In what could be a troubling sign for the U.S. economy, manufacturing activity started contracting last month. U.S. manufacturing has been a much-needed bright spot, with companies adding jobs and selling more products.
But today, as NPR's Chris Arnold tells us, we got evidence that things might be changing.
Candy Chang, co-founder of the website Neighborland, writes on an art installation in New Orleans in April. As part of a public street art project that later became Neighborland, Chang put nametag-like stickers on empty New Orleans storefronts for residents to write ideas for improving the city.
Credit Katie Hayes Luke for NPR
Jasmine Fournier stands by a window in her home on St. Claude Avenue in New Orleans. Fournier proposed extending a streetcar line to the city's downtown on Neighborland.
Credit Katie Hayes Luke for NPR
Festival-goers at the Jammin' on Julia street fair in New Orleans interact with Neighborland's art installation on the side of an empty building in the city's arts district in April.
Credit Debbie Elliot / NPR
After Hurricane Katrina, local produce vendor Mr. Okra became the only source of fresh produce in New Orleans' Bywater neighborhood. Residents have posted calls for a local grocery story on Neighborland.
New Orleans became a blank slate after Hurricane Katrina struck in 2005. And ever since, entrepreneurs have rushed in to experiment with new ideas for building and running a city.
Among them is a startup called Neighborland.com, a social media tool for sharing ideas to make your neighborhood better. After signing in to Neighborland, you can find your neighborhood and post your idea. The posts all start with "I want," and you fill in the rest.
The election of Egypt's first Islamist president could alter alliances across the Mideast. Diplomats and analysts are trying to figure out how Egypt's relations with Iran, Israel and other countries may change now that a member of the long-banned Muslim Brotherhood will be leading the country.
Afghanistan produces about half the power it currently uses and imports the other half from neighboring countries. But that total still doesn't meet the country's demands. This photo shows Kabul at night in January.
Credit Bay Ismoyo / AFP/Getty Images
Only about one-third of Afghans have access to a reliable power supply.
Credit Sean Carberry / NPR
The Omid Plastic Making Factory in Kabul manufactures plastic bags. Even though the industrial park where it's located was supposed to guarantee full power, the factory often relies on a generator. "There is no industrial power for us. We are using the same power as normal people," says factory manager Abdul Qadida Sozai.
Credit Sean Carberry / NPR
This welding shop in Kabul relies on a generator because the city power supply isn't reliable or powerful enough for the equipment.
Afghanistan desperately needs to jump-start its economy if it hopes to stand on its own after NATO's drawdown in 2014. But there's a major constraint for a country trying to build a modern economy: electricity shortages.
Afghanistan ranks among the countries with the lowest electricity production per capita in the world. Despite billions of dollars in projects over the past decade, at best one-third of the population has access to regular power.
Deacon Mark Coudrain, bottom left, Rev. Charles Benoit, top left, Abbot Justin Brown, top right, and attorney Evans Schmidt carry a casket built by Benedictine monks down the steps of the U.S. federal district courthouse on Aug. 12, 2010.
Credit Patrick Semansky / AP
Benedictine Brother Brian Harrington (left) and novice Dustin Bernard pull a casket handle from a press in a workshop at St. Joseph Abbey in Covington, La.
"We had two shows that night," says Bobby Womack, recounting a recent concert in Houston. "It was a small theater, about 5- or 6,000 people. The second show, I was just out of it; they had to take me to the hospital."
It was a serious scare for the 68-year-old singer-songwriter — who has also lived through drug addiction and the deaths of two sons — and it didn't end that night.
Fraser and Marian Shields Robinson raised their children, Craig and Michelle, in Chicago, but their family's ancestry can be traced back to pre-abolition Georgia.
Credit Barack Obama Campaign
The Shield and Robinson lines met in 1959 in Chicago, where Fraser and Marian Shields Robinson married and raised their children, Craig and Michelle.
Credit Courtesy of Jewell Barclay
The first lady's maternal great-great-grandfather Dolphus Shields (seated) was born to Melvinia Shields. After emancipation, he settled his family in Birmingham, Ala., where he stayed until his death in 1950.
Credit Courtesy of Francesca Gray
Obama's paternal grandfather, Fraser Robinson Jr., fought in World War II and spoke Gullah, a language that emerged on the South Carolina coast during slavery.
Credit Damon Wood
DNA tests have shown that Joan Tribble, the great-great-granddaughter of Melvinia Shields' owner, and the first lady are distantly related.
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Michelle Obama's family was part of American history long before she, Malia, Sasha and Barack Obama moved into the White House.
Credit Courtesy of HarperCollins
Rachel Swarns reconstructs Michelle Obama's family tree in her book American Tapestry. (Click here for a closer look.)
Credit Scott Robinson /
Author Rachel Swarns has been a reporter for The New York Times since 1995. She lives in Washington, D.C., with her husband and their two children.
When Michelle Obama's great-great-great grandmother was 8 years old, her life underwent a dramatic change.
Melvinia Shields was a slave who grew up at a South Carolina estate with a relatively large community of slaves she knew well. But then she was moved to a small farm in northern Georgia where she was one of only three slaves; most white people in the area didn't own any.