Wealth & Poverty

Ways to Connect

Note: This episode originally aired in May, 2014.

In a lot of ways, the job looks the same as ever — the brown truck, the barking dogs, the lady coming out to apologize about the barking dogs.

Sam Whitehead / GPB

The Obama Administration has added five westside Atlanta neighborhoods with high levels of poverty and unemployment to its Promise Zone Communities program aimed at boosting economic opportunity.

 

Ashview Heights, the Atlanta University Center, Castleberry Hill, English Avenue and Vine City, have been combined into what the Department of Housing and Urban Development calls the Westside Promise Zone.

 

Episode 704: Open Office

Jun 3, 2016

Walls, doors, privacy—if you work a desk job in America, you probably do not have these luxuries anymore.

This is the age of the open office, of half-cubicles and clustered desks, of huge rooms filled by long communal tables where white-collar workers sit shoulder-to-shoulder, wearing white earbuds to block out the noise. Over to the side, maybe there's a lounge space with sofas and a comfy chair or two. Maybe there's even a ping pong table on the way to the bathroom.

The U.S. economy added just 38,000 jobs in May, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics in its monthly report — far fewer than the 160,000 that economists had anticipated.

NPR business editor Marilyn Geewax called the number "shockingly low."

The unemployment rate declined by 0.3 percentage points, the Bureau says, to 4.7 percent — but that can be attributed to people dropping out of the workforce, Marilyn says.

Note: This episode originally ran in June, 2013.

Editor's note: John Otis has reported from Latin America since the U.S. invasion of Panama in 1989, and first covered Venezuela 19 years ago. He's returned many times since, and reflects here on how the country has changed since he first arrived.

During my first reporting trip to Caracas in 1997, I was nearly robbed leaving a subway station. While riding up the escalator, I was sandwiched by two rather inept thieves who pried my wallet out of my pocket, but then dropped it. I snatched the billfold and ran.

There are apartments in cities around the world, where the lights do not go on at night. The apartment is empty. And it's hard to tell who owns it or where the money to buy the apartment came from.

And that's because, some of that money is from questionable origins. If you have a lot of money to hide, you can park that cash in real estate. You hide the money in plain sight. You turn a fancy apartment into a giant piggy bank or secret vault.

On today's show, the international quest to try answer a simple question: Who owns Apartment 5B?

Note: This podcast was originally posted in October, 2010.

Today, we meet Edith Calzado. She's a single mother and makes $16,000 a year. And she managed to fund a vacation at a Caribbean resort with an interest-free loan from one of the world's largest banks.

In the wake of a spectacular $81 million heist involving Bangladesh's central bank, the top official for the messaging system used to move billions of dollars every day throughout the global banking system says he's going on the offensive against cybercriminals.

Gottfried Leibbrandt, chief executive of the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication (SWIFT), announced the plan today in Brussels.

Grant Blankenship / GPB

Macon-Bibb County political leaders got their first look at an old school at the heart of a new housing development Tuesday.

A few members of the Macon-Bibb County Commission and Mayor Robert Reichert toured the still under renovation A.L. Miller High School building. For Commission member and Miller Alumnus Elaine Lucas, the tour brought memories and hopes for what will come once this is low income housing.

"It's going to be a boost for this whole area. A lot of our neighborhoods are in decline and this is one of them," Lucas said.

Episode 702: Nigeria, You Win!

May 20, 2016

Lariat Alhassan owned a tiny paint business in Abuja, Nigeria. Things weren't going great. She had no office. She was selling paint out of the trunk of her car. But one night, while Lariat was listening to music in her room, she heard an ad on the radio. At first, she was sure it was a scam. It said that the Nigerian government was offering millions of dollars to businesses. Practically no strings attached.

Sam Whitehead / GPB

After more than ten years of work, Vine City Park is officially complete. Community members, city officials, and Atlanta non-profits gathered Thursday for a ribbon-cutting for final phase of the park, which includes an expanded playground and flood-mitigating features.

Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed said the park, which sits on two flood-prone acres in the heart of Vine City once occupied by abandoned lots and vacant buildings, was a meaningful part of the city’s effort to address blight and infrastructure issues. 

He also said it was a sign of things to come.

Note: This episode originally ran in April, 2012.

In New York City, thousands of food trucks and carts compete for the business of hungry office workers. Being in the right spot means the difference between fortune and ruin.

There are many rules to finding that perfect parking space. Here are six of them:

Sam Whitehead / GPB

On weekday afternoons, vehicle and pedestrian traffic flow heavily through the intersection of Martin Luther King, Jr. Drive and Joseph E. Lowery Boulevard about two miles west of downtown Atlanta.

 

On one corner there is a row of the kind of businesses you’d expect to find: a sports bar, a barber shop, a place to get your taxes done. But one storefront is different, and on certain afternoons, you’ll find Darren Hicks on the sidewalk out front in a full suit handing out fliers.

 

 

A couple of indicators just out suggest the U.S. economy might be getting ready to shift into a higher gear.

  • Overall industrial output rose at twice the rate most economists had predicted — with the strongest monthly gain in more than a year.
  • The U.S. Federal Reserve said manufacturing and factory output rose as well. That's a positive sign because economic trouble abroad has put a damper on demand for U.S. manufactured goods.

