TIME Economy

U.S. Job Creation at 6-Year High, Poll Says

Office Work Station
John Lamb—Getty Images

On par with May levels

The percentage of Americans who say their employers are hiring remains at a six-year high, according to a new poll, in another positive economic indicator following a sluggish winter.

The Gallup survey out Wednesday found that 40% of employed Americans said their workplace was hiring, while 41% reported no staffing changes and just 13% said their employer was letting workers go. U.S. workers have reported increased hiring at their workplaces for five months.

The poll of more than 16,000 Americans put Gallup’s Job Creation Index—a measure of net hiring activity in the U.S.—at +27, matching May’s index as the top score in more than six years. The index does not measure the actual number of jobs created, but rather reflects the percentage of employers who are hiring.

Another survey by the payroll processor ADP showed that private employers in the U.S. added 281,000 jobs in June, up from 179,000 added in May.

TIME green living

Tracking Carbon Footprints and Saving Money: The Pecan Street Project

+ READ ARTICLE

Walk around the Austin Mueller neighborhood in Texas’s capital city and you’ll see a modern planned, green community with homes that sport solar panels and garages that shelter electric cars. But the most important innovation in these homes can’t be seen by the casual observer. It is the smart circuitry that allows residents to track their homes’ electrical use appliance by appliance, in real time, showing clearly how they consume power and enabling them to reduce their power bills and minimize waste.

“You can literally see when a lightbulb is turned on,” says homeowner Dan McAtee. “It’s been educational.” He’s learned, for instance, to lower his monthly utility bill by using his most power-hungry appliances at night, when electricity costs less. And he knows just how much power is generated by the solar panels on his roof — far more than his family consumes, as it turns out, allowing them to send the surplus back into the grid.

McAtee’s home is one of more than a thousand participating in the Pecan Street Project, the most extensive smart grid in the United States. Since 2009, the project has provided homeowners incentives for installing renewable energy and buying plug-in electric vehicles, while also helping them reduce their carbon footprints.

Across the country, use of two-way “smart meters” has been growing, with more than 40 million already in use. Pecan Street meters are far more precise, however and provide both residents and their municipal utility, Austin Energy, with enormous amounts of constantly updated, detailed and actionable data that benefits both individuals and the community. When replicated in other cities, the system may help solve pressing environmental and infrastructure challenges affecting the entire country by making us smarter about how changing individual behavior can benefit society as a whole.

TIME Education

The Ambitious Plan to Teach 100,000 Poor Kids to Code

Kids Who Code
11-year-old Nuh Mahamud works on a computer at the Bridge Project, which provides educational opportunities for children living in public housing neighborhoods, in the South Lincoln area of Denver on Jan. 23, 2012. Yes We Code plans to partner with such existing organizations to focus specifically on preparing kids for careers writing computer code. Cyrus McCrimmon—Denver Post/Getty Images

#YesWeCode looks to close the coding inequality gap

Shortly after Trayvon Martin was shot and killed in February 2012, liberal activist Van Jones was talking with his friend Prince—yes, that Prince—about the circumstances of the shooting.

“I think he made the observation,” Jones told TIME, “that when African-American young people wear hoodies people think they’re thugs, but when white kids wear hoodies you assume that they’re going to be dot-com billionaires,” a reference to the outerwear favored by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and his ilk. “We just started thinking: ‘Well, how do we turn that around?’”

Out of that spark was born Yes We Code, an ambitious initiative of Jones’ Rebuild the Dream organization aimed at preparing 100,000 low-income children for careers writing computer code. While good-paying blue-collar jobs continue to disappear in the U.S., computer science is a rare bright spot of opportunity for people without a college education. “This is another opportunity for people to make a really serious, solid middle-class income,” said Jones, a former environmental aide in the Obama Administration.

It’s an old yarn by now that computer science is one of the fastest-growing, highest-paying career paths in America. By 2020, half of all jobs in the STEM (Science, Tech, Engineering and Math) fields will be in computing, according to the Association for Computer Machinery. The latest salary survey from the National Association of Colleges and Employers says the average starting salary for computer science majors in 2014 is more than $61,000—just about $1,000 shy of the top earners, engineering grads.

