Every first-time player of daily fantasy football begins the new season undefeated, just like even the most hopeless NFL teams. But after 16 weeks of real football, most rookie fantasy players will have been separated from their money, just as certainly as the Cleveland Browns will be disabused of their playoff ambitions.
Daily fantasy is getting ready to generate more losers in 2015 than ever before. Each year in the history of daily fantasy sports has been bigger than the last, and September has become the biggest month for new fans trying the game, which combines the stats-jockeying of traditional fantasy contests with the thrills of old-fashioned sports betting. (Fantasy sports are exempted from the federal ban on sports gambling.) FanDuel and DraftKings, the two main services, will bring in a combined $60 million in entry fees in the first week of the NFL season, according to Adam Krejcik, a partner at Eilers Research. Sports books in Las Vegas, by contrast, are expected to handle about $30 million.
The rival startups prospered in football’s offseason. Both companies raised huge new rounds of investment, bringingDraftKings’s total haul to $426 million and FanDuel’s to $363 million, and both are now valued at more than $1 billion. To get to the size their investors are expecting requires a continuous stream of new players lured by ever-increasing prize pools with the help of muscular advertising campaigns. These ads never spell out a simple truth about daily fantasy competitions: While any player might get lucky on the back of a handful of entries, over time nearly all of the prize money flows to a tiny elite equipped with elaborate statistical modeling and automated tools that can manage hundreds of entries at once and identify the weakest opponents.
In early 2011, 1.5 million American households, including 3 million children, were living on less than $2 in cash per person per day. Half of those households didn’t have access to in-kind benefits like food stamps, either. Worst of all, the numbers had increased dramatically since 1996.
Those are the astonishing findings Johns Hopkins’ Kathryn Edin and the University of Michigan’s Luke Shaefer discovered after analyzing Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP) data in 2012. In the intervening years, Edin and Shaefer sought out Americans living in this situation, with basically no cash income, relying on food stamps, private charity, and plasma sales for survival.
The result is $2.00 a Day, a harrowing book that describes in devastating detail what life is like for the poorest of America’s poor. I spoke with Edin and Shaefer about the book Friday; a lightly edited transcript follows.
What’s America to do about its stadium problem?
Over the past 15 years, more than $12 billion in public money has been spent on privately owned stadiums. Between 1991 and 2010, 101 new stadiums were opened across the country; nearly all those projects were funded by taxpayers. The loans most often used to pay for stadium construction—a variety of tax-exempt municipal bonds—will cost the federal government at least $4 billion in taxpayer subsidies to bondholders. Stadiums are built with money borrowed today, against public money spent tomorrow, at the expense of taxes that will never be collected. Economists almost universally agree that publicly financed stadiums are bad investments, yet cities and states still race to the chance to unload the cash. What gives?
KEN WAMSLEY SOMETIMES DREAMS that he’s playing softball again. He’ll be at center field, just like when he played slow pitch back in his teens, or pounding the ball over the fence as the crowd goes wild. Other times, he’s somehow inexplicably back at work in the lab. Wamsley calls them nightmares, these stories that play out in his sleep, but really the only scary part is the end, when “I wake up and I have no rectum anymore.”
Wamsley is 73. After developing rectal cancer and having surgery to treat it in 2002, he walks slowly and gets up from the bench in his small backyard slowly. His voice, which has a gentle Appalachian lilt, is still animated, though, especially when he talks about his happier days. There were many. While Wamsley knew plenty of people in Parkersburg, West Virginia, who struggled to stay employed, he made an enviable wage for almost four decades at the DuPont plant here. The company was generous, helping him pay for college courses and training him to become a lab analyst in the Teflon division.
He enjoyed the work, particularly the precision and care it required. For years, he measured levels of a chemical called C8 in various products. The chemical “was everywhere,” as Wamsley remembers it, bubbling out of the glass flasks he used to transport it, wafting into a smelly vapor that formed when he heated it. A fine powder, possibly C8, dusted the laboratory drawers and floated in the hazy lab air.
Back in the fat years – two or three decades ago, when the “mainstream” media were booming – I was able to earn a living as a freelance writer. My income was meager and I had to hustle to get it, turning out about four articles – essays, reported pieces, reviews – a month at $1 or $2 a word. What I wanted to write about, in part for obvious personal reasons, was poverty and inequality, but I’d do just about anything – like, I cringe to say, “The Heartbreak Diet” for a major fashion magazine – to pay the rent.
It wasn’t easy to interest glossy magazines in poverty in the 1980s and 90s. I once spent two hours over an expensive lunch – paid for, of course, by a major publication – trying to pitch to a clearly indifferent editor who finally conceded, over decaf espresso and crème brulee, “OK, do your thing on poverty. But can you make it upscale?” Then there was the editor of a nationwide, and quite liberal, magazine who responded to my pitch for a story involving blue-collar men by asking, “Hmm, but can they talk?”
I finally got lucky at Harper’s, where fabled editor Lewis Lapham gave me an assignment that turned into a book, which in turn became a bestseller, Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America. Thanks to the royalties and subsequent speaking fees, at last I could begin to undertake projects without concern for the pay, just because they seemed important or to me. This was the writing life I had always dreamed of – adventurous, obsessively fascinating and sufficiently remunerative that I could help support less affluent members of my family.
Meanwhile, though I didn’t see it at first, the world of journalism as I had known it was beginning to crumble around me. Squeezed to generate more profits for new media conglomerates, newsrooms laid off reporters, who often went on to swell the crowds of hungry freelancers. Once-generous magazines shrank or slashed their freelance budgets; certainly there were no more free lunches.
