Monthly Archives: July 2016

Americans Better Able to Pay Bills Even Though Some Are Still Struggling

MoneyEven though over a quarter of Americans admit to not paying their bills on time, that number may slowly be decreasing.

According to the 2016 National Financial Capability Study completed by FINRA Investor Education Foundation, 48% of Americans did not struggle to pay their bills within the past year. The survey polled 27,564 Americans nationwide.

This represented a jump of 12 percentage points from 2009 when the nation was in the middle of the Great Recession.

Additionally, the survey found 46% of participants were able to set aside enough money to last them through a three-month emergency fund, an 11 point increase since 2009. On top of that, more than half of all credit card users reported that they were able to pay off their credit card bills every month, the highest percentage since the start of the survey.

But some financial challenges continue to persist, especially for the young, the less educated, women, and minorities. A full 39% of blacks and 34% of Latinos admitted to borrowing loans with high-interest rates, compared to only 21% of whites and Asians respectively.

Women are more likely to put off going to a doctor, buying prescriptions, or undergoing a medical procedure because of expensive medical care costs, leaving more than one in five Americans with a staggering amount of unpaid medical debt.

Not to mention that nearly 20% of Americans age 18 to 24 admit to being in a severe debt hardship. Among those Millennials, 29% admitted to hardly paying off their mortgage, versus the 16% of those ages 35 to 54.

Plus, of those who did not have an education beyond high school, 45% said that they would be unable to financially support themselves for more than a few weeks without a job.

Gerri Walsh, president of the FINRA Foundation explains to USA Today, “The data tell us the what, but not the why. Access to traditional banking services can be one factor. Access to credit is also challenging. Even with the economy recovering, we’ve seen a tightening of credit, and so some individuals who might have been able to use credit cards to float past a financial shock might have to turn to other, alternative banking systems.”

Even worse, a good two-thirds of Americans are unable to pass a financial literacy test. Less than half of all survey recipients were even able to answer basic questions about financial risk. This number has been steadily decreasing since the financial crisis of 2009.

In his press release reported on Fortune, FINRA Foundation Chairman Richard Ketchum believes, “This research underscores the critical need for innovative strategies to equip consumers with the tools and education required to effectively manage their financial lives.”
So where does the country go from here? The Deutsche Bank predicts that there is a 60% chance of the United States falling back into a recession within the next few years. And while most Americans are slowly but surely Americans proving that they are focused on saving for the long-term, 40% are still shopping wildly, taking out cash advances, paying the minimum due balance on bills, and racking up debt.

For Walsh, it all buckles down to financial education. She urges that financial experts nationwide “need to work together with the private sector to make affordable financial products available, especially for the most vulnerable audiences, because absent that, people can find themselves in endless cycles of debt from which it’s difficult to emerge.

New Report Says Many Southeast Wisconsin Homes Could Be At Risk for Radon Levels

Young woman  doctor holding a tablet pcWhen most people think about silent, tasteless, odorless killers they immediately associate it with carbon monoxide poisoning. Unfortunately, that’s not the only substance that can have serious, and fatal consequences if left unattended. According to WTMJ-TV Milwaukee, elevated levels of radon have been discovered in “thousands” of homes in the Southeast-area of Wisconsin.

“The health risk in southeast Wisconsin for Radon is significant,” said Steven Todd, Hazardous Materials Coordinator for the Division of Environmental Health in Waukesha County. “You definitely want to know what your home Radon level is.”

While carbon monoxide may be the more infamous threat, radon is actually significantly more prevalent on a statistical scale. Approximately 430 people die from carbon monoxide poisoning annually. In comparison, radon kills about 21,000 people every year. That’s a pretty serious gap for two similar conditions.

Part of this problem is surely due to the nature in which these gases can seep into your home. While carbon monoxide is often a direct result of leaving something like a car running in a closed garage, radon results from Uranium in the soil that your home is built upon. If the soil shifts or is moved significantly, that’s when the radon can be released.

“There’s no question that Radon can cause lung cancer,” Todd said. “We’ve done plenty of research on that. There haven’t been any studies on why we have higher levels here.”