Contrast that with the fact that computer science education in STEM has seen a decrease in enrollment in the last 20 years, with a particularly precipitous drop in the past decade as school districts have reconfigured curriculums to meet standards set by the No Child Left Behind initiative. Those students who do enroll in computer science are overwhelmingly white and male. In 11 states last year, not a single black student took the Computer Science Advanced Placement exam for college credit. That may not mean much in a place like Maine, but in Mississippi, where more than 37 percent of the population is black, the statistic takes on a whole new significance.

Put simply, many parts of the country have systematically reduced educational opportunities in the growing field of computer science for students who depend on the public school system. “It has become privileged knowledge,” said Chris Stephenson, executive director of the Computer Science Teacher’s Association. “The haves have continued to get access and the have-nots, however you want to define that, have not.”

There are dozens of organizations around the country working to address this disparity—Black Girls Code, Hack the Hood, and many others. What Yes We Code hopes to do is connect those groups with the tools and resources to radically scale up. “There’s a ton of wasted genius in low-opportunity communities,” Jones said, adding that Yes We Code does not exist solely to serve black children. “African-American, Latino, low-income Asian, Native American, Appalachian. We aren’t only for African-Americans,” he said.

Beginning with a launch at the 20th annual Essence Festival in New Orleans on July 4—Prince agreed to headline the event on the condition that Yes We Code be included in the festivities—the group will unveil its website to connect coding education organizations with low-income pupils. At the festival, Yes We Code will also launch a fundraising drive to amass a $10 million scholarship fund to pay for the cost of coding education for kids who can’t afford it on their own. (Disclosure: The Essence Festival is a production of Essence magazine, which is owned by Time Inc., the parent company of TIME.)

The cadre of young, poor kids Jones hopes to help teach to write code will not be young forever and Jones hopes they won’t be poor forever either, creating a new generation of role models he sees as lacking in their communities today.

“Athletes, or rappers, or hustlers or President Obama. That’s it. All four of those are very hard and unlikely pathways for success,” Jones said. “We just haven’t really been putting a spotlight on this opportunity.” Yes We Code intends to turn on that spotlight.

“The future,” Jones told TIME, ”is being written in code.”

TIME energy

Harley Davidson Goes Electric

Harley Davidson, battery powered, 2014, Motorcycle
Profile full body photograph of Harley-Davidson’s 2014 battery powered motorcycle, taken on June 5, 2014 at the Harley-Davidson headquarters in Milwaukee, WI. Grant Cornett for TIME

Will this battery-powered hog help the famed cyclemaker grow beyond aging boomers?

It’s bike night at the Harley-Davidson Museum near downtown Milwaukee. Outside this Modernist cathedral of chrome, hundreds of riders have parked their Harleys to admire one another’s bikes, swap stories and enjoy a perfect May evening. Anyone from a corporate marketing department happening on this scene might have been horrified, because it would not suggest a growing market. Bike Night in Milwaukee sure looks like Old White Guys’ Night. The only diversity among this group of aging boomers is in the beer brands in the cozies they carry. But Mark-Hans Richer, who is indeed Harley’s marketing boss, isn’t bothered. “We love old white guys,” says Richer, who is not quite one. “Our old white guys are great customers, we love them, and we never want to walk away from them.”

That said, Harley is in the midst of a complete reimagining as it increasingly tries to appeal to African Americans, Hispanics and women, not to mention riders in China and India, all of whom have become target customers. Global demographics–more young people with less money to spend–are forging big changes at the iconic firm. Harley still sells the rebellious, hell-raising, American free-spirit ideal that it rode to fame in the 1950s and ’60s. But that isn’t a strategy for running a company in 2014.

The Great Recession drove Ford to the wall and Chrysler and GM into bankruptcy, forcing drastic operational and cultural changes that made them more efficient, higher-quality operators. Harley was in better shape than the auto companies going into the recession but fared worse after the downturn: motorcycles are typically a second or third ride for Americans. Harley’s sales plunged from $5.8 billion in 2006 to $3.1 billion in 2010, even as autos were recovering. Its U.S. market share fell from 51% in 2006 to 43% in 2008, according to the Trefis research firm. The average age of its customers increased to 49 from 44.

