TIME States

Minnesota To Hike Minimum Wage To $9.50 By 2016

With the governor’s signature Monday, the state will go from having one of the lowest minimum wage rates in the country to one of the highest

Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton signed legislation Monday that will boost the state’s minimum wage to $9.50 by 2016, among the highest rates in the United States.

The bill was passed by the state legislature with only Democratic votes Thursday. Under the new law, Minnesota’s current minimum wage of $6.15 per hour, one of the lowest in the country, will rise by more than $3 gradually over the next few years, after which it will be tied to inflation, the Associated Press reports.

The minimum wage doesn’t affect smaller employers with gross sales under $500,000, though they too will have to pay employees at least $7.25 per hour by 2016. The law includes exceptions for teenagers and for people being trained into new positions. In all, roughly 325,000 people are expected to see a wage increase as a result of the law.

Minnesota joins states including Connecticut and Maryland in passing minimum wage legislation, as the effort to increase the federal minimum wage—currently $7.25 per hour—remains stalled in Congress.

[AP]

TIME Gadgets

Google Glass On Sale Today, For One Day Only

For $1,500 a pop you too can put the Internet centimeters from your eye — but hurry up, as it's first come first served

For one day only, Google Glass goes on sale Tuesday to the general public, as the tech firm seeks to expand its Glass Explorer Program to allow any adult in the U.S. to participate.

Beginning at 9 a.m. Eastern time, any adult in the U.S. at least 18 years old can sign up to purchase the wearable computer, provided he or she is also willing to shell out $1,500 for a pair. The sale is first come, first served, so prospective buyers will have to get in line.

“[Explorers] are the first to make, to tinker, to create, to shape, and to share through Glass,” Google says in the sign up website. “We’re expanding little by little, and experimenting with different ways of bringing new Explorers into the program.” Google has made a few changes to the Explorer program too, giving buyers the option of purchasing frames, prescription lenses and attachable earbuds.

The one day sale is the first time the tech giant has made Glass available to the general public. In October last year, Google expanded the program by allowing the current crop of explorers to invite three people.

TIME

Don’t Forget to Do Your Taxes

Congress Focuses On IRS Delay In Disclosing Groups' Scrutiny
The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) building stands in Washington, D.C., U.S., May 15, 2013. Bloomberg/Getty Images

You have until midnight to get your taxes done.

It’s Tax Day! As of the end of last week, the IRS had received nearly 100 million returns, or about three-quarters of all the returns it expects to get this season. So if you haven’t filed yet, you’re in the minority. Still if you have procrastinated and are owed a refund, it won’t hurt to file late. Tax payers are only hit with penalties if you owe the government money.

It is still a smart idea to file for an extension; about 12 million taxpayers have requested extensions. The average refund is $2,792, up 1% from last year. Here are a few tips, tricks, and useful articles for the longest day of the year at the IRS:

Free Cookies! Free Massages! Here Are All the Best Tax Day Freebies

Are Taxes Fair? If You Answer Yes, You’re Probably Poor

Here’s How Shady Tax Preparers Plan to Steal Your Money

The IRS’ Last-Minute Tax Tips

10 Tax Audit Red Flags

Make the Most of Tax Write-Offs

TIME

Tech Companies Are Bracing for an Extremely Difficult Week

A Google logo is seen at the garage where the company was founded on Google's 15th anniversary in Menlo Park, California
Stephen Lam—Reuters

There’s nothing like a sudden sell-off in technology shares to add a little spice into earnings season. It’s never a good sign when stocks begin tumbling well before the first tech giant of the season reports its numbers. That first report will come from Google later this week, and it could set the tone for the next several weeks for tech shares.

Since March 10—interestingly, the same day the Nasdaq Composite peaked 15 years ago—tech stocks have been suffering a prolonged selloff. The Nasdaq has fallen 7% while the S&P 500 declined a more modest 2%. But that doesn’t begin to illustrate the damage in individual stocks, many of them seen as the growth leaders in Silicon Valley these days.

Google, for example, is down 12% during that time. Amazon is down 15%, Facebook is down 16%, and LinkedIn is down 19%. Still others haven’t fared even that well. Twitter has lost 23% of its value, Netflix 26% and Pandora 32%. All of these are stocks that have surged over the past year, and most are still up by a considerable margin over the previous 12 months.

But those rallies mostly came on the back of unexpectedly strong revenue growth over the past year—particularly in mobile. Investors began to doubt the ability of mobile devices to deliver solid ad revenue, but last summer companies like Facebook, Pandora and Google showed that it could be done. And demand for their stocks suddenly grew.

