Category Archives: WNYC

Parting thoughts

Signs of the times

Signs of the times

Over the past 10 months, has featured some of the most poignant, informative and visual stories about communities coping in the ongoing crisis.

These stories are what make public media stand out – the voices featured from around the country and the innovative ideas that have inspired news stories.

It’s been so exciting to learn how the economy has changed over the past year – at times the stories have been hopeful and uplifting, often they’ve been upsetting and grim, but never boring.

Here’s a quick review of a few stories that continue to be relevant:

Book Club (4/12/2010) and Book Keeping (3/11/2010) Funny names of old financial texts, and a Paul Solman list of the best books on the financial crisis.

One Sixth of What? (9/22/2009) Back in September, before the health care reform legislation was passed, we examined what makes up the health care costs.

Trading Up (2/24/2010) looked at bartering’s comeback – from help with school projects to borrowing a rake from your next door neighbor.

Shifting Gears (4/2010): Tens of thousands of people work building vehicles in the U.S. And while Ford and GM are reporting that their books look better, many people are still riding the waves of the the hard transition in this industrial sector. That’s why Shifting Gears, a public radio special, will have relevance for some time to come. The latest EconomyBeat podcast features highlights from the program.

Pictures of Transition: One of the most popular aspects of the blog this past year was the weekly collection of user-generated images about the state of the economy. These powerful, witty and painful pictures illustrate the compelling drama of the recession that communities and individuals continue to navigate.

I can’t write about EconomyStory without including stories that came directly from readers, listeners and viewers in the form of comments, six-word memoirs and responses on Facebook and Twitter.

A comment from reader Carlos Tobin about bank size, one of many active discussions on Facebook:

Limiting the size of banks could hurt a innovative start up bank that wants to form and take out the banks that caused the problem. Legislation will just entrench the existing players, and stifle innovation.

And the Six-Word Memoir Project with SMITH Magazine, which collected creative tales of economic hardship. The most recent ones, posted on the SMITH site include:

Whitney Cole: Goodbye, economy. Hello, credit card debt.
Charles: Exchanged credit cards for library card
Kali: Buying a camper, not a house!

EconomyStory will continue to serve as a jumping off point for exploring all that public media has to offer. Projects like Patchwork Nation and Youth Radio aren’t going away, so the links on this site will still take you to the best coverage of the economy. However, as the EconomyStory collaboration comes to an end, this blog will no longer be updated. You can still follow the great work that the Public Radio Exchange (PRX) does at and you can follow my work on Twitter @laurahertzfeld. Thank you for all your support and input! And a big thank you to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) for making this possible.

What did they know?

Finger-pointing about the economic crisis won’t get us out of it, but Congressional hearings aim to provide some clarity around the latest analysis of the Lehman Brothers collapse and the SEC fraud charges against Goldman Sachs.

The NewsHour’s Rundown blog polled leading economists on what they would ask Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner and Federal Reserve chair Ben Bernanke ahead of the hearings.

Some of their responses:

Mark Calabria – director of financial regulation studies at the Cato Institute
Chairman Bernanke: If Lehman had been rescued what would be different today? Would employment be any higher or credit more widely available?
Russ Roberts – J. Fish and Lillian F. Smith Professor of Economics Chair, Mercatus Center, George Mason University
I would ask Ben Bernanke: What would have happened had you let Bear Stearns go bankrupt? How would that have changed Lehman’s behavior between March and September of 2008? What evidence is there that the bankruptcy of Bear Stearns would have had systemic effects?

WNYC’s The Takeaway had New York Times reporter Louise Story explain the Goldman Sachs fraud suit.

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In December, Story reported on how Goldman and other banks bet against collateralized debt organizations (CDOs), which may have worsened the housing crisis.

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What questions would you ask the Geithner and Bernanke about the financial crisis and bank regulation?

A light in Detroit

The woes of the auto industry have been well-publicized throughout this recession, and with good reason. But there are projects that show some hope in the embattled Michigan city.

WNYC’s Soundcheck music program visited the Detroit music scene and how it’s changed in the past year. Soundcheck host John Schaefer reflected in a blog post about how an arts scene can flourish in a bad economy, and the challenges existing art institutions face.