Worse, perhaps, is that when sales turned up again, Harley reverted to form. And form wasn’t particularly good. Harley’s product line was full of retreads, and it had little to offer consumers in emerging markets like India and China. “There was a recognition that it was a great company, 108 years old,” says CEO Keith Wandell, a former auto-parts executive who took over in 2009 and began to force Harley to behave. “A lot of great things had happened, but I think what was apparent was that we’d become stuck in time. We had become sort of resistant to change and doing things differently.”

This year Harley’s sales should increase 9.7%, to $6.5 billion, and it will move perhaps 283,000 motorcycles. It’s introducing new lower-powered, lower-priced models for young riders and taking its biggest technology risk ever: the LiveWire, an electric-powered, urban globocycle whose high-pitched, jetlike whine sounds nothing like the Harley roar–that hurricane of sound that tells you a V-twin gas-engine hog is approaching even before you check your rearview. “We have a powerful brand and a powerful product–that’s why we are doing this. It isn’t the better-mousetrap strategy,” says Wandell. If the bike sells, it will punctuate the turnaround of a uniquely American corporation.

The electric Harley sitting on a small test track behind the company’s development center in Wauwatosa, outside Milwaukee, isn’t going to be confused with some of the putt-putt electrics on the market today. The design of LiveWire is gnarly enough to be Harley: it’s angular and agile, with a cast-aluminum exoskeleton sitting on a short wheelbase with 18-in. tires. The tires are a little bigger than normal and the seat a little higher, so the cycle can more easily jump curbs and handle the potholes of New Delhi or New York City. The turn signals and rear lamp are glowing LEDs, like those found on high-end Audis. What’s missing is the steroidal engine sitting under the rider–replaced by a lithium-ion-battery-powered motor.

In electric cars, the compartment for the battery that powers the vehicle takes up a disproportionate amount of space and produces a lot of heat that has to be dissipated. That’s a lot harder to do on a bike. Engineers jammed as much battery into the bike as they could to deliver sufficient acceleration. LiveWire generates 75 horsepower and goes from zero to 60 m.p.h. in four seconds.

Sound was another challenge because Harleys rumble even at low r.p.m.–a sound referenced, onomatopoeically, as potato, potato, potato. The LiveWire’s gearbox-and-motor combo produced a new and somewhat unexpected sound, which the engineers tuned. “We knew immediately we had something cool,” says Jeff Richlen, the chief engineer.

What’s it like to ride? The beauty of all electric motors is that you get torque–the force that turns the wheels–on command. You don’t have to go through the gears. Twist the throttle and LiveWire responds like an impatient New Yorker, even if the engine growl lags. (The pedal-to-engine-noise disconnect is familiar to owners of electric cars like the Chevrolet Volt, Toyota Prius and Nissan Leaf.) LiveWire’s speed tops out at 92 m.p.h, by which time it sounds like a big Fourth of July rocket whizzing by. “We wanted to make this a real Harley,” says Richlen. Right now, the bike has a range of 100 miles–fine for city riding–and recharges in about three hours.

Harley isn’t releasing LiveWire for sale until customers and dealers have a chance to weigh in. The company began offering test rides to select customers this month. Can they accept any battery-powered bike as a true Harley? Yes, says Gail Worth, who owns Gail’s Harley-Davidson, located outside Kansas City, Mo. “The world is ready for a Harley-Davidson e-bike,” she says. “Electric bikes are going to be on the street. That is the one element left that will allow Harley to just take over the motorcycle market.” Harley hasn’t priced its rocket yet, but as with electric automobiles, consumers will typically pay a 10% to 20% premium for electric bikes, which suggests something north of $20,000. Worth expects LiveWire to debut in a year.

The electric-motorcycle market is generating a lot of interest these days. BMW already sells a $22,500 C Evolution e-Scooter in Europe. Although the market for e-cycles is still small, the consultancy Navigant Research predicts that domestic sales will grow tenfold and reach 36,000 units by 2018. A couple of specialty manufacturers, such as Brammo and Zero, are already in the market. Harley says it isn’t worried about being late to market. “If it’s green, it’s badass green. It has character,” says Richer. “We don’t see our competitor understanding that.”

