TIME ebola

Ebola-Stricken Families to Receive Cash Payments

Hawa Musa with her mother and children. Of 25 people living in the house, 17 have died from ebola, including her husband.
Hawa Musa (blue) with her mother and children. Musa used to rent rooms for income, but no one wants to rent her rooms anymore. She previously had 25 people living in her house, but 17 died of Ebola including her husband and a few of her children. She's taken in 10 more kids. Carly Learson—Carly Learson / UNDP

In 2015, the three Ebola-affected countries will start offering cash payments for families hit by Ebola, as well as survivors having trouble re-acclimating to society out of stigma for the disease.

Every aspect of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone’s societies have taken a hit from Ebola, and the disease has shocked what were once fragile but growing economies. Public spaces are now forbidden, so markets are empty, tourists are no longer traveling into the countries and international companies have largely pulled out, including large industries like mining. The World Bank estimates the aftershock of Ebola to already weakened economies will be “devastating.”

“We are seeing a backwards slide of development of about 10 years,” says Boaz Paldi, chief of media and advocacy at the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). “The outlook is not good. We are fearful for these countries.” That’s why instead of waiting for caseloads to reach manageable numbers, the three countries, with the help of UNDP and other partners, are laying the groundwork now for rebuilding the damaged economies. One of the first major initiatives to be rolled out in the new year are cash transfers and payments to families who no longer have breadwinners and survivors out of work. Many women in the Ebola-affected countries have taken in orphaned children of their family members or neighbors, despite having no steady income.

Dudu Kromah's husband died recently from ebola. She is looking after ten children, many of them orphans including a 3-month-old baby.
Dudu Kromah’s husband died from Ebola. She is looking after ten children, many of them orphans including a 3-month-old baby. She has no income. Carly Learson—Carly Learson / UNDP

According to UNDP leaders, plans for the payment process are still being refined. Lists of names of affected families and survivors are being collected and coordinated for small pilot programs, starting early next year, to test the effectiveness of the payments in preparation for widespread efforts. UNDP has calculated that around $50 will keep a family of five going in the three countries with essential needs for one month, with some variations by country. The group is anticipating making monthly payments to 150-200,000 people in each of the countries.

Ultimately, the payment program may develop into a cash-for-work model, with payments in exchange for work rebuilding communities in an effort to inject cash into the local economy and enable people to earn a living.

Ideas for how to get youth involved are also being considered. In Sierra Leone, Ruby Sandhu-Rojon, the deputy director of the UNDP Regional Bureau for Africa, spoke to young people concerned that since residents can no longer go to their local markets, they are unable to buy the food they need. “So why not start a delivery company to have food delivered to the different communities? How can we provide the start-up capital for young people who want to initiative those types of activities?” says Sandhu-Rojon.

The three countries and the U.N., which launched the U.N. Mission for Ebola Emergency Response (UNMEER) earlier this year, are also looking to the private sector. On Dec. 11 the U.N. held a U.N.-Business Collaboration for Global Ebola Response meeting as a way to get the private sector involved in both the response and recovery. A panel of high-level representatives from U.N. Missions in the affected countries, the U.S., U.K., and France put out a call for help from companies in areas major like logistics. Ultimately, the greatest plea was for companies to return to the countries and invest.

Sadly, all three countries were experiencing high growth rates before the start of Ebola, after coming out of conflicts like civil war. Sierra Leone had only recently launched its “Agenda for Prosperity,” a high-level initiative to become a middle-income country by 2035. High growth rates could largely be attributed to extractive industries like mining, which have now largely decreased their production or shut down, causing a government shortfall in revenue and massive loss of employment. Remaining national resources have been reallocated to the Ebola fight.

“It’s very disheartening, because all three of these countries were on their way up,” says Sandhu-Rojon.

The hope is cash payments will be a boost to help people get by. But increasingly more support and funding will be needed from the international community and private sector to get the countries back on their feet. Whether the countries will make it back to pre-Ebola growth may be a much greater, and longer battle.

TIME Humor

Tips for Surviving the Holiday Season on a Shoestring Budget

Karen E. Bender is the author of Like Normal People and A Town of Empty Rooms.

Some socially acceptable dos and don'ts for a season of giving

It’s the holiday season. The economy has rebounded! Gas is ridiculously cheap! Everyone in the nation is supposed to be doing better. Well, we’re not. Somehow, this new, hopeful economy has bypassed us. We can’t figure out why.

Actually we’re fine. We’re okay, kind of. Which means that we are on the perilous life raft of the American economy; we are okay if nothing at all goes wrong. And while I love the holiday season, it is, sometimes, an economic minefield. But while the Federal Reserve dallies with interest rates, my economic salve for the money stress of the holiday season is one thing: pumpkin bread. (See “Do #6″ below.) Here are some ways to get through the holidays on a shoestring:

DON’T:

