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Donald Bowers/WireImage for Luxottica via Getty Images(LONDON) -- Italian eyewear giant Luxottica Group, which owns Ray-Ban, and French lens-maker Essilor have agreed to a massive merger.

Essilor would become the holding company in the deal and the two firms combined, under the new name of "EssilorLuxottica," would be worth about $49 billion.

"The marriage between two key companies in their sectors will bring great benefits to the market, for employees and mainly for all our consumers," Luxottica executive chairman Leonardo Del Vecchio said in a statement.

Luxottica is the world's biggest maker of glasses. While owning Ray-Ban and Oakley, the eyewear designer's licensed brands include Burberry, Coach, Michael Kors and Versace.

"By joining forces today, these two international players can now accelerate their global expansion to the benefit of customers, employees and shareholders as well as the industry as a whole," Essilor CEO Hubert Sagnières said in a statement.

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iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- The owners of the famed Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus on Monday pushed back against the idea that animal rights protests influenced the company's decision to end its circus performances in May of this year.

The family-run Feld Entertainment company that owns the 146-year-old circus billed as "the greatest show on Earth" said at a press conference Monday in Florida that animal rights groups should not claim the circus' closing as a victory.

"This is not a win for animal rights activists," Kenneth Feld, the company's CEO said. "This is not a win for anyone."

"Entertainment has changed," Feld said of the reason for the closing. "The traditional family unit is different."

The Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus has been a frequent target of activists claiming inhumane treatment of animals used in the shows.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), the animal rights group that was among the loudest opponents of the circus, claimed a win this weekend in a press release titled, "It's over for Ringling Bros. Circus."

"After 36 years of PETA protests, which have awoken the world to the plight of animals in captivity, PETA heralds the end of what has been the saddest show on earth for wild animals, and asks all other animal circuses to follow suit, as this is a sign of changing times," Ingrid Newkirk, president of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, wrote in a statement.

Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of The Humane Society of the United States, also applauded the decision, saying, "I applaud their decision to move away from an institution grounded on inherently inhumane wild animal acts."

Feld for his part said at the press conference that with the circus' closing, animal rights groups “will need to find a new agenda for fundraising.”

His daughter, Juliette Feld, said the company saw a decline in sales over many years and a more precipitous drop after it announced in 2016 it would stop including elephant acts in performances.

The Felds said their focus now is on more than 400 workers who will be affected by the shutdown and that the company will provide "job placement, interview and resume preparation."

The company also said it will work to ensure that animals used for the circus are placed in safe homes after the final performance.

"Our commitment to all of our animals is for our lifetime," Juliette Feld said.

Feld Entertainment was founded nearly 50 years ago with the acquisition of Ringling Bros, according to a company statement. Kenneth Feld has a net worth of roughly $2.7 billion from the circus and entertainment business, according to the Forbes 400 list.

The circus will have its final performance on Long Island at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Uniondale, New York, on May 21.

The Felds expressed hope that people would visit the circus one last time.

"There are tickets available for the remaining shows," Kenneth Feld said.

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iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) — Ahead of the presidential inauguration this weekend, wireless carriers are bringing in the reinforcements as they expect to see a flood of smartphone activity in Washington, D.C.

Mobile service providers, including Verizon, are bringing in their most advanced mobile cellular antennas, called RETs, or remote electrical tilt antennas. The high-powered COWs — cells on wheels — will help to boost the data capacity in the Washington, D.C. area by 400 percent or more.

A million people or more are expected to pour into the nation’s capital for the inauguration Friday.

ABC Breaking News | Latest News Videos

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iStock/Thinkstock(DAVOS, Switzerland) -- You may have already known that the world's richest people were very, very rich. But did you know just how rich?

A new report from Oxfam released Monday at an annual gathering of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland shows that the eight richest men own as much wealth as 3.6 billion people -- or half the population of the entire world.

"Inequality is definitely getting worse in a lot of countries and you're seeing the super rich, in particular, move away from the rest of society," says Oxfam's Max Lawson.

Among the list of the richest men are Berkshire Hathaway CEO Warren Buffett, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and the world's richest man, Bill Gates.

"One thing Oxfam is calling on is for the world's billionaires to do the right thing and not the wrong thing," Lawson says. "And what they could do, is what Bill Gates has called on them to do, which is to pay their taxes. Many, many billionaires pay hardly any tax, using tax havens to hide their money away."

