MONEY Education

12 Big Back-to-School Trends Affecting Kids & Parents

Essential reading for the start of the school year.

The 2015-2016 school year is upon us. Are you ready? To get up to speed, take note of a dozen trends around the country that are having an impact on what students are wearing to school, when your child has to get up in the morning for the start of the school day, how much families must chip in for class supplies and school activities, which kids are most likely to be left behind inside and outside the classroom, and more.

  • Later School Starting Times

    girl in bed sleeping with alarm clock
    Aitor Diago—Getty Images

    The CDC and pediatricians are among the many who recommend later start times for schools in order to assure that kids get enough sleep. And slowly, schools seem to be getting the message. Three-quarters of high schools in the northern-latitude states of North Dakota and Alaska begin the day at 8:30 a.m. or later, and a trickling of schools in places like Yakima, Wash., and Denver, Colo., are joining their ranks this fall. States such as New Jersey have agreed to study the impact of later school start times as well. On the other hand, nationwide, more than 80% of public high schools still start the day before 8:30 a.m.

  • Growing Extracurricular Activity Gap

    students in theater group
    Getty Images

    Over the past few decades, researchers have traced a trend they describe as “alarming”: The percentage of upper- and middle-class kids participating in the drama program, hobby clubs, and other non-athletic afterschool activities has steadily increased, while poor students have followed the opposite trajectory. In the early 1980s, participation in such activities was measured at 65% for low-income high school seniors and 73% for their wealthier counterparts. A decade later, the numbers shifted to 61% and 75%, respectively. By 2004, extracurricular participation rates for low-income seniors were down to 56%.

  • BYO Band-Aids

    150831_BTS_Trends_BandAids
    Shutterstock

    It’s not your imagination. Schools really are asking parents to buy more supplies to keep their kids’ classrooms stocked with the basics—everything from tissues to copy paper to Band-Aids. According to the annual Backpack Index from Huntington Bank, a family with three kids (one apiece in elementary, middle, and high school) can expect to pay more than $3,000 this year for school supplies and extracurricular activities. So much for the idea of a free education.

  • More and More Student Fees

    children boarding school bus
    Jamie Grill—Getty Images

    It’s not just increasing school supply lists that are pinching parents. Families are also facing new or significantly higher fees for things like riding the bus or parking a car at school, and participating in sports and other programs. Some schools simply asked students to arrive on the first day with a $50 check to serve as payment for vague “activity fees.” School districts usually cite budget cuts as the reason fees must be instituted.

  • The Lunch Lady Goes Gourmet

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    Getty Images

    Forget about Sloppy Joes. Increasingly, parents and school cafeterias are catering to the dietary restrictions and preferences of young people today, with more gluten-free, organic, and vegetarian options. The cuisine at some school cafeterias is growing increasingly sophisticated as well, serving everything from butternut squash ravioli to made-to-order smoothies, and featuring bistro-style breakfasts and carving stations.

  • Free Lunch for More Students

    150831_BTS_Trends_lunch
    Getty Images

    As of the 2012-2013 school year, 21.5 million kids in American schools received free or reduced-price lunch, as part of the federally funded National Lunch Program. In most cases, free or reduced-price lunches are provided based on the student’s household income levels falling within a certain limit. And the number of students eligible for free lunch is on the rise thanks to an increased income threshold, as well as the expansion of communities that can simply forget about the paperwork and provide free lunches to all students. When 40% of the local students qualify for free lunch, the entire school system becomes eligible, allowing vast student populations in parts of Michigan, Massachusetts, Oregon, Idaho, and beyond to get free lunch at school without any stigma, and regardless of their household income.

  • Back-to-School Spending Shrinks

    school supplies
    Getty Images—iStockphoto

    Over the past decade, back-to-school spending has increased 42%, according to the National Retail Federation (NRF). So the anticipated decrease in spending this season—estimated at an average of $630 per household, down from $669 last year—is perhaps more than anything else an indication that parents are realizing they’ve gone overboard in the past.

