Wealth & Poverty

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The U.S. economy is doing pretty well. Jobs continue opening, unemployment is low, and growth appears robust.

But that's no reason to be complacent. Today on the show, Stacey and Cardiff present three indicators that make them feel a bit queasy.

None of these indicators guarantees that an economic slowdown is on the way, but they could be doing a little better — and all of them will make you sound smarter around the water cooler.

Updated at 3:19 p.m. ET

The Federal Reserve got a rare piece of advice from the president Thursday. The central bank is an independent agency and presidents usually don't comment directly on Fed policy.

Climate change seems like this complicated, intractable problem. But maybe it doesn't have to be.

In 2013, we talked to a couple economists about a very simple idea that could solve the climate change problem: Tax carbon emissions. A carbon tax could be paired with cuts in the income tax. It would drive down emissions without picking winners or losers, and without creating complicated regulations. It all seemed so elegant. So doable. At the time they made a bold prediction.

The United States and China have started their trade war, and it's not clear how long it will last or how it will end.

Economists largely agree that the tariffs used to fight trade wars are destructive, and that the destruction is amplified by the retaliations and escalations of each side.

What if there had been a way to avoid this trade war well before it started, a strategy that would have addressed the conditions that led to the trade war before they became problematic.

A trade war with China, the European Union and other trading partners is casting some doubts about the U.S. economic future, Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell said Tuesday.

And the longer it goes, the more potential harm it could cause, Powell told the Senate Banking Committee at a hearing about the Fed's monetary policy and the economy.

Saving Women

Jul 17, 2018

Sallie Krawcheck spent her career on Wall Street and she says the gender investment gap is a problem we need to solve and a problem we can solve.

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

Japan's Ninja Shortage

Jul 16, 2018

Iga, a small Japanese city and the birthplace of the ninja, is facing a serious problem — there aren't enough people training to be ninjas, not even for $85k a year. Today on the show, Sally Herships goes to Iga to discuss the city's plan to use ninjas to fight depopulation.

Music: "Master Chi"

A few years ago, an entire beach in a remote area of Jamaica vanished. Thieves dug up hundreds of tons of sand and hauled it away in dump trucks in the middle of the night. The sand--white, powdery, Caribbean sand--was worth about a million dollars.

It was an early sign that the world was facing a growing problem. Sand is a key ingredient in all kinds of things. It's in concrete, in glass, in your cell phone. But there isn't enough sand in the world for everyone, and we're starting to run out. So people are stealing it, smuggling it, and getting killed over it.

We Hear You

Jul 13, 2018

The Indicator comes out every day, and every day we tackle a different topic: Venezuela, interest rates, plastic straws. And every day, we are lucky enough to get letters from you. Today on the show: We hear you! We respond to some comments, answer a few listener questions and ponder one of life's great mysteries: How, exactly, do you pronounce Hyundai?

The Last Straw

Jul 12, 2018

There's a global movement right now to get rid of the plastic straw. Scotland, Vancouver and Taiwan have all put bans in place. So have companies like IKEA, Alaska Airlines and Starbucks. The idea is to start reducing the amount of plastic waste in our oceans. Straws are far from the biggest source of plastic pollution, but it's a start, right? Well... maybe. New research shows that the straw ban could really help the global plastic problem, or could really backfire.

Episode 427: LeBron James Is Still Underpaid

Jul 11, 2018

The best player in basketball is getting a raise. LeBron James just signed a contract to switch teams to the Los Angeles Lakers with a four-year, $154 million contract. But he may still be the most underpaid sports star in the world.

Back in 2013, when LeBron was making a paltry $17.5 million per year, economists told us he was very underpaid. And we found out why the NBA team owners, the players, the fans and even LeBron James himself want to keep it that way. Today on the show, we call some of them back to see if LeBron is still getting hosed.

Your bank has its own bank account — with the Federal Reserve. That account pays interest of nearly two percent and offers instantaneous payment clearning.

We, on the other hand, get much less than two percent on our own bank accounts, and clearing a check or money transfer can take days. The problems are worse for the large unbanked population in the United States, which faces burdensome costs and inconveniences because they lack access to basic banking services.

To the US Government, imposing harsh economic sanctions on Iran was a necessary deterrent to the country's plans for nuclear development. For Amir, it meant losing years of savings. Now he's wondering whether to stay in his country or leave before the economy gets worse.

The yield curve has a sterling record as a recession predictor. Since 1970, every time the yield curve has inverted — in other words, every time long-term interest rates have fallen below short-term interest rates — the economy has slipped into recession within about a year.

We first checked in on the yield curve in January, after a period of notable flattening. In the time since, it's continued to flatten even more. It has not yet inverted, though it keeps inching closer.

Episode 852: Two Summer Indicators

Jul 6, 2018

Today we bring you two summertime stories from Planet Money's daily podcast, The Indicator. (Subscribe here.)

Many of the world's flags come from one province in China called Zhejiang. We talk to the owner of a factory there that makes all kinds of flags for all kinds of people: Those little flags people wave at parades on the 4th of July, giant ones that hang off buildings, even campaign flags for American politicians.

The status of the labor market can't be grasped with just one or two numbers. Context matters — and there is a lot of context.

Are people who were previously jobless and discouraged now rejoining the labor force? Are people quitting or are they being laid off? Are the benefits of the labor market finally extending to groups that did not enjoy them in the earlier stages of the recovery? And when employers complain of a "worker shortage," what exactly are they talking about?

Updated 8:45 a.m. ET

The Labor Department on Friday reported another big month for job growth, with a larger than expected addition of 213,000 jobs for June.

The unemployment rate ticked up slightly to 4 percent as some people who had been on the sidelines moved back into the labor force.

The report underscores a familiar refrain: There are lots of jobs being created, but not enough people to fill them. That continues as employers consistently hire at robust rates and the unemployment rate keeps falling.

When Buzzfeed France tried to shut down its office and let go of at least twelve employees, a judge stopped it. The business had to prove it was not economically viable, and justify its decision to end operations, or otherwise it might have to pay its employees a big severance.

Because in France, if things aren't going well for your business, you can't just close up shop and cut loose your workers — you actually have to prove that you can't afford to stay open. It's a system designed to protect workers, but it also has consequences for the rest of the economy.

Note: This episode originally ran in 2016.

Star Spangled Indicator

Jul 3, 2018

There's a joke in China, that the first people in the world to know that Donald Trump would win the presidency were the flag makers. The reason? People were ordering a lot more Trump flags than Clinton flags.

Flags can be a symbol of national pride, a patriotic rallying cry, but they can also tell us a lot about free trade and the global economy. Today on the show, we speak with the owner of a Chinese factory that makes American flags.

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