This year is a different story. For one thing, there is a sense that the quarter could be a disappointing one for all industries, not just technology. At the end of 2013, analysts expected S&P 500 earnings to grow 4.4% in the first quarter of 2014. They’ve since revised that estimate down to flat earnings growth. Earnings are expected to grow more slowly than revenue for the first time in nearly three years (when profits were growing closer to a 12% rate). None of that would make for a celebratory quarter.

So why has tech been hit harder as these estimates have been ratcheted down? After all, one of the things that made tech shares popular over the past year is that many companies seemed primed for earnings growth. The selloff came as that broader concern about slower earnings converged with lingering concerns about overvalued tech stocks. The Nasdaq traded at 35 times average earnings of its component stocks, while the average PE ratio for the S&P 500 Index was 17.

All of this makes for a potentially interesting few weeks in technology earnings. On the one hand, if selling off tech shares has set the bar low for tech leaders, they could easily surprise to the upside. On the other, companies are left with little tolerance for disappointment. Pleas for investors to wait a few more quarters for promised growth may be met with indifference.

Google is often among the first major tech companies to report earnings. Although the company’s main revenue stream is search ads, it’s seen as a proxy for the health of the overall industry: how advertisers are feeling about spending, whether ad rates are rising or falling, how expansion into global markets is going.

Analysts are looking for Google to post an 11% increase in revenue in the first quarter to $15.5 billion and for EPS to grow 10% to $6.39 a share. That’s a flat performance for a company that saw its stock rise 38% over the past year, even after its recent declines. But Google is pushing into new areas of content (Play), e-commerce ads (product listing ads), and mobile (Google’s myriad mobile apps). Together they could accelerate growth.

Google’s report may also give insight into how the income statement will look without Motorola Mobility, the smartphone maker that Lenovo agreed in January to buy for $2.9 billion. Offloading manufacturing costs will likely push operating margins higher. But there could be bad news as well: Last quarter, Google hinted at softness in its mobile ad pricing, and further deterioration could become an area of concern for investors.

Such are the risks of Google and other growth-oriented tech leaders. When the market is going up, risk is seen as an opportunity for big rewards. When it’s going down, it’s seen as, well, risky. For much of the past year, risk has been something tech investors have welcomed. By the end of the month, we’ll have a better idea of which perspective prevails. And the first hint will come later today.

TIME

Free Cookies! Free Massages! Here Are All the Best Tax Day Freebies

From restaurants like Arby's and Hard Rock Cafe to companies like HydroMassage and Office Depot, businesses around the country are latching onto April 15 as another promotional hook to command your attention on one of the least revered days of the year

Take the sting out of tax day with some free stuff. Companies have latched onto April 15 as a promotional hook, and this year you can score free chips, cookies — even massages.

Arby’s: Print this coupon to get a free snack-sized order of curly fries on the 15th — no purchase necessary.

California Tortilla: On tax day, make any purchase and tell the cashier “taxes shmaxes” to get free chips and queso cheese dip (while supplies last).

Great American Cookies: Get a free regular chocolate chip cookie on the 15th — no coupon necessary.

Green Dot Corp.: If you have a Green Dot reloadable prepaid card — and you haven’t filed your taxes yet — get your Federal refund direct-deposited onto the card and get two free cash reloads, which can cost up to $4.95 each. The refund has to be deposited onto the card by May 15 and reloads must be used by Aug. 15. More fine print is here.

Hard Rock Cafe: Have a knack for karaoke? Get a free grilled vegetable sandwich, arugula salad with chicken, Fiesta Burger or veggie burger on tax day from 5:00 until 7:00 p.m. if you sing a song onstage.

HydroMassage: Print out this coupon and get a free massages on the 15th. The company notes that if there’s high demand, massages may be limited to 10 minutes, not every location is participating in the promotion — it’s recommended to call in advance.

Office Depot: Get free shredding for up to five pounds of paper. You have to print and present this coupon, and the offer is good through April 29.

Schlotzsky’s: Buy a 32 oz. drink and a bag of chips, get a small “the original” sandwich (ham, two kinds of salami and three cheeses) on the 15th. There’s no coupon needed.

Sadly, published reports that Cinnabon will be repeating last year’s promotion of two free Cinnabon bites are incorrect, the company says.

In addition to these freebies, other companies are running promos, discounts and deals tied to tax day. Sites like DealNews.com and Offers.com have round-ups.

TIME Taxes

Are Taxes Fair? If You Answer Yes, You’re Probably Poor

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Jeffrey Hamilton—Getty Images

When you’re not earning much money—and therefore, you don’t have much income to be taxed—you’re more likely to think that the federal government takes in just the right amount of money in income taxes.

