In “The Uncertain Hour” podcast, host Krissy Clark dives into one controversial topic each season to bust longstanding myths about our economy and shed light on opaque realities of the world we live in. Given that nothing is more uncertain than our present economic outlook due to COVID-19, the team is launching a new series of pop-up episodes to help listeners understand this moment.
“A History of Now” explores the key economic themes that are impacting our lives in new ways due to COVID-19. From the history of quarantine to how we handle unemployment and the holes in our social safety net, the team unpacks complex topics to explain what’s happening in this economy and how income and class will likely determine your fate.
Clark and producer Caitlin Esch of the Marketplace Wealth & Poverty Desk make a dynamic, experienced reporting team. Clark is an award-winning senior correspondent who brings curiosity, playfulness and empathy to the task of making sense of fundamental shifts in the U.S. economy, including the widening gap between rich and poor, and what this means for economic mobility and the American dream. Esch has deep roots in public media; her stories have aired on NPR news, NPR’s “Weekend All Things Considered,” KQED, KCRW and KPCC. She has a master’s degree in journalism from University of California, Berkeley, and a bachelor’s in English literature from George Washington University. Find “The Uncertain Hour” wherever you get your podcasts.
Answering your “History of Now” questions
We’ve spent the past five weeks trying to make sense of this moment, where the inequalities of our society have been suddenly set in high relief. In that time, you all have written in with a bunch of questions big and small. Today, we’re going to cap off this pop-up season by answering a few of them. Questions like: What would chicken cost if plant workers got better wages and benefits? And how did health insurance get tied to our jobs anyway? We’ll also look back at two very clear moments, both after pandemics, when economic inequality started to fall dramatically.
Thanks so much to everyone who listened and sent in questions. We’ll be back later this year with new episodes. Until, then, there’s always our first three seasons.
Without a home in a pandemic
On any given night last year, half a million people in the United States were experiencing homelessness, and more than 60% of them were staying in emergency shelters or transitional housing programs. Now, those same facilities are hot spots for COVID-19. It’s hard to social distance when you’re cramped, sharing bedrooms and sharing locker-room style communal showers. Today, we’ll look back at the history of how America has sheltered unhoused people, and how those approaches can make it hard for them to get back on their feet even when there’s not a pandemic going on.
There are cracks in the foundation of our housing system
The COVID-19 pandemic arrived at a moment when the gap between rich and poor in this country had hit a record high. One place that inequality is most visible is in the neighborhoods where we live. Generations of discriminatory housing policy, and lending practices that favored white borrowers, have entrenched segregation in American cities. This week, we’ll examine the housing policies that emerged from past economic crises, policies that excluded black people and other people of color, preventing them from building the wealth that middle class white families built.
Unemployment benefits are hard to get. That’s on purpose.
Millions of Americans who are out of work don’t receive unemployment benefits. That’s by design. Today, we’ll look at the history of the United States’ unemployment insurance system, how this country defines “unemployment,”and why the program was never intended to cover everyone who’s not working.
An unequal history of quarantines
As long as there’s been such a thing as quarantine, each person’s experience under it has depended largely on their economic status. On this week’s show, we take a tour of quarantines through history, from the bubonic plague outbreaks in 14th and 17th century Italy, to the a typhoid outbreak in New York in the early 1900s and a few other stops along the way. Those quarantines looked very different if you were, say, an immigrant, or a Jewish textile merchant, or a sex worker.
Crises like the COVID-19 pandemic shine a spotlight on all the inequalities already lurking in the system, and ideas of what the government owes to people in quarantine have changed over the centuries too. Long gone are the days of the government sending your family fennel sausage, cheese and wine to make it through.
You’re an essential worker. Do you get essential protections?
Chicken is America’s most popular meat. But chicken supply chains — in fact, many of our food supply chains — are in danger of breaking down. Part of the reason is the workers who process and package those goods are getting sick. In some cases, they’re dying.
For the first episode of our new season, “A History of Now,” we focused on America’s chicken supply chain because it raises a huge, looming question: How is it that essential workers don’t have essential protections? How do we get through a crisis — any crisis — if we can’t be sure our food-producing workforce is safe?