Livewire isn’t just a flashy new concept for Harley; it’s also the product of a painful corporate revolution long in the making. In the depths of the downturn, the company produced print ads that proclaimed, “We don’t do fear … Screw it, let’s ride.” The bravado was a misdirected rallying cry. “We were heading downhill–not spiraling but walking down this hill pretty fast,” says Worth, who also heads Harley’s dealer council. Sales of the company’s best-selling heavy bikes fell 50%.

When Wandell arrived in 2009, sales had begun to pick up, but the company had no new products in the pipeline to meet the increasing demand. Harley’s 1,500 dealers vented, but Harley’s product-development cycle was so sluggish that the company needed far more time to get new products to market than the competition: some five to six years. New cars are created in half that time.

Global regard for the Harley brand had long insulated it from bad management. In 1969 a conglomerate named AMF, which you might know from its bowling pins, bought Harley. The motorcycle company suffered from corporate inattention, and in 1981 a management-led investor group bought it back. But it remained a boom-bust outfit that relied on periodic economic upticks to bail it out.

Wandell spent most of his career at Johnson Controls, an auto-components maker. So his being chosen to become Harley’s boss attracted some criticism–he wasn’t a Harley guy. But Wandell quickly drew up a “short list of big things” that had to change: how the company designed products, how it made them and how it interacted with customers. Everything, in other words. He replaced all but one of the top bosses, mostly with talent he found being squandered in middle management.

One of those talented people was Michelle Kumbier, whom Wandell tapped to reshape Harley’s product development. Though not an engineer, Kumbier took an engineer’s approach, benchmarking the company against other manufacturers like Ford. Then she shared the not-so-pretty results: by any measure, Harley was a laggard in both product-development cycles and manufacturing efficiency. “Engineers were able to accept the truth if you showed them the data and the evidence. We showed them the road map. This is how we are going to get to world class.” Since then Harley has cut its time to market in half.

In another big shift, Harley says it has become customer- and dealer-led. Worth says the listening is real. “It used to be lip service,” she says. “‘Let’s sit down and have a beer.’ They’d fix onesie-twosie things. Now they handle it as business. We don’t sit around drinking beer with each other anymore.” Oddly enough, for an outfit with such a devoted following, Harley used to build products based on its managers’ gut feelings, which was fine when the customers were mostly white boomers. But now the customers could be newly wealthy Chinese looking for style, city-dwelling millennials who need utility and affordability or retirees who want a trike that doesn’t embarrass them.

That shift led to a company initiative code-named Rushmore, whose mission was to produce new products for this multiculti world. Harley took a fresh look at every aspect of motorcycling–the issue of the rider’s head being buffeted by wind, the position of the saddlebags, the passenger’s viewpoint–and integrated new technology like GPS. How, for instance, could a rider use a touchscreen while going 80 m.p.h. and wearing leather riding gloves? The research led to more than 106 changes in the way that its touring bikes are built.

Harley-Davidson’s plunge into advanced technology–a third of its engineering is now focused on innovation–led it to LiveWire. A small group of developers was freed to work on the project. “It’s a symbol of what we can be,” says Matt Levatich, Harley’s president, “not what we shouldn’t do. Why not us?”

More immediately, Rushmore yielded something that wouldn’t have been contemplated before: smaller bikes for younger riders, especially women. This year Harley introduced its lower-end Street series, high-riding bikes with 500-cc and 750-cc engines that still provide a Harley feel for less than $7,500. “Street is about access over engine displacement,” says Richer. “It is designed with a global customer in mind. You can grow up in Beijing and Chicago, and you might have a cultural connection that your parents didn’t have 25 years ago.”

With Street, the company now has models that can compete in developing nations such as Brazil, South Africa and India, where price matters. Harley is a latecomer to India, but it is now assembling bikes in Bawal and sponsoring group rides in places like Goa that can attract 5,000 cyclists who want to taste the American ideal. Harley is feeding that hunger: overseas cycle sales now account for 36% of the company’s total. Indeed, there are now group-ride events in China, Africa and India.

