New Pew Study Reports Student Debt Repayments Needs to Be Easier

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Eighty percent of Americans want the federal government to make it easier to repay student loans.  

This statistic is from a new study from the Pew Charitable Trusts. It conducted a telephone poll this past August, interviewing more than 1,000 people about their opinions on student loans.

It’s important to note, the study only referred to federal student loans and not any additional personal loan or line of credit students may take out.

Many students searching out the answer to what is a personal line of credit know they may have to supplement student loans when their financing falls short. But Pew turns its spotlight away from these personal products to shine a light on the student debt crisis.

Now a record $1.6 trillion, the debt crises has gotten its fair share of ink at the nation’s biggest online news outlets — from the New York Times and the Washington Post to CBS News and CNN. It even hogs much of talking points in the 2020 Democratic debates unfolding this fall. 

And now, thanks to Pew, the average American can share their opinion, too. As it turns out, the country has a complicated relationship with student debt.

Repaying Loans is a Challenge

Although it’s possible to strike debt clean from your record, most people recognize it’s not the easiest thing to do. 

A whopping 89 percent of respondents said they agree borrowers have a hard time paying back their student loans. 

The average graduate owes roughly $30,000, which puts the average monthly payment of a standard repayment plan somewhere between $304 and $333

Picking away at debt in these sized installments means it will take you roughly 10 years to pay off what you owe. 

Of course, this $300 is on top of any personal line of credit payment, rent, and utilities you may have. 

A decade of balancing your books this way may be a hardship. And for some 7 million borrowers in default, it’s impossible. 

Student Loans Are a Drain on the Economy.

Pew reports 69 percent of respondents agree that borrowers who struggle to repay their debt have a greater impact on the economy. 

And they have good reason to believe this. 

More than 45 million people shoulder a collective $1.6 trillion debt load. This means nearly a little over 13 percent of the population share a significant financial burden. 

If they aren’t in default, they’re funneling a lot of each paycheck into their monthly repayments, along with other bills that keep their household running. 

Basic things like covering rent, a line of credit balance, and utilities become the priority

Less dire spending, like unnecessary yet fun services and products that help boost the economy, are put on the backburner. 

They’re also postponing major milestones that may have a greater impact on the economy later on. Unlike generations before them, millennials are waiting to start a family, putting off homeownership, and failing to save up for retirement. 

Federal Government Needs to Step Up

It may come as no surprise then that many of the those surveyed — or 58 percent — strongly agree the federal government needs to take action. They believe the government should make it easier to pay off student debt.

What Does Federal Action Look Like?

What the poll fails to make clear is how these survey participants expect the government to address this problem. 

Is it something like Bernie Sander’s plan to cancel all $1.6 trillion of debt by taxing the top 0.1 percent of Americans? 

Or is it something closer to Elizabeth Warren’s sliding scale of relief, which promises to forgive up to $50,000 of debt for those households earning less than $100,000?

Or perhaps, it involves much less progressive proposals, like Joe Biden’s bid for income-driven repayment plans or Julio Castro’s time-based forgiveness.

The answer to this question may have to wait until July 2020, when the Democratic Presidential Nominee takes the stage at the National Convention. 

And of course, let’s not forget the results of the November election, when the country chooses between another Trump government and a fresh start. 

While the Democrats debate canceling the debt, the GOP has moved in the other direction. During Trump’s presidency, his administration has loosened restrictions on loans, put sharp limits on repayment options, and ended loan subsidies and forgiveness programs. 

Next year proves a momentous year for the future of student loans and the economy. Time will tell how and if American concerns over the debt crisis will impact how they mark their ballots. 

However they vote, Pew proves that student loan debt and the repayment system weighs heavily on the minds of most Americans. If it does the same to yours, vote carefully. Find where the nearest polling station is to campus, and make sure you’re registered.