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA) and the Surgeon General’s Office, they estimate as many as 20,000 lung cancer deaths are caused each year by radon. It is believed to be the second leading cause of lung cancer in the U.S., according to the Surgeon General.

Just how bad is it for Southeast Wisconsin? The national indoor average Radon radioactivity level in homes is 1.3 picocuries per liter (pCi/L). In Southeast Wisconsin, average Radon levels for homes is currently 5.4 pCi/L, which is about four times the national average.

While there are no laws or regulations being developed to require testing, experts and local officials are urging residents to have their homes regularly checked for this silent killer, at least every couple of years.

Why Exactly Do We Need Sleep? Researchers Aim to Find Out

man in bed with eyes opened suffering insomnia sleep disorderResearchers are getting closer and closer to figuring out why the human body sleeps.

While there have been countless sleep studies done in animals of all species, the reason why we sleep has puzzled scientists worldwide. Now, it seems that they are closer than ever to debunking the mystery surrounding sleep.

The University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Giulio Tononi recently discovered that sleep evolved so that the connections in the brain can rest and make space to form fresh memories during waking hours. He believes that while we’re awake, our brains record memories by reinforcing connections between brain cells, and they need time to rest in order to think clearly the next day.

Tononi publicized his thoughts at the Federation of European Neuroscience Societies in Copenhagen, Denmark earlier this month. His evidence explains what happens to our bodies when we miss a night’s sleep, and how it is harder to concentrate and learn new information the next day.

As explained to New Scientist, Tononi sums up his study saying “Sleep is the price we pay for learning.”

To get his findings, Tononi studied the synapses in the brains of mice for over four years.

Previous studies have also backed up Tononi’s evidence. EEG recordings have shown that brain excitability increases during the day after a good night’s sleep.

But a full night of sleep does not always bring positive effects for all. In an additional study published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, researchers found that men who do not have healthy sleeping habits are at a greater risk for Type 2 diabetes.

In testing 788 healthy men and women, researchers found that when men got either too much sleep or too little sleep, their glucose tolerance and insulin sensitivity decreased. No connection was found for women.

Researchers found that not getting enough sleep, or sleeping too much, can harbor many negative health effects, including an increased risk of diabetes, which is also linked to sleep apnea. This illness, which happens when a person repeatedly stops breathing during the night, is prevalent in an estimated 18 million Americans.

Small Town Business Owner Spends Free Time Giving Back to the Community That’s Given Him So Much

American FlagSteve Luciani has worked in the flooring business for over 40 years. He started as a carpet salesman, and in 1969, he opened his very own business, Coachlight Carpets, where he’s helped countless residents and other local businesses in the Centerville, MA, area with all of their carpet, hardwood, tile, and flooring needs. According to The BarnStable Patriot, high-quality flooring isn’t the only thing Luciani has provided the community he’s been apart of for virtually his entire life.

“When you talk about Centerville, you’ve got to talk about Steve,” said William Crocker Jr., a councilor in Barnstable’s Precinct 6. “If he’s not putting up displays on the corner of Old Stage Road and Route 28, he’s working on the Centerville playground or manning a fundraising booth at various events across the Cape. He has found a way to incorporate his business with giving, and the results have been amazing for us all.”

From playing the part of Santa Claus every year and creating an elaborate haunted house for Halloween for the town’s children to enjoy to stocking up food and funds for the local community and outreach centers, Luciani has done it all for Centerville. The only thing Luciani is known better for than his carpets — a material that makes up about 51% of the U.S. flooring market — is his huge heart.

While it’s likely he’s always had this kind soul, Luciani cites a personal experience with tribulation that really sparked his desire and commitment to giving back to his community.

“Roughly 25 years ago my son was injured in a car accident and I had to close the store for about a month,” he said. “Friends stepped up and covered the store; my landlord stuck by me and everyone helped me out, and that’s why I love Centerville so much.”

Luciani believes one of his greatest responsibilities is in honoring the men and women who have served the United States in uniform. He’s helped to create and maintain various memorials for service men and women, including a Cape Cod gold star family Veterans memorial. Deputy Chief Steven Xiarhos, of the Yarmouth Police Department, was father to a man honored on one of Luciani’s memorials.