  1. Don’t go into any store that features shopping bags that can stand on their own accord, in the middle of a table. This sort of shopping bag denotes prices that will start chipping into your children’s college education fund. Avoid it. Remind yourself to put money into your children’s education fund. And oh yes, your retirement–next year, when things are better. I hear the economy’s improving.
  2. Don’t bid on anything at the religious institution’s Silent Auction. Walk by coveted items, smile at them, nod thoughtfully, but walk on. Or do bid but only when people are watching, and make it so small you can be outbid in an instant.
  3. Don’t monitor your online savings account in real time. It is tempting, but don’t do it.
  4. Don’t buy holiday cards to send out to people (the costs of stamps, my god!) Instead, post nice photo of family with loving caption on Facebook and see “likes” build.
  5. Don’t assume that a restaurant is good if it uses the words “Seatings are at” in its description. The word “banquet” will also do unmentionable things to your bill. You don’t have to pretend to be Henry the VIII, and you actually may not want to be.
  6. Don’t feel that your (or dear relative’s or friend’s) cat or dog will be insulted if you don’t buy him or her the crazily priced cat toy or sweater. Trust me: the pet will not know. This tip also applies to babies.
  7. Don’t assume that you have to wear a new fancy dress or shirt or anything to a New Year’s Eve party. No one is going to notice. Wear last year’s. Everyone’s going to be focused on the champagne and the mini-quiches. Helpful note: properly wrapped, mini-quiches can fit neatly into a purse. They heat up nicely later. By the way, I hear the economy is improving.
  8. Don’t feel that when relative sends gift card for X amount, you are required to send X amount back. Gift cards should not be an economic hostage situation. Send what you can and/or send pumpkin bread. (See #6 below)
  9. Don’t forget to buy books as gifts, as they will nourish the soul, far beyond the cover price.
  10. Don’t forget to give something (money or time) to causes, because you should.

DO:

  1. Tell your children that their Secret Santa gifts for their friends in class will be a re-gifting extravaganza.
  2. Tell your mother that any clothes she wants to purchase you as a gift has to be suitable for a job interview.
  3. Tell the children that the word “upgrade” has been banned in the household and nearby vicinity for the time being.
  4. Buy present at thrift store and sneakily give it to friend in fancy shopping bag received from other friend who foolishly went into store that used such shopping bags.
  5. Make pumpkin bread as the default gift for everyone. It is cheap, it is beloved, it is carbs. And you can make a batch sufficient for many gift recipients in an hour. Don’t worry about fancy cellophane wrapping, though bows are fine. You can use gluten-free flour if needed, too.
  6. Do remember that the dollar store is only a dollar store if you buy only one thing.
  7. Do remember that if it’s to grandmother’s house we go, that’s a good thing and grandmother can pay.
  8. Try to laugh, because not everyone can. And, by the way, it is free. And above all, know that after January 1, everything goes on sale. And did you hear? The economy is improving.

Karen E. Bender is the author of Like Normal People and A Town of Empty Rooms. Her fiction has appeared in The New Yorker, Granta, Zoetrope, Ploughshares, and others. Her debut collection of short fiction, Refund: Stories, will be published by Counterpoint Press in January 2015.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Economy

Just How Much Does the Economy Affect the Outcome of Presidential Elections?

Obama
Barack Obama speaks during a rally in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, on Jan. 2, 2008. Mauricio Rubio—Getty Images

It’s time for the media to stop pretending that candidates’ personalities, rhetoric and strategies are what really count

History News Network

This post is in partnership with the History News Network, the website that puts the news into historical perspective. The article below was originally published at HNN.

In a fascinating paper, Princeton economists Alan S. Blinder (formerly Vice Chairman of the Federal Reserve Board) and Mark W. Watson point to the significance of economic factors in presidential contests (see pages 14-16, especially). Their synopsis of elections since the end of the Second World War reveals that presidential candidates operated with distinct advantages or disadvantages, depending on whether their party or their opponent’s party recently governed in a period of prosperity or economic hardship. In many instances the state of the economy appeared to make as much or more of an impact on the presidential race than the candidates’ personal attributes, campaign strategies, or debating skills.

It is intriguing to expand upon the insights of Blinder and Watson and consider the potential influence of economic conditions on the 2016 presidential race. The state of the economy could play a major role in the outcome. But long-term wage stagnation could make that factor less significant in 2016. The disruptive character of stagnant wages was evident in the 2014 congressional elections. Even though the U.S. economy had improved substantially in recent years, Democrats lost decidedly in many sections of the nation. Democrats’ failed to excite voter support, partly because average American workers had seen little or no personal economic improvement in the years of the Obama presidency and Democratic influence in Washington. If this situation does not change in the next few years, the condition of the overall economy in 2016 may not influence the voters’ decisions as much as it has in the past.

Drawing upon insights presented by Blinder and Watson, it is evident that economic factors often affected voters’ judgments in presidential elections up until recent times.

For instance, historians often cite Harry S. Truman’s fighting spirit and the Republicans’ flawed strategies when identifying causes of the Democratic president’s surprise victory in 1948. Yet Truman’s campaign was buoyed by early signs in 1948 of an impressive post-war economic boom. Real Gross Domestic Product (GDP) had dropped precipitously in 1946 (a development that made pundits think Truman would lose in 1948), but a substantial economic recovery was underway by the time of the November, 1948 elections.

Richard Nixon ran for president in 1960. He lost, not only because he ran against a handsome, charismatic, and eloquent Democrat named John F. Kennedy. A third recession of the Eisenhower era, stretching from 1960 to 1961 undermined Nixon’s campaign. JFK excited voters with a promise to “get America moving again.”

