Wednesday, February 10, 2021

Increasing the federal minimum wage to $15/hour by 2025 would lift 900,000 Americans out of poverty, but could also result in 1.4 million lost jobs

According to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO), they found that 17 million U.S. workers would see a pay increase and that the federal budget deficit would jump by $54B from 2021 to 2031. A $15/hour minimum wage has divided the Democratic Party, and President Joe Biden said the proposal is unlikely to be included in the upcoming relief package. The federal minimum wage has been $7.25/hour since 2009. The estimated $1.9T COVID-19 relief package is likely to contain individual stimulus payments of $1,400, though the income level above which those payments will decrease and be cut off is still being negotiated. (Proposals aim to decrease the payments above annual income levels of either $50,000 or $75,000.) (The Washington Post)


Suicide rates have not increased as anticipated during the pandemic, at least so far, according to some preliminary studies

Data from the Canadian provinces Alberta, British Columbia, and Saskatchewan, actually show a decrease in the suicide rate from previous years. Another study found no significant difference between suicide rates in 2020 and 2019 in Australia, and a University of Manchester study found no post-lockdown uptick in suicides in the U.K. Although researchers are saying that mental health groups should remain cautious, as suicide rates could increase in the future amid the continuing trials of a pandemic that has yet to recede. It’s also worth noting that figures vary by geography. The suicide rate in Japan increased in 2020 after an initial decline early in the pandemic. (CBC)


Twitter is building a paid subscription product as an alternative to relying on paid advertising

There are scant details about the plan yet, though options being considered include a paid subscription to access Tweetdeck, a third-party app Twitter acquired in 2011, and other upgraded features like an “undo send” button. Twitter is experiencing “pressure from activist investors” to add a paid component, as Twitter’s digital ad revenue has grown at a slower rate than that of competitors Facebook and Snap. Twitter is also reportedly considering a “tipping” function, where users could pay for exclusive content from their favorite accounts. Twitter would take a cut of each “tip.” (Bloomberg)


Tesla bets big on Bitcoin

The Bitcoin roller coaster is escalating again after Tesla announced it invested $1.5 billion in the cryptocurrency and plans to start accepting it as payments for its products. Bitcoin’s price surged to a new all-time record, soaring as high as $44.795.50 after the “vote of confidence from the electric-car market leader”. Tesla is perhaps the most prominent company to throw its weight behind Bitcoin, with its hefty investment boosting the “legitimacy” of electronic currencies despite ongoing skepticism. (United States Securities Exchange Commission)


COVID-19 reconfigures rental market

A historic slide in big-city rents has been accompanied by increases in less well-known metropolitan areas. As the pandemic allows people to work from home, they have moved to cheaper areas, so much that rents in those places are now climbing, data from RealPage show. Sacramento and the Los Angeles suburb of Riverside are seeing increases of 8% from a year ago, while rents have jumped 6% in Memphis and 5% in Phoenix, Detroit and Cleveland. Rents have fallen 21.5% in San Francisco from a year ago, 17.8% in San Jose, California, and 15.5% in New York. Some 5 million, or 5%, of U.S. renters and mortgage holders didn’t make their payments in December amid business shutdowns due to COVID-19. (Bloomberg)


Reddit’s value shoots up

Reddit has doubled its valuation in a latest round of funding to $6 billion. This follows the millions of new users joining the social media platform in the wake of its role in the GameStop trading frenzy. Reddit was last valued a year ago at $3 billion and plans to invest in video, advertising and consumer products, as well as expanding its international presence, with the new funding, according to CEO Steve Huffman. It’s also aiming to double its head count to approximately 1,400 employees. (The Wall Street Journal)


Hacker tries to poison water supply of Florida city

A computer hacker gained access to the water system of a city in Florida and tried to pump in a “dangerous” amount of a chemical, officials say. The hacker briefly increased the amount of sodium hydroxide (lye) in Oldsmar. Florida’s water treatment system, but a worker spotted it and reversed the action. Lye is used in small amounts to control acidity but a large amount could have caused major problems in the water. A computer controlling Oldsmar’s water treatment system was remotely accessed before a plant operator saw an attempt to access the system, but assumed it was his supervisor. Another attempt was made and this time the hacker accessed the treatment software and increased the sodium hydroxide content from 100 parts per million to 11,100 ppm. The operator immediately reduced the level to normal. The Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office is investigating, along with the FBI and the Secret Service. Nobody has been arrested, though investigators have some leads. They do not know why Oldsmar was targeted, but other area municipalities have been alerted to the attack and encouraged to inspect the safeguards to their water treatment systems and other infrastructure. (Tampa Bay Times)


Just six feet wide, ‘London’s skinniest house’ is for sale for $1.3 million’

A house billed as “possibly the skinniest house in London” is up for sale for £950,000 ($1.3 million). Just six feet wide and covering 1,034 square feet, the five-story property was once a hat shop, according to real estate agent marketing it. The two-bedroom house in Shepherd’s Bush, west London, was originally converted by fashion photographer Juergen Teller and features an original Art Deco bath tub and an Aga cooker. The basement level has a kitchen, a dining room and double-height glass doors leading to a patio garden, while the first floor features a reception room. Head up the spiral staircase to the second floor, where you will find a study, a bedroom and a roof terrace. The third floor is home to a bathroom, a dressing room and a shower room. At the very top of the house is the main bedroom. “The interior design has the bespoke approach of a luxury yacht, making the most of small spaces” . The skinny house may be something of an oddity in London, but extraordinarily narrow houses have long been a fixture in countries where land is taxed by width, such as Vietnam and the Netherlands, and Japan has established itself as a pioneer in the field. (CNN)