  • More School Uniforms

    Young student; school uniforms
    Getty Images—Getty Images

    One of the more interesting trends cited by the NRF for the 2015-2016 school year is that 28% of surveyed parents say their kids wear uniforms in school. That’s the highest rate ever in the poll’s history.

  • First-Day-of-School Fashion Stress

    school children chatting in hallway
    Nancy Honey—Getty Images

    According to a survey conduced for Ebates.com, a coupon and cash-back shopping site, parents and teenagers are in agreement that the most stressful category of back-to-school shopping is clothing. In the comment section of the survey, parents lamented, “My son is so picky,” and explained that “Having to negotiate what [my daughter] can and cannot wear to school” is what makes shopping for school clothing so stressful. As for what stresses out teens about clothes shopping, the two top factors cited were “My parents can’t afford what I want” and “My parents don’t agree with what I want.” No wonder more schools are resorting to uniforms.

  • Common Core Backlash

    Standerdized test
    Tetra Images—Getty Images

    The Common Core initiative seeks consistent educational standards throughout the country. That doesn’t sound like such a bad thing. But the Common Core and the standardized tests that come along with it have come under enormous criticism from conservatives and liberals alike. Many teachers and parents aren’t fans either, largely because the one-size-fits-all approach and the narrow focus on test preparation undermines the teacher’s ability to cater lessons to individual students, potentially leaving some kids in the lurch. Movements to opt out of Common Core tests have gained traction in New York, New Jersey, California, and Colorado, among other states, and according to a recent poll, the majority (54%) of public school parents say they oppose teachers using Common Core standards to set the agenda for what they teach.

  • Bye-Bye Lockers

    150831_BTS_Trends_laptops
    Getty Images Laptops in school

    As more traditional books disappear from schools thanks to e-books and web-based learning, schools are finding that there is less need for the lockers that have lined school hallways for decades. The disappearing locker trend began several years ago and has picked up steam around the country since. And what are schools doing with the extra space once occupied by lockers? Some are installing laptop charging stations.

  • Nobody Knows How to Pay for College

    College student
    Getty Images—Getty Images

    It’s a good thing that many colleges offer heavily discounted tuition via grants, scholarships, and such. After all, the vast majority of Americans say they could not afford the full “sticker price” college tuition. According to a new poll conducted for the financial services firm Edward Jones, a whopping 83% said they couldn’t afford the full cost of college for themselves or a loved one. Even among well-off respondents earning $100,000 or more annually, only 37% said they could cover the entire cost of a college education.

TIME Uber

Uber Hires Hackers to Secure Its Vehicles

They'll work in the company's self-driving car and robotics research lab

Remember those hackers who remotely took over a Jeep Cherokee from miles away last month? Uber just hired them.

Computer security engineers Charlie Miller and Chris Valasek will work in Uber’s Pittsburgh offices, home to the company’s self-driving car and robotics research lab, the New York Times reports. They’ll work with Joe Sullivan, Uber’s chief security officer, and John Flynn, chief information security officer. Together, they’ll work toward “building out a world-class safety and security program at Uber.”

Miller, who previously worked as a security researched at Twitter, confirmed the move in a tweet, announcing that he’d start Tuesday:

“I’ve been in security for more than 10 years, and I’ve worked on computers and phones,” Miller told the New York Times last month. “This time, I wanted to do something that my grandmother would understand. If I tell her, ‘I can hack into your car,’ she understands what that means.”

MONEY stocks

What’s in Store for Stocks in the Coming Week

A trader looks at stock prices on a screen while working on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange shortly before the closing bell in New York August 26, 2015.
Lucas Jackson—Reuters A trader looks at stock prices on a screen while working on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange shortly before the closing bell in New York August 26, 2015.

Is the worst of the sell-off over, or is this just the quiet before the next storm?

After a quiet end to a frenetic week on Wall Street—in which the Dow fell as much as 1,000 points only to rebound by about as many—the question on everyone’s mind is the same…

What’s in store for stocks in the coming week?