“When I walked into the store and told him who I was, we both became very emotional and here we were hugging in the middle of his showroom,” Xiarhos said. “He told me the memorial was part of his duty as a citizen, and I could just feel the love, respect and honor he had for my son and for the others that have fallen.”

Inspired by Celebrities, Thousands of Teens Undergo Plastic Surgery Each Year

Beauty woman botox injections.Cosmetic surgeons are finding that more and more young people are choosing to undergo plastic surgery than ever before.

Dr. Sozer, president of the El Paso Cosmetic Surgery Center, reported that he is seeing more teenagers on his operating table who are hoping to become more attractive. In fact, Sozer said that many parents are offering their teens plastic surgery as a high school graduation present.

“Before they go to college, they want their nose and ears fixed, they want to go to their new environment with their new image,” said Sozer.

The surge in popularity among young people has more than quadrupled the number of surgeries Sozer sees in El Paso. “Where we were doing three breast augmentations a month, now we’re doing 20 to 25,” he said.

The greater demand allows surgeons to lower the price of these procedures, thus having a cyclical effect as it makes plastic surgery more affordable for more and more young people.

One 23-year-old, Guadalupe Cortez, recently underwent a breast augmentation, which is something she had dreamed of since age 18. “I wasn’t that confident, because I’ve always had very small breasts,” said Cortez. “Now that I have them, I feel more happy about myself. I feel more confident. If it’s going to make you feel comfortable and confident about yourself, just do it.”

Statistics from the American Society of Plastic Surgeons show that about 8,000 teenagers between the ages of 13 and 19 had breast augmentation surgery in 2014. Sozer claimed that he does not operate on patients under 18 years of age unless there is a major abnormality.

The same report revealed that more than 19,000 teens between 13 and 19 received Botox injections in 2014. Botox is a much less invasive procedure than cosmetic surgery; however, the statistic is still puzzling since the average Botox patient is between the ages of 40 and 59.

Experts point an accusatory finger at high-profile celebrities like the Kardashians and their younger sister, Kylie Jenner. The famous teen admitted to getting lip fillers at age 17, instigating reactions of shock and awe across the internet. Meanwhile, doctors don’t expect to see the number of teens requesting cosmetic procedures to decrease any time soon.

Top Athletes Backing Out of Rio Olympics Because of Zika Virus

Many athletes are backing out of the 2016 Rio Olympics because of Zika virus scares.

The number one golfer in the world, Jason Day, announced on June 27, that he is joining the list of athletes sitting out of the Rio de Janeiro Olympics because of concerns regarding the Zika virus.

According to the BBC, Day acknowledges that the danger is small, but he doesn’t want to take any risks, particularly regarding his wife’s future pregnancies.

“Competing at the Olympics has always been a major goal,” said Day, “but golf cannot take precedence over my family.”

The sport of golf, which is making its first appearance at the Olympics in more than 110 years, is losing many of its top athletes for this year’s Olympics.

Day’s announcement comes just a few days after another top-five golfer, and Europe’s number one ranked golfer, Rory McIlroy, announced that the Zika virus is keeping him out of competing in the Olympics as well. Other pro golfers not attending because of Zika concerns are Vijay Singh of Fiji and Marc Leishman of Australia.

The Sacramento Bee reports that researchers still have a lot to learn about the Zika virus, which infected Brazil in 2015 and continues to spread throughout more than 60 countries. The disease is passed through sexual transmission and, more commonly, mosquito bites.

Although the Zika virus only causes minor illness in adults, it can greatly damage unborn children — causing them to have devastating neurological defects.

“There are so many unknowns,” said Dr. Dean Blumberg, infectious disease expert at the University of California Davis. “It comes down to an emotional decision. There really is this potential for grave danger to the fetus, for birth defects. It’s reasonable for them to consider these risks and make these personal decisions.”

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, along with the World Health Organization, have declared the Olympic games in Rio are safe for anyone to attend — except pregnant women. Additionally, there is some degree of risk, said the CDC and WHO, for couples hoping to conceive.

Olympic medical professionals will have their hands full before, during, and after the 2016 games, as athletes hope certain medications will prevent any issues. In the U.S., four out of five Americans are prescribed antibiotics each year to prevent the spread of infectious diseases.

