Mutual funds, which have topped $13 trillion, are the way many Americans interact with the financial markets. You may have come across mutual funds when you set up an individual retirement account or a company-sponsored retirement account like a 401(k).
A "basket" of stocks, bonds or both, mutual funds are seen as safer to own than individual stocks. Having many in one basket spreads the risk, especially over time. But high fees, lack of diversification, or a focus on short-term gains can put your nest egg at risk.
Earlier this year, the percentage of Americans who are working or looking for work fell to its lowest level since 1979.
The figure (wonks call it labor force participation rate) rose for decades, as more women entered the workforce. It started falling over a decade ago. And the decline is now being driven by a bunch of different factors — some of which are scary and recessiony, and some of which are not.
The collapse of the garment factory in Bangladesh is seen as a gross violation of safety and workers rights. There are international organizations which try to guide and encourage companies and governments towards better codes of conduct, but the groups have no legal recourse.
A woman holds a .22-caliber Crickett youth rifle at a Gander Mountain store in Flint Township, Mich. This type of gun, which is marketed to children and comes in a variety of colors, was involved in the shooting death of a 2-year-old girl in Kentucky.
Credit Steve Jessmore / The Flint Journal/Landov
A man and a boy out hunting with shotguns, circa 1955.
Employers using the E-Verify program are required to post an E-Verify Participation Poster, shown here in a handout photo. A Senate bill would make participation in the system, used to check employees' immigration status, mandatory for all employers.
Credit U.S. Department of Homeland Security / Reuters/Landov
Some employers around the nation have been using E-Verify to check the immigration status of employees for years. Operated by the Department of Homeland Security, the online system is designed to make it harder to hire unauthorized workers — and harder for those workers to find jobs.
While participation in the program has been voluntary since 1996, the immigration bill now in the Senate would make E-Verify mandatory.
For years, many marine biologists have argued that the floating, open-ocean net pens that produce billions of pounds of salmon per year also generate pollution, disease and parasites.
In some places in western Canada, the open-ocean salmon farming industry has been blamed for the collapse of wild salmon populations in the early 2000s — though other research has challenged that claim.
This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan, in Washington. Technology's already changed our lives in ways we couldn't have imagined just a few years ago, and now seems ready to reinvent our future. As we continue our series of conversations looking ahead, we've invited Farhad Manjoo to join us - he's Slate's technology columnist and a frequent guest on this program - on the latest gadgets, on the business of consumer electronics and on how we've adapted our lives, our jobs and our manners to all these changes.
Host Michel Martin talks to Loretta Tofani, who closed her furniture store after discovering poor working conditions at the Chinese factories that supplied her business. She talks about how she made her decision, and about the factory building collapse in Bangladesh.
Home grocery delivery sounds like a frill for people too lazy to schlep to the store. But having food delivered can be more environmentally friendly than driving to the store, researchers say.
Having groceries delivered can cut carbon dioxide emissions by at least half, compared to driving to the store, according to a new study. That's because the delivery truck offers the equivalent of a "shared ride" for the food.
Let's say you're highly skilled and interested in emigrating to the United States. Well, there are reasons to think you have a pretty good shot. Those with a specialty that's rare and highly valued can take advantage of what's called the H-1B visa. It is specifically for people with a Bachelor's degree or higher and you can only get one if an American company explicitly wants to hire you.
OK. From understanding language, let's try to understand one development in the economy. Corporate revenues have been lackluster. But despite that, stock prices keep going up. This might have something to do with what the Federal Reserve has been up to. Hoping to get money into the economy and stimulate growth, the Fed has been aggressively buying bonds. And Fed officials said, after their two-day meeting ended yesterday, that they could even accelerate the bond purchases if necessary.
NPR's business news starts with profits for Facebook.
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MONTAGNE: Facebook announced its latest quarterly results, reporting revenues just under $1.5 billion.
DAVID GREENE, HOST:
The company showed a profit of nearly $220 million for the quarter but this fell short of analysts' expectations. CEO Mark Zuckerberg blamed the missed target on higher costs. Company spending is up 60 percent this quarter over the previous one due to hiring and new developments.
If you're interested in studying in China, a new scholarship program could help you on your way. Rivaling the prestigious Rhodes scholarships, the new Schwarzman Scholars program was announced recently by Stephen Schwarzman, CEO and co-founder of Blackstone Group, one of the world's biggest private-equity firms.
