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What’s so great about 5G?
Jan 19, 2022
Episode 582

What’s so great about 5G?

It's so much more than superfast speeds.

AT&T and Verizon rolled out their expanded 5G services today. One listener wonders: What’s 5G anyway, and why do we need it? We’ll explain why it’s been a long time coming. Plus, our fill-in hosts answer more listener questions about wage theft, the Great Resignation and the climate implications for wood stoves versus electric space heaters.

Here’s everything we talked about today:

Got a question? Send us a voice memo. Or call us at 508-82-SMART (508-827-6278).

Make Me Smart January 19, 2022 transcript

Note: Marketplace podcasts are meant to be heard, with emphasis, tone and audio elements a transcript can’t capture. Transcripts are generated using a combination of automated software and human transcribers, and may contain errors. Please check the corresponding audio before quoting it.

Meghan McCarty Carino:  Can we start early? I mean, what?

Andy Uhler:  What’s stopping us?  I guess.

Meghan McCarty Carino: Yeah, exactly. We are two fill-in hosts. We’re gonna do whatever we want.

Andy Uhler: That’s exactly it.

Meghan McCarty Carino: Start the show early.

Andy Uhler: Hey, I’m Andy Uhler, welcome back to Make Me Smart where we make today make sense, hopefully. Thank you for joining us.

Meghan McCarty Carino: Hey, Andy. I am Megan McCarty Carino, it’s fun to be here with with Andy. I’ve never co-hosted with Andy before, we’re filling in today and tomorrow. But today, it’s Whaddya Want to Know Wednesday? And that means that it’s time for us to answer questions from our listeners. So let’s let’s dive right in with our first question.

Rebecca: Hi, this is Rebecca from Baltimore. And I am wondering what 5G actually is. Do I need it? Why do I need it? Thanks for making me smart.

Meghan McCarty Carino: Definitely gonna let you take this one Andy. I want to know too.

Andy Uhler: What’s funny, too, is that I was on – I don’t even know if this is maybe it’s a humble brag – I was on the BBC on Monday talking about because what happened was some the rollout of 5G was contested by airlines, right? Sort of talking about – and actually Kai did a wonderful deep dive into altimeters and sort of the danger that could be if planes and pilots and pressure and things like that there’s a really, really nice last week’s Make Me Smart has to do with exactly that. And sort of the dangers of flying with this new 5G. And so I dug into old stories that I had done on 5G. Because I feel like I actually have been reporting on 5G for three years now because we’ve been talking about it for so long.

Meghan McCarty Carino: It’s been coming, for so long.

Andy Uhler: Exactly. And I found my favorites, you know, we have slugs to our story. So it’s like “Uhler-5G” or whatever. My favorite slug though, was “Uhler-5G-BS.” And basically what I ended up doing, we ended up doing a story about 5G rollout. Right. And what happened was, TMobile and other companies have been talking about 5G and the rollout for a long time. And they said, “You know what, you’re already on 5G. So everything’s great. And it’s crazy. And you can download movies really fast.” But what happened was when they launched 5G, or when they started calling things 5G, it was just sort of a lesser version or a little better version of your existing cellular platform. Yeah, so it’s not really sort of what we’ve been thinking about when we talk about 5G, we talk about 5G –

Meghan McCarty Carino: Right ’cause I swear my phone always says it’s on 5g, and it’s like, no big deal.

Andy Uhler: But what I, what I learned from talking to a whole bunch of really, really smart people about this, too, is that 5G is actually not, it’s not just sort of the next generation, it’s not sort of the next step up. Well, and I guess it is, but at the same time, it’s supposed to be eventually, this really, really big broad infrastructure that is going to do things like lead, autonomous drivers and autonomous cars and things like that, it’s gonna be way different from the infrastructure that we have right now. And so building it out, has been, I guess, that’s why I’ve been reporting it on it for three years, right is that so much of this building has to be done, and not a whole lot of it is done. So I don’t think it’s a matter of getting 5G or needing it, it’s a matter of sort of when it’s going to be actually deployed, right.

Meghan McCarty Carino: So it’s like the technology is all ready to go, just the infrastructure has to be in place to kind of be able to handle it.

Andy Uhler: I think that’s exactly right. And I think what’s also going to happen, I’m sure there are going to be a lot of people who are going to tell us we have no idea what we’re talking about. But I think what’s also going to happen is that the technology is only going to advance to and so when you have that infrastructure, there are going to be things that then sort of get synced in this new infrastructure with this new sort of network. And so it’s not just going to be about again, downloading movies faster and things like that, and playing your video games a whole lot faster. It’s going to be about sort of the different things that I guess flying taxis and things like that are gonna be, you know, run by 5G.

