Pawn shops' popularity rises with TV shows, down economy
The Van Nuys Pawn Shop in Los Angeles is seeing an increasing number of customers turn to it for short-term loans.
March 9th, 2012
06:43 PM ET

Pawn shops' popularity rises with TV shows, down economy

For years, pawn shops have had a seedy and hopeless connotation: people pawning items for short-term loans because they can’t get a loan from a bank or don’t qualify for mainstream credit. But over the past five years or so, pawn shops have had a whole new light shed on them.

In this down economy, especially with high credit-card and bank-loan interest rates, pawn shop business is up. Pawn popularity also is up because of reality shows like the History Channel’s "Pawn Stars."

(Click the audio player to hear more on this story from CNN Radio's Jim Roope)

"Pawn Stars" features the Gold and Silver Pawn Shop in Las Vegas and its owner, Rick Harrison, who says pawning is banking at its most basic.

"You give collateral on a loan; (if) you don’t pay it back, you lose your collateral, and that’s the end of it," Harrison said. "There is no turning you into a credit reporting agency. There’s no suing you, no garnishing your wages. It’s just that simple."

Cesar Salgato, manager of Van Nuys Pawn in Los Angeles, says that over the past four or five years, his business has increased 60%.

"A lot of the middle class and upper middle class is starting to pawn," Salgato said. "It's incredible, the amount of money that goes out for meeting mortgages and meeting payroll."

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Filed under: Economy • Showbiz • TV
Beware of holiday scams
Mary Ferring thought she bought an expensive set of cookware online for a cheap price, but all she got was cheap cookware.
December 8th, 2011
06:27 PM ET

Beware of holiday scams

'Tis the season for scams. Consumer protection advocates are again sending out warnings of scam artists preying on the gullible, greedy and hurried this holiday season.

"I couldn't believe the deal," said shopper Mary Ferring, recalling some cookware she saw on the Internet. “It looked like it was worth about $400 or $500 and the cost was $60."

Suffering through tight economic times, Ferring was searching the Web for good gifts and great prices when she found what appeared to be expensive set of cookware for an incredibly low price. What she got in the mail after she made the purchase, however, was cheaply made tin pots and pans that she equated to a camping mess kit.

(Click the audio player to hear more on this story from CNN Radio's Jim Roope)

"I wouldn't give this to anybody,” Ferring said. Though she wanted to return the set, she found no return address on the label and no contact information on the site from which she purchased it.

“Her story is all too common,” said Audri Lanford, who founded scambusters.org in 1994. "The fact that she actually got something in the mail is unusual. Most of the time, people don’t get anything when they send their money in."

Many scams operate during the holidays. Consumer protection people point to the "12 Scams of Christmas." Here are those scams, and some tips to avoid them:

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Filed under: Consumer safety • Crime
November 25th, 2011
11:25 AM ET

A holiday shopping contrast: For some, it's bargains over brands

Carmen Rogers doesn’t have to wait in line for bargains.

“I’m lucky,” she says.

Rogers was on her way to Gucci on Rodeo Drive in California's Beverly Hills wearing a camel-hair coat with matching scarf a clear sign that she’s at home in one of America’s richest neighborhoods.

(Click the audio player to hear more on this story from CNN Radio's Jim Roope and John Sepulvado)

Rogers has no idea how much she will spend on holiday shopping, and it doesn’t matter, she says. She doesn’t have to be on a budget.

Outside Cartier on Rodeo Drive, Jackie Martenson was sporting a matching coat, shoes, purse and hat. The frames of her glasses even matched her outfit. But she’s not quite as free in her spending as Rogers.

“I think that in this economy everybody is looking for a deal,” she says.

Martenson was drawn to Rodeo Drive by the brand names.

“I think you spend twice as much here in Beverly Hills, but the thing is you get a good designer name,” she says.

According to a survey on expected holiday shopping by the Harrison Group, an economic consulting firm, retail spending by people who earn more than $300,000 will be up by 6% this year. But the same survey found that middle- and low-income Americans are expected to spend 17% less than in 2010.

