Monthly Archives: October 2016

The American Economy Has Maintained Steady Growth Through the End of the Summer

MoneyThe U.S. economy has maintained steady growth between the months of August and September, the U.S. Federal Reserve reports.

This was reported in the Federal Reserve’s latest Beige Book report, which was a survey of economic conditions in their 12 regional bank districts. Their findings show that growth was modest or moderate in eight districts, there was slight economic growth in three, and flat in the New York district.

Overall, this represented an improvement from the Beige Book’s September survey, which found weakened growth in two districts.

The Feds believe the economy “remained tight” with modest employment and wage growth, but there was no one pattern across the board besides wage growth. There were layoffs in New York, Philadelphia, Cleveland and Richmond districts.

Additionally, three districts noted a rising pressure for certain sectors. These districts, Dallas, Richmond, and San Francisco, blamed the shortage of construction workers, which constrained building activity. However, there are 7.8 million production workers in the U.S. construction industry alone, so experts are trying to figure out how exactly to bring the construction sector into these suffering communities.

The Beige Book’s picture of a modestly improving economy is consistent with the estimates of many economists nationwide. They believe that growth will quicken by a roughly two percent to 2.5% annual pace come next July. Overall, this would be up from a measly 1.1% pace from the first half of this year.

According to Bloomberg, the housing markets expanded in the majority of districts, and the oil and gas sector was showing promising signs of stabilizing. But, commercial-real-estate sectors nationwide expressed an extreme concern over economic uncertainty in light of the upcoming presidential election.

For now, the Beige Book brings great news of optimism for the American economy. The next meeting of the Feds will be in November.

New Book Suggests Consumers Think About Flowers Like Produce

chrysanthemumApproximately 99% of individuals believe that a person who gives flowers is thoughtful, but are they really thinking about where their beautiful gifts are coming from? A new book called Foraged Flora aims to explain exactly why we should be looking at flowers the same way we look at produce.

Author Louesa Roebuck tells her readers that while we all know it’s bad to eat “pesticide-laden” produce, the same thing is essentially happening when we buy out-of-season roses from out local supermarkets.

Roebuck’s thesis behind Foraged Flora is that rather than simply purchasing flowers for their beauty, consumers should be focused on creating arrangements that consist of local, seasonal flowers and plants.

To co-author Sarah Londsdale, this process means exploring “the depth and breadth of what can be achieved relying solely on gleaning and foraging.”

According to the CCFC, almost 90% of consumers don’t know where their flowers originated. Roebuck and Londsdale suggest that if everyone expressed the same kind of concern about flora as they did about avocados, the market would be more educated and environmentally conscious.

Foraged Flora encourages its readers to stick with local offerings. For some, that might mean a lack of flowers in the winter, but considering that a single rose bloom shipped from Kenya requires over three gallons of water to produce, the decreased environmental impact could be huge.

Locally grown flowers can not only make a healthier world, recent studies have shown that local gardening can help children grow into healthier adults.

Whether it’s a vegetable or flower garden, researchers have learned that those children who learned to garden at a young age ate a diet that consisted of more fruit and vegetable consumption.

Researchers polled 1,351 students at eight American universities and found that students who currently gardened or learned to garden as a child ate 2.9 cups of fruits and vegetables per day, as compared to the 2.4 of those who had never gardened.

However, simply having a garden wasn’t enough to influence these behaviors. According to the survey results, kids who actively learned to garden were the ones who grew to eat more fruits and vegetables.

Roebeck and Lonsdale’s 250-page coffee table book is an advocate for creating beauty that is both local and self-reliant, which for some may even include cultivating flora of their very own.

U.S. PET Plastic Recycling Rate Drops Over Past Year

plastic-bottlesAccording to the “Report on Postconsumer PET Container Recycling Activity in 2015,” the U.S. achieved a recycling rate of 30.1% for polyethylene terephthalate (PET) bottles last year. This percentage, however, shows a slight downward trend in PET bottle collection volumes over the past year, since the PET recycling rate in 2014 was 31%.

