Marine gets new home through Gary Sinise Foundation

by Carlos Correa 
FALLBROOK, Calif. – A wounded marine who survived stepping on an improvised explosive device while deployed in Afghanistan is getting the chance to see his new dream home.

It was all made possible through community support and the Gary Sinise Foundation.

Sergeant Nick Kimmel is a triple amputee.  He lost both legs and his left arm four years ago and says he is not letting an almost fatal accident slow him down.

There isn’t a thing Kimmel wouldn’t do for his fellow brothers in the military.

“We always talk about how bad the Vietnam vets got treated and every time I see someone with a Vietnam hat, I try to thank them,” he said.

On Tuesday, despite the rainfall, several of those veterans are working together and showing just what it means to be there for one another.

“It’s pretty fantastic.  I’m not going to lie,” said Kimmel.

In 2011, Sergeant Kimmel woke up in Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, four days after his stepping on an improvised explosive device that went off while he was helping build a patrol base in Afghanistan.

“Since I woke up, I kind of looked at it as in the past, you know.  You can’t change the past.  It is what it is and I say that all the time, it is what it is.  All you can do is push forward,” he said.

Kimmel went through surgeries every other day for an entire month.  Eventually, his left arm and both legs above the knee had to be amputated.

For a while, he was in a wheelchair and it made life in his old home quite in possible.

“My wheelchair is like 3 foot wide and I’m always banging into walls. Right now, I have carpet so, it’s hard to push on,” said Kimmel.

Through the Gary Sinise Foundation’s rise program Sergeant Kimmel is now able to live independently with a new custom smart home solely build with this wounded warrior in mind.

“As citizens it is our duty to ensure that our returning defenders are welcome back into their communities with the resources to begin a new life,” said Judith Otter, executive director of the Gary Sinise Foundation.

Kimmel’s new home features wide-open spaces making it easier for him to move around.  The kitchen cabinets open with several levels for better access and the home’s blinds are controlled through a touch of an I-pad.  It’s everything Kimmel says he imagined in his dream home.

“They always talk about forever homes, and this is for sure a forever home,” he said.

By the way this is the 40th home built through the Gary Sinise Foundation.

Kimmel plans to focus on his hobby of restoring cars and making his new place as warm and comfortable for him and his service dog, Rush.

Americans Are Moving South, West Again

By Tim Henderson

Americans are heading South and West again in search of jobs and more affordable housing, as the nation’s economic health continues to improve.

Census population estimates show that the 16 states and the District of Columbia that comprise the South saw an increase of almost 1.4 million people between 2014 and 2015. The 13 states in the West grew by about 866,000 people.

The gains represent the largest annual growth in population of the decade for both regions and signal that the multi-decade migration to the Sun Belt has resumed after being interrupted by the Great Recession of 2007-09 and the economic sluggishness and anxiety that followed.

In comparison, population growth in the Northeast and the Midwest — including what’s known as the Snow Belt — remained sluggish, growing by about 258,000 residents combined.

“Clearly, the Snow Belt-to-Sun Belt migration is coming back after a huge lull in response to the recession and post-recession period,” said demographer William Frey, of the Brookings Institution.

“Up until now, regional migration was not picking up at the same time that other economic indicators — jobs and housing — seemed to be on the upswing.”

The numbers indicate Americans’ growing willingness to pick up and go after having sat still earlier in the economically tenuous decade, when the U.S. Census Bureau reported that only one in five people who wanted to move somewhere else did so.

The new estimates, released last month, arrive midway through the decade, halfway to the next census, in 2020, and provide some indications of where the nation is headed from the standpoint of governing from Washington.

If the population shift continues, Texas could gain three new seats in the U.S. House, Florida two, and Arizona, Colorado, North Carolina and Oregon one apiece after the next census, according to an analysis by Election Data Services, a political consulting firm based in Virginia.

Nine states — Alabama, Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and West Virginia — could meanwhile lose a seat apiece.

Economic Reasons Drive the Moving

The shift in population reflects the economic conditions many Americans experience or aspire to.

A search for jobs and more affordable housing were behind two-thirds of the long-distance moves made between 2014 and 2015, according to a separate census report. Family reasons, such as getting married or rejoining relatives, accounted for another quarter of households moving.

