Category Archives: Marketplace: Multimedia Series

On-air and online features that bring broad economic news to life, such as Opportunity Gap and The Borrowers.

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.

Ripe for recession

Strawberries/Credit: Flickr/ClayIrving

Strawberries/Credit: Flickr/ClayIrving

Every Tuesday, I cook dinner with a friend of mine to save some money by cooking at home and improving our kitchen skills. This week is her turn at the stove, but I’m bringing strawberries for dessert. Why? Well, in the spirit of frugal cooking, imagine my excitement when I saw strawberries for 88 cents a pound at my local supermarket. I was pretty stoked, but with a little research learned that low prices for me means bad news for strawberry farmers as the height of the season approaches.

It’s the cold winter on the east coast that’s permitted Florida strawberries to flood the market, just as California’s growing season gets underway. Marketplace’s Kai Ryssdal spoke with Plant City, Florida farmer Gary Wishnatzki about the surplus.

Typically in mid-February growers will plant in the same bed spring crop like melons, eggplant, tomatoes or cucumbers, but by late March the two crops begin to compete for room and at that point the grower will just come in and twist off the strawberry plants to give the spring crop room to grow. This year the extended cold slowed the strawberry harvest down.

Savings blog WalletPop also picked up on the strawberry bounty, reporting that prices in Ohio are also low, coming in at around $2.50 per pint. WalletPop even had some suggestions of what to make if you (like me) have found yourself with a fridge full of strawberries.

How can you take advantage of the deals being offered in local groceries? One of my favorites is freezer jam, which avoids all that messy pouring of wax caps. By the same process you can make a killer ice-cream topping by thinning down the mix.

One WalletPop writer took her bounty and managed to make strawberry tacos (or galettes, if you’re more Martha).

While strawberry prices have crashed this year, the cost of land to grow them on is still high. Why is that, if real estate prices in urban and industrial areas are still dropping due to the mortgage crisis? PBS NewsHour’s Paul Solman found out why from agricultural economist Gerald Nelson:

Agricultural land is driven by future agricultural prices. And while we are off the highs of 2008, agricultural prices are still high and the expectation is that they will continue to be high.

Have you seen other unexpected deals on produce this season at your local store?

Many happy returns

It’s that time of year again. The time when all the procrastinators start fretting April 15: tax day. Paying taxes isn’t what most of us would consider fun, but here are some great resources for getting your filing in on time and taking advantage of credits along the way.

Nightly Business Report’s Tax Tips with Kevin McCormally of Kiplinger’s Finance reviews the best ways to get the most out of your possible credits. This week he explores college tax credits:

For 2009, the hope credit is replaced by a more valuable American opportunity credit for most students. The new credit is worth up to $2,500 for up to four years of college. If you paid bills for three undergrads last year, you could knock $7,500 off your tax bill. And if you earned too much in the past to qualify for the hope credit, don’t give up hope for the American opportunity credit.

Now that it’s crunch time, should you still try to file on your own, or is it worth it to hire an accountant? NPR’s Tamara Keith asked Facebook fans of NPR to tell their stories of tax preparation, including this one from David Falcheck, who is happy to go it alone:

“This year I think I really got over the hump and it took me less time than I thought it was going to take,” says Falchek. But there was a time when Falchek decided his taxes had gotten too complicated to handle on his own.

And there are several stories of marital tension (and at least one of bliss) about tax season:

In Lincoln, Neb., Jody Boyce and her husband do their taxes together on the same date every year. The tradition started several years ago… But taxes don’t spell romance for everyone. One person who commented said she and her husband turned to an accountant after doing their own taxes caused the ugliest argument in their eight-year relationship.

Whether you’re an early starter who has already filed and put your refund safely in the bank, or you’re still procrastinating, here are some tips from Marketplace about how we can all do better end-of-year planning in 2010.

Former Wall Street Journal tax columnist Tom Herman suggests:

Start by taking a fresh look at your investments. Focus on your losers, that are now selling for less than you paid for them. If you were thinking of dumping them between now and the year end, this is a good time to do it. I know that it’s painful to admit you’ve lost money on a stock.

