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How Much Does It Really Cost to Raise A Kid?

Includes infographic, interactive chart and video

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It turns out that your little bundle of joy is going to cost you a big bundle of cash.

That’s according to a recently released U.S. Department of Agriculture report calculating the average cost of raising a child born in 2012. Accounting for food, shelter, schooling and other basic necessities, the report estimates that from birth to age 18, a kid will rack up a total bill of about $241,080, or just shy of $13,400 per year. When adjusted for inflation, that total translates to more like $302,000, or about $16,800 per year. And no, that does not include college. Continue reading

Who Made Your T-Shirt? The Hidden Cost of Cheap Fashion

Includes video/audio clips and infographics

(Photo by Art Cummings/Flickr)

 

Everyone likes a good deal.

And for that reason, most of us have flocked to clothing stores like H&M and Old Navy for the unbelievably cheap and expansive selection they offer.

T-shirts for five bucks; jeans and dresses for under $20. It’s almost like you can’t afford to not buy it.

Clothing is cheaper now than it’s ever been: today average Americans spend less than four percent of their total income on their wardrobes, about half what was spent 50 years ago, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

It’s almost cheaper today to buy a whole new wardrobe than to pay to wash your old one (a bit of an exaggeration, yes, but really not all that far off).

But you know the saying that there’s no such thing as a free lunch? Same thing goes with your $5 t-shirt – it comes with some steep hidden costs. There’s no possible way retailers like H&M could be making billions in profits selling clothing at such low prices without there being some catch.

So what are we, the consumers, not seeing?

Continue reading

How Does the Government Spend Your Tax Dollars?

Includes tax visualizations
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Getty Images

Benjamin Franklin once famously wrote: “In this world, nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.”

Well, the deadline for the latter inevitability (and hopefully not the former) is just around the corner.

For many Americans, mid-April means last minute scrambling and groaning, a last ditch effort to get taxes filed by the April 15 deadline.

So what happens to all that hard-earned cash of yours?

The federal budget – on which the government operates – consists mainly of revenue from income taxes and payroll taxes. In an effort to demystify what the government actually does with that cash, Google and Eyebeam last year put out a call to graphic designers and developers to help visualize how our federal income tax dollars are spent. The Data Viz Challenge, as it was called, drew some very cool entries, including the following interactives (click on each to explore the multimedia versions).

 

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Where Did All My Tax Dollars Go?
Designed by Anil Kandangath, this won first place in the contest. It allows users to enter their income and view a clear breakdown of what services that money went towards.

 

 

Every Day Is Tax Dayclock
Designed by Fred Chasen, this project took second place in the contest. It allows viewers to explore how many hours they actually spend working directly for the government over the course of a year, and what programs that cash funds.

 

 

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Federal Income Tax Receipt
Although not actually an entry in the contest, this is a good straightforward visualization produced by the National Priorities Project that spits out a simple itemized receipt of your tax breakdown based on income.

Making Sense of Debt, Deficits and Other Dull Mysteries of the Universe

There’s been a lot of news recently about the government’s ongoing battle over the deficit and the debt ceiling.

But what does it all really mean?

If you happened to be snoozing through most of your 12th grade economics class, here’s a quick refresher:

The deficit is the gap between what the government spends and what it actually makes in revenue (through taxes).

So, basically, to put it into first-grade math terms: (D)eficit  = (S)pending – (R)evenue 
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Is It Time To Raise The Federal Minimum Wage?

Includes interactive maps, video, audio
Source: NPR

Source: NPR

 

Much of President Obama’s State of the Union address last Tuesday centered on the theme of boosting America’s dwindling middle class.

“It’s our generation’s task,” he implored, “to reignite the true engine of America’s economic growth — a rising, thriving middle class.”

Among the more tangible policies mentioned that evening to further that objective,  the president proposed raising the federal minimum wage – from $7.25 per hour to $9 by the end of 2015 –  and provide for annual cost of living adjustments. (This would apply to most hourly jobs, with some exceptions, including some tip-based work.)

“Let’s declare that in the wealthiest nation on earth, no one who works full time should have to live in poverty,” he said. “Working folks shouldn’t have to wait year after year for the minimum wage to go up, while CEO pay has never been higher. So here’s an idea that Gov. Romney and I actually agreed on last year: Let’s tie the minimum wage to the cost of living, so that it finally becomes a wage you can live on.” Continue reading

What Prop. 30 Means For Your Taxes

Includes explainer video

Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

Wait … Californians actually voted to tax increase their own taxes?