If 60% of the U.S. population — that’s about 148 million people — has access to a plastics recycling program, then what is causing the drop in the PET recycling rate?

There certainly has been no shortage of PET plastic available for recycling. Since 2014, the volume of PET bottles in the U.S. increased to 5,971 million pounds. Unfortunately, the total domestic end use of recycled PET dropped from 1,564 million pounds in 2014 to 1,421 million pounds last year. In other words, fewer industries are electing to use recycled PET, creating less of a demand.

Regardless, authors of the report from the National Association for PET Container Resources (NAPCOR) and the Associate of Plastic Recyclers (APR) are remaining entirely optimistic

“This is a positive report,” said J. Scott Saunders, APR chairman and general manager of W Plastics Recycling Division in Troy, Alabama. “It clearly demonstrates the strength of the plastics recycling market to maintain market share in the face of the significant global economic slowdown, coupled with the precipitous drop in virgin feedstock prices. We must continue to address key issues in the recycled PET supply chain, such as increasing quality collection, improving processing systems, and designing PET bottles for recyclability.”

Despite the efforts of the recycling industry, the majority of recyclable plastic is still going to waste, either piling up in landfills across the country or littering our lakes and oceans. That is why some cities and states are attempting to ban certain plastic products altogether.

In 2014, San Francisco became the first American city to pass an ordinance restricting the sale of plastic water bottles on city property.

“San Francisco now has one of the strongest common-sense bottled water policies in the country,” said Lauren DeRusha, senior national campaign organizer with Corporate Accountability International. “With grassroots support at a high point, San Francisco is now poised to strengthen the policy even further, blazing the way for cities across the country to make public spending on bottled water a thing of the past.”

Now, the entire state of California is poised to make a decision about the fate of another type of plastic product — single-use plastic bags. On the ballot next month will be a referendum that will either uphold or overturn the 2007 ban on plastic shopping bags.

While nine out of 10 Americans report reusing plastic bags, many Californians would prefer not to use them at all since they are harmful to the environment and — unlike PET bottles — they cannot be recycled.

Believe it or not, steel is one of the most recycled materials on the planet. In fact, 90% of the world’s steel is recycled. Unfortunately, this is not the case for plastic. The overproduction of plastic has become troubling for many environmentalists. While much of it cannot be recycled and therefore goes to waste, the plastic materials that can be recycled are often disposed of incorrectly. To combat this issue, NAPCOR, APR, and other recycling groups are working to spread awareness about proper disposal practices so that more recyclable materials will stay out of the waste stream.

First Time Home Buyers Are Responsible for Housing Market Surge, Report Shows

The housing market is on the rise again, and it is all thanks to the efforts of first time home buyers.

After two straight months of declines, September’s report by the National Association of Realtors showed a bigger than expected surge in the home buyer’s market. They believe this is due to the efforts of first time home buyers, as they accounted for over 34% of transactions last month.

This is especially impressive considering only one third of all people looking to buy new homes are first time home buyers.

The NAR’s report shows that sales of existing homes in September rose 3.2 percent to an annual rate of 5.47 million units. This statistic was well over economist’s predictions of an increase to 5.35 million units.

“Today’s reports reaffirm that the jobs and housing markets are moving in the right direction. That’s important because the jobs and housing markets are going to be critical to supporting growth in 2017,” said Ryan Sweet, senior economist at Moody’s Analytics to Reuters.
This positive trend suggests that the labor market remains strong, which is an important factor underpinning in the housing market. However, economists still believe that they need the housing market to grow another 10 points to make it a robust, well-established sector.

However, the increase in existing home sales was broad all over the board, even though the amount of housing inventory remained tight and non-varied. There were 2.04 million previously owned homes on the market, up from 1.5% in August.

This report came on the heels of a separate report that showed a jump in single-family housing starts and overall building permits in September.

So go on Millennials, relish in the brand newness of your home. The housing market thanks you.