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iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- If you're looking for a good job with a six-figure salary and a fractional unemployment rate, a new survey suggests you go into health care.

Dentist was ranked the top job in US News and World Report's study, with a median salary of over $152,000.

In fact, four of the top five jobs were in health care. Nurse practitioner and physician assistant were second and third, respectively, with salaries of just under $100,000. Orthodontist came in fifth place, at $187,000.

Also making as much as orthodontists are OB-GYNs and oral surgeons, who rank ninth and tenth, respectively.

Completing the top 10 are statisticians in fourth place, averaging $80,000, and computer analysts in eighth with $85,000.

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Michael S. Williamson/The Washington Post via Getty Images(NEW YORK) --  Reaction to Saturday's announcement that Ringling Bros. and Barnum Circus will cease operations in May has been mixed: Animals rights groups lauded the move, while celebrities and the general public had a mixed reaction.

The parent company of the circus, Feld Entertainment, said in a statement, "The decision to end the circus tours was made as a result of high costs coupled with a decline in ticket sales, making the circus an unsustainable business for the company. Following the transition of the elephants off the circus [last year], the company saw a decline in ticket sales greater than could have been anticipated."

Ingrid Newkirk, president of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, a longtime opponent of the circus, said in a statement she welcomed its closure: "After 36 years of PETA protests, which have awoken the world to the plight of animals in captivity, PETA heralds the end [of the circus] and asks all other animal circuses to follow suit, as this is a sign of changing times."

The Humane Society of the United States' president and CEO, Wayne Pacelle, said, "I applaud their decision to move away from an institution grounded on inherently inhumane wild animal acts."

And The Humane League, a national farm animal protection nonprofit, tweeted, "The Ringling Brothers circus is shutting down after 146 years! Massive victory for animals!"

Actress Pamela Anderson tweeted, "IT'S OVER!" and linked to PETA's statement on her blog.


— Pamela Anderson (@pamfoundation) January 15, 2017

Basketball great Shaquille O'Neal was less enthused about the announcement, sharing his feelings on Twitter.

Comedian Jay Mohr also wasn't keen on the circus' shutdown, but offered a humorous take on the move, tweeting, "Ringling Brothers shutting down isn't a "Massive victory for the animals". It's a shame. Now where's an elephant go to get a nice hat?"

Mohr followed up with another tweet, writing, "2017 just took a dark turn. Ringling Brothers Circus closes leaving 2,500 unemployed clowns just roaming the streets."

Former "Real Housewives of Miami" star and "Dancing With The Stars" contestant, model Joanna Krupa, expressed satisfaction about the announcement, tweeting, "The best news ever ! Thank god and all the animal lovers and groups who fought day and night for these angels!"

Iconic "Star Trek" actor George Takei took the opportunity to express his disdain for president-elect Donald Trump, tweeting, "After 146 yrs, Ringling Bros will close 'Greatest Show on Earth.' That title now goes to the daily s***show coming from the President-elect."

 And while Trump has yet to comment about the circus' shuttering, he previously tweeted that he was unhappy about the circus' decision to remove elephants from its shows, ending years of tricks and synchronized dances.

In March 2015 he tweeted, "Ringling Brothers is phasing out their elephants. I,for one, will never go again. They probably used the animal rights stuff to reduce costs"

Ringling Brothers is phasing out their elephants. I,for one, will never go again. They probably used the animal rights stuff to reduce costs

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 5, 2015

And then in January 2016, Trump tweeted, ".@RinglingBros is retiring their elephants-- the circus will never be the same."

.@RinglingBros is retiring their elephants-- the circus will never be the same.

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 11, 2016

Ringling Bros.' two circus units will conclude their tours with their final shows in Providence, R.I., on May 7, and at the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Uniondale, N.Y., on May 21.

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Win McNamee/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- President-elect Donald Trump’s team is considering moving the press briefing room out of the White House's West Wing, according to Trump's incoming chief of staff, Reince Priebus.

When asked about an Esquire magazine report that the incoming administration plans to move the press room out of the West Wing to the Old Executive Office Building next door, Priebus told ABC's George Stephanopoulos on This Week, "The one thing that we discussed was whether or not we want to do conferences in the [Executive Office Building]."