“I’m on a budget right now,” says Tracy Adams. She was nighttime bargain-hunting at a Walmart in Atlanta. The single mom patiently stood in line with her excitable second-grader, hoping to score a deal on a Sony PlayStation. Adams says a saving of $50 would go a long way in her household.

“I’d put it towards paying bills,” she says. But when she got to the counter, the bargains were sold out and she was disappointed. “They ran out of what I really wanted. That was the only item I came here for.”

Instead she had a basket full of toys she collected while waiting in line. A salesman says the Walmart only had eight PlayStations stocked. In fairness, the mega-retailer made it very clear in its advertising that supplies would be limited. So all night, families would walk in hoping to get a laptop or a Wii, and walk out with crockpots, blankets and toys.

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California economists say S&P downgrade is no big deal
August 10th, 2011
05:48 PM ET

California economists say S&P downgrade is no big deal

Standard & Poor's recent downgrade of the U.S. credit rating AAA to AA+ has caused some concern and even panic.

But some economists in California a state rated A- by S&P say it's no big deal.

"A half-point drop on a single rating by a single credit service means very little," said Ann Stevens, an economics professor at the University of California at Davis.

And Stevens lives in a state with a lower S&P rating than Spain and the same rating as Botswana and Aruba.

For economist Steve Levy of the Center for the Continuing Study of the California Economy in Palo Alto, the S&P's downgrade was simply a political statement a message of sorts to politicians.

"So in that sense, it doesn't mean anything," Levy said.

What makes sense, said Levy, is not worrying about a letter grade but worrying about the broader economy.

In California's case, S&P's A- rating has been in place since January 2010. That's one reason Californians pay the highest sales tax in the nation and the highest state income taxes in the nation on income above $46,000.

On top of that, the state is saddled with an unemployment rate of 11.8%.

But the state's treasurer says California has passed a balanced budget and made tough spending cuts, steps the state hopes will improve its credit rating.

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Filed under: Economy
Educators warn of negative effects of not teaching cursive in schools
Lauren Sanchez teaches cursive writing to third graders at St. Francis Xavier Elementary School in Burbank, California.
July 8th, 2011
09:34 PM ET

Educators warn of negative effects of not teaching cursive in schools

Handwriting experts and educators worry that Indiana's choice to stop teaching cursive in schools could negatively affect a child's ability to learn.

The Indiana Department of Education joined 39 other states in adopting the Common Core curriculum, an initiative to phase out cursive writing in classrooms in favor of providing students more time to hone digital skills.

But some believe the move could adversely affect children.

"The fluidity of cursive allows, I think, for gains in spelling and a better tie to what they are reading and comprehending through stories and such and through literature," said Paul Sullivan, principal of St. Francis Xavier Elementary School in Burbank, California.

"I think there’s a firmer connection of wiring between the brain’s processes of learning these skills and the actual practice of writing."

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Filed under: Education • Indiana
New hires not yet buoying the spirits of autoworkers
Despite new hires in the automotive industry, autoworkers are not quite ready to celebrate.
January 31st, 2011
04:24 PM ET

New hires not yet buoying the spirits of autoworkers

American automakers are modestly adding new jobs that some say signal a strengthening American manufacturing sector.

Autoworkers are not celebrating yet.

Second-generation GM autoworker Leonard Smith says the last time he checked, there were still some 6,000 workers laid off.

“The plant I’m working at now at Marion, Indiana, has 70 original hires out of 1,400 employees,” Smith said.

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Filed under: Auto Industry • Economy • General Motors • Indiana
Behind the unrest in Yemen
Thousands of Yemenis attend a protest Thursday calling for President Ali Abdullah Saleh to resign after being in power since 1978.
January 28th, 2011
07:50 PM ET

Behind the unrest in Yemen

The people of Yemen have joined the protests in the Middle East and Africa against long-running regimes.

The unrest in Yemen the poorest country in the Arab world would not be as significant on its own. Within the context of uprisings in nearby countries such as Egypt and Tunisia, however, it takes on a new meaning, said Asef Bayat, professor of sociology and Middle Easter Studies at the University of Illinois.

