Wealth & Poverty

Ways to Connect

Episode 723: The Risk Farmers

Sep 7, 2016

We recently visited a man who may be the best apple farmer in Lesotho. He wanted to expand his business — but he was wary of going all-in on apples.

This is a common issue in the developing world: Farmers don't grow enough of the things they're best at growing.

Why not?

Two economists — who work across the hall from each other, and who have devoted their careers to studying ways to help the poor — came up with very different answers to that question. And they decided to figure out who was right.

At 4.9 percent, the nation's unemployment rate is half of what it was at the height of the Great Recession. But that number hides a big problem: Millions of men in their prime working years have dropped out of the workforce — meaning they aren't working or even looking for a job.

It's a trend that's held true for decades and has economists puzzled.

Episode 532: The Wild West Of The Internet

Sep 2, 2016

Note: This episode originally aired in April, 2014.

There are over 120 million websites ending in .com. But a few years ago, a bunch of new domains came online. So instead of .com, .gov or .net, not there's also .ninja, .bike and .cool, too. In all, over a 1000 new top-level domains, as they're called, were added to the list of possible website endings.

The U.S. added 151,000 new jobs in August and the unemployment rate held steady at 4.9 percent, according to the monthly jobs report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Both those metrics fell short of expectations: Economists were expecting about 180,000 new jobs, and a slight dip in the unemployment rate, to 4.8 percent, NPR's Yuki Noguchi has reported.

But even if the numbers were somewhat disappointing, the economy has still recorded 78 straight months of job growth, NPR's Marilyn Geewax notes.

Episode 722: The New Telenovela

Aug 31, 2016

You can probably picture a classic telenovela. It's dramatic, full of scandal. Cheating husbands. Cheating wives. Sunset romance. Dewy-eyed heroines.

Episode 721: Unbuilding A City

Aug 26, 2016

Shrinking cities have a problem: Millions of abandoned, falling-apart houses. Often, knocking them down is the best solution. But it can be remarkably hard to do that.

On today's show, we visit a single block in Baltimore and figure out why it's so hard to knock down buildings — even when everybody wants them gone.

Planet Money Buys Oil

Aug 26, 2016

Oil is everywhere, and in nearly everything — our phones, our food, our medicine. It has driven industrial progress. It has also contributed to air pollution and climate change.

For something so ubiquitous, oil is remarkably invisible. We wanted to change that. So we bought 100 barrels of oil and followed it out of the ground, through a refinery, and into someone's gas tank.

Episode 1: We Buy Oil

Top Federal Reserve officials defended their handling of monetary policy in a freewheeling meeting with liberal activists at the annual Fed conference in Jackson Hole, Wyo.

Much of the meeting centered on whether the Fed should raise interest rates, as it's widely expected to do before the end of the year, and the likely impact of a hike on poor and minority communities.

Oil #5: Imagine A World Without Oil

Aug 24, 2016

On today's show, we follow the Planet Money oil to the end of the line.

And we ask: What would the world be like if fossil fuels did not exist? What if you dug down in the ground and there was nothing but dirt and rock.

Oil, coal and natural gas are this incredible store of energy, just sitting there in the ground waiting for us to dig them up. Amazing boon to humanity! But also: Climate change!

Would a world without oil be better? Worse? Or just different?

This is the last of five episodes about buying oil.

Oil #4: How Oil Got Into Everything

Aug 19, 2016

Some of Planet Money's oil is going to end up in someone's gas tank-- and some of it might end up in someone's someone's sandwich. On today's show, we follow our oil to a refinery, where it'll become gasoline, propane, and fertilizer.

Oil doesn't just fuel the factories that make our stuff. It's in our sneakers, our clothes, and the computer or phone that you're looking at right now. Today on the show, we meet one chemist who helped put oil into everything — and another chemist who's trying to get it out.

This is episode four of five.

Oil #3: How Fracking Changed the World

Aug 17, 2016

The Planet Money oil gets put to a test by a lively trucker with his own centrifuge. He also shows us how to stay clean on a dirty job site. At the end of the episode, we make a deal to sell our oil with a middleman.

We also go visit the well that changed the oil world: S. H. Griffin Estate #4. That's where slickwater fracking began.

Joseph Shapiro / NPR

A class-action lawsuit filed last week alleges 13 cities in St. Louis County, Missouri put people behind bars because they couldn't afford to pay court fines. The fines included tickets for minor offenses like traffic violations. The Arch City Defenders is the nonprofit law firm behind the suit.

Oil #2: The Price Of Oil

Aug 12, 2016

This is the second of five episodes.

In the first episode of our oil series, we bought oil — and we paid $40 a barrel.

A few weeks earlier, the price of that same oil would have been about 25 percent more. A few weeks from now, it might be 25 percent lower. Oil is just that volatile. But why?

Grant Blankenship / GPB



There are lots of tools for reviving a dying neighborhood. There are tax incentives, chasing deadbeat property owners and non-profits to rebuild houses to name a few.  

In Macon-Bibb, another tool, this time public art, is at the heart of an effort to renew the city's Mill Hill neighborhood. A few weeks ago, that effort hit a snag: the first two artists in residence here were fired. As to why, that is still not clear, but events leading up to their dismissal might raise questions about how well the art-based scheme fits this neighborhood.

If you watch a watermelon harvest you may never think about the pink summery fruit again the same way.