The smaller bikes are also a better fit for Europe, where consumers prefer sport and utility cycles like Street over Softail cruisers. In China, Harley doesn’t have the opportunity that American automakers have. Motorcycles are banned from many highways and urban areas. But just as they prefer big Buicks, Chinese riders are hog lovers, as are riders in Japan, home to giants such as Yamaha and Kawasaki.

So far, the strategy appears to be working. Harley has picked up two market-share points in Europe on BMW. And while Street models are now heading to U.S. dealers, the company is living you-know-where on the hog with its traditional cruiser bikes. It owns 56% of the market, up from 41.5% in 2008, according to Wells Fargo Securities. Even better, the supply of white guys over age 35 figures to be about 50 million strong in the U.S. for the next 25 years. “We’re not dying a slow death,” says Levatich. “We’re creating a new future.”

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TIME Education

There Is a Fast Track Through College

Daranie Ounchaidee, a student at Ivy Tech Community College. Courtesy of Ivy Tech Community College

The longer it takes a student to graduate, the lower the chances that they ever will

Like many friends from her graduating class, Daranie Ounchaidee attended a community college not far from their Indianapolis high school. In the corridors, the classmates often stopped to commiserate about the twists, turns, and missteps they had already taken on their paths to associate’s degrees.

Many work part time, prolonging their time in school. Others have changed majors or dropped courses. Most, whose parents never went to college, struggle with the red tape of registering, paying, and applying for financial aid. For them, Ounchaidee says, “it’s like there’s no ending.”

But Ounchaidee is no longer among them. As part of a select group of 40 students from low-income families in which they were the first to go to college, Ounchaidee just received her two-year associate’s degree from Ivy Tech Community College in only 11 months.

These students are among the pioneers of a new movement to speed up the ever-slowing pace at which students get through college, from two years to one for associate’s degrees and four years to three for bachelor’s degrees, saving them and taxpayers money and improving low graduation rates. That’s because the longer it takes students to reach the finish line, the less likely they ever will.

Only 4 percent of community college students complete an associate’s degree within two years, and 36 percent of students at public universities earn a bachelor’s degree in four, according to the advocacy organization Complete College America. The National Student Clearinghouse reports that 60 percent of community college and more than 40 percent of university students are still flailing toward those credentials after even six years.

Among the reasons: Students right out of highly regimented high schools find themselves lost in college, need academic help but don’t know where to find it or are hesitant to ask, or work so many hours to afford tuition and life expenses such as gas and rent that they crawl through their required coursework.

The inability to devote complete attention to school seems to be a particular hurdle. Fewer than half of community college students attend full-time. Of those who are in school full-time, a fifth have full-time jobs and 40 percent have part-time jobs, according to the American Association of Community Colleges.

In order to qualify for the Associate Accelerated Program, or ASAP, at Ivy Tech,attendees needed high school grade-point averages of at least 2.5, and had to pledge to attend school full-time, not work, and continue living with their parents or guardians to forestall having to contend with real-world expenses such as rent and food.

They also had no choices of what courses to take or scheduling flexibility. ASAP classes began days after high school graduation and included 60 hours a week of rigidly proscribed classes and outside assignments.

“We have their curriculum laid out from Day One,” says Jon Arbuckle, one of the instructors. “Without these guidelines, students bounce around. They’ll take a handful of classes, then some life event occurs, they take a semester off, and they’re lost.”

At the sprawling Ivy Tech, ASAP occupies its own small warren of offices and classrooms in a single building, where counselors and advisors are never farther away than across the hall.

“We give them all the support they need — often more than they need,” says Jeff Jourdan, a psychologist and former Arena Football League player who serves as the program’s coordinator and the students’ de facto coach. “They’re not an island. They have people they can go to.”

In their first week, students get the sorts of basic lessons about contending with the college’s bureaucracy that can be easy to take for granted— who and what the registrar or bursar are, for instance. Colleges, Arbcukle says, “assume students coming in already know how to navigate the higher-education waters. But they don’t necessarily know that. Even the physical environment, just how it’s scattered—you’re taking a class in one building and another class in another building and your advisor is in another building.”

New students, Jourdan says, “put off the vibe of, ‘I can handle this. I’m cool.’ But underneath they’re scared, they’re nervous. This is something no one in their families has ever done.”

When the meetings shrink to one on one, these anxieties finally surface.