That’s one of the takeaways in a new Gallup poll. Slightly more than half of Americans (51%) earning $75,000 or more annually say that federal income taxes they pay are unfair. Folks in the $30K to $74,999 income bracket, on the other hand, are far more likely to be cool with the taxes they fork over, with only 37% saying the amount is unfair. Of those earning under $30K, fewer still (33%) say that federal income taxes are unfair.

Likewise, earners in the $75K+ bracket are more likely to think that the taxes they pay are too high: More than 6 in 10 say so, compared to less than half of Americans earning less than $75,000.

In other words, when you’re earning more—and you’re at least theoretically paying more in taxes on those earnings—you’re more apt to think the government takes too much. On the flip side, when your income is meager and the federal income tax you owe is similarly meager or perhaps nonexistent, there’s a greater tendency to feel that the system is fine and dandy.

For high- and low-earners alike, we’ve got very convenient, self-serving points of view all around.

One’s personal financial situation also seems to color opinions on how to address rising income inequality in the country. In a Pew Research Center study released earlier this year, among other things participants were asked what would do more to reduce poverty— “Lower taxes on wealthy people to encourage more investment and economic growth” or “Raising taxes on the wealthy and corporations to expand programs for the poor.”

Guess who thought it was a better idea to lower taxes on the wealthy? Yep, the wealthy! (Or at least the more well-off because many in the higher-income bracket don’t feel especially wealthy.) While 35% of people overall favored that idea to reduce poverty, 44% of those earning $75,000 or more annually thought lowering taxes on the rich would do more to help poor people. Similarly, the majority of people with incomes of less than $75K held the strong conviction that the better way to reduce poverty is to up the taxes on people who are making more money than them. Roughly 56% of folks making under $75K say that it’s wiser to tax the wealthy, compared to 46% of those over the $75K mark.

Again, conveniently enough, one’s personal situation seems to play a big role in dictating what tax policies we feel are effective, proper, and just. The cynical take would be that we’ll stand by whichever policy winds up putting more money in our own pocket, or taking less out. And that we’re more likely to think taxes are fair when we aren’t paying nearly as much as others.

For the sake of comparison, an H&R Block survey asked teenagers what they thought of a wide range of personal finance issues, including taxes. Only 38% of teens said that income taxes are too high. Then again, in recent years, more than three-quarters of teenagers haven’t held jobs. Oh, and only 3% of the teens surveyed had ever filled out a tax form.

TIME Netflix

This Is Why Netflix Just Got So Blazingly Fast

The Netflix company logo at Netflix headquarters in Los Gatos, Calif., on April 13, 2011.
The Netflix company logo at Netflix headquarters in Los Gatos, Calif., on April 13, 2011. Ryan Anson—AFP/Getty Images

Newly released data shows Comcast's web subscribers are seeing faster connections while streaming video on Netflix after a deal between the tech giants boosted the connection speed by an average 65 percent between January and March

Comcast Internet subscribers are continuing to see dramatic improvement in Netflix performance following a deal in which the streaming video company agreed to pay for a direct connection to the nation’s largest broadband provider, according to data released on Tuesday.

“This month’s rankings are a great illustration of how performance can improve when ISPs work to connect directly to Netflix,” Netflix spokesperson Joris Evers wrote in a company blog post. “In the U.S., the average speed on the Comcast network for Netflix streams is up 65 percent from 1.51Mbps in January to 2.5Mbps in March.”

The agreement, which was struck in February, intensified the already-heated debate about “net neutrality,” the principle enshrined in the now-defunct U.S. Open Internet rules that prohibited major Internet service providers like Comcast, Time Warner Cable, and Verizon from playing favorites with certain online services at the expense of rivals. Comcast is currently seeking regulatory approval for its proposed $45 billion purchase of Time Warner Cable.

As high-bandwidth services like Netflix have exploded in popularity — during evening hours the service accounts for as much as one-third of all Internet traffic, according to industry estimates — the broadband companies are increasingly demanding compensation in exchange for direct connections to improve performance. Faster speeds mean better video quality and fewer interruptions for Netflix viewers.

(MORE: Netflix vs. Comcast ‘Net Neutrality’ Spat Erupts After Traffic Deal)

Comcast jumped six spots higher on the list — leapfrogging Time Warner Cable, Verizon, AT&T U-verse and other providers — and its customers are seeing the best Netflix performance in 16 months. The performance boost comes after a precipitous decline in Netflix speeds for Comcast subscribers that began last fall, leading to numerous complaints about service quality.

