The Economy’s report card from 2015!

From The Wall Street Journal:

A surge in U.S. incomes last year delivered the first significant raise for the typical family after seven years of stagnant and declining earnings, the result of sustained job growth finally lifting a broad swath of American households.

The median household income—the level at which half are above and half are below—rose 5.2%, or $2,798, to $56,516, from a year earlier, after adjusting for inflation, the Census Bureau said Tuesday.

The increase was the largest annual gain recorded since the yearly survey of incomes began in 1967, though it didn’t fully close the gap left by last decade’s recessions. Median household incomes stood 1.6% shy of the 2007 level, before the last recession took its toll, and 2.4% below the all-time high reached in 1999.

The figures show how several years of robust employment growth, including 2.4 million people who gained full-time work last year, helped regain ground lost after an especially wrenching downturn, particularly for lower-income households. Longer hours, higher wages and lower inflation also have contributed to the improvement.

One question now is whether a sustained upturn is under way, or whether these gains are likely to peter out as the economy nears full employment, especially given a continuing slide in measured worker productivity.

“It has been a long slog from the depths of the Great Recession, but things are finally starting to improve for many American households,” said Chris Christopher Jr., an economist at IHS Global Insight, a research firm.

At the current pace, median household incomes could surpass their 2007 level next year, according to forecasts by IHS, concluding a lost decade for workers.

The official poverty rate in 2015 was 13.5%, down from 14.8% in 2014, the Census report said. That was still slightly higher than in 2008 and up from 11.3% in 2000. More than 43.1 million Americans were living in poverty last year. The poverty level was $24,257 for a family of four.

Meanwhile, the report showed fewer people lacked health insurance in 2015 than the previous year, largely because of expanded access through the Obama administration’s Affordable Care Act. The Census Bureau found 29 million people, or 9.1% of Americans, lacked health insurance in 2015. That is down from 33 million people, or 10.4% of the population, in 2014. The uninsured rate has dropped significantly since 2008, when millions more Americans lacked coverage.

Democrats celebrated the report during a campaign season that has been marked by deep economic unease among voters in both parties.

Advertisements

Seven ways to make your home smell wonderful!

1. Make a stove simmer.

“I learned this from my crafty and cleaning obsessed mother,” says interior designer Rhobin DelaCruz. “Simmer water in a small saucepan and add citrus slices and herbs, like lavender or mint.” The heat permeates the sweet scent throughout your house — an easy trick that is as lovely for a party as it is for any ol’ Tuesday.

2. Clean your garbage disposal.

Notice a lingering stink? Might want to check the sink. “First try spritzing a dollop of lemon-scented dish soap down into the disposal, run the water, then turn it on,” says interior designer Keita Turner. You can also run lemon or lime rinds through the disposal, followed by lots of water. If the smell persists, pour in a 1/2 cup of baking soda while running warm water.

3. Place candles strategically.

Candles are an obvious way to make your home smell sweet, but some clever placement can increase their efficiency. “Anchor a few candles where you would least expect them to be — but don’t light them,” says interior designer Dee Murphy. “Try the linen closet, or anywhere fabrics might live and be able to absorb the scent. Not only do you get a nice surprise every time you open the door, but your linens will carry the aroma with them wherever you use them.” Unstopables candles have a long-lasting scent and come in cool, modern designs.

4. Bring the outside in.

“Indoor plants clean the air while beautifying your home,” says Turner. And many offer pleasant fragrances, too. Turner suggests geraniums, Arabian jasmine, eucalyptus, gardenias, corsage orchids, and Cuban oregano.

5. Soup up your air vents.

“Clip a car deodorizer (like one from Febreze or Glade) to a vent’s metal slats,” says DelaCruz. “As the air blows through, the scent will waft throughout the room.”

6. Turn on the oven.

Nothing beats the aroma of warm baked goods. “When I know I am having guests over, I will purposely have a baked good on the agenda,” says Murphy. “Something simple like cinnamon rolls or a banana bread fills the house with good ol’ fashioned yumminess.”

7. Use dryer sheets outside the laundry room.

“I like to place a few sheets in my family’s closets and in our dressers. Our clothes always come out smelling fresh,” says Dela Cruz.

Remodeling your kitchen? The case for “factory”cabinets!

The big guys may not offer the customization you get from a local craftsman, but factory-made-to-order cabinets have the following benefits:

1. Warranties of up to 25 years on cabinets, accessories, workmanship, and internal hardware.

2. Controlled environment that yields more stable wood, which reduces warping and splitting later.

3. Computerized cutting tools that offer more precise joinery than anything done by hand.

4. Baked-on finishes that are more durable than local guys’ air-dried ones. Dust-free finishing rooms also provide a smooth-as-glass surface.

Thirteen tricks that take your kitchen island to the next level!

  1. Seating: A recessed area for stools is a must-have.
  2. Cooking vs. Cleanup: If kitchen size requires one activity to happen at the island, cooking wins. My clients want the sink below a window and the dishwasher near some cupboards. And they want to be facing guests while cooking, not while wrestling dirty dishes.
  3. A good view: Guests want to see what’s going on in the kitchen. Cooks want to see what’s going on around the TV or out on the patio. Pulling a kitchen wall down can make room for an island that opens to an adjoining room.
  4. Extra cabinet storage and counter space: Duh!
  5. Countertop all at one level: Between food prep, homework, and hors d’oeuvres, a generous, continuous workspace rules the day.
  6. Beauty: Folks see the island as a place to show off their style, be it carved furniture legs or modern “waterfall” ends.
  7. Contrast: The cabinetry might be a different wood species or paint color than the rest of the kitchen. And a contrasting counter might provide some visual pop.
  8. Good, fun lighting: This is often the spot that gets the “feature” pendants or track lighting hanging from the ceiling.
  9. Extra prep sink and room for a kitchen helper.
  10. Microwave drawer: Though expensive, this appliance can be a good alternative when kitchen wall space is devoted to cabinets and main appliances.
  11. Below-counter refrigerator for wine and beverages: This can take some of the load off the main fridge and bolster the island’s role as an entertainment hub.
  12. End shelves for display, cookbooks etc.
  13. Roll-out shelf below the counter for a heavy mixer: This is one of the few places, other than at sinks, where I use cabinet doors. The goal here is a short lift of the mixer onto the counter directly above.