Wealth & Poverty

Ways to Connect

The Beautiful Indicator

Jun 25, 2018

Everyone's caught up in World Cup fever, and Team Indicator is not immune. Today on the show: Cardiff, Stacey, and the gang sneak out of the office and set up shop in an Irish pub to explore the many ways in which the world's largest sporting event neatly explains the modern economy.

Music by Drop Electric. Find us: Twitter/ Facebook.

If you pay MoviePass 10 dollars a month, you can go to the movies every day. That's a dream for movie buffs, and it's attracted a lot of subscribers. But it also means the company is losing millions of dollars every month.

But this business model — lose lots of money up front and find a way to be profitable later — is becoming more common these days. But is it really sustainable? Today on the show, how MoviePass CEO Mitch Lowe is trying to come up with an answer.

Note: This episode originally ran in 2016.

The teen summer job is a vaunted tradition...one that is fading. Today's teenagers just aren't working at nearly the same rates as older generations did. Today we explore why, even with really low unemployment, the teen job market isn't picking up more. Some of it is because teens don't want to work, but some of it is also because employers don't want to employ them.

Music: "Black Surf Duel"

ICYMI, President Trump has started a trade war with China. It's on. He says he wants to stop China from stealing ideas and technology from the United States. As proof, he likes to talk about a huge report put together by the U.S. Trade Representative's office. Which he asked for.

The report includes a list of U.S. trade associations and companies that are upset about all this. So we called up a bunch of them. Just about everyone said they wouldn't talk. But there was one: A Virginia businessman willing to tell us his story.

The Plight Of The Living Dead

Jun 20, 2018

For the U.S. government, keeping track of who's alive and who's not is important. There are after all a lot of benefits associated with being alive — Medicare, Social Security benefits, voting. But the system for confirming who's actually dead is far from foolproof.

The Venezuelan economy has collapsed. Years of economic mismanagement and a deepening political crisis have led to a recession that has almost no parallel in recent memory.

But explaining just how bad things have gotten is also really hard because the normal economic indicators that we use to measure a country's economy have started to sound so so unfathomable — 25,000% inflation, for example — that it feels impossible to get our heads around them.

The trading relationship between the U.S. and China has been tense lately, defined by escalating tariff threats and bellicose rhetoric on both sides. The problem with tariffs though, is that they they often come with unintended consequences.

But if the U.S. wants to address China's questionable trade practices and counteract the negative effects of free trade, what is the government to do?Economist Jared Bernstein walks us through some of the alternative options for dealing with trade challenges.

The nation just got an update on the gig economy — a major survey of independent, informal, and temporary work just got updated for the first time in almost 13 years. On today's Indicator, we look at how this kind of alternative work arrangement has changed the economy in the last decade or so... and how it hasn't.

California is generating a ton of solar power--some days, more than people can use. It could power the whole state soon, except for one problem: There's no way to hold on to all that energy at night.

Some of the country's biggest energy companies are trying to figure out how to store the power. They're buying giant lithium batteries, and imagining ways to tap the batteries in electric cars. But there's another option.

Today on the show, we visit the world's largest battery, built out of a mountain and a lake.

The New York Stock Exchange got its start more than 200 years ago, with an agreement, signed by 24 men under a buttonwood tree on Wall Street.

Up to that point trading was a chaotic operation, conducted on street corners and in coffee houses, with basically no rules. So when America's young government declined to write its own regulations, a group of traders took it upon themselves to enter into a gentlemen's agreement that would lay the groundwork for the Wall Street we know today.

A few years ago, Don McPherson was wearing a pair of tinted glasses on a frisbee field. Don had designed them to protect the eyes of surgeons. Then his friend borrowed them, and saw something he'd never seen before. The color orange.

Don's friend was colorblind. And that moment led Don to figure out something that had stumped the medical world for centuries: How to help the colorblind see the rainbow.

Today on the show: Accidental inventions. Also, Planet Money's Kenny Malone discovers fuchsia.

One way to think of President Trump's trade policy as a sort of soap opera. There are multiple plotlines, there's high drama, and plot twists abound. And on top of all that, you can walk away for a while, come back, and still know the general thrust of the plot — in this case, the thrust being that President Trump has a penchant for blowing up trade agreements (or at least, saying that he will). Today, we catch you up on the latest dramatic developments and answer a big, looming question: are we in a trade war?

Updated at 2:21 p.m. ET

The Federal Reserve increased a key interest rate again Wednesday, which will trigger higher rates on credit cards, home equity lines and other kinds of borrowing.

