Each season, we explain the weird, complicated and often unequal American economy — and why some people get ahead and some get left behind. Host Krissy Clark dives into obscure policies and forgotten histories to explain why America is like it is.
The latest season examines this thing we used to call employment: what happened to it, why it happened and what a workforce made up of “nonemployees” means for our future.
25 years after welfare reform, let’s revisit “the magic bureaucrat”
It’s been 25 years since our country upended its welfare system – and so we’re looking back at our very first episode.
We spent that first season of “The Uncertain Hour” reflecting deeply on what welfare had become. Each of those episodes can still help us understand what’s happened to one of our nation’s oldest safety net programs, on this anniversary of its so-called “reform.”
In this reprise episode, we tell the story of the “Magic Bureaucrat” — the former director of a suburban county welfare office who helped launched the welfare reform movement 25 years ago, with the aid of a self-produced pop album.
Check out the whole first season to learn more — from the story of a woman who exposed the racism built into the welfare system from its early days, to an investigation of some of the very surprising ways states have spent federal welfare funds in the last 25 years. Money has gone to marriage counseling workshops, college scholarships for middle-class families and religious “crisis pregnancy centers” that try to steer women away from abortions.
My boss is an app
The gig-app workforce has arrived at our doorstep. But Silicon Valley’s innovations in hiring are only the latest round of this long-running battle over what employment means in the American economy.
This concludes our fifth season of “The Uncertain Hour.” To be the first to hear about our next season, subscribe to our mailing list.
In minor league baseball, professional athletes train, suit up and play for wages that would be illegal in most sectors. Players live in crowded apartments, sleep on air mattresses, work side jobs and scrape by. This week, a story about life in the minor leagues and how the baseball industry convinced Congress to rewrite federal law — and carve an entire workforce out of minimum wage and overtime requirements.
For even more of “The Uncertain Hour,” subscribe to our newsletter! Each week we’ll bring you a note from host Krissy Clark and explain some terms that have come up in our reporting. This week we’re looking at the Save America’s Pastime Act.
Big Boss, Little Boss
After Jimmy Nicks’ job was subcontracted, he took both companies to court — the subcontractor he worked for and its client, Koch Foods. The “little boss” and the “big boss.” His case hinged in part on those familiar six words, “to suffer or permit to work,” and this week we’ll revisit their origins. The story begins at the scene of a deadly fire at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory, where one witness would go on to devote her life’s work to prevent such tragedies from happening again. A century later, the law she helped craft, the Fair Labor Standards Act, served as the legal basis for Jimmy’s case — and others.
For even more of “The Uncertain Hour,” subscribe to our newsletter! Each week we’ll bring you a note from host Krissy Clark and explain some terms that have come up in our reporting. This week we’re looking at “sweating system.”
To catch a chicken
When chicken catcher Jimmy Nicks’ job was subcontracted, virtually overnight, he started doing the same job for a new boss — only without the pay, protections and benefits he’d come to rely on. This episode looks at the subcontracting system that makes worker pay and safety someone else’s responsibility.
For even more of “The Uncertain Hour,” subscribe to our newsletter! Each week we’ll bring you a note from host Krissy Clark and explain some terms that have come up in our reporting. This week we’re looking at “piece rate.”
The liquid workforce
Over a quarter of the world’s largest employers don’t just make or sell products — they also rent out workers. Let’s talk about how we got here.
For even more of “The Uncertain Hour,” subscribe to our newsletter! Each week we’ll bring you a note from host Krissy Clark and explain some terms that have come up in our reporting. This week we’re looking at “core competence.”
Making Bureaucracy Interesting (really)
Ever wonder how regulations get made or how to apply for welfare or how gig workers can make a living? Real life stories of people and the government.