Wealth & Poverty

Ways to Connect

Note: This episode originally ran in 2015.

Today's Planet Money indicator is zero. Earlier today, a bill transforming America's tax code was approved by congress with zero Democratic votes.

On today's show, we talk with Josh Barro. He points out a problem Democrats have been struggling with for a while: Most Democratic candidates promise not to raise taxes on the middle class, but also want to expand social programs.

Barro argues that, in the long run, the Republican tax bill could help the Democrats solve this problem.

This month, The Virginia Department of Transportation added a new toll on a 10-mile stretch of highway that connects the Virginia suburbs with Washington, DC. The toll varies according to traffic — and it's been spiking much higher than many people expected. At one point last week, it spiked all the way to $44.

There is a beautiful, econ 101 logic behind a toll that spikes when demand spikes. On today's show, we talk to an economist who commutes on this road — and who thinks we need to go beyond econ 101 to really understand the toll.

The New York Produce Show and Conference looks like a grocery store the size of the Javits Center, one of the biggest convention centers in the country. But it's a grocery store that's nothing but produce aisle. Fruits are carefully displayed, often accompanied by slick videos or Christmas trees. Salespeople wait at booths to extol the virtues of their pumpkins and avocados. They're eager to give away t-shirts, pens, lip balm, even bags of sweet potatoes. Their goal isn't just to network, it's to woo the power players of produce, who make decisions about the fate of fruits.

Forget Neutrality

Dec 15, 2017

Yesterday, the Federal Communications Commission voted to end net neutrality — a rule that required internet providers to treat all web traffic equally.

The decision was really controversial. And a lot of the controversy boils down to a single number. As luck would have it, that number is today's indicator: 58 percent. As in, 58 percent of Americans have access to at most one option for broadband Internet.

On today's show, how the broadband market got the way it is, and what it means for the debate over net neutrality.

Trump SoHo is a high rise in lower Manhattan, part hotel, part condos; it's 46 stories tall, all slick grey glass. Conflicts, from zoning battles to accusations of fraud, have followed the project since it was announced during a 2006 episode of The Apprentice.

According to reports by Bloomberg News, Trump SoHo has attracted the interest of Department of Justice special counsel Robert Mueller, who is investigating possible ties between Trump's 2016 presidential campaign and Russian officials.

Today's Planet Money indicator is 4.55 percent. The Federal Reserve said just this afternoon that the American economy is at full employment when the unemployment rate is 4.55 percent.

The Fed updates this estimate every few months. And for years, it's been getting the number wrong.

Today on the show, what is full employment, why is it so hard to pin down, and most importantly, are we there yet?

Updated at 3:45 p.m. ET

For the third time this year and the fifth time since the financial crisis, the Federal Reserve has increased interest rates another quarter of a point.

Grant Blankenship / GPB

There’s a city inside the City of Macon.

It’s made of tents strung along the banks of the Ocmulgee River downtown. Homeless people have been bedding down here, largely hidden from view, for years.

But this year, with the movement of people back to the nation’s downtown centers happening alongside the first increase in the nation’s homeless population in seven years, Macon-Bibb government says the tent city has to be pushed back, at least from inside Macon’s Central City Park.

One of the things we do at the Indicator is steal stuff we like from other podcasts. Today, we're stealing from Tyler Cowen. He's an economist and public intellectual who has his own podcast (of course).

It's an interview show, and in the middle of every episode Tyler does this thing we love: He goes through a list of subjects and asks the guest to say whether each subject is overrated or underrated, and to explain why.

SPACE 4: 3 2 1

Dec 8, 2017

It's launch day for the Planet Money satellite, POD - 1, and our intrepid Planeteers discover all the superstitions and complications of going to space. We eat the traditional pancake breakfast with the launch team. And we learn that the one time they did not eat pancakes, the rocket didn't make it to orbit.

That's not the only launch danger. Will Marshall, the CEO of our satellite partner Planet, always makes a speech where he lists what can go wrong (BOOM). But Will says taking risks is actually part of the business plan.

Where's My Raise?

Dec 8, 2017

The big monthly jobs report came out today. The good news? Lots of people have jobs. The bad news? Raises are hard to come by.

Today's Indicator is 2.5 percent. That's how much average hourly earnings grew over the past year. After you take inflation into account, that's pretty weak --much less than you'd expect given how low the unemployment rate is. Employers are are having to compete for increasingly scarce workers, so why aren't they offering more money? On today's show: Three theories for why wages are rising so slowly.

The U.S. economy added 228,000 jobs in November, according to the monthly jobs report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The unemployment rate remained steady at 4.1 percent, unchanged from October.

"Employment growth has averaged 174,000 per month thus far this year, compared with an average monthly gain of 187,000 in 2016," the agency's acting Commissioner William J. Wiatrowski said of the report.

We've secured our satellite. And while that's pretty cool, we're not quite there yet. We need a rocket. That used to require a having a space agency, like NASA. We don't have a space agency at NPR. But luckily for us, space is a business now, with commercial operators vying for customers. And space companies are actually battling for our business. They want to be the company that takes us to the stars.

