Your 401(k) is up, and a new report shows increased savings. But Americans need to do more

How’s your 401(k) looking? A new report shows Americans are saving more, but probably need to do even more. 

Vanguard has released its annual report, How America Saves 2024. Vanguard and Fidelity are the two biggest sponsors of 401(k) plans, and this is a snapshot of what nearly five million participants are doing with their money. 

The good news: stock market returns are up and, thanks largely to automatic enrollment plans, investors are saving more than they did in the past. 

The bad news: account balances for the median 401(k) of a person approaching retirement (65+) remains very low. 

The takeaway: Americans are still very reliant on Social Security for a large chunk of their retirement. 

Higher returns, participation rates, savings rates 

Why do we care so much about 401(k) plans? Because it’s the main private savings vehicle Americans have for retirement. More than 100 million Americans are covered by these “defined contribution” plans, with more than $10 trillion in assets. 

First, 2023 was a good year to be an investor.  The average total return rate for participants was 18.1%, the best year since 2019. 

But to be effective vehicles for retirement, these plans need to: 1) have high participation rates, and 2) hold high levels of savings. 

On those fronts, there is good news. John James, managing director of Vanguard’s Institutional Investor Group, called it “a year of progress.” 

Plan participation reached all-time highs. Thanks to a change in the law several years ago, a record-high 59% of plans offered automatic enrollment in 401(k) plans. This is a major improvement: ipreviously, enrollment in 401(k) plans were often short of expectations because investors had to “opt-in,” that is they had to choose to participate in the plan.  Because of indecision or simple ignorance, many did not. By switching to automatic enrollment, participants were automatically enrolled and had to “opt-out” if they did not want to participate. 

The result: enrollment rates have gone up. Plans with automatic enrollment had a 94% participation rate, compared with 67% for voluntary enrollment plans. 

Participant saving rates reached all time highs. The average participant deferred 7.4% of their savings. Including employee and employer contributions, the average total participant contribution rate was 11.7%. 

A few other observations about Vanguard’s 401(k) plan investors: 

They prefer equities and target date funds.  They love equities over bonds or any other investments. The average plan contribution to equities is 74%.  A record-high 64% of all 2023 contributions went into target-date funds, which automatically adjust stock and bond allocations as the participant ages. 

They don’t trade much. In 2023, only 5% of nonadvised participants traded within their accounts; 95% did no trading at all. “Over the past 15 years, we have generally observed a decline in participant trading,” Vanguard said, which it partially attributed to increased adoption of target-date funds. 

Despite gains in the market, account balances are still low

In 2023, the average account balance for Vanguard participants was $134,128, but the median balance (half had more, half had less) was only $35,286. 

Why such a big difference between the average and the median? Because a small group of investors with large balances pull up the averages. Forty percent of participants had less than $20,000 in their retirement accounts. 

Distribution of account balances

  • Less than $20,000     40%
  • $20,000-$99,999        30%
  • $100,000-$249,900  15%
  • $250,000 +                  15%

Source:  Vanguard 

Median balances for those near retirement are still low

A different way to look at the problem is to ask how much people who are retirement age have saved, because it’s an indication of how prepared they are for imminent retirement.

Investors 65 years or older had an average account balance of $272,588, but a median balance of only $88,488. 

A median balance of $88,488 is not much when you consider older participants have higher incomes and higher savings rates. That is not much money for a 65-year old nearing retirement.

Of course, these balances don’t necessarily reflect total lifetime savings. Some have more than one retirement plan because they had other plans with previous employers. Most do have other sources of retirement savings, typically Social Security. A shrinking number may also have a pension. Some may have money in checking accounts, or have stocks or bonds outside a retirement account. 

Regardless, the math does not look great

So let’s do some retirement math. 

A typical annual drawdown for a 401(k) account in retirement is about 4%. Drawing down 4% of $88,488 a year gets you $3,539 every 12 months. 

Next, Social Security. As of January 2023, the average Social Security benefit was almost $1,689 per month, or about $20,268 per year.

Finally, even though pensions are a vanishing benefit, let’s include them. 

According to the Pension Rights Center, the median annual pension benefit for a private pension is $9,262 (government employees have higher benefits). 

Here’s our yearly retirement budget:

  • Personal savings $3,539
  • Pension                 $9,262
  • Social Security   $20,264
  • Total:                   $33,065

It’s certainly possibly to live on $33,000 a year, but this would likely only work if you own your home, have low expenses and live in a low-cost part of the country. 

Even then, it would hardly be a robust retirement. 

And these are the lucky ones. Only 57% of retirees have a tax-deferred retirement account like a 401(k) or IRA. Only 56% reported receiving income from a pension. 

And that extra income largely determines whether a retiree feels good or bad about their retirement. 

In 2023, four out five retirees said they were doing at least okay financially, but this varied tremendously depending on whether retirees had sources of income outside of Social Security. Only 52% of retirees who did not have private income said they were doing at least okay financially. 

What can be done? 

To have a more robust retirement, Americans are just going to have to save more. 

One issue is investors still don’t contribute the maximum amount allowed. Only 14% of participants saved the statutory maximum amount of $22,500 per year ($30,000 for those age 50 or older). The likely reason: most felt they couldn’t afford to. 

However, only 53% of even those with income over $150,000 contributed the maximum allowed.  Given that the employee match is “free money,” one would think participants in that income bracket would rationally choose to max out their contribution. The fact that many still don’t suggests that more investor education is needed. 

Regardless, it’s very dangerous to assume that retirees are going to be bailed out by an ever-rising stock market. Another year anywhere near 2022, when the S&P 500 was down 20%, and investor confidence in their financial future will likely deteriorate.

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Why Walmart, Walgreens, CVS retail health clinic experiment is struggling

Bobbi Radford showed up at the CVS MinuteClinic in Batavia, Ohio, last Thanksgiving because she had pain in her arm.

“I waited an hour and then was told to go to the [emergency room].,” Radford said. Filling the staffer in on her history of congestive heart failure, she was directed to go to the ER. But Radford says after she did that, it was determined at the ER that she had a case of tennis elbow.

“It was a waste of my time, and I still had to go to my family doctor,” Radford said.

Despite their early promise of convenience and accessibility, in-store clinics haven’t been the golden egg-laying goose many retailers originally envisioned. That’s why Walmart recently announced it would shutter its 51 in-store full-service health-care centers. Another symptom of the ailing market is Walgreens, which announced the closing of 160 VillageMD locations (Walgreens owns a 53% stake in VillageMD, which also operates free-standing clinics). CVS’s MinuteClinic, the largest in-store clinic with over 1,100 locations, has announced dozens of clinic closings this year in Southern California and New England.

Not all patient experiences are negative. Karla Lemon of Conway, South Carolina, says she uses CVS’s MinuteClinic for vaccines or sinus infections. “I’ve had a pretty good experience with them,” said Lemon.

But the business experience in the retail health clinic space has largely disappointed. That’s not a huge surprise to Timothy Hoff, professor of management health-care systems at Northeastern University. Hoff has researched retail health clinics and how they deliver primary care and says that the margins can be thin to non-existent, and that the many other challenges have hindered their success. What was not too long ago viewed as the “2.0” version of primary health care is now being left behind in the wake of closed in-store clinics.

“1.0 was the rise of urgent care centers. Those were places 20 or 30 years ago that gave people alternatives to primary care doctors,” Hoff said. But about 15 years ago, Hoff says, the space began moving into heavily trafficked stores like groceries and department stores with health care attempting to meet people where they were. But this presented challenges that many retailers, and even some providers, weren’t familiar with.

“Some of these organizations grew this part of their business too quickly and didn’t realize the cost model in sustaining these,” Hoff said. Insurance reimbursements at these clinics are low, but the expenses have gone way up. “I just don’t think the math works for many places now to have many of these. Some of these large organizations are retrenching and pulling back,” Hoff added.

The retail clinics depend on volume selling. “If you can’t pump through a lot of patients, it doesn’t work,” Hoff said. Staffing was also a struggle. “They ended up being more expensive to run than they thought, combined with a workforce shortage, they just didn’t work.”

There is also the issue of cross-selling. A lot of retail chains use clinics as loss leaders to steer customers to other products and services they sell: lure customers in, in the hope they buy other stuff. But the model didn’t materialize. If someone is sick enough to seek care, they probably won’t be in the mood to purchase a pint of ice cream or socks while they are out. Likewise, “people coming in for groceries won’t necessarily hop over to the clinic,” Hoff said.

A retail reality check for MinuteClinic

Colleen Sanders, a family nurse practitioner in Washington, D.C., who now works in health-care education, worked a two-year stint at MinuteClinic. She pointed to margin and staffing issues she witnessed.

“Health care is a business in the USA; while we look at the giant numbers of how many billions are generated, it doesn’t mean there will be big margins. I think retailers have realized that they will not be making millions and millions of dollars,” said Sanders. “Margins are small.”

Staffing costs, meanwhile, slicing into already thin margins, meant that when Sanders worked at MinuteClinic, she did everything from checking people in, to billing and cleaning the clinic at the end of the day, and any support staff was undertrained, at best, she said. “That was the model to ensure they could do it so they didn’t have to add staff. But with volume, you need ancillary staff so the professional can dedicate time to patient care, because that is where you can bill insurance and revenue comes in.”

