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Politics

A woman is sad after getting charged a huge junk fee.

Just about everyone has had the depressing experience of sitting through a long queue to get concert tickets, only to find when they were ready to check out, the price was 30 to 40% higher because of service fees added by the ticketing company.

People often have the same experience when ordering food through an app, only to see a massive service fee applied right before they're ready to place their order.

These service fees, known by many as “junk fees,” are popping up everywhere these days, from surprise resort fees charged when checking out of a hotel to a 4% surcharge on a dinner bill that the restaurant added so you can help pay for their employees' healthcare.


The good news for people in California is that a new bill will go into effect on July 1st that bans hidden or unexpected fees on everything from concert tickets to cruise packages. Senate Bill 478 (SB 478) makes it illegal for businesses to advertise or list a price for a good or service that does not include all required fees or charges other than certain government taxes and shipping costs.

“Our price transparency law is about clear and honest communication with consumers so consumers can make the financial choices that are best for them and their families. This new guidance provides information for businesses across California to ensure that clear answers are available, particularly for small businesses,” California Attorney General Rob Bonta said in a statement. “The law is simple: the price you see is the price you pay. Laws work when everyone can comply. I am pleased that we can offer this guidance to help facilitate compliance with the law and make a more fair and level marketplace for businesses and consumers."

A 2023 survey of Americans found that 2 out of 3 said they were paying more in surprise charges now than they had five years earlier.

The bill is good news for consumers who want to make thoughtful decisions about how they spend their money, especially when inflation has made it a lot harder to stretch a dollar. However, the bill probably won’t make things any cheaper. Businesses most likely won’t stop charging these hidden fees; instead, they will be rolled into the listed price instead of popping up out of nowhere right before you hit the “pay now” button.

State Senator Bill Dodd from Napa, the bill's co-author, stated its goals: “A consumer shouldn’t discover hidden fees made up by a business when they pay their bill.”

As the old saying goes, “As goes California, so goes the nation,” and when companies are forced to alter their pricing and marketing in America's most populous state, it’s bound to create changes for consumers across the country. The new law could be the first shot in a larger war against junk fees.

In 2023, President Biden called out Ticketmaster and others who charge "junk fees" in his State of the Union address, claiming he’ll get “rid of junk fees, those hidden fees at the end of your bill that are there without your knowledge.” In his 2022 State of the Union speech, Biden criticized the hotel industry for surprise fees at checkout. "We’ll ban surprise ‘resort fees’ that hotels tack on to your bill. These fees can cost you up to $90 a night at hotels that aren’t even resorts,” Biden said.

This Federal pressure led several companies, including Live Nation, SeatGeek, xBk, Airbnb, the Pablo Center at the Confluence, TickPick, DICE and the Newport Festivals Foundation, to make their pricing more transparent.


Bella Vandala points out some major contradictions in American life.

Bella Vandala, a musician, podcaster, and popular TikToker, is going viral for making a video where she points out 5 things about the United States of America that make little sense to her. She’s found that there are some deep contradictions in American life when it comes to its mental, physical and financial health.

“Why do you think that is?” Vandala asks.

Warning:This video has strong language.

1. "Why is it that in America, we have more fitness centers than anywhere in the world or any generation before us, but none of us are actually fit?"


Vandala is close to correct here. The U.S. has the most gyms globally, although it is ranked #3 regarding fitness centers per capita (Canada and Brazil have more). When it comes to whether we are “fit” or not, the U.S. is ranked the 10th most obese country in the world.

@bella_vandala

#fyp #viral #america #American #health #diet #excercise #fittok #healthcheck #mentalhealth #mentalhealthawareness #mentalhealthtiktoks #woke #wakeup #healthyliving #healthandfitness #fitness #politics #political #politicaltiktok

2. "We have more vitamin and supplement centers than anywhere else in the world or any generation before us, but none of us are actually healthy."

