TIME Money

Study: 35% of Americans Facing Debt Collectors

The word "Bankruptcy" is painted on the side of a building in Detroit on Oct. 25, 2013.
The word "Bankruptcy" is painted on the side of a building in Detroit on Oct. 25, 2013. Joshua Lott—Reuters

The delinquent debt is overwhelmingly concentrated in Southern and western states

(WASHINGTON) — More than 35 percent of Americans have debts and unpaid bills that have been reported to collection agencies, according to a study released Tuesday by the Urban Institute.

These consumers fall behind on credit cards or hospital bills. Their mortgages, auto loans or student debt pile up, unpaid. Even past-due gym membership fees or cellphone contracts can end up with a collection agency, potentially hurting credit scores and job prospects, said Caroline Ratcliffe, a senior fellow at the Washington-based think tank.

“Roughly, every third person you pass on the street is going to have debt in collections,” Ratcliffe said. “It can tip employers’ hiring decisions, or whether or not you get that apartment.”

The study found that 35.1 percent of people with credit records had been reported to collections for debt that averaged $5,178, based on September 2013 records. The study points to a disturbing trend: The share of Americans in collections has remained relatively constant, even as the country as a whole has whittled down the size of its credit card debt since the official end of the Great Recession in the middle of 2009.

As a share of people’s income, credit card debt has reached its lowest level in more than a decade, according to the American Bankers Association. People increasingly pay off balances each month. Just 2.44 percent of card accounts are overdue by 30 days or more, versus the 15-year average of 3.82 percent.

Yet roughly the same percentage of people are still getting reported for unpaid bills, according to the Urban Institute study performed in conjunction with researchers from the Consumer Credit Research Institute. Their figures nearly match the 36.5 percent of people in collections reported by a 2004 Federal Reserve analysis.

All of this has reshaped the economy. The collections industry employs 140,000 workers who recover $50 billion each year, according to a separate study published this year by the Federal Reserve’s Philadelphia bank branch.

The delinquent debt is overwhelmingly concentrated in Southern and Western states. Texas cities have a large share of their populations being reported to collection agencies: Dallas (44.3 percent); El Paso (44.4 percent), Houston (43.7 percent), McAllen (51.7 percent) and San Antonio (44.5 percent).

Almost half of Las Vegas residents— many of whom bore the brunt of the housing bust that sparked the recession— have debt in collections. Other Southern cities have a disproportionate number of their people facing debt collectors, including Orlando and Jacksonville, Florida; Memphis, Tennessee; Columbia, South Carolina; and Jackson, Mississippi.

Other cities have populations that have largely managed to repay their bills on time. Just 20.1 percent of Minneapolis residents have debts in collection. Boston, Honolulu and San Jose, California, are similarly low.

Only about 20 percent of Americans with credit records have any debt at all. Yet high debt levels don’t always lead to more delinquencies, since the debt largely comes from mortgages.

An average San Jose resident has $97,150 in total debt, with 84 percent of it tied to a mortgage. But because incomes and real estate values are higher in the technology hub, those residents are less likely to be delinquent.

By contrast, the average person in the Texas city of McAllen has only $23,546 in debt, yet more than half of the population has debt in collections, more than anywhere else in the United States.

The Urban Institute’s Ratcliffe said that stagnant incomes are key to why some parts of the country are struggling to repay their debt.

Wages have barely kept up with inflation during the five-year recovery, according to Labor Department figures. And a separate measure by Wells Fargo found that after-tax income fell for the bottom 20 percent of earners during the same period.

TIME Foreign Policy

White House: EU, US to Impose New Russia Sanctions

(WASHINGTON) — The United States and European Union plan to impose new sanctions against Russia this week, including penalties targeting key sectors of the Russian economy, the White House said Monday.

The show of Western solidarity comes as the U.S. accuses Russia of ramping up its troop presence on its border with Ukraine and shipping more heavy weaponry to pro-Moscow separatists in eastern Ukrainian cities.