CBO vs. POTUS

Jun 12, 2018

The Congressional Budget Office has a long history of disputes with the White House, including the current administration. It has withstood them all.

On this episode of The Indicator, we speak with Alice Rivlin, the first-ever director of the CBO. She explains the origins of the CBO, why it matters, and why the complaints about it from the Trump administration are different from those of the past.

A 4-year-old kid is given a marshmallow and a choice: either eat the marshmallow in front of her, or wait a few minutes (after the adults leave the room) and be rewarded with a second marshmallow. If the child can successfully wait, she can expect a bright future — or at least a brighter future on average than if she had not waited.

Note: This is the second episode in a series on elections and how they can be gamed. The first episode is #845: REDMAP. (You can listen in any order!)

Florida should be a swing state. But for the past 25 years, most of its representatives have been Republicans. That's because Republicans drew electoral maps that favored their own candidates. They gerrymandered.

Positively 23rd Street

Jun 8, 2018

Radio reporter Sally Herships, a native New Yorker and longtime friend of the show, has been obsessed with a particular block in midtown Manhattan. Given the crowds and the traffic and the tourists, every inch of the block should be attempting to sell something. Instead it is littered with empty storefronts.

What explains these perplexing retail deserts, both in New York and throughout the rest of the country?

A few weeks ago, a tweet about retirement advice caused an uproar on Twitter. Here's what it said: "By 35, you should have twice your salary saved, according to retirement experts." People had feelings about this tweet. And with good reason; it quickly became clear that a lot of people feel like that kind of goal is impossible to achieve. So we wanted to know: how much do people at that age actually have saved? And how much should they save? We asked experts — including the inventor of the 401k himself — what they think.

We're in the middle of a dinosaur boom. Commercial diggers are combing the hills of the high plains, hoping to find fossils and strike it rich.

But what happens when you put a price tag on a scientific relic that could spark new discoveries about early life on earth? The market has the answer.

Today on the show: science faces off with business, and the T-Rex that started it all.

This year, Social Security will not make enough money to cover its expenses--it will have to dip into its savings. That savings is slated to run out by 2034. As baby boomers retire, the Social Security equation is changing. Today on the show, we look at possible fixes.

Music by Drop Electric. Find us: Twitter/ Facebook.

Grant Blankenship / GPB

There’s something people think they know about the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, better known as SNAP.

It’s the idea that people who use what we used to call food stamps spend their once monthly benefits on groceries almost immediately after they get them. When you look at averages, that’s true, and for some it can mean some lean and hungry days at the end of the month before the next round of SNAP benefits.

 

 


The U.S. economy has been humming along for the last few years, but its momentum can mask the financial fragility of millions of Americans adults. A survey by the Federal Reserve reveals just how precarious situation is for a surprising number of people — and how vulnerable they are to the regular ups and downs of the economic cycle.

Grant Blankenship / GPB

Chalk it up to the law of unintended consequences.

The Federal tax reform that passed this year was intended to provide tax relief. The perhaps unintended effect was a potentially massive disruption in one of the private solutions to public sector problems often beloved by Republicans and Democrats alike.

 


Vaccines are expensive to develop and it can take decades to get them to market. This means promising vaccines often sit in laboratory freezers during major epidemics. That is what happened during the 2014 Ebola outbreak, which killed more than 11,000 people. Today on the show, how that grim equation may be changing.

Episode 845: REDMAP

Jun 1, 2018

Local elections used to be a low-key affair in Blue Hill, Maine. So residents of the small town were shocked, in 2010, when a candidate for the Maine State Senate was targeted by a flood of negative ads.

The ads claimed he had canceled the town Fourth of July fireworks show and nobody in town knew who was paying for them.

The Most Surprising Number In Friday's Jobs Report

Jun 1, 2018

The U.S. unemployment rate dipped to 3.8 percent last month, an 18-year low. But a more dramatic drop occurred in black unemployment, which fell to a record low 5.9 percent, suggesting that African-Americans are also benefiting from job gains in this booming economy.

Every month, the Labor Department gives us the latest read on how many jobs the economy is creating. That figure has huge influence — it can move stock markets and interest rates — and it can also be way, way off. Today, we talk to an economist who used to help put out the monthly jobs report. She explains how to read that number, which indicator might be better to look at...and why some people might need to calm down about jobs day.

Grant Blankenship / GPB

The latest in our Macon Conversations series: Meet Charise Stephens and Scott Mitchell. In their conversation, Charise and Scott tackle the challenges of overcoming the prejudice you are raised with.

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