"The demonstrations in Egypt and Tunisia has caused a 'demonstration effect,'" says Bayat.

Half of Yemen’s population is illiterate, so if the young and educated spread their message against President Ali-Abdullah Saleh’s 32-year reign to tribal leaders, a groundswell of tribes may join in.

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Filed under: Egypt • Protest • Tunisia • Yemen
Obesity: A national security threat?
January 3rd, 2011
01:02 PM ET

Obesity: A national security threat?

Is the childhood obesity epidemic in the U.S. a threat to national security?

"Oh, yes," said Maj. Gen. Paul Monroe, retired from the U.S. Army.

CNN Radio's Jim Roope talked with Monroe and an Army recruiter to examine the issue. Monroe, with the group Mission: Readiness, released a study saying the obesity rate among children and teens - one in three according to the CDC - is a threat.

"The military found that one in four recruits are not eligible because of weight," he said.

"And not everyone wants to be in the military, and when you reduce it by 25 percent, it's a real problem," Monroe said.

Sgt. 1st Class Jason Montano, an active-duty recruiter with the Army, says he wouldn't go as far as calling childhood obesity a threat to national security, but it is a challenge.

"As recruiters trying to recruit America's force, we have a lot of our kids this day and age that are obese," Montano said.

He says the military does have a program to get obese and overweight kids Army-ready.

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Filed under: Health • Military • Nutrition
The emotional, financial struggles of Christmas on unemployment
December 17th, 2010
12:13 PM ET

The emotional, financial struggles of Christmas on unemployment

Living on unemployment is tough enough during the year but the sting of unemployment is felt more sharply during the holidays.

CNN's Jim Roope talks with a man - he asked that he not be identified - who is trying to stretch his $900 dollar unemployment check from food to Christmas for his family of five.

"You watch every penny," he said. "it's difficult. The older kids understand as best they can, but the younger ones look at you and ask what did I do wrong this year."

Hear his story by clicking the audio button.

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Filed under: Economy • Jobs
Inside California's overcrowded prisons
December 8th, 2010
05:41 PM ET

Inside California's overcrowded prisons

What used to be a gymnasium is now a housing unit for 150 inmates. Bunk beds are arranged in the center of the gym floor. Inmates have to turn sideways to walk between the bunks.

The gymnasium is one of two being used as housing units at the California State Prison in Los Angeles County. There are also two day rooms used for "nontraditional" beds at the facility. In all, there are about 450 inmates without cells.

The rest of the prison's 4,500 inmates share cells at a facility designed to hold 2,300. Corrections officer Lt. Michael Stratman says the prison is just under 200% capacity, which increases the potential for violence.

But that's not the basis of a U.S. Supreme Court case that may result in the high court forcing California to release 40,000 inmates to reduce crowding. The case is about health conditions.

Attorney Don Specter argued before the U.S. Supreme Court that with so many prisoners, there isn't adequate physical and mental health care and the inmates are living in less than humane conditions.

The high court is set to decide whether to uphold a lower court's decision forcing the reduction.

State Department of Corrections spokeswoman Terry Thornton said efforts have been made to reduce the prison population since its peak in 2007, mostly through parole. Thornton said the state doesn't need the high court's help reducing the number of prisoners.

CNN Radio's Jim Roope visited the California State Prison to see the conditions for himself.

Listen to the complete story by clicking the audio button:

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Filed under: California • Justice
November 12th, 2010
02:19 PM ET

Ride on crippled cruise ship an adventure, couple says

Passengers onboard the stranded Carnival cruise ship Splendor say while this wasn't the vacation they signed up for, it was an adventure.

Joe and Donna Hobbs were on the ship and said after the first few hours of confusion they realized they were not in any danger. Joe Hobbs says he was looking forward to the legendary cruise ship buffets but instead was treated to some pretty interesting concoctions.

"Anything they could put between two pieces of bread, they did," said Hobbs. "I had a pork-n-beans sandwich," he said.

