43 episodes

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.

The Uncertain Hour Marketplace

    • Government
    • 4.7 • 2K Ratings

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.

    Congratulations! You’re an entrepreneur now

    Congratulations! You’re an entrepreneur now

    Jerry Vazquez always dreamed of working for himself. So when he saw a notice in the PennySaver advertising janitorial franchises, he decided to go all in. Pretty soon after, he was in debt to the company and earning less than minimum wage doing a really dirty job. He’d wanted his own business — and on paper, he did — but it felt like something entirely different.

    Correction (Feb. 4, 2021): A previous version of this podcast description misspelled Jerry Vazquez’s name. The text has been corrected.

    • 43 min
    Who’s the boss?

    Who’s the boss?

    Jerry Vazquez was in the cleaning business now, and his clients liked him. They’d leave him notes, some with smiley faces drawn in. But, he says, he was barely getting by on the rates negotiated by Jan-Pro. He started feeling like had little control over a business that he owned. As Jerry would soon find out, some of Jan-Pro’s other franchisees felt similarly — they were stuck. So Jerry decided it was time to fight back.

    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’s word is “franchise.”

    • 45 min
    “To suffer or permit to work”

    “To suffer or permit to work”

    This week we’re finally going to tell you what happened to Jerry Vazquez — and how his story relates to the 1930s case of a hotel chambermaid. Jerry and some of his fellow Jan-Pro franchisees decided to sue the company, saying they’d been misclassified as independent contractors when they should have been employees (and entitled to minimum wage, over time, and other protections). But the argument over what defines an employee has a long and strange legal history. So, we’ll dive in and explore the origins of the federal minimum wage, why lawmakers wrote the law as broadly as they did, whom it applied to and whom it excluded. And we’ll tell you about this odd but powerful phrase, “to suffer or permit to work,” that’s at the heart of lawsuits like Jerry’s.



    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 “misclassification.”

    • 48 min
    The liquid workforce

    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.”

    • 40 min
    To catch a chicken

    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.”

    • 38 min
    Big Boss, Little Boss

    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.”

    • 35 min

Customer Reviews

4.7 out of 5
2K Ratings

2K Ratings

Shipley1 (Idk who has my name) ,

Totally engaged

Currently on the second episode of the entrepreneurship/ independent contracting set, and it has got all of my attention and just is entirely engaging and makes me want to keep listening.

nicsc3000 ,

Massive oversight

When discussing the history of servants vs. artisans, the series makes a significant error of omission by not distinguishing “servants” from slaves. Slaves have often been referred to as servants, so many do not know the subtle distinction between these terms and might lump them together, leading them to a massive misunderstanding of the institution of slavery. A simple and clear statement noting that all this employment history sits outside of the context of UNPAID labor, namely slavery, would have sufficed. Instead there is only an exceedingly passing, easy-to-miss reference to “paid labor” at the tail end of the segment as it quickly transitions forward. Deeply irresponsible.

AlliKat777 ,

Most underrated podcast

I’m genuinely surprised that this podcast isn’t more well known. It is the most balanced, fascinating educational podcast I have ever listened to. I just wish there were more episodes!

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