The Rise of Ghost Restaurants and Kitchens

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Ghost restaurants, sounding intriguing, is a new foodservice concept that has been trending in the US.  With the number of Americans who have chosen to order food by means of delivery services instead of dining in increasing rapidly to an extent that the current restaurants sometimes have trouble filling the demand, more and more family-operated restaurants are being re-modelled to benefit from this growing popularity of ordering out. Concurrently, more restaurants chains are turning to ghost kitchens, virtual kitchens, ghost restaurants or virtual restaurants in response to such highly-sought services. Restaurants failing under these never-seen-before categories are tailored to offer take-out only mostly without storefronts and dining areas. Customers often order dishes from these types of restaurants via food delivery applications offering a variety of foods by different restaurants and have the food delivered to their specified locations.

Typically, a virtual or ghost restaurant operates just like the traditional brick-and-mortar restaurant in the sense that foods are prepared once customers order them. A famous family-owned pizzeria in the US looks like a typical conventional restaurant with red chairs in the dining area and a black-and-white checkered floor. However, in the kitchen, the cooking crew prepares food for four later-established restaurants owned by the same business owner. These four restaurants do not have their own separate, physical spaces, and all the dishes that these restaurants offer are prepared in the same old kitchen and delivered via a third-party application while the pizzeria continues to serve their gourmet pizza to patrons that walk through the door. The owner set up the four restaurants, in a matter of weeks, earlier this year to make sure his business was ahead of this increasing trend. In addition to this operational remodeling by a family-owned business, a variety of major fast-food chains have also started to operate towards this growing trend on varying business models.  

Wendy’s has become the latest fast-food chain to bring up establishing their own ghost kitchens in the US by the end of this year in high food-delivery-demand areas without dining areas or storefronts as well as in areas in which the chain has yet to emerge due to high real-estate costs or other constraints. However, Wendy’s is not the only fast-food chain that is turning to setting up ghost kitchens to increase delivery sales by capitalizing on the increasing demand without having to fork out a large sum of money. 

Other major chains, such as the Halal Guys, Chick-fil-A and Sweetgreen have also started venturing into this trending market. However, instead of establishing their own ghost kitchens, they have partnered with a shared-ghost-kitchen provider, Kitchen United, to offer delivery from shared commercial kitchens. United Kitchen is a start-up that offers kitchen commissaries for restaurants that are planning to enter into the well-performing market by means of delivery or take-out only. This newly-established company has been backed by $50 million in funding from Google and other investors and currently has two locations in Chicago, Pasadena and California respectively. The company has formulated an expansion plan to set up 40 more shared commercial kitchens across the US. 

In addition to United Kitchen, Reef, which is a rebranded company that focuses on providing ghost kitchens, is operating on a different business model.  In lieu of only offering shared commercial kitchens like Kitchen United does to restaurants, Reef operates similar to a restaurant group, leasing ghost kitchens, in the form of trailers, to small restaurant owners while also offering cooks and workers on a fee basis to restaurateurs seeking for additional manpower. Reef places its shared commercial kitchens on the parking lots that the company owns. Currently, one of its parking areas is being occupied by three kitchen trailers leased to eleven different ghost restaurants. 

According to a food industry advisor, this online food ordering market is worth $26.8 billion, which is the fastest-growing source in relation to restaurant sales in the US. Digital orders are increasing approximately 20% each year despite only accounting for 5% of all restaurant orders. Setting up traditional restaurants generally involve high upfront investments and substantial overhead and operating costs. During their operation, these restaurants are also exposed to a higher level of competition. Approximately 26% of independent restaurants fail to survive in their first year. However, ghost restaurants or kitchens do not requirement substantial upfront investments and overhead costs, which in turn results in affordability for consumers. However, the only downside for consumers is that detailed reviews for ghost kitchen or restaurants are limited as most food delivery services only allow their users to rate restaurants with respect to their food quality by means of using a star-rating system. 

Taking into consideration these benefits and the growing demand for food delivery services, ghost restaurants and kitchens have become increasingly popular. Americans are getting more and more choices as the food delivery market undergoes rapid expansion, the extent of which is yet to be known. As the market evolves, these services are expected to become increasingly affordable and convenient for consumers. Given that most food delivery applications have yet to allow their users to upload reviews, consumers wanting to include wine as part of their food orders can check out the wine ratings by Sokolin before proceeding with the purchase.