Texas, for example — which had the biggest population gain from 2014 to 2015, an increase of 490,000 people for a total 27,469,114 — is a magnet for job-seekers from elsewhere. It has been at the fore in high job growth and outpaced the nation’s economic growth since the recession.  

Other Sun Belt states that witnessed a growth in population — such as Georgia and Nevada — also had some of the largest increases in job growth or economic output, as did Colorado, Oregon and Utah.

West Virginia, meanwhile, suffered a population loss of almost 5,000. The state, which has relied economically on a declining coal industry, has higher unemployment and lower job growth rates than the national average — giving more people more reasons to leave.

“As long as the state economy continues to stall, population loss will likely continue as well,” said
Christiadi, a demographer at West Virginia University.

Six other states also had population losses for the year: Connecticut, Illinois, Maine, Mississippi, New Mexico and Vermont. And like West Virginia, many are struggling to provide economic opportunity. New Mexico, Connecticut and Maine had some of the lowest rates of job creation in recent years.

Florida’s gain of almost 366,000 people to a population of 20,271,272 was its largest in a decade and reflects another cause behind the renewed exodus to the Sun Belt: The nation’s swollen population of baby boomers now feels more secure economically in picking up and moving to traditional retirement oases.

“The state continues to attract retiring baby boomers because of our climate and the relatively low costs of living,” said Richard Doty, a demographer with the University of Florida’s Bureau of Economic and Business Research. “You can sell a home in New York or Ohio or Michigan for substantially more than you would spend in Florida, so it’s still relatively attractive.”

Take, for example, Sumter County, west of Orlando, one of Florida’s fastest-growing counties, driven in large part by retirees. It is projected to have a median age of 78 by 2020, Doty said.

A typical Sumter County home costs about $224,000 — or about half the price of a home in a New York City suburb, such as Long Island’s Nassau County.

Population Shifts Inside States

The influx and exodus of people has ramifications for local housing, tax bases and governments — even within state boundaries.

In Oregon, where the economy is partly being driven by chip manufacturing for firms like Intel, young people are moving to Portland, said Josh Lehner, an economist at the state’s Department of Economic Analysis. That’s creating a housing shortage, as construction fails to keep up with demand.

Many of Oregon’s newcomers are from neighboring California, which had more than 77,000 people move out. That’s more than twice the number who left between 2013 and 2014. The state showed a net increase in population in 2014-15 of more than 350,000 only as a result of births and new immigrants.

Many left because of housing costs. A typical home in California costs two-thirds more than in Oregon, for example.

The cost of housing can limit the number of people willing to move into California to take even high-paying, high-tech jobs in places like San Francisco, said John Malson, chief of demographic research at the California Department of Finance.

“You have a very good job market here in tech, so people who are coming here are coming for the attractive job opportunities,” Malson said. “But it’s very expensive to live in California.”

A state’s net population growth and loss numbers can sometimes cloud what’s going on within its boundaries, meaning that some job-rich urban areas might be flourishing but rural areas might not be.

Take Massachusetts, for example, the fastest-growing state in the Northeast.

Susan Strate, manager of population estimates at the University of Massachusetts Donahue Institute, said young people from other states and well-educated foreign immigrants are boosting the Boston area’s population by taking jobs in medicine, education and biotech.

Meanwhile, she said, “Some of the little towns are losing what few young people they have.”

Illinois, whose population dropped by 22,000 people to 12,859,995, is another state undergoing a similar trend.

Chicago is attracting more businesses and young, educated professionals to fill those jobs, while many less-expensive rural and suburban areas with less economic opportunity struggle, said Rob Paral, a Chicago demographic consultant.

Available jobs and a person’s ability to fill them, he said, are intertwined with population shifts — within the state, or to the Sun Belt.

“There are many high-skill jobs overall,” Paral said. “Jobs for lower-skill young persons are another story, combined with high housing costs: If you are going to make the same low wage in Illinois or in a Southwestern state, the latter offers cheaper housing and warmer weather.”

Winning $900 Million Powerball Numbers Announced

Dreaming of overnight riches, millions of Americans anxiously checked their tickets for the winning combination in the multi-state Powerball lottery after a Saturday night drawing for a record $900 million jackpot.

It was not immediate known if any ticket holder had the magic combination of six numbers selected in the drawing: 32, 16, 19, 57, 34 and the Powerball number was 13.
The grand prize for Powerball, played in 44 states, Washington, and two U.S. territories, has climbed steadily for weeks after repeated drawings produced no big winners. This week, ticket purchases surged along with the size of the pot.

