Economy & business

Super Bowl Party Kicks Off in Houston, Texas

This year’s Super Bowl, the National Football League championship game between the New England Patriots and the Atlanta Falcons, is Feb. 5 in Houston, Texas. For fans, the price for the cheapest tickets is expected to be about $2,000. But, luckily, there is a more affordable way to get in on some of the excitement of the Super Bowl party. VOA’s Brian Allen has more.

Economy & business

Workers Must Train for Jobs Computers and Robots Can’t Do

Stock prices have hit new highs. Consumer confidence has been rising. And job creation has increased for 76 consecutive months.That’s a snapshot of the U.S. economy that President Donald Trump inherits. But as Mil Arcega reports, the new president will face serious challenges as he takes responsibility for the economy of the future.

Science & Health

Genetic Research Shows Promise as Cancer Treatment

World Cancer Day is Feb. 4, and hundreds of activities are planned around the world. According to the World Health Organization, about 14 million people are diagnosed with cancer every year and more than 8 million people die. But researchers in Maine are looking at a new way to fight the disease that doesn’t have the side effects of chemotherapy. VOA’s Kevin Enochs reports.

Economy & business

43 Million Americans Live in Poverty, Worry About Future

Many Americans voted for Donald Trump because of concerns over the economy. But with Republican lawmakers proposing repealing the Affordable Care Act, privatizing Medicare, and cutting funding for food assistance, some of the 43 million people who live below the poverty line are anxious about what’s next, as VOA correspondent Aru Pande reports.

Science & Health

Obamacare Enrollment Down From Last Year, But Higher Than Expected

U.S. federal officials say more than 9.2 million people signed up for health insurance through the Affordable Care Act during open enrollment from November to January, despite Republican efforts to repeal the program then replace it with an alternative health care plan.

The total number of enrollees was down a half-million from the open enrollment period for last year. Yet, in the turmoil over the future of the program widely known as Obamacare, the decline was smaller than predicted.

Of the 9.2 million enrollees this year, about 3 million were new clients while the rest were continuing their coverage from last year, according to government figures.

The open enrollment is seen as a test of the popularity of the federal health care program, which offers programs in 39 states. The remaining states run their own health care exchanges.

One of the major critiques of Obamacare is its cost. Average premiums for one of the lowest-cost plans rose 25 percent compared with the previous year.

November’s presidential election placing Republican Donald Trump in the White House further threw the future of Obamacare into jeopardy. Republicans, including Trump, have vowed to make a repeal of Obamacare a top priority.

Economy & business

Trump Takes Aim at Financial Industry Regulations

President Donald Trump has taken steps aimed at rolling back key financial industry regulations, including the Dodd-Frank Act meant to prevent another banking industry meltdown and a measure requiring financial advisers to act in their clients’ best interest.

“Today, we are signing core principles for regulating the United States financial system,” Trump said Friday. “Doesn’t get much bigger than that.”

The Obama administration implemented the measures to reform Wall Street following the 2008 financial crisis. But the Trump administration has criticized the regulations, saying they do not protect consumers as intended, and are excessively burdensome and counterproductive.

The administration will be “cutting a lot out of Dodd-Frank because frankly I have so many people, friends of mine that have nice businesses. They can’t borrow money,” Trump said.

“The Dodd-Frank Act is a disastrous policy that’s hindering our markets, reducing the availability of credit, and crippling our economy’s ability to grow and create jobs,” White House press secretary Sean Spicer said.

Trump also signed a presidential memorandum directing the Department of Labor to review its so-called fiduciary rule, which was to go into effect in April. The regulation legally requires financial advisers to put their clients’ interests ahead of their own.

“The rule is a solution in search of a problem,” Spicer said. “The rule’s intent may be to have provided retirees and others with better financial advice, but in reality its effect has been to limit the financial services that are available to them.”


The White House promised to overhaul financial regulation in a way that promotes job growth and protects consumers.