By striking a paid-peering interconnection agreement with Comcast, Netflix gained a direct connection to the broadband giant’s network, bypassing bandwidth providers that operate as third-party intermediaries between residential broadband companies like Comcast and Time Warner Cable and Internet firms like Netflix and YouTube. Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed, but many Wall Street analysts don’t believe it will have a material impact on Netflix’s bottom line.

Nevertheless, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings complained bitterly about having to pay “an arbitrary tax” to Comcast in order to improve service for customers, and urged federal regulators to include paid peering agreements in the new net neutrality rules currently under development by the Federal Communications Commission. Such agreements were not covered by the FCC’s 2010 Open Internet order, which was struck down by a federal judge in January.

Hastings called for the FCC’s new rules to prevent service providers like Comcast from “charging a toll for interconnection to services like Netflix, YouTube, or Skype, or intermediaries such as Cogent, Akamai or Level 3, to deliver the services and data requested by ISP residential subscribers.”

Internet service providers, Hastings said, “must provide sufficient access to their network without charge.” That suggestion is fiercely opposed the nation’s largest ISPs, which for years have complained that they are obliged to deliver high bandwidth content — which often competes with their own video offerings — over the infrastructure they’ve spent billions of dollars to build. Both Verizon and AT&T have acknowledged that they are seeking to extract similar fees from Netflix in order to improve service for customers.

Google Fiber, the tech giant’s gigabit fiber broadband service, remains by far the fastest U.S. provider of Netflix streaming video, with average performance of 3.60Mbps, according to Netflix. Google has already launched fiber initiatives in Kansas City, Austin and Provo, and last month announced plans to work with nine more metro areas to expand the service.

Netflix says its ISP speed index is “based on data from the more than 44 million Netflix members worldwide who view over 1 billion hours of TV shows and movies streaming from Netflix each month. The listed speeds reflect the average performance of all Netflix streams on each ISP’s network and are an indicator of the performance typically experienced across all users on an ISP network. A faster network generally means a better picture quality, quicker start times and fewer interruptions.”

TIME Economy

We’re Much Too Obsessed With Central Bankers

Bank Of Japan Governor Haruhiko Kuroda News Conference
This man can't save the economy by himself, and neither can any other central banker. Haruhiko Kuroda, governor of the Bank of Japan, during a news conference in Tokyo on April 8, 2014 Bloomberg—Bloomberg via Getty Images

Japan's struggles make clear that global financial markets are overly focused on what central banks are doing and not enough on what really ails the world economy

Turn on CNBC any given morning and you’ll endure fund-manager after banker after stock-market-analyst attempt to decipher what the U.S. Federal Reserve might or might not do, and when it might or might not do it.

The statements of Fed Chairwoman Janet Yellen are dissected syllable by syllable for clues of direction or intention over and over and over again. Across the Atlantic, Mario Draghi, president of the European Central Bank, garners similar attention. What will — or should — Draghi do to combat the euro zone’s continuing economic woes?

The financial world is obsessed with our central bankers. And though they possess great power over economies and markets — Draghi is credited with almost single handedly quelling the euro-zone debt crisis — the focus on what they say and do has gone too far.

That’s made obvious by the efforts of Haruhiko Kuroda, governor of the Bank of Japan. A year ago, when he first took that lofty post, Kuroda instituted a radical plan to jump-start the perennially sluggish Japanese economy with a massive infusion of cash — like the Fed’s quantitative-easing (QE) programs, but even more aggressive. The plan is part of a great experiment called Abenomics, named after Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who inspired it. Abe believes that the central bank’s largesse, combined with government spending and economic reforms, will finally shake Japan out of its two-decade funk.

Yet what Abenomics has become is a study in the limits of central-bank power. A year into Kuroda’s stimulus program, Japan is only marginally better off than it was before. Kuroda has overcome the damaging deflation that plagued the economy, at least for now. But after an initial lift, Abenomics has done little to boost Japan’s growth.

GDP expanded only an annualized 0.7% in the quarter that ended in December. A cheaper yen, engineered downward by Kuroda’s actions, may be helping Japan’s exports a bit, but not enough to close a widening trade deficit. Wages have gone nowhere. Meanwhile, in an attempt to chip away at the government’s giant budget deficit, Abe hiked the consumption tax to 8% this month, which will further drain demand out of an economy that already badly lacks demand.

So inevitably, attention has shifted back to Kuroda. Some economists are expecting the Bank of Japan to step in and increase its stimulus even further to regain momentum. Yet Kuroda can’t fix Japan on his own. The problem is that he’s not getting enough help from Abe and his policy team.