Will the market get off to a another frenzied start like it did on Aug. 24, when news about China’s market crash and economic woes sent the Dow plunging? Or is the worst of the storm behind us, and will equities begin to grind out gains from here on out?

To answer that, you have to pay attention to the following:

* The Chinese stock market

Wall Street usually dances to the beat of its own drum, but in jittery times, global markets tend to move in unison.

That’s what happened in the global financial crisis in 2008. And that’s what’s been happening since Aug. 17, when China’s stock market slide began to spread around the world.
^SSEC Chart

^SSEC data by YCharts

So Sunday night, when the Asian markets begin trading, you’ll have a sense of whether Wall Street will be in a good or bad mood come Monday morning.

Fed Chatter

Toward the end of the week, remarks by Federal Reserve officials did as much to move the market as real economic data. When New York Fed president William Dudley on Wednesday said the case for raising interest rates in September was “less compelling” in light of the recent market shocks, Wall Street soared.

But in subsequent days, several officials including Cleveland Fed president Loretta Mester, Kansas City Fed president Esther George, and St. Louis Fed president James Bullard have all said the economy remains strong enough for a rate hike.

So will the Fed increase rates in September or not?

The next big speech comes on Saturday, when Fed vice chairman Stanley Fischer is expected to talk about inflation at a meeting in Jackson Hole, Wyo. Expect investors to react immediately Monday morning.

* The Real Economy

The big debate last week was whether the stock market plunge was foreshadowing a potential recession. By Friday, the bulls had made a convincing argument that a recession was not in the cards, which allowed the market to recover.

This week, investors will be looking for confirmation.

On Tuesday, they’ll be looking at the ISM Manufacturing index, which gauges factory activity throughout the country. Any reading above 50 is considered a sign of growth, and for 31 straight months, the industrial economy has been expanding.

The bulls will be looking for another reading above, or at least on par, with July’s reading of 52.7.

The Job Market

No matter what happens in China, the U.S. economy won’t go into recession if U.S. companies are seeing sufficient demand to step up hiring. This week, there will be two key reports that speak to jobs.

The first is indirect. On Tuesday, investors will get an update on auto sales. Thus far in 2015, auto sales are trending toward their best year in more than a decade.

If motor vehicle sales continue on this pace, it would speak to the underlying strength of the labor market. After all, only consumers who are confident about their job security and wages will hit the showrooms.

Then on Friday comes the Labor Department’s actual jobs report. Wall Street believes the U.S. economy produced around 220,000 nonfarm jobs in August. If the economy hits this mark, it should put a rest to recession talk and fears over a rate hike, says Kate Warne, investment strategist for Edward Jones.

After all, we’ve seen “job creation at more than 200,000 a month for a while,” Warne says. “That’s not an economy that could be snuffed out by a mere quarter-point rise in short-term interest rates.”

TIME LG

LG’s ‘Rolly’ Keyboard Rolls Up Into a Stick to Fit In Your Bag

LG's Rolly Keyboard.

You could also use it to poke and annoy your sister

LG has launched the first “rollable” keyboard for mobile devices, one where users can fold into a stick and carry it in their pocket or bag.

Called the “Rolly Keyboard,” the product will be launched at IFA 2015, Europe’s largest electronics trade show, in Berlin next week. Prices and more details of the roll-out of the Rolly will be revealed at the launch.

One AAA battery is needed for three months of use, and the full-sized keyboard connects via Bluetooth.

LG is also expected to launch the latest version of its G Pad tablet at IFA 2015. The Korean company will be hoping these products will help pull up last quarter’s poor financial results, when it announced operating profit fell to $211 million from $516 million in the same period last year, amidst slackening demand for its LCD TVs and smartphones.

TIME Food

Lawsuit Accuses Nestlé of Using Slave-Caught Fish in Fancy Feast

Fancy Feast cat food
Elise Amendola—AP Fancy Feast cat food cans are photographed in Boston on March 19, 2015.

California residents brought a class-action lawsuit

A class-action lawsuit filed by California residents claims that Nestlé purchases fish from a Thai supplier known to use slave labor—and uses that fish in Fancy Feast cat food.