The 15 minutes that she was allotted to see a patient often just wasn’t enough for the complex ailments people sometimes have. For some patients, service simply wasn’t fast enough: Sanders recalled a 7-year-old she was treating remark that treatment was taking more than a minute. Ultimately, Americans’ “want-it-now” culture doesn’t mesh with medicine, and that is what the retail clinic closures are signaling. “The pace at which we want health care to work isn’t congruent with actually providing the level of service we should be providing, coupled with the cost of having support staff,” Sanders said. “If we wanted to make a dent in retail health care, then we would staff with registered nurses instead of medical assistants, but that would cost too much.”

CVS wouldn’t comment directly on the closings, but a spokesperson described the latest strategy as a combination of care delivery capabilities — a blend of virtual, in-store, and in-home services — that delivers a “more convenient experience.”

Walmart and the problem of volume vs. price

In 2019, Walmart announced a bold initiative to open in-store health clinics — according to one press report, its board approved a total of 4,000 to be added over a decade through 2029. Publicly, Walmart had only said it planned to develop a cost-efficient model and scale it appropriately, and disputed that specific number. The plans ended with the recent closing of the 51 clinics it had opened.

“Primary health care is a low margin business,” said Arielle Trzcinski, a principal analyst covering health care at research firm. Forrester. “Compared to what they see in traditional retail, health care is a fundamentally different business,” Trzcinski said, citing the challenges of navigating insurance companies and administrative burdens that health care brings.

Retailers can’t recoup money from offering primary care as a loss leader in the same way other health care organizations can.

“Primary care is a feeder for patients that need higher acuity services, such as surgery or specialists. Hospitals make money on the back end and Walmart or Walgreens didn’t have that,” Trzcinski said. CVS fares better because of its merger with health insurer Aetna that now allows for upselling of other services, including mental health.

“Walmart ultimately thought they were solving an important issue,” Trzcinski said, but she added that Walmart never really put its full marketing muscle behind the effort or created relationships with other employers to make a pathway into the clinic. “They set out to make health care more affordable and convenient for their customers. But to do that you need volume. … It takes volume or a different pricing structure, to make it work, and Walmart, in the end, had neither calibrated correctly.” 

A missed opportunity for rural America

Sanders says the business model’s constraints have even undermined one of the retail clinic concept’s great promises: health-care delivery to rural areas.

“Walmart tried to go into rural areas where providers were scarce and to meet a community need; I think it is a great idea because everyone knows where the local Walmart is. But getting providers to go to rural areas and work is really challenging. The quality of life and the things people can do in a small town are not as appealing as urban centers, so they pay providers a premium to work there,” Sanders said, and that is one more thing that eats into revenue. 

Retailers will continue to experiment with the model.

Dollar General, for example, has attempted a “workaround” by offering mobile clinics that visit some of its rural locations, and offer a variety of minor medical services.

Amazon’s recent launch of One Medical, which features a $9-a-month subscription charge for existing Prime members, offers another way to make money.

“They get your cash whether you end up using the service or not, and it is a good price if you need the care,” said Virgil Bretz, CEO of Washington-based fintech health platform MacroHealth. The care is virtual, but you can walk in if you are near a One Medical facility. Unlike most models that make money when patients come, “Amazon makes more money if you don’t show up. So there is something a little different about this retail model,” Bretz said.

In-store health clinics can be profitable and viable, and retailers are experimenting with piecemeal approaches tailored to the local market. Walgreens recently announced the opening of a handful of in-store health clinics in Connecticut, which will be run by Hartford HealthCare, with the clinics being called  “Hartford HealthCare at Walgreens.” Patients will be able to go beyond typical small-scale clinic services and tap into Hartford’s larger network of specialists and care options. 

And in Phoenix, a Be Well Health Clinic operates in a Walgreens near the campus of Arizona State University, catering just to sexual health issues.

“The common thread is it is a locally-based partnership with a local provider with the shared goal of offering convenience and access,” said a Walgreens spokesperson.

Meanwhile, in Atlanta, Little Clinics, which operate inside Kroger, is shifting services to focus on senior care.

Walmart and Kroger did not respond to requests for comment.

This is all part of what Hoff calls “health care 3.0,” a continuing disruption and evolution of primary care delivery based on market and customer needs, and including retail clinics. New models will emerge, and not every model will work.

Every several years, there is a run of outsiders trying to make changes to health care, good and bad,” Bretz said. Inevitably, they “hit the brick wall of the reality of just how complex health care can be.”

Corrections: Walgreens has a 53% stake in VillageMD, which was reduced as part of a reorganization. Walmart disputes press reports indicating it planned to open 4,000 clinics over a decade. Separately, Virgil Bretz is CEO of MacroHealth.

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Why half of all workers may struggle to get weight-loss drug health insurance coverage

An injection pen of Zepbound, Eli Lilly’s weight loss drug, is displayed in New York City on Dec. 11, 2023.

Brendan McDermid | Reuters

Companies are increasing access to new blockbuster weight-loss drugs for employees, but size of employer may make a big difference in early access. Small businesses and their workers are often stuck between a rock and a hard place when it comes to this burgeoning health insurance coverage market.

Small businesses employ roughly half of the workers in the U.S. labor market, and they have been adding jobs at a faster pace than large employers. Since the first quarter of 2021, small-business hiring accounted for 53% of the 12.2 million total net jobs created across all employers, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, consistent with the longer-term trend.

The blockbuster obesity drugs, called GLP-1 agonists, cost roughly $1,000 per month on average — and they are typically taken for a long time. Access to these weight-loss drugs is coming from an increasing number of sources in the marketplace, drug makers are ramping up production, and use cases continue to increase, with clinical trials showing benefits for conditions from sleep apnea to heart disease risk. But many of the 100 million American adults who are obese can’t afford to pay out of pocket for drugs like Novo Nordisk’s Wegovy and Eli Lilly’s Zepbound, and are turning to their employers for help. 

A survey last October of 205 companies by the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans found that 76% of respondents provided GLP-1 drug coverage for diabetes, versus only 27% that provided coverage for weight loss. But 13% of plan sponsors indicated they were considering coverage for weight loss. Covering these drugs, however, is harder for smaller employers, many of whom rely on off-the-shelf plans offered by their insurance carriers. While there are plans that cover GLP-1 drugs, the cost can be prohibitive for many small businesses.

There’s strong demand from employees for coverage and smaller employers would like to be able to do it, but there are trade-offs, said Shawn Gremminger, president and chief executive of the National Alliance of Healthcare Purchaser Coalitions, a nonprofit purchaser-led organization. Companies have to consider the impact on wages or other benefits they might like to offer. “The company money has to come from somewhere,” he said.

In some cases, small employers, even if they want to cover weight-loss drugs, are simply priced out of the market and they may have to accept they can’t offer the coverage they would like to. 

“Given the price of these drugs, you have to do the cost-benefit analysis and for a lot of small companies — even some larger ones — they just can’t do it,” Gremminger said. “No matter how much they want to.”

Here are a few issues for small business employers and employees to understand in accessing expensive weight-loss drugs as part of job benefits.

Annual benefits deals are being brokered now. Open enrollment season for health insurance doesn’t occur until the fall, but employers should be having renewal discussions with their benefits broker or agent now, and that conversation should include weight-loss drugs. Small business employers should be telling a broker they would like to be able to provide weight-loss drugs for employees, and ask for help in finding the right carrier or the right plan, said Gary Kushner, chair and president of Kushner & Company, a benefits design and management company.

The market is changing quickly. Last year, an insurance carrier asked about covering weight-loss drugs may have said no, but it’s worth asking the carrier again because they may have been forced to make changes to their offerings for competitive reasons, said Kate Moher, president of national employee health and benefits for Marsh McLennan Agency, which advises employers on plan designs and benefits programs. “You should be asking the question every year,” she said. 

Insurance premiums may rise. To gain access to weight-loss drugs, many small businesses may have to switch insurance carriers, and probably pay more. “It most likely will be more expensive if one is not covering the drugs and the other is,” Kushner said.

Employers also have to decide how much of that can be reasonably passed to employees, without unduly burdening workers who may never need these drugs. “If 20% of your population takes it, everyone’s premium goes up by whatever percentage that is to cover the cost,” Gremminger said.

Small businesses should consider a ‘captive health’ plan. Generally speaking, any business with at least 50 employees might consider working with a captive health insurance plan like Roundstone, ParetoHealth, Stealth and Amwins, Moher said. These businesses allow groups of companies who couldn’t self-insure — the approach most large corporations take — to pool resources and design a group health plan together. 

This approach may allow a small business and its employees more flexibility, Moher said, but owners still have to weigh the costs and there are requirements to qualify. It’s also not something businesses can change every year like they could when working with a traditional insurance carrier. “It’s a long-term play; you can’t jump in and out,” Moher said. 

These plans are designed for the long-term because, as member-owners, the participants all agree to spread the risk, an approach that can keep costs down over time and decrease volatility. But if business owners are looking for a quick-fix or prefer to wait and see how the market develops over the next year, it’s probably not the right model.

A GLP-1 drug standalone coverage option could also work for some small businesses. Companies like Vida Health, Calibrate, Found Health and Vitality Group provide these offerings separate from an employer’s primary carrier, Gremminger said. Employers need to do the math to determine whether it could be more cost effective, and whether the option truly suits their employees’ needs based on the offerings.

