Stacey Vanek Smith

2018 marked the 10-year anniversary of a nationwide housing crisis. It was a calamity that triggered a credit crunch and a financial meltdown that brought the entire global economy to its knees. A decade on, the economy has recovered. Housing has come back, too, but a lot more slowly. And over the last year, that uptick lost some of its momentum. Today on The Indicator, we talk with Redfin CEO Glenn Kelman about why housing is still in the dumps.

H-1B is a work visa used to employ specialty workers in the U.S. It's often referred to as the highly skilled worker visa, because many H-1B holders work as engineers, scientists, and in the tech industry. In 2018, 199,000 people applied for an H-1B visa. That's way more than the 85,000 slots available every year. But that's also way down from 2017, when 236,000 people applied for the H-1B. That's roughly a 16% drop in applications. Today on The Indicator, we talk with William Kerr, a professor at Harvard Business School, about what that could mean for the U.S. economy.

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

One of the great joys of working on The Indicator is our audience. Our listeners write to us all the time, sometimes with compliments, sometimes with criticisms, but always with something interesting to say ... or ask. Today we answer several listener questions. On the severity of economic downturns, on the minimum wage and on the Australian housing market.

Links referenced in this episode:

-- Update: "Scariest jobs chart ever" (Calculated Risk)

The Crypto Crash

Dec 18, 2018

2017 and 2018 saw the heady rise and the crazy crash of cryptocurrency. It was a wild ride. But what's at the end? Will crypto start the long, slow climb to indispensable asset or the fast dive into tulip territory? We take a look with Hunter Horsley, co-founder and CEO of Bitwise Asset Management.

Music: "Deliberation"

Our friends in Hollywood tell us they've started to receive screeners of movies for consideration for awards. So we thought we'd get a jump on awards season by handing out our own prizes. Today on the Indicator, Cardiff and Stacey hand out awards for some of the silliest, most outrageous, or just dumbest stuff people and companies have done this year — plus awards for a couple of just plainly weird trends.

The issue of a border wall between the U.S. and Mexico has been one of President Donald Trump's signature issues. But this isn't the first time the U.S. has talked about a border wall. Back in 2006, President George W. Bush passed the Secure Fence Act. It ordered the building of around 600 miles of wall on the border between the U.S. and Mexico. Economist Melanie Morten and two colleagues examined the economic effects of that wall.

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

If you've ever wondered how mattress stores stay in business, you're not alone. They seem to defy the laws of economics: They occupy large pieces of often very expensive real estate; they're usually empty; and because most people buy a mattress maybe once or twice a decade, they don't seem to do a lot of trade. So how do they they survive? The most puzzling example of this business is a company called Mattress Firm, which became the biggest mattress retailer in the country following an acquisition binge.

Economic insecurity doesn't get captured by the broader macroeconomic indicators. But if you suddenly get sick, can you afford to go to the doctor? Do you ever worry that you'll run out of money to feed your kids before your next paycheck? Is your paycheck steady enough that you can plan and budget for future expenses? And if you needed to fix your car, would you still have enough money left over to afford that month's rent? These are questions that even people with jobs — maybe even better jobs than they had last year — still struggle to answer.

British politicians were due to vote today on Prime Minister Theresa May's plan to take the UK out of the European Union. In a last minute twist however, May announced a postponement of the parliamentary vote.

It's jobs day! The U.S. economy created 155,000 jobs in November. That's less than the roughly 200,000 jobs a month that the economy has been creating for the past year. But with solid wage growth and an unemployment rate holding steady at 3.7 percent, the jobs report overall looks pretty good.

Paris is still smoldering in the wake of violent protests last weekend. The protestors, known as the gilets jaunes, or yellow vests, were reacting to a bunch of economic reforms President Emmanuel Macron has put in place — including a planned tax increase on gasoline. Today on the show, we look at Macron's economic reforms for France, why they got people so upset, and how the yellow vest movement parallels things going on in the U.S.

Yesterday, a part of the yield curve inverted. The interest rate on 5-year treasuries fell slightly below the interest rate on three-year treasuries. This has spooked some people, because an inversion in the yield curve is sometimes regarded as the harbinger of a recession.

So, are we headed for a recession?

Campbell Harvey says no. He's a finance professor at Duke, and the man who first demonstrated that the yield curve can act as a recession predictor. Today on the Indicator, he tells us why there's no need to panic about a recession — or at least not yet.