The suit was brought by consumers who say they would not have bought the product if they had known it had ties to slave labor, according to Bloomberg. Their lawyer says that “By hiding this from public view, Nestlé has effectively tricked millions of consumers into supporting and encouraging slave labor on floating prisons.”

Nestlé would not comment specifically on the suit, but told Bloomberg that it was working with an NGO “to identify where and why forced labor and human rights abuses may be taking place” in the region, and that forced labor “has no place in our supply chain.”

[Bloomberg]

TIME twitter

Twitter Hops On the Diversity Goal Train

Twitter Prices At $23-25 Per Share Ahead Of IPO
Bloomberg—Bloomberg via Getty Images

This is a huge step forward for the company

Following similar announcements from tech companies such as Pinterest, Twitter released its diversity goals for 2016 Friday.

Janet Van Huysse, Twitter’s VP of Diversity and Inclusion, explained the move in a blog post:

“We want the makeup of our company to reflect the vast range of people who use Twitter. Doing so will help us build a product to better serve people around the world. While we’ve already been working towards internal diversity goals at different levels of the company, I’m very pleased to report that we are now setting company-wide diversity goals — and we’re sharing them publicly.”

The social media platform’s goal is to increase the overall representation of women in the company from 34% to 35%, representation in its tech division from 13% to 16%, and in leadership roles from to 22% to 25%.

Gender twitter

Twitter also plans to increase the number of underrepresented minorities in the U.S. from 10% to 11% overall, and from 7% to 9% in tech roles. It also wants to see the number of underrepresented minorities in leadership roles rise to 6%.

Ethnicity twitter

Compared to nine other major tech companies, Twitter is fairing pretty well when it comes to gender diversity. It is less diverse overall than Airbnb, eBay, and LinkedIn, but more diverse than other major players, such as Facebook and Google. For underrepresented minorities, it’s essentially in the middle of the pack.

While Fortune will not be including Twitter in its tech diversity rankings until its 2015 EEO-1 Report is released, we can compare this new information to last year, when it ranked ninth (out of 14) on gender diversity, and sixth on ethnic diversity (in Fortune’s rankings, all non-white employees are considered diverse).

The diversity push comes after a backlash over Twitter’s frat-themed party highlighted just how white- and male-dominated the company is. After apologizing for the party, interim CEO Jack Dorsey promised that diversity would be made a company-wide goal, according to reporting by Re/code.

Increasing its representation of women and underrepresented minorities by one or two percentage points might not seem like a huge shift, but being held publicly accountable for its diversity goals is a huge step forward for the company, and for the tech industry as a whole.

Subscribe to The Broadsheet, Fortune’s daily newsletter on the world’s most powerful women.

(Charts based on self-reporting in 2015 by Twitter’s employees, and are courtesy of Twitter.)

TIME Crime

What Walmart’s Decision on Semi-Automatic Rifles Means for the Gun Control Debate

The retailer has strict regulations on the sale of guns

Walmart announced this week that it would stop selling so-called modern sporting rifles at its stores, including the AR-15, a semi-automatic firearm akin to those used in some of the country’s worst mass shootings in the last few years.

The nation’s largest retailer says it’s essentially replacing rifles like the AR-15 with hunting rifles and sportsman shotguns, giving customers roughly the same number of firearm choices as before. But some gun experts see Walmart’s move as a harbinger that the retailer could eventually decide to get out of the gun business altogether—which could have unexpected implications for the gun control movement, since Walmart has stricter policies on gun sales than most firearm retailers in the country.

“I think the day is coming when it’s going to difficult to buy a firearm from Walmart,” said John Roman, senior fellow at the Urban Institute.

While Walmart doesn’t release gun sales figures, it’s likely one of the country’s biggest gun sellers, if not the biggest. Roman said that without Walmart and its restrictions on gun sales, more buyers could be forced to the secondary market, where private sellers often don’t require background checks and don’t have gun sales policies that go beyond what is required by law.