Get outta here!

Like most Americans, California residents don’t look too kindly on the notion of raising taxes. In fact, voters have rejected statewide tax measures the last seven times they’ve been on the ballot!

So in many ways, it’s pretty miraculous that on Tuesday 54 percent of California’s electorate approved Proposition 30, which temporarily increases sales tax for everyone by a quarter cent and raises income taxes for those making over $250,000. The measure, which Governor Jerry Brown crafted and threw himself behind, is expected to raise about $6 billion a year and prevent massive cuts to the state’s already beleaguered public education system.

Here’s how it’ll affect you:

Brown staked much of his political reputation on winning what became a bitter, hard-fought, and incredibly pricey fight; both sides waged a relentless ad war, collectively spending more than $120 million.

“I know a lot of people had some doubts and some questions: Can you really go to the people and ask them to vote for a tax?” Brown told supporters at the victory party late Tuesday night. “Well here we are. We have a vote of the people – I think the only place in America where a state actually said, let’s raise our taxes for our kids, our schools, for our California dream.”

And he was right. In a state where voters haven’t approved a tax hike in almost three decades, the very real threat of huge cuts to education appears to have actually resonated with voters.

The consensus seemed to be: “Yes, taxes suck, but some things are just too important to lose.”

The temporary nature of the tax, also, likely made the measure more palatable to voters.

Interestingly, it was younger voters who turned out in force on Tuesday in support of the measure. Voters ages 18-29 – who Brown and his campaign targeted – made up almost 30 percent of the electorate and were critical in pushing the measure through.

How Does California’s Tax System Work?

Includes our first original animation on California's tax system!

Taxes. Not too many folks like paying ‘em, and even fewer understand what they’re actually paying for. In November, California voters will decide on two major competing tax measures – Proposition 30 and 38. The initiatives are both intended to shield public schools from devastating budget cuts, although they each propose to do so in pretty different ways. Deciding which path makes the most sense requires first understanding the basics of California’s tax system. Pretty enticing, huh? Well, before we lose your attention to the latest gripping cat flick on YouTube, at least take a quick look at this animation produced by freelancer Josh Kurz. It’s a surprisingly digestible primer on a topic that’s admittedly pretty freakin’ dry … but one that’s also got some pretty huge real life consequences for almost all of us.
(Scroll down to see another KQED video and detailed summaries on both propositions)

Continue reading

Who’s Paying for the Propositions? Follow the Money!

Includes interactive funding chart

Individuals and organizations are spending millions in the 2012 statewide election to get various California statewide propositions passed or defeated. Anyone who’s watched even a smidgen of TV in the last two months can attest to the saturation of proposition-related commercials out there. Often times, the names, affiliations, and locations (they’re often out-of-state) of the funders are intentionally vague – organizations like Americans for Responsible Leadership (who, by the way, has donated $11 million to Prop 32), making it nearly impossible to tell what a funder’s political affiliation or specific agenda might be. So, a little sleuthing can go a long way to find out who’s behind which measure. Bottom line: you always have to follow the money! And the Voter’s Edge project at MapLight – a nonpartisan, nonprofit research firm – makes it pretty easy to track the cash flow. Check out their app:

Leaders of the (super) PAC: This Election, Who Are the Heavy Hitters?

Includes interactive maps and charts

Source: Center for Responsive Politics (www.opensecrets.org)

The 2012 presidential and congressional elections will cost roughly $5.8 billion, making it the most expensive in U.S. history. That’s according to estimates by the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics, which predicts about a 7 percent increase from 2008’s $5.4 billion price tag. The presidential race, alone, CRP estimates, will cost about $2.5 billion.

$5.8 billion! That’s nearly twice the state of Wyoming’s entire 2012 budget!

The biggest difference in this year’s election is the sharp rise in contributions – and influence – from outside groups, namely Super PACs. Remember that the current races – both presidential and congressional – are the first in which the new, post-Citizens United rules will be in effect. While outside spending groups did exist in previous presidential election cycles, significant legal developments, including the 2010 U.S. Supreme Court decision – which determined that political spending is a form of protected speech and lifted spending limitations for corporations and unions – have led to a rapid rise in super PACs and other outside spending groups that don’t have to disclose their donors. And that means a deluge of negative campaign ads paid for by organization’s you’ve probably never heard of. Continue reading