Wealth & Poverty

Ways to Connect

Every year, the average American buys a certain amount of goods and services. Inflation measures how the prices of those goods and services are changing.

The Federal Reserve has a target for inflation. It wants us at that sweet spot, where the economy is purring along, but not going so fast that it's in danger of overheating.

That sweet spot is two percent. And we hit that today. Which is great news. The question is, what does the Fed do now to keep us there?

A few years ago, a strange package arrived at the house of Celina Salas. Inside was a plastic watch, painted gold. It only kind of worked. Over many months, more and more oddball surprises arrived: a piggy bank, a friendship bracelet, a fuzzy keychain. And she never learned why. Celina, as they say, is not alone. Odd packages like this have been reported arriving all over the country.

So we tried to figure out what was going on, and the answer led us across the globe, and into some players gaming some of the largest companies in the world.

The homeless population in most of the country has been declining for years, thanks to a strong economy and a low unemployment rate. But in Los Angeles County, the homeless population has been rising fast--nearly 25% in the last year.

A team from USC set out to figure out what was going on. They launched a big survey to ask people how they had ended up on the street. They found that the new homeless population has changed. A lot of homeless people are educated, have jobs, and many are elderly.

Half of them had become homeless for the first time in just the last 30 days.

California's cities are in a housing crisis. Almost everyone agrees there aren't enough homes being built. Rents and home prices are skyrocketing, and there's not enough low-income housing to go around.

The California Senate recently voted on a bill to allow construction of apartment buildings near transportation hubs. Senator after senator spoke about the need for more homes. And then rejected the bill.

We asked UCLA's Paavo Monkkonen why Californians say they want more housing, but then reject attempts to make that happen.

Note: This episode originally ran in 2015.

California is looking at a drought again. The last drought in California made life inconvenient in a lot of ways, from water rationing to taps actually running dry.

The thing is, then and now, there's actually still water in the ground. There are water aquifers literally underneath many of those homes with empty faucets. But the water level has gotten so low that they can't reach it anymore.

A shortage of workers willing and able to do farm labor is forcing some big changes on California's agricultural sector.

On his farm in Ventura County, north of Los Angeles, Tom Deardorff has increased wages to attract workers for the jobs that require manual labor, and he's switched to automation where he can.

He still can't find enough workers, however, so he's had to make some drastic changes. He's stopped growing certain fruits and vegetables. And he's moved a lot of production south. To Mexico.

Grant Blankenship / GPB

 


 

There’s a little dirt path leading from Pio Nono Avenue to what until not too long ago was a Kroger grocery store. The store’s closed now.

 

One morning before the closure, Shon Williams walked down the path, headed toward her apartment. Like a lot of people in this neighborhood, she can afford groceries, but she can’t afford a car.

The Port of Long Beach is one of the biggest ports in the country. It and its neighbor, the Port of Los Angeles, handle 390 billion dollars worth of goods every year.

And business has boomed as the economy has improved. U.S. consumers bought more stuff; ships started getting bigger to meet demand; the Port of Long Beach invested billions.

Seventy percent of the ships that dock at the port come from China. So talk of a trade war has everybody's attention down on the docks.

Most people, when they think of Los Angeles, think immediately of Hollywood.

But LA is about a lot more than movies.

NPR's Sonari Glinton gave us an overview of the City of Angels that came with a few surprises.

Patrick Ho runs a think tank, and one of his favorite subjects to think about is China's entry onto the global stage. In April of 2017, Ho made a speech about the world's need for a dramatic reorganization of power, and his mission to make it happen.

Seven months later, FBI agents arrested Patrick Ho, charging him with money laundering and bribery. Today on the show, we follow the money around the world, and get a rare look into how China is scrambling for resources.

Music:

The 10-year Treasury note is used as a benchmark for all sorts of other loans, like mortgages. It's also used as a kind of forecast for the economy.

And right now, pundits and money managers are fretting about the yield on the 10-year. It's been hanging out just below three percent for a while, and people are worried that if it goes to three percent or higher it could hurt the economy.

But our guest today, Marilyn Cohen of bond investment manager Envision Capital, says those concerns are way overblown.

President Trump doesn't like Amazon's deal with the USPS. He recently repeated an estimate that the US mail loses $1.47 every time Amazon uses it to send a package.

