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School’s Find National Test Scores Take A Plunge As A Result Of The Pandemic

Due to the lack of in classroom learning and having to switch to online teaching, most elementary schools are finding that because of the pandemic that math and reading scores have plummeted to its lowest level in over a decade.

loan

President Biden Announces New Student-Loan Forgiveness Plan To Help Millions

President Biden’s new student-loan plan will help relieve millions of Americans from debt. 

According to an article from The Wall Street Journal, the President’s new plan will eliminate up to $10,000 in federal-loan debt from those whose annual incomes are under $125,000 or for couples who earn less than $250,000 combined. 

“In keeping with my campaign promise, my Administration is announcing a plan to give working and middle class families breathing room as they prepare to resume federal student loan payments in January 2023,” President Biden tweeted.

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Some of the borrowers are also going to be eligible for total forgiveness up to $20,000 if they additionally received Pell Grants. These are a form of federal financial aid that would be awarded to students who live in low-income households.

The plan is expected to benefit the majority of the more than 43 million people in the U.S. who hold a total of $1.6 trillion in student-loan debt” 

President Biden also announced that he will be extending the pandemic-era student-loan pause payments and interests throughout the end of the year. The Trump administration first gave Americans the option to suspend their loans and soon after, Congress made it automatic. 

The current pause was set to end on Aug. 31, but with the President’s recent plan, it was the closest the administration has come to hitting the end of the freeze extension.

This pause has been instated since March 2020 and has been continuously extended since. 

The Federal Reserve Bank of New York believes that this continuous pause helped Americans save nearly $200 billion in payments. 

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People who are eligible for this new plan don’t need to take action right away in order to receive the debt relief. 

“It’s a very complicated process and it’s going to take months to effectuate,” said Scott Buchanan, director of Student Loan Servicing Alliance. “Don’t do anything until you see something happen to your account.” 

The new plan was in fact narrower than what he initially proposed when he was campaigning during the 2020 election. 

“He’ll get a lot of credit for following through on something that he was committed to,” said Celinda Lake, a Democratic pollster.

Many people who work in the public service were also welcomed to some relief when there were temporary changes made to the U.S. Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program. Due to the changes, it helped more than 113,000 people receive student debt relief and have a total of $6.8 billion in forgiveness. 

best places to live

The Best Places To Live In America This Year 

Real Estate company Niche has released their fifth annual report of the Best Places to Live in America, which includes a number of different categories including the most affordable places in the nation to live. 

“The pandemic triggered a new set of possibilities—suddenly, many individuals and families found themselves more mobile than ever before, and in the past two years they have continued to think hard about where they really want to live,” says Luke Skurman, CEO and founder of Niche.

Niche creates their reports using data from reliable sources such as the US Census and other government agencies, in addition to citizen reviews and reports. When it comes time to put there report together, they look at factors such as affordability, diversity, local housing economies, and other integral factors that buyers would look at when it comes time to buy a home. 

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For the second year in a row, Niche reported that The Woodlands is the top place in America to live. Ryan Bell, the principal strategist at Niche, discussed why it’s been able to top the list two years in a row. 

“When you look at all the factors we chose for our best cities ranking, The Woodlands is extremely well-rounded. It had high scores in each category, including weather, overall affordability and the quality of its public schools.”

Niche’s best cities rankings also incorporate real ratings from people who live there, so the residents’ love and appreciation for their home certainly helped The Woodlands hang on to the number one spot for two years running,” says Bell.

Gil Staley, CEO of The Woodlands Area Economic Development Project, also spoke to the perks that The Woodlands has to offer leading to its top ranking on the list. 

“Our county, as a whole, is one of the fastest growing counties in the nation and our community has turned into a regional center for jobs,” Bell explained, adding that the highly ranked school districts in the county also make the Woodlands a desirable place to live. 

Niche listed Fort Wayne, Indiana as the most affordable place to live in the US, a title which it also earned in 2018, 2019, and 2021. 

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“To take the number one spot, Fort Wayne had to have strong performance in several factors we take into account for the lowest cost of living rankings. In particular, housing and rental affordability in comparison to incomes in the area, are Fort Wayne’s strongest factors for affordability this year,” says Bell. 

Forbes Magazine reported on why citizens in Fort Wayne also believe it’s such an amazing place to live: “Fort Wayne is a lovely place to visit and live. I’ve lived here for six years now and still haven’t seen everything. It’s family friendly and just friendly in general. It’s a small city compared to most, but there’s much to do. It’s full of history and rivers.”

