Business news

We told you recently about new allegations of violations at three Chinese factories that make Apple's popular iPhones and iPads. Now, we have more allegations of labor violations – this time against Apple's main rival, Samsung, and its operations in Brazil.

Six years ago, the U.S. housing market plunged off a cliff. Now prices are bouncing back up — sharply in many markets.

That has some real estate analysts saying 2013 may mark the turning point — when pent-up demand will revive the housing sector and boost the broader economy.

At a time when much of the world is mired in economic torpor, China still enjoys enviable growth rates. Yet there's no question that its economy is growing more slowly these days.

Just ask Yan Liwei, a salesman for a construction materials company, who was visiting a park in Shanghai this weekend.

"The number of new construction projects is declining somewhat. It's taking longer for many of our clients to pay us what they owe," Liwei says. "Many small and midsized developers are feeling a cash crunch."

After Monday's surprising news that founder Jeff Bezos is buying The Washington Post for $250 million — a deal that came just days after the Boston Globe was sold for $70 million to Boston Red Sox owner John Henry — a question naturally occurs:

Who's next?

With sizzling temperatures in much of the country, tourists are turning to mountain ski resorts to find relief. Resorts from Colorado to California and Oregon are on track to set a record this year for summer business.

Brandon Wilke is spending a long weekend at a resort just down the road from Aspen, Colo. He came for a wedding, but Wilke and his brother-in-law decided to bring their mountain bikes and try out some bike trails at the Snowmass ski resort. At first, Wilke says he didn't know mountain biking was an option.

The New York Times Co. has announced the sale of The Boston Globe to the principle owner of the Boston Red Sox for $70 million, a sum that represents a fraction of the $1.1 billion paid for the flagship newspaper two decades ago.

It's finally happening, folks. This year, the average time Americans spend with digital media each day will surpass traditional TV viewing time. That's according to eMarketer's latest estimate of media consumption among adults.

The average adult will spend more than five hours per day online and on non-voice mobile activities (read: texting, apps, games). That's compared to an average four hours and 31 minutes each day of TV watching.

The unemployment rate only includes people who don't have jobs and are looking for work. A much larger swath of people — about 36 percent of U.S. adults — don't have jobs and aren't looking for work at all. That figure is higher than it's been in decades (and, conversely, the share of adults in the labor force — shown in the graph above — is lower than it's been in decades).

Here are four reasons why so many people are leaving the labor force.

1. They're retiring.

The U.S. economy grew by an annualized rate of 1.7 percent in the second quarter of 2013, according to gross domestic product data released Wednesday morning. The Commerce Department says the rise stems from business investments, particularly in buildings, and an upturn in exports and the civilian aircraft industry.

The reigning king in the truck world is the Ford F-150, and it's been that way for a couple of decades. But staying on top is getting harder.

With new, tougher fuel standards looming there is a lot of emphasis on efficiency and innovation. On Wednesday, Ford is announcing its flagship truck is taking a step into the alternative fuel world with a vehicle that can run on natural gas.

When you look at their bottom lines and their advertising you realize that the Detroit Three make cars, but they're really truck companies, especially Ford.

Northern California's Salinas Valley is often dubbed America's salad bowl. Large growers there have long relied on thousands of seasonal workers from rural Mexico to pick lettuce, spinach and celery from sunrise to sunset. Many of these workers seem destined for a life in the fields. But a program that helps field workers, like Raul Murillo, start their own farms and businesses is starting to yield a few success stories.

William Roman wants to borrow money, but his bank won't lend him any more. So he's turning to his local pawn shop.

For Roman, a loan from the pawn shop is a lot easier to get. He doesn't have to fill out an application. The people at the pawn shop don't check his credit — all they want is something valuable, something they call sell if Roman doesn't pay them back.

"I've pawned laptops, PlayStations," says Roman. "If I'm not using it, then I'll just go and pawn it."

The news out of Detroit has been grim of late, but there are some bright spots coming from one corner of the Motor City. On Thursday, General Motors posted its 14th straight profitable quarter since emerging from bankruptcy. Ford announced its 16th consecutive profitable quarter Wednesday, and Chrysler is expected to offer good news soon as well.

Organic egg farmers are divided in their reaction to a new FDA proposal that's intended to reduce the risk of salmonella infection among free-roaming chickens. They even disagree about what the document, called "Guidance for Industry," actually requires.