President Barack Obama and the leaders of Britain, Germany, France and Italy discussed the crisis during a rare joint video teleconference on Monday. The discussion follows days of bilateral talks on how to implement tougher sanctions after the downing of a passenger jet in eastern Ukraine, an attack the U.S. says was carried out by the separatists.

The U.S. and European sanctions are likely to target Russia’s energy, arms and financial sectors. The EU is also weighing the prospect of levying penalties on individuals close to Russian President Vladimir Putin, who appears to only be deepening Russia’s role in destabilizing Ukraine.

“It’s precisely because we’ve not yet seen a strategic turn from Putin that we believe it’s absolutely essential to take additional measures, and that’s what the Europeans and the United States intend to do this week,” said Tony Blinken, Obama’s deputy national security adviser.

Europe, which has a stronger trade relationship with Russia than the U.S., has lagged behind Washington with its earlier sanctions package, in part out of concern from leaders that the penalties could have a negative impact on their own economies. But a spokesman for British Prime Minister David Cameron said following Monday’s call that the West agreed that the EU should move a “strong package of sectoral sanctions as swiftly as possible.”

French President Francois Hollande said in a statement that the Western leaders “regretted Russia has not effectively pressured separatists to bring them to negotiate nor taken expected concrete measures to assure control of the Russian-Ukrainian border.”

The U.S. penalties are expected to be imposed after Europe finalizes its next moves. Neither set of penalties is expected to fully cut off Russian economic sectors from the West, an options U.S. officials have said they’re holding in reserve in case Russia launches a full-on military incursion in Ukraine or takes a similarly provocative step.

As the West presses ahead with new sanctions, U.S. officials say Russia is getting more directly involved in the clash between separatists and the Ukrainian government. Blinken said Russia appeared to be using the international attention focused on the downed Malaysia Airlines plane as “cover and distraction” while it moves more heavy weaponry over its border and into Ukraine.

“We’ve seen a significant re-buildup of Russian forces along the border, potentially positioning Russia for a so-called humanitarian or peace-keeping intervention in Ukraine,” Blinken said. “So there’s urgency to arresting this.”

Nearly 300 people were killed when the Malaysian plane was shot down by a missile on July 17. The West blames the separatists for the missile attack and Russia for supplying the rebels with equipment that can take down a plane.

Other leaders participating in Monday’s call were German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi. The White House said the leaders also discussed the stalled efforts to achieve a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas, the need for Iraq to form a more inclusive government and the uptick in security threats in Libya.

TIME Economy

The Average American Family Is Poorer Than It Was 10 Years Ago

The typical American household is worth a third less than it was in 2003, according to a new study

The typical American household was significantly poorer in 2013 than it was ten years earlier as a result of the Great Recession, a new study shows, an effect that is compounded by growing wealth inequality in the United States.

The net worth of the typical American household in 2003 was $87,992, adjusting for inflation. Ten years later, it was just $56,335, a decline of 36 percent, according to a study by the Russell Sage Foundation.

But even as the average American household’s wealth declined, the net worth of wealthy households increased substantially. The average wealth of the American household in the 95th percentile was $1,192,639 in 2003, and $1,364,834 ten years later, an increase of 14 percent.

The authors of the study said the reason for the disparity was that affluent households were able to ride the success of the surging stock market after the 2008 crash, while middle class families were severely impacted by the decreasing value of their homes.

Wealth declined for everyone in the aftermath of the Great Recession, but better-off families were able to rebound. Households at the bottom of the wealth distribution, on the other hand, lost the largest share of their wealth.

‘The American economy has experienced rising income and wealth inequality for several decades, and there is little evidence that these trends are likely to reverse in the near term,” wrote the authors of the study.

TIME Companies

Walmart’s Head of U.S. Operations Will Step Down After Slump in Sales

A sign lists the current Walmart stock price at a Walmart Supercenter in Bentonville
A sign lists the current Walmart stock price at the Walmart Supercenter in Bentonville, Ark., on June 5, 2014 Rick Wilking — Reuters

His replacement has quickly ascended the ranks of the company's operations in Asia in recent years

Walmart announced on Thursday that Bill Simon, the president of its operations in the U.S., will leave the company next month after four years of leadership marked most recently by a decline in sales. Greg Foran, the New Zealand–born executive who just last month assumed his role as head of Walmart Asia, will take over from Simon from Aug. 9.