Use an FSA to help cover weight-loss drug costs. If insurance coverage options aren’t an effective solution today, small employers may have a few other ways to help employees defray the cost of weight-loss drugs. They might consider, for instance, making contributions to employees’ flexible spending accounts or health savings accounts. They could also consider a health reimbursement arrangement, or HRA, which is an employer-funded plan that reimburses employees for qualified medical expenses. 

However, there are strict rules and requirements for each of these options. For example, with an FSA, the IRS limits an employer’s contribution based on how much the employee contributes, and this still isn’t likely to suffice to cover the cost of these drugs long-term. “Does it help? Sure. Does it solve the problem? No,” Kushner said.

It’s also not a move to make without first getting sign-off from legal counsel. “You need the guidance of your ERISA attorneys to make sure you meet all the criteria,” Moher said. “It’s a creative way of doing it, but you have to make sure you’re meeting all of your compliance requirements.”

Right now, the end result can be very discouraging for small businesses and their employees given the costs and limited options, but it’s also important to know that there are 20 or so drugs in the approval pipeline. Once they get approved, costs are likely to come down, Moher said. “This is something that may be a short-term thing until we get more GLP-1 drugs approved.”

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For Black workers, progress in the workplace but still a high hill to climb

Ali and Jamila Wright, co-owners of Brooklyn Tea.

Courtesy: Brooklyn Tea

Looking at the state of Black employment in America tells a mixed story: Much progress has been made in the age of the Covid-19 pandemic and beyond, but much is left to be done.

In the nearly four years that have passed since the pandemic upended the U.S. economy, the advancement for Black people has been unmistakable: a surge in earnings that outdid the gains for both white and Hispanic people, an unemployment rate that has fallen more than a percentage point from where it stood in January 2020 and a general sense that the collective consciousness has been raised regarding inequality in the workplace.

Yet, there are still racial discrepancies in terms of earnings. Black workers are still notably underrepresented in some professions, particularly high-end tech, and efforts to address some of these issues have fallen out of favor amid criticism that they have gone too far and are inefficient.

On balance, though, there’s a feeling of optimism that real progress has been made.

“This recovery really stretched the limits of what policymakers thought was possible for Black workers,” said Jessica Fulton, interim president at the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank that focuses on issues for people and communities of color. “We were in a situation where folks accepted that Black unemployment was going to always be high and there was nothing that they could do about it. So I think this is an opportunity to continue to push the limits of what’s possible.”

When looking at the data, the numbers are encouraging.

The Black unemployment rate in January was 5.3%, up a touch from December but still near the all-time low of 4.8% hit in April 2023. Black employment in the month totaled nearly 20.9 million people, up 6.3% from February 2020, the month before the pandemic hit, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

From a pay standpoint, the numbers are even more encouraging. For Black workers, weekly before-tax earnings as of the end of 2023 have risen 24.8% since the first quarter of 2020. That’s more than the 18.1% increase for white people and the 22.6% rise for Hispanics during the period. Of the groups the BLS measures, only Asians, at 25.1% had seen bigger pay gains.

Still, the unemployment rate is lower for white people, by a wide margin at 3.4% in January.

“High unemployment for Black workers is a solvable problem,” Fulton said. “There are challenges we need to address. We need to figure out how to address discrimination, we need to figure out how do we address unequal access to high-quality workforce development. We need to figure out how to address labor loopholes.”

Focus on tech

One of the areas where the greatest discrepancies exist for underrepresented groups is technology, where Black people and others hold few positions and even fewer are in management roles.

The situation is well-documented. While Black people make up about 12% of the U.S. labor force, they hold just 8% of all tech jobs and a mere 3% of executive positions, according to a McKinsey & Company study released in 2023.

There are several groups working to address the disparity, with varying levels of success.

Those involved tell similar stories. Black workers are interested in tech and believe there are opportunities. Companies don’t understand the real-world benefits of a diverse workplace. Opportunities are limited amid a backlash against the diversity, equity and inclusion push.

“Diversity is not just a warm and fuzzy feeling. You are proven by numbers to get a better return on investment,” said Autumn Nash, a software engineer at a major tech company in the Northwest that she asked not to be named because the company hadn’t given permission for this article.

Nash, who is Black, holds a prominent position in tech, where she has worked for well over a decade while both climbing the corporate ladder and trying to assist those in her cohort achieve success as well.

Autumn Nash

Courtesy: Autumn Nash

Along with her work responsibilities, she’s involved with several organizations looking to help others achieve in tech. They include Rewriting the Code, a global network founded in 2017 that focuses on women, and MilSpouse Coders, which assists military spouses and where Nash serves as education board chair.

Companies that build diversity the right way prosper, she said. Those that don’t have suffered on a tangible level in the form of products that are inadequate and data bases that don’t reflect real-world dynamics.

“The lack of diversity has left very big, wonderful tech companies with egg on their face, because they’ve had premature products,” Nash said. “One of the best ways to fight data bias is with diversity, and it’s diversity in all different backgrounds. If you look at the boards of most big AI companies, do you see diversity there?”

Indeed, instances of bias along racial lines is still seen as a significant problem, particularly in tech.

Some 24% of tech workers said they experienced racial discrimination at work in 2022, up from 18% the prior year, according to a survey by tech career marketplace Dice. While some companies have changed their corporate culture, many others remain behind.

“There are some good stories out there,” said Sue Harnett, founder of Rewriting the Code. “Goldman Sachs and Bank of America do an outstanding job, not only trying to recruit, but actually bringing them on board and converting them from being interns to full-time employees.”

Rewriting the Code collaborates with workers and companies to address diversity issues. Specifically, the organization focuses on college women and follows them through the first six years or so on their career path.

On the downside, Harnett still sees too many token measures that don’t go far enough.

For instance, she said some companies focus on Historically Black Colleges and Universities, which only goes so far in being able to find a capable and diverse workforce.

“I cringe when I talk with a company and ask them about their diversity recruiting strategy and their answer is they work with HBCUs,” she said. “That can be part of the strategy, but it shouldn’t be the only strategy.”

Harnett is sympathetic, though, with how tough the job can be.

“The amount of money that you have to put in to try and find this talent can be overwhelming, but I think there are solutions out there, so I’m personally optimistic,” she said. “I wish we made more progress by now. But the companies are ones that will drive this.”

The small business view

Sometimes the answers are found closer to home.

Ali and Jamila Wright are co-owners of Brooklyn Tea, a small business based in the New York City borough that has expanded to Atlanta and is looking for more growth opportunities.

From a hiring strategy, they focus almost solely on underrepresented groups who have a variety of employment needs. For instance, they hire actors in between shows or other workers in other professions who have been laid off and need a bridge until they find other employment.

Ali and Jamila Wright, co-owners of Brooklyn Tea.

Courtesy: Brooklyn Tea

“All of our employees are people of color,” Ali Wright said. “We have people of color, we have people that are binary or nonbinary. So being that we are diverse ourselves, it just makes it easier to hire people that we know are systematically disadvantaged.”

Brooklyn Tea has been a beneficiary of a relatively booming small business environment, particularly for Black and Latino entrepreneurs.

Black-owned businesses as a share of Black households surged from 5% to 11% from 2019 to 2022, the fastest pace in 30 years, according to the Small Business Administration. The surge has come as the number and dollar value of loans to Black-owned businesses has more than doubled and as the share of the SBA’s loan portfolio to minority-owned businesses has jumped to more than 32% from 23% since 2020.

However, race remains a tenuous dynamic in the U.S., and there’s always the possibility that progress can be rolled back, particularly considering a growingly hostile attitude toward DEI initiatives. Critics say the approach has resulted in a misallocation of resources, particularly following controversies at Ivy League schools.

“From 2020 until 2022, that’s when we all felt the most potential and the most hope, even in the midst of a pandemic,” Jamila Wright said. “We were receiving so much funding and just collaboration from corporate entities, and that attack on DEI has impacted some of the businesses, including ours.”

But the controversies have mainly triggered a reexamination of how to achieve diversity, not a backdown on initiatives in general.

For instance, a Conference Board survey in December found no human resources executives were planning to scale back diversity efforts. Still, Jamila Wright said she is cautious about the future.

“I think history has taught us that nothing, when it comes to race in America, blows over quickly,” she said. “So it’s just us trying to figure out how to be savvy in situations where we shouldn’t have to be savvy. That has been something that we have to become equipped to do.”

CORRECTION: Autumn Nash is a software engineer at a major tech company in the Northwest. A representative for her firm misstated her name.

Bonawyn Eison: Removing barriers will lead to reform

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Long Covid is distorting the labor market — and that’s bad for the U.S. economy

Charlotte Hultquist

Charlotte Hultquist

Weeks after Charlotte Hultquist got Covid-19 in November 2020, she developed a severe pain in her right ear.

“It felt like someone was sticking a knife in [it],” said Hultquist, a single mother of five who lives in Hartford, Vermont.

The 41-year-old is one of millions of Americans who have long Covid. The chronic illness carries a host of potentially debilitating symptoms that can last for months or years, making it impossible for some to work.

For about a year, Hultquist was among those long Covid patients sidelined from the workforce. She would fall constantly, tripping just by stepping over a toy or small object on the floor. She eventually learned that the balance issues and ear pain resulted from a damaged vestibular nerve, a known effect of long Covid. After rigorous testing, a physical therapist told Hultquist she had the “balance of a 1-year-old learning to walk.”

Her body — which she said felt like it weighed 1,000 pounds — couldn’t regulate its temperature, causing dramatic swings from cold to hot.