The financier says he plans to raise $300 million, including $100 million of his own money, to fund a new program aimed at bringing students from around the world to study at Beijing's Tsinghua University.
Workers manufacture clothing in a factory near Dhaka, Bangladesh, in December. Labor activists and major clothing retailers met in Germany this week to try to hammer out a deal that would improve working conditions in Bangladeshi factories.
This week, major retailers including Wal-Mart, Gap and others met with labor activists in Germany, hoping to hammer out a deal to improve working conditions in Bangladesh.
The meeting came less than a week after a devastating building collapse in the Bangladeshi capital, Dhaka, killed more than 400 workers. At the meeting, activists pushed retailers who use factories in Bangladesh to start spending their own money to make those workplaces safer.
During the housing bust, taxpayers were forced to bail out mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. But thanks to the real estate recovery, Fannie Mae could end up paying tens of billions of dollars back to the Treasury this summer.
That's just one of the factors behind a better bottom line for the federal government. This week, the Treasury Department announced it will pay down some of its debt for the first time in six years.
This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm John Donvan, in Washington. Neal Conan is away. A lawyer shortage, really? Well, yes, depending on where you live, and rural America is in some places apparently suffering a lawyer shortage right now, just as it has long been coping with a doctor shortage. Small town life is not selling with certain professions, and in distinct ways communities can be truly undermined by the absence of, say, doctors and lawyers and architects and so on.
Good morning. I'm David Greene. If you're like me you remember some great birthdays at Chuck E. Cheese. The mascot at the pizza joint, an oversized rodent, gave the best birthday hugs. But these days Chuck E. is just not himself. It looks like he's been on a major diet. The restaurant chain has had a few tough years.
Proof of Martha Stewart's ongoing commercial appeal has been on display in a New York courtroom. Yesterday, an appeals court decided that department store J.C. Penney can continue selling a new line of housewares designed by Stewart. But the ruling keeps Macy's from having the exclusive rights to the brand.
NPR's Sonari Glinton reports.
SONARI GLINTON, BYLINE: There is one reason why both J.C. Penney and Macy's want Martha Stewart.
MARSHAL COHEN: She's had a history of having success.`
NPR's business news starts with a scramble for Apple bonds.
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MONTAGNE: Apple, yesterday, sold $17 billion worth of bonds - which is a new industry record. Apple issued the bonds to take advantage of low interest rates as it prepares to make a payout of $100 billion to shareholders by 2015. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.
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GREENE: "Downton Abbey," it's our last word in business today. The hit PBS program is expanding into the world of merchandise.
RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
CNBC reports the costume drama, set in Edwardian England, will soon launch a line of fashion, furniture, wallpaper and beauty products. The show's popularity has already created a boost in sales for items from the era, like gloves, fur capes and old-fashioned sherry.
A factory collapse in Bangladesh last week killed more than 400 people, mostly garment workers. Hundreds more are still missing, making it one of the largest manufacturing disasters in history. It's just the latest horrific accident in the garment industry despite more than a decade of auditing aimed at improving working conditions.
In September 2012, a fire at the Ali Enterprises factory in Pakistan killed nearly 300 workers. Six weeks later, in November, a fire in the Tazreen factory in Bangladesh killed 112 people. Then, last week, there was the Rana Plaza collapse.
With all of the controversy over entitlement reform, there's one thing both sides can agree on: Social Security alone does not provide enough money for a comfortable retirement. For these workers, the Obama administration is proposing automatically enrolling workers in IRAs through their employers.
California adopted a version of this last year. Democratic state Sen. Kevin de Leon sponsored the bill to automatically enroll workers in an individual retirement account. The inspiration, he says, was his Aunt Francisca, who's 74.
Look at photographs from the Bangladesh garment factory collapse, and you can see clothing in the rubble destined for a store called Joe Fresh, one of the many retailers using supercheap fashions made overseas to keep shoppers buying often.
But in the aftermath of the tragedy, would customers pay more if they knew the clothes were made by workers treated fairly and safely?
The Salinas Valley in Northern California grows about 80 percent of the country's lettuce, and it takes a lot of people to pick and pack it. In a field owned by Duda Farm Fresh Foods, a dozen lechugueros, or lettuce pickers, are bent at the waist, cutting heads of iceberg lettuce. They work frantically to stay in front of a line of 12 more packers, who seal them with tape and toss them onto a conveyor belt.