Artist Grows Grass Out of Persian Rugs as a Statement About Western Imperialism

Traditional carpets from Middle East.Most interior designers are familiar with the strict rules of rug placement – 12 to 18 inches of floor space must be left on each side of the rug, the rug must cover the majority of the hallway, square rugs go in square rooms, etc.

One Austrian artist, however, has taken everything we know about rugs and turned it all upside down. He uses his rugs to explore the “poetics in everyday life,” as well as to make a strong political statement about Western imperialism.

Martin Roth’s piece, called “untitled (persian rugs),” is currently on display at the Korean Cultural Centre UK in London. His work features a Persian rug planted with seeds that are sprouting grass through the woven threads.

“I wanted to make a work about the recent urge by Western countries to impose their culture and values on other – primarily Islamic – countries, in an attempt to ‘improve’ them,” Roth explained. “When my grass (often made out of wheatgrass seeds) invades the Person carpets, they initially create something new and beautiful. However, ultimately they destroy something old and valuable.”

This piece is the second version he’s created with this idea in mind. He also placed seeds in the carpet of an Austrian castle and nurtured the grass as it grew.

“During the process I become more of a gardener than an artist!” he noted.

At first, the grass mirrors the patterns woven so beautifully into the rugs, but as it grows, the watering spreads the seeds around and creates and entirely different pattern. Eventually, when Roth stops watering the grass, it withers and dies, leaving the rug messy and forever ruined.

“It’s a utopic gesture,” said Roth, “wanting to create something from nothing. Often I’d explain that the grass grows from the dust of history. The work is impermanent, it only lasts for a certain time. Nothing can sustain itself without sufficient nourishment.”

Baby Boomer Divorce Rates Pose Financial Hardship For Women

The good news: divorce rates among younger generations are on the decline. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the over-50 age bracket.
When the Baby Boomer generation reached adulthood during the 1970s and 80s, divorce rates inflated. Now that the Boomers are reaching retirement age, divorce rates haven’t slowed down. In fact, the divorce rate among seniors actually doubled in a 20-year span (from 1990-2010).

Divorces pose financial hardships at any age, but it’s been shown that later divorces present even bigger obstacles. Late divorces can often lead to delayed retirements, and they may be partially to blame for the fact that one in five Americans over the age of 65 currently remains in the workforce.

This issue has shown to be especially problematic for women. A new study has found that financial stress from divorce plays a major role in forcing older women to go back to work. According to the study by Mathematica Policy Research, the later in life a woman gets a divorce, the more likely she is to be working full time later on in life. The study uses data from nearly 56,000 women and found that women who divorced in their 50s were 10% likelier to work full time from ages 50-74 than were women who divorced before they hit their 30s.

Women file for two-thirds of divorces, so they’re already being forced to deal with both the emotional and financial burden of going to court, splitting assets, and fighting for child custody when applicable. Many women are suddenly held responsible for maintaining the cost of their current home and another house or apartment. They may be forced to make make ill-advised financial decisions like trading retirement assets.

The impact of these financial hardships are highlighted when you examine the data pertaining to seniors who live below the poverty line. While only 3.4% of married Americans aged 62 and over with no history of divorces live in poverty, 19% of divorced single people over age 50 are poor. The burden for women is further emphasized by the fact that the poverty rate for divorced single men above age 50 is 11.4%, while the rate for women in the same age group with the same specifications is nearly 27%.

For many, the only solution is to remarry. The poverty rate among those who divorced after age 50 and then remarried is just 3.3%. However, second and third marriages are even less likely to last than first-time marriages. Overall, it paints a bleak picture of the options for women, who already often earn less than their male counterparts in the workforce and will be forced to continue working into old age.

Post-Hurricane Home Repairs May Experience Significant Delays

rainHurricane Matthew has been deemed responsible for dozens of deaths and billions of dollars in damages across the east coast. Unfortunately for those homeowners with badly damaged properties, they may face a long wait before their houses can be restored.

The effects of major natural disasters like Hurricane Matthew are most often seen in waves. Smaller assessments and repairs are typically made to public spaces first. As those smaller repairs are made, larger projects can be assessed and started.

