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Wealth & Poverty from Marketplace APM

The Marketplace Wealth and Poverty Desk explores money and class, where we came from and where our country is going economically, thanks to funding from the Ford Foundation. We want to hear your stories, ideas, and questions to help us create great journalism about the growing concentration of wealth in the United States. We’ll report on the forces and policies that led to the wealth gap. We’ll look at what the consequences are, good or bad, for our families and communities. We’ll be asking you what economic choices our country should make.

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Welcome to Wise County

It’s the deadliest drug epidemic our country has ever faced. We go to ground zero, where “nothing changes except for the drug.”


4 Apr 2019

Rank #1

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Welfare's role in alternative to abortion programs.

This August will present a milestone: 20 years since welfare reform. The federal government overhauled the cash assistance program for poor families, replacing it with a new system called Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, or TANF.Among the biggest changes, states now control their welfare spending out of a set amount received from the federal government each year. Krissy Clark from our Wealth and Poverty Desk has been on a road trip of sorts for our new podcast, the Uncertain Hour, to see just how states across the country use their welfare block grants.Today's stop is Indiana. In 2015, Governor Mike Pence authorized $3.5 million in federal TANF funds for the support of crisis pregnancy centers. These organizations provide information and services like free ultrasounds and counseling to pregnant women. Brandi David, 26, had seen a billboard hundreds of times in her life, a picture of a concerned-looking woman over a bright pink background that read, "Pregnant? We Can Help." One day about two years ago, she found herself pregnant and looking for help, and called the number listed. Brandi was seeking an abortion, but did not know until she was inside the organization that advertised by the highway — Women's Care Center — that she would neither get much information or a referral there. To hear the full story, including a tour of Women's Care Center and the story of a woman seeking help who decided to keep her child, listen to The Uncertain Hour.


23 Jun 2016

Rank #2

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George H.W. Bush and his baggie of crack

It was the perfect political prop: drugs seized by government agents right across the street from the White House, just in time for a big presidential address. The reality was more complicated.


21 Mar 2019

Rank #3

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Millennials, like Baby Boomers, struggle with lifelong debt

A recent survey points out that one in 10 millennials thinks they will die in debt.Click the audio player above to hear the full story.


21 Jan 2019

Rank #4

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What happened to Keith?

One day, early in the semester, Keith Jackson didn’t show up to class. He’d been arrested for selling crack, but for his classmates, that wasn’t the surprising part.


22 Mar 2019

Rank #5

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The drug bust and the trial were a “farce,” but the full force of the law still came down on Keith Jackson — and thousands of people like him. That didn’t end the crack epidemic, so what did?


28 Mar 2019

Rank #6

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Millions of workers don't do 9 to 5. So where's the child care?

Most nights for Chardae Smith, a 33-year-old single mom in Pittsburgh, start with dropping off her baby at ABK Learning and Development Center around 10:30 p.m. to make it to work by 11.Smith does overnight home health care for people with disabilities. It was easy getting the job — but finding safe, affordable care for her son? She said that was “very hard. The medical field is 24 hours. There's no certain day shift, evening shift, you work around the clock. So you need child care around the clock.”These days, 40 percent of Americans work nontraditional hours, many of them on-demand in low-wage, part-time jobs. Yet, less than 10 percent of child care centers offer care during nights and weekends. Before Smith found ABK, she felt trapped. “It was kind of heartbreaking because you go to a job interview, you get the job and you can't find a child care, so you have to turn the job down. It kind of turns your world upside down,” she said.Work scheduling has become increasingly unpredictable, according to Kathleen Gerson, a sociologist at New York University who has spent decades studying labor and child care.“If you were to time travel back even a decade or so ago and asked people about 24-hour day care, they would have looked at you with a combination of puzzlement and horror,” she said.That’s because of changes that have occurred in the past decade, particularly with the growth of the health care industry and online shopping. Even though some states and cities have passed legislation that require employers to make schedules in advance, not all employers do so. For many workers, “Their hours vary from day to day, from week to week," said Susan Lambert, a professor at the University of Chicago. "So it's not just the timing. It's also not being able to predict when you'll work. Or how much you'll earn.”  Lesely Crawford, who runs ABK, understands why there aren’t many 24/7 centers.“It's not like there's this huge amount of money ... this pot of gold at the end that you're going to get as a result of it,” she said.At her center, parents pay around $40 a day for care, and she has to cover rent, insurance and additional labor costs. The 24/7 child care model is especially hard because when employers give workers irregular schedules, then their need for child care is irregular.  “That means that day care is also going to be having revenues that are irregular,” explained Lonnie Golden, an economist at Pennsylvania State University.Crawford of ABK, who is in her 50s, said operating an all-day business takes a certain type.  “I could be as tired as ever, but when I know its time for me to get up and go to the day care, I spring out the bed,” she said.Because even if she’s done juggling the late-night drop-offs and pickups, the early morning crowd is never far behind.


14 Jan 2019

Rank #7

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It’s not easy being an undercover cop in a county of just 40,000 people. But drugs were making it hard for Bucky Culbertson to run his business, so he made it his business to get rid of drugs.


