Stacey Vanek Smith

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!

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

On February 11, 1937, General Motors and the United Auto Workers union signed a landmark agreement. A union contract. The relationship with U.S. automakers and the labor movement ushered in a period of tremendous worker prosperity and union strength that lasted decades. Today, though, unions are a shadow of their former selves and are sometimes even vilified for dragging down companies and hamstringing workers. What happened? How did unions lose their mojo?

Russell Horning, aka Backpack Kid, rose to Instagram fame after a video of him doing his signature dance move, "The Floss," went viral. Meanwhile, Fortnite — the battle royale game made by Epic Games, and which is among the most popular games worldwide — is making money by selling players upgrades, including one for a dance called "The Floss."

Today on The Indicator, how Backpack Kid is fighting back.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has a special team of epidemiologists called the Epidemic Intelligence Service, aka the disease detectives. Dr. Anne Schuchat, the deputy director of the CDC, was a disease detective during the SARS outbreak in 2003. We talked to her about the work the disease detectives do, the risk of global pandemics, and what keeps her up at night.

India's finance minister included a radical proposal in his 2019 budget: Give India's poorest farmers a guaranteed income of 6000 rupees a year (about $84). The move is probably largely political: the Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi, and his party have elections coming up and they need rural votes. Still, the payout would significantly increase the income of more than 100 million of India's very poorest families, so a lot of people say the handouts would be a good thing. Today on The Indicator, we look at the pros and cons of payouts.

One of the main jobs of the Federal Reserve is to keep inflation rising at about 2 percent a year (yes, a little inflation is a good thing...but that's another story). When the economy is strong, as it is right now, the Fed keeps a close eye on inflation, and it uses interest rates to keep things in line. By raising interest rates the Fed makes it more expensive to borrow, which should keep spending low and keep prices down. And vice versa.

Climate change is snowballing into more extreme weather. Between hurricanes, tornadoes, and yes, polar vortices, life on earth is becoming increasingly disrupted by weather conditions. And that can get expensive. Today on The Indicator, we look at how extreme weather can affect the economy, and what the most costly climate conditions can be.

Today on The Indicator, we answer five questions about jobs. Is the economy creating a lot of jobs each month? Is wage growth accelerating? Are the benefits of this strong labor market also being shared by low-wage workers? Are there still a lot more people who don't have a job but who would like to get a job? And, finally, are there any clouds on the horizon for the job market right now?

Music: "Alright Alright"

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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Utilities in the U.S. are generally private companies regulated by government commissions. With a dedicated customer base - everyone needs water and power, right? - and government protection and oversight, utilities seemed like a safe bet for most investors.

The Congressional Budget Office is a non-partisan part of the government that provides analysis about the economy and the federal budget to Congress. One of its new reports centers on the most recent government shutdown, where 800,000 federal workers missed paychecks, and 300,000 of those workers were furloughed.

Today on The Indicator, the shutdown's direct and indirect impacts on the economy.

A Bond Is Born

Jan 29, 2019

Venice was a financial powerhouse in the twelfth century, but when the Byzantine Empire started imprisoning Venetian merchants, Venice had to strike back. To do that, it needed to raise money. Venetian politicians started a new kind of loan, the "prestiti," so they could borrow money for war. Today on The Indicator, how the the first bond came to be and how it transformed the way governments borrow money.

Research shows students who attend elite universities are more likely to graduate, and they earn higher incomes once they're in the labor market. But low-income students are underrepresented at those universities.

So Sue Dynarski, an economist at the University of Michigan, and her collaborators conducted an experiment to encourage high school seniors from low-income families in Michigan to apply to the school. Today on the Indicator, how that played out.

The trade spat with China has meant China taxing products coming from the U.S., and the U.S. doing the same to goods coming from China. As a result, American goods cost more in China, which can hurt the people who make those goods in America. Today on The Indicator, we hear from a peanut farmer in Georgia, whose business has been hammered by a one-two punch of Chinese tariffs and a hurricane that ravaged his crops.