However, the construction industry was experiencing a labor shortage before Hurricane Matthew hit. Not only does this mean fewer skilled workers in the industry, it means longer wait times for homeowners in need of repair.

Just last week, requests for window replacement were up 133% in Myrtle Beach, S.C. as compared to the same date one year ago.

“My expectation is that we’re going to see some major labor bottlenecks,” said Brad Hunter, chief economist at HomeAdvisor. “We were already seeing labor shortages before the storm, and when there’s a spike in demand, labor becomes a bigger problem.”

According to a recent Goldman Sachs estimate, the storm caused approximately $10 billion in damages across the state of Florida.

Fortunately, some communities have made it easier for homeowners and business owners alike to begin the repair process.

A building permit can cost anywhere from $100 to over $1,000 depending on the project, but Daytona has waived all construction permit fees for emergency storm-related repairs across the city.

Permit fees will be waived until October 21, and include roofing, exterior doors and windows, siding, mechanical, plumbing, and electrical repairs.

However, officials have stated that completed permit applications are still required in order for proper repairs to ensue.

In order to be eligible for the permit fee waiver, whoever performs the work must be the homeowner, who meets Florida Statute 481.103, or a licensed contractor.

Application and permit fees are also being waived for removal of hazardous materials and storm-damaged or storm-felled trees.

However, the length of time between filing a permit application and completing repairs may be longer than most homeowners would like.

Because of the already-present labor shortage, fees and wait times will likely see an increase.

You Might Want to Re-Think Those Plans to Move to Canada After the Election

canadian_flag_2680120241There’s been a lot of chatter from dissatisfied Americans who are threatening to move to Canada after they learn the outcome of the 2016 presidential election. After all, Canada has good healthcare, a strong economy, and of course, Justin Trudeau. But if your post-election plans include a move to the Great White North, you might reconsider when you hear how much it’ll cost you.

Here in America, the national household income has increased by 26% over the last 12 years. At the same time, the cost of living has also gone up — by 29%. That fact alone might make you want to head to the northern border, but you should know that taxes and housing costs will be just as high, or higher in some cases, should you move to Canada.

If you don’t like the current amount your government forces you to allocate to taxes, moving to Canada probably won’t help matters. In 2015, the average American family paid around $14,000 USD, or $26,000 CAD, in taxes. That same year, the average Canadian family paid approximately $34,154 CAD in taxes. Although that conversion rate can benefit you when moving to Canada, those hiked up taxes certainly won’t.

Housing is generally pricier, too. In September of 2016, the average single-family home price in Vancouver rose to $1.58 million CAD, or $1.19 million in U.S. currency. In Toronto, the average home sells for around $537,000 USD. Depending on the housing market in which you currently reside, this could represent a steep increase. Your money may simply not go as far when you head up north.

But there might be some good news if you plan to rent, rather than buy, in Montreal or Ottawa. The average two-bedroom rental in Montreal costs around $644 in U.S. dollars, and in Ottawa, the same type of apartment comes in at $934 a month. Monthly rents run higher in Vancouver ($1,850 USD for a one-bedroom) and Toronto ($1,136 for a two-bedroom).

Another encouraging fact is that the cost of Canadian goods and services is generally pretty comparable to U.S. prices. The cost of a gallon of gasoline in Vancouver is around $3.63 in U.S. currency. Depending on where you live, this cost is probably a bit more than what you currently pay at the pumps. The average pair of Canadian jeans will cost you a little over $50, and a 40-inch flat screen TV comes out to be about $385 in U.S. dollars. While some items may be a bit pricier in Canada, this cost may be offset by some surprisingly inexpensive necessities.

Although moving to Canada may be a financially viable option for some, every country has its own issues. If you’re seriously considering leaving the U.S., make sure to do your research first — and pack lots of layers.