Lyndon Baines Johnson won easily against Republican Barry Goldwater in 1964. Goldwater’s image as an extremist hurt his campaign, but economic conditions also made the Arizona Senator’s efforts difficult. The Kennedy/Johnson tax cut of 1964 quickly stimulated business expansion. Voters were in an optimistic mood when they went to the polls in 1964. Four years later, Richard Nixon benefited from the Johnson Administration’s economic troubles. Worries about inflation related to huge U.S. military commitments in Vietnam cut into voters’ support for the Democratic candidate, Hubert Humphrey. Federal efforts to deal with the emerging economic problems through fiscal and monetary policies aided Nixon, who won a race that turned close in the final days.

The economy first helped and then hurt Democrat Jimmy Carter. Shifts in energy prices made a big impact on Carter’s fortunes. Republican President Gerald Ford campaigned under a cloud in 1976. “Stagflation,” a combination of economic recession and price inflation, created difficulties for the GOP’s candidate, as did Ford’s pardon of Richard Nixon. Jimmy Carter secured a victory. Four years later, Carter’s efforts to remain in the White House failed. Jimmy Carter stumbled as a leader, and economic conditions exacerbated his difficulties. Oil prices surged in 1979 and inflation turned worse. The chairman of the Federal Reserve, Paul Volker, tried to tame inflation with tight monetary policies. Business and employment slowed considerably during the months that Carter campaigned for re-election.

In 1980 Ronald Reagan excited voters with promises to revive the economy. Reagans’ popularity slipped during his first two years in office, in large part because of a deep recession. By late 1982, however, Paul Volker’s monetary squeeze appeared to be working. Inflation declined. Additionally, global production of petroleum had expanded and prices dropped substantially. In 1984 Reagan won reelection in a landslide. Perhaps the Republican president’s ebullient personality would have carried him to victory under less promising conditions, but Reagan surely benefited from the favorable economic winds at his back.

Following the Persian Gulf War, President George H. W. Bush received a 90% approval rating and seemed well-positioned to win a second term in 1992. Then a troubling recession in 1990-1991 undermined his popularity. George H. W.’s Bush’s disapproval rating hit 64%. Bill Clinton projected an effervescent personality in the 1992 campaign, but that was not his only advantage over Bush and an independent candidate, Ross Perot. The voters’ unhappiness with the economy figured prominently. Clinton strategist James Carville famously identified the main issue: “It’s the economy, stupid.” Two years after the 1992 victory, Bill Clinton’s presidency was deeply troubled. Republicans crushed Democrats in the congressional races of 1994, and the GOP appeared to have enough clout in Washington to block Clinton’s initiatives. Republicans hoped to make Clinton a one-term president. In 1996, however, the U.S. economy looked much stronger than it had a few years before. Voter optimism helped Clinton to dispatch his competitors, Republican Bob Dole and independent Ross Perot.

Unfortunately for the Democrats, their candidate in 2000 chose to keep his distance from Bill Clinton. Al Gore, Vice President during the previous eight years, refused to exploit the Clinton connection to the fullest during his presidential campaign. Gore feared that voters would view an association with Clinton negatively because of the president’s scandalous relationship with a young intern. Al Gore made a strategic mistake. The U.S. economy had been on a sustained climb though most of Bill Clinton’s eight years. Gore failed to take adequate credit for Clinton-era prosperity. He won the popular vote but lost the election after the Supreme Court intervened in the Florida vote count.

Barack Obama benefited from economic conditions during both of his presidential campaigns. With the collapse of Lehman Brothers investment bank in September 2008, the U.S. and global economies began to crash. Many voters associated Republicans with the financial crisis. They backed the newcomer, Barack Obama over Senator John McCain, who displayed little understanding of economics during the campaign. In 2012 Republican Mitt Romney claimed that he, a successful businessman, knew better than President Obama about creating jobs and fostering prosperity. Romney’s message failed to resonate. There were many reasons for Romney’s defeat, but one of the most important was his inability to gain traction on economic issues. Mitt Romney could not effectively characterize Barack Obama’s administration as incompetent in business affairs. Stock markets had climbed steeply since their lows in early 2009, and the unemployment rate had declined substantially by election time.

Since the U.S. economy has been on an upward tear from the first months of Barack Obama’s presidency, Hillary Clinton or some other Democratic presidential candidate should have a distinct advantage in 2016. The Democrats’ future also looks promising because of the sudden drop in energy prices. A slowdown in global demand for oil, declining production costs related to fracking, and a glut of oil in global markets have rapidly cut the cost of a barrel of crude oil from about $100 to less than $70. Price drops work like a large tax cut or a welcome pay raise. In coming months and, perhaps, years, Americans will need less money to purchase gas for their car or heat their home. Consumer products may be cheaper, since they will be manufactured and transported at reduced cost. By the time of the 2016 elections, the benefits of reduced expenditures for energy may be more evident to voters than they were at the time of the 2014 congressional elections. Optimistic voters may reward the Democratic presidential candidate.

Democrats cannot, however, be certain that the U.S. economy will be dynamic in November, 2016. There are some troubling signs on the horizon. Global business has been slowing, especially in Europe. The U.S. economy has been growing more impressively, but Wall Street analysts warn that the lengthy stock market boom cannot last forever. Values have been climbing since early 2009. A serious market “correction” might arrive at a bad time for Democrats – weeks or months before the 2016 election.