Meghan McCarty Carino: Because, I mean, having worked from home, you know, for the last two years with all of the hiccups that that has entailed. The prospect of having surgery over 5G does not instill a lot of confidence in me.

Andy Uhler: Oh, I think that’s incredibly, incredibly. I have a lot of fear about things like that. I think you’re right. Our next question comes from Christian in Seattle. He writes, “I’m wondering if you can make me smart about wage theft, it seems to be one of the factors of the Great Resignation, and it seems like a big deal.” Megan?

Meghan McCarty Carino: You know, we were were chatting before the show about, like, wage theft sounds – it sounds really sizzly when you say it.

Andy Uhler: Super nefarious.

Meghan McCarty Carino: I imagine like a big gang of people like coming after someone’s shift. And you know, it’s like a heist thing.

Andy Uhler: A heist movie. Exactly,

Meghan McCarty Carino: But, in reality, you know, sort of wage theft happens. There are cases, obviously, where people don’t get paid their normal wages. You know, my brother-in-law works in restaurants. This happens from time to time in the restaurant industry. But usually wage theft is happening, you know, when people are being misclassified, that’s one way that it happens. So if you’re misclassified as an independent contractor, or as a salaried-exempt employee, then you’re not qualifying for things like overtime, for independent contractors, you’re not getting minimum wage, you can end up being paid less than minimum wage. So these kinds of things that happen that, you know, the whole thing with gig workers and whether they should be classified as independent contractors, the classification thing has become a huge issue with so many more workers being classified as independent contractors and kind of a moving target as to whether that is legally kosher. So the Economic Policy Institute estimates that every year about 2.4 million workers are subject to wage theft every year, so maybe not getting time and a half for overtime hours, or maybe even not getting paid overtime hours at all for hours that they work past eight hours or, you know, not being paid the minimum wage properly. And we don’t know exactly, you know, how much money workers are losing due to wage theft, because a lot of times this is happening to the most, you know, tenuous workers to workers who are not going to come forward. This often happens in low-wage industries and service industries, with workers, you know, maybe there’s immigration status issues, people are afraid to come forward or you know, these are just the most marginalized workers. I know, you know, I did some reporting on home health care aides, and that the Department of Labor was doing a big campaign to educate home health care aides that they are covered under these federal labor laws that guarantee overtime pay in minimum wage, but because they work in people’s homes, you know, a lot of workers who kind of work in people’s homes, it’s kind of a cash business, they might be paid sort of under the table, etc. And so may not be getting the kind of wage protections that they are actually owed wnder the law. Workers lose an estimated $8 billion every year due to these kinds of violations according to write some study by the Economic Policy Institute. And in terms of how it compares to say other kinds of ways that people lose money like other crimes that people might lose money. The EPI also estimated that it totally exceeded in 2012, the value of all other forms of robbery combined, so there were 292,074 robberies in 2012, bank robberies, residential a kind of convenience store, street robberies, and it totaled $340 million dollars in value, whereas in 2012, wage theft was more than that. So, you know, it is a big deal.

Andy Uhler: It’s real, yeah.

Meghan McCarty Carino: It’s something that, you know, I know the Biden administration Department of Labor has recently decided to sort of join forces, the different federal agencies that police different federal labor laws and sort of share information about things like worker misclassification. It might surprise people that you know, there are different different labor laws and different agencies enforcing them. So you might have a company that is being investigated for misclassifying workers under, you know, the National Labor Relations Act which governs unionizing, but maybe not under the Fair Labor Standards Act, which governs overtime. And so they’re having some more crossover in these  investigations so that they can actually kind of have a little bit more resources to police the broad array of violations that that happened in this arena.

Andy Uhler: Well, that’s what I was gonna ask you too, is the sort of pushback and the recourse for these individuals? Is it going to be I mean, do you have to find a lawyer? I mean, a lot of folks, like you said, who work in the lower-wage jobs, they’re not going to be coming after their industries and saying, “Hey, I have this lawyer who’s gonna sue you for all of this money.”I mean, how does that work?

Meghan McCarty Carino: Totally. And in some cases, so in the state of California, there’s a private Attorney General’s law. So you can actually as an individual, you could do that if you had the resources and sort of the, you know, moxie to want to put yourself out there and do that, which, of course, many workers, you know, would not. The negative, you know, implications of doing that are probably too great for most workers to want to do that. But California is kind of unique in that as a private citizen, you can kind of pretend that you’re the Attorney General of your state and sue employers for these kinds of things. And other cases, you know, it’s going to be class action lawsuits. It’s going to be the Department of Labor, the National Labor Relations Board, you know, state Departments of Labor and of course, investigatory resources for policing, all of this stuff are very limited. So only really big cases usually end up, you know, kind of ensnared in those nets.

Andy Uhler: Make sense.