"Which, by the way, is the White House," Priebus added. "So no one is moving out of the White House. That is the White House, where you can fit four times the amount of people in the press conference, allowing more press, more press coverage from all over the country to have those press conferences. That's what we're talking about."

The news of a possible change in venue for White House press corps briefings comes after a very contentious first press conference by the president-elect last week.

“I know some of the folks in the press are uptight about this and I understand,” Priebus said on “This Week.” “The only thing that's been discussed is whether or not the initial press conferences are going to be in that small press room. For the people listening to this that don't know this, the press room that people see on TV is very, very tiny -- 49 people fit in that press room.”

“We had like 500 or 600 folks at the press conference last week so we started thinking, 'Man alive, if we can have more people involved than less people involved, that would be a good thing' -- that's what this is about, George,” Priebus said.

Priebus added that the change in venue would allow for more press coverage and greater access by journalists. Incoming White House press secretary Sean Spicer gave a statement to ABC News following the report in Esquire.

"While no decisions have been made, there is enormous interest in covering Donald Trump and his agenda to improve the lives of every American," Spicer's statement said. "The current briefing room only has 49 seats so we have looked at rooms within the White House to conduct briefings that have additional capacity to accommodate members of media including talk radio, bloggers and others."

Meanwhile, the president of the White House Correspondents Association, an organization of journalists who cover the White House and president, said he plans to meet with Trump's incoming press secretary on the issue.

In a statement to the media, association President Jeff Mason said he is seeking "clarity" about reports that the press-briefing room may be moved.

Mason also made it clear that the association's preference is to keep the press room where it is.

"The briefing room is open now to all reporters who request access. We support that and always will. The WHCA will fight to keep the briefing room and West Wing access to senior administration officials open. We object strenuously to any move that would shield the president and his advisers from the scrutiny of an on-site White House press corps," the statement concluded.

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iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Finding affordable travel can be stressful, but Farecompare CEO Rick Seaney sat down with ABC News to give his tips on making your trip to the airport more friendly to your wallet.

Here's what he had to say:

 This is not about avoiding flying on Friday the 13th.

This is about avoiding steep prices that occur as airlines raise or lower fares due to seasonal demand (or lack of same).

The list below can help you avoid high prices and fly cheap.

Don’t Fly These Days

February 11 – 24: This is a blackout period during the cheap Winter Deal Zone that got underway earlier this month, so watch out for those February dates (and you’ll see very similar blackout periods in recent sales). A lot of folks want to get away for the long Presidents’ Day weekend and Valentine’s Day, so fares go up temporarily.

April 2: This is when a price bump kicks in on many routes for the spring season, which is typically more expensive than winter. If you can jiggle your itinerary a bit to take off by April 1, you’ll likely save some money.

June 3: Another fare hike occurs on this date (per average prices) for the pre-summer season, not as pricy as peak-summer but higher than spring. Again, try to take off by June 2.

June 20: Boom, it’s the popular summer season and fares jump accordingly. If the kids are out of school before this date, travel before the 20th and you’ll have a little something to add to the college fund.

Early August: Though it's too early for specific dates, generally high summer fares continue into August. But if you can wait a bit, fly in late August when prices drop for fall. This is an excellent time to travel; kids are back in school, lines at airports and attractions drop to manageable levels and plane tickets are cheaper, sometimes significantly cheaper.

Other Ways to Cut Costs

Simple ways to lower the cost of travel that I’ve written about before but bears repeating.

Fly a cheaper route: If you’re traveling cross-country (or even half-way), compare the prices of convenient non-stops with longer connecting flights. Sometimes the difference in price can add up to a lot of money (sometimes hundreds of dollars on flights to Europe). Why not use the savings at your destination?

Use a carry-on bag: It’s free on most airlines but the bigger benefit is a bag that travels with you on a plane can’t go astray. Hanging around an airline baggage office to report a lost bag is annoying and takes time, too. As we all know, time is money.

And remember, the smartest thing you can do whenever you shop for plane tickets is to compare prices, since no single airline always has the best deal. Don’t forget to do a separate search on Southwest, the only carrier that does not share fare data.