Unfortunately, the things that allow a musical underground to form don’t usually work as well for bigger arts institutions, like the Detroit Symphony Orchestra or the Detroit Institute of the Arts. So the question is, what to do about these institutions. If you just let them disappear then it becomes much harder for younger generations to acquire a taste for the so-called fine arts. Plus, there is evidence that a high-profile arts scene can be help drive a city’s economy: the so-called “Bilbao Effect,” named after the Spanish town where Frank Gehry’s Guggenheim Museum transformed the city into a major destination. And if the auto industry isn’t doing it for Detroit, something has to fill that void.

One developer in Detroit is reinvigorating interest in the area by recruiting “inchvestors” – people who are giving a small amount to one project and in return giving them a small piece of ownership in the land. Michigan Public Radio reports:

Some inchvestors have sentimental ties to the city, and they just liked the idea of having a physical stake in the place where they or their parents or grandparents grew up. But a lot of them are attracted by the project’s virtual possibilities and say Loveland is sort of like the SimCity computer game, but with real land.

PRX and public radio stations KCUR-Kansas City, WDET-Detroit, WUNC/The Story-North Carolina, WFPL-Louisville are getting ready to launch a new nationwide program, Shifting Gears, which will explore issues in the auto industry. Have a car photo or story of your own to share? Submit it to the Flickr group .

Shifting Gears will be available free for broadcast to public radio stations. More information is here.

Revisiting earthquake economics

In the months since the Haiti earthquake, tent cities have sprung up in Port-au-Prince. Frontline and NPR’s Planet Money report on the communities that have developed out of economic necessity.

Planet Money’s Adam Davidson in Haiti:

Beyond housing, various industries are also having to adjust to the new economy in Haiti. Miami Herald and WLRN reporter Niala Boodhoo visited a rum distillery, a cocoa farm, and a microfinance organization to find out how the country’s production has changed.

Boodhoo joined The Takeaway for a chat about her findings in Haiti, including the food crisis and the issue of remittances – monies sent from families abroad to help their families in Haiti.

I think the immediate problem for a lot of people is food. You have a country where 2/3 of the labor force is engaged in agriculture but is still producing less than half the food that’s needed in the country.

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The House passed health care reform late last night. What will the new legislation mean to you? What are the biggest myths surrounding the bill and what do you need to know to take advantage of the upcoming laws? Last September we looked at how much of the economy is really spent on health care. Now that a bill has passed, how will those funds shift and how will health care reform change your costs?

PBS NewsHour breaks down the basics:

The legislation will require nearly every American to carry health insurance starting in 2014 and will impose a penalty fee on those who don’t. It will set up a series of state-based insurance exchange marketplaces where people who do not have access to employer-based insurance will be able to shop for plans, and will also offer new tax subsidies to make that insurance more affordable for millions of Americans who earn up to 400 percent of the federal poverty level.

It will also impose new regulations on the insurance industry, including barring insurance companies from denying coverage to patients based on pre-existing conditions, and barring companies from using technicalities to drop customers who become ill.

Many of the bill’s provisions, such as the insurance exchange marketplaces and new subsidies, won’t go into effect until 2014. But some of the new insurance regulations will begin this year, such as a provision that allows young adults up to age 26 to stay on their parents’ plans.

Want to discuss the bill with your friends and colleagues but don’t know where to begin? PolitiFact lists the top ten facts about health care reform and dispels some pervasive myths.

The government will not take over hospitals or other privately run health care businesses. Doctors will not become government employees, like in Britain. And the U.S. government intends to help people buy insurance from private insurance companies, not pay all the bills like the single-payer system in Canada.

So what will happen? Kaiser Health News provides a consumers’ guide to health reform, detailing when various provisions will take effect and answering pressing questions about how health insurance affordability will change and what types of insurance will be available.

WNYC’s The Takeaway spoke with health care professionals and small business owners about how the changes in health care reform will affect them.

“I’m hoping that by adding 32 million people to the insurance pool that premiums will eventually come down by bending the cost curve,” John Brown, VP of Brown Furniture Company, told The Takeaway.

For more on how health care reform could change your coverage, check out this New York Times “choose your own adventure”-style interactive and follow your health care options through the bill.

You can also add a question about health care for Capitol News Connection’s reporters to ask on the Hill.

If you have a health care story or thoughts on how reform could help or hurt your current situation that you’d like to share with EconomyStory, please add it in the comments below. We’ll be featuring stories from readers during the coming weeks.