“We go through a lot of Kleenex,” Jordan says, tapping a box of it on his desk.

The students in ASAP say they appreciate the structure.

“That’s a good thing,” says Carrington Murry, who also just graduated with a degree in one year. “It feels like a continuation of high school. Otherwise it would have been hard to stay focused.”

Yawning at the start of an early morning course in archaeology just a few weeks shy of getting their degrees, the ASAP students lugged heavy backpacks to their seats, asked perceptive questions, and filled in latecomers about the assignments. The other classes they had to take included English composition, American history, critical thinking, ethics, algebra, earth science, sociology, interpersonal communication, psychology, and economics.

All the students agree the program wasn’t easy, and some say their parents were skeptical at the outset. Ounchaidee says her parents, who are Thai and Laotian, were reluctant to let her go to college because they rely on her to help them communicate in English. They came around when she convinced them of the opportunity. “They told me that if I wanted a better life, they’d give it a chance,” she says.

ASAP is part of a wave of programs, many with similarly catchy acronyms, to fast-track college students. They include the Accelerated Higher Education Associate Degree, or AHEAD, at Pellissippi State Community College in Knoxville, and the Accelerated Study in Associate Program, also called ASAP, at the City University of New York.

Since 2009, about 20 private four-year colleges and universities, most recently Wesleyan in Connecticut, have started offering three-year bachelor’s degrees, according to the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities. So have public universities including the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, Mississippi State University, Miami University of Ohio, and some campuses of the State University of New York.

Eighty-six percent of Ivy Tech’s ASAP students earn their degrees on time, or at least remain enrolled, the college says. That’s a rate five times higher than for their counterparts in the standard program. The condensed time frame also saves the students money: the one-year degree costs $7,119, most of which can be covered by federal Pell grants and state financial aid. That fast-track approach also reduces the cost per degree for taxpayers, since students who graduate on time don’t continue to use taxpayer subsidies while they slog through additional years in public colleges and universities, according to a Columbia University study of the CUNY program.

ASAP began in 2010, and Ivy Tech doesn’t have reliable data to know how graduates have done since finishing the program, but some are majoring at four-year universities in fields including engineering, business, graphic design, and architecture.

“These are amazingly bright kids,” says Jourdan. “Imagine what they could have done with the resources other kids have.”

Ounchaidee has been accepted to study biomedical engineering at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, where she will begin August.

“It’s a good thing,” she says of her speeded-up associate’s degree. “Without it, I would probably just be working. It gives me plans and hope.”

This story was produced by The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, nonpartisan education-news outlet affiliated with Teachers College, Columbia University.

TIME White House

Obama Looks to Reduce Student Loan Payments

A plan would cap student loan payments for five million graduates at 10 percent of their monthly income, expanding on a 2010 law

President Barack Obama will take executive action Monday to reduce ballooning student loan payments for millions of Americans, as part of a plan to ease the economic effects of massive student loan debt.

The plan will cap borrowers’ repayments at 10 percent of their monthly income, officials said, expanding on a 2010 law and providing relief for about five million people who took out loans before October 2007 or stopped borrowing by October 2011.

The executive action takes new steps to “further lift the burden of crushing student loan debt,” the White House said, and is part of Obama’s effort to circumvent Republican opposition in a midterm election year.

“From reforming the student loan system and increasing Pell Grants to offering millions of students the opportunity to cap their monthly student loan payments at 10 percent of their income, making a degree more affordable and accessible has been a longtime priority for the President,” the White House said in a statement. “But he knows there is much more work to do and that’s what this week is all about.”

Economists say the more than $1 trillion in outstanding student loan debt is burdening the economy, limiting graduates’ ability to buy cars, take out mortgages and spend money to spur the economy. The average student who graduates with outstanding loans is $29,400 in debt.

Other parts of the plan include teaming up with Intuit, Inc. and H&R Block, two of the U.S.’s largest tax preparation firms, to implement student loan repayment option and pilot a program to test the effectiveness of student loan counseling, among other measures.

Under the plan, a 2009 graduate with a student loan debt of $26,500 who earns $39,000 a year as a fourth year teacher would see an annual reduction of $1,500 in annual loan payments.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) has sponsored a bill that would allow about 25 million Americans to refinance federal and private loans at lower interest rates. The legislation would cost the government $58 billion over 10 years and raise $72 billion through a new tax on high-income earners, the New York Times reports.