The United States is the second biggest market in the world for vitamins and minerals. Although it’s hard to determine what being “healthy” is, a 2016 study from the Mayo Clinic found that only 2.7% of Americans exhibit 4 fundamental healthy lifestyle characteristics.

These four were:

Being sufficiently active

Eating a healthy diet

Being a non-smoker

Having a recommended body fat percentage

3. "We pay more on a daily basis to obtain regular food and none of it has any healthy or nutritional properties at all ... it's actually poisoning us and making us sick."

For most people, it has to feel like the United States is the most expensive place in the world to buy groceries, especially in 2023. However, that award goes to Sweden, with the U.S. coming in at 7th, globally. However, the food quality in America has become a real problem because Americans eat far too much packaged, processed, high-calorie, store-bought and restaurant foods. "We're really in a nutrition crisis in this country." Dariush Mozaffarian, dean of the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University, told NPR.

4. "We have an abundance of mental health resources, but we are all suffering from anxiety, depression, or insomnia."

An interesting fact about American life is that even though more people are turning to mental health practitioners for help, our psychological well-being appears to be getting worse. From 2019 to 2022, the use of mental health services has increased by nearly 40%. However, the U.S. ranks 29th in the world in depressive disorders and is the largest country on the top 30 list of countries with the highest depression rates.

5. "We work harder than we ever have, but we’re always f****** poor."

She’s right here. Among other developed countries, Americans work some of the longest hours and take the least amount of vacation. But for many, it doesn’t translate to financial security. A recent report found that 60% of Americans live paycheck to paycheck, and even people of higher income are affected, too. More than half of Americans earning over $100,000 a year live paycheck to paycheck as well.

Even though Vandala’s claims aren’t entirely factually correct, her overall points are in the ballpark and reflect how many people in America feel. Undoubtedly, America is a country of contradictions where our lifestyles and goals aren’t always aligned. We want to be healthy, but our food isn’t. We work hard, but the cost of living is too high. We want to feel good, but the stresses of day-to-day life are too much.

"I just can't f******wrap my head around it,” Vandala concludes her video. “I seriously can't. Never before in the history of America or in any other country have they put such a large amount of money and attention into health and beauty to not be healthy nor beautiful. Why do you think that is?”

Democracy

Urban planner shares a simple and proven way to cut rents in half

“Housing is ultimately for people, not profits.”

Why is one building so much cheaper?

Over the past few years, one of the most significant contributors to the increase in the cost of living in the U.S. has been skyrocketing rent and housing prices. A big reason for the rise is the lack of housing supply. Estimates show that Americans need to build around 6 million more housing units for supply to meet demand.

If we are going to build more housing units, About Here’s founder urban planner Uytae Lee, suggests that the U.S. and Canada focus on building more non-market co-op units.

He lays out his theory in a video entitled “The Non-Market Solution to the Housing Crisis.”

To illustrate his point, he highlights two apartment buildings side by side in the up-and-coming Olympic Village neighborhood in Vancouver, Canada. In one building, the average rent for a 2 bedroom is $4,500. However, in the building across the street, a 2-bedroom unit only costs $1900 a month.


“So how is this building so affordable? Well, it's really quite simple. It doesn't make money,” Lee says. “This building is owned by the Athletes Village housing co-op, a non-profit cooperative. Like the name suggests, the co-op isn't trying to make a profit from this building. So it sets rents that only cover the building's operating costs, things like heat, water, electricity, taxes, mortgage payments and maintenance.”

“The building next door is a condo that is owned by an individual or corporation who very much wants to make some money from their housing,” Lee continues. “So they can rent it out for well really whatever price they can get. Any money they make on top of their operating costs is the profit they can pocket for themselves.”

Co-ops are often owned by charities, churches and nonprofit organizations that understand housing is a need and want it to be part of their larger mission. There are co-ops for various demographics, whether seniors, refugees, or college students.