Blurred Lines: When HIPAA, HITECH, FinReg and Medical Financing Collide

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In the Internet Age, the medical lending industry has changed greatly due to the proliferation of financial technology, which increased safety and security of both transactions and patient information. Companies are disrupting a multibillion-dollar industry by allowing patients to obtain funding for their care providers and treatments of choice, including cosmetic surgery financing, which is one of the top requests from prospective patients. They also work to educate patients on their rights and responsibilities under the law, and ensure patients have access to all the legal and financial information they need to make suitable decisions about their healthcare. 

However, the ever-changing nature of technology and the often-precarious regulatory landscape means patient-facing providers often occupy a treacherous middle ground between patient privacy, effective healthcare and oversight regulation. The lines are often confusing or contradictory, forcing these companies to think six moves ahead of current regulation to help ensure they stay current on the regulations impacting their niche market without sacrificing patient care. 

In 1996, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, or HIPAA, was created to meet the challenges of maintaining patients’ rights to privacy and confidentiality concerning their healthcare in the burgeoning Internet age. One of the key exemptions in HIPAA affected the financial sector in Section 1179, which reads:

To the extent that an entity is engaged in the activities of a financial institution, or is engaged in authorizing, processing, clearing, settling, billing, transferring or collecting payments for a financial institution, then the HIPAA statute and the accompanying rules do not apply.

In 2012, the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act, or HITECH, was passed, tightening restrictions and regulations for companies dealing partially or wholly in patient healthcare, as well as enhancing the obligation of these companies to ensure the protection of the individual consumer information generated by same to the maximum possible extent. Under HITECH, the exemptions in HIPAA for financial-side companies providing payment or funding to healthcare-side entities for individual patient treatments were tightened almost into nonexistence. This meant finance companies which had previously relied on the Section 1179 exemption no longer had that cushion between HIPAA requirements and their daily operations, and incurred the same obligations toward private medical information as healthcare providers, medical staff and support personnel.  

However, government officials and advisory panels have often noted technology is far outstripping the ability to regulate it. Legislation intended to safeguard consumers from the unknown consequences of updated technology is frequently obsolete before it’s ever deployed due to the rapid pace of innovation. Because regulation tends to lag years behind emerging tech, regulators find themselves in a binary position of either being forced to embrace reckless action which risks stifling competition and innovation without having adequate access to the information required to make informed policy decisions, or a paralytic scheme in which nothing is regulated to the detriment of the consumer. These issues are only magnified by conflicting or competing legislation which spans multiple disciplines, such as the healthcare credit industry.

The educational sector has produced a blizzard of white papers, policy analyses and speculatory pieces concerning this paradox between the rapid pace of innovation and the relative crawl at which regulation can consider new technology and privacy paradigms. Scholars in the fields of law, medicine, public policy and technology have all considered how their fields are intertwined and what may come next, and the inescapable consensus is that regardless of what it will be or what it will look like, policymakers will almost certainly not be ready.

Healthcare lending companies and brokerages live in the battleground between these disciplines. They also exist in a state of constant government and civilian watchdog scrutiny as they navigate a spaghetti bowl of regulations and statutes which contradict, negate and enhance each other, often in unexpected ways. As a result, they have adopted ongoing patient confidentiality and protection protocols which meet or exceed the existing regulatory requirements and often go far beyond them, in a bid to ensure they are and remain compliant with evolving regulation for years to come. For patients, this means they can shop with confidence, knowing whatever regulatory hurdles may come in the future, their information will be protected.

The importance of seeking the right talent for a job

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Companies understand that a great vision is useless without the necessary skills to achieve it

Employers, whether they like it or not, understand that the degree of success of their companies revolve around the quality of employees they have. Co-founder and former CEO of Apple Computers, Steve Jobs, once said, “The secret of my success is that we have gone to exceptional lengths to hire the best people in the world.”