The President’s executive action would be a backstop if the bill does not make it through the Senate and the Republican-controlled House. “Even though our bill goes further, the President’s action means something will be done even if Republicans block it,” said Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.).

House Speaker John Boehner said the executive action would do little to make college more affordable. “Today’s much-hyped loophole closure does nothing to reduce the cost of pursuing a higher education, or improve access to federal student loans – nor will it help millions of recent graduates struggling to find jobs in the Obama economy,” he said.

TIME Economy

One Ohio City’s Growth Strategy? Immigrants

Dayton puts out the welcome mats

In old North Dayton, It’s easy to spot the newcomers. Over the past few years, about 3,000 Turkish refugees have settled here and set about rebuilding this blighted neighborhood. Decaying houses with weed-choked lawns are giving way to tidy dwellings with colorful paint jobs. As his minivan winds through the streets, businessman Islom Shakhbandarov points out the white picket fences the Turks favor–a sign that they have achieved the American Dream. “This,” he says from the front seat, “is the Ellis Island of our region.”

Southwest Ohio has never been much of a melting pot. Even now, Dayton’s proportion of foreign-born residents is among the lowest of any large U.S. city. But economic decline is the mother of reinvention. Dayton’s population has plunged 40% since 1960, as the loss of manufacturing jobs hollowed out its middle class. “We were hit really hard,” says city manager Tim Riordan. And so in 2009, Dayton began plotting an unlikely path to renewal–growing its economy by courting immigrants.

Two years later, the city adopted a series of policies designed to lure new residents: tutoring for foreign students, support networks to help entrepreneurs clear complex bureaucratic hurdles, and translation services to help immigrants integrate into the community. Libraries began stocking books in new languages. Police officers were directed not to check the immigration status of victims or witnesses of crimes, or of people suspected of minor offenses.

The push to repopulate the city by wooing foreigners was an unusual move at a moment when states from Alabama to Arizona were requiring cops to detain suspected undocumented immigrants. City officials braced for an outcry against the proposal, but few residents balked. (The only pushback at public meetings came from nonresidents who warned that the city could become a magnet for the undocumented.) The initiative, known as Welcome Dayton, won unanimous support from the city commission. “We made a policy decision to be open,” says Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley. “This is a city that will welcome you.”

Word of mouth helped. A handful of Ahiska Turks, a stateless ethnic minority that was granted refugee status to escape persecution in Russia, resettled in Dayton in 2006, lured by cheap housing and solid jobs. They told friends that neighbors were tolerant of their Muslim faith. Now the Turkish community’s leaders have become some of Dayton’s best boosters, working to court foreign investment and pumping their own cash into the local economy through new trucking, logistics and real estate businesses.

Dayton is also home to robust communities of Central Africans, Indians and Hispanics, many of whom have started businesses or cultural agencies of their own. City officials have sought to stitch them into the cultural fabric with celebrations of diversity like a new annual parade to commemorate the Mexican Day of the Dead. And the lenient approach to law enforcement has soothed nerves. “They’re not chasing people or trying to focus on their legal status,” says Gabriela Pickett, an art-gallery owner and Mexican immigrant who has lived in Dayton since 2001. “That’s a battle they don’t want.”

None of this has required much money, and the economic gains have been relatively modest. But the new approach is paying off. In the year after enacting the policy, Dayton’s immigration rate grew by 40%, nearly six times the state average. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce lauded Dayton as one of seven “enterprising cities.” And Dayton has plans to expand its approach by recruiting immigrant entrepreneurs, using a visa program that offers green cards to foreigners who invest in rural or cash-strapped areas.

Dayton’s model is attracting copycats elsewhere in the Midwest. And the experiment has “changed the culture and the way people perceive immigrants,” says Tony Ortiz, vice president of Dayton’s Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and the head of Latino Affairs at nearby Wright State University. “Instead of a burden, they see these folks as potential taxpayers and contributing members to the area. Instead of chasing them away, all we have to do is make them feel welcome.”