Shorting out

This month’s Vanity Fair magazine was devoted to money – specifically those who benefited from the financial fallout and where they are now. How’s all that financial reform coming?

WAMU’s Diane Rehm spoke with journalist Michael Lewis, author of The Big Short and a Vanity Fair contributor, who wrote about bankers who earned huge windfalls from lofty investments during the recession.

Lewis told an audience last week:

“I was walking into a story that was very heavy, and in explaining the financial crisis, I was going to have readers wading through stuff that they wouldn’t really understand,” Lewis said. “There were a handful of people who had foreseen the crisis coming. It was a very small universe. They didn’t know each other. I tried to meet every one of them … Then I picked people from this universe who could tell the story.

At the major banks, cutting salaries was the public-facing way of showing that living off the financial woes of the rest of the country was going to have to change. Marketplace reports that while executive salaries at the major banks were cut by about 15 percent this year, that hasn’t been steep enough to force the people who were benefiting the most from shady deals out of those jobs.

Namely that about 85 percent of the individuals who had their pay set are still at their desk working for these very five same companies. This is strong evidence that the pay determinations are not resulting in some sort of brain drain from these companies.

To Wall Street’s chagrin, the Obama administration is looking at Elizabeth Warren, a Harvard bankruptcy expert and critic of the financial industry to head a new consumer protection agency.

The Senate Finance Committee is also responding to fears about soaring executive pay and irresponsible lending (by analyzing how banks and the risk they assume are regulated. NewsHour reports on the GOP side of that debate.

Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala: “…we’re all consumers. We don’t want anybody exploited in this country. Some — the states regulate a lot of things today. Will the federal government regulate them in the future? We’re not sure yet. But the main thing is to create a level playing field for all consumers.”

Despite regulation efforts, there’s still a lot of resentment out there. shares a messy sentiment – literally a pile of dirt left in the lobby of major bank JP Morgan Chase – from the blog I Ought to be Working.

What’s Greek to us

Greece is in major debt and the ancient country is facing some very modern problems trying to get out. As a newer member of the eurozone, the European countries who have adopted the euro as their one currency, more financially stable nations like Germany and France are nervous about the implications coming to Greece’s aid.

NewsHour’s Judy Woodruff spoke with Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou about what his country needs from the U.S. and how Greece got into its current financial situation.

Marketplace commentator David Frum of the American Enterprise Institute falls on the side of questioning the expansion of the eurozone. He notes that the weaker countries in the eurozone are making sacrifices to stay in the club, and this approach will not help them succeed in the long run.

These governments — and others in Europe — are accepting higher unemployment in order to defend their currency…And yet, while Spain’s socialist government has seen its poll numbers drop, neither Spain, nor Greece, nor Portugal, nor Ireland is experiencing serious public pressure to quit the euro.To the leaders of these countries, the euro means Europe, and Europe means prosperity, stability, democracy, and peace.

How will the Greek crisis affect your investments here in the U.S.? Nightly Business Report spoke with foreign exchange experts on why investors here should care.

Standard & Poors analyst Alec Young:
Europe and the UK represent about two thirds of overseas market capitalizations. So anybody that owns an international mutual fund or an international ETF, there’s a very good chance, if it’s broadly diversified, that they do have significant exposure to Europe and to the UK.

Some experts say that while Greece is having trouble and there is a threat to other struggling eurozone nations, the fears about the global economy’s stability as a whole are secondary.

NPR’s Corey Flintoff spoke with economist Joseph Stiglitz:

The Greek crisis has contributed to the general air of uncertainty in international financial markets… Greece is one of five euro zone countries now struggling with big national debts. “The major implications are for Greece, Spain, Portugal, Italy and Ireland and therefore in some sense for all of Europe,” says Stiglitz, a Nobel Prize-winning economist at Columbia University.
The problems in the euro zone could impact the U.S., too, Stiglitz says, especially if they dampen sales of U.S. exports to Europe.