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Here’s a look at more stories on the complexities and implications of long Covid:

Her work on the Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center’s information desk required a sharp memory of the hospital’s layout — but long Covid dulled that clarity, too. She had to quit her job as a patient care representative in March 2021.

“I couldn’t work when my memory just kept failing,” Hultquist said.

There remain many unknowns about long Covid, including causes, cures, even how to define it. But this much is clear: The illness is disabling thousands, perhaps millions, of workers to such an extent that they must throttle back hours or leave the workforce altogether.

In other words, at a time when job openings are near an all-time high, long Covid is reducing the supply of people able to fill those positions. The dynamic may have large and adverse effects on the U.S. economy.

Long Covid “is certainly wind blowing in the other direction” of economic growth, said Betsey Stevenson, a professor of public policy and economics at the University of Michigan who served as chief economist for the U.S. Department of Labor in the Obama administration.

Up to 4 million people are out of work

Mild symptoms, employer accommodations or significant financial need can all keep people with long Covid employed. But in many cases, long Covid impacts work.

Katie Bach

nonresident senior fellow at the Brookings Institution

Katie Bach, a nonresident senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, has published one of the higher estimates to date. She found that 2 million to 4 million full-time workers are out of the labor force due to long Covid. (To be counted in the labor force, an individual must have a job or be actively looking for work.)

The midpoint of her estimate — 3 million workers — accounts for 1.8% of the entire U.S. civilian labor force. The figure may “sound unbelievably high” but is consistent with the impact in other major economies like the United Kingdom, Bach wrote in an August report. The figures are also likely conservative, since they exclude workers over age 65, she said.

“Mild symptoms, employer accommodations or significant financial need can all keep people with long Covid employed,” Bach said. “But in many cases, long Covid impacts work.”

Impact akin to extra year of baby boomers retiring

Other studies have also found a sizable, though more muted, impact.

Economists Gopi Shah Goda and Evan Soltas estimated 500,000 Americans had left the labor force through this June due to Covid.

That led the labor force participation rate to fall by 0.2 percentage points — which may sound small but amounts to about the same share as baby boomers retiring each year, according to the duo, respectively of the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Put another way: Long Covid’s labor impact translates to an extra year of population aging, Goda said.

For the average person, the work absence from long Covid translates to $9,000 in foregone earnings over a 14-month period — representing an 18% reduction in pay during that time, Goda and Soltas said. In aggregate, the lost labor supply amounts to $62 billion a year — equivalent to half the lost earnings attributable to illnesses like cancer or diabetes.

What’s more, foregone pay may complicate a person’s ability to afford medical care, especially if coupled with the loss of health insurance through the workplace.

A separate Brookings paper published in October estimated about 420,000 workers aged 16 to 64 years old had likely left the labor force because of long Covid. The authors — Louise Sheiner and Nasiha Salwati — cite a “reasonable” range of 281,000 to 683,000 people, or 0.2% to 0.4% of the U.S. labor force.

About 26% of long-haulers said their illness negatively affected employment or work hours, according to a July report published by the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis. Those with long Covid were 10 percentage points less likely to be employed than individuals without a prior Covid infection, and worked 50% fewer hours, on average, according to Dasom Ham, the report’s author.

Return to work can be ‘a really frustrating experience’

Outside of these economic models, the labor impact was borne out in numerous CNBC interviews with long Covid patients and doctors who specialize in treating the illness.

Just half of the patients who visit the Mayo Clinic’s Covid Activity Rehabilitation Program can work a full-time schedule, said Dr. Greg Vanichkachorn, the program’s medical director.

“Because of the brain fog issues in addition to physical symptoms, many patients have had a really frustrating experience trying to get back to work,” Vanichkachorn said.

Those able to return, even part-time, sometimes face hostility from employers and co-workers, he added.

For one, many of the hundreds of potential long Covid symptoms are invisible to others, even if disabling for the afflicted. Difficulty meeting a work deadline due to brain fog or extreme fatigue, for example, may not be met kindly by their colleagues.

Long Covid is so different for so many different people.

Alice Burns

associate director of the Program on Medicaid and the Uninsured at health-care nonprofit The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation

“There are some people out there who don’t even think Covid exists,” Vanichkachorn said.

Meanwhile, long Covid can put even accommodating employers in a tricky situation. It can take several months for a patient to make progress in treatment and therapy — meaning some businesses may need to make tough retention, hiring and personnel decisions, Vanichkachorn said. Lengthy recovery times mean a patient’s job might be filled in the interim, he said.

And patients’ symptoms can relapse if they push themselves too rigorously, experts said.

“You can bring a [long Covid] diagnosis to your employer, but it doesn’t allow you to say, ‘I need to be part time for X number of months,” said Alice Burns, associate director of the Program on Medicaid and the Uninsured at health care nonprofit the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. “It may be more months or fewer months; it may mean you can return 10% or 80%.

“That’s just because long Covid is so different for so many different people.”

Why the long Covid labor gap matters

Jerome Powell, chair of the Federal Reserve, mentioned Sheiner and Salwati’s long Covid research in a recent speech about inflation and the labor market.

Millions of people left the labor force in the early days of the pandemic, due to factors like illness, caregiving and fear of infection. But workers haven’t returned as quickly as imagined, particularly those outside their prime working years, Powell said. About 3.5 million workers are still missing, he said.

While most of that shortfall is due to “excess” (i.e., early) retirements, “some of the participation gap” is attributable to long Covid, Powell said. Other big contributors to the shortfall include a plunge in net immigration to the U.S. and a surge in deaths during the pandemic, he added.

“Looking back, we can see that a significant and persistent labor supply shortfall opened up during the pandemic — a shortfall that appears unlikely to fully close anytime soon,” the Fed chair said.

That shortfall has broad economic repercussions.

When the U.S. economy started to reopen in early 2021 from its pandemic-era hibernation — around the time Covid vaccines became widely available to Americans — demand for labor catapulted to historic highs.

Job openings peaked near 12 million in March 2022 and remain well above the pre-pandemic high. There are currently 1.7 job openings per unemployed American — meaning the available jobs are almost double the number of people looking for work, though the ratio has declined in recent months.  

That demand has led businesses to raise wages to compete for talent, helping fuel the fastest wage growth in 25 years, according to Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta data.

While strong wage growth “is a good thing” for workers, its current level is unsustainably high, Powell said, serving to stoke inflation, which is running near its highest level since the early 1980s. (There are many tentacles feeding into inflation, and the extent to which wage growth is contributing is the subject of debate, however.)

A worker shortage — exacerbated by long Covid — is helping underpin dynamics that have fueled fast-rising prices for household goods and services.

But the labor gap is just the “tip of the iceberg,” said Stevenson at the University of Michigan. There are all sorts of unknowns relative to the economic impact of long Covid, such as effects on worker productivity, the types of jobs they can do, and how long the illness persists, she said.

“When you’re sick, you’re not productive, and that’s not good for you or for anybody around you,” Stevenson said of the economic impact.

For example, lost pay might weigh on consumer spending, the lifeblood of the U.S. economy. The sick may need to lean more on public aid programs, like Medicaid, disability insurance or nutrition assistance (i.e., food stamps) funded by taxpayer dollars.

Economic drag will rise if recovery rates don’t improve

In all, long Covid is a $3.7 trillion drain on the U.S. economy, an aggregate cost rivaling that of the Great Recession, estimated David Cutler, an economist at Harvard University. Prior to the pandemic, the Great Recession had been the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression. His estimate is conservative, based on known Covid cases at the time of his analysis.

Americans would forgo $168 billion in lost earnings — about 1% of all U.S. economic output — if 3 million were out of work due to long Covid, said Bach of the Brookings Institution. That burden will continue to rise if long Covid patients don’t start recovering at greater rates, she said.

“To give a sense of the magnitude: If the long Covid population increases by just 10% each year, in 10 years, the annual cost of lost wages will be half a trillion dollars,” Bach wrote.

Charlotte Hultquist

Charlotte Hultquist

Hultquist was able to return to the workforce part time in March, after a yearlong absence.

The Vermont resident sometimes had to reduce her typical workweek of about 20 hours, due partly to ongoing health issues, as well as multiple doctor appointments for both her and her daughter, who also has long Covid. Meanwhile, Hultquist nearly emptied her savings.

Hultquist has benefited from different treatments, including physical therapy to restore muscle strength, therapy to “tone” the vagus nerve (which controls certain involuntary bodily functions) and occupational therapy to help overcome cognitive challenges, she said.

“All my [health] providers keep saying, ‘We don’t know what the future looks like. We don’t know if you’ll get better like you were before Covid,'” Hultquist said.

The therapy and adaptations eventually led her to seek full-time employment. She recently accepted a full-time job offer from the New Hampshire Department of Health & Human Services, where she’ll serve as a case aide for economic services.

“It feels amazing to be recovered enough to work full time,” Hultquist said. “I’m very far from pre-Covid functioning but I found a way to keep moving forward.”

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It’s open enrollment season for health coverage. If you’re self-employed, you can’t afford to ignore it

Open enrollment season can be a time of trepidation for the self-employed

The stakes are especially high because if you need to buy individual or family coverage, the next few weeks could be your only chance for 2024, barring certain exceptions such as moving to a different state, getting married, divorced or having a child. 

