Stacey Vanek Smith

Stacey Vanek Smith is the co-host of NPR's The Indicator from Planet Money. She's also a correspondent for Planet Money, where she covers business and economics. In this role, Smith has followed economic stories down the muddy back roads of Oklahoma to buy 100 barrels of oil; flew to Pune, India, to track down the man who pitched the country's dramatic currency devaluation to the prime minister; and spoke with a North Korean woman who made a small fortune smuggling artificial sweetener in from China.

Prior to coming to NPR, Smith worked for Marketplace, where she was a correspondent and fill-in host. While there, Smith was part of a collaboration with The New York Times, where she explored the relationship between money and marriage. She was also part of Marketplace's live shows, where she produced a series of pieces on getting her data mined.

Smith is a native of Idaho and grew up working on her parents' cattle ranch. She is a graduate of Princeton University, where she earned a bachelor's degree in comparative literature and creative writing. She also holds a master's in broadcast journalism from Columbia University.

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The Trump administration had a plan to save the coal industry, but a panel headed by a Trump appointee rejected that plan. Stacey Vanek Smith co-hosts the Planet Money podcast The Indicator, where she's been reporting on the threats to the coal industry.

You may already know the headline jobs numbers the government released this morning: The unemployment rate held steady last month at 4.1 percent. The economy added 148,000 jobs.

But these numbers are just the surface of the monthly jobs report; the report has a huge amount of information about how the job market is working (or not working) for people in different industries, and different age groups.

For the last several months, Congress was almost all tax bill almost all the time. Lots of regular business got postponed.

As a result, there is an insane amount of economic policymaking that has to be done by both Congress and the president by the end of the month.

From tariffs to immigration to funding for the military and social programs, the next 27 days are going to be huge.

Two years ago, international sanctions against Iran were largely lifted. People expected the economy to come surging back. But so far, it's been a disappointment. Unemployment is high. Prices are rising. Corruption is persistent. A surge in the price of eggs was the last straw.

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Destruction tends to happen quickly; progress is often gradual.

This combination of sudden, bad things and slow, good things can mess up the way we see the world. We notice the sudden but miss the gradual. The nature of daily (hourly, minutely) news only adds to the perception problem.

What would happen if, instead of getting constant news updates, we only got a news update once every 50 years?

Today's Indicator is 50. We're dreaming up a newspaper that comes out once every 50 years. What goes on the front page?

Spoiler alert: It's not all bad news.

At The Indicator, we've been covering numbers in the news for literally weeks now. And we've hit some of the big stories — sexual harassment, jobs, taxes.

For today's show, we decided to do something a little different: Stacey and Cardiff looked back over 2017 and picked one indicator each — not necessarily the biggest or most important indicator, but one that stood out for one reason or another. These may not be the indicators of the year. But they're our indicators of the year.

Our own Stacey Vanek Smith had to pay through the nose to fly home for Christmas. And not just because it was Christmas — her ticket was way more expensive than usual.

As we say in the news business: Stacey is not alone. Airfare dynamics have changed a ton in the past few years.

On today's show: Why it's getting cheaper to fly to some types of cities and more expensive to fly to others. Also: Why Stacey will probably get a better deal next year.

Note: This episode originally ran in 2015.

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Thirty-seven years ago, sexual harassment in the workplace became illegal. That led to the creation of the first harassment training videos. This one, called "Power Pinch," is narrated by a man sitting in a bar.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "POWER PINCH")

This month, The Virginia Department of Transportation added a new toll on a 10-mile stretch of highway that connects the Virginia suburbs with Washington, DC. The toll varies according to traffic — and it's been spiking much higher than many people expected. At one point last week, it spiked all the way to $44.

There is a beautiful, econ 101 logic behind a toll that spikes when demand spikes. On today's show, we talk to an economist who commutes on this road — and who thinks we need to go beyond econ 101 to really understand the toll.

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Voters in swing states are used to being inundated by political ads, but it is not just the usual suspects this year. Stacey Vanek Smith from our Planet Money podcast followed the money to find the most expensive voter in America.

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A revolution is underway in television. Cable companies are getting rid of huge bundles of channels in favor of leaner, more tailored packages. Stacey Vanek Smith, of our Planet Money podcast, takes a look at the many effects of unbundling.

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Transcript

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Even the most creative jobs have parts that are pretty routine — tasks that, at least in theory, can be done by a machine. Take, for example, being a reporter.

A company called Automated Insights created a program called WordSmith that generates simple news stories based on things like sporting events and financial news. The stories are published on Yahoo! and via the Associated Press, among other outlets.

We wanted to know: How would NPR's best stack up against the machine?

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On Sept. 9, BJ Holloway's life savings were stolen. Six cows worth about $10,000 were taken in the dead of the night from his land in Spencer, Okla.

BJ started raising cows when he was just a teenager. His parents gave him the first two, and he raised those until they had calves he could sell off to buy some more. Over the years, he kept doing that, breeding the cows and selling off the little ones. Raising cows is a business for BJ, and all of his savings are wrapped up in them, which made the theft of the cows absolutely devastating.

A law passed to protect the Union army in the Civil War is one of the key tools federal officials have used to collect tens of billion in corporate fines this year.

During the Civil War, the army relied heavily on private contractors for necessities like uniforms, shoes, and gunpowder. Those contractors often cut corners.