The Rust Belt Migration

May 17, 2016

Nearly six million baby boomers left the northeast region of America known as the “Rust Belt” when heavy industry collapsed in the late 1970s. Many fled south to cities like Atlanta. This migration is chronicled in Paul Hertneky's new book, "Rust Belt Boy." 

    

We speak with the author about how this migration created new communities in the South and what happened to the communities left behind. 

Episode 701: A Bank Without Interest

May 13, 2016

Stephen Ranzini runs University Bank in Michigan, and he prides himself on serving the local community. But one day, a Muslim man walked into his office and said: If your bank is so great at community service, how come you're not serving my community?

According to many scholars, Islamic law prohibits charging interest. Interest, of course, is pretty fundamental to banking.

Stephen Ranzini decided to find out: Is it possible to do what a bank does without charging interest?

Chances are that at some point in your online life, you've received an email with a subject like "The hottest method to please your beloved one," or "Want to get good health for low prices?"

Maybe you deleted it. Maybe your spam filter caught it. Or maybe you stopped for a second to ask why on earth you're getting so many of those emails. Who is sending them? Does anyone actually click on these links? What happens when they do?

In February Macon-Bibb county commissioners agreed to take $4.5 million and spend it on 15 blighted projects in the county. One commissioner called the move historic.  Building an arts village in Mill Hill, tearing down blighted homes in Village Green and Tindall Heights, all of these projects were part of the initial outlay of blight money by Macon-Bibb County. There's still a little less than half of the $10 million borrowed for blight projects.  So, where do things stand today with battling blight? Cass Hatcher, hired by Macon-Bibb as a blight consultant, addressed that issue. 

Atlanta has shown that development around a sports stadium doesn't always work. The Vine City section of Atlanta did not turn around when the Georgia Dome opened in 1992. But there may be another chance at that with a new stadium being built near the Dome.  Meanwhile in Macon local officials have begun studying whether this community should build a new minor league stadium downtown. Last week local officials toured South Carolina's cities of Columbia and Greenville and they hope to learn how the new stadiums improve the local economy there.

Grant Blankenship / GPB

 

 

Demolition formally began Monday in one of Macon’s oldest and largest public housing projects, Tindall Heights.

During a ceremony that could have looked like a groundbreaking from a distance, officials and politicians swung golden sledgehammers to break the first piece of the project’s red brick.

For longtime educator and former Bibb County School Board President,  Thelma Dillard, the day was bittersweet.

“I'm here today because I want to see the ending of my beginning,” she said.

Episode 700: Peanuts and Cracker Jack

May 6, 2016

There's not a lot of running in baseball. Mostly the players just stand around. But up in the stands, there is a very different game being played--one that demands hours of nonstop effort. The players in this game are vendors, the ballpark workers who run up and down stairs, carrying cases of water and bins of hot dogs above their heads. They are competing to sell as much overpriced junk food, in as little time as possible.

The pace of job creation slowed substantially last month, the Labor Department said Friday.

Employers added 160,000 employees in April, downshifting from the monthly average of 192,000 workers so far this year. That was a disappointment for many job seekers.

But the country does have one group enjoying lots of opportunities: newly minted college graduates. In fact, economists say this might be the best time to be graduating in a decade.

Sam Whitehead / GPB

A little bit of country in the city: that's how Vine City resident Alicia Anderson describes her neighborhood on Atlanta's west side. 

Vine City, like English Avenue just to the north, has its fair share of green space, though it's not all intentional: empty lots dot the landscape and give parts of the neighborhood's interior a provincial feel.

The U.S. economy added 160,000 jobs in April, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics in its monthly report. That's significantly fewer than analysts had projected.

The unemployment rate last month held steady at 5 percent, Friday's report says.

As NPR's Chris Arnold told our Newscast unit ahead of the release: "Analysts are predicting a gain of about 200,000 jobs for April. The economy's been averaging some 250,000 more jobs a month over the past 6 months."

Sam Whitehead / GPB

Imagine living on a street where four out of 10 homes are vacant, nearly half of your neighbors live below the poverty line and a quarter don’t go to a job every day.

That place exists only two miles from downtown Atlanta, despite more than $100 million spent to revitalize the area since the 1990s.

Vine City and English Avenue were poised for a turnaround when the Georgia Dome, home of the Atlanta Falcons, opened in 1992.

States across the country are at war right now. A war over jobs. They are competing with each other to get companies to move within their borders. Politicians love to call this "job creation."

Episode 698: The Long Way Home

Apr 29, 2016

Most social programs in America work like this: if you qualify for assistance, you get it. Food stamps, Medicaid, and the Earned Income Tax Credit all have their own criteria. But if you pass the threshold and fill out the application, the help is (supposed to be) yours. With housing though, that's not how it works. There are far more people who qualify than actually receive help. For subsidized housing vouchers, there is often a lottery. And your chances aren't good.

But why? The answer is partly about money and partly about history.

Note: This episode originally ran in November 2012.

In this episode, we consider a world in which everybody is cheating, a world where it has become impossible to succeed unless you can game the regulators: Professional cycling.

Under the leadership of Lance Armstrong, the U.S. Postal Service cycling team was wildly successful, winning the Tour de France for seven consecutive years--from 1999 to 2005.

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