Stacey Vanek Smith

Stacey Vanek Smith is the co-host of NPR's The Indicator from Planet Money. She's also a correspondent for Planet Money, where she covers business and economics. In this role, Smith has followed economic stories down the muddy back roads of Oklahoma to buy 100 barrels of oil; she's traveled to Pune, India, to track down the man who pitched the country's dramatic currency devaluation to the prime minister; and she's spoken with a North Korean woman who made a small fortune smuggling artificial sweetener in from China.

Prior to coming to NPR, Smith worked for Marketplace, where she was a correspondent and fill-in host. While there, Smith was part of a collaboration with The New York Times, where she explored the relationship between money and marriage. She was also part of Marketplace's live shows, where she produced a series of pieces on getting her data mined.

Smith is a native of Idaho and grew up working on her parents' cattle ranch. She is a graduate of Princeton University, where she earned a bachelor's degree in comparative literature and creative writing. She also holds a master's in broadcast journalism from Columbia University.

Dollar stores — they sell everything from holiday decorations to groceries to Skittles-scented candles. The business proposition: a grab bag of items for a dollar (or around a dollar). These stores thrived during the financial crisis, but their success in the post-Recession era has been a mixed bag.

Dollar General and Family Dollar (now owned by Dollar Tree), two of the dollar store titans, have been at the center of this. These companies each took a bet: whether they could grow their businesses by keeping everything priced at $1, or by leaving the dollar behind.

Gender segregation is the idea that jobs in some occupations are overwhelmingly done by men, while jobs in other occupations are overwhelmingly done by women. Today on The Indicator, our friend Martha Gimbel from the Indeed Hiring Lab tells us why that's a big deal for women, men, and the economy as a whole.

Some of the studies, articles, and research used for this episode:

From academic journals, think tanks, and other research groups:

Technology has made globalization possible — it has brought the world closer together. But Raghuram Rajan, an economist at the University of Chicago's Booth School of Business, says it's also made inequality much worse in the U.S. Today on The Indicator, we talk inequality: How did we get here? What has the impact been? And how can we change the current situation?

Tampons: That Bloody Sales Tax

Mar 6, 2019

In 35 U.S. states, women have to pay sales tax for menstrual hygiene products. That extra cost adds up over time and it especially affects low-income women. Some people believe those taxes are unfair to women, and some states have eliminated them. Research based on New Jersey's Tampon Tax repeal in 2005 showed that tax breaks on menstrual products helped women across the board by making products cheaper and more accessible.

Today, the U.S. confirmed it will hold off on a new round of tariffs on imports from China that was supposed to be put in place this month. There's also word that President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping are getting close to completing a trade deal, which would mean both countries getting rid of many of the tariffs and trade restrictions that have been put in place. Today on the show, Stacey talks to Chad Bown of the Peterson Institute for International Economics about the trade war with China and asks, 'Is a trade truce on the horizon?'

The periodic requirement for Congress to vote on raising the debt ceiling has become a reliable piece of political theater. The vote usually follows the passage of a budget by the Congress, and a hike in the debt ceiling rarely gets a green light without some drama.

It's a little like a person who orders up a five course dinner and drinks and then threatens not to pay when the bill arrives. But, this political theater invariably ends the same way: Congress raises the debt ceiling. Treasury pays the bills. Everyone moves on.

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MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

The CEO of the streaming service Netflix recently told the company's shareholders something surprising: that Netflix faces more competition from Fortnite, the online video game, than from HBO, the television channel. So are movies, TV shows and streaming videos really in competition with video games? And if so, who's winning?

Millions of Americans have used payday loans. These are small, short-term loans known for charging staggering interest rates — sometimes in the 300 to 400% range.

In 1921, Sadie Alexander became the first African-American to earn a Ph.D. in economics. A few years later, she went to law school and became a celebrated civil rights attorney. But she never abandoned her focus on economic issues. In speech after speech, she argued that full employment — when everyone who wants a job can get one — was absolutely necessary to achieve racial equality. Today on The Indicator, Episode 1 in our multipart series about overlooked economists from the past.

Whether you're new to investing, or if you've been investing for years, you are going to run into the question of whether or not you should 'time the market.' Timing the market essentially means guessing when is the best time you should put your money to work. Buy low, sell high, right? It sounds so obvious. But as Jill Schlesinger tells Stacey in this episode, falling for the temptation of trying to time the market is a fool's errand. Jill is the author of a new book: The Dumb Things Smart People Do With Their Money.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

One of our listeners wrote in to ask why Americans are addicted to tipping and just can't seem to quit. This is a subject near and dear to our hearts: doesn't it seem like we're tipping everywhere these days? It's a also a great behavioral economics question. Tipping is one of those conventions that defies both common sense (why do we tip for some services and not others?) - and the rules of economics (why do most people prefer restaurants that don't include fixed service charges in their prices?).

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!

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.

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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.

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