Colouring book, Ninja Turtles among Toy Hall of Fame finalists

WASHINGTON (AFP): Will the good old colouring book make the cut? Or do the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles have what it takes? The National Toy Hall of Fame is out to determine which old favourites are worthy of its hallowed halls of fun. Twelve 2015 finalists, announced Monday, include American Girl dolls, Battleship, the colouring book, Jenga, Playmobil, the puppet, the scooter, the Super Soaker, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, the top, Twister and Wiffle Ball. Two winners will be announced on November 5 and will join the likes of Barbie, Monopoly and the teddy bear - all past inductees into the hall located at the The Strong National Museum of Play in Rochester, New York.

In total, 56 toys have been inducted into the National Toy Hall of Fame since it was established in 1998. Anyone can nominate a toy but it has to meet a number of requirements, including being widely recognized, respected and remembered, according to a news release from the museum. “Will the top spin itself into contention?” joked spokesman Shane Rhinewald.

Americans shift away from traditional jobs

WASHINGTON (AFP): More than 42 million Americans are part of the independent workforce, representing a shift away from traditional jobs as more people join sectors such as the “on-demand” economy, a study showed Tuesday. The study by MBO Partners covers a variety of professions, but a growing portion of those are made up of young workers taking “gigs” with startups such as ride-sharing giant Uber or delivery services like Instacart. The number earning a substantial part of their income from independent work was estimated at 30.2 million in 2015 - 17.8 million full-time and 12.4 million part-time.

The survey found another 11.9 million Americans are “occasional independents,” bringing the total number to 42.1 million. The total includes many traditionally independent workers including accountants, doctors and real estate agents. But much of the growth is coming from “sharing economy” platforms that allow people to work flexible hours, said Gene Zaino, founder and chief executive of MBO, which provides services to independent workers.

“We think most of the occasional independents work in the sharing economy, along with a large number of the part-timers,” Zaino told AFP.

While the study does not break down sectors, Zaino said anecdotal evidence suggests “more than a third” of the total number of independents work in the on-demand economy.

The 2015 numbers are little-changed from 2014 - probably because some independents are moving to traditional jobs as the labor market firms - but have grown considerably since the survey began in 2011, MBO said.

The trend toward on-demand jobs has sparked concern that these workers lack the traditional social safety net of conventional employees, such as employer-paid health insurance, sick leave and disability coverage.

Roughly six in 10 said that working independently was their choice entirely and nearly 80 percent of the independents said they were happier working, the consultancy found.

Some 45 percent said they believed they made more money working on their own than they would in a traditional job.

Those working independently were split on whether the lifestyle carries more risks - 48 percent said being independent carries more risks than traditional employment, and 32 percent said the risks were roughly equal.

A solid majority of independent workers said they were satisfied with their situation, compared with 47 percent of traditional workers, MBO said.

The report said the number of independent workers in America is expected to grow from 30.2 million to roughly 37.9 million in 2020, in part due to businesses seeking flexibility and also because young adults are more comfortable in the lifestyle.

Adding occasional independents, the projected number of US adults working independently will grow to an estimated 54 million or nearly 45 percent of the private, non-farm workforce, the group said.

“The independent workforce is thriving, and we’re predicting that it will expand at more than five times the rate of the overall hiring growth in the United States in the next five years,” said Zaino. “Independent workers are a key driver of the American economy, producing $1.15 trillion in revenues each year, and we expect this number will continue to grow.”

New Zealand to create massive marine sanctuary

WASHINGTON (AFP): New Zealand has unveiled plans to create a South Pacific marine sanctuary the size of France, saying it would protect one of the world’s most pristine ocean environments. Prime Minister John Key said the Kermadec Ocean Sanctuary would cover an area of 620,000 square kilometres (240,000 square miles) about 1,000 kilometres (620 miles) off New Zealand’s northeast coast. Announcing the plans at the United Nations in New York on Monday, Key said the Kermadec area was home to thousands of important species, including whales, dolphins, seabirds and endangered turtles.

Mischievous mail-eating monkey caged

Florida (MO): Police in Sanford, Florida, had their hands full Monday morning trying to capture an unusual criminal: a rascally monkey who went on a rampage in a residential neighborhood. The furry culprit, a macaque named Zeek, escaped from his owner’s home and took to the streets of Sanford, causing a minor disturbance with his wild antics. At around 8am, police got a 911 call from a neighbor about a monkey eating letters out of a mailbox in the Hidden Lakes subdivision. A female officer who responded to the scene snapped a photo of the sticky-pawed primate sitting atop the mailbox with a white envelope in his hands.