The Top 10 Best Places to live in America according to Niche are ranked as follows: 

  1. The Woodlands, Texas
  2. Cambridge, Massachusetts
  3. Naperville, Illinois
  4. Arlington, Virginia
  5. Overland Park, Kansas
  6. Ann Arbor, Michigan
  7. Columbia, Maryland
  8. Berkeley, California
  9. Plano, Texas
  10. Irvine, California

For the rest of the rankings from Niche, check out their full report here.

shark sign

Why Sharks Have Been Roaming Closer To The Shore This Summer 

Summer beachgoers have had to be extra cautious this summer as several reports of shark bite injuries and general sightings of ocean predators off the Northeast coast of the US have become prominent. 

According to Gavin Naylor, director of the Florida Program for Shark Research at the University of Florida, “globally, shark attacks are at similar levels to previous years, but there are signs that the Northeast coast of the US might be seeing an uptick.”

“We are right on trend for this time of year. I think globally, we usually get between 70 and 80 unprovoked bites by sharks around the world. But that’s a global phenomenon. And it’s distributed in a patchy way.” 

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“One year we might have two or three bites in Hawaii in rapid succession. Next year, it could be New Caledonia; it could be in Western Australia. And this year, it’s off the coast of Long Island,” Naylor stated. 

Last year there were 73 cases of unprovoked shark bites, according to the International Shark Attack database, within the past five years the average amount of unprovoked attacks has remained around 72. 

Naylor emphasized that the sharks that swimmers have been encountering this year, especially off the coasts of Long Island, are looking for food, not targeting humans. 

“Most have been identified as sand tiger sharks, which, while fearsome looking, aren’t considered aggressive. They have likely been venturing into coastal waters to prey on abundant shoals of bait fish.”

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 “These bait fish are in schools of hundreds of thousands – or millions, and when they get quite close to shore, the sharks follow them,” Naylor said.

“The sharks are swimming around trying to chase their dinner. The people are swimming around splashing with beach balls in their circle. … The surf zone gets quite murky because of all the energy and the sharks are all jingled up because they’re excited to see all this food – once in a while they make a mistake,” he explained. 

Off of Cape Cod there have been several great white shark sightings this summer, prompting the closure of at least one major beach. During the summer and fall white sharks are known to hunt their preferred prey of seals, which tend to be towards the shore. 

Wildlife research performed a study last year which showed great whites spend almost half of their time in the summer/fall season in waters with depths of 15 feet or less. 

 “Until now we didn’t know just how much time they spent in shallow water close to shore,” said lead author Megan Winton, a research scientist at the Atlantic White Shark Conservancy. 

Naylor concluded by offering swimmers advice when it comes to protecting yourself from a potential attack: “Don’t swim or surf on your own, and don’t swim near big shoals of fish or if you spot seals nearby. Don’t wear jewelry in the water that a shark could confuse for the shimmer of fish scales. If you do spot a shark, back out of the water slowly. Don’t panic and splash around.”

sale

Real Estate Experts Say US Housing Market Is On Its Way To Recovery

Real estate industry economists are stating that the nation’s housing market is on a correction course with housing prices slowly moderating, and even declining, in some areas.

pool

US Pools Closing Amid Nationwide Lifeguard Shortage 

According to reports, a nationwide shortage of lifeguards in the US is forcing local pools to close for the summer. 

Major cities throughout New York, Chicago, New Orleans, and many others are announcing reduced hours of operations for public pools, or just shutting down entirely due to the shortage of lifeguards. 

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Experts are estimating that a third of the pools in the US will be affected by overall staff shortages. The American Lifeguard Association estimated that by September half of the pools in the US will be impacted by these shortages. 

“The shortage is real, it’s a crisis.” said Bernard Fisher, the director of health and safety at the American Lifeguard Association. 

According to the New Orleans Advocate, city officials in New Orleans said that the municipal government would only open five of its 15 pools, and may be able to open up three more if the city can recruit more lifeguards. 

Chicago typically opens up their pools to the public on June 24th, but missed the deadline this year due to a lack of lifeguards and staff overall. City officials are reassigning lifeguards from local beaches to hopefully open up more pools as the summer progresses. 

New York currently has half the number of available lifeguards when compared to pre-pandemic levels. The state announced last week that they would be increasing the starting pay for lifeguards and developing a training program to staff more of the city’s pools. 

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Experts have stated that they’ve feared a lifeguard shortage for years prior to this summer, but the Covid-19 pandemic and an unstable labor market has made those fears a difficult reality. 

YMCA water safety expert Lindsay Mondick said a “lack of available US student visas has worsened the shortage, because many lifeguards in the country are foreign students. The slow release of more visas is having only a limited effect on the staffing shortages.”