LA Company Angers Yogis by Producing Expensive Leather Yoga Mat

Yoga and meditation. Silhouette of man in moontains.Yoga is an inherently minimalist activity, or at least it’s supposed to be. And while some modern yoga lovers choose to use colorful rubber mats for their enhanced resistance, all you really need to start practicing yoga is an open space and yourself.

An ancient Indian practice, yoga focuses on the relationship between mind and body. The ultimate goal is to find harmony between the two and increase consciousness. However, as yoga practice becomes increasingly westernized and trendy, some yogis believe its commercialization has disrupted the true meaning of the practice.

And that was before Baller Yoga, an LA-based yoga company, started producing a yoga mat made from the same leather used to make NFL footballs.

Fine leather goods are often handmade by artisans with 20 to 30 years of experience, which makes them expensive. Niche-market leather products like this are even more so. The price tag of this particular leather item? A whopping $1,000.

“It certainly would not align with our philosophy,” said Cassie Jackson, a yoga teacher at the Iyengar Yoga Institute in San Francisco, told The Guardian. “I mean — most of us are vegan.”

Cedric Yau, the founder of Baller Yoga, is a data consultant for a New York Hedge Fund. While on a yoga retreat in Bali, he said that he became frustrated with the “cheap slippery mats” that he was using.

Upon his return, he planned on reviewing yoga mats online to help yogis find the best mat, one that wouldn’t slide but was also resistant to sticking: like a football. He then decided to source meat byproduct leather from the same company that sources leather for NFL footballs and NBA basketballs.

The tagline for the product is: “For athletes who have everything and desire nothing.”

As yoga is being used increasingly as an athletic performance enhancing method by athletes from all sports, including football, the company aims to provide a mat that meets an athlete’s standards.

“We are not really looking at the vegetarian, vegan angle,” said Yau, admitting that the company has received significant backlash from militant vegans.

Not only that, but yoga originated in India, where cows are considered holy.

“For the most part it’s something we knew we would take fire for…[but] there are a lot of people who look at yoga as a form of exercise and totally ignore the spiritual aspects. You could call this the secular yoga community.”

Jackson is still skeptical of Baller Yoga’s intentions, as the old yogis didn’t use mats at all — they practiced in caves.

B K S Iyengar, the founder of Iyengar yoga, once said, “When yoga is only outward-facing, exhibitive, and self-gratifying, it is not yoga at all.”

“This is part of capitalism, in my opinion,” said Jackson.

Brooklyn Brewery Goes International After Partial Japanese Buyout

In a trans-Pacific deal, the Tokyo-based Kirin Holdings has purchased a 25% stake in Brooklyn Brewery, a popular New York craft brewer. This partnership is expected to begin the expansion of the brewhouse in markets including Japan and Brazil.

Kirin did not disclose the price it paid for the holding in the brewery, but it could be in the hundreds of millions of dollars. A brewery with a similar market share to Brooklyn, Ballast Point, was sold last year for a billion dollars.

Japanese investors have made several similar foreign investments of late — Kirin’s rival, Asahi, bought European brands Peroni and Grolsch earlier in the year.

Kirin really tapped into the beer market by getting a slice of Brooklyn Brewery, which has been brewing in Williamsburg, Brooklyn since the 1980s, at a time when craft beer is immensely popular. Craft brewers currently provide about 424,000 jobs in the U.S. alone.

Brooklyn Brewery is also doing very well financially, as the twelfth largest U.S. craft-beer maker in the U.S.. Production rose by 25,000 barrels last year, reaching 277,000 barrels in total, according to Beer Marketer’s Insights.

Kirin has stated that there will be no changes in leadership at the Brewery, and that the two companies plan on starting a joint venture in Japan early next year. There are also plans in the works to expand the brand into Brazil and tap into the restaurant business.

Kirin’s decision to jump onto the American beer bandwagon may be because of tensions in the market at home. “Japan is in a situation where the big four beer companies are in a war of attrition,” said Kirin’s president of Kirin Brewery Co Takayuki Fuse. “Craft beer is offering a solution to that. We would like to add more value to craft beer.”