You know those local car ads? The ones with a dude standing in a parking lot, offering a bunch of special deals, shouting that he's "craaazy?" Well, there's actually a specific person who created this form of on-air hysteria, an originator of the bonkers used car ad.

The U.S. loses as much as $600 billion a year through intellectual property theft: Semiconductors, self-driving cars, sunglasses, and software.

China is the biggest culprit. It has planted moles in U.S. companies and hacked into computer systems to steal secrets. Boeing, Apple, Dupont, Ford have all gone after China for intellectual property theft.

President Trump wants to punish China by throwing up tariffs, but economist Ken Rogoff says we'd do better to turn the other cheek. It may not be a satisfying strategy, he says, but it's a lot more profitable in the long run.

If you die in America, chances are the cemetery is going to promise to maintain your grave forever. Americans take this for granted, but it is a whacky, wild promise that we maybe should not be making.

More than a hundred million taxpayers will get a refund from the Treasury this year, and the average refund is about three thousand dollars. Of tax filers who do get a refund, it's the biggest cash infusion of the year for forty percent of them.

That sounds cool, but it means the average American taxpayer has effectively lent the government three grand until the refund hit their bank account — interest free.

Meanwhile, many of those taxpayers are either paying high interest rates on debt of their own or putting off the healthcare they need.

The Loan Ranger

Apr 16, 2018

It's widely accepted that you cannot get rid of student loans in bankruptcy. They follow you around forever, like the Terminator. But it turns out they can be beat. Some of them, anyway.

Austin Smith is a bankruptcy litigator who discovered, while he was in law school, that the bankruptcy code has been misinterpreted for decades.

He says as much as 50 billion dollars of outstanding student loans could be discharged in bankruptcy after all.

Episode 835: Tariffied

Apr 13, 2018

Trade war! It all started when President Donald Trump announced a new set of tariffs on Chinese steel and aluminum. China responded with a list of tariffs of its own. Then, President Trump made a bigger, $50 billion list of tariffs. So China matched Trump's list with its own $50 billion list.

If you look at the lists closely, you can learn a lot about what each side knows about the other. Today on the show, we examine China's hit list, and find some surprising stories inside.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg was in Congress this week. Redfin CEO Glenn Kelman was watching.

He heard the senators' questions and wondered how many of our congressional representatives have any kind of computer background.

The answer? Not that many. Right around three percent. And, Kellman says, that's a problem for all of us.

The tax cuts, a government that almost shuts down before passing a big spending bill, a tanking stock market, the risk of trade wars (not to mention real wars), and even bad weather — it's been exhausting to keep up with the news flow these past few months.

But worry not. The Indicator goes back to its roots for this episode and presents you with three economic indicators that we think don't get enough attention — indicators that let you filter out the daily clatter and understand the trends that really matter.

Note: This episode originally ran in 2015.

What kind of person would go out in a tiny boat in dangerous weather to catch fish for 24 hours straight? Everyone. Well, everyone in Homer, Alaska.

Halibut fishermen in Alaska used to defy storms, exhaustion and good judgment. That's because they could only fish in these handful of 24-hour periods. It was called the derby, and the derby made fishing the deadliest job in America. But then the government totally changed the system.

The U.S. economy is not in a cyclical downturn right now. In fact, it is growing. So you might think that the deficit would be shrinking every year.

But no. The Congressional Budget Office says the deficit will be going up for the next 10 years. It will reach a trillion dollars by 2020.

Jared Bernstein joined us to talk about whether that's a bad thing.

Tyler Cowen, economist and polymath, gives us his takes on various parts of American life, economic and otherwise.

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

There are essentially three reasons why women make, on average, 20 percent less than men in the U.S.

They are job choice, child care, and negotiation.

Francine Blau, an economist at Cornell, has done deep research into the gender pay gap, and joined us to dig into those reasons.

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

Non-disclosure agreements, or NDAs, are all over the news right now. You've probably heard about them in the context of the #metoo movement, and more recently, in relation to Stormy Daniels and Donald Trump.

But long before these agreements were used by powerful men to silence women, they were used for much more innocuous reasons. Primarily, to protect trade secrets.

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