In that sense, the job market is a candidate-driven one, which 90% of recruiters believe. However, over 50% of employers and candidates believe the current labor market is employer-driven. This is because according to statistics, one job ad receives, on average 250 applications. Employers believe they “still have the opportunity to pick from a pool of potential employees,” and are, therefore, in the driver’s seat. However, recruiters and hiring managers see that “Candidates are in higher demand. There are more open positions than qualified, interested and motivated candidates to fill them.”

In particular, sifting through hundreds of resumes, recruiters and hiring managers are despondent, unable to find suitable candidates with required qualifications to fill open positions. This factor as well as a frustratingly lengthy hiring process prevents netting in good candidates.

Even as recruiters and hiring managers receive hundreds of resumes, they are confounded by the negatives that make it difficult for them to consider the job-seekers as potentially viable candidates. For instance, according to the recruiting website CareerBuilder, 34% of hiring managers seek quantifiable results on a resume. According to a recent survey by a recruiting website, there are specific significant reasons for recruiters to dismiss applicants as unviable. 84% of them find as unacceptable,  impersonal applications, which do not mention the hiring manager’s name, while 57% believe a Thank You note after the interview is essential. 54% of hiring managers want to see customized resumes and 45% disapprove if there is no cover letter.

Above all, social media is having a significant impact on how hiring managers and recruiters view job applicants. In the U.S. alone, there are 30,000 job search websites. Even as job applicants are able to apply for any and every job they see online, company hiring managers are equally able to gauge online if the applicants are indeed suitable, and have the skills they say they do. Social media presence, therefore, has become increasingly important in the hiring process. Recent surveys show that  3 in 10 employers have someone dedicated to solely getting the scoop on applicants’ online persona. Surveys aimed at job applicants indicate that the applicants are aware recruiters and hiring managers look up their social media profiles, specifically on LinkedIn. As global organizational consulting firm, Korn Ferry found, about 40% of U.S. companies have outsourced most of the hiring process  in their organizations to Recruitment Process Outsourcers (RPOs) or outside recruiting companies, who, in turn, often use subcontractors, generally in India and the Philippines.

When companies try to find their own candidates without the help of recruiters, they find they are almost immediately overwhelmed. With only 35% of applicants being actually qualified for the jobs they apply to, one job advertisement may attract hundreds of applicants, many of them unsuitable. However, the volume of resumes makes it hard if not impossible for hiring managers to consider each application in detail. In fact, the average time spent by recruiters looking at a resume is 5 to 7 seconds. This is actually unfair to all because, with this cursory method of weeding out the unsuitable, the really worthwhile candidates may get weeded out as well.

This is where the importance of recruiters can be seen, for they are able to devote time for in-depth  reading and analysis of resumes, for that is their job.And so, they are able to zero in on essential skills through skills matrix templates.

Thus, it is critical to identify the candidates with the skills needed for the position without too much delay, for, companies can easily miss out on the best candidates by not giving the necessary time to skills each one brings. Furthermore, if the volume of resumes delay hiring managers in reaching out to qualified candidates, they may lose them altogether to competition.

Complicating the hiring process is the contemporary way of drawing talent to a company.  Human Resources Departments of organizations post-World War II, were heavily into analyzing jobs, and determining the tasks for those jobs, then conducting a job evaluation to determine how a particular job fitted into the company’s organizational chart, then determining remuneration for the position in relation to other jobs in the organization. When the job was posted and applicants applied, they sorted out applications through skills tests, reference tests and personality and  IQ tests. It is significant that most non-entry level positions in those earlier times, were filled by promoting from within, and training the employees accordingly.

However, in the current job market, most non-entry level positions are also filled from the outside, with the hired employees already possessing the necessary skills and experience to hit the road running. As census data shows, many people who accept new jobs today, are not even seeking one. Someone simply approaches them and lure them into a new position. Also, many employers today advertise positions they are not looking to fill, which probably don’t even exist. Through this strategy, they hope to find possible candidates for future needs, or to find candidates for hiring in a different context.

The focus is finding extraordinary talent. As American author and business management consultant put it astutely, “Great vision without great people is irrelevant.”

