizenship. Republican Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida did not respond to requests for an interview, but he wrote an op-ed piece in the Miami Herald in November calling on the Trump administration to extend TPS for Haitians, saying our nation has benefited from their presence. The Florida Restaurant & Lodging Association lobbies on behalf of the state’s hospitality industry. Erin Hellkamp Power, the group’s press secretary, issued a  statement in response to questions about TPS: “As this is a developing national issue, it is difficult to determine the precise impacts of the policy at this time. Florida’s hospitality industry proudly supports 1.4 million employees and continues to be one of the top job creators. As the population and diversity of the Sunshine State continues to grow, and the number of visitors continues to rapidly rise, the industry’s demand for labor also increases," the statement said.  Disney did not respond to a request for an interview. Union leader Paquette said he thinks the number of Haitian hospitality workers affected overall — 32,000 out of more than 1 million in the state — may not be enough to hurt a large company like Disney. “It’s a massive impact to the community of Haitians, but it is a drop in the bucket to the company,” he said.  And Paquette pointed out that the hospitality industry in Florida has a new source of labor: Puerto Ricans who’ve left the island after Hurricane Maria. Related U.S. decision would hurt families' pocketbooks in El Salvador Bond remains strong between Puerto Rican evacuees and those who stayed After Maria, a young Puerto Rican forges a new path in Florida  

Venezuela turns to crypto currency, hoping to salvage battered economy

Tue, 2018-02-20 07:22
Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro says his government will begin pre-selling a cryptocurrency today, called the "petro." It’s backed by the cash-strapped country’s oil reserves. Maduro is hoping to circumvent U.S.-led sanctions, attract investment and bring the country back from the brink of full-blown default. There’s significant skepticism about this strategy. Click the audio player above for the full story.

What are apps like Venmo doing with your money?

Tue, 2018-02-20 05:51
This is just one of the stories from our "I've Always Wondered" series, where we tackle all of your questions about the world of business, no matter how big or small. Ever wondered if recycling is worth it? Or how store brands stack up against name brands? What do you wonder? Let us know here. Listener Jack Kaplan from Houston, Texas asked Marketplace this question: What do services like Venmo or PayPal do with any balance that exists in my account? Do they lend it out? Do they invest it? The answer to this question is hidden in plain sight. You know those long user agreements you probably skim over and then click agree whenever you download a new app? Well, turns out, these spell out exactly what mobile payment apps do with your money when you leave it sitting in your account. In PayPal’s user agreement, the information can be found under the section labeled “Holding a PayPal Balance” while in Venmo’s user agreement that information is in the section called “Account Balances.” Josh Criscoe, a spokesman for Venmo — which is owned by PayPal — summarized the two agreements for us. “Any funds held in PayPal or Venmo are transferred to bank accounts in PayPal's name,” he wrote in an email. “The balances are pooled and held separate from PayPal’s corporate funds, and the company never uses the funds for its operating expenses or any other corporate purposes. As outlined in our user agreements, PayPal owns the interest on the funds. PayPal complies with applicable state money transmitter laws pertaining to the funds.” How much money are we talking about? About $18 billion, according to Eric Turner, financial technology research analyst at S&P Global. When PayPal announced its quarterly earning at the end of January, it said that ending in December the company has about $18.2 billion in “funds receivable and customer accounts.” “A lot of people have this theory that if they were investing this money they could be making a lot off the interest or lending it out, but it's short-term money,” said Turner. “They keep it pretty liquid because you really never know when someone's going to need it.” One of the reasons that most users do not keep their money in the apps for long periods of time is that they do not offer the same protections as bank accounts. “When you and I go to say Chase or Wells Fargo, they are FDIC insured,” said Michael Moeser, director of payments practice at Javelin Strategy and Research. “If the bank goes under — and we had that in the last recession — if the bank makes some bad loans and they can't cover the value of the deposits, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation comes in and they provide insurance that will reimburse you for the loss of up to $250,000.” At the time of the interview, Moeser had $3 balance in his PayPal account and $500 balance in Venmo. “Unfortunately, I do have $500 in Venmo because I send money to other people and increasingly you can buy things with Venmo,” he said. “That's clearly the path that they're going, but what they do with that money is really up to them.” While the interest the company makes on that money is nothing to sneeze at, that is not where PayPal or Venmo hope to make most of their revenue. Users and their money are just means to an end. The apps really start to make money once they establish themselves as a trusted and widely-used mobile payment app and are then able to convince retailers to use its platform and pay fees on each transaction. And as Moeser pointed out, Venmo is doing just that. “Venmo may make some money off of what you have but largely the sending back and forth has been for you and me,” said Moeser. “Me sending you money and you sending me money basically cost them money and that was to create the network of millions of consumers.“ The strategy worked. In the last three months of 2017, Venmo processed $10.4 billion in payments. Altogether about $35 billion in payments were processed by the app in 2017. “When they went to retailers to say: ‘Hey, we have a better solution. We'll charge you less than credit card companies. And we have millions and millions of users that transact billions of dollars every year. We are a force in the industry.’ And the retailers have signed up or are in the process of signing up,” said Moeser. During its quarterly earnings call, PayPal announced that more than two million U.S. merchants now offer Venmo as a mobile payment option. “The amount that they could make off of interest on the amount people are keeping in the app doesn't mattered as much as actually getting people to use the app at a merchant,” echoed Turner. “The merchant fee is about 2.9 to 3 percent.” According to Square, a mobile payment platform for businesses, merchants pay credit card processing fees that are between 2.87 percent and 4.35 percent per transaction. When Venmo first introduced its pay function at different retailers in 2016, it said merchants would be charged 2.9 percent of the transaction amount plus 30 cents per transaction. So while Venmo needs your money to succeed, it does not need it so it can invest it. It needs you to keep spending, preferably it at its partner businesses.  Related PayPal's Schulman says the future may not be cashless, but it's definitely mobile Banks are starting to offer instant mobile payment

