Economy

Encore: New Digs for the Workplace

By Kara Miller   |   Friday, July 6, 2012
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Part 1:

Part 2: 

 

Today, we look at the changing workplace. Are we looking at a future of telecommuting, skyping, and emailing from home? Will employers increasingly move the workplace to the home?

At Google's offices in Zurich, employees work in hanging chairs. (andrewarchy via Flickr)

Or will offices become more like those of Google and Facebook — with free food, games, and quirky decorations — all of which might encourage you to spend just a little more time at work?

A panel of experts joins us to take a peek at the future. We'll explore the kinds of labor increasingly being rewarded and accommodated and who will have trouble making it in the new workplace.

Guests:

The Gig Economy

A common setup for a gig-worker: The coffee-shop desk. (librarianby day via Flickr)

We all know that musicians, models, and actors often have lives filled with unpredictable, one-time gigs. But what if, along with hip-hop bands, wedding photographers, and freelance writers, we’re all being enveloped by the gig economy?

WGBH reporter and host Ibby Caputo introduces us to a scap-hauling, satire-writing nanny; and a world where cobbling together jobs isn't unusual.

Guests:

Checking in on the Job Market

By Kara Miller   |   Saturday, June 30, 2012
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A job fair is seen in Europe. (markunti/Flickr)



Today, we take the pulse of the job market. Are companies finally starting to feel more secure? And what kinds of jobs and skills are now most in demand?

Plus, we look at summertime hiring. Is it a myth that recruitment goes on vacation?

Guests:

Is the Housing Recovery Finally Here?

By Sarah Birnbaum   |   Friday, June 15, 2012
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June 15, 2012

 
BOSTON — A new report from Harvard University concludes that the long-struggling U.S. housing market has finally hit bottom. But it's still a long way back to the surface, even in Massachusetts, which has fared better than much of the country.
 
Chris Herbert of Harvard University’s Joint Center for Housing Studies said the report indicates the housing crisis may be at an end.
 
He acknowledged that experts have predicted recovery before — only to see the market fall back down.
 
"But this time is different," he said. "It's different because we’re seeing fundamentals improve in both demand, in terms of steady but moderate upticks in terms of sales, and in supply side, in that we’re seeing home inventories down to levels that are more normal in a market."
 
Nevertheless, Northeastern economist Barry Bluestone, who prepares annual housing report cards for the Greater Boston area, said it could still take many years for Massachusetts prices to return to their peak 6 years ago:
 
"A few years ago we did an analysis and we thought we would be back around 2014, 2015. But indeed the depressed prices have continued much longer than the last cycle. And now I wouldn’t be surprised if we didn’t see those prices regaining their past levels until the end of this decade," he said.
 
So is now a good time to buy a house in Boston?
 
"This is a terrific time for people in the home buying market to buy," Bluestone said. "Housing prices are near the bottom and interest rates are lower than they’ll ever be in our lifetime."
 
Bluestone said homeowners who want to sell still should wait a little longer, if they can, for prices to rise a bit.
 

College Is Still Worth It, Says MIT President

By Cristina Quinn & John Hockenberry   |   Friday, June 15, 2012
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June 15, 2012


CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — MIT's president is addressing the high cost of a college education. On the WGBH coproduction The Takeaway, Susan Hockfield said that despite shaky employment figures, the chances of finding employment with a college degree are significantly greater than with only a high school diploma.

If cost is an issue, she said there were avenues students and families should consider.

"For a family that is deeply concerned about the cost of college education, I would offer two important directions to pursue. The first is that public universities in almost every state are outstanding and can offer an outstanding education. Education is largely the responsibility of the student, so a well-motivated student can get an education at any one of the public universities in America," she said.
 
Hockfield added that most people don’t know about the financial support private universities provide.
 
"Here at MIT, Harvard, at Yale, Stanford, Princeton, we admit students in a need-blind application process. We don’t consider a family’s ability to pay for an education when we review who comes to MIT," she said. "We decide on which students are prepared to make the best use of MIT’s resources. We make it financially possible for every one of those students to come to MIT. If you’re a family with an annual income of $75,000 a year, we cover all of your tuition costs, and in some cases, more."

> > EXTRA: John Hockenberry of The Takeaway reflects on the value of college in his family.
 

Revenues Rise, but Governor's Budget Stays Cautious

By Sarah Birnbaum   |   Tuesday, June 12, 2012
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June 13, 2012



deval patrick state of the state 2012
Gov. Deval Patrick delivers the 2012 State of the State address. (Steven Senna/AP)

 
BOSTON — A national survey of governors' budgets released on June 12 shows Massachusetts tax revenues are finally projected to hit pre-recession levels in the fiscal year that starts in July. But Gov. Deval Patrick is still taking a tight-fisted approach to budgeting.
 
The Fiscal Survey of States is published twice annually by the National Association of State Budget Officers (NASBO) and the National Governors Association. It shows that Massachusetts is one of 25 states in which, despite more robust revenue growth, the executive branch isn't ramping up spending to match. Tax revenues are expected to go up by 3.1 percent in Massachusetts next year but Patrick is only proposed raising spending by 2.9 percent.
 