Also, despite vigorous business expansion in recent years, most working Americans are not realizing true economic improvement. Employment opportunities have expanded, but many of the new jobs are part-time. They do not pay good wages, and they offer few benefits. In contrast, individuals with technical skills and advanced degrees often command strong earnings. Income inequality has become a glaring issue.

In recent decades individuals and families at the top have realized extraordinary gains, while the rest of the U.S. population saw disappointing returns. The Congressional Budget Office found that between 1979 and 2007 the top 1% of households realized 275% growth of inflation-adjusted income. In contrast, the bottom 20% of Americans saw growth in those 28 years of just 18%. Another study by the Economic Policy Institute revealed that between 1983 and 2010 approximately three-quarters of all new wealth went to the richest 5% of households, while the bottom 60% of households actually turned poorer over that period. Data from the Labor Department reveal that income for the middle 60% of the U.S. population has stagnated since 2007.

The angst of working Americans was evident in the 2014 congressional elections. Despite improvements in equity markets and corporate earnings, voters felt a pinch. Republicans cast President Obama as the culprit in their campaign rhetoric. They claimed his flawed leadership left millions of Americans struggling to earn a decent living.

President Barack Obama and Democratic senators have been dominant in Washington in the years of a remarkable economic turnaround, yet they failed to convince voters that their policies helped in significant ways to foster a recovery. A post-2014 election headline in the New York Times indicated, “Democrats Say Economic Message Was Lacking.” The Times reported thatDemocrats could not project the kind of broad vision in 2014 that inspires voter turnout. Larry LaRocco, a former Democratic congressman from Idaho, identified the challenge Democrats face as they look ahead: “What do we stand for?” he asked. In 2016 Democrats will need to convince voters that they do, indeed, have an effective plan for economic growth.

The Democrats’ efforts to persuade voters that the Obama presidency has produced results may become easier if recent employment statistics augur a trend. The Labor Department reported that employers added 321,000 jobs in November and, even more significant, the hourly earnings of ordinary workers jumped sharply. If future reports continue to show wage gains, the Democratic candidate will benefit from favorable economic winds. If the November gains prove a fluke and wage stagnation persists, Republicans may be able to capitalize on voter discontent in 2016, much as they did in 2014.

Whatever the situation, economic conditions will likely affect the outcome– as it usually does in presidential contests. Yet when writing and speaking about the campaign, many pundits will overlook this important factor. They will focus on the candidates’ personalities, rhetoric and strategies rather than evidence from history that suggests the state of the economy often has a major impact on the voters’ decision.

Robert Brent Toplin taught at Denison University and the University of North Carolina, Wilmington. Since retirement from full-time teaching, he has taught some courses at the University of Virginia. Toplin has published several books and articles about history, politics, and film.

TIME Cuba

How Venezuela’s Collapse Helped Thaw Cuban-American Relations

Cuba's President Raul Castro shakes hands with Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro during the opening session of the 10th ALBA alliance summit in Havana
From Left: Cuba's President Raul Castro shakes hands with Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro during the opening session of the 10th ALBA alliance summit in Havana on Dec. 14, 2014. © Enrique de la Osa / Reuters—REUTERS

The late Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez helped keep the Cuban regime propped up, but that's not possible in an era of low oil prices

“We have two presidents: Fidel Castro and Hugo Chávez,” declared Cuba’s then Vice President Carlos Lage in a visit to Caracas just under a decade ago. A couple of years later, in Havana, then Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez added, “At heart, we are just one government.”

It is likely not a coincidence that talks between the United States and Cuba—which culminated yesterday in an announcement that the two countries would begin to resume full diplomatic relations—began just after the death the former Venezuelan president who had bankrolled Cuba’s Revolution.

Today a beleaguered Venezuela no longer has the spare cash to fund the island’s beleaguered economy. The Castros likely realized this as Chávez’s presidency was coming to an end and were not keen for a return to the scarcity of the euphemistically titled Special Period of the 1990s, after the collapse of Cuba’s first patron, the Soviet Union. “We had nothing, no food and no money,” one elderly man told me in Havana not long ago. The Cuban economy contracted 35 percent between 1989 and 1993, and oil imports decreased 90 percent. Cuba was in desperate need of money.

Chávez, then a nascent politician on the make in Venezuela, saw Castro as a political mentor, a simpatico ally against the elites and imperialists who he blamed for the world’s ills. Chávez also oversaw some of the world’s largest oil reserves. Venezuela currently sends almost 100,000 barrels per day of oil to the island—more than half of Cuba’s consumption—as well as aid thought to be worth in total between $5 billion and $15 billion a year, or some 15% of Cuba’s GDP. (More precise figures are hard to come by given the opacity of both governments.)

But Chávez is dead, and today Venezuela’s economy is in tatters, exacerbated by a fall in the price of oil, which provides 96% of Venezuela’s foreign revenue. The country’s local currency on the black market has fallen 35% in the last month; annual inflation is at more than 60% and there is serious talk of default on Wall Street. Many economists are talking of a “perfect storm” brewing for current Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, whose approval ratings have fallen to the mid-twenties.

The lack of guaranteed support from Caracas would have made Cuban President Raúl Castro “much more eager to negotiate and given the U.S. leverage,” said Ted Henken, President of the Association for the Study of the Cuban Economy and author of several books on Cuba.