Meghan McCarty Carino: Yeah. All right. So let’s go to our next question, now. It is a voice memo, and has something to do with sustainability. So you’re gonna take this one, Andy.

Andy Uhler: Alright, fair enough.

Benji: Hi, my name is Benji, I’m calling from Guerneville, which is in Sonoma County, California, in the Redwoods. A question is about the climate impact of using wood in my wood stove. Is that better than using a space heater where it’s coming from electricity where the electricity, in this case, I’ve looked it up, is mostly not from renewable sources? Help me out here, make me smart on the best way to heat this giant home that I’m renting in the beautiful Redwoods without destroying the world. Thanks, folks.

Andy Uhler: Benji, that’s a great question. Yeah. And what’s what’s going to be so dissatisfying  about my answer too is that it’s going to – so much of it is going to be well, it depends, right? So I do a lot of this reporting  on climate change and energy policy and things like that. And so much of it has to do with costs and benefits not to nerd out on Marketplace terms and economics. But a lot of it really honestly does depend on specifics, right? When was your wood stove built? There are a lot of wood stoves now that are considered energy efficient by the EPA. So they have an actual sort of label on them that say, you know what, “this wood stove is efficient.” And then also, again, Benji, he was smart in in looking up sort of where the electricity is coming from, that he’s using to – that’s a huge, huge part of it, right? If you’re trying to think about your carbon footprint, you’re going to want to worry about where you’re getting that energy. And so looking it up and seeing that it’s actually going to be you know, fossil fuels, or wherever his energy is coming from. That’s a big part of this. You know, part of the deal too, is that wood burning burning wood is, you know, it emits carbon into the atmosphere. One of the really difficult things here in 2018, the EPA actually came out and said that burning wood was carbon neutral, which sounds really great.

Meghan McCarty Carino: That does not sound like it makes sense.

Andy Uhler: Well, so what ended up happening was, there was a lot of pushback, right? From environmentalist from a lot of scientists who said, basically, over the really, really, really long term that’s probably accurate. That biomass from forests and from trees, if you’re planting more trees to then grow up into those trees that either fell down, we’re sort of farmed, then sure, then it’s going to be carbon neutral. When you’re talking about burning wood, specifically for heating your home in the Redwoods, maybe Benji is getting out there and planting a whole lot of trees, which would be awesome. And maybe he is using wood that has naturally come down next to his house, I don’t know. But this sort of carbon neutrality of burning wood is it’s really actually pretty contentious among among environmentalists and among scholars, because very technically it’s true because of how long it because again, if you’re planting trees and they’re you know, over the course of 200 years, it’s going to be replenished over the course of you burning wood to keep yourself warm this winter? Not really. Which is a bummer.

Meghan McCarty Carino: This kind of reminds me of the calculations that you have to do to figure out if it’s like, good to have an EV  – buy a new EV, where are you getting the energy to, you know, charge it, we have to know about where your grid is and sort of like doing the calculation on what’s the energy that goes into building a new car instead of just keeping the old car and like all of these individual decisions that you have to be so well educated to be able to know whether you’re doing the right thing or not.

Andy Uhler: Well, and I think that’s one of the really cool things, I think, anyway, about sort of this new movement of environmentalism is that we have all of this information and we have people that are digging in. And so figuring out what your carbon footprint is and how to reduce it is actually pretty attainable these days. And while reducing your carbon footprint should make you feel good. And again, it should, we should do what we can to change our behavior where possible, of course, some are arguing that focusing on individual action is shifting the responsibility to consumers and away from big corporations and industries that are responsible for climate change. I mean, there’s a whole lot of industry and there’s a whole lot of push and should be for the way that buildings and offices and things like that are heated and so Benji doing what he can in his house is great and awesome. But sort of the consumer and shifting that individual sort of responsibility away from big, big businesses, and even those businesses that are you know, drilling for oil and other fossil fuel industries. It’s tough, right? Because we should do what we can but at the same time, those industries that are directly responsible, need to be aware of it. Alright, here is another question that has to do with the Great Resignation.

Bob: Hey, Make Me Smart. This is Bob Flynn from Bloomington, Indiana. I’m wondering if you can will make me smart. How much will the Great Resignation, sorry Kai, impact state and federal coffers in terms of loss of income tax revenue? Thanks.

Andy Uhler: What do you think Megan?

Meghan McCarty Carino: Is Kai anti-Great Resignation as a term?

Andy Uhler: I think he is. I think he’s just tired of hearing about it …

Meghan McCarty Carino: Yeah, oh, my gosh, I would say 90% of the emails that I get every day from publicists are like, someone to explain the Great Resignation. And then once in a while someone pops in like “the Great Quit.” And I’m like, woah!

Andy Uhler: Right, right.