Grant Blankenship / GPB

Phillip Tutt talks about okra and collards with his neighbors. He’s lived in the same home on Macon, Georgia’s Bowden Street for close to 50 years. Most of that time he’s had a garden.

“Now for my turnips and things like that I don’t want to plant them before Labor Day,” he said. “But if I can get them in on Labor Day I’ll be happy. But collards I believe I set them out in August if I’m not mistaken.”

Over the years the rows of vegetables in his garden have thrived while the neighborhood around them has withered. There was a time when he would walk next door to share his peppers with neighbors and return with a basket of tomatoes.

When Republicans launched their tax push this fall, they said, here's the plan: We are going to lower taxes for people and companies. And part of the way we're going to pay for that is by getting rid of loopholes and special deductions and lots of little perks hiding in the tax code.

Today on the show: What happened to that plan, and what it says about the way our tax code works.

Power Pinch

Dec 4, 2017

At Planet Money, we love big projects. We bought a toxic asset. We made a T-shirt. We're trying to launch a satellite into space. Doing this stuff means we can't always keep up with the news as much as we'd like. So we're launching a new show. It's the Indicator: Planet Money's quick take on a number, or a term, or a story in the news.

Planet in San Francisco has agreed to send up a satellite with our logo on it and take some pictures for us. In a way, we're in the spying game now. Back in the 60s, satellites would take photographs from space and then send the film canisters back to earth--literally drop them into the atmosphere, where they were caught in a net attached to an airplane. There was only a limited number of pictures you could get that way. And they still took a ton of time to analyze.

Planet Money Goes To Space

Dec 1, 2017

Space is easier to get to than ever and it will change life on earth. Private companies are pouring billions of dollars into tiny satellites, new rockets, and gathering information on earth from above. To see how it all works, we are getting in on the action ourselves.

We adopt an adorable satellite, go rocket shopping, and try to figure out how to turn our little piece of the new space race into a profit.

Scroll down for our audio episodes, photos from our satellite, and to see where it is right this exact minute.

Episode 1: We're Going To Space

Going to space used to be the playground of governments, but now rockets and satellites are becoming so small and so cheap that even a podcast can launch a space mission. So that's just what Planet Money did!

Last year we started to look into the satellite business. It used to be that satellites were the size of a school bus and cost a half billion dollars. But the space business is changing. Private companies are competing to get tiny satellites into orbit, driving the cost down. Commercial rockets are launching around the world, carrying satellites for universities, and farmers, and oil traders.

So we, thought, what about podcasts? Who speaks for them? Why can't they go, too? Today on the show, we go looking for our own satellite.

The Homeless Youth Crisis In Atlanta

Nov 28, 2017
Tanya Dawn / Foter

More homeless youth live in Atlanta than any other city in the South. Across the country, more than one million young adults and teens are living on the streets. New research from Georgia State University looks at the difficulties facing homeless youth in America.

Before serving as Donald Trump's campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, spent years as a lobbyist for foreign leaders in some dicey countries. It was a very profitable business. One of his best clients was Viktor Yanukovych, of Ukraine. But, according to Robert Mueller's indictment, Manafort hid the millions he made from Yanukovych, and sneaked them into the United States.

Note: This episode originally ran in 2015.

When Susannah Morgan was running a food bank in Alaska, she always needed produce. Items like fresh oranges or potatoes. But her food bank didn't get much. Feeding America, a major supplier for food banks, assumed transporting fresh produce would be too expensive. Instead, among other things, Susannah's food bank got pickles. A lot of them. At the same time, Feeding America was flooding Idaho with potatoes.

Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen today announced that she will resign from the Federal Reserve Board once her successor, Jerome Powell, is sworn in.

Yellen is the first woman to serve as Fed chair. While her term as Fed chair ends in February, Yellen could have stayed on the board until 2024, serving out her 14-year term as a Fed governor. Instead she'll follow the practice of previous Fed leaders and leave the board once Powell becomes chairman.

Jeff Chiu / AP Photo

Atlanta has the third highest eviction rate in the country. That’s according to a new study by the rental service Apartment List. The eviction rate is just below six percent, right behind Memphis and Phoenix. We talk with Kimberly Charles, an attorney with the Atlanta Legal Aid Society.

Walmart is trying to invent the food of the future to win the fight with Amazon and sell you everything.

If you're in South Sudan and something big happens in your life — you get married, you buy property or pay a penalty for a crime — cows are most likely involved. Cows are currency and credit card and bank account rolled into one. In South Sudan, banks can go bankrupt — cows are more reliable. At least that's how it used to be.

Note: This episode originally aired in 2015.

There are people with Birkin bags, and then there are the rest of us. This purse, made by the French luxury brand Hermès, averages $60,000. It's a little boxy. It comes in just about every color. Each bag is handmade, and Hermès staff apprentice for years before they can produce a Birkin.

In the winter of 2010, there was a robbery in Detroit. Two men rush into a Radio Shack on Jefferson Avenue carrying a handgun, and demand smartphones, enough smartphones to fill laundry bags. Then they flee. A few days later, they do it again at a T-Mobile store. And a few months after that, another robbery. They are criminals that need to be stopped.

Police try to gather every bit of evidence they can use to catch the robbers and make the case stick.

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