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

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

The end of 2018 was a time for anxiety if you own stocks. The market plunged only to soar days later and then slip again. But there might be less cause for concern than it seems. Here's Stacey Vanek Smith and Paddy Hirsch from NPR's Planet Money Indicator podcast.

There are plenty of reasons why the U.S. economy could slip into recession within the next couple of years. There's the trade war with China, slowing economic growth, rising interest rates, dysfunction in the government, and the prospect of fading stimulus.

But what about the other side? What about the case for optimism? Economist Jared Bernstein, an old friend of the show, got in touch because he thinks we shouldn't neglect the positive economic signals that he's seeing right now.

The labor force participation rate is the percentage of adults who have a job, or who are looking for one. In the U.S., about 75% of women ages 25 to 54 participate in the workforce. That's less than men of the same age, who come in at 90%. Still, the number is a big improvement over the early 70s, when fewer than half of women were in the labor force.

Today on The Indicator, we play Overrated/Underrated with a room full of economists at the annual meeting of the American Economic Association. We ask them which economic indicators get too much attention and which indicators we should pay more attention to.

A previous version of this podcast misstated Economist Gray Kimbrough's name.

About 800,000 government workers are missing their paychecks, as the impasse between President Trump and leaders of the Democratic Party stretched into its 21st day. Slightly more than half of those workers are expected to keep working without pay because they provide services that are labeled "essential". The rest of the workers have been sent home until the government reopens.

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

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

This episode originally ran in 2016.

At professional poker tournaments, players pay thousands of dollars to enter the competition. By the end of it, nearly all will have lost that initial investment. But that's just the surface level. Beneath that is a secret world of betting and swapping.

The stock market has been going up and down like a yo-yo for the last few months. And this isn't your typical volatility: 2018 was one of the most volatile years on record for the stock market. But Georgetown economist James Angel says that while the volatility we're experiencing right now might feel scary, it's a lot less worrisome than kind of smooth rise in the market that we saw in 2017. Because that lulled a lot of people: they forgot that the stock market is a speculative arena, and they started to think of corporate shares as a failsafe. And that's never a good thing.

The Phillips Curve measures the relationship between inflation and unemployment. And the Curve predicts that when unemployment is low, inflation tends to rise. Conversely, If unemployment goes up, then inflation should come down. Because then companies don't have to raise wages to compete for workers.

The Indicator is in Atlanta this week, at the American Economic Association annual conference. So you, dear listener, get a little extra screen time. All this week, we're looking at the ways in which economists are portrayed in television series and in the movies.

Today, we look at shows developed by producer and screenwriter Aaron Sorkin. In the TV show The West Wing, President Jed Bartlet is a Nobel Prize-winning economist. In one memorable rapid-fire exchange between the president and his staff, Bartlet and his staff debate the ups and downs of free trade.

All this week, we'll be looking at the ways in which economists are portrayed in television series and in the movies, in a series we're calling Economists on Screen.

Today, we are looking at Crazy Rich Asians, the big hit movie released earlier this year, in which a Chinese-American economist from New York named Rachel Chu visits Singapore with her boyfriend Nick Young.

Indicators Of The Year: #MeToo

Dec 28, 2018

This year was a big year for women. Hundreds of women came forward to report harassment in the workplace and hundreds of men in prominent positions lost their. Workplace cultures everywhere started to shift as more women felt empowered to come forward and report their experiences. Today on The Indicator, we talk with Heidi Shierholz, the director of policy at the Economic Policy Institute, about how the strong economy helped the #MeToo movement, and what is still holding some women back from speaking up.

Life expectancy in the U.S. is down for the second year in a row. One main reason: opioid abuse. But increasingly, companies are stepping up to address the problem, offering treatment plans to workers and supporting employees through treatment.

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