Work & Money briefs

Young employees learning as they go

The seeming ineptitude of that kid serving your burger might not mean he or she doesn't care. More likely it's a symptom of inexperience and poor training, a recent survey by two professors at Wartburg College in Waverly, Iowa suggests.

Of 50 employers responding to the survey, 78 percent reported having provided "some" customer-service training to young employees.

Employers recognize that lack of training is a problem, the researchers found, but often don't have the financial resources to educate their young employees: 65 percent said they would have provided more training had staff and funding been available.

Despite evidence of poor training, 96 percent of those surveyed listed the quality of service provided to customers as either "important" or "very important."

The survey was originally distributed to 200 Iowa employers, and its results were presented at the International Conference on Business Research in Hawaii last week.

The release comes at a time when youth employment is peaking. Despite a tight summer job market, 81 percent of teens plan to work this summer, according to a survey conducted in March by Junior Achievement.

Action remains heavy in mortgage market

Low interest rates still have homebuyers in a refinancing frenzy. The Mortgage Bankers Association of America (MBA) said last week that as a result of the continued drop in interest rates - and another cut could be announced by the Fed Wednesday - it now believes mortgage originations for 2003 will total $3.3 trillion, exceeding the record of $2.5 trillion set in 2002.

A handful of other economists, including some from Fannie Mae, the top source of US housing finance, have said that $4 trillion is not an impossible level.

Last week, the MBA estimated 68 percent of the $3.3 trillion will be loans to refinance existing mortgages. The total dollar volume of mortgages for home purchases is expected to reach $1.07 trillion by the end of 2003, up 5 percent from $1.02 trillion in 2002.

Part of the increase in volume is due to higher home prices and average mortgage amounts, but in addition about 6.8 million single-family units are expected to be sold this year, a 3.5 percent increase over 2002.

Mortgage lenders this year are seeing a hectic pace of applications for loans to buy new homes. David Berson, Fannie Mae's chief economist, expects total home sales this year to hit just under 6.7 million units, up from 6.5 million last year.

Long-distance rates continue to fall

Enjoying keeping in touch with far-flung friends and family? Keep talking. Those long-distance minutes are only getting cheaper.

In 2001, consumers spent an average of 8 cents per minute for long distance, down a penny from 2000, according to a recently released study by the Federal Communications Commission. Overall, interstate and international toll rates declined 60 percent between 1991 and 2001.

The lower rates - a result of increased competition, the growing popularity of e-mail, and the proliferation of cellular phone plans offering free long distance - caused overall revenues for the long-distance market to drop 10 percent, from $110 billion in 2000 to slightly more than $99 billion in 2001.

The biggest losers have been the larger carriers, especially AT&T, whose market share has fallen to slightly less than 38 percent. AT&T held 90 percent of toll revenues in 1984.

In 2002, the average household spent $83 per month on telecommunications.

Long weekends and little white lies

Apparently, we're not all above bending the truth when it comes to extending our weekends.

One in five adults admitted they have planned to call in sick to extend a weekend into three days, according to a survey by Orbitz, the airline-owned travel company based in Chicago.

Young adults 18 to 34 are more likely than older colleagues to call in sick when they're really not, with 32 percent in that group doing so.

But at other times, work can be the excuse for avoiding a trip.

Twelve percent said they have fibbed to their friends or family using a work-related excuse to avoid visiting. Again, younger people were more prone to lie - 22 percent of respondents ages 18-34 say they've done so, while only 7 percent of those 55 and older say they have.

The survey involved 1,024 randomly selected adults last month.

- Associated Press

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