U.S. swimmer Haley Anderson will brave the Zika virus this summer as she plans to compete in Rio in open water swimming. Anderson states that although she will be on alert, she believes the water off Copacabana Beach, where her event will take place, has been cleaned up enough for safety as long as she takes antibiotics and probiotics before the competition.

She still credits the Zika virus with causing a major distraction for her and other athletes, competing or not competing.

“When you have to think about all these other things, it gets frustrating,” said Anderson. “I just want to be worried about training and being the fastest… if you have this doubt in the back of your head, that changes things.”

The 2016 Olympics will begin on August 5 in Rio de Janeiro.

Video: Is This Glass Skateboard the Worst Idea in Skating History?

maxresdefaultIs this glass skateboard really the worst idea in skating history, or a hilarious idea tailor made for the YouTube generation?

Judging from a new viral video, the answer is definitely both.

Braille Skateboarding is a popular YouTube channel for the 11 million people who skate regularly. The channel has a popular series called “You Build It, We Skate It,” which is exactly what it sounds like.

For the July 9 installment, skateboarding company Avenue Trucks designed a glass skateboarding deck, which is the main part of the board and is typically made from maple wood and has a polyurethane coating for strength. Avenue Trucks normally designs trucks, the part of the board that connects the deck to the wheels and makes many tricks possible.

Except for being totally transparent, the glass deck is the same size and shape of a normal skateboard and actually looks awesome. After attaching the trucks and wheels, Braille Skateboarding takes the glass skateboard for a ride.

After a few cautious laps around a skate park, the rider tries a more adventurous trick — and immediately shatters the glass as he falls flat onto his face. In a matter of minutes, the “Extremely Dangerous Glass Skateboard” certainly lived up to its name, though the YouTube team seemed to enjoy breaking in the new board.

Already, the glass skateboard video has gone viral, racking up 1.25 million views in fewer than three days online.

Previous installments of the popular YouTube series include episodes like “Full Metal Skateboard,” “Kickflipping a Surfboard,” “Skateboarding on an iPad,” and “Skateboarding a Flatscreen TV,” all of which are also exactly what they sound like.

According to the glass skateboarding video’s official description:

“Thanks to Avenue Trucks for making us this beautiful glass skateboard. You can check out their website at http://www.avenuetrucks.com If you guys have something you would like to send to us for this series please send a picture of it and any details to: skateit@brailleskateboarding.com.”

McDonald’s Advertising Account Up For Grabs In Winner-Take-All Agency Showdown

McDonald's_Golden_Arches.svgThe McDonald’s slogan may be “I’m lovin’ it,” but about half of their current advertising team will certainly hate the consequences of the company’s latest corporate decision. In a move that sounds more like something out of the script of the television series “Mad Men” than real-life, everyone’s favorite burger joint has issued a gladiator-style showdown between Leo Burnett and DDB Chicago.

According to the Chicago Tribune, these are the two advertising agencies that currently share McDonald’s marketing and advertising efforts, but that split will be coming to an end soon. The fast food giant decided a couple of months ago they were consolidating their efforts under one roof and issued a request for proposals from both companies.

The winner gets the McDonald’s account and the approximately $1 billion in annual advertising revenue that entails. The loser?Not even a Happy Meal on the way out the door.

McDonald’s hired a new CEO, Steve Easterbrook, last March. Since taking over he’s already done a lot to improve the efficiency of the burger machine while also increasing performance and creating new momentum with things like the “all day breakfast” menu.

“Clearly it’s been one of (Easterbrook’s) chief mandates to get the entire system aligned, having one vision, streamlining and simplifying,” Morningstar analyst R.J. Hottovy said. “A lot of the most important things the company needed to remedy have been improved. Now the key is sustaining that process.”

The belief is that having one consistent voice throughout all of their marketing and advertising efforts will help to promote this new vision.

In the U.S., advertising is one of the largest markets monetarily. For example, companies spent an estimated $44.5 billion on direct mail marketing in 2014 alone.

According to Kantar Media, McDonald’s spent about $196 million on print, broadcast, and digital advertising in the first three months of this year alone. Last year, they spent a grand total of $824 million.