“It’s an interesting conundrum for people who worry about the number of guns,” Roman said. “In the final analysis, Walmart’s decision [to stop selling modern sporting rifles] is good for society, but it’s not as simple as it looks, because if somebody buys these guns at Walmart and goes through a formal background check, it’s really unlikely that they’ll use them in a crime.”

In 2008, Walmart put in place stringent requirements on all gun transactions, including detailed recording of firearm sales, alerts when a gun bought from the retailer is used in a crime and expanded background checks for employees handling guns. The retailer also requires full approval from the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, which goes beyond the federally mandated minimum waiting requirement of three days to approve a sale. Many other retailers sell firearms after the waiting period is up even if there’s been no determination from NICS on the buyer’s criminal background.

The reason Walmart decided to stop carrying modern sporting rifles, including the AR-15, is because demand for those guns has been waning, a spokesperson said.

“This was something our customers weren’t really buying,” Walmart spokesperson Kory Lundberg said.

It’s unclear if demand for firearms like the AR-15, which was used in the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., and at a movie theater in Aurora, Colo., is declining nationally. One of the few estimates on how many guns might be in the U.S. comes from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, which found that from 2011 to 2013, the total number of firearms produced and available spiked. The number of rifles and shotguns produced in the U.S. jumped from about 3.2 million in 2011 to 5.2 million in 2013.

Michael Bazinet, a spokesperson for the National Shooting Sports Foundation, says that Supreme Court cases upholding gun rights, as well as an expansion of concealed carry laws and more women taking up target shooting, have actually led to increased demand for guns across the board.

However, Roman believes Walmart is correct that interest in rifles and semi-automatic weapons like the AR-15 may be decreasing, so the company has recognized that it’s not in its economic interest to continue selling them.

“The business case is the trade-off between people who don’t want to shop at Walmart because they’re available and those who buy these guns every two or three years,” Roman said. “For Walmart, that makes this an easy case.”

While Walmart wouldn’t provide gun sales figures, sales of semi-automatic rifles, which are only available at less than a third of Walmart’s stores, are likely a tiny percentage of the retailer’s bottom line, and more than half of all Walmarts sell no firearms at all.

Lundberg, Walmart’s spokesperson, says that the retailer will remove the rifles from its shelves within the next couple weeks. The ones that remain unsold will be returned to the suppliers.

TIME Careers & Workplace

7 Life Hacks From Mark Zuckerberg, Richard Branson, Elon Musk and Other Billionaires

Mark Zuckerberg, co-founder and chief executive officer of Facebook Inc., at a Bloomberg television interview in Menlo Park, Calif. on Dec. 2, 2014.
Paul Morris—Bloomberg via Getty Images Mark Zuckerberg, co-founder and chief executive officer of Facebook Inc., at a Bloomberg television interview in Menlo Park, Calif. on Dec. 2, 2014.

Pay it forward

With just shy of 2,000 billionaires on earth, the odds of joining that rarefied club is about one in 4 million. To put that in perspective, you are 24 times more likely to be killed by lightning than you are to become a billionaire.

If you hope to be a billionaire, despite the odds, it stands to reason that taking a radically different approach to life could shift things in your favor. Who better to show us how to rebel against an average life than rebel billionaires themselves? Here are seven life hacks from this rare group:

1. Work hard, play harder

Sir Richard Branson is the perfect example of prospering fantastically while truly enjoying life. While Branson certainly works hard, he is much better known for playing hard. From hot-air-balloon trips around the world to bungee jumping off buildings, Branson understands the value of living life to its fullest.

Lesson: Working hard is fine, but always take time away from work to have fun and recharge.

2. Follow your passions

When it comes to building a business around something you love, I can’t think of a better example than Nick Woodman, the founder of GoPro. Woodman’s adrenaline-fueled action-camera company was built on the backs (and helmets) of extreme athletes and adventure seekers around the world, and helps them to showcase and share their passions with the more risk-averse among us.

Lesson: If you love doing something, and others share your passion, you can make money doing it.