As Havana makes peace with Washington, Venezuelan authorities are left increasingly isolated. While Cuba and Venezuela held onto leftist principles, other countries in the region have in recent years taken more pragmatic policy decisions. “Obama has pulled the rug out from under Maduro,” said Christopher Sabatini, Senior Director of Policy at the Council of the Americas. “It’s going to be a lot easier for other U.S. allies in the region to swing away from Venezuela.”

In the last couple of weeks, in response to sanctions by Washington on top Venezuelan officials for alleged human rights abuses, Maduro has rallied against the U.S. “It shows a lack of respect!” boomed the mustachioed president to a few thousand supporters in Caracas on Dec. 15. “They can shove their US visas.” On Wednesday, though, Maduro praised Obama’s “gesture” towards Cuba. “How sad it is to have a government who 72 hours ago launched an anti-imperialist diatribe against Obama and now describes him as ‘courageous,’” said Jesús Torrealba, head of Venezuela’s opposition coalition.

Cuba learned its lessons from the Special Period and in recent years began to diversify. On the ground, rules have been loosened on private restaurants, guesthouses and the buying and selling of property. Cubans are even allowed Internet access, though only about 5 percent of the country can reach the Web. On a more global scale, international investors have come in; the Scarabeo 9 oil rig sailed into the Florida Straits in January 2012. It was Chinese-built, Italian-owned, and was to be used by Spanish, Norwegian and Indian firms, among others.

Cuba was likely well aware those small reforms would not be enough in the long run. There are a mixture of elements that have come together to allow this historic moment: from Obama and Cuban President Raúl Castro themselves to mediators in the Vatican and Canada. Yet, the unwitting spur for the restoration of relations between the U.S. and Cuba may be Hugo Chávez himself, and the inability of his successors to manage Venezuela’s economy.

TIME deals

New York Gambles on Full-Size Casinos to Boost Cash-Strapped Communities

New York Casinos
The Proctors Theater marquee displays a celebratory message after a New York State board announced earlier on Dec. 17, 2014, that the former Alco site in Schenectady, N.Y., would be recommended for a casino Patrick Dodson—AP

The recommendations favor gaming complexes situated in struggling upstate towns

A state board has recommended the approval of three full-size, Las Vegas–style casinos in New York State.

The three gaming complexes are slated for Schenectady (near the state capital, Albany), Tyre (near the Finger Lakes) and Sullivan County Catskills (north of New York City), the New York Times reports. They will be the first of their kind in the state.

The recommendations cap a competitive campaign by 16 casino developers for the right to set up shop in New York State, many of them hoping to tap New York City for customers.

Yet the board in the end rejected all six proposals for casinos immediately kitty-corner to the Big Apple, favoring instead developers with plans to give northward communities, still mourning the loss of a teeming manufacturing sector, a heady injection of jobs and cash.

Critics of New York State’s effort to expand gambling have doubted that casinos will renew hard-up towns and cities, citing a saturated regional gaming market, as well as predicting that casinos might hurt, not help, such places by sowing crime and spooking property values.

[NYT]

MONEY Millennials

How to Make Money Off Millennials in 2015

People doing "the wave" in a stadium
Doug Pensinger—Getty Images

In 2015, the oldest wave of millennials turns (gulp) 35—a milestone with significant implications for the job market, stocks, and the economy at large.

You hear a lot about the drag that the graying of the baby boomers could have on long-term economic growth. What’s often overlooked, though, is the fact that the U.S. will be golden on another demographic front: The biggest birth year in the bigger-than-boomer millennial generation turns 25 in 2015, while the oldest wave turns 35. These are significant milestones not only for those who get a slice of birthday cake but for the economy at large.

After all, 25 is when one’s career starts to get into full swing. While the unemployment rate for 20- to 24-year-olds is 11%, it’s 6% among 25- to 34-year-olds. For those with college degrees, the rate drops to 5%. Meanwhile, the mid-thirties are “when you hit higher-earning years, are more inclined to get married, and start putting money into the stock and real estate markets,” says Alejandra Grindal, senior international economist for Ned Davis Research. Plus, “productivity growth tends to peak when workers are 30 to 35,” says Rob Arnott, chairman of investment firm Research Affiliates.

Here’s how you can profit from millennial-driven growth.

Favor U.S. stocks. The stock market has tended to take off when the number of workers 35 to 49 has surged. Boomers aging into this bracket, for example, coincided with one of the longest bull markets, from 1982 to 1999.

As a metric, investment pros look at the M/Y ratio, which is “mature” workers (ages 35 to 49) divided by young ones (20 to 34). The U.S. M/Y ratio has been declining since 2000 but will begin rebounding in 2015 and is expected to climb through 2029. “Certainly this improves opportunities here relative to Europe and Japan,” where the ratio is in decline, says Arnott.

Research from Vanguard shows you get almost as much of the diversification benefit of keeping 40% of your stock portfolio overseas by having just 20% abroad. So in 2015, shift to the low end, especially since Europe and Japan may be headed for recession (again).

rescue

Profit off their nesting. Three-quarters of Gen Y-ers surveyed last year by the Demand Institute planned to move in the next five years, many out of their parents’ homes. Capitalize on this trend by buying home-related stocks. Gain exposure via SPDR S&P Homebuilders ETF, which counts Bed Bath & Beyond, Home Depot, and Williams-Sonoma among its top holdings besides homebuilders. The ETF’s stocks trade at about 10% less than consumer stocks in general, owing to the slower-than-hoped real estate rebound.