Although the final decision could lead to some pretty nice bonuses for whichever company ends up winning this billion-dollar sweepstakes, the loser could end up with layoffs instead.

GM Teams With NASA to Create Robotic Glove That Will Assist Factory Workers

In the United States, there are approximately 7.8 million production workers in the construction industry. And pretty soon, some of those workers could be using robotic extremities to perform tasks not suitable for the human hand.

According to CBS Detroit, General Motors plans on using robotic glove technology to help factory workers manufacture automobiles.

The same robot technology is used on the International Space Station and is now being developed for production workers to help grip their tools, reduce injury, and limit fatigue.

“They won’t have the muscular fatigue,” said Marty Linn, GM Robotics Engineer, “they won’t have the same sorts of problems and potentially avoiding injuries from having muscular fatigue.”

EandT reports that NASA first developed the RoboGlove to work with the Robonaut 2 humanoid robot, a space robot that used the technology to grip and maneuver objects.

The glove uses technological sensors, tendons, and actuators that act as if they are real nerves and muscles inside a human hand.

Roughly 5% of the entire global population — between the ages of 16 and 84 — suffer from weakening hands. Utilizing this technology will enable factory workers to preserve their hand strength over time and get even more physical tasks completed.

“The successor to RoboGlove can reduce the amount of force that a worker needs to exert when operating a tool,” said Kurt Wiese, vice president of GM Global Manufacturing Engineering. Wiese stated that the glove can help factory workers perform their tasks much longer without fatigue for an “extended time or with repetitive motions.”

The Swedish Medtech company, Bioservo Technologies, owns the licensing to RoboGlove.

According to MotorTrend, an overall spike in the auto industry could be an eventual result of this new technology.

“Combining the best of three worlds,” said Thomas Ward, CEO of Bioserve Technologies, “space technology from NASA, engineering from GM, and medtech from Biservo, in a new industrial glove could lead to industrial scale use of the technology.”

Cities Begin to Explore 911 Texting Options After Orlando

A police car rushes to the emergency call with lights turned onThe Federal Communications Commission reports that out of more than 6,000 dispatch centers nationwide, a little more than 650 can accept text messages, with more than 150 making the text-to-911 upgrade this year.

During the Pulse Nightclub shooting in Orlando, victims who were trapped could not call 911, and as a result, texted family members instead.

Eddie Justice was among several victims who texted relatives to call 911, fearing they would draw too much attention by making voice calls.

None of them could text 911 directly because Orlando is among the vast majority of U.S. cities that don’t have that capability. Amid a cluster of deadly mass shootings, police departments are exploring technology that would allow dispatchers to receive texts, photos, and videos in real time.

The tragedy continues to touch the hearts of millions, including a large list of celebrities who have been reaching out via media and song.

Britney Spears, Adam Lambert, Gwen Stefani, and Selena Gomez are a few of the many contributors to a brand new single that pays tribute to the victims and families of the Orlando massacre.

Justin Tranter, Julia Michaels and BloodPop co-wrote “Hands,” with Tranter and BloodPop co-producing it alongside Mark Ronson.

“The second I heard about this horrible tragedy where so many of my LGBTQ brothers and sisters lost their lives, I immediately got on a plane to Orlando,” Tranter said. “Putting this charity single together is just a way for me and everyone involved to keep volunteering our help.”

Proceeds from the star-studded track, titled “Hands,” will be donated to the Equality Florida Pulse Victims Fund, the GLBT Community Center of Central Florida and GLAAD.

As many as 63% of people will be involved in a drunk driving accident at some point in their lives, but the number of people who could be subject to active-shooter situations is increasing at an alarming rate. Supporters of the text-to-911 movement continue to look to Orlando to bring change about.

Emergency officials stress, however, that a voice call is preferred because a dispatcher can elicit details more quickly than texting back and forth.

The major concern for many cities, including some of the nation’s largest, is that overuse of texting when it’s not absolutely necessary could slow response times and cost lives.

Supporters of these systems say their use would go beyond active-shooter and hostage situations to scenarios of domestic abuse, in which a spouse or partner could message police without alerting their attacker.

The technology is ready and available to be used, but officials stress the importance of using it in emergency situations only.