3. Hedge your bets

One of the smartest financial moves made around the time of the dot-com bust was by Mark Cuban. Cuban’s company, Broadcast.com, was acquired by Yahoo in 1999 for $5.7 billion in Yahoo stock. Not too long after that, Cuban, believing a crash was likely but unable to sell his stock due to lockup agreements, made the call to short an index fund that had a sizable stake in Yahoo to help balance out his overexposure. It cost him $20 million do this, but prevented him from losing an even larger amount.

Lesson: Take smart risks, but always look for ways to mitigate the risk and to avoid overexposure.

4. Be a connector

When it comes to success, one of the most critical components really is who you know. Mark Zuckerberg is a billionaire many, many times over because of his efforts to connect people. He grasped early on the power of connections, and set out on a mission to bring everyone on Earth closer together. Considering roughly two out of three people with Internet access are now on Facebook, he has done an incredible job.

Lesson: Be the hub at the center of your network, and connect people together as often as you can.

5. Rock the boat

While I don’t agree with everything Travis Kalanick, Uber’s CEO, has done, I absolutely agree with his unrelenting crusade to displace the status quo. Kalanick entered a stale industry known for a terrible user experience, and has kicked and battered his way through mountains of bureaucracy and legal red tape to make the on-demand transportation industry much more pleasant for consumers.

Lesson: Question everything, rock the boat and fight for change if you believe things should change.

6. Be yourself

After listening to Chris Sacca of LOWERCASE capital on a recent Tim Ferriss podcast, I think he’s an incredible example of someone who is unapologetically himself. He has strong opinions, wears crazy shirts and makes decisions based off his own system of values. He doesn’t invest if he doesn’t believe he’ll add value, and he only invests in companies that he can be proud of.

Lesson: Decide who you want to be, and be that person, regardless of what others think or say.

7. Leave things better than you found them

Nobody on the planet today embodies this philosophy better than Elon Musk. From SpaceX and Tesla to Solar City and beyond, Musk has dedicated his fortune and his life to making the world, and the chances of humanity surviving and prospering, better than they are now. If you’re not familiar with Musk’s story, read this. The things that he has done, and that he is trying to accomplish, are truly incredible.

Lesson: Pay it forward. Make the world, and the people around you, better. Think beyond your lifetime.

As Albert Einstein purportedly said, the definition of insanity “is doing the same thing over and over expecting different results.” Billionaires don’t become billionaires by taking the common path through life, so if you’re hoping to join their ranks, then you’ll need to get in touch with your inner-rebel and explore alternate paths.

This article originally appeared on Entrepreneur.com

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TIME comic books

Behind Marvel’s Decision to Create These Controversial Female Superheroes

marvel-comics-diversity
Chris Buck for TIME Marvel Comics editor in chief Axel Alonso at the publisher’s New York City headquarters.

How the brand diversified its superhero lineup with a female Thor and Ms. Marvel

In the last two years, Marvel Comics, led by editor in chief Axel Alonso, has been earning new fans—and boosting its bottom line—by diversifying its comic books. Marvel went from publishing zero female-led comics in 2012 to 16 this year. The changes have been controversial among some comics fans, a notoriously obsessive group, especially the decision to hand Thor’s hammer to a woman and the creation of the Muslim teenage superhero named Ms. Marvel.

Alonso’s imperative to create comic books starring women that could sell collided with the restlessness of writer Jason Aaron, who wanted to find a surprising new direction for Thor, one of Marvel’s staple superheroes. In comic-book lore, Thor’s magical hammer, called Mjolnir, can be lifted only by whoever is deemed worthy to carry it. Aaron decided that the male Thor no longer qualified. “I liked the idea of Thor as a god who was always questioning his own worthiness,” Aaron says. “I like to think of him waking up every day and looking at the hammer and not knowing if he was going to be able to pick it up.”