Shoot for the middle on college. With the bulk of millennials past their undergrad years, college enrollment has been falling since 2011. Many schools are discounting tuition to lure students. If your child is applying, “don’t get your heart set on universities in cities on the coasts,” says Lynn O’Shaughnessy, author of the College Solution blog. Schools in the middle of the country, less in demand, may offer better deals. Also consider smaller mid-tier colleges, adds Robert Massa, former head of admissions at Johns Hopkins.

Illinois Institute of Technology, DePauw University, and Rockhurst University are three Midwest schools on MONEY’s Best Colleges list that recently offered first-year students average grant aid of at least 50% of published tuition, according to government data.

Read next:
5 Ways to Prosper in 2015
Here’s Why 2015 Will Be a Good Year for Stocks
Here’s What to Expect from the Job Market in 2015

 

TIME Economy

#TheBrief: Why Gas Prices Are Falling

The reason you're paying less at the pump

You may have noticed a lower number on your gas station receipts. The average price of gas in the U.S. is now $2.55 per gallon, the lowest it’s been since 2009. We’re told to never question a good thing, but why are these prices falling?

Watch The Brief to find out why you’re spending less than usual at the pump.

MONEY

5 Ways to Prosper in 2015

fortune cookie with money inside
Gregory Reid—Prop Styling by Megumi Emoto

The U.S. shines amid global worries. Here are five strategies for profiting from the economy's relative health in your investing, spending, and saving.

The pace of U.S. growth may be more minivan than Ferrari, but the economy is nonetheless motoring along. Gross domestic product is forecast by the International Monetary Fund to grow 3.1% in 2015. That will put the U.S. ahead of most of its peers, which are facing serious headwinds: Europe may slip into its third recession since the financial crisis, and Japan’s stimulus effort hasn’t revved up its economic engines. China, meanwhile, is trying to maneuver slowing growth into a soft landing.

To make sure growth here doesn’t stall out, the Fed will likely wait till late 2015 to raise rates, and any increase is expected to be small and gradual. That’s still good news, though. “The U.S. economy is in a position to withstand the beginning of interest rates rising—something our trade partners can’t do yet,” says Chun Wang, senior analyst at the Leuthold Group.

Our relative health should continue to lure global investors to U.S. stocks and bonds. That in turn should support the almighty buck. After rising about 5% against a basket of currencies of our major trade partners this year, the dollar could gain another 5% in 2015, Wang says.

A stronger dollar means cheaper overseas travel and cheaper imports—and the latter should keep inflation from picking up momentum as well.

Here’a five-step action plan for profiting off U.S. versus them.

Move to the middle on bonds. While bonds that mature in less than three years are usually considered the safest, “short-term high-grade bonds could be the most vulnerable in 2015 if the Fed starts raising rates as expected,” says Lisa Black, interim chief in­vestment officer for the TIAA General Account. Because the recovery here has been so much stronger than in the rest of the world, global investors will continue to favor 10-year Treasuries, putting upward pressure on prices and keeping a lid on yields. Thus short-term rates, over which the Fed has more influence, are likely to see a much bigger rise relative to their current level.

If you’ve kept a big chunk of bond money in short-term mutual or exchange-traded funds recently—­either to hedge inflation risk or to get more yield on cash—get back to an intermediate strategy in 2015. MONEY 50 fund Dodge & Cox Income ­DODGE & COX INCOME COM NPV DODIX -0.7931% yields 2.5%, vs. less than 0.8% for Vanguard’s Short-Term Bond Fund.

Bet on cyclical stocks. LPL chief investment strategist Burt White—who forecasts a mid- to high-single-digit return for the U.S. stock market in 2015—­expects to see above-average performance in sectors that do better when consumers and businesses have more money to spend. In particular, he says, industrial and technology stocks should benefit if the strong economy motivates corporations to invest in systems upgrades. He recommends Industrial Select SPDR ETF INDUSTRIAL SELECT SECTOR SPDR ETF XLI 0.5608% , as well as PowerShares QQQ ETF POWERSHARES QQQ NASDAQ 100 QQQ 0.4398% , which tracks the tech-heavy Nasdaq 100.

Eke more out of your cash. In 2014 the average money-market account paid a mere 0.08%, and that yield isn’t likely to grow in any meaningful way in 2015. But don’t just give up on your savings.

Move cash you need accessible—like emergency funds—to an online bank such as MySavingsDirect, which yielded 1.05% re­cently, suggests Ken Tumin of DepositAccounts.com. If you have $25,000-plus to deposit, you can earn 1.25% at UFB Direct. Use the rest of your savings to build a CD ladder. Divide the sum into five buckets and deposit equal amounts in one- to five-year CDs. As each comes due, roll it into a five-year to benefit from rising rates. Based on current yields, you’ll earn an average 1.6%.

Head south. The dollar now buys nearly 8% more euros and 13% more yen than a year ago. That will make travel to Europe and Japan less expensive, but it still won’t be cheap. For great value—and some stunning photos besides—consider Costa Rica, says Anne Banas, editor of SmarterTravel.com.

