Stacey Vanek Smith

Consumer confidence has been falling lately. Not by a ton, but it's at its second lowest rate in a year. It's measured by the Conference Board, which crunches a bunch of data and issues a Consumer Confidence Index (CCI) every month. Because consumer spending makes up roughly 70 percent of the economy, economists and politicians pay a lot attention to the way consumers feel, and regard the CCI as an important gauge of the health of the economy.

There's a big debate going on right now about the economy: whether it's headed for a downturn, or in good health. Today on The Indicator, Cardiff and Stacey lay out both sides.

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

We love getting listener mail! Seriously. And on today's episode, we're taking on some of your latest questions. For example: why does a dry cleaner in Maryland have its customers pay when they drop off their laundry, not when they pick it up? Is it better to buy a house or invest in the stock market? And we have more on the "Rip It" energy drink mentioned in our recent episode about dollar stores.

Some of the work we referenced in this piece:

Venezuela's economy is collapsing all around 27-year-old economist Gabriela Saade. She spends her days poring over Venezuela's staggering economic data. But she also sees Caracas changing all around her — spotty power and running water, closed storefronts, long lines at the grocery stores for limited food. Today on The Indicator, Gabriela walks us through a day in her life.

Gabriela Saade is a 27-year-old economist living in Caracas. Every day, she pores over data about her country: poverty rates, population movement, government revenue. Today on the show, she gives us three indicators that tell us about the crisis happening in her country.

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

India is a big, alluring market. It has a population of 1.3 billion people who are spending more time on their smartphones. That makes it attractive to a lot of global technology companies, but breaking into India is no easy task. The country's a crowded, competitive and complicated place to do business.

Spotify's recent expansion there has been an example of that. Today on The Indicator, Spotify's long and winding road to India, and why expanding to India is a tricky business.

Tyler Cowen is an economics professor at George Mason University and a columnist at Bloomberg Opinion. He hosts the podcast "Conversations with Tyler," and his new book is called "Big Business."

Today on The Indicator, we play "Overrated, Underrated," a game we stole from him (with his permission!) We hear his take on work from the late, libertarian economist Milton Friedman, dual-class voting shares, and neighbors.

Traditionally, taking a company public involved a trade-off: on the one hand, selling shares in your company could mean bringing in a ton of money; on the other hand, you had to give up some of your power to shareholders. And then tech CEOs started using a trick to make sure they could raise money and keep a lot of the power for themselves: dual-class stock.

Music: "Morning Start".

Coffee? Thank U, Next

Mar 19, 2019

There's a price problem brewing in the coffee industry. Farmers are getting less for their coffee beans, so you'd think we'd be paying less for coffee. But coffee prices at places like Starbucks and other coffee shops have been increasing.

That pricing disconnect comes from a lot of moving parts in the industry. For example, there's an oversupply of coffee beans, and industry-wide moves towards less coffee-reliant drinks, like pumpkin spice lattes or Ariana Grande's "cloud macchiato." Today on The Indicator, how that squares for coffee drinkers.

Getting a higher education degree — whether it's an Associate's, a Bachelor's, or something else — increases your earning potential over your life. But going to school is expensive, and Americans have more than $1.5 trillion worth of outstanding student debt. That debt isn't exclusively held by the students: people over 60 are the fastest-growing segment of student loan borrowers, as parents and grandparents are increasingly taking out loans to help their kids and grandkids go to college.

This week's news stories about corruption and cheating in the college admissions process is an eye-opening lesson in how much people value getting their children into certain schools.

Lori Loughlin, who played Aunt Becky on the TV sitcom Full House, paid $500,000 to get her two daughters into the University of Southern California. That seemed like a lot to us... and raised the question: is a slot at a top-tier university worth that kind of money?

Copyright 2019 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Note: This episode originally ran in 2016.

Fred and Natasha Ruckel invented a cat toy called the Ripple Rug. It's like a scrunched up doormat with holes in it, and for cats it's like going to Disneyland. When the Ruckels put it up for sale on Amazon, it started selling well. It was a solid business. Then one day, Fred noticed that the Ripple Rug was also on sale on eBay--for twenty dollars more.

Dollar stores — they sell everything from holiday decorations to groceries to Skittles-scented candles. The business proposition: a grab bag of items for a dollar (or around a dollar). These stores thrived during the financial crisis, but their success in the post-Recession era has been a mixed bag.

Dollar General and Family Dollar (now owned by Dollar Tree), two of the dollar store titans, have been at the center of this. These companies each took a bet: whether they could grow their businesses by keeping everything priced at $1, or by leaving the dollar behind.

