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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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This was pretty sad. Can't you guys do any better? A few examples: (1) You talk about high unemployment and huge corporate profits, almost in the same breath, but never ask whether those two facts could be related. (2) Scott Tong talks about structural unemployment, as if 6% of the workforce distributed across all sectors suddenly became redundant and unemployable between 2008 and 2009 - and you never ask about that. (3) In your discussion of the S&P downgrade, you never ask if an institution with a track record of ineptitude at judging sovereign debt (by its own admission) and the massive misjudgment of MBS risks (AAA sub-prime, anyone?) has any credibility at regarding its downgrade of US debt. Perhaps you should employ some reporters with some training in economics?

The economy will not recover until we deal with the one-quarter of American homeowners who are severely underwater. My husband and I worked, we saved and bought a modest 2BR home in a modest neighborhood four years ago. Then we watched as the value of our home tanked by 40%. We can't contribute to consumer spending by remodeling our home or moving up to a larger house. We have no equity to spend. We can't refinance. We weren't reckless and we're not alone. Analysts talk about the lack of consumer spending as though people were being irrationally cautious. The reality is that consumer spending was really driven by big increases in home equity during the housing bubble and that bubble has now burst. Between unemployment, stagnating wages and the housing bubble bursting, people just don't have money to spend.

Please, please do a story on the job-sharing program Germany is practicing. Cutting workers' hours, rather than making layoffs, makes so much more sense, both for economics and worker morale. Better our government supplement these part-time workers than paying out endless unemployment and welfare
benefits. Face it, due to the digital revolution, there just isn't enough work to go around for everyone. Time to start thinking outside the box.

Distribution is inversly proportional to the efficencies of the centralized factory. How did we build ourselves out of the depression. efficient use of capital. Ask your grandmother. Technology. find an old steam driven tractor with steal wheels and try to use it on a small farm. Ask someone educated in a public school where eggs, meat, and potatoes come from.
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