Note: Because "do not fly" dates are based on average prices for top domestic airline routes, it may not apply to all departure and destination cities but it can act as a guide. The best thing to do no matter where or when you fly is to always seek out a comparison airfare site (like my own but there are many out there). That’s the one way to see which airline has the best deals.

Rick Seaney is the CEO of FareCompare, a website that curates the best deals on flights from around the world. Any opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author.

Copyright © 2016, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.


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David A. Walega/FilmMagic via Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- The iconic 146-year-old Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus will hold its final performances in May as "The Greatest Show on Earth" comes to an end.

Feld Entertainment, the parent company of the circus, confirmed the show's closing to ABC News in a statement citing a decline in ticket sales along with the high cost of touring, particularly after elephants were removed from performances.

“We are grateful to the hundreds of millions of fans who have experienced Ringling Bros. over the years," Feld Entertainment chairman and CEO Kenneth Feld said in a statement. "Between now and May, we will give them one last chance to experience the joy and wonder of Ringling Bros.”

The news comes after Kristen Michelle Wilson made history this week as the first woman ringmaster to run the show at Ringling Bros.

The entertainment company will hold a press conference on Monday to discuss the circus' closing. The final performances of the two circus units will be at Dunkin' Donuts Center in Providence, Rhode Island, on May 7, and at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Uniondale, N.Y., on May 21.

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US Launch Report(LOMPOC, Calif.) -- SpaceX's Falcon 9 returned to flight, launching successfully from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California Saturday, just four and a half months after a fiery explosion destroyed Facebook's AMOS-6 satellite.

An investigation conducted by SpaceX (with assists from the Air Force, NASA, and the National Transportation Safety Board) concluded that the September 1 explosion was likely caused by a failure of a pressurized second-stage tank.

The company, which is run by billionaire Elon Musk, vowed to change the fueling procedures to prevent the incident from recurring, and the FAA granted a launch license.

The launch on Saturday delivered 10 Iridium satellites to low-earth orbit for use in mobile communications.

After separation, the rocket’s first stage landed on the droneship “Just Read the Instructions,” stationed in the Pacific Ocean.

SpaceX nailed a similar droneship landing back in April. Returning the first stage to earth enables the company to reuse the rocket, drastically reducing the cost of launch.

Musk has said his ultimate goal is to start a colony on Mars by reducing the cost of a one-way trip from $10 billion per person to just $200,000.

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ABC News(SAN FRANCISCO) -- Silicon Valley is a shining beacon of American success, home to some of the most profitable and innovative companies in the world, including Google, Facebook, PayPal, Oracle and Apple.

Many employees at these tech giants enjoy large paychecks and a host of perks ranging from free dry cleaning to free food to gyms on site.

But there are thousands of other people working alongside them who don’t make enough money to afford housing near their jobs so many sleep in their cars between shifts. Some sleep in their cars because they are homeless.

Terrence Rollins is a 51-year-old bus driver who drives the shuttles that ferry tech employees across Silicon Valley to company campuses. He only has a few hours a night at home before he has to be back at work.

“I love my job,” Rollins said. “I get up at 3 [a.m.], I make it home about 11, 10 o’clock at night, and I’m constantly traveling. I mean, I have to take care of my family.”

The bus drivers who spoke with ABC News starting in 2015 work for independent contractors hired by tech companies. When we first met these drivers, they said their jobs provided few benefits and didn't offer paid company holidays.

Some drivers are contracted to work what’s called a “split shift,” meaning they arrive for work at 6 a.m. to take tech employees to their offices, then have to wait around for a number of hours, unpaid, until it’s time to take the employees back home at the end of the day. These drivers work and are paid for a total of eight hours but over a 16-hour period.

They said the houses they can afford on their wages are too far away for them to get home between shifts, so many of them stay in their cars or nap at the bus depot.

In the bus depot where he is based, Rollins said there was one room with two beds for female drivers and another room with two beds for male drivers. But it wasn't enough to accommodate the 35 to 40 drivers there on any given day.

“It’s just awful when you park inside and you have drivers covering their cars’ [windows] with blankets and towels,” said another driver named Jimmy.

Since ABC News began this report a year and a half ago, some service workers have unionized and their employers have worked with tech companies to raise wages and offer better benefits to many contract workers who lived at the edge of poverty.