“For most people, the nationwide open enrollment period for individual and family coverage is your best shot to review your options and enroll in a new plan,” explained Anthony Lopez, vice president of individual and family and small business plans at eHealth, a private online marketplace for health insurance, in an email.

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Picking health insurance on your own — without the help of a human resources department — can be daunting. Instead of throwing up your hands in frustration, here are answers to questions self-employed individuals often have about open enrollment.

Healthcare.gov and other options for information

Freelancers, consultants, independent contractors and other self-employed individuals can visit www.healthcare.gov to research and enroll in flexible, high-quality health coverage, either through the federal government or their state, depending on where they live. You can also choose to work directly with an insurance agent or with a private online marketplace to help you wade through options. To be considered self-employed, you can’t have anyone working for you. If you have even one employee, you may be able to use the SHOP Marketplace for small businesses

The deadlines you need to stay on top of

Most states set a deadline of Dec. 15 for coverage that begins Jan. 1, so don’t delay when it comes to signing up for benefits, said Alexa Irish, co-chief executive of Catch, which helps self-employed individuals choose health-care plans. Also, remember to pay your first month’s premium before your health care is supposed to start or you’ll be out of luck as well. “If you miss those deadlines, there’s no wiggle room,” said Laura Speyer, co-CEO of Catch.

If you are already enrolled in a marketplace plan

Those who were already enrolled in a plan last year can make changes by Dec. 15 for coverage that begins Jan. 1. Doing nothing will mean they are automatically reenrolled in last year’s marketplace plan. 

Qualifying for tax credits and other savings

Many people assume they won’t be entitled to savings, but they should still investigate their options, Irish said. Indeed, 91% of total marketplace enrollees received an advance premium tax credit in February 2023, which lowers their monthly health insurance payment, according to data from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, a federal agency within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Credits and other eligible savings are available based on an applicant’s income and household size and can be estimated even before they officially apply. It’s advisable to check for savings possibilities every year, Irish said.

What to consider in making coverage decisions

The thought process will be similar to what you went through when picking health insurance offered by an employer. Whether you are signing up for the first time — or deciding whether to renew your existing plan or choose a different one — you’ll want to consider factors such as who in the family needs the coverage and for what purposes, and how different plans compare in terms of coverage options and cost. This analysis needs to take into account copays, prescription drugs you take or may start to take, whether the plan covers your doctors, and out-of-pocket maximums. 

If you’re self-employed and aiming to grow your business in the coming year, possibly by hiring employees, it’s good to know you can enroll in a small business plan at any time of the year, Lopez said. “Small business group plans aren’t governed by the same open enrollment rules as individual and family plans. So, you can enroll in an individual plan today, then switch over to a group plan in mid-2024 if you add a couple employees and want to provide them with health benefits,” he said.

How much health insurance costs the self-employed

Cost will vary, depending on the plan you choose, who is covered and what subsidies you’re eligible for. But, as a general guide, the average total monthly premium before tax subsidies in February 2023 was $604.78. The average total premium per month paid by consumers after the tax subsidies was $123.69, according to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.

Self-employed individuals may also be eligible for a cost-sharing reduction, a discount that lowers the amount paid for deductibles, copayments and coinsurance. You’ll find out what you qualify for when you fill out a marketplace application, but keep in mind, you need to enroll in a “Silver” plan, one of four categories of marketplace plans, to get the cost-sharing reduction. 

Wading through policy options, working with an agent

You don’t have to go through the process alone. There are assisters who are trained and certified by marketplaces to help you apply and enroll. If you want more specific help, you can also choose to work with an agent or broker who is trained and certified to sell marketplace health plans in the state they are licensed. Agents can advise you and give you more detailed information about the plans they sell, and since health insurance premiums are regulated by your state’s Department of Insurance, you don’t have to worry about paying more by working with an agent.

A few things to note: Some agents may offer other plans that aren’t available on government exchanges, but that comply with government requirements. However, to take advantage of a premium tax credit and other savings, you must enroll for a plan through a state or federal marketplace, on your own or through an agent. 

The risk and reward of high-deductible plans

Marketplaces offer multiple plans to choose from and they will vary in terms of coverage and price. One option that’s becoming more popular, especially with young entrepreneurs, is called a high-deductible health insurance plan. This type of insurance plan comes with higher deductibles in exchange for lower premiums, which could be a good choice for people who are healthy and don’t visit the doctor much. Another benefit of a qualified high-deductible plan is the ability to contribute to a tax-advantaged savings vehicle known as a health savings account, or HSA. 

When deciding whether to choose a high-deductible plan, individuals should take into account factors such as how often they visit the doctor, how much they can afford to pay out of pocket, whether their doctors are in network and what the out-of-pocket maximums are. It’s also important to know you have the means to cover a high-cost medical event, should the need arise. If a high-deductible plan makes sense for your circumstances, you can then consider an HSA.

Lopez recommends people don’t delay when it comes to reviewing their coverage options, which may also include dental and vision insurance. “The last week or so of open enrollment can be a busy time for licensed agents too; if you want the best chance of talking to an agent to get your personal questions answered, don’t put it off.”

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It may take $10 million to achieve ‘financial freedom,’ say ‘Earn Your Leisure’ hosts

Troy Millings, left, and Rashad Bilal, co-creators of Earn Your Leisure.

Source: Tyrell Davis

Rashad Bilal and Troy Millings are among a growing class of financial influencers who want to help people be smarter about money.

The duo — a former financial advisor and a teacher, respectively — launched the podcast “Earn Your Leisure” nearly five years ago with a mission to promote literacy around money and entrepreneurship.

About 1 in 7 people lost more than $10,000 in 2022 due to a lack of financial literacy, according to a study by the National Financial Educators Council.

“I realized there were certain things that weren’t taught inside schools — financial literacy and financial education being one of them,” Millings said of the idea to create Earn Your Leisure.

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Today, Earn Your Leisure has expanded to create multiple podcasts, host live events and offer an online educational platform, EYL University. It has 1.4 million Instagram followers and another 1.4 million YouTube subscribers. Its flagship podcast has an average 3 million downloads a month, said Bilal and Millings. It’s also developing a financial literacy curriculum for high schools.

CNBC interviewed the duo — who have been friends since childhood — to talk about personal finance and financial literacy in the U.S.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

‘Investing is not just for rich and wealthy people’

Greg Iacurci: You told CNBC last year that your “purpose is financial literacy and empowerment.” When it comes to financial literacy, what’s the No. 1 mistake you see people making with their finances?

Rashad Bilal: Not understanding the importance of investing, or [not] knowing how compound interest works.

For a long period of time, investing was something that people looked at more as a luxury, not a necessity, [thinking] if you’re able to invest then you’re in the top 1%, or you have to be wealthy to even consider that.

Investing is not just for rich and wealthy people. It’s for everybody. You can start with smaller balances and dollar-cost average.

Troy Millings: The relationship with money: People don’t understand what to do with it or how to save it. These are simple concepts we’re not taught. When we don’t know what to do, we do what we know, and that’s often spending outside our means. Mistakes are made because nobody is educated.

People may have heard that investing and compound interest are important but might not know why. Can you speak to that?

Bilal: The only way to really achieve financial freedom is if your money is growing without you working for the money. How to achieve that is through investing. One dollar will only be $1 if it’s saved in the bank. But $1 can become $2 if it’s invested.

Most people understand this without even fully realizing that they understand it because they have a retirement plan. The whole point of a retirement plan is investing. You put money into a 401(k), and that money gets invested with the expectation that when you’re 65, 70 years old you’ll have a nest egg you can draw from and live off of in retirement.

The only pathway to not working forever, to having money in abundance, is to find ways to make more money with the money you currently have.

What it takes to achieve financial freedom

Troy Millings, left, and Rashad Bilal, co-creators of Earn Your Leisure.

Source: Greenleaf Multimedia

You mentioned financial freedom. How much money does someone need to be financially free?

Bilal: I think everybody is different. I think it depends on where you live. But I would say, I think you have to be in the eight-figure-net-worth range if you live in suburban or metropolitan areas. I would say around that $10 million figure would provide some level of comfort if other aspects of your life are maintained.

And what is financial freedom?

Millings: I think it’s having enough financial resources to pay for your lifestyle, your living expenses, and also allows you money to invest.

It could differ. It could be in that eight-figure range. Or it could be seven figures. It’s really about having the financial resources to do what you want and invest and create generational wealth. It needs to be something that lasts for generations.

Earn Your Leisure co-founders on the importance of financial literacy

Some people might hear that — seven or eight figures — and think, “How is that possible for me?” Do you think it’s possible for most people?

Bilal: Most people probably aren’t going to make $10 million — I’m just being honest to the question you asked. We have to be honest.

But some people will. This is why we’re big on entrepreneurship, we’re big on investing. You might not be able to accumulate $10 million in your lifetime, but you might be able to accumulate $1 million or $1.5 million. That’s still better than being 70 years old with $20,000 in your bank account.

I think the aspiration towards a certain goal, you might not be able to actually obtain that goal, but if you fall short you’ll still probably be better [off] than you would have been if you had no aspiration and didn’t follow any rules or didn’t try to invest or start a business; you live off what you have. You won’t buy a $1 million home if you only have $1,000 in your bank account. Your life will still be better financially than if you didn’t follow the pathway towards the goal.

Making it ‘cool to be educated’ about money

For the person who’s just starting out investing, how would you suggest they go about it?