His wife even wrote an epic song about their experience. Listen to the story – words and music – here:

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Filed under: Travel • U.S.
November 10th, 2010
10:58 PM ET

At 30, beginning a new life with the military

At 30, Raquel Espinosa does not fit the profile of an average Army recruit.

Each person who joins the military has a story about the journey that led them to enlistment, what they hope to get from their tour of duty and what they are leaving behind while they serve.

Raquel Espinosa's story starts a little later in life. At 30 years old, she's not your average recruit, who tends to enroll at 19.

Espinosa has picked Military Intelligence as her specialty and hopes to become an agent with the FBI or CIA after her service.

Until then, she's putting a lot on hold.

“I’m married, my sister is about to give birth to a baby and I don’t know if I’ll be here for that and my father is ill,” said Espinosa.

But the military can’t wait for her schedule, she said.

“You just have to do it. There’s never a good time. But I have to realize that in the end it will be for something much grander than I can imagine."

Listen to the full story here:

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Filed under: Military
November 5th, 2010
10:07 PM ET

A look at task force that brings drug tunnels to surface

A 600-yard tunnel used to smuggle drugs between San Diego, California, and Tijuana, Mexico, was discovered this week through the efforts of a little-known law enforcement coalition called the Tunnel Task Force.

Comprised of agents from the Drug Enforcement Agency, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and U.S. Border Patrol, the Tunnel Task Force has closed 75 tunnels in the past four years, officials said.

“We fill them with concrete,” said Border Patrol Agent Steven Pitts.

Pitts said the tunnels are elaborately constructed, with lighting, ventilation and, in some cases, a rail system to pull large amounts of drugs through the tunnels.

“An active phone was the strangest thing we’ve ever found in a tunnel,” said Pitts.

The task force functions with a high level of cooperation from the Mexican government, whom DEA Special Agent Stephen Tomaski credited with making the busts possible.

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Filed under: Drug violence • Mexico • U.S.
October 19th, 2010
01:06 PM ET

Contractor: We could build homes if banks 'loosen up'

Contractor Paul Kinney, owner of Race Point Inc., on the site of a $3.5 million new home, says the Building Permit/Housing Starts report is misleading. Banks are not funding the permits. Most projects, like the one he's building now, are funded by foreign money.

The U.S Census Bureau and Department of Housing and Urban Development released its monthly report on housing permits and new construction and it shows the upward trend in this economic indicator continues.

The report shows single-family home building permits in September were 405,000 up 0.5 percent above over August. Single-family housing starts in September were 452,000; this is 4.4 percent over.

CNN's Jim Roope reports however that the contractors who turn building permits into buildings say these numbers are not necessarily reality because banks are still hesitant to fund permitted projects. Contractors say new homes may be getting the green light by cities, but not the greenbacks by the banks to start construction or in some cases complete construction.

Paul Kinney, owner of Race Point Incorporated, a top 500 builder of new homes, says he can get 30 permits by the middle of next week, but the banks aren’t lending money so the report is misleading.

“Remember a couple of weeks ago when they came out and said guess what the recession was over? That rumble you heard was the construction industry laughing their ‘friggin’ brains out,” said Kinney.

Listen to the full story here:

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Filed under: Economy • Jobs
September 16th, 2010
10:41 AM ET

A family's first time at the poverty line

"Maria, " who was too embarrassed to give her true name, sits with one of her sons as she finds herself living below the poverty threshold.

The Census Bureau has released its annual poverty report showing more people are living at or below the poverty threshold. This means many are finding themselves there for the first time.

“Maria,” who was too embarrassed to give us her true name or allow us to photograph her face, says she and her husband have had to sell their most cherished possessions.

“We sold our wedding rings, our furniture, everything,” said Maria.

Trying to get help from government agencies is presenting problems too she said because their house, the mortgage for which is more than the its value, is considered an asset. She has two sons, the younger one suffers from Autism. During the interview she begins to break down and her older son, only 12-years-old, has to take on the very adult role as comforter.

CNN’s Jim Roope says it’s one of the hardest interviews he’s had to do. Filled with emotion and sometimes despair, but “Maria” does have hope.

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Filed under: Economy