Earlier on Friday, Trump met with a group of economic experts and corporate executives to discuss a range of issues, including ways to promote job growth and lower taxes.

The reaction was swift.

“Donald Trump talked a big game about Wall Street during his campaign — but as president, we’re finding out whose side he’s really on,” Democratic Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren said.

The American Bankers Association (ABA) lauded the measures.

Rob Nichols, ABA president and CEO, called the financial regulations “highly prescriptive,” causing the industry to face “tremendous headwinds” while trying to meet customers’ needs.

“We appreciate the administration’s support for pro-growth policies so banks can go even further in helping communities and our economy thrive,” Nichols said.

Silicon Valley & Technology

Silicon Valley May Face New Hurdles to Attracting Foreign Labor

The tech industry is bracing itself for an expected Trump administration executive order that will most likely limit U.S. employers’ use of a set of visas for skilled foreign workers.

As a presidential candidate, Donald Trump criticized visa programs that allow U.S. employers to bring skilled foreign workers into the country. He promised to make changes to ensure more of those jobs go to Americans, not foreigners.

The tech industry has relied on temporary visas such as the H-1B to bring in workers with skills it says are hard to find in the U.S. Each April 1, the U.S. holds a lottery for 65,000 of these visas and 20,000 additional visas for foreign students with master’s degrees. Last year, there were requests for more than 200,000, a record figure.

But critics say skilled-worker visa programs have hurt American workers. Companies have used them, they say, to hire foreign workers who are not highly skilled and who are paid lower than market rate wages. The biggest users of the H-1B program have been outsourcing firms that do IT consulting.

Leaked draft order

A draft executive order that has been circulating among tech firms would not immediately impose new requirements. Many of the changes would rely on specific agencies and Congress.

For example, one draft document seen by VOA says the secretary of homeland security will have 90 days to review all regulations allowing foreign workers to come to the U.S., and the Department of Homeland Security shall consider ways that the visas could be better allocated. “It’s vague,” said one person who works for a tech industry group.

But Ron Hira, an associate professor at Howard University and a critic of the foreign worker visa programs, said that the draft executive order he has seen would be a good first step.

“If we got good reform, it would save and create tens of thousands of jobs and it would increase the standard of living for hundreds of thousands of American workers,” he said. “And it would free H-1B visas for the true best and brightest.”

The first place where the effects of the order could be felt will be the annual H-1B application window on April 1. At the moment, the visas are issued by a lottery system, but the Trump administration could choose to favor visas for positions that offer to pay higher wages, Hira said.

Unintended consequences

Some in the tech industry say that some reform has long been needed, but dramatically tightening down on the visas, or restricting U.S. immigration laws, could have unintended consequences.

Jonathan Nelson, chief executive of Hackers/Founders, a tech startup accelerator in San Jose, said he has worried about whether the H-1B visa program has been used to bring in cheap engineering labor, suppressing wages.

But he said most of the entrepreneurs he works with are foreign-born, some waiting for years to get a H-1B or stand in line for a green card. If there are new limits on visas or regulations that lengthen the time workers must wait for one, he said he would open up centers in places such as Vancouver or Guadalajara, Mexico.

“If they can’t come to Silicon Valley, let’s get them in the same time zone,” he said. “I’ll invest in them there instead of here.”

Others in the tech industry argue that barriers to visas, already so scarce, could hurt the U.S.’s competitive edge as an innovation center.

“We should harness the talents of foreign-born entrepreneurs and students to benefit our economy and our communities, rather than pushing them to other countries to compete against us,” said Leezia Dhalla, a spokesperson with, an issues advocacy group funded by tech industry leaders that focuses on immigration.

Economy & business

In Avocado Country, Mexicans Not Afraid of Trump Tariff Threats

Avocado farmers in the rolling hillsides of Mexico’s Michoacan state are not worried for now by U.S. President Donald Trump’s threats to tear up a trade deal which could make the favorite snack of Super Bowl viewers more expensive.