Family of Robinhood user who died by suicide sues company

The family of a 20-year-old user of the stock trading app Robinhood sued the company Monday, alleging that its “aggressive tactics” and targeting of young, inexperienced investors led to the user’s death by suicide last year. In a 30-page complaint filed in California’s Santa Clara County Superior Court, the family cited his last known written words, “How was a 20-year-old with no income able to get assigned almost $1 million worth of leverage?”  and said the Silicon Valley-based company lures users into taking big risks with the promise of big profits. Family say he “was a senior in high school when he opened an account with Robinhood and had little or no income, Robinhood determined he was qualified enough to enter into the world of trading sophisticated financial options,” the document says. The next year, while he was a freshman at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln, he began trading options through the app. In June 2020, he was notified by the company that his account reflected a negative balance of $730,000, the complaint says. An email from the company cited in the documents say he was required to deposit roughly $178,000 a week later. The complaint says that the young man didn’t actually owe the money, because his losses would have been covered by options held in his account, but he believed his family would get stuck with his bill, the complaint says, and Robinhood didn’t respond to his “increasingly desperate pleas for help”. He died on June 12. The suit, which alleges wrongful death, unfair business practices and negligent infliction of emotional distress, does not specify damages. In a statement, a Robinhood spokeswoman said the company was a “devastated” by the man’s death and said it had made a series of improvements to the app since June, including allowing users to exercise contracts and offering additional guidance and education. The company also added live support for some customers. (NBC News)


Facebook has banned posts promoting vaccine misinformation

It has been trying to silence scientific misinformation during the pandemic by not promoting posts that spread conspiracy theories and by removing some false claims. The new guidelines announced are designed to further reduce the spread of vaccine misinformation in the network. These included claims that masks are ineffective, that 5G telecommunication towers cause coronavirus, and that vaccines contain microchips. The new ban targets other falsehoods, such as the claim that coronavirus is synthetic or that vaccines cause autism. Some Facebook groups have been linked to the spread of vaccine misinformation. Under the new guidelines, which also apply to Instagram, groups that repeatedly violate the ban will be shut down. (Facebook)


American farmers are preparing for a boom year amid strong demand from China, which has increased purchases of U.S. corn and soy

Prices of new-crop soybeans are up 25% compared to a year ago, and new-crop corn prices have increased by 15%. Last year, China’s imports of U.S. soybeans increased by 77%, and the country made record purchases of U.S. corn. Demand is strong from governments that have sought to increase their stockpiles of grains and beans during the pandemic. U.S. farmers will plant 184.324 million acres (74.6 million hectares) of corn and soybeans this year, a new record, according to a forecast by Analytics firm IHS Markit Agribusiness. Farmers have also increased wheat acreage in order to profit from strong prices for the staple grain. Companies selling agricultural machinery, seeds, and fertilizers forecast a revenue increase. Deere & Co. expects a 5% to 10% increase in sales of agricultural equipment in the U.S. and Canada this year. (Reuters)


University of Copenhagen researchers developed an AI tool that they claim can predict (at up to 90% accuracy) whether an uninfected person will die from COVID-19

They used AI software to determine the highest risk factors for death, which include higher BMI, older age, and being male. The researchers trained the AI program with health data from nearly 4,000 COVID-19 patients from Denmark. In order, they found the following risk factors were associated with higher death rates: BMI, age, high blood pressure, being male, neurological diseases, COPD, asthma, diabetes, and heart disease. In addition to identifying the highest risk factors, the AI tool can reportedly predict, at up to 80% accuracy, whether an infected patient will require a respirator once they’re in the hospital. The Lead author said the results could help prioritize vaccine distribution. Researchers are also working to predict hospitals’ need for respirators five days ahead of time, he said, by providing the computer with regional health data on positive patients. (IFLS Science)


Daily coffee may help lower heart failure risk, study suggests

In an analysis of data from three large studies on the topic, researchers found that overall, those who reported drinking one or more cups of caffeinated coffee a day had “an associated decreased long-term heart failure risk,” they said. For the report, researchers used machine learning to examine data from a large study from the Framingham Heart Study, referencing this data against two other studies, the Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities Study and the Cardiovascular Health Study, according to a news release on the findings. “Each study included at least 10 years of follow-up, and, collectively, the studies provided information on more than 21,000 U.S. adult participants,” researchers said. When analyzing the Framingham Heart and the Cardiovascular Health studies, researchers noted that when compared to non-coffee drinkers, the risk of heart failure decreased by 5% to 12% for each cup they drank each day. As for the Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities Study, researchers noted that those who drank at least two cups of java per day had a 30% lower risk of heart failure, while the risk of heart failure remained the same for those who drank only one cup or drank no cups of coffee per day. As for decaffeinated coffee, researchers noted that this beverage did not have the same benefits as caffeinated coffee, with one study suggesting that decaffeinated coffee has an opposite effect, possibly increasing the risk of heart failure. However, there is not yet enough clear evidence to recommend increasing coffee consumption to decrease [the] risk of heart disease with the same strength and certainty as stopping smoking, losing weight, or exercising. The researchers also cautioned that the findings only focused on black coffee. (EurekAlert)


Wednesday Is Blessed With:

  • All The News That’s Fit To Print Day
  • Cream Cheese Brownie Day
  • Home Warranty Day
  • Plimsoll Day
  • Umbrella Day
  • World Pulses Day

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