Millings: When you’re young, you want to be as aggressive as possible, and when you’re older, you want to get more conservative. Risk mitigation is a huge part of that. We always tell people to start with indexes — an entire index or entire [industry] sector in an exchange-traded fund. That keeps you from having the volatility of watching a stock either appreciate — where you might get some upside — or depreciate, where the risk on the downside is far greater. 

High school classes in financial literacy use real-world examples to teach budgeting

In a recent discussion with entrepreneur and musician Sean “Diddy” Combs, you mentioned that when he met you, he said you “make it cool to be educated.” How do you go about that?

Millings: We’re authentically ourselves, so there’s a natural relatability because people see themselves in us. When people talk about finance they try to make it a language that is upspoken to the masses. Our mission was to democratize it, to make it seem like something that can be very relatable and digestible. We show up the way we are, we wear sweatshirts, we wear hoodies. We represent everybody. It doesn’t feel like it’s only for the elite or it’s only for a select crowd.

It’s the same thing in the classroom: A student has to realize this is someone I can learn from and who I want to teach me. Our audience kind of feels that way when they look at us. We’re also very vocal that we’re learning as well. We don’t know everything, and we bring people on [the show] who can educate us.

‘Having money doesn’t alleviate the problems’

For your podcasts, you’ve interviewed several famous and wealthy people — pro athletes, musicians and entertainers, for example. Are there certain things about finance that seem just as confusing for the rich and famous as for the average person?

Bilal: Yeah, I think a lot of people don’t have a full understanding of finance. It doesn’t matter how much money you make. That’s a common misconception.

Having money doesn’t alleviate the problems, it just makes the problems even worse. Understanding money or having a good understanding of money isn’t something that’s correlated with how much money you have.

Financial literacy is something I think gets metastasized on the highest level. Those are the same issues that everybody else has, it’s just everybody else doesn’t have the opportunity to lose $30 million or invest $20 million into a bad investment and then it goes belly up. If given the opportunity they probably would, it’s just they don’t have it. It’s a bigger microscope on celebrities because they’re public figures.

Is that because wealthy people and celebrities have a capacity to overspend more than the average person?

Bilal: I think it’s not so much just a spending situation. That’s a common misconception also, that they go broke because they spend money lavishly. That’s one part of it. But another major part is they’re actually trying to do the right thing, they’re just misinformed.

You see a lot of people make bad decisions when it comes to investing. They’ll invest in things that might be Ponzi schemes, bad real estate deals, they’ll be led down a bad path when it comes to financial advisors or people they trust. They think they’re doing something productive with their money but they actually are losing money because the investments aren’t fully vetted, they don’t fully understand what they’re investing in.

So I think it’s a little more complicated than just spending habits. It all comes back to not having a basic level of understanding and education when it comes to money.

It seems there’s some relatability there for everyday people.

Bilal: For sure. Look at crypto, for example. If you look at [the cryptocurrency] dogecoin, a lot of people made misinformed decisions. They thought they were doing something productive. They didn’t go into it with the intention of losing money. In their brain it was like, ‘This is an opportunity to turn $5,000 into $20,000.’ And they potentially lost all of their money.

It’s the same thing [with celebrities]. It’s just played out on bigger levels.

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Why tornadoes are more destructive than ever in the U.S.

May 22, 2011, began as a beautiful day in Joplin, Missouri. Families and friends gathered outside. Suddenly, the sky changed. Troy Bolander, who grew up in nearby Kansas, noticed the clouds beginning to swirl. He began to prepare his crawl space. Ann Leach, a life coach, was also at home. Tornado sirens blared. Ann took cover on her bathroom floor as a massive EF5 tornado descended upon Joplin. Troy sheltered in his crawl space.

One hundred sixty-one people were killed in the Joplin tornado. Both Troy, a city official, and Ann survived. The May 2011 Joplin tornado left behind almost $3 billion in damage, making it the costliest U.S. tornado on record.

Tornadoes are a billion-dollar problem in the United States. From 2018 to 2023, there have been 17 billion-dollar climate disasters involving tornadoes. And the costs are expected to grow.

Billion-dollar disasters

The U.S. sees about 1,200 tornadoes each year. That’s more than anywhere else in the world.

“Tornadoes are a big problem in the United States,” said Anne Cope, chief engineer at the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety.

In 2022 alone, the U.S. experienced two separate billion-dollar tornado outbreaks.

Based on estimated wind speeds and damage, tornadoes can range on a scale from EF0 to EF5.

“This rating scale came to us because wind engineers went out into the field to look at the damage,” Cope said. “And then based on the damage, they were trying to predict what the wind speeds are … so we have developed this system based on how the buildings react.”

That means a tornado’s rating is directly related to the resilience of the buildings in the community it hits.

The powerful EF5 tornado that struck Joplin 12 years ago had estimated winds of 200 miles an hour, according to Joplin city records. It was initially one half mile wide and expanded to three-quarters of a mile wide, traveling on the ground for about 13 miles across the city limits and beyond.

“My place was totally destroyed,” Joplin resident Ann Leach said.

In total, 7,500 residential dwellings in the city were damaged or destroyed. According to the Joplin Area Chamber of Commerce, 553 businesses were destroyed or severely damaged in the tornado.

But Joplin rebuilt.

“It was phenomenal how swiftly the community came together to respond and help their neighbors out,” Leach said.

“Rebuilding is a very long process and it’s one that is arduous,” said FEMA Associate Administrator for Resilience Victoria Salinas. “It oftentimes takes years to be able to rebuild communities, homes, [and] businesses. And it takes communities coming together to really think about the future and what they’re going to do differently to build more resilience into their communities as they move forward.” 

Shifting patterns

The central Great Plains of the U.S., including states like Kansas and Texas, have historically experienced more tornadoes than anywhere else in the nation.

However, experts say tornadoes can occur across the U.S.

“If you were to ask a thousand tornado scientists where Tornado Alley is, they’re all going to give you different definitions,” said Victor Gensini, associate professor in the Department of Earth, Atmosphere and Environment at Northern Illinois University. “The reality is, is that all 50 states, including Alaska and Hawaii, receive tornadoes.”

Places in the Southeast and Midwest have seen an increase in tornado frequency.

“That is really important because we have way more people living east of the Mississippi River,” Gensini said. “And so basically, we have more targets, more exposure, more vulnerability as humans, our built environment, where these tornadoes are happening, and that creates more and more tornado disasters.”

Some cities in these regions include Memphis, Indianapolis and Nashville. 

In March 2020, a deadly tornado hit Nashville, leaving behind over $1.5 billion in damage.

“It’s kind of like this two-sided coin, if you will, where we have this change in probability due to climate. But we also have this increasing footprint and exposure and vulnerability that are going to continue to drive the losses in the future,” Gensini said. “And that’s really how we have to look at this problem. It’s a multifaceted issue.”

Investing in resilience

The U.S. is not helpless when it comes to tornado damage. Engineers know how to build stronger structures that can withstand high winds.

“A lot of tornado damage is preventable,” Cope said. “The EF0 and EF1 portion of the storms, that type of damage can be prevented with strong, resilient building construction. Costs a little bit more than typical building construction, but it’s definitely resilient and it prevents that type of damage.”

The IBHS has some specific recommendations for building resiliently, including having a wind-rated garage door and when reroofing, choosing a stronger option.

In the 2011 Joplin tornado, 84% of deaths resulted from building and structural failures. Missouri does not have a mandatory statewide building code, but in the wake of the massive EF5 tornado, the city of Joplin made some changes to protect its buildings and people from damaging winds. The new codes require anchor bolts every four feet and require hurricane clips to connect the roof to the walls, among other provisions.

“When you’re in an EF5 tornado and the winds are over 200 miles an hour, that system is still going to fail,” said Bolander, Joplin’s director of planning, development, and neighborhood services. “But many of the homes that were on the edge of that zone probably could have been spared if we had that in place.”

Not all communities have building codes in place. As of November 2020, 65% of counties, cities and towns in the U.S. are not covered by modern building codes.

“We should have building codes in all of the places in the United States where the wind can impact us, which is the whole of the United States,” Cope said. “But sadly, only 17 states in the U.S. have a statewide building code and many states that don’t have a statewide building code; it’s a patchwork of counties or local municipalities that might have one and then large unincorporated areas that don’t have one.”

Part of the challenge with building tornado resilience in the U.S. is that building codes are generally a local and a financial decision.

“So we’re talking about counties and municipalities who all have to make a choice or not make a choice,” Cope said. “And these are sometimes tough financial decisions.”

“We didn’t want to increase the cost of housing so much that people couldn’t rebuild or some people couldn’t afford to rebuild,” Bolander said. “So that was a debate amongst ourselves, you know, how far do we want to go with these building code changes?”

Federal resources are also available when it comes to building resiliently. In 2022, FEMA released the FEMA Building Codes Strategy to advance its building code efforts and strengthen resiliency nationwide. The Biden administration has also designated billions of dollars for climate resilience and weatherization through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and the Inflation Reduction Act.

Watch the video above to see how the U.S. can work to try and fix its billion-dollar tornado problem.

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UAW strike brings blue-collar vs. billionaire battle to Detroit

DETROIT — The United Auto Workers strike is bringing a blue-collar versus billionaire battle to the Motor City, just as UAW President Shawn Fain wanted.

The outspoken union leader has weaponized striking — historically a last resort for the union — after less than 24 hours into a work stoppage arguably better than any UAW president has in modern times.