Americans will chomp through huge amounts of avocados mashed into guacamole during the Super Bowl on Sunday, and 80 percent of those fruits will come from Mexico’s ever-larger expanse of orchards, thanks to a free market created by the North American Free Trade Agreement in 1994.

It is peak season for guacamole, a word that means avocado sauce in Mexico’s native Nahuatl language. Some 100,000 tons of the green fruit, or 12 percent of annual U.S. demand, will be consumed on Sunday and in the days before and after the New England Patriots game against the Atlanta Falcons, exporters say.

With such market dominance and demand, growers like Adrian Iturbide doubt Trump’s eagerness to impose duties on Mexican goods will dent exports. They feel they have little to fear from proposals by the Republican such as a 20 percent blanket tariff on U.S. imports from Mexico, that would affect sales of “green gold” to the northern neighbor.

“If Michoacan decided for whatever reason…to stop exporting, there is nowhere else in the world that could provide the quantity of avocados that U.S. markets are consuming,” said Iturbide.

Luckily for growers like Iturbide, U.S. consumers do not significantly reduce the amount of avocados they buy when prices go up, a 2013 study found, even though they do increase purchases when prices go down. Of course, that could change if avocados became unreasonably expensive.

While Mexican producers are confident they can ride out price hikes, Trump has another weapon to threaten the avocado industry if he chooses to use it.

Rules allowing the United States to clamp down on imports citing health concerns limited Mexican exports for the first 13 years of NAFTA in what Mexico considered veiled protectionism.

Within Mexico, the world’s largest avocado producer, Michoacan is by far the biggest grower, and one of only two states whose avocados are certified to export to the United States under strict rules to limit the spread of diseases.

Iturbide, who now exports up to 90 percent of his production, nearly sold his orchards before NAFTA made exports possible and prices rose. He is not immune from the nerves that have spread through Mexican companies about a possible shut down under Trump.

“We hope that everything stays as it is, for the good of the avocado, for the gringos and for us,” he said.

Avocado Fever

Native to Mexico, the avocado is an apt symbol for closer Mexico-U.S. ties under NAFTA.

Mexican imports of avocados to the United States were fully opened up 10 years ago, just as reports about health benefits pushed the fruit’s popularity to unimagined highs.

Avocado fever has since gripped Michoacan, with sprawling avocado orchards replacing pine forest, a trend that worries environmentalists but has also provided a decent income for thousands of people in a region known for migration to the United States and drug-trafficking gangs.

More than $1.5 billion worth of Mexican avocados are sold in the United States yearly.

Guacamole has become so synonymous with Super Bowl parties that the marketing organization Avocados from Mexico ran prime time commercials during the game for in 2015 and 2016, and will again this year – a high-profile challenge to Trump’s verbal volleys about a $60 billion U.S. trade deficit with Mexico.



Avocados for Mexico is a venture between Mexican exporters group APEAM with the U.S.-based Mexican Hass Avocados Importers Association, MHAIA.

Avocado demand has soared and last year prices spiked after the El Nino weather phenomenon affected harvests in Peru and elsewhere. U.S. restaurant chain Chipotle Mexican Grill  said in January that rising avocado prices had dented profits. Last year the chain said it would not pass on higher prices to customers.

Mexico is now targeting the 2018 soccer World Cup as the next event where thousands of tons could be sold, and Agriculture Minister Jose Calzada last year announced a new avocado marketing office in Russia. Last year Mexico ran an avocado ad in Japan.

“We have been working for some time on diversifying the market, and a tariff could make it more interesting for us to reach other markets, because prices would be more competitive,” said Ramon Paz, spokesman for APEAM.

Mexico exports 1 million tons of its annual 1.8 million-ton output, more than $2 billion in total, with 860,000 tons of that going to the United States. Japan and Canada are the next most important markets.

“The market growing the fastest is China. It’s still not big, but it is doubling consumption every year,” Paz said.