These workers are an example of a growing trend in the U.S., in which large corporations contract out service jobs from other companies.

Scott Peebles, another driver ABC News spoke to in 2015, said he had been sleeping on an air mattress in his car for months. Peebles used a windshield reflector to help block out the light from the parking lot streetlamps while he slept.

“This is foreign to me,” he said, gesturing to his car. “It’s not the way you’re supposed to live. No, it’s just a mirror of society that we’re in right now and that’s -- I’m probably part of millions of people that are doing this.”

“It’s sad that it comes down to this,” Peebles continued. “I mean, if people would know this, if corporations of businesses they work for, they would probably be aghast that their employees were living in a car or a van.”

At night, if they needed a restroom, the drivers would get out of their cars and walk into the bus depot.

Under union pressures and publicity about drivers receiving few benefits, Facebook now requires contractors to pay contract employees a minimum of $15 an hour, 15 days of paid time off, and a $4,000 stipend for new parents if their contractors don’t provide parental leave. Apple and Google followed suit with announcing 25 percent wage increases for all drivers.

Many security jobs are also now contracted out. Michael Johnson, who worked as a security guard for several companies, told ABC News the job has changed over the years.

“When I first started there were paid vacation, paid holidays, lots of times we got bonuses,” Johnson said. “It was like a regular job, it’s just that you were contract-working. You were treated like one of the gang.”

Eventually, Johnson said at the time he stopped receiving paid vacation time or paid sick leave and the hourly rate dropped.

“It was incredible what was happening,” he said. “It seemed like it just happened overnight.”

In Silicon Valley, amidst the luxury homes, the streets are lined with service workers who live in RVs and trailers.

“The folks that are living in these RVs, they are part of the low-wage economy that’s created around the tech industry,” said activist Derecka Mehrens. “There’s a real connection between these families and what happens in the industry.”

Some experts on contract workers say some of the jobs provide opportunities that didn’t exist before. Arthur Brooks of the Conservative American Enterprise Institute said,many workers "say that it gives them flexibility. Many of them are immigrants.”

But Tamara Draut, Vice President of Demos, a progressive think tank, disagreed that contracting and subcontracting helps workers, arguing that “in each link down that chain, the pressures grow to lower labor costs.”

Irma Alvarado is 72 years old and says she spent her life cleaning the offices at Visa, working the night shift from 6 p.m. to 2:30 a.m. She shares a small house with her children and grandchildren. She is a legal immigrant who says she has lived and worked in the U.S. nearly 30 years.

When ABC News spoke to her in 2015, Alvarado said it was hard to watch Visa employees throw away food she would love to have and to see them take vacations. She said she once saw a $7,000 check lying on a desk, and was surprised at the gap between her pay and theirs.

In a statement to ABC News, Visa said their janitorial staff is contracted through a third party vendor. “All wages, bonuses and benefits are handled directly by the service vendors,” the statement said. “We greatly appreciate their work and dedication to our facilities.”

Her grandchildren say they still believe in the American dream. Her grandson Danny said he would like to be an astronaut one day. But for now, he said he just wants a drawer to himself.

“It’s hard living in the house because you don’t have that much room, gets crowded,” he said. “I would have a drawer to put all my clothes in.”

About half of American adults lived in middle-income households in 2014, according to a new Pew Research Center analysis of government data. Pew Research offers an income calculator feature on their website that allows you to see whether you are part of the American middle class.

Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.


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KAZUHIRO NOGI/AFP/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- Scandal-plagued airbag manufacturer Takata has agreed to plead guilty to wire fraud and pay $1 billion in criminal penalties for selling defective inflators that killed 11 people in the U.S. and injured more than 180 others nationwide, the Justice Department announced Friday.

According to the DOJ, Takata -- which supplies airbag parts to Honda, Toyota and other auto manufacturers –- falsified reports to conceal failures during testing, including repeated ruptures of ammonium nitrate inflators, which can spew shrapnel into the cab of a vehicle. Even after the ruptures began to cause injury and deaths on the roadways, the DOJ said company executives continued to withhold accurate testing data.

"Takata was supposed to be selling products that saved lives, not pushing into the marketplace products that increased the risk of harm to consumers," said Sandra Moser, of the Justice Department Criminal Division’s Fraud Section. "Time and again, it put profit and production schedules ahead of people's safety."