 “We have been concerned about this potential lifeguard shortage for a number of years now. But I would say that Covid and the current tight labor market has really exacerbated this issue.”

Fisher said “simply increasing wages may not solve staffing issues because not enough people are training to be lifeguards.” 

“If cities cannot find ways to recruit more trained lifeguards and open up local pools, people may seek out unmonitored and possibly more dangerous swimming options in order to taste relief from the summer heat,” Fisher stated. 

“It’s such a crisis that if we don’t start resolving it this year, it’s going to be even worse next year, which I just can’t imagine,” Fisher said.

labor

US Economy Adds 372,000 Jobs In June, Exceeding Expectations 

According to the monthly jobs report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the US economy added 372,000 new jobs in June, exceeding expectations and providing citizens with a surge in hiring. 

The unemployment rate remained around 3.6% as well. In May, 384,000 new jobs were added, so while June’s numbers were slightly lower, it still exceeded economist’s expectations. Economists initially were expecting around 272,700 jobs to be added in June. 

BLS data shows that the US job market is just 524,000 jobs away from pre-pandemic levels where unemployment rates were reaching record lows. 

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Professional business services, leisure/hospitality sectors, and the healthcare industry saw the biggest gains in jobs, with additional increases in food services and warehouse/storage positions. 

The job market in general has been a major force in keeping the US economy strong. The latest Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey data released “showed there were 11.3 million available jobs in May, or 1.9 positions for every job seeker, along with historically low levels of layoffs.”

America is currently experiencing the highest inflation rates in 40 years, however, wages continue to rise. Average hourly wages were up by 5.1% within the past year, and the labor participation rate is at a steady 62.2%, just 1.2% less than pre-pandemic levels. 

“The job market is still plowing forward even in the face of increasing headwinds and recession fears. Even if the economy is slowing, the labor market remains a point of strength for the recovery. Strong employer demand is supporting solid but slowing job gains,”  Daniel Zhao, Glassdoor senior economist, said in a statement.

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“The employment report does nothing to dissuade Federal Reserve officials from sticking to their interest rate raising plans, looking to send inflation down, and closer to their 2% target. The next key reading for the Fed is the Consumer Price Index due in the days ahead,” ” said Mark Hamrick, senior economic analyst for Bankrate, in a statement. “

An increase in Covid cases in May prevented a lot of Americans from re-entering the job market last month, making the increase even more unexpected. 

Due to the increase in Covid cases in May, around 610,000 people were unable to look for work in June, up from 455,000 in the previous month. This is the first increase in this sector of data since January when the Omicron variant first appeared in the US.

The most recent Household Pulse Survey from the Census Bureau also showed that “the pandemic took more of a toll on Americans’ ability to work in June. Nearly 3.7 million people said they were not working because they were sick with Covid symptoms or were caring for someone who was sick, according to the survey, taken in the first two weeks of June.”

wnba

US Olympic Basketball Star Brittney Griner Appears In Russian Court On Drug Smuggling Charges

Brittney Griner, two-time US Olympic basketball gold medalist, went on trial in Moscow this week on drug smuggling charges which are punishable by up to 10 years in prison. 

Griner’s supporters and US officials are advocating that she is being wrongfully detained and are pleading for her release. Others are worried that she will be used as a political pawn as tensions between US and Russia rise. 

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At the trial Griner was accused of smuggling less than a gram of cannabis oil in her luggage. 

Being sufficiently aware that the movement of narcotic drugs is not allowed… no later than February 17, 2022 at an unspecified location under unspecified circumstances from an unidentified person [Griner] bought two cartridges for personal use, which contained 0.252 grams and 0.45 grams of hash oil, totaling 0.702 grams,” the prosecutor said, according to a TASS reporter in the hall of the Khimki City Court.

The prosecution argues that Griner “intended to import the drugs into Russia’s territory and put the prohibited substances into a backpack and a suitcase,” according to TASS. 

Cannabis oil is classified as a narcotic drug in Russia. 

Griner’s lawyers, Alexander Boykov and Maria Blagovolina, said on Friday they were “unaware of any plans to exchange Griner for a Russian prisoner held in the US. We have no information about it, unfortunately,” the lawyers said during an impromptu press conference.

During the hearing, “an employee of the Sheremetyevo airport customs services was one of the two witnesses. He was interrogated on the circumstances of Griner’s detention and personal search,” the lawyers said.

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US Embassy Charge d’Affaires Elizabeth Rood, emphasized that Griner had been “wrongfully detained, the practice of wrongful detention is unacceptable wherever it occurs and is a threat to the safety of everyone traveling, working, and living abroad.”