The dollar is up 7% against the colon in the past year, making the country more of a bargain than it already was. Located in the rainforests of Arenal Volcano National Park on the Pacific Coast, the five-star Tabacon Grand Spa Thermal Resort—one of TripAdvisor’s 2014 winners for luxury—starts at $260 a night, for example. And flights from major U.S. cities can be found for $400.

Expect the unexpected. When stocks were spooked in September by Ebola reaching U.S. shores and increased U.S. airstrikes against ISIS, the S&P 500 fell 7% but European shares sunk 13%. U.S. stocks continued to lead when investors returned to focusing on economic growth.

While it’s impossible to predict what will rattle the markets in 2015, what you can do is take stock of your fortitude. If you persevered and profited from this recent snap back, plan for another in 2015 and bet on U.S. outperformance.

On the other hand, if you panicked and sold stocks, dial back your equity ex­posure by, say, five percentage points if it will keep you hanging on to your allocation in rough seas. Redirect that money to U.S. Treasuries. Jack Ablin, chief in­vestment officer for BMO Private Bank, says that these should benefit from a crisis: “It’s remarkable how Treasuries and the U.S. dollar are the newly appointed safe-­haven vehicles for the world.”

TIME Ukraine

As Ukraine Truce Holds, Russia Vows Economic Pain

Petro Poroshenko
Ukraine's President Petro Poroshenko walks along the World War I Honour Roll during his visit to the Australian War Memorial in Canberra, Australia, Dec. 12, 2014. Lukas Coch—AP

The Kremlin wants to maintain leverage over its neighbor as a means of keeping it from ever joining NATO

(KIEV, UKRAINE) — Fighting in eastern Ukraine between government troops and Russian-backed separatist forces has ground almost to halt. That should be good news for Ukraine, but Russia looks intent to pile on the economic misery.

In a detailed op-ed piece Monday, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev painted a grim forecast of Russian economic blockades ahead as Ukraine embarks on closer integration with Europe.

“The Ukrainian government has made its choice. And even if our neighbors have a poor understanding of the ultimate price they will have to pay, that is their right,” Medvedev said.

Those ominous words came as a renewed truce in east Ukraine called for by President Petro Poroshenko isholding — barring sporadic violations — since it began last week.

More than 4,700 people have been killed since the conflict broke out in mid-April, U.N. rights investigators estimate — and more than a quarter of those deaths came after a cease-fire in September that was routinely ignored.

Ukrainian authorities are hopeful, saying more peace talks are on the horizon.

The intensity of attacks on government-held areas has reduced notably and is now limited to mortar and small arms fire, military spokesman Andriy Lysenko said Monday. Separatists who have often accused government forces of breaking the truce agreed that violence has reduced dramatically.

Changes on the ground appear to reflect shifts on the diplomatic front.

While supporting the separatists, Moscow has said it accepts the rebellious east should remain part of Ukraine. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told the state news agency RIA-Novosti last week that pro-Russian separatists were prepared to re-enter a “common economic, humanitarian and political space” withUkraine.

That position reflects the Kremlin’s desire to maintain leverage over its neighbor as a means of keeping it from ever joining NATO.

Although the separatist leadership in Ukraine’s eastern Donetsk and Luhansk regions publicly deny that they taking orders from Moscow, rebel officials privately concede the Kremlin plays a direct role in their decision-making. Lavrov’s comments suggest an easing of staunch secessionist positions.

A few weeks ago, rebel leaders were vowing to expand the territory under their control. But last week, separatists in Luhansk made a show of withdrawing heavy weaponry from the front line.

The next expected development is a prisoner exchange, which a senior rebel leader in Donetsk, Alexander Khodakovsky, suggested Monday could begin on Dec. 25.

Poroshenko has expressed satisfaction with the reduced carnage.

“I positively assess the cease-fire regime. This has enabled the strengthening of Ukrainian positions and resupply of servicemen on the line of defense,” he said.

But peace on the military front may serve only as prelude to economic hostility.

In his 5,600-word opinion piece Monday in the Moscow-based newspaper Nezavisimaya Gazeta, Medvedev outlined a new “pragmatic” chapter in relations with Ukraine.

“In plain Russian, dealing with Ukraine ‘pragmatically’ means giving it no quarter. Russia’s economicapproach to Ukraine will get tougher,” Dmitry Trenin, who heads the Carnegie Moscow Center, wrote in a Twitter post.

Medvedev wrote that Ukraine has been unhealthily reliant on Moscow for too long; adding that as of last spring, Russian orders from Ukrainian companies were valued at $15 billion, or 8.3 percent of Ukraine’sGross Domestic Product.

“Nobody in Ukraine has explained to us, or themselves, how these orders will be replaced,” he wrote.

Ukraine remains heavily dependent on Russian natural gas and industries in eastern Ukraine are still tightly intertwined with those in western Russia. Ukraine has had to go cap in hand to Russia recently for electricity supplies, as its power plants lack enough coal.

Medvedev also said a closer eye will be paid to Ukrainian citizens traveling to Russia for work — an ominous suggestion that this economic lifeline could be drastically tightened.

Ukrainian officials have put a brave face on those veiled threats.

“Everything that was possible to cut off has already been cut off by Russia,” said Valeriy Chaliy, deputy head of the Ukrainian presidential administration.