It wasn’t by accident.

Fain, a quirky yet emboldened leader, has meticulously brought the UAW back into the national spotlight after decades of near irrelevance. He wants to represent not just union members but also America’s embattled middle class, which UAW helped create.

United Auto Workers union President Shawn Fain joins UAW members who are on a strike, on the picket line at the Ford Michigan Assembly Plant in Wayne, Michigan, September 15, 2023.

Rebecca Cook | Reuters

To do so, he has leveraged a yearslong national labor movement and a growing disgust for wealthy individuals and corporations among many Americans — starting with his first time addressing the union’s more than 400,000 members during his inauguration speech in March.

“We’re here to come together to ready ourselves for the war against our only one and only true enemy, multibillion-dollar corporations and employers who refuse to give our members their fair share,” Fain said at the time. “It’s a new day in the UAW.”

Fain’s comments Friday morning as he joined UAW members and supporters picketing outside a Ford plant in Michigan — one of three facilities the company is currently striking — echoed everything he said during that first speech.

“We got to do what we got to do to get our share of economic and social justice in this strike,” Fain said outside the Ford Bronco SUV and Ranger pickup plant. “We’re going to be out here until we get our share of economic justice. And it doesn’t matter how long it takes.”

Fain’s upbringing plays into his strong unionism and religious beliefs, which he has growingly talked about with members as he emphasizes “faith” in the UAW’s cause. Two of his grandparents were UAW GM retirees, and one grandfather started at Chrysler in 1937, the year the workers joined the union. Fain, who joined the UAW in 1994, even keeps one of his grandfather’s pay stubs in his wallet as “a reminder” of where he came from. 

National media and others really started paying attention to Fain when he said the union would withhold a reelection endorsement of President Joe Biden, who has called himself the “most pro-union president in history.” Fain and Biden have spoken and met, but the union leader has not shown much support for the president. In response to comments by the president Friday, Fain said: “Working people are not afraid. You know who’s afraid? The corporate media is afraid. The White House is afraid. The companies are afraid.”

While many past union leaders have talked such talk, Fain has thus far delivered on his promises to members without batting an eye — causing General Motors, Ford Motor and Stellantis to go into crisis mode this week as the UAW follows through on that promise to members.

“We’ve never seen anything like this; it’s frustrating,” Ford CEO Jim Farley told CNBC’s Phil LeBeau Thursday as he criticized Fain and the union for what he said was a lack of communication and counteroffers. “I don’t know what Shawn Fain is doing, but he’s not negotiating this contract with us, as it expires.”

In a statement Friday, Ford said that the UAW’s partial strike at its Michigan Assembly Plant has forced it to lay off about 600 workers.

“This is not a lockout,” Ford said. “This layoff is a consequence of the strike at Michigan Assembly Plant’s final assembly and paint departments, because the components built by these 600 employees use materials that must be e-coated for protection. E-coating is completed in the paint department, which is on strike.”

GM CEO Mary Barra echoed Farley’s feelings Friday morning on CNBC’s “Squawk Box.”

“I’m extremely frustrated and disappointed,” she said. “We don’t need to be on strike right now.”

Both CEOs said everything they could to indicate they believe Fain may not be bargaining in good faith without using those exact words, which could justify a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board.

The UAW in late August filed unfair labor practice charges against GM and Stellantis with the NLRB, alleging they did not bargain with the union in good faith or a timely manner. It did not file a complaint against Ford. GM and Stellantis have denied those allegations.

Ford CEO Jim Farley: No way we would be sustainable as a company with UAW's wage proposal

Several past union leaders and company bargainers who spoke to CNBC hailed the way Fain has been able to propel the UAW into the national spotlight, including pausing bargaining for a Friday rally and march with Sen. Bernie Sanders, the progressive lawmaker from Vermont. Sanders, whose surprise 2016 Democratic presidential primary win in Michigan helped cement his national prominence, has lent support to numerous labor movements around the country as he rails against the billionaire class.

“I think they’re just doing an outstanding job,” said respected former UAW President Bob King, who cited growing support for the union among the public and the union’s own members. “Both those measurements say that UAW communications has been outstanding.”

UAW members have taken notice — especially after many of them disdained union leadership during and after a yearslong federal corruption investigation that landed two past UAW presidents and more than a dozen others in prison.

“For all the years that I’ve worked here, it’s never been this strong,” said Anthony Dobbins, a 27-year autoworker, early Friday morning while picketing the Ford plant in Michigan. “This is going to make history right here because we are trying to get what we deserve.”

Dobbins, a UAW Local 600 union representative, balked at current record offers by the automakers that have included roughly 20% pay increases, thousands of dollars in bonuses, retention of the union’s platinum health care and other sweetened benefits.

“That’s not working for us. Give us what we asked for,” Dobbins said. “That’s what we want. We have to work seven days, overtime, just to make ends meet.”

United Auto Workers President Shawn Fain, center, poses with Anthony Dobbins, right, a 27-year autoworker, and others as the union pickets a Ford plant in Wayne, Michigan, Sept. 15, 2023.

Michael Wayland / CNBC

Key demands from the union have included 40% hourly pay increases; a reduced, 32-hour, workweek; a shift back to traditional pensions; the elimination of compensation tiers; and a restoration of cost-of-living adjustments. Other items on the table include enhanced retiree benefits and better vacation and family leave benefits.

Automakers have argued such demands would cripple the companies. Farley even said the company would have “gone bankrupt by now” under the union’s current proposals and members would not have benefited from $75,000 in average profit-sharing over the last decade.

Ford sources said the automaker would have lost $14.4 billion over the last four years if the current demands had been in effect, instead of recording nearly $30 billion in profits.

Such profits are exactly what Fain has said UAW members deserve to share in. But his strategy to get workers a larger piece of the pie carries great risks.

“This is not going to be positive from an industry perspective or for GM,” Barra said Friday.

Many outside the union believe if Fain pushes too hard, it could lead to long-term job losses for the union. A former high-ranking bargainer for one of the automakers told CNBC that it’s nearly guaranteed the companies cut union jobs through product allocation, plant closures or other means to offset increased labor costs.

“They’re going to have to pay up. The question is how much,” said the longtime bargainer, who agreed to speak on the condition of anonymity. “This ends up with fewer jobs. That’s how the automakers cut costs.”

Fain and other union leaders have argued that meeting the companies in the middle has led to dozens of plant closures, fewer union members and a growing divide between blue-collar workers and the wealthy.

So why not fight?

“This is about us doing what we got to do to take care of the working class,” Fain said Friday. “This isn’t just about the UAW. This is about working people everywhere in this country. No matter what you do for a living, you deserve your fair share of equity.”

GM CEO Mary Barra on UAW strike: We put a historic offer on the table

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Here’s everything coming to Amazon’s Prime Video in September 2023

Amazon’s Prime Video has high hopes for its September lineup, which includes the return of “The Wheel of Time” and a spinoff of “The Boys.”

After a two-year layoff, Season 2 of the sprawling fantasy epic “The Wheel of Time” (Sept. 1) picks up with Moraine (Rosamund Pike) and Rand (Josha Stradowski) now scattered and forced to regroup as the Dark One turns out to be far from defeated. Season 1 was one of Prime’s most-watched series ever, and Season 2 will reportedly be darker and more action-packed, spanning the second and third books of Robert Jordan’s series.

The end of the month will bring the premiere of “Gen V” (Sept. 27), set in “The Boys” universe and following a group of students with extraordinary abilities at a prestigious — and extremely competitive — college for superheroes-to-be. It looks every bit as depraved and violent as the massively popular “The Boys,” for better or worse.

Also see: What’s coming in September to Netflix | Hulu

Amazon’s
AMZN,
+1.08%

streaming service also has “Kelce” (Sept. 12), a feature documentary about Philadelphia Eagles All-Pro center Jason Kelce’s 2022-’23 season, which will serve as a prelude to the return of NFL Thursday Night Football (Sept. 14), which kicks off with the Eagles against the Minnesota Vikings.