Takata will have to pay $150 million -- $125 million in victim compensation and another $25 million in criminal fines -– in the next 30 days. The remainder -- $850 million –- will be distributed over time to the automakers forced to replace the faulty inflators.

"If it’s true, shame on them," said Corey Burdick, who lost his eye after the driver’s side airbag in his Honda Accord ruptured, sending a 3-inch long jagged piece of metal into his face. "They killed a lot of people and they hurt a lot of people."

Some victim advocates are concerned the settlement pays too much to the automakers, and doesn’t set aside enough for those injured by the inflators – especially because the number of victims could increase as long as defective products remain unrepaired in cars.

More than 60 million inflators in 42 million vehicles either have been or will be recalled, but due to a scarcity of replacement parts, just 12.5 million have been repaired to date, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Three of the company’s top executives -- Shinichi Tanaka, Hideo Nakajima and Tsuneo Chikaraishi – were indicted for their role in the scandal.

Friday’s announcement comes on the heels of another major auto industry settlement: On Wednesday, the Justice Department announced Volkswagen will pay $4.3 billion and plead guilty in its diesel emissions scandal. The company has admitted they installed "defeat devices" designed to cheat U.S. emissions tests in about half a million cars nationwide.

Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.


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iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- The Dow Jones Industrial Average dragged behind the Nasdaq, which reached a new record, and the S&P 500 on Friday ahead of the holiday weekend.

The Dow slid 5.27 (-0.03 percent) to finish at 19,885.73.

The Nasdaq gained 26.63 ( 0.48 percent) to close at 5,574.12, while the S&P 500 finished at 2,274, up 4.20 ( 0.18 percent) from its open.

Crude oil prices, about $53 a barrel, sunk 1 percent.

Winners and Losers: Major banks in the U.S. (Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase & Co., Wells Fargo) posted profits in the fourth-quarter that beat investors' expectations, aided by the post-presidential election of Donald Trump. Bank of America closed under 1 percent in the green, JPMorgan jumped 1 percent, and Wells Fargo added about 1.5 percent.

A staff shake-up at Walmart Stores, Inc. sent its stock down 1 percent after the retail giant promoted several executives from recently-acquired

Naked Brand Group Inc was one of the top earners Friday on news the fashion brand was planning to merge with swimwear and intimate apparel-maker Bendon Limited. Naked Brand skyrocketed over 63 percent.

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iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Every day in cities across the country, tens of thousands of people wait in line to have a needle put in their arms for up to two hours.

Instead of donating their blood plasma, these people receive payments for the time it takes to give their plasma -- the clear, straw-colored liquid part of the blood that contains special proteins -- to for-profit companies. The companies purify the plasma, turning it into life-saving drugs for immune disorders and other drugs, including those used in cancer and transplant patients.

“I donate specifically for the money because I work a minimum wage job. I work as a cashier and a stocker. I used to work as a repair technician for 14 bucks an hour, so I’m used to more than what I’m getting,” David, who donates his plasma, said.

In the U.S., most people technically donate their plasma but are paid for their time doing that.

The U.S. supplies 94 percent of the plasma used around the world. And nearly 80 percent of the plasma centers in the U.S. are located in America’s poorer neighborhoods.

Many of the people who frequent these centers to give their plasma are full-time workers and low-income Americans who are just unable to make ends meet.

William, who has two children and works at a Burger King in Kansas City, Missouri, says he gives his blood plasma twice a week.

“I go Fridays and Sundays. Right arm I use Friday. Other I use Sunday. I switch up every time,” William said. “It’s a 21-gauge needle, so it’s pretty thick.”

The payment they receive averages about $30 to $40, and for the companies, it is a $19.7 billion global industry.

Many foreign companies come to the U.S. to get the plasma for certain drugs instead of where they are headquartered because the laws in the U.S. are favorable for plasma donations.

“For a majority of people -- apparently -- it’s relatively safe. We really don’t know what the long-term effects because it’s a relatively new phenomenon," Dr. Roger Kobayashi, a clinical professor of immunology at UCLA, said.

According to the Plasma Protein Therapeutics Association, the frequency and volume parameters for plasma donation are approved by the Food and Drug Administration and have been in use for approximately 50 years.