If a private building owned by a landlord were constructed simultaneously, their rents would be similar. However, a co-op can lower rent over time while market pressures and profit motives drive the private building upwards.

As market value in a neighborhood increases, landlords raise rent. However, co-ops keep rent at the same level as long as costs remain stable. Further, after the mortgage on the co-op is paid off, its expenses are drastically reduced so that the rent can be lowered.

“Non-market housing promises a home at a stable price right now and an affordable price in the long term,” Lee says.

When there is an abundance of co-ops in a given area, they also have a positive effect on market housing. Lee cites Vienna as an excellent example of non-market housing keeping market rents low. “Private landlords have to compete with non-market housing for the same tenants. They can't afford to inflate the rents because people will apply for the non-market housing next door, where rents can be as low as €551 a month.”

Just as there are barriers to building large private housing projects in North America, building non-market housing also has its problems. The first is cost. Finding non-profits or government agencies willing to fund an entire apartment building is tough. It’s also hard to get housing projects approved when co-ops have to go up against NIMBYs and housing zoning regulations.

“I think first and foremost we need to change these rules and make it easier to build housing in general,” Lee says.

In the end, Lee believes co-op housing isn’t a magic bullet that will solve all our woes. But it should be an integral part of a larger solution. “I think we should be treating all market housing as an important counterbalance,” Lee says. “Something that limits people's ability to exploit the housing shortage in two key ways: adding more supply and setting rents that help to stabilize the overall housing market — sending a reminder to all of us that housing is ultimately for people, not profits.”


Democracy

'We're not living, we are surviving': Inflation is making people rethink consumer culture

"We are finding new ways to define success and we are building communities."

"How are people affording life right now?"

Inflation has strained countless American households, forcing many to ask each other the big question: “How are people affording life right now?” A TikTokker named Loc_Rants responded by reframing the current moment into something more hopeful.

They believe we can get through challenging times by turning away from consumerism and focusing on what matters.

Loc_Rants describes themself as a “non-binary Christian Commie” and regularly creates videos on how economic life for the Average American has changed over the years.

The video begins with TikTokker Blaire Allison asking how people can afford to live right now, to which Loc responded, “We can't afford life, so we've just stopped buying things, which is delightful because companies don't know what to do about that,” Loc said in a video that’s been seen over 1.3 million times.


She then noted that older generations had credit cards with much lower interest rates so it was a little easier to get by during tough times. She’s right in saying that interest rates on credit cards were lower in the past, but her 2 to 3% quote is much lower than history would indicate.

@loc_rants

#stitch with @Blaire ✨ Allison #millennial #america

However, she’s spot on when she says that credit card interest rates are too high these days. The latest data from Bankrate shows that the average retail credit card interest rate is at a record high of 28.93%. “We're not going to put things on our 24% interest rate credit; we're not gonna do it,” Loc said in their post.

Even though the topic of Loc’s post seems bleak, it comes with a silver lining. The current economic environment allows people to rethink their relationship with American consumer culture and find value in things that matter, such as family and community.

“So we're not we're not living, we are surviving and we are finding new ways to define success and we are building communities,” Loc says. “We're staying home and we're going to our local libraries and we are just hand making things and it's gonna be what it's gonna be.”

Like many people, Loc’s Christmas gift to her family this year is her presence and that should be more than enough. “This year, my Christmas present to my family is the plane ticket to get there,” they said.

The post resonated with many in the comments who are making significant changes to their spending habits due to inflation. "We're quiet quitting consumerism," Smcsparrow wrote. "Previously buying brand new stuff, but right now just rather spend it on thrift stores to at least have stuff," Monique added.

"I’m thrifting most things and avoiding retail stores like the plague," MsSunshine58 wrote.

Even though inflation has posed a significant challenge to millions of Americans, Loc’s video provides a realistic ray of hope. Many of us may be in survival mode, and even though it isn’t optimal, it offers the opportunity to find joy in handmade and personal experiences and to realize that success and happiness come in many different packages.