While consumer news often doesn’t get much coverage, it made big headlines this year.
Here’s my list of the top consumer stories of the year:
1. Auto recalls
More than 60 million vehicles have been recalled in the United States, twice as much as the previous annual record in 2004. About 700 recalls have been announced, an average of two a day. One in five vehicles on the road are affected.
2. Retail data breaches
At Target alone, 110 million customers had their credit card and personal information compromised. Home Depot hackers stole 56 million credit card numbers and 53 million email addresses. Breaches also occurred at Kmart, Dairy Queen, and Albertsons. JPMorgan Chase said hackers stole information covering 76 million households and 7 million small businesses.
3. The income gap
Income inequality has been on the rise in the United States for the past four decades. The share of total income earned by the top 1 percent of families was less than 10 percent in the late 1970s but now exceeds 20 percent as of the end of 2012.
4. Affordable Care Act, the first year
About 10 million more people have insurance coverage this year as a result of the Affordable Care Act. It has helped significant numbers of young people who have been able to stay on their parents’ insurance until age 26.
5. Consumer financial protection
The three-year-old Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s job is to make sure Americans aren't getting ripped off by mortgage lenders, credit card companies, debt collectors, and other financial institutions. It's the first federal agency designed specifically to protect everyday consumers from financial wrongdoing. This year, the bureau continued to step up its work for consumers including stopping bogus “free” checking accounts and handling consumer complaints including those on student loans.
6. Lower gas prices
Consumers are pleased that gas prices are down, but one of the reasons is increased gas production in the United States. While lower gas prices are good for the pocketbook, the environmental effects of fracking need to be addressed by local, state, and the federal government.
7. GMO labeling
An overwhelming number of American consumers want genetically engineered food to be labeled. Vermont approved a GMO labeling law early this year, but measures in Oregon and Colorado were defeated. Corporate food and agriculture interests put $36 million into anti-labeling campaigns in the two states. The same group, which includes the biotech seed and chemical companies Monsanto and DuPont, helped defeat labeling measures in California and Washington state in 2012 and 2013.
8. Mobile devices
Mobile phone subscriptions are expected to reach 7 billion this year. Consumers are using their devices for an ever-widening variety applications including paying bills.
9. Clean air
The Obama administration unveiled a major effort in June to combat climate change and bolster public health, directing the Environmental Protection Agency to curb emissions from existing power plants.
10. Settlements by banks and corporations
It seemed like I was writing about huge settlements by banks and corporations daily. Among them were: AT&T paid $80 million for unauthorized third-party charges; Bank of America paid $6.3 billion for violations of securities laws; GlaxoSmithKlein paid $105 million for improper marketing of prescription drugs; and many more.