The U.S. and China have been escalating tariffs against each other for most of this year. Hundreds of billions of dollars worth of goods have been taxed and companies all over the world have been scrambling to adapt. The impact on the two largest economies in the world has been undeniable. But a dinner over the weekend between President Donald Trump and President Xi Jinping seemed to move toward a partial resolution. At least for now.

For years NASA has been shifting away from a centralized model — where it does everything — to a decentralized model, where the functions of the space program are increasingly shared by the public and private sectors.

Most people have a fascination with space because of the grand themes — exploration, the search for aliens, going to the moon, maybe someday living on Mars! Matt Weinzeirl of Harvard Business School is just as fascinated, but for a different reason.

Matt says the economic model of space activity was once centralized, and focused mainly on the provision of public goods. But over time, that model has evolved, and NASA has found a potentially fruitful way to partner with the private sector in developing the space economy of the future.

The U.S. has used sanctions to do everything from catching specific drug traffickers, to destabilizing government regimes. But sanctions are a blunt tool and they don't always achieve their goal. Moreover, they can miss the target and hurt the wrong people. Still, there are some steps a government can take to help ensure sanctions achieve their goals.

The stock market has had a rocky year: It's been down and back up and down again. Meanwhile, the rest of the economy has been going gangbusters. What's going on? Today on the Indicator, it's Wall Street, Main Street, and the secret wisdom of the dogwalker.

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

Every year since 1986, the American Farm Bureau Federation has released an informal report on changes in the cost of Thanksgiving Dinner. We talk with the Farm Bureau's Chief Economist, John Newton, about the survey to see what's changed over the last year.

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

Economists looking for an indication of what the future holds keep a close eye on the jobs market. Heidi Shierholz is the director of policy at the Economic Policy Institute. She says there are three things in particular that she monitors: the quits rate, temporary employment, and average weekly hours.

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

When Amazon announced the locations for its second headquarters, it ended months of cities and states courting the tech giant with eye-popping tax incentives. A bunch of you wrote us and asked: Why are all these places offering this rich company huge tax breaks? Isn't Amazon rich enough? Does it make a difference?

We've been pulling out of a recession for so long now that a lot of people are wondering whether we're on the brink of going back in.

There's no easy way to tell, but there's an Indicator the Conference Board uses, called the Leading Economic Index. It's kind of like the dashboard on a car, with ten dials and gauges flickering away that the Conference Board economists use to tell how the economy is doing overall, and whether we're running into trouble (it is the dismal science, after all).

The price of oil had climbed aggressively from the summer of 2017 through the end of last month — but then it started falling. And falling. And falling. The price of Brent crude fell from $86 to about $66 yesterday, an astonishing decline of 23 percent.

What changed? We look at four potential reasons: U.S. output, exemptions to the sanctions on Iran, decelerating global economic growth, and the strengthening U.S. dollar.

New York City recently produced a report on the gender price differential in some consumer goods. The so-called Pink Tax. It turns out, women pay more than men for certain goods, like clothes and home health products and personal care products. The study found that women pay as much as 13 percent more for some categories of products.

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

40 years ago, the 401(k) was plucked from deep within the tax code and brought into the world. Today, it's the most common retirement plan in the country with millions of people contributing trillions of dollars. But it's not without its critics. Today on the show, The Indicator and Planet Money come together to celebrate the mighty 401(k).

The Bank of Bird-In-Hand — based in Bird-In-Hand, Pennsylvania — had a problem: a lot of its customers were Amish and couldn't make it to the bank in their horse-drawn buggies. So they decided to bring the bank to them.

Today on the show, we take a ride on the bankmobile, and see how the bank-on-wheels model is changing the way people access financial services far beyond Amish country.

How long do you spend on hold? What kind of discounts do you get? These things could be determined by something called a Customer Lifetime Value score. This score is being used by companies across the economy and the results of those scores can be powerful.

Find us: Twitter/ Facebook.

We love our listeners, and we especially love getting your questions. So today on the show, we answer a few of them — about luxury real estate markets, money and wealth, and our favorite ways to learn about economics and markets.

And as promised on the show, we reference these three articles:

-- Visual Capitalist

-- The Credit Suisse Wealth report

Pages