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.

There are plenty of reasons why the U.S. economy could slip into recession within the next couple of years. There's the trade war with China, slowing economic growth, rising interest rates, dysfunction in the government, and the prospect of fading stimulus.

But what about the other side? What about the case for optimism? Economist Jared Bernstein, an old friend of the show, got in touch because he thinks we shouldn't neglect the positive economic signals that he's seeing right now.

The labor force participation rate is the percentage of adults who have a job, or who are looking for one. In the U.S., about 75% of women ages 25 to 54 participate in the workforce. That's less than men of the same age, who come in at 90%. Still, the number is a big improvement over the early 70s, when fewer than half of women were in the labor force.

Today on The Indicator, we play Overrated/Underrated with a room full of economists at the annual meeting of the American Economic Association. We ask them which economic indicators get too much attention and which indicators we should pay more attention to.

A previous version of this podcast misstated Economist Gray Kimbrough's name.

About 800,000 government workers are missing their paychecks, as the impasse between President Trump and leaders of the Democratic Party stretched into its 21st day. Slightly more than half of those workers are expected to keep working without pay because they provide services that are labeled "essential". The rest of the workers have been sent home until the government reopens.

This episode originally ran in 2016.

At professional poker tournaments, players pay thousands of dollars to enter the competition. By the end of it, nearly all will have lost that initial investment. But that's just the surface level. Beneath that is a secret world of betting and swapping.

The stock market has been going up and down like a yo-yo for the last few months. And this isn't your typical volatility: 2018 was one of the most volatile years on record for the stock market. But Georgetown economist James Angel says that while the volatility we're experiencing right now might feel scary, it's a lot less worrisome than kind of smooth rise in the market that we saw in 2017. Because that lulled a lot of people: they forgot that the stock market is a speculative arena, and they started to think of corporate shares as a failsafe. And that's never a good thing.

The Phillips Curve measures the relationship between inflation and unemployment. And the Curve predicts that when unemployment is low, inflation tends to rise. Conversely, If unemployment goes up, then inflation should come down. Because then companies don't have to raise wages to compete for workers.

The Indicator is in Atlanta this week, at the American Economic Association annual conference. So you, dear listener, get a little extra screen time. All this week, we're looking at the ways in which economists are portrayed in television series and in the movies.

Today, we look at shows developed by producer and screenwriter Aaron Sorkin. In the TV show The West Wing, President Jed Bartlet is a Nobel Prize-winning economist. In one memorable rapid-fire exchange between the president and his staff, Bartlet and his staff debate the ups and downs of free trade.

All this week, we'll be looking at the ways in which economists are portrayed in television series and in the movies, in a series we're calling Economists on Screen.

Today, we are looking at Crazy Rich Asians, the big hit movie released earlier this year, in which a Chinese-American economist from New York named Rachel Chu visits Singapore with her boyfriend Nick Young.

This year was a big year for women. Hundreds of women came forward to report harassment in the workplace and hundreds of men in prominent positions lost their. Workplace cultures everywhere started to shift as more women felt empowered to come forward and report their experiences. Today on The Indicator, we talk with Heidi Shierholz, the director of policy at the Economic Policy Institute, about how the strong economy helped the #MeToo movement, and what is still holding some women back from speaking up.

Life expectancy in the U.S. is down for the second year in a row. One main reason: opioid abuse. But increasingly, companies are stepping up to address the problem, offering treatment plans to workers and supporting employees through treatment.

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

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.

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