He said Ukraine has been pressing hard to diversify the markets for its exports.

“Not all roads lead to Russia,” Chaliy said. “Ukraine has other neighbors with which collaboration is possible without fear of getting stabbed in the back at any moment.”

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden spoke by phone with Poroshenko on Monday to discuss “Ukraine’s financial and energy situation and developments in eastern Ukraine,” according to a readout released by Biden’s office.

Biden said the United States remains committed to working with international partners “to ensure thatUkraine will have the macroeconomic support it needs” to implement its reform program.

TIME Economy

What Russia’s Ruble Collapse Means for the World

Russian President Vladimir Putin visits Uzbekistan on Dec. 10, 2014.
Russian President Vladimir Putin visits Uzbekistan on Dec. 10, 2014. Sasha Mordovets—Getty Images

A financial crisis would make the Kremlin more unpredictable, wreck western banks and heap misery on the Russian people

Russia’s ruble is melting down faster than you can say “Vladimir Vladimirovich”. That’s nothing short of disastrous for him–but it ain’t good for you either.

The ruble fell a jaw-dropping 11% against the dollar Monday. Even when seen in the context of the dollar routing all emerging market currencies (Brazil’s real fell 1.2% and South Africa’s rand 1.5%), a move like that is straight out of the Financial Crisis Handbook–completely unsustainable. Russia has seen nothing like it since it defaulted on its domestic debt in 1998.

Given President Vladimir Putin’s status as the West’s new bogeyman, the temptation to rejoice in the abrupt collapse of his regime’s economic clout is acute. Many will want to congratulate themselves at the success of economic sanctions, the aim of which was to punish Putin for his annexation of Ukraine and its covert sponsorship of a civil war there.

They shouldn’t get carried away.

For one thing, it doesn’t make Russian concessions on Ukraine any more likely: the worse the economic pressure, the more the Kremlin’s propaganda will drum home the message that it is the Evil West, denying Russia its holy Crimean birthright, that is to blame. Opinion polls suggest that the vast majority of Russians still accept this version of events.

As such, Ukraine will remain a running sore, infecting both the European economy and, through it, the world’s. Moreover, Ukraine itself is on the verge of a default that will send shock waves through European and global financial markets, amplifying the effect.

A financial crisis in Russia would have much larger negative consequences than a Ukrainian one: western banks (mainly European ones) will have to write off more loans, western companies will have to write off investments. And that’s even if contagion doesn’t spread to other vulnerable emerging markets such as Indonesia or Brazil, both big recipients of western investment.

For the moment, the signs are that Putin is gambling on the oil market turning round, trusting to the legendary endurance of the people while his government keeps the plates spinning as long as it can.

In the meantime, the loyal will be taken care of. Covert bailouts to the country’s biggest banks from the country’s rainy-day fund are already getting more frequent. VTB and Gazprombank, two lenders that are “too-big-to-fail”, have already had their capital levels topped up.

But that is nothing compared to the egregious piece of money-printing that was agreed last week, when the central bank agreed to lend money against 625 billion rubles (still over $10 billion, even after Monday’s mayhem) of bonds freshly printed by Rosneft, the oil company headed by Putin confidant Igor Sechin. The aim is to let Rosneft hoard its export dollars and meet a $10 billion loan repayment later this month (and another $4 billion in February).

The realization that Rosneft, one of the biggest players on the foreign exchange market, would be buying far fewer rubles with its export dollars appears to have been one of the reasons for the ruble’s drop Monday (the failure of the central bank’s half-hearted rate hike and intervention last week also being partly responsible).

If the central bank shows anything like the same generosity to other companies, then the ruble’s debasement will be complete. The central bank now estimates that the economy will shrink 4.5% next year if oil stays at $60/barrel, and that is something that would certainly trigger a wave of corporate defaults.

Unless the ruble bounces back sharply, inflation is heading much, much higher than the 10% the CBR is already forecasting. Specifically, food, which makes up over 30% of Russian disposable income, is going to get more expensive (Russia imports over 40% of its food and has made a rod for its own back by banning relatively cheap produce from the E.U.).

Moreover, since over 80% of retail deposits are now held in rubles, devaluation means that the savings that Putin’s voters have accumulated as they came to trust their own currency over the last 14 years will be devastated. Already Monday, the yield on the 10-year bonds of a government that hasn’t run a deficit in 14 years hit 13%–anything but an expression of trust.

This is a recipe for social instability far greater than the tame, middle-class, metropolitan protests at Putin’s tainted election victory in 2012.

But what does an authoritarian leader do in such a situation? Back down or crack down? There is no evidence from this year to suggest Putin has suddenly become the backing-down kind. Repression seems the likelier option. If that doesn’t work, then doubling-down with another foreign policy adventure to distract from domestic problems hardly seems fanciful any more: in the summer, Putin cast doubt on the statehood of neighboring Kazakhstan, which doesn’t have the NATO guarantee that the Baltic States enjoy.

Either way, the consequences are too miserable to contemplate, both for Russia and for the world in general. The only other way out is for Putin to be replaced in a palace coup. That’s a time-honored Russian tradition too, but anyone with memories of 1991 and 1993 will remember how badly they can go.

Barring a rapid turnaround in the oil price, there are only bad and worse outcomes from here on.

This article originally appeared on Fortune.com

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