Gender segregation is the idea that jobs in some occupations are overwhelmingly done by men, while jobs in other occupations are overwhelmingly done by women. Today on The Indicator, our friend Martha Gimbel from the Indeed Hiring Lab tells us why that's a big deal for women, men, and the economy as a whole.

Some of the studies, articles, and research used for this episode:

From academic journals, think tanks, and other research groups:

Technology has made globalization possible — it has brought the world closer together. But Raghuram Rajan, an economist at the University of Chicago's Booth School of Business, says it's also made inequality much worse in the U.S. Today on The Indicator, we talk inequality: How did we get here? What has the impact been? And how can we change the current situation?

Tampons: That Bloody Sales Tax

Mar 6, 2019

In 35 U.S. states, women have to pay sales tax for menstrual hygiene products. That extra cost adds up over time and it especially affects low-income women. Some people believe those taxes are unfair to women, and some states have eliminated them. Research based on New Jersey's Tampon Tax repeal in 2005 showed that tax breaks on menstrual products helped women across the board by making products cheaper and more accessible.

Today, the U.S. confirmed it will hold off on a new round of tariffs on imports from China that was supposed to be put in place this month. There's also word that President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping are getting close to completing a trade deal, which would mean both countries getting rid of many of the tariffs and trade restrictions that have been put in place. Today on the show, Stacey talks to Chad Bown of the Peterson Institute for International Economics about the trade war with China and asks, 'Is a trade truce on the horizon?'

The periodic requirement for Congress to vote on raising the debt ceiling has become a reliable piece of political theater. The vote usually follows the passage of a budget by the Congress, and a hike in the debt ceiling rarely gets a green light without some drama.

It's a little like a person who orders up a five course dinner and drinks and then threatens not to pay when the bill arrives. But, this political theater invariably ends the same way: Congress raises the debt ceiling. Treasury pays the bills. Everyone moves on.

Copyright 2019 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

The CEO of the streaming service Netflix recently told the company's shareholders something surprising: that Netflix faces more competition from Fortnite, the online video game, than from HBO, the television channel. So are movies, TV shows and streaming videos really in competition with video games? And if so, who's winning?

Millions of Americans have used payday loans. These are small, short-term loans known for charging staggering interest rates — sometimes in the 300 to 400% range.

In 1921, Sadie Alexander became the first African-American to earn a Ph.D. in economics. A few years later, she went to law school and became a celebrated civil rights attorney. But she never abandoned her focus on economic issues. In speech after speech, she argued that full employment — when everyone who wants a job can get one — was absolutely necessary to achieve racial equality. Today on The Indicator, Episode 1 in our multipart series about overlooked economists from the past.

Whether you're new to investing, or if you've been investing for years, you are going to run into the question of whether or not you should 'time the market.' Timing the market essentially means guessing when is the best time you should put your money to work. Buy low, sell high, right? It sounds so obvious. But as Jill Schlesinger tells Stacey in this episode, falling for the temptation of trying to time the market is a fool's errand. Jill is the author of a new book: The Dumb Things Smart People Do With Their Money.

Copyright 2019 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

One of our listeners wrote in to ask why Americans are addicted to tipping and just can't seem to quit. This is a subject near and dear to our hearts: doesn't it seem like we're tipping everywhere these days? It's a also a great behavioral economics question. Tipping is one of those conventions that defies both common sense (why do we tip for some services and not others?) - and the rules of economics (why do most people prefer restaurants that don't include fixed service charges in their prices?).

Back in December, Redfin CEO Glenn Kelman told us that Super Bowl weekend is the moment when you know how the housing market will fare for the rest of the year. He says, it's sort of a Groundhog Day for the housing market. Rather than focusing on the game, Glenn spent Super Bowl Sunday tracking the number of Redfin customers who toured homes and made an offer. And now, he says, he knows how the housing market will do this year.

President Trump wants $8 billion to build a wall on the southern border of the U.S. Congress refused to give it to him. So he declared a national emergency, in the hope that he can use his extraordinary powers to secure funding from other parts of the government.

We love that our listeners send us email, and we read every one. We'd like to answer every letter, but we have to pick and choose. Today we answer three of the questions we've been asked by listeners lately: the first on discrimination against older workers; the second on the way that working hours are measured, and the third on whether there are enough workers in America to do all the jobs that are being created. Thanks to all of you for your questions and comments. Please do keep 'em coming!

Copyright 2019 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Pages