Ripe For Disruption By AI: The Fashion Industry

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Artificial intelligence. These two words – also often referred to by the acronym AI – have been ingrained into the vernacular of every 21st century businessperson, every millenial, every remotely technological person on planet earth today. AI technology has potential for application across a vast number of fields, including agriculture, healthcare, energy and mining, IT, manufacturing and intellectual property, but there is one particular area where we are only beginning to see the rumblings of disruption brought about by AI. The fashion world.

It currently sits as one of the world’s largest industries, representing around 4 percent of global gross domestic profit (GDP) and estimated to be worth about three trillion dollars in value as of 2018. Not only that, but fashion remains one of the past decade’s rare economic success stories, growing at roughly 5.5 percent annually, according to the McKinsey Global Fashion Index. The fashion industry would in fact be the world’s seventh-largest economy if ranked alongside individual countries’ GDP. The market value and the opportunities this presents are simply enormous. It’s no wonder then, that we are beginning to see signs that people are putting some serious thought into how artificial intelligence can pump new life into the industry. From enhancing design, aiding creativity, making the manufacturing process more efficient than ever, to helping with the retail side of things and enhancing customer support after purchase, we are certainly beginning to see the ripple effect of AI’s application in other industries as it begins to shape the future of fashion.

With respect to customer service, AI certainly has the power to redefine how fashion businesses engage and interact with their customers. Perhaps the most value AI offers business owners is the ability to gain rich customer insight through datasets, dynamic pricing and AI-led customer relationship management. Any business owner be it of a small, medium or large enterprise can benefit from the latter, in fact. Take an online boutique selling modest dresses for women, for example. Using AI technology, it could have chatbots interact with potential customers online to gather data and generate responses based on cues provided by the customer. Not only does this collect meaningful information about what customers want but at the same time it gives immediate answers to customers, ensuring a satisfactory buying experience for them. Tommy Hilfiger is just one example of a bigger brand name already doing this, with bots managing conversations with live people and tailoring response content to their interests.

But the online store isn’t the only place where the shopping experience can be revolutionised by AI: inside the physical store, AI-derived data can also inform layout choices and in-store experience. Using tools like automatic customer recognition, digital mirrors that allow customers to compare different colour and style combinations, and AI-enabled technology to improve inventory management, the in-store experience can become a whole lot less confusing and a lot more streamlined for everyone involved. Inventory management is perhaps a key area where AI has visible benefits for retail outlets. AI-enabled technology and programs can forecast anticipated trends, detect where items are running low in stock and automatically reorder those items, and ease the burden of the entire inventory process by automating everything. 

One non-retail brand playing with the idea of  AI-enabled digital mirrors is Facebook. It’s latest feature, Fashion++, uses a deep image-generation network to make customised suggestions for peoples’ outfits using algorithms that focus on small improvements to existing outfits. With suggestions including add a belt, tuck in shirt and pair with a black and gold bag, the feature has the power to put even the most unlikely fashionistas on the right track. 

Throughout the design and manufacturing process, AI technology can help retailers predict upcoming trends and future consumer preferences by analysing data floating around the internet and using algorithms to determine which looks or styles are getting the most hits. This particular application is a gamechanger for those in the fashion industry, with demand projections fuelled by AI able to reduce forecasting errors by up to 50 percent. Throughout manufacturing processes, AI technologies can improve the efficiency and quality of manufacturing, through detecting errors in finished textiles and generally automating the process wherever possible, allowing humans to focus on any higher value decision-making that needs doing. Following this, supply chain tracking and inventory management can also be revolutionised through AI, with AI already being used to manage and optimize supply chains, reduce shipping costs and minimise transit time. 

2019 has been deemed ‘the year of awakening’ for the fashion world by worldwide management consulting firm McKinsey & Company, which earlier this year released a statement saying “The ones that will succeed will have come to terms with the fact that in the new paradigm taking shape around them, some of the old rules simply don’t work”. Industry foresight shows that regardless of size and segment, players of the fashion world now need to be nimble, think digital-first, and achieve ever-faster speed to market. It looks as though now would be a very good time for fashion retailers to jump aboard the AI bandwagon, in that case…