"These regulations and guidelines are based on the best available science and are in place to protect the health of plasma donors. In just the past decade, the industry has collected more than 235,000,000 source plasma donations from dedicated donors that have treated hundreds of thousands of patients all over the world," the Plasma Protein Therapeutics Association (PPTA) said in a statement to ABC News. "Source plasma donation is safe and is highly regulated. Donors must meet criteria defined by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and voluntary industry standards. Healthy, committed donors are the foundation of plasma-derived therapies."

Kobayashi said what was once “a simple gift of life has now evolved into a multi-national, highly profitable corporate enterprise.”

“What was once an act of altruism has now evolved into an act of necessity or desperation,” said Kobayashi.

"To guarantee a safe and adequate supply of donated source plasma, it is standard industry practice to compensate donors for the significant commitment of personal time and effort required to donate," the PPTA said in a statement. "Without voluntary compensated plasma donors, a shortage of plasma would occur and manufacturers would not have the plasma they need to produce the amount of vital, life-saving therapies that are required by individuals with severe, life-threatening, chronic disease and disorders."

Gaylord, who, like William, lives in Kansas City, has two young children and gives plasma twice a week.

“[It’s] great to save somebody else’s life. You’re actually helping somebody else out here too,” Gaylord said.

On one occasion, Gaylord said he was giving plasma because his daughter had a birthday, and he needed $7.50 to buy her a bathing suit and money for a cake. He said he doesn’t want his kids to know about him giving his plasma.

“I try to take off my bandage before I get home. They ask me, ‘What’s that?’” Gaylord said of the needle scar on his arm. “I’m like, ‘It’s just a sore.’ I kind of try to, like, cover it up and change the subject. They don’t really need to know that, you know.”

When ABC News met Gaylord, he was working two jobs and is trying to get a third job, but he said in order to do so, he would need a car.

“I would be more ‘presentable,’” Gaylord said. “Place I walk -- I won’t be sweating.”

Gaylord, who said he’s had a tough life growing up, said he doesn’t resent what other people have and just wants to have enough to take care of his family.

“[I want] a bank account to where if the kids do get sick or if something happens, we take care of it,” he said.

Gaylord said he hopes for a future where he doesn’t have to give plasma to give his daughter a smile on her birthday.

“I’m grateful for any and everything that God sends my way,” Gaylord said. “However, it’ just ain’t right. People will pass you by, whatever. They don’t know what you’re going through. There’s poverty. There’s a lot of poverty around here.”

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Stockbyte/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- In the Diane Sawyer report, "My Reality: A Hidden America," for a special edition of ABC News 20/20, ABC News chronicles a reality of millions of Americans working harder than ever but struggling to stay in the middle class, or striving to get in.

For so many, the American Dream’s opportunities seem to have dwindled. The numbers that follow are part of a larger conversation about today’s middle class and hard-working poor:

68 – The percentage of the country’s income growth since 1980 that went to the top 10 percent of earners. (National Bureau of Economic Research)

0 – The percentage of the country’s income growth since 1980 that went to the entire bottom half of earners. (National Bureau of Economic Research)

117 – The number of million Americans whose income has fallen or barely kept up with inflation in almost four decades. That is half of the country. (National Bureau of Economic Research)

45 – The percentage of middle income millennials who earn more than their parents did at the same age, adjusted for inflation. A half century ago, 93 percent of middle income Americans earned more than their parents had, adjusted for inflation. (National Bureau of Economic Research)

50 – The percentage of Americans who are middle class. In 1971, it was 61 percent. (Pew Research Center)

92 – The number of metro areas where buying a home is unaffordable for families making a median household income. (Center for Housing Policy)

53 – The percentage of Americans who say they do not have enough savings to cover three months of living expenses if they lose their job. (Federal Reserve Survey, 2015)

56 – The percentage of the fastest growing new jobs that will pay, on average, under $12 an hour. (Bureau of Labor Statistics, analyzed by ABC News)

73 – The percentage of public assistance that goes to working families. (UC Berkeley Labor Center)

56,516 – The annual median household income in the United States. (US Census Bureau)

Watch the Diane Sawyer report, "My Reality: A Hidden America," for a special edition of ABC News 20/20 airing on Friday, Jan. 13, at 10 p.m. ET.

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