“Being asked to lead the Walmart U.S. business is a privilege that I don’t take lightly,” Foran said in a company statement. “I am excited to get started. The needs of our customers are changing dramatically, and we have an enormous opportunity to serve them in new and different ways.”

Foran will assume office at a time of uncertainty for the corporation, with five quarters of falling sales in the rearview mirror despite a recent surge in U.S. consumer confidence. A market analyst told Reuters that Walmart CEO Doug McMillon “wanted new blood” in the company to facilitate its efforts in online retail and general rebranding. Foran has been a rising star in Walmart: he left his position as Woolworths’ head of supermarkets in 2011 to take the reins of Walmart’s fledgling China project and was promoted to oversee the company’s expansion in Asia.

MONEY

Higher Gas Prices Keep Inflation Just Above 2%

Gas nozzle and hose line graph
TS Photography—Getty Images

Inflation steady as pain at pump is offset by slower growth in food costs.

The Consumer Price Index increased 2.1% for the twelve months that ended in June, reports the Bureau of Labor Statistics. This is the second month in a row that the CPI broke 2%.

The index, which estimates overall inflation by measuring price changes in a “basket” of consumer goods, also showed .3% month-over-month growth from May to June of this year. That number is slightly down from May, which saw a .4% month-over-month increase.

Because food and energy prices tend to be volatile, many analysts and economists also look at the “core” consumer price index, which excludes those items, to get a sense of underlying inflation trends. The core CPI rose 1.9% since last June, says the BLS. This increase is roughly on par with last month’s year-over-year core CPI increase, suggesting inflation remains relatively steady.

According to the BLS, the CPI’s increase this month was primary driven by higher gasoline prices. The cost of gasoline rose 3.3% during the month of June and accounted for two-thirds of the entire index’s increase. The price of food, which had jumped in May, rose more slowly in June, increasing by only 0.1%

Investors watch inflation numbers closely because they may offer a clue about when the Federal Reserve may begin to raise key short-term interest rates, which the Fed has held near zero since the 2008 financial crisis. Chair Janet Yellen has said the central bank intends to hold rates down at least until inflation runs at 2%.

But though the closely watched CPI has notched above 2% for the second month in a row, it’s not the inflation number the Fed uses for its 2% target. Instead, it uses a number from the Bureau of Economic Analysis called the personal consumption expenditure, or PCE, deflator. This index covers a broader selection of goods and is also calculated somewhat differently. It also has been running lower than CPI recently—the latest reading was 1.8% for the twelve months ending in May, or 1.5% for the core number excluding food and energy. The BEA will release updated PCE numbers on August 1st.

The CPI typically runs 0.30 to 0.40 percentage points higher than the PCE index, says Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s Analytics, speaking to Money.com on Monday evening before the release.

“The target CPI is 2.3% or 2.4%, somewhere in that range,” said Zandi. If so, today’s numbers suggest the Fed is getting closer to it’s target, but isn’t there yet.

Update: Due to an editing error, the story originally misstated the amount CPI typically runs above the PCE index. It has been corrected.

TIME trade

It’s Time for Europe to Get Tough With Russia

European Union Foreign Ministers Meet On Ukraine Crisis
Flags of the European Union seen in front of the headquarters of the European Commission on March 03, 2014 in Brussels, Belgium. Michael Gottschalk—Photothek/Getty Images

Europe has a history of coming together in good times but not in bad. Think about the creation of the Eurozone, and the launch of the single currency, juxtaposed with the piecemeal policy reaction over the last few years to the Eurozone financial crisis. This tendency has been on tragic display recently, with the shooting down of a Malaysia Airlines jet that carried numerous European passengers. This event should have strengthened European resolve to put more and tougher sanctions on Russia. Instead, it’s led to half-hearted measures doled out on a country-by-country basis. France is even going ahead with big deal to supply warships to Russia.