TO SEE MORE SOLUTIONS, GO TO time.com/solutionsforamerica

TIME Economy

U.S. Workers See a Surge of New Hires, Poll Finds

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Lauri Wiberg—Getty Images

A swelling proportion of workers say their companies are hiring, not firing

Job creation in the United States has hit a six-year high according to a new survey out Wednesday.

The Gallup job creation survey asks workers if they’ve witnessed more hiring or firing at their workplaces to create an index score that rises and falls with the eyewitness accounts of the nation’s workforce. In May, the workers reported a happy scene: 40% saw hiring, dwarfing the 13% who saw firing. That brought the index to 27, its highest level in six years.

The encouraging news was reinforced by another measure of job growth. TrimTabs Investment Research said the U.S. economy added 229,000 jobs in May, following solid gains in March and April. “Employment growth has exceeded 200,000 jobs for three consecutive months for the first time since the spring of 2011,” said David Santschi, Chief Executive Officer of TrimTabs Investment Research.

TIME Transportation

Study Finds People Feel Safer With ‘Protected Lanes’ for Bikes

A new study finds around 79% of residents feel safer with bicyclists in protected lanes on city streets

The installation of protected lanes in U.S. cities like Chicago and Washington, D.C. has resulted in greater peace of mind, not just for cyclists, but for residents in surrounding neighborhoods, too, a new study found.

The National Institute for Transportation and Communities, a transportation research program out of Portland State University, evaluated the use of protected lanes—areas with strict barriers dividing lanes for cars and bikes on city streets—in select neighborhoods in Chicago and D.C., as well as Austin, Portland and San Francisco.

Almost 100% of cyclists and over three quarters of residents surveyed said biker safety increased when bike lanes were protected.

Perceptions of safety for motorists, on the other hand, was less dramatic. Only about 37% of respondents thought driver safety had increased, while 26% thought safety decreased. About 30% said they thought there had been no change.

The study also collected and analyzed 144 hours of video surveillance footage and tallied zero collisions–not even near-collisions. There were approximately six “minor conflicts,” described in the study as sudden slamming of brakes or a change in direction, discovered in that same video footage.

Overall, the study found an increased overall support for the addition of protected bike lanes in areas around U.S. cities, even in urban areas where the primary mode of travel entails four wheels, not two.

TIME housing

Tiny Houses With Big Ambitions

Is the tiny-houses movement a viable solution for American homeowners?

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Anyone who’s been to the suburbs in the past half-century knows that American homes have been getting larger and more elaborate year after year. The average size of new homes has swelled by 50 percent since 1970, despite that the average family size decreased during the same period. And it’s not just here; similar trends have held sway in other prosperous, mostly Western countries.

As with most things, a countertrend, focused on homes that are smaller and simpler than the norm, emerged in recent decades. Sometimes referred to as the “tiny house movement,” the concept describes efforts by architects, activists and frugal home owners to craft beautiful, highly functional houses of 1,000 square feet or less (some as small as 80 square feet). It’s both a practical response to soaring housing costs and shrinking incomes, and an idealistic expression of good design and sensible resource use.

The most ardent advocates and early adopters of the concept were often looking to downsize and simplify their lives, create an affordable second home or find innovative ways to live outside the mainstream. Some small homes are on wheels and therefore resemble RVs, but they are built to last as long as traditional homes. Others represent clever architectural solutions to odd building lots or special design challenges. Aging baby-boomers see them as an efficient way to adapt to their changing needs. Most tiny houses are tailored for middle-class and wealthy families who made a conscious decision to “build better, not bigger.”

But natural disasters like Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and economic catastrophes like the Great Recession inspired many people to wonder if the movement might offer solutions to pressing housing crises, whether temporary or long-term. Cheaper to build and maintain, built mostly of ecologically friendly materials, requiring no building permits and taking up far less real estate than traditional houses, the appeal of “living small” is obvious to many people. Some imagine entire villages built of tiny homes as solutions to homelessness.

The movement itself remains small, however promising. Only about one percent of home buyers today go for houses of 1,000 square feet or less. That may be changing as more people become familiar with the ideas that animate the movement and as middle-class finances remain precarious.

Watch the video above and make up your own mind: Would you opt to live small if you could?

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