Scott Pattison of NASBO said Patrick seems to be taking a conservative approach to budgeting because of uncertainty in the European and U.S. economies. Pattison said that's in keeping with the national trend: "Governors have been very cautious fiscally, and I believe prudent, to be providing a cushion and prepared for a rather tepid growth."
 
Even though the economy is improving in Massachusetts, the survey authors said big challenges still loom. The federal government is scheduled to make another round of deep budget cuts in January 2013. If those cuts go forward, they would directly hit the state budget in the form of reductions in grant programs.
 
And even though there’s some revenue growth and some spending growth, the rate is very slow. At the same time, there’s no political appetite for tax hikes. So, the study concludes, state revenue improvement since the recession hasn’t been enough to meet the rise in demand for state services and spending over the past 2 years.
 

Spring 2012 Fiscal Survey of States

Initiative Aims to Get Panhandlers off the Streets

By Anne Mostue   |   Sunday, June 10, 2012
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June 11, 2012


Harvard Square MBTA

Harvard Square, Cambridge. (ArnoldReinhold/Wikimedia)

 
CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — As the weather warms up and tourists fill the streets, panhandlers appear in droves, asking for spare change at almost every busy square and intersection. The treatment they receive from pedestrians, storeowners and police varies widely, as does their income. Now there's a new effort in Cambridge to get panhandlers off the streets.
 
Please spare change
 
Justin Newton divides his time between two trendy and rather affluent areas of Greater Boston: Harvard Square and Newbury Street. He's 31, tall with shaggy red hair and a beard. He's also a panhandler. For up to 8 hours a day he sits or stands with a cardboard sign, usually scrawled with a funny message — for instance, one day in May, "Too Ugly to Sell My Body, Already Sold my Soul. Please Spare Change."
 
The shelter where Newton usually stays is closed until the fall, he said, so he and friends sleep on the street. You might see them in front of the Coop or in the Pit in Harvard Square. He said on a good day, after about 8 hours, he makes about $75. He spends his money on what he called homeless "gear."
 
"I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t using some of it to buy, like, pot," he said. "But well, I just bought these two foam mattress pads because my back’s been really bothering me and I needed a better surface to sleep on."
 
When asked if he'd tried to get a full-time job, he shrugged. "I was looking for work for 2 1/2 years before I became homeless. If I couldn’t find a job when I had a roof over my head, think of how much harder it is to get a job when you don’t have a roof over your head, when your address is a drop-in center," he said.
 
The scope of the problem
 
Newton is one of the estimated hundreds of panhandlers in Boston. There's no actual data, and the annual homeless census cannot account for panhandlers. Many of them are just passing through the city. In an informal survey in Harvard Square, those interviewed said they were homeless. On a good day they made about $80, on a bad day about $15. Several said they have caseworkers and collect Supplemental Security Income, the Social Security Adminstration's benefit for people who have disabilities and limited resources. 
 
But even as panhandlers work solo on the streets, they're organized. In Harvard Square, they stagger themselves. John Casey, 59, said he and his friends met each morning to divvy up territory.
 
"We talk in the morning and then we just decide where to go," he said. "I got three other friends who are doing it. We meet at Starbucks. We have our coffee then we head out."
 
What the police think
 
Panhandling is legal. In fact, it's a First Amendment right. But panhandlers can't follow people, touch them or become verbally abusive. It's a fine line, according to Cambridge Police Commissioner Robert Haas. 
 
"We have officers that are just dedicated to working with that population," he said. "And our officers are really good at talking to them, setting some boundaries with them, and oddly enough we've been doing this for 2 1/2 years, they follow these rules."
 
The business perspective
 
The real tension in Harvard Square is between panhandlers and business owners. Haas said Cambridge police have just started a "homeless ambassador program" to train business owners to interact positively with panhandlers and distribute information on local social service agencies. 
 
"What's been really successful is we really have struck a fabulous partnership with the business association and social service providers and we're really working closely together," said Haas.
 
There are efforts to empower panhandlers. For example, for 20 years they've had the option of selling a newspaper called Spare Change News. The police don't take a stance on whether the public should give money to panhandlers; the Harvard Square Business Alliance, however, encourages local residents and tourists to give instead to shelters and other homeless support organizations.


About the Authors
Kara Miller Kara Miller
As a radio host, Kara Miller has interviewed thinkers from E.J. Dionne to Howard Gardner, Deepak Chopra to Lani Guinier. She is a panelist on WGBH-TV's "Beat the Press," as well as an Assistant Professor at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth. Her writing has appeared in The Boston Globe, The National Journal, The Boston Herald, Boston Magazine, and The International Herald Tribune.

Podcast: iTunes | XML

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Sarah Birnbaum
Sarah Birnbaum is WGBH News' State House reporter. Send her a news tip.

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