The key issue, of course, is that Europe is in very deep with the Russians economically, much deeper than the U.S. Or China, for that matter; The recent Russia-China gas deal was small potatoes compared to the business that the Europeans do. Europeans get about 30 percent of their gas from Russia, and are dependent on other natural resources, like oil and minerals, from Russia too. Indeed, the Netherlands, which lost more people than any European country in the crash, took in the largest share of those exports from Russia last year. They aren’t alone—German banks and multinationals do lots of business with Russia, and countries like the UK are a big destination for oligarchs looking to stash cash outside their home country.

That’s why it’s so crucial that European foreign ministers come together at their meeting over the Ukraine situation and Russian sanctions in Brussels. Until they are on board with more serious sanctions, particularly in the energy sector, it’s unlikely that the current rounds are going to make a serious dent in the Russian economy, which, as a recently Capital Economics report pointed out, still has a strong international investment position.

The bottom line is that Europe needs a much smarter and less Russia-centric energy strategy. As I’ve explained before, that’s a need that’s unlikely to filled by the gas rich US anytime soon. Rather it’s something that will have to be driven internally within Europe. It’s an opportunity not only for Europe to become more secure, but to prove to the rest of the world that it can work together and live up to the promise of the EU itself—in both good times and bad.

TIME Economy

New Data Show Faster Job Growth in States With Higher Minimum Wage

Labor Secretary Perez Discusses Raising Minimum Wage During Visit To DC Restaurant
U.S. Labor Secretary Thomas Perez, second left, and Representative George Miller (D-CA) visit a Sweetgreen restaurant to discuss minimum wage, June 16, 2014 at Dupont Circle in Washington, DC. Alex Wong—Getty Images

Findings could undermine the argument that raising the minimum wage hurts job growth

New data show that the 13 states that raised the minimum wage this year are adding jobs at a faster pace than those that did not.

State-by-state hiring data released Friday by the Labor Department reveal that in the 13 states that boosted minimum wages at the beginning of this year, the number of jobs grew an average of 0.85 percent from January to June. The average in the other 37 states was 0.61 percent, the Associated Press reports.

The findings could undermine the argument that raising the minimum wage hurts job growth, a view held by major conservative lobbies. The Congressional Budget Office reported earlier this year that a minimum wage of $10.10 could bring 900,000 people out of of poverty, but would cost 500,000 jobs nationwide.

“It raises serious questions about the claims that a raise in the minimum wage is a jobs disaster,” said John Schmitt, a senior economist at the liberal Center for Economic and Policy Research. The job data “isn’t definitive,” he added, but is “probably a reasonable first cut at what’s going on.”

President Barack Obama has supported raising the minimum wage, saying that it will help the economy and businesses.

Some economists said that data was inconclusive and that it’s too early to say whether minimum wage hikes hurt job growth. The rate of job growth was the highest in North Dakota, where the local oil and gas boom has spurred the economy but there has been no minimum wage increase. “It’s too early to tell,” said Stan Veuger, a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. “These states are very different along all kinds of dimensions.”

[AP]

TIME housing

4 Charts That Will Totally Ruin Your Saturday

Housing development under construction on farmland, aerial view.
Housing development under construction on farmland, aerial view. Ryan McVay—Getty Images

If you’re waiting to sell your house because you think prices will continue to rise, don’t

fortunelogo-blue
This post is in partnership with Fortune, which offers the latest business and finance news. Read the article below originally published atFortune.com.

The housing recovery that began in 2012 came on almost as quickly and forcefully as the real estate crash that preceded it.

