The brighter side of a bad economy (5×8 – 10/22/10)

Does a bad economy keep more kids alive, learning landlording, the face of the construction sector, verdict reached in Juan Williams case, and mysteries of the back seat.


1) DOES A BAD ECONOMY KEEP MORE TEENS ALIVE?

There’s nothing quite like starting your Friday reading a report on how kids die, but the weekly morbidity report — at least you don’t go to work every Monday morning with the task of writing a morbidity report by Friday — shows that maybe teen drivers are better than we give them credit for. Maybe. It says 16- and 17-year-olds are involved in fewer fatal accidents than previous years. The quick conclusion is maybe those anti-texting laws really do work, but the rate has actually been going down for years, the report says.

The report guesses that the comparatively good news is related to the bad economy. It says teens might be delaying getting their drivers licenses and/or they might be driving fewer miles because they’re less likely to be able to afford rising gasoline prices.

In Minnesota, the number of fatal accidents with teen drivers in ’07 and ’08 is half of what it was in previous years. Interesting takeaway: The rates in South Dakota and North Dakota are much higher than Minnesota.

2) LEARNING LANDLORDING

Who hasn’t had this thought at one time or another? “I’ll buy a small apartment house and pay my mortgage with the rents.” MPR’s Madeleine Baran has the latest incarnation of landlord dreams: People are renting out homes they don’t want to sell at low value. The problem is there are a lot of things people don’t know about being landlords and the city of Minneapolis is tracking them down. A couple she profiled also provided a reality from the other side: what it’s like to be a renter:

Vargo also consulted with friends who own rental properties. He said the advice he received from one friend was surprising.

“She said, at wine group, ‘You don’t want to rent to poor people,’” Vargo said, adding that the woman encouraged him to increase the rent “to get a better quality tenant.”

“We were aghast,” he said. “That just sounded harsh.”

The couple had planned to rent the two-bedroom home for $700 a month, but after consulting with their real estate broker, increased the rent to $950. Vargo said he’s optimistic that they’ll be able to find a renter as soon as the renovations are completed.

3) THE HUMAN FACE OF THE CONSTRUCTION SECTOR

The unemployment rate in Minnesota was released yesterday. It’s still 7 percent. The “construction sector,” we’re told is still in pretty bad shape. Two days ago I posted about a Fed analysis of the upper Midwest showing things improving with the exception of the construction sector. What is the construction sector?

It’s Larry Goodwin, in Itasca County.

Meanwhile, a pretty large group of kids are finding out what it’s like to be down-and-out. They slept in cardboard boxes last night at the State Fairgrounds, though they had it a lot better than most homeless people.

4) VERDICT REACHED IN JUAN WILLIAMS CASE

NPR ombudsman Alicia Shepard has just posted her column reacting to the firing of Juan Williams. Her verdict: A good decision badly handled.

I’m not privy to the why this announcement was so hastily made. NPR could have waited until his contract ran out, or possibly suspended him pending a review. Either way, a more deliberative approach might have enabled NPR to avoid what has turned into a public relations nightmare.

An analyst analyzes that conclusion:

5) MYSTERIES OF THE BACK SEAT

How do you know it’s time to clean out the back seat of the car? When you reach back there and find a dead body.

Bonus: A woman in China is going to marry her long-time lover: herself.

TODAY’S QUESTION

General Motors and Ford are profitable again, and sales of American cars are up 11 percent from last year. Would you be more willing these days to buy an American car?

WHAT WE’RE DOING

Midmorning (9-11 a.m.) – First hour: NPR fired Juan Williams on Wednesday night for remarks made on TV. CNN’s Rick Sanchez also lost his job last month for comments he also made on talk radio. Were the firings justified, and are mainstream journalists bending the rules to be more controversial in other media?

Second hour: This week the National Football League imposed huge fines and threatened suspension for players who make dangerous helmet to helmet hits. Midmorning explores their concerns about concussion particularly among young athletes who take longer to heal and may aspire to play in the NFL.

Midday (11 a.m. – 1 p.m.) – First hour: Vice President Walter Mondale in studio to talk about his book, “The Good Fight.”

Second hour: NPR’s Michele Norris, speaking in the UBS Forum with MPR’s Tom Crann about her new book, “The Grace of Silence.”

Science Friday (1-3 p.m.) – First hour: A conversation with inventors

Erno Rubik and Dean Kamen.

Second hour: The toxic legacy of uranium mining on Navajo lands and what the government’s doing today to clean up the mess.

All Things Considered (3-6:30 p.m.) - The Legislative Auditor has evaluated Minnesota’s Renewable Energy Development Fund. This is the money Xcel Energy is required to spend — nearly $20 million a year — in exchange for storing nuclear waste at Monticello and Prairie Island. The report will detail how effective the funding has been in meeting the state’s renewable energy boals. MPR’s Stephanie Hemphill will have a look.

Ambar Espinoza has the story of a quilt shop in Avon that turns into a music venue at night.