But tampering with Thor–whose portrayal by actor Chris Hemsworth has helped fuel Marvel Studios’ cinematic success–was risky. Aaron took his idea to one of Marvel Comics’ semiannual retreats where dozens of writers and editors gather to chart the year ahead. His pitch was simple. Thor’s hammer had been handed briefly in the past to an extraterrestrial and even an amphibian. So shouldn’t fans be able to get behind another unfamiliar species–woman–lifting the weapon?

“I think if we can accept Thor as a frog and a horse-faced alien, we should be able to accept a woman being able to pick up that hammer and wield it for a while, which surprisingly we’ve never really seen before,” he says. Alonso approved, and work began on what would become Thor: The Goddess of Thunder #1.

The push for diverse characters expanded well beyond Thor. In the past two years, Alonso and his team have launched 16 new titles starring women. One of the most significant moves was transferring the mantle of Captain Marvel, a hero who first appeared in 1967 to the Carol Danvers character, who had been toiling in the understudy role of Ms. Marvel.

That created a job opening in the superhero universe–and two of the top creative women in the comics industry proposed a fresh character to fill it. Marvel director of content and character development Sana Amanat–whom Alonso calls the driving force behind the publisher’s female-friendly initiatives–reached out to G. Willow Wilson, a highly regarded writer who also happens to be one of the few Muslim women in the business. In February 2014, they introduced a new Ms. Marvel: Kamala Khan, a 16-year-old Muslim girl struggling to fit in who uses her shape-shifting powers to protect her hometown of Jersey City, N.J. Some fans blasted the new story line–a few even accused Amanat and Wilson of somehow promoting jihad–but the book quickly earned a spot on the New York Times list of best-selling paperback graphic books.

Wilson says the payoff was worth the risk. “I thought they were going to need an intern to open all the hate mail,” she says. “Now I have people you would least expect–like this giant, blond, bearded guy I met in Denver–telling me how they connect to Ms. Marvel because they were made fun of in school for being different.”

Read the full feature on Marvel’s new, diverse characters from this issue of TIME

MONEY Food & Drink

Here’s Why Starbucks Loves Pumpkin Spice Latte Customers So Much

Pumpkin Spiced Latte
Getty Images/iStockphoto

Coffee shops love you even more than you love that PSL.

Talk about a win-win. If you’ve ever wondered why major coffee outlets like Starbucks and Dunkin’ Donuts make such a big deal about the annual arrival of pumpkin spice this and peppermint mocha that on store menus, new research provides a pretty big clue. These seasonal drinks do double duty, in that they not only boost the frequency of customer visits but also prompt customers to spend more on each “refueling” stop.

According to the industry publication Nation’s Restaurant News, the NPD Group tracked the beverage purchases at an undisclosed “major chain” last fall and winter. Customers who purchased a pumpkin spice latte spent an average of $7.81, compared with an average check of $6.67 for party poopers who ordered non-pumpkin items. There was an even bigger difference between the average check that included a white mocha purchase ($8.37), versus one that did not ($6.84).

What’s more, the NPD also conducted research correlating an increase in the frequency of visits for customers purchasing a popular seasonal shake from another unnamed “major chain” that may or may not be McDonald’s. Fans of these shakes also tended to be among the chain’s best customers. During the two months before the arrival of the seasonal shake, they made an average of 5.7 visits; once the promotional shake was on the menu, visits inched up further. Customers who didn’t purchase the seasonal shake, on the other hand, made an average of 4.7 visits during the two months prior to the limited-time offer, and 4.4 visits while the shake was available on the menu.

“These seasonal beverages have a positive impact on visit frequency,” NPD Group analyst Bonnie Riggs said. “If you can increase visit frequency by one full visit, that’s a lot of volume.”

No wonder, then, that Starbucks tries to make headlines with the announcement of when its Pumpkin Spice Latte will be back on menus (September 8 this year), and that Dunkin’ Donuts has been running a big social media campaign about the August 31 return to the menu of pumpkin-spiced products. For that matter, no wonder coffee chains and fast food franchises are constantly rolling out new limited-time offers and seasonal specialties. These items build excitement and draw in customers—who tend to spend more on each visit.

Read Next: Why McDonald’s May Start Skipping Dividends

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