The combination of low interest rates, investor interest, and good, old-fashioned confidence conspired to cause a rapid and vigorous turnaround in home prices after years of tumbling or stagnant home values. But a number of key metrics suggest that the party is over, and any future home price appreciation will be slow and steady from here on out. Here are four charts showing why the housing recovery has ended:

1. Price-to-rent ratios are near their long-term average. Price-to-rent ratios are an important housing indicator that can tell you whether the housing market is overvalued. During the housing bubble, this metric skyrocketed, as speculative fever led people to believe that housing prices would always rise. But the fact that rent rates didn’t rise with purchase prices should have been a warning that the underlying demand for shelter hadn’t increased as much as the demand for owning property as an asset. As you can see, price-to-rent ratios have snuck up above their historical averages, meaning that home values are already a little pricey relative to rents in many markets.

Screen Shot 2014-07-18 at 11.51.55 AM

2. Homeownership rates are also near their long-term average.In the decades leading up to the housing bubble, politicians pushed policies that would increase the homeownership rate. The theory was that homeownership gave people a vested interest in the economy and in their neighborhoods, and that would lead to greater prosperity. But giving out credit to those who didn’t have the wherewithal to afford a home was one factor that led to the failure of the subprime mortgage market. It’s likely, now that policy makers are more aware of the dangers of pushing homeownership, that those rates will remain in the 64% or 65% historical average.

Screen Shot 2014-07-18 at 11.34.22 AM

For the rest of the story, go to Fortune.com.

TIME Economy

Motor City Revival: Detroit’s Stunning Evolution in 19 GIFs

One year ago today Detroit became the largest city in US history to file for bankruptcy. See what changes took place in the city in the years leading up to the momentous declaration.

The Motor City, the former automotive capital of the nation, has seen a steady and precipitous decline in population and economic growth over the last half-century. The automotive industry’s move out of Detroit, poor political decision-making, and the collapse of the housing industry can all be viewed as causes for the city’s decline, among other reasons. On July 18, 2013, unable to pay its looming debts, Detroit became the largest city in U.S. history to enter bankruptcy.

However, this momentous step did not happen overnight. Detroit was hit with a housing crisis in 2008, a sign of economic trouble that foreshadowed the city’s bankruptcy. A major outcome of that crisis is the city’s ongoing blight epidemic. Vast stretches of abandoned residential property lay on the outskirts of the once sprawling 139-square-mile city.

As Steven Gray wrote in 2009, “If there’s any city that symbolizes the most extreme effects of the nation’s economic crisis and, in particular, America’s housing crisis, it is Detroit.”

While many of the buildings and houses within the city have disappeared, evidence of a former era can be found in the more than 80,000 blighted houses remaining combined with an estimated 5,000 incidents of arson each year, according to the New York Times Magazine.

Despite all this, the Motor City could have a bright road ahead. There has been a recent surge in growth, spurred by a sense of opportunity in the ever-evolving city. New businesses are popping up and property is being rebuilt and re-purposed for urban farming, startups and public art.

Google Street view images, compiled here into GIFs, offer a unique look at how Detroit’s landscape has changed over the past four to six years leading up to the city’s bankruptcy a year ago.

TIME General Electric

GE Profits Up 13% As Company Continues to Refocus

Workers assemble a General Electric Co. CF6-80C2 jet engine at the GE Aviation factory in Cincinnati, Ohio, June 25, 2014.
Workers assemble a General Electric Co. CF6-80C2 jet engine at the GE Aviation factory in Cincinnati, Ohio, June 25, 2014. Bloomberg/Getty Images

General Electric profits climbed 13% in the second quarter as the conglomerate refocuses on its core businesses of energy and heavy industry.

GE’s posted earnings of 35 cents a share ($3.55 billion) are up from 31 cents a share a year ago. Operating earnings climbed from 36 cents a share to 39 cents a share.

“GE had a good performance in the quarter and in the first half of 2014, with double-digit industrial segment profit growth, 30 basis points of margin expansion, and nearly $6 billion returned to shareholders,” said GE Chairman and CEO Jeff Immelt in a statement. “The environment continues to be generally positive.”

The news signals the success of GE’s strategy of shedding non-core businesses, like the media giant NBCUniversal, and doubling down on its energy and industrial portfolio. Last quarter, the French engineering titan Alstom agreed to sell its Power and Grid business that builds and services power plants and transmission grids.

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