Here’s the complete list of what else is coming to Prime Video in September (release dates are subject to change):

What’s coming to Prime Video in September 2023

Sept. 1

Spin City S1-6 (1997)
The Wheel of Time Season 2
10 Things I Hate About You (1999)
2001: A Space Odyssey (1970)
21 Grams (2004)
23:59 (2011)
A Bullet for Pretty Boy (1970)
A Force of One (1979)
A Man Called Sarge (1990)
A Matter of Time (1976)
A Rage to Live (1965)
Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948)
After Midnight (1989)
Alakazam the Great (1961)
Alex Cross (2012)
All About My Mother (2000)
Amazons of Rome (1963)
American Ninja (1985)
American Ninja 2: The Confrontation (1987)
American Ninja 3: Blood Hunt (1989)
American Ninja 4: The Annihilation (1991)
Anaconda (1997)
And Your Name Is Jonah (1979)
Angel Eyes (2001)
Apartment 143 (2012)
April Morning (1988)
Arabian Nights (2000)
Are You in the House Alone? (2022)
Army of Darkness (1993)
As Above, So Below (2014)
Back to School (1986)
Bad Education (2020)
Bad News Bears (2005)
Bailout at 43,000 (1957)
Balls Out (2015)
Beer (1985)
Behind the Mask (1999)
Belly of an Architect (1990)
Berlin Tunnel 21 (1981)
Bewitched (2005)
Billion Dollar Brain (1967)
Blow (2001)
Body Slam (1987)
Born to Race (2011)
Bowling for Columbine (2002)
Boy of the Streets (1937)
Breakdown (1997)
Brides of Dracula (1960)
Brigadoon (1954)
Broken Embraces (2010)
Buster (1988)
Calendar Girl Murders (1984)
California Dreaming (1979)
Campus Rhythm (1943)
Captain Kidd and the Slave Girl (1954)
Carpool (1996)
Carry on Columbus (1992)
Carve Her Name With Pride (1958)
Chasing Papi (2003)
Cheerleaders Beach Party (1978)
Children of Men (2007)
Child’s Play (2019)
China Doll (1958)
Chrome and Hot Leather (1971)
Cocaine: One Man’s Seduction (1983)
Committed (2000)
Conan the Barbarian (2011)
Condor (1986)
Confidence Girl (1952)
Courage Mountain (1990)
Crossplot (1969)
Curse of the Swamp Creature (1966)
Curse of the Undead (1959)
Cycle Savages (1969)
Dagmar’s Hot Pants, Inc. (1971)
Damned River (1989)
Dancers (1987)
Danger in Paradise (1977)
Dangerous Love (1988)
Deep Blue Sea (1999)
Defiance (2009)
Deja Vu (2006)
Desert Sands (1955)
Desperado (1995)
Detective Kitty O’Day (1944)
Detective School Dropouts (1986)
Devil (2010)
Devil’s Eight (1969)
Diary of a Bachelor (1964)
Dogs (1977)
Don’t Worry, We’ll Think of a Title (1966)
Double Trouble (1992)
Down the Drain (1990)
Dr. Heckyl and Mr. Hype (1980)
Dracula (1931)
Drag Me to Hell (2009)
Driving Miss Daisy (1990)
Dust 2 Glory (2017)
Edge of Darkness (2010)
Eight Men Out (1988)
Eight on the Lam (1967)
Electra Glide in Blue (1973)
Elephant Tales (2006)
Europa Report (2013)
Evil Dead (2013)
Explosive Generation (1961)
Extraction (2015)
Face/Off (1997)
Fanboys (2009)
Fashion Model (1945)
Fatal Charm (1978)
Fearless Frank (1969)
Finders Keepers (2014)
Flight That Disappeared (1961)
Flight to Hong Kong (1956)
Fools Rush In (1997)
For the Love of Aaron (1994)
For the Love of It (1980)
For Those Who Think Young (1964)
Four Weddings and a Funeral (1994)
From Hollywood to Deadwood (1989)
Frontera (2014)
Fury on Wheels (1971)
Gambit (1967)
Ghost Story (1981)
Gigli (2003)
Grace Quigley (1985)
Grievous Bodily Harm (1988)
Hangfire (1991)
Haunted House (2023)
Hawks (1989)
Hell Drivers (1958)
Here Comes the Devil (2012)
Hollywood Harry (1986)
Honeymoon Limited (1935)
Hostile Witness (1969)
Hot Under the Collar (1991)
Hotel Rwanda (2005)
Hugo (2011)
I Am Durán (2019)
I Saw the Devil (2010)
I’m So Excited! (2013)
Inconceivable (2017)
Innocent Lies (1995)
Intimate Strangers (2006)
Invisible Invaders (1959)
It Rains in My Village (1968)
Jarhead (2005)
Jeff, Who Lives at Home (2011)
Joyride (2022)
Juan of the Dead (2012)
Kalifornia (1993)
Khyber Patrol (1954)
La Bamba (1987)
Labou (2009)
Lady in a Corner (1989)
Ladybird, Ladybird (1995)
Legally Blonde 2: Red, White and Blonde (2003)
Legend of Johnny Lingo (2003)
Little Dorrit (Part 1) (1988)
Little Dorrit (Part 2) (1988)
Little Sweetheart (1989)
Lost Battalion (1960)
Mama (2013)
Mandrill (2009)
Masters of the Universe (1987)
Matchless (1967)
Meeting at Midnight (1944)
Men’s Club (1986)
Mfkz (2018)
Midnight in the Switchgrass (2021)
Miss All American Beauty (1982)
Mission of the Shark (1991)
Mixed Company (1974)
Mystery Liner (1934)
National Lampoon’s Movie Madness (1983)
New York Minute (2004)
Nicholas Nickleby (2002)
Night Creatures (1962)
No (2012)
Observe and Report (2009)
Octavia (1984)
October Sky (1999)
Of Mice and Men (1992)
One Man’s Way (1964)
One Summer Love (1976)
Operation Atlantis (1965)
Overkill (1996)
Panga (1990)
Passport to Terror (1989)
Phaedra (1962)
Play Misty for Me (1971)
Portrait of a Stripper (1979)
Powaqqatsi (1988)
Predator: The Quietus (1988)
Private Investigations (1987)
Prophecy (1979)
Pulse (2006)
Quinceanera (1960)
Raiders of the Seven Seas (1953)
Red Dawn (1984)
Red Eye (2005)
Red Riding Hood (1988)
Red River (1948)
Reform School Girls (1969)
Riddick (2013)
Riot in Juvenile Prison (1959)
River of Death (1989)
Rocky (1976)
Rocky II (1979)
Rose Garden (1989)
Roxanne (1987)
Rumble Fish (1983)
Runaway Train (1985)
Running Scared (2006)
Safari 3000 (1982)
Season of Fear (1989)
Secret Window (2004)
Sense and Sensibility (1996)
Sergeant Deadhead (1965)
Seven Hours to Judgment (1988)
Sharks’ Treasure (1975)
She’s Out of My League (2010)
She’s the One (1996)
Sin Nombre (2009)
Sinister (2012)
Slamdance (1987)
Snitch (2013)
Son of Dracula (1943)
Space Probe Taurus (1965)
Spanglish (2004)
Spell (1977)
Stardust (2007)
Step Up (2006)
Sticky Fingers (1988)
Stigmata (1999)
Sugar (2009)
Summer Rental (1985)
Surrender (1987)
Sword of the Valiant (1984)
Tangerine (2015)
Tenth Man (1988)
The Adventures of Gerard (1978)
The Adventures of the American Rabbit (1986)
The Assisi Underground (1986)
The Bad News Bears (1976)
The Beast with a Million Eyes (1955)
The Birdcage (1996)
The Black Dahlia (2006)
The Black Tent (1957)
The Bourne Identity (2002)
The Bourne Legacy (2012)
The Bourne Supremacy (2004)
The Break-Up (2006)
The Cat Burglar (1961)
The Chronicles of Riddick (2004)
The Clown and the Kid (1961)
The Diary of a High School Bride (1959)
The Dictator (2012)
The Evictors (1979)
The Fake (1953)
The Family Stone (2005)
The Final Alliance (1990)
The Finest Hour (1991)
The Frog Prince (1988)
The Ghost in the Invisible Bikini (1966)
The Incredible 2-Headed Transplant (1971)
The Invisible Man (1933)
The Jewel of the Nile (1985)
The Late Great Planet Earth (1979)
The Legend of Zorro (2005)
The Little Vampire (2017)
The Living Ghost (1942)
The Locusts (1997)
The Machinist (2004)
The Manchu Eagle Murder Caper Mystery (1975)
The Manchurian Candidate (1962)
The Mask of Zorro (1998)
The Mighty Quinn (1989)
The Misfits (1961)
The Motorcycle Diaries (2004)
The Mouse on the Moon (1963)
The Mummy (1932)
The Naked Cage (1986)
The Night They Raided Minsky’s (1968)
The Possession (2012)
The Prince (2014)
The Program (1993)
The Ring (2002)
The Sacrament (2014)
The Savage Wild (1970)
The Secret in Their Eyes (2010)
The Sharkfighters (1956)
The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants (2005)
The Spiderwick Chronicles (2008)
The Sum of All Fears (2002)
The Winds of Kitty Hawk (1978)
The Wolf Man (1941)
The Young Savages (1961)
Three Came To Kill (1960)
Three Kinds of Heat (1987)
Through Naked Eyes (1983)
Time Limit (1957)
To Catch a Thief (1955)
Tough Guys Don’t Dance (1987)
Track of Thunder (1967)
Transformations (1991)
Transporter 3 (2008)
Trollhunter (2011)
True Heart (1996)
Underground (1970)
Unholy Rollers (1972)
Unsettled Land (1989)
V/H/S (2012)
War, Italian Style (1967)
Warriors Five (1962)
We Still Kill the Old Way (1968)
When a Stranger Calls (2006)
Where the Buffalo Roam (1980)
Where the River Runs Black (1986)
Wild Bill (1995)
Wild Racers (1968)
Wild Things (1998)
Windows (1980)
Woman of Straw (1964)
Young Racers (1963)
Zack and Miri Make a Porno (2008)

Sept. 5
One Shot: Overtime Elite

Sept. 7
Single Moms Club (2014)

Sept. 8
Sitting in Bars with Cake

Sept. 12
Inside (2023)
Kelce

Sept. 14
Thursday Night Football

Sept. 15
A Million Miles Away

Wilderness

Written in the Stars

Sept. 19
A Thousand and One (2023)

Sept. 22
Cassandro (2023)

Guy Ritchie’s The Covenant (2023)

Sept. 26
The Fake Sheikh

Sept. 29
Gen V

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#Heres #coming #Amazons #Prime #Video #September