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Podcast Special: The economy, one step at a time

Occupy Wall Street protestors have brought to light a variety of start economic issues facing the U.S. Our special podcast series examines those issues.

Volatility. Uncertainty. Political Paralysis. Default. Downgrades.

It has been a wild ride for the American economy in August. Case in point, the stock market: Down 500 points one day, up 400 points the next. Down, up, down, up ,up, down. It's almost like a bad melody.

But the thing is the American economy is not just the stock market. And while it serves as a daily reminder of something that's going on, it is not the entire story.

The story is really about individuals and families, small businesses and corporations, retirees and the middle class, political leadership and economic choices. And that's what we decided to examine in this special one-hour audio broadcast from our ongoing series, The Breakdown: Our economy, one step at a time.

The market is not the economy

Marketplace New York Bureau Chief Heidi Moore explains it like this: "We follow the stock market because it is instant but if you dig down a little deeper, the path of the stock market rarely follows the path of the actual economy."

So what about that actual economy? What matters?

In a word, jobs. And the lack of them. Or as, William Dunkleberg told us, "I don't think we've seen any decent jobs growth since the recovery allegedly started back in June of 2009." He's the chief economist at the National Federation of Independent Business.

It takes jobs to restart the economy

More than 13 million Americans are out of work in America, pushing the unemployment rate to 9.1 percent last month. But in some communities, like Baltimore, the number is twice that. And for job seekers, like college graduates and workers over 60, the numbers are worse.

We talked to Dwayne Robertson, an unemployed resident of Baltimore, about his challenges searching for work in that hard hit region: "Everybody is basically unemployed. Especially most of the males. There's no work for 'em. They have a lot of programs, like job readiness programs, but they're not helping 'em find jobs. 'Cause I've been through maybe three of those, and still I'm unemployed."

Throughout this show, you'll hear from job seekers and job creators. You'll learn about what it takes for one company to hire one employee. And we examine the so-called "hour-glass economy," which describes the growing divide in America's workforce. The concept helps put into perspective what the future of the American job market might just be 9 percent unemployment and millions out of work.

America in the global economy

Even as we tackle the issue of putting Americans back to work, our economic future is more and more tied to our place in the global economy. More than ever, it matters to America what's happening to the economy in countries like Japan, Greece, and Germany.

The U.S. is not the only country in a big heap of debt trouble. Europe is facing an unprecedented debt crisis. So we took a look at what's happening in those countries, and how they're impacting the recovery here at home.

The downgrade

And finally, there's the downgrade. A couple of weeks ago, America experienced a first: A historic downgrade by the ratings firm Standard & Poor's. Economist Richard Sylla at NYU's Stern School described the action as more sting, than substantial.

"It's kind of embarrassing, though, because you know the United States has basically had a prime credit rating throughout just about all of our history," Sylla said. "It's kind of sad that after 220 years we appear to be less than AAA."

An economy in transition

What we appear to be is an economy in transition, an economy in recovery that doesn't seem to want to follow the rules of what a recovery is.

We'll explain what all of that means in the show.

About the author

Kai Ryssdal is the host and senior editor of Marketplace, public radio’s program on business and the economy.

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