Two pickers walk the rows. They bend over and grab the 20-pound gourds and pitch them to a man perched on the side of a dump truck, who heaves them up to another catcher in the truck bed. The pickers have arms like Popeye and the timing of acrobats. They like this crop because the bigger the melons the more they can earn.

Oil #1: We Buy Oil

Aug 10, 2016

Oil is everywhere, and in nearly everything: Our phones, our clothes, our food, and our medicine. It has driven industrial progress and technology. It has shaped our civilization, powered its rise. Despite all this, oil has exacted an enormous price: our climate is changing, smog is smothering cities around the world. That all comes, in part, from burning fossil fuels like oil.

Episode 524: Mr Jones' Act

Aug 5, 2016

Note: This episode originally aired in March, 2014.

If you want to send a bunch of oranges by truck from Florida to Baltimore, no one cares who made the truck. Or if you want to fly computer chips across the country, it's fine if the plane is made in France. But if you want send cargo by ship, there's a law that the ship has to be American made.

The U.S. added 255,000 jobs in July, according to the monthly report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics; economists had been expecting about 180,000 new jobs. It's the second month in a row showing job growth significantly stronger than anticipated.

The unemployment rate is holding steady at 4.9 percent, and the labor force participation rate ticked up slightly, from 62.7 to 62.8 percent.

Average hourly earnings are up 0.3 percent.

Episode 715: The Sewing Robot

Aug 3, 2016

Robots can build cars. They can vacuum your house. Robots can even write news articles. But getting a robot to sew clothes has proven surprisingly difficult. It is a task that is still done almost entirely by people sitting at sewing machines--pretty much how it has worked for decades and decades. Building a sewing robot is something of a frontier for automation.

Episode 548: Project Eavesdrop

Jul 29, 2016

Note: This episode originally aired in June 2014.

The Federal Reserve has voted to keep interest rates where they are, but noted that "near-term risks" to the economy have diminished, a sign that a hike is on the horizon.

As was widely expected, the Federal Open Market Committee decided to keep the target for the federal funds rate at a quarter to a half percent. However, a statement released Wednesday afternoon sounded decidedly more optimistic about the economic outlook.

Episode 714: Can a Game Show Lose?

Jul 27, 2016

Imagine you're a contestant on the hit game show Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? You're on the final question for one million dollars. You think you might know the answer, but you're not certain. The spotlights are beating down on you, the dramatic music is playing, your hands are shaking with adrenaline. In this situation, you are not the only one freaking out. The show's producers are backstage sweating bullets over what you're going to do. It's their job to set up the rules just right, so that there's drama, tension, and the promise of a massive payout...

Episode 576: When Women Stopped Coding

Jul 22, 2016

Note: This episode originally aired in October, 2014.

Mark Zuckerberg. Bill Gates. Steve Jobs. Most of the big names in technology are men.

But a lot of computing pioneers, the ones who programmed the first digital computers, were women. And for decades, the number of women in computer science was growing.

But in 1984, something changed. The number of women in computer science flattened, and then plunged.

A Macon Library Battles For Funding Help

Jul 22, 2016

A 9-year-old taekwondo black belt prepared to break a board that his instructor held up. Other children sat nearby.


“3,2,1,” they said counting down in unison. The children cheered as he broke the board with his hand.


This didn’t happen at a dojo, but at the Shurling Library in East Macon where children watched a demonstration performed by a local taekwondo school. Libraries have become more than a place to check out books.

Episode 713: Paying for the Crime

Jul 20, 2016

* Note: This episode has depictions of violence and explicit language.

On November 2nd, 1983, Darrell Cannon was awoken by a pounding on his door. It was the Chicago police. They told him he was a suspect in a murder case, and they wanted him to confess that he was involved. When he didn't confess, the cops put him a car, drove him to a rural site, and tortured him. Darrell gave a confession that would land him in prison for more than 20 years.

Episode 712: I Want My Money Back

Jul 15, 2016

Sometimes you want your money back because you didn't get what you expected. Sometimes you want your money back because you changed your mind. Sometimes it's because someone stole your money. At one point or another, we have all thought: I want my money back!

Today on the show, we bring you three stories of people trying to get their money back.

Episode 711: Hooked on Heroin

Jul 13, 2016

When we meet the heroin dealer called Bone, he has just shot up. He has a lot to say anyway. He tells us about his career--it pretty much tracks the evolution of drug use in America these past ten years or so. He tells us about his rough past. And he tells us about how he died a week ago. He overdosed on his own supply and his friend took his body to the emergency room, then left.

Episode 710: The Brexit Break-Up

Jul 8, 2016

With Brexit, Britain is leaving the European Union. And the whole thing is kind of like a break-up. Divvying up the belongings. The banks. The regulatory agencies. The people. And, in any breakup, there are two sides of the story.

Today on the show, we hear both sides of the Brexit break-up: the people who voted 'Leave,' and the Europeans being left.

In June, U.S. employers added 287,000 jobs — a very strong number that provided some reassurance the economy is still on track.

The June hiring surge, reported Friday by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, far exceeded projections. Analysts had expected the economy to add some 170,000 jobs.

Episode 575: The Fondue Conspiracy

Jul 6, 2016

Note: This episode originally aired in October 2014.

The popularity of fondue wasn't an accident. It was planned by a cartel of Swiss cheese makers, which ruled the Swiss economy for 80 years.

On today's show: Swiss cheese. A story about what happens when well-meaning folks decide that the rules of economics don't apply to them — and got the world to eat gobs of melted fat.