“She [Griner] is doing as well as can be expected in these difficult circumstances and she asked me to convey that she is in good spirits and is keeping up the faith. The US government, from the highest levels, is working hard to bring Brittney and all wrongfully detained US nationals home,” Rood said.

Griner’s detention, which has been repeatedly extended, has sparked a wave of support among dozens of organizations in the US that have joined Griner’s wife, Cherelle, in urging President Joe Biden to strike an exchange deal with Russian authorities to release Griner and bring her home safely as soon as possible.

Speaking to the media on Thursday, Griner’s wife, Cherelle, pleaded with US officials to do more to secure her wife’s release.

“It’s really, really difficult. This is not a situation where the rhetoric is matching the action. I do have to unfortunately push people to make sure that the things they’re telling me are also matching their actions and so it’s been the hardest thing to balance because I can’t let up. It’s over 130 days and BG’s still not back.” 

Phoenix Mercury head coach Vanessa Nygaard told reporters that Griner’s “detention is still tough on our team. We hope Griner will return home soon and that President Biden will take the steps to ensure that she comes home.”

row vs wade

Roe Vs Wade Overturned, Experts Warn Maternal Mortality Rate Will Rise In US 

The Supreme Court voted to overturn Roe vs Wade last week in a 6-3 decision, officially revoking the constitutional right to an abortion in the United States. Experts are now saying that pregnancy-related deaths will almost certainly increase, especially among people of color. 

Rachel Hardeman, a reproductive health equity professor and researcher at the University of Minnesota School of Public Health, spoke on the issue: 

“There are going to be more people who are forced to carry a pregnancy to term, which means that there’s going to be a greater number of people who are at risk. More pregnancy means more likelihood of deaths.”

Current state bans could lead to an additional 75,000 births every year for those who won’t be able to access abortion, according to one experts estimate. The bans will also likely impact younger and poorer people of color at a much higher rate.

Currently in America, for every 10,000 births, 23.8 people have died from either pregnancy or childbirth-related causes, according to data from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

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More than half of the US states are likely to ban abortion following the fall of Roe.

“The truth of the matter is, it’s already hitting people [of color] harder than others – that’s been the reality,” said Monica McLemore, an associate professor of family healthcare nursing at University of California, San Francisco.

“Black people in the US were already 3.5 times more likely than white peers to die because of pregnancy and childbirth, according to one study looking at data from 2016-2017, and 2.9 times more likely,” according to a CDC analysis in 2020. 

“Because Black, Indigenous, and Latinx communities are going to be disproportionately impacted by lack of access to abortion services, it’s going to exacerbate the maternal mortality racial gap that we’ve already seen in the United States,” Hardeman said.

“It’s translating into not getting the care they need, which can be a matter of life and death. And racism also takes an immense physical toll, so by the time that person becomes pregnant, they are at less optimal health than their white counterparts who haven’t experienced racism across the life course.”

The cumulative and chronic effects of living in America as a person of color increases stress, which can also affect reproductive health. “We know that the stress pathway is what leads to infant mortality, preterm birth, and other outcomes,” Hardeman said.

“We have to be thinking about the Scotus decision and abortion bans generally as a racist policy, because the burden will fall the hardest on Black pregnant people, it’s going to fall hard on Indigenous people and other people of color, people living in rural areas as well and people of lower socioeconomic status,” Hardeman continued.

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“The supreme court decision on Friday and bans on abortion instituted at the state level disproportionately harm people of color and reinforce a system of inequity and, frankly, of white supremacy.”

“If you think about why people get abortions, it’s often because it’s not safe for them to stay pregnant,” Stevenson said. “The people who are currently having abortions are very likely to actually have higher rates of pregnancy-related deaths and maternal mortality than the people who are currently giving birth.”

Having an abortion is “much, much, much safer than staying pregnant”, Stevenson said. 

Current research indicated that childbirth is 14 times more deadly than having an abortion. 

“We have to be thinking about the fact that because we live in a society where access to resources is based on racism and race, there are people who are not going to be able to access the services that are available.”

McLemore emphasized that direct action is what’s needed in order to protect the people in states that will be banning abortions. 

“Congress could act right now and render Scotus’s decision irrelevant by enshrining reproductive rights into national law. If this Congress doesn’t, she said, the six in 10 Americans who support abortion rights should vote for a new Congress that will,” she explained.

“We need an all-hands-on-deck approach here – with brilliance, not fear.”

Mortgage

US Housing Market Is Slowing Down, Inventory Is High And Prices Are Lowering

The US housing market has been on quite the roller coaster ride since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic. Now, experts are saying that the housing market may not be crashing, but it’s definitely slowing down in terms of sales, mortgage rates, and inventory.