Fifteen years ago, Spyros Kyriakopoulos and his partner took over a small pastry shop on a side street near downtown Athens and began selling the braided loaves called tsourekia and traditional Greek dipping cookies.
At the time, Athens was booming, the Greek standard of living had leapt ahead in just one generation, and Mr. Kyriakopoulos’s customers were about to become even more prosperous as Greece joined the euro currency.
On Monday, as the Greek government reluctantly agreed to a deal to address the country’s debt crisis and keep it in the eurozone, people like Mr. Kyriakopoulos were bracing themselves for a wide range of economic changes that are certain to touch on virtually every aspect of Greek life.
The changes surpass government austerity measures like reeling in pensions and raising the valued-added tax, and include elements like the deregulation of closed markets and professions.
You’re standing at the rental car desk in need of a car. But you didn’t plan to be here. You’ve been in an accident and you need wheels. You might feel gratitude for not being injured, for having auto insurance, and for having paid extra for rental car coverage on your policy. While you’re shaken up, you’re not really too worried: You’ve got options.
This is true even if the money you need to pay for the rental car isn’t in your checking account. You can put it on a credit card and pay it off when the insurance reimbursement comes through. You can take a deep breath and use the money you saved for a trip rather than an accident. Or you can call a family member or friend who can give you the funds until you pay them back from your next paycheck and send them a thank you note for their generosity. If it turns out your car is totaled and you need to replace it you’ll likely be able to get a low-interest auto loan from a bank, credit union, or even the dealer (if you have a job and credit rating).
These options should be recognized for what they are: unmerited gifts. They are what Robert Putnam calls “airbags,” that are immediately activated when an unanticipated crisis arises in the life of someone who is not poor. Social and financial capital—access to financial options and a network of friends or family who can easily and quickly share resources with you—act as cushions when the vicissitudes of life strike.
But consider the rental-car-after-accident scenario if you’re poor. The airbags of financial and social capital do not inflate automatically to protect you. You’re not sure how you’re going to come up with the resources you need right now. Your need for a car to keep your job or transport your kids is paramount. Other bills you’re supposed to pay will just have to wait until you figure it out.
And then you see a sign at the end of the rental car agency’s counter: Need $500?Tucked inside a plastic display are tri-fold brochures advertising CASH TODAY from a store in the same strip mall.
It seems to you not just a sign, but a miracle. You have no idea that you’re walking into a trap set for people like you.
In that portion of the presidential field that does not view self-government as a stage for self-promotion, prejudice and blithering ignorance, one of the more encouraging trends is an increasing seriousness about the issue of poverty.
Events in Ferguson, Mo., and Baltimore have focused the public mind, just as the consequential publication of Robert Putnam’s “Our Kids” has served to inform and deepen the policy debate. The question is posed: Can the United States go on as it has been with a good portion of its working class almost entirely isolated from the promise of our country?
It is a yes or no question. A “yes” involves the acceptance of a rigid, self-perpetuating class system in a country with democratic and egalitarian pretentions — a system upheld and enforced by heavy-handed policing, routine incarceration and social and educational segregation.
A “no” is just the start of a very difficult task. The mixed legacy of the Great Society — helping the elderly get health care, it turns out, is easier than creating opportunity in economically and socially decimated communities — has left the national dialogue on poverty ideologically polarized. And many policy proposals in this field seem puny in comparison to the Everest of need.
But there is one set of related policy ideas that would dramatically help the poor and should not be ideologically divisive. How about a renewed effort to help the poor by refusing to cheat them?
John Perkins is no stranger to making confessions. His well-known book, Confessions of an Economic Hit Man, revealed how international organizations such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank, while publicly professing to “save” suffering countries and economies, instead pull a bait-and-switch on their governments: promising startling growth, gleaming new infrastructure projects and a future of economic prosperity – all of which would occur if those countries borrow huge loans from those organizations. Far from achieving runaway economic growth and success, however, these countries instead fall victim to a crippling and unsustainable debt burden.
That’s where the “economic hit men” come in: seemingly ordinary men, with ordinary backgrounds, who travel to these countries and impose the harsh austerity policies prescribed by the IMF and World Bank as “solutions” to the economic hardship they are now experiencing. Men like Perkins were trained to squeeze every last drop of wealth and resources from these sputtering economies, and continue to do so to this day. In this interview, which aired on Dialogos Radio, Perkins talks about how Greece and the eurozone have become the new victims of such “economic hit men.
In a field of brittle yellow grass and clotted mud about five miles north of Dickinson, North Dakota, stands a cemetery of sorts. Drilling rigs stretch into the sky like tall skeletons. The occasional lone truck rattles along a dirt road. Otherwise, the location is deserted.
Similar graveyards have been popping up across the western half of the state since the price of oil sharply declined last fall. These once-great moneymakers that drew thousands to the state are now idle, or “stacked,” in the lingo of the oil fields. As more and more companies have stopped drilling following the decline in the price of oil last year, the term has become all too familiar.
During the good times, jobs were plentiful and businesses prospered. High-school graduates earned six-figure salaries in the oil fields, and cash flowed into the hands of those lucky enough to own the mineral rights to land rich with oil. North Dakota’s sudden success coincided with an economic slump in the rest of the country; job seekers rushed to the state fleeing hard times. For seven straight years, North Dakota boasted the lowest unemployment rate in the country. Early this year, it slipped from that coveted spot.