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Cardiff Garcia

Happy Jobs Friday! Employers added 196,000 jobs to the economy in March, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today. The unemployment rate is 3.8%, and wages grew by 3.2% since last March.

Plus, middle and high-wage industries have faster jobs growth than low-wage ones, but low-wage industries are seeing faster wage growth.

Peter Lorentzen is an economist at the University of San Francisco. He spoke with Cardiff Garcia about a paper he wrote on the effects of the Chinese government crackdown on corruption — and whether it was an attempt by Xi Jinping to consolidate his authority or a sincere effort to make the Chinese government bureaucracy work better.

Consumer confidence has been falling lately. Not by a ton, but it's at its second lowest rate in a year. It's measured by the Conference Board, which crunches a bunch of data and issues a Consumer Confidence Index (CCI) every month. Because consumer spending makes up roughly 70 percent of the economy, economists and politicians pay a lot attention to the way consumers feel, and regard the CCI as an important gauge of the health of the economy.

There's a big debate going on right now about the economy: whether it's headed for a downturn, or in good health. Today on The Indicator, Cardiff and Stacey lay out both sides.

Music by Drop Electric. Find us: Twitter/ Facebook.

Copyright 2019 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

The global market for diamond jewelry is worth $80 billion a year. Money is flooding into this industry, but why when demand for diamonds isn't as lustrous as it once was? Cardiff Garcia and Sally Herships have more from the Planet Money podcast The Indicator.

We love getting listener mail! Seriously. And on today's episode, we're taking on some of your latest questions. For example: why does a dry cleaner in Maryland have its customers pay when they drop off their laundry, not when they pick it up? Is it better to buy a house or invest in the stock market? And we have more on the "Rip It" energy drink mentioned in our recent episode about dollar stores.

Some of the work we referenced in this piece:

Gabriela Saade is a 27-year-old economist living in Caracas. Every day, she pores over data about her country: poverty rates, population movement, government revenue. Today on the show, she gives us three indicators that tell us about the crisis happening in her country.

Music by Drop Electric. Find us: Twitter/ Facebook.

Tyler Cowen is an economics professor at George Mason University and a columnist at Bloomberg Opinion. He hosts the podcast "Conversations with Tyler," and his new book is called "Big Business."

Today on The Indicator, we play "Overrated, Underrated," a game we stole from him (with his permission!) We hear his take on work from the late, libertarian economist Milton Friedman, dual-class voting shares, and neighbors.

Why Are Venezuelans Starving?

Mar 20, 2019

People are starving in Venezuela. There isn't enough food. What little food that is available is becoming increasingly expensive due to hyperinflation. The result is a humanitarian crisis.

But it wasn't always that way. In the past two decades, Venezuela's leaders have turned a country that was one rich in agriculture into an economy focused almost entirely on the production of oil. And when the price of oil tanked, so did Venezuelans' ability to access food.

Today on The Indicator, how this came to be.

This week's news stories about corruption and cheating in the college admissions process is an eye-opening lesson in how much people value getting their children into certain schools.

Lori Loughlin, who played Aunt Becky on the TV sitcom Full House, paid $500,000 to get her two daughters into the University of Southern California. That seemed like a lot to us... and raised the question: is a slot at a top-tier university worth that kind of money?

Saying 'I Do' To Lab-Grown Diamonds

Mar 14, 2019

The global market for diamond jewelry is worth $80 billion dollars a year. Money is pouring into the industry, but why - when demand for diamonds isn't as sparkly as it once was?

There's a new player in the space that might change the market in the near future. It's a different kind of diamond – one grown in a lab. But man-made rocks come with some big marketing problems. Traditionally, luxury products are about scarcity – not accessibility. And, unlike other consumers, high end shoppers can be attracted to high prices.

Attention is a scarce resource. So are concentration and mental energy. But how do our brains decide which stimuli will attract these scarce resources? Enter cognitive economics. A new field in economics that borrows from neuroscience and psychology. Mathematician-turned-cognitive economist Leigh Caldwell joins to explain how it works.

Dollar stores — they sell everything from holiday decorations to groceries to Skittles-scented candles. The business proposition: a grab bag of items for a dollar (or around a dollar). These stores thrived during the financial crisis, but their success in the post-Recession era has been a mixed bag.

Dollar General and Family Dollar (now owned by Dollar Tree), two of the dollar store titans, have been at the center of this. These companies each took a bet: whether they could grow their businesses by keeping everything priced at $1, or by leaving the dollar behind.

Gender segregation is the idea that jobs in some occupations are overwhelmingly done by men, while jobs in other occupations are overwhelmingly done by women. Today on The Indicator, our friend Martha Gimbel from the Indeed Hiring Lab tells us why that's a big deal for women, men, and the economy as a whole.

Some of the studies, articles, and research used for this episode:

From academic journals, think tanks, and other research groups:

Copyright 2019 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

5 Misconceptions About The Chinese Economy

Mar 4, 2019

China's economy is changing fast and it's tough to keep up. We look at five common misconceptions about the world's second largest economy, with the help of China expert Nicholas R. Lardy from the Peterson Institute for International Economics. Understanding how China's economy has shifted since the financial crisis and why it's slowing down may help shed light on what's going on in the current trade negotiations between China and the U.S..

"Neoliberalism." At its root, it's the belief when national and international institutions support free trade — of goods, ideas, and capital — it'll lead to prosperity. This ideology started in the 1930s, but hit its stride in the 1970s.

Lately, "neoliberalism" has become a loaded term. Some say neoliberalism has made the world more free and interconnected. Others argue neoliberalism has done a lot of damage, like exacerbating inequality.

Today on the show, we ask: what does "neoliberalism" really mean?

The periodic requirement for Congress to vote on raising the debt ceiling has become a reliable piece of political theater. The vote usually follows the passage of a budget by the Congress, and a hike in the debt ceiling rarely gets a green light without some drama.

It's a little like a person who orders up a five course dinner and drinks and then threatens not to pay when the bill arrives. But, this political theater invariably ends the same way: Congress raises the debt ceiling. Treasury pays the bills. Everyone moves on.

The CEO of the streaming service Netflix recently told the company's shareholders something surprising: that Netflix faces more competition from Fortnite, the online video game, than from HBO, the television channel. So are movies, TV shows and streaming videos really in competition with video games? And if so, who's winning?

Millions of Americans have used payday loans. These are small, short-term loans known for charging staggering interest rates — sometimes in the 300 to 400% range.

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