Residents Forced To Live Without Landlines

Jul 22, 2013

Last fall, Hurricane Sandy damaged homes, buckled boardwalks and ruined much of the infrastructure of the small vacation spot of Fire Island, just off the coast of New York. The storm also destroyed many of the island's copper phone lines. But the island's only traditional phone company has no plans to replace them. Instead, Verizon is offering customers a little white box with an antenna it calls Voice Link.

"It has all the problems of a cellphone system, but none of the advantages," says Pat Briody, who has had a house on Fire Island for 40 years.

With its bankruptcy filing Thursday, Detroit became the largest municipality in the United States to seek Chapter 9 protection.

As Scott reported, the city is saddled with $18.5 billion in debt.

Today, we ask, what happens next?

Will Robot Nannies Save Japan's Economy?

Jul 19, 2013

More than half of all Japanese women quit their jobs after giving birth to their first child. That's more than double the rate in the U.S., and it's a problem for Japan's economy.

"Senators have reached a bipartisan deal to restore lower interest rates on student borrowers," The Associated Press reports, citing "Republican and Democratic aides who insist on anonymity because they are not authorized to discuss the ongoing negotiations by name."

In testimony before the House Committee on Financial Services, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke said that when and how the Fed winds down its stimulus programs will depend on economic conditions.

Here's the key passage from Bernanke's prepared remarks:

Wal-Mart's long-standing plans to come to Washington, D.C., are now up in the air. The City Council passed a living wage law that would require the world's largest retailer to pay $12.50 an hour, more than the city's current $8.25 minimum wage.

Hey, baggage fees — happy fifth birthday!

Even if passengers aren't eager to celebrate, airlines are. The fees, born in 2008, helped financially desperate carriers stay aloft as the U.S. economy was spiraling down.

"That was a watershed year that scared the bejeezus out of the airline industry," said Mark Gerchick, an aviation consultant who has just released a book, Full Upright and Locked Position. Even as ticket sales were sliding, jet fuel prices were shooting to historic highs.

When Asiana Flight 214 from South Korea crashed onto the runway at San Francisco International Airport on Saturday, hundreds of flights into that airport were canceled, stranding thousands of travelers at airports across the country.

The Asiana crash came right in the middle of a holiday weekend, disrupting airline networks. And it occurred during a weekend when many flights were intentionally overbooked.

France's vaunted culinary culture has been taking it on the chin lately.

First came the news, which we told you about in April, that the majority of France's restaurants are now fast-food joints.

U.S. and EU officials begin talks Monday on an ambitious free-trade agreement aimed at generating billions of dollars of new trade. But negotiators must overcome barriers created by cultural and philosophical differences over sectors like agriculture. In Europe, the cultivation of genetically modified crops is banned, while in the U.S., they are a central part of food production. NPR's Jackie Northam visited a farm in Delaware and NPR's Eleanor Beardsley visited one in Burgundy, France, to look at those deep-seated differences. We hear from Jackie first.

Why does anyone buy Bayer aspirin — or Tylenol, or Advil — when, almost always, there's a bottle of cheaper generic pills, with the same active ingredient, sitting right next to the brand-name pills?

Matthew Gentzkow, an economist at the University of Chicago's Booth school, recently tried to answer this question. Along with a few colleagues, Gentzkow set out to test a hypothesis: Maybe people buy the brand-name pills because they just don't know that the generic version is basically the same thing.

My name is Maureen, and I am an Ikea-holic. Sure, I laughed knowingly at The Narrator's "slave to Ikea" speech as much as the next Fight Club fan. But the awful truth is, I've got a Beddinge in my bedroom.

And I'm not embarrassed to say so.

Top Vatican Bank Officials Resign

Jul 1, 2013

Two top officials of the Vatican bank resigned Monday just days following the arrest of a senior cleric with ties to the institution after police caught him with the equivalent of about $26 million in cash that they say he was trying to bring into Italy from Switzerland.

The interest rate on government-backed student loans is going to jump from 3.4 percent to 6.8 percent Monday.

Republicans, Democrats and the Obama administration could not agree on a plan to keep it from happening. Lawmakers say a deal is still possible after the July 4 recess. But if they don't agree on a plan soon, 7 million students expected to take out new Stafford loans could be stuck with a much bigger bill when they start paying the money back.

It has been one of the more heated debates in Washington this year.

Developers in Phoenix are scrambling to keep up with another frenzied demand for housing. During the Great Recession, homebuilders in the suburbs abandoned neighborhoods that were only half-built. These so-called zombie subdivisions left a ring of unfinished construction around the city.

But now, the zombies are waking up.