Meghan McCarty Carino: But I think you know, so I think that what Bob is getting at, right is are all these people quitting affecting income taxes in states that rely on income tax. And I think this whole back and forth about whether to call it the Great Resignation actually gets to kind of an important point about things, which is that maybe Great Resignation is not the most descriptive for what is happening, because it’s not like, you know, tons of people are just quitting their jobs to, you know, stay home and play video games.

Andy Uhler: Some are, which is fine,

Meghan McCarty Carino: Which is totally cool. But, you know, there’s a lot of evidence that workers are actually leaving their jobs for other jobs. And, you know, we see some some of what has been driving the Great Resignation is just the competition for workers and how leverage is have been increasing. Yeah, so you can get a better deal elsewhere. Right now, you know, more so than than other times in the recent past. And hiring has still been on the upswing. We saw in December, there were about 200,000 jobs created in December, you know, pretty average compared to the before times, but we have seen continued job growth through 2021. It is the case that labor force participation remains a bit depressed from before the pandemic. But on the whole, you know, this is an economy that is growing jobs and growing incomes. So it’s not like states that depend on income tax are seeing a big drop in tax revenue. In fact, you know, states – I’m in California, and they’ve just estimated like a $45 billion surplus budget surplus, which we also had a surplus last year and sort of depending on your income, people got stimulus checks mailed to them basically refunds of taxes. So California depends really heavily on income taxes, but it’s a really progressive income tax structures. So people who make more are taxed more and we know that during the pandemic that you know, kind of the the rich have gotten richer. People who are high earners have earned even more and particularly in a tech heavy state like California. So it’s not necessarily the case at all, that, you know, income tax has suffered. And then of course, there’s other sources of taxes that that states rely on capital gains, the stock market has been, you know, maybe a few days off from Omicron. But, you know, in general, the stock market has been going pretty crazy over the last two years. So capital gains, taxes are increasing, of course, prices of almost everything are going up. So sales taxes are also increasing. And in most places, corporation tax revenue is up because corporations have been earning good profits. So this is definitely –

Andy Uhler: So it’s not just payroll taxes is what you’re saying. You’re right, we sort of, and I think about this, too, in Texas in a place that’s very, very low tax, but also very low service, which I don’t know if we say that last part enough when we’re courting businesses like Tesla to come and relocate here, we always say low tax, we don’t really always say low service. But in places like Texas, we have really high property tax bills. Right, and so those are the things that pay for schools, those are the things that and so of course, you have your income tax, and you have your sort of payroll tax. But when you think of the different taxes that are paying for different things here in Texas. It’s – your right, it’s going to be completely different from a state like California, that does rely on those state income taxes to help pay for things. It’s just it’s so funny, because thinking about states cobbling together all of the things that they have to then pay for goods and services, or pay for services that we need. It’s interesting how different so many different states have the different equations that are put together.

Meghan McCarty Carino: And that’s not to mention the $350 billion for state and local governments that were in the American Rescue Act last year, like it’s actually because many states are in pretty good shape, you know, fiscally that some cities and states have decided to reward public employees use that money to kind of give bonuses and increase salaries for public employees, because there has been this wave of retirements and resignations. And, you know, for a number of months, the, you know, over the summer, and through 2021, the public sector was really suffering because the private sector was increasing wages much faster. And it took the public sector a little while to catch up. So they’re using some of this American Rescue Act money to do that.

Andy Uhler: And you’re right,  it’s those, those employees sort of figuring out where their leverages, right, if you’re a public employee, and you get a job offer from a private employer, you say, “hey, you need to figure out how to pay me this because that’s sort of where the market is.” And it’s, again, it’s not necessarily people just resigning and sitting at home. It’s folks understanding sort of the value that they’re adding to the workplace and that there’s going to be competition for those good workers to do the work.

Meghan McCarty Carino: Totally, it’s been a crazy time to cover the workplace. Let me tell you, I mean, it just never stops. That’s it for us today. Andy and I are gonna be back tomorrow. And I’m really gonna bring it I’m gonna bring the Hollowed Out Shell Thursday energy as I always do.

Andy Uhler: Alright, in the meantime, please keep sending us your questions we’re at makemesmart@marketplace.org. You can leave us a voicemail our number is 508-827-6278 also known as 508-UB-SMART. Make Me Smart is produced by Marissa Cabrera. Marque Green. Charlton Thorp is our engineer. Tiffany Bui intern here.

Meghan McCarty Carino: Ben Tolliday and Daniel Ramirez composed our theme music they left us with it, left us all alone with only their theme music. And our senior producer is Bridget Bodnar.

Andy Uhler: Back tomorrow, right?

Meghan McCarty Carino: Yeah, back tomorrow. Crack open some tomato sauce and just go crazy.

Andy Uhler: Sure.

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