Yuki Noguchi

Yuki Noguchi is a correspondent on the Business Desk based out of NPR's headquarters in Washington D.C. Since joining NPR in 2008, she's covered business and economic news, and has a special interest in workplace issues — everything from abusive working environments, to the idiosyncratic cubicle culture. In recent years she has covered the housing market meltdown, unemployment during the Great Recession, and covered the aftermath of the tsunami in Japan in 2011. As in her personal life, however, her coverage interests are wide-ranging, and have included things like entomophagy and the St. Louis Cardinals.

Prior to joining NPR, Yuki started her career as a reporter for The Washington Post. She reported on stories mostly about business and technology, and later became an editor.

Yuki grew up with a younger brother speaking her parents' native Japanese at home. She has a degree in history from Yale.

Yahoo touched off a debate about the effectiveness of telecommuting when it told employees last week that they may no longer work from home. The policy change was made, according to the company's internal email, to enhance workplace collaboration.

Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer, who happens to be a new mother, drew fierce criticism from those who say she should embrace, rather than reject, flexible work arrangements.

What exactly is lost and what's gained when people work from home?

Years into the economic recovery, hiring remains slow. Many businesses learned to do more with less during the recession, so they don't need to bring on as many people now.

These new efficiencies have led to what economists call "labor displacement," which is taking place around the country. One business in Rockville, Md., is doing the same amount of work with half its original staff.

Two things are noticeably absent from the offices of Mid-Atlantic Builders: people and paper.

Sticking to a diet is a challenge for many people, but starting next year, Americans may have an even bigger, financial incentive to keep their weight in check. The new health care law includes a provision that would allow employers with more than 50 employees to require overweight workers who do not exercise to pay more to cover their insurance costs.

Some employers, inspired in part by the success of shows like The Biggest Loser, are already designing weight-loss programs that use money to succeed where willpower has failed.

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NPR's business news begins with an ending.

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GREENE: The U.S. Postal Service has just announced the end of first class mail deliveries on Saturday. It is part of an effort to slow enormous financial losses. And NPR's Yuki Noguchi has come into the studio to tell us what all this means for customers and the Postal Service. And Yuki, so when will my Saturday deliveries stop?

Boeing generated more cash than expected last year and reclaimed the top spot over rival Airbus as the world's biggest airplane maker.

But all that was overshadowed by the fact that its entire fleet of 787s is grounded after batteries on two of its planes either overheated or caught fire.

"For 2013, our first order of business, obviously, is getting the 787 back into service," Boeing CEO James McNerney says.

The construction industry in the U.S. is staging a comeback. In one indicator, the Commerce Department announced Thursday that new homebuilding has reached its highest level in 4 1/2 years.

While that's a promising sign for the industry, more than 2 million construction jobs have been lost in the sector since employment hit its peak. While some might expect that means plenty of people are ready to fill the new jobs, many markets around the country are actually experiencing a shortage of construction workers.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is releasing Thursday much anticipated new mortgage rules, which will restrict the kind of subprime lending practices that caused both the financial and housing sectors to crash five years ago.

The new rules come at a time when regulators and banks are trying to find a middle ground between overly lax and overly tight lending standards.

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7.7 percent, that's the current unemployment rate. It's a full percentage point lower than this time last year. That sounds like progress, a modest number of new jobs are being added every month. But labor force participation, a measure of both people who are working and those who are actively looking for work, is at its lowest point in three decades.

When it comes to the economy, consumers and business owners have very different takes right now. Consumers are feeling positive, but the mood among businesses is at recession levels.

In a word, business owners are bummed.

"What we've found is that a lot of that optimism is not there right now," says Dennis Jacobe, chief economist for Gallup, which polled these small-business types just after the election.

Retailers are finding more ways to offer their customers financial products — mortgages, loans and the like. In the past, people looked to banks for this kind of product. But big-box stores are trying to find new ways of getting money to those who cannot use banks, or want to avoid them altogether.

Costco may be best known for pallets of bottled water or bulk toilet paper that can last a family an entire year. But earlier this year, it also added mortgages to its growing array of financial offerings.

The popular website Intrade allows its users to bet on the odds of almost anything — like whether Syrian President Bashar al-Assad will get ousted by a certain date, or whether the movie Argo will win best picture at the Oscars.

This week, Ireland-based Intrade announced that U.S. users will have to unwind their bets and shut down their accounts by the end of the year. That's after the Commodity Futures Trading Commission sued Intrade for operating an unregistered exchange.

Buyers are coming back into the housing market after losing their homes during the financial crisis — returning to homeownership more quickly than lenders have typically allowed.