Japan’s economy requires a serious makeover to enhance its ability to grow. Yet the part of Abenomics aimed at major reform, called the third arrow, has progressed much more slowly than Kuroda’s printing presses. Only now is Abe beginning to talk about tackling the economy’s most difficult problems.

In late March, the government began unveiling details of economic zones in which policymakers plan to experiment with looser regulation on labor, health care, foreign investment and other overly controlled sectors — all reforms economists believe are long overdue. But it isn’t clear at this point how far the deregulation will go. Nor is it clear how fiercely Abe is willing to take on those special interests (old-line politicians, civil servants, farmers) that prefer the status quo. Economists believe Japan would see a big boost from joining the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a free-trade agreement orchestrated by the White House, but talks have stalled in part because of Abe’s refusal to open the country’s protected rice industry.

Such reforms would achieve what Kuroda can’t — making Japan Inc. more competitive. In the end, Japan can be saved only by fundamental change to the way the economy works. The same can be said about the rest of the industrialized world. Draghi can help fight deflation or support the banking sector, but he can’t reform the euro zone to produce more growth and better jobs. That’s up to Europe’s political leaders, but their efforts at further integration have slowed. Nor can Yellen improve American infrastructure and education, reform the tax code or take other steps that would aid U.S. competitiveness.

We’ve come to rely so much on our central bankers because politicians and corporate leaders are failing to fix what really is holding us back. Whatever their meeting minutes might tell us, central bankers can never say enough to finally get the global economy on the road to health.

TIME health

Lawmakers to E-Cig Makers: Stop Preying on Minors!

Top US Tobacco Companies Enter E-Cigarette Market
A patron enjoys an electronic cigarette at the Vapor Shark store in Miami on Feb. 20, 2014 Joe Raedle—Getty Images

In a 43-page report, a group of congressional Democrats led by Dick Durbin of Illinois stressed the need for federal regulation of e-cigarettes, citing marketing efforts aimed at minors and a need for more information on health risks for consumers

In a report published on Monday, 11 Congress members recommended federal regulations on e-cigarettes that would include banning sales to anyone under 18, halting TV and radio ads, and educating the general public about the risks associated with inhaling nicotine vapors.

The Gateway to Addiction report written by the lawmakers’ staff after surveying e-cig makers finds e-cigarette companies are using marketing tactics that appeal to young people, such as handing out samples at events like music festivals, social-media promotion and offering kid-friendly flavors. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate 1.78 million children and teens tried e-cigarettes in 2012.

“E-cigarette makers are starting to prey on kids, just like big tobacco companies,” said Congressman Henry Waxman, a Democrat from California. “With over a million youth now using e-cigarettes, FDA needs to act without further delay to stop companies from marketing their addictive products to children.”

Though use is up, the Food and Drug Administration has not fully studied the products — according to its website consumers are not aware of the risks of use, the amount of nicotine or other chemicals being inhaled and whether or not there are benefits to smoking e-cigarettes. A New York Times report from March detailed the potential dangers of the liquid nicotine found in electronic cigarettes, including vomiting, seizures and death.

According to the report, six of the surveyed e-cigarette companies support some regulation.

TIME Advertising

McDonald’s Is Taking On the Waffle Taco With This One Sandwich

Japanese actress Uno Kanda eats McDonald
Japanese actress Uno Kanda eats McDonald's Japan's new breakfast menu, McGriddle during its press preview in Tokyo TOSHIFUMI KITAMURA—AFP/Getty Images

The Waffle Taco and McGriddle face off

Taco Bell made news with its Waffle Taco, a breakfast item born to be Instagramed. Now McDonald’s is pushing back with a new campaign for an old breakfast fusion plate: The pancake wrapped breakfast sandwich, the McGriddle.

At the tail-end of its free coffee promotion Monday, a rebuttal to Taco Bell’s anti Egg McMuffin campaign, the company released a new ad for its sweet-meets-savory product, first launched in 2003:

There has yet to be a big social media push—McDonald’s Twitter has been Coachella-heavy recently—but the McGriddles portion of the McDonald’s website reads: “You know it’s a McGriddles Morning when the dog drools enviously at you. And you don’t even have a dog.”

The new McGriddles spot emphasizes the pairing of McDonald’s coffee with the promotional sandwich. According to research firm Technomic, McDonald’s already owns 31% of fast food chains’ $31.7 billion breakfast market.McDonald’s did not respond for immediate comment about its new campaign.

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