Grocery retailer Albertsons to buy drugstore chain Rite Aid

Tue, 2018-02-20 04:36
The privately held owner of Safeway, Vons and other grocery brands is plunging deeper into the pharmacy business with a deal to buy Rite Aid, the nation's third-largest drugstore chain. Albertsons Companies is offering either a share of its stock and $1.83 in cash or slightly more than a share for every 10 shares of Rite Aid. A deal value was not disclosed in a statement released Tuesday by the companies. Shares of Rite Aid, which have shed more than half their value over the past year, jumped 40 cents, or 18.8 percent, in premarket trading after the deal was announced. Shareholders of Boise, Idaho-based Albertsons will own more than 70 percent of the combined company, which is expected to trade on the New York Stock Exchange. The companies say the deal should close in the second half of this year, but regulators and Rite Aid shareholders still have to approve it. Rite Aid Chairman and CEO John Standley will lead the combined company as CEO, while Albertsons leader Bob Miller will serve as chairman. The companies say they will keep headquarters in both Boise and Camp Hill, Pennsylvania, which is where Rite Aid is based. Albertsons said it will continue to run Rite Aid stand-alone stores, and most of the grocery operator's pharmacies will be rebranded as Rite Aid. Albertsons also runs Jewel-Osco, Shaw's and Acme stores. Rite Aid Corp. said earlier this year that it runs around 4,400 stores. Larger rival Walgreens had tried unsuccessfully to buy the chain, but the company scuttled that push last year after encountering regulatory resistance. Last September, Walgreens agreed to buy nearly 2,000 Rite Aid locations and some distribution centers for about $4.38 billion. Rite Aid said late last month that it had transferred about 625 stores to Walgreens. Related Walmart vs. Amazon: Which will win the retail wars? Why do snack companies always change their packaging? What an Amazon-Whole Foods store may look like

Inside the illegal black market for food carts in New York City

Tue, 2018-02-20 04:20
Selling food on the streets of New York City might seem like an easy way to make money, but it’s an almost impossible gig to land — legally. The number of legal street food vending permits issued in the city has barely increased since the 1980s. Those who hold permits resell them to those who hope for some legal cover as they sell plates of biryani or bags of mango slices. It’s illegal to resell permits, according the the city health department, but it’s also enormously profitable. Original permit holders charge as much as $25,000 for a permit purchased for a mere $200. Street food vendors like Khalid Mohammad say they can’t keep up. Mohammad had just opened his food cart on a Tuesday evening when customer Pamela Aguirre asked him the price of a hot dog. Though he charges $3 now, Mohammad said he only charged $2 for a hot dog about a decade ago but costs have gone up —and not only for buns and ketchup. The price he pays for a street vendor permit has gone up a lot too.  Since permits need to be renewed every two years, vendors wind up paying permit holders more and more with every renewal.  “The permit went up like 10 times,” he said. “I cannot raise the prices like $6, $7 for a hot dog. Nobody going to buy it.” The New York City Council was debating an ordinance that would eventually double the number of street food vending permits, but it died after an 11th hour push at the end of 2017. “Don’t do this,” Dan Biederman recalled telling members of the city council along with other business leaders. “Don’t take a lousy program and double the size of it.” Biederman, an urban revitalization expert who founded Biederman Redevelopment Ventures, said the carts need stricter regulation on everything from their appearance to sanitation — but adding to their numbers would only make that harder to do. “If the carts were the right size and were attractive and followed the laws,” he said, “I could see maybe one per block.” But not everyone agrees with Biederman. Cesar Boc is a community organizer with the Street Vendor Project, an organization that’s spent years advocating for more street food vending permits. “If the bill would have passed it would have made a difference in so many people’s lives,” he explained.  He said operating a food cart is a lifeline for low-income immigrants — and he’ll keep pushing to have more permits so they can work legally. More than 1,600 applicants are on the waiting list for legal food vending permits in New York City. The city health department said that some applicants have been waiting for more than a decade.  Related The unexpected challenges of living in a food desert Halal Guys franchises a street food favorite Entrepreneurs starting to see opportunities in other people's food scraps  

Pages