The grand prize in Saturday's drawing was worth $558 million if a winner chooses an immediate cash payout instead of annual payments over 29 years, according to lottery officials in California, one of the participating states.
The prize, which rises with every drawing that produces a winning series of six numbers held by no ticket buyer, ranks as the largest jackpot for any lottery in North American history. With almost unimaginable riches at stake, many Americans who normally shun lotteries joined the long lines of people buying tickets at retail stores across the country.
Dony Elias, 26, an attendant at Stardust Liquor in Los Angeles, said 300 customers picked up tickets for Powerball last night at his store. Elias admitted to buying a ticket for himself, something he said he had never done before.

And like many other players, he has already given some thought to what he would do with the cash.
"I would take a trip to the moon," he said.
California, the nation's most populous state, normally sees Powerball sales of $1 million a day, but on Saturday morning sales were a head-spinning $2.8 million an hour, said California Lottery spokesman Mike Bond.
Excitement swirled among ticket buyers despite what some statisticians call mind-boggling odds for the Powerball game - one in 292 million.
Jeffrey Miecznikowski, associate professor of biostatistics at the University at Buffalo, said in an email an American is roughly 25 times more likely to become the next president of the United States than to win at Powerball.
Or to put it another way, the odds are equivalent to flipping a coin 28 times and getting heads every time, he said.
"It doesn't sound so bad ... but you would be at it for an eternity," Miecznikowski said.
November was the last time a jackpot winner emerged from Powerball, which is run by the Multi-State Lottery Association.
In the previous drawing on Wednesday night, the jackpot stood at $500 million and nobody won, setting the stage for the latest drawing just before 11 p.m. Eastern time on Saturday.
If no one has the winning numbers again, the jackpot will likely rise to an estimated $1.3 billion by Wednesday, the next scheduled drawing, Bond said. It may cross the $1 billion threshold on Saturday, he said.
The previous record North American jackpot payout for any lottery game was in March 2012, when $656 million was won in the multi-state Mega Millions draw.

© 2015 Thomson/Reuters. All rights reserved.

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Gas prices could drop toward $1 a gallon

by Douglas A. McIntyre
In some gas stations around the country, the price of a gallon of regular has dropped below $1.42. AAA and GasBuddy, two organizations that follow gasoline prices, say that gasoline prices below $2 will not be unusual in most of the United States. As oil prices fall, and refinery capacity stays strong, the price of gas could reach $1 a gallon in some areas, a level last reached in 1999. As a matter of fact, the entire states of Alabama, Arkansas, Missouri, Oklahoma and South Caroline have gas prices that average at or below $1.75.

Gasoline prices are driven mostly by four factors: oil prices, proximity to refineries, refinery capacity and state taxes and levies. Oil prices have dropped below $33 a barrel and continue to collapse. The recent decision by Saudi Arabia to continue to keep its oil exports high essentially has dissolved the OPEC cartel. The decision also has forced the kingdom to chop its 2016 budget. This ongoing supply glut guarantees oversupply of crude. At the same time, slowing national economies in the largest countries, including China, will lower demand. China now tops the list of oil importers, according to the Financial Times, having moved ahead of the United States.

The cost of producing oil from shale deposits, particularly in the United States, is greater in some cases than what it can be sold for. Nonetheless, parts of this industry continue pumping, increasing supply, while others go bankrupt because they cannot survive with crude prices so low.

Several states house large refineries or are close to those that do. This is particularly the case near the Gulf of Mexico, including the massive refinery operations south of Houston. Some owned by Exxon Mobil Corp. (NYSE: XOM) process several hundreds of thousands of barrels per day. Proximity to refineries is a factor in gasoline prices, if the refineries are running at or near capacity and produce gasoline instead of other petroleum products.

Finally, gas taxes in several states are well below the national average of $0.4869 a gallon, according to the American Petroleum Institute. In some low gas price states, these taxes are below $0.40. This includes South Carolina at $0.3515, Missouri at $0.3570 and Oklahoma at $0.3540. Low gas taxes in these states compound the effect of falling oil prices.

The odds grow each day that gas prices will be $1 a gallon in some areas in the United States, particularly those where prices are already close to hitting $1.40 — and falling.