With millions of families with recent foreclosures on their records, some report that they are having luck buying a house — in some cases within three years.

Many veterans aren't just looking for a job; they're looking for a career, a calling and, of course, financial stability. Those recently separated from the military have to confront what is still a fairly weak civilian job market.

Superstorm Sandy capped what's been a pretty impressive couple of years for U.S. natural disasters. There have been wildfires, tornadoes, floods and derechos. And insurance companies are on the hook to pay billions in related claims.

"We're seeing more of everything, and what we're doing is trying to factor that in going forward as we work with others to have a better sense of what the future holds," says State Farm spokesman David Beigie.

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Homeowners, businesses, and insurance companies are still assessing the damage from the storm in much of the eastern U.S. But some early estimates are in.

And as NPR's Yuki Noguchi reports, Hurricane Sandy inflicted heavy economic damage.

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And four major manufacturers say they will start offering financial support for the training of military veterans. The corporations are taking part in a program called Get Skills to Work Coalition. It has said its initial goal at training 15,000 vets.

NPR's Yuki Noguchi reports.

YUKI NOGUCHI, BYLINE: Unemployment among veterans has been falling, as it has for everyone else. The jobless rate among vets serving after 2001 now stands at 9.7 percent, but that's still about 2 percentage points higher than the general population.

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This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. The jobless rate fell sharply to 7.8 percent in September, which happens to be exactly where it was when President Obama took office. That's according to the U.S. Labor Department's latest monthly jobs report. But even though the unemployment rate dropped, the Labor Department's payroll survey reveals that businesses did not significantly hire new people. NPR's Yuki Noguchi has this report on how experts are interpreting the numbers.

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The new jobs report, out today, shows a sharp drop in the unemployment rate. But millions of Americans are, of course, still looking for work. Often, the bridge between them and a good job is a training program to help give them a new set of skills. Programs to retrain America's workforce got quite a bit of attention in Wednesday's presidential debate, and NPR's Yuki Noguchi reports on one of them here in Washington.

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Housing continues to be a big issue for the economy, and for many voters. But so far it hasn't been a major issue in the presidential campaign. Perhaps that's because both sides agree that there's no easy fix for the problem of millions of troubled mortgages.

The Problem:

Cathy Busby and her husband co-owned a realty office in Denver when they bought their house in 2006. The next year, the market for houses dried up, leaving them with little income as their house lost value.

Now, she says, she considers herself "poverty level."

The U.S. population is growing. In normal times, the labor force — working or not — would be growing too. But these are not normal times, and the labor force is actually smaller than it was four years ago, meaning millions of people who should be there aren't.

The reasons people drop out of the workforce are myriad. People go back to school. Others have health issues or family priorities that keep them from looking for work. But some stop looking because they are discouraged.

Charlotte, N.C., host of the 2012 Democratic National Convention, is the nation's biggest financial center outside of New York. But Charlotte and surrounding Mecklenburg County have the highest foreclosure rates in the state, and many thousands of homeowners owe more on their homes than the properties are worth.

As thousands of Democrats converge in Charlotte for the convention, some troubled homeowners have also gathered, lamenting that the foreclosure crisis has not been sufficiently front and center in the presidential campaign.

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Now, as you can hear from Scott's report, the economy is a top issue in this campaign.

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So it's fitting that the Democratic Convention was preceded by Labor Day and will be followed by Friday's release of the latest employment numbers.

INSKEEP: NPR's Yuki Noguchi talked with voters about jobs on Labor Day.

YUKI NOGUCHI, BYLINE: This year, Labor Day festivities came to Charlotte in the form of a huge street party.

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Let's follow up on another story. Earlier this year, five big banks settled the so-called robo-signing case, admitting they rushed the foreclosure processes for thousands of homeowners. Now, those banks are working to forgive and modify $20 billion worth of home loans.

As NPR's Yuki Noguchi reports, yesterday was the first chance to look at how banks are handling this part of the settlement.

YUKI NOGUCHI, BYLINE: Joseph Smith's first full report wasn't due until November, but he was eager to keep the issue top of mind.

Refinance activity continues to boom, fueling the home-loan market. Low interest rates have created a class of "serial refinancers" — those lucky enough to borrow at lower rates — and given them new opportunities to spend their freed up cash.

Settlement attorney Robert Gratz never used to be on a first-name basis with his clients.

"In the past, our practice was such that you'd see people, and that was the end of it," he says.

Gratz now sees the same faces all the time, of clients refinancing again and again — these days in the mid-3 percent range.

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