11 Apr 2019

Rank #8

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Confronting a crisis: The hard truths about American retirement

With a resume that includes a Harvard MBA, a position at the World Bank and a stint as an entrepreneur, Elizabeth White didn't expect to be unprepared for retirement. She also didn't expect to find so many people in her same position: broke, underemployed and part of America's retirement crisis. Her new book is called "55, Underemployed, and Faking Normal: Your Guide to a Better Life." The following is an edited transcript of her conversation with Marketplace's Amy Scott. Amy Scott: "Faking Normal" comes from your own experience with underemployment. What made you decide to write this book?Elizabeth White: I had a really cool career. Worked at the World Bank, was an entrepreneur. And then the 2008-2009 Great Recession hit. I went from a very good income to zero. At a point of just despair, I wrote an essay, and that essay described what it's like to land here. Since it's not yet really a national conversation, and all the stories we have on retirement are the beaming boomers clinking champagne glasses on a cruise, or they're eating cat food under a bridge. There's sort of no middle.Scott: But the middle you found was a lot of people like you who had been very successful and suddenly found that the job market wasn't working for them and they didn't have enough retirement savings. What did you find has led to this phenomenon? Was it a matter of individual failure to plan and to save or something systemic?White: We all could have saved more. And I always say that. So there's absolutely an individual aspect. But when there are tens of millions of people who have landed here, and you look at things like disappearing pensions, escalating cost of housing and health care. And I tell people if you rifle through my life, you'll see all kinds of dumb things I did, but we are not primarily here because of too many trips to Starbucks.Scott: And you mention in the book that it's much worse for women. We're expected to live longer and on less money. Even Social Security benefits are smaller for women, and especially for women of color. Why is that?White: We are often in and out of the workforce, taking care of children and taking care of parents, not getting the same kinds of advancement opportunities. This sort of inequality accumulates over a lifetime. So you have higher numbers of women, 65 and over, living in poverty or are destitute.Scott: You offer a lot of solutions in the book, but some of them might be a little bit hard to swallow for people who have had successful careers and may not want to apply for food stamps. But you write that only a third of seniors who qualify for food stamps actually apply. What are some of the surprising fixes that you found?White: I had to learn to get off my throne. And this is not easy when you've just been comfortable most of your adult life. So I tried to look around at opportunities that are out there, both in housing and income, and when it gets very dire, like food stamps. Because many of us are going to have to really take a hard look at how we live, and do we need a roommate? And altogether in the book I think I counted 125 online resources that I've identified.Scott: You wrote this viral essay, you had a really successful TED talk and now this book. How are you doing now?White: You know, it's still a bit feast or famine. But the light that I see at the end of the tunnel, I now don't think it's a train barreling down on me. It's not a path I would have chosen. But I feel like I'm on the path I'm supposed to be on.


31 Dec 2018

Rank #9

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Seniors are still struggling to recover after the financial crisis

A high-rise for seniors isn't where Kathy Stevens, 67, expected to live at this point in her life. Her place has a small kitchen and living area and an accordion door she can pull to close off the space where her bed stands. She pays $840 a month in rent, which includes utilities and a daily dinner.  She says the apartment is fine. But after getting an MBA from Harvard University, a long career in financial services and saving about a million dollars in a retirement account, she expected to have a more comfortable retirement. “I did all the right things. I saved my money. I didn't waste it on you know a big big house or big car or whatever,” she said.Along the way she raised two foster sons and supported them into adulthood, using some of her retirement savings to help them go into business. She was also planning to send her grandchildren to college. Then, in 2008, the financial crisis hit.“And now all of a sudden you know like 35 percent of my money is just gone — like vanished. It was really bad. It was shock. There’s no other word for it. It was a shock," she said. After 10 years of scaling back, she now lives on about $2,500 a month. The economic collapse was a shock to nearly everyone. Millions of people lost their jobs and their homes. It would take years for many of them to recover, if they recovered at all. But for those closest to retirement, or who were pushed out of the workforce early, “It meant that you never had the time to make that up,” said Teresa Ghilarducci, an economist at the New School for Social Research. She said the reality for nearly half a generation of newly minted seniors — and those on their way, “is that you are downwardly mobile.”Or worse. The number of seniors filing for bankruptcy has nearly doubled since 2007 to a record high of 12 percent, part of it driven by the financial crisis; another part by mounting debt for things like medical care, mortgage loans and credit card bills.While bankruptcy can be a fresh debt-free start, “the pickle is for older people that's highly unlikely,” said Deborah Thorne with the Consumer Bankruptcy Project. She said that on top of the financial crisis, seniors were also confronting another fundamental shift in the economy as managed pensions gave way to 401(k)s, where individuals manage their own retirement savings.“This is the generation where we're really seeing the fallout from the transition to individuals being responsible for that,” she said, because it’s a skill to know how much to save and “when they're supposed to withdraw and what amount. And I think that most people don't know how to go about that.”  Take Larry Testerman, a 73-year-old air force vet. He had a successful career in marketing and put two sons through college. But in the early 2000s, he was laid off from an $85,000 a year job and got divorced. He was also caring for his ailing mother.“I probably was not able to look after my investments in my retirement accounts as I should have should have been and perhaps should have just sold them all out promptly when things started declining,” he said.He lost half his retirement savings and went back to work, stocking shelves at grocery stores. But he still couldn’t make his mortgage payments. His Arizona condo wasn’t worth its pre-crisis price and it went into foreclosure. Now, he drives a shuttle bus at a ski resort in Utah for $10.60 an hour and spends part of the year in employee housing.“The space that I'm living in is a room that has a bathroom and a set of bunk beds in it with me sleeping on the bottom and other person sleeping on top,” he said.Lots of Testerman’s co-workers are around his age. These days nearly 20 percent of seniors work part-time, low wage jobs — a number expected to rise.“In 10 years I'm going to be 83 years old and I don’t know if I’m going to be able to be able to be hired by a ski resort to come up here even if I’m able,” he said. “I don't kno...


19 Dec 2018

Rank #10