Marilyn Geewax

Marilyn Geewax is a senior editor, assigning and editing business radio stories. She also serves as the national economics correspondent for the NPR web site, and regularly discusses economic issues on NPR's mid-day show Here & Now.

Her work contributed to NPR's 2011 Edward R. Murrow Award for hard news for "The Foreclosure Nightmare." Geewax also worked on the foreclosure-crisis coverage that was recognized with a 2009 Heywood Broun Award.

Before joining NPR in 2008, Geewax served as the national economics correspondent for Cox Newspapers' Washington Bureau. Before that, she worked at Cox's flagship paper, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, first as a business reporter and then as a columnist and editorial board member. She got her start as a business reporter for the Akron Beacon Journal.

Over the years, she has filed news stories from China, Japan, South Africa and Europe. Recently, she headed to Europe to participate in the RIAS German/American Journalist Exchange Program.

Geewax was a Nieman Fellow at Harvard, where she studied economics and international relations. She earned a master's degree at Georgetown University, focusing on international economic affairs, and has a bachelor's degree from The Ohio State University.

She is a member of the National Press Club's Board of Governors and serves on the Global Economic Reporting Initiative Committee for the Society of American Business Editors and Writers.

The economy has so much going for it: low inflation, low interest rates, affordable homes, falling gasoline prices and 27 straight months of job growth. Good times, no?

No.

The economy is slowing, but not because of current conditions. The slowdown reflects the fear of what may be coming next. Economists say employers and investors are paralyzed by the uncertainty surrounding three huge problems: one in the United States, another in Europe and the third in China.

A Federal Reserve study showing that Americans lost wealth in the Great Recession turned up another, perhaps more surprising, result: Credit card debt fell sharply.

"The percentage of families using credit cards for borrowing dropped over the period; the median balance on their accounts fell 16.1 percent" between 2007 and 2010, the report concluded.

At any gathering of business owners, you're likely to hear about how hard it is to fill jobs because of a "skills gap."

Lots of employers say they want to hire welders, software engineers, nurses, oil-field workers and so many others, but can't find applicants with the right talents and education.

But Peter Cappelli, a professor of management at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School and director of its Center for Human Resources, says these complaints are largely bunk.

Americans who fear the economy is losing steam would like to see the Federal Reserve turn up the heat.

That might happen when the central bank holds its next meeting June 19-20. The Fed could take steps to drive interest rates even lower, or create fresh piles of cash to stimulate growth.

But with the election season gearing up, the Fed's ability to act boldly may be restrained. That's because the monetary policymakers want to preserve the Fed's credibility as a nonpartisan entity.

Part of the Family Matters series

Some financial problems have obvious solutions.

For example, colleges aren't graduating enough engineers. But as more students become wary of fat loans and slim job prospects, many may shift majors. Change is possible.

But that's not the case with this problem: The number of elderly Americans in need of expensive care is about to surge, and there's no stopping the calendar.

May's higher unemployment rate and meager job creation couldn't have come at a worse time for people like Julia Gray. A Chicago-based writer and editor with a master's degree, Gray said she has been unemployed for 17 months. "The media world in Chicago is dead and deader," she said.

"I was collecting unemployment benefits for a while," she said. "It helped a great deal — it was incredibly important."

But now her benefits have run out, and her employment search goes on.

Making the decision to move a parent out of the homestead can hurt.

The house may be full of good ghosts and happy memories. But it also has too many steps and too much lawn to mow. So the time comes to pack up and move on.

A decade ago, at least one part of that transition wasn't so tough. When the for-sale sign went up, an eager buyer was likely to show up with a good offer. But today, families are facing a much more difficult real estate environment.

Journalists have spent many days and millions of words hashing over the news that banking giant JPMorgan Chase lost billions of dollars trading "synthetic" derivatives.

I am one of those journalists who, more or less, can understand what the bank says it was trying to do, i.e., hedge against loan losses. But here's what I have a hard time explaining:

What does this kind of complex trading have to do with the price of eggs?

Middle age is prime time for saving money. From your late 40s through early 60s, you're supposed to squirrel away cash to cope with health care costs in your old age.

But for millions of Americans, middle age also is the time when children are seeking help with higher-education bills, and elderly parents may be needing assistance with daily care.

Americans routinely buy all sorts of insurance — for cars, homes, health and even pets and boats.

But when it comes to long-term-care insurance, relatively few sign up. Out of more than 313 million Americans, only about 8 million have any such protection, according to the American Association for Long-Term Care Insurance. The low participation rate largely reflects the high cost of long-term-care insurance.

The unemployment rate slipped a notch to 8.1 percent in April, but not because employers went on a hiring spree.

Instead, the jobless rate appeared to improve because fewer people were applying for positions. Last month, the civilian labor force shrank by 342,000 people.

Economists say many of those workforce dropouts were "discouraged" workers who moved to the sidelines after months, even years, of trying to nail down jobs.

Walk through any nursing home, and your first thought might be: "I need to take care of Mom myself."

Few people want to turn over a loved one to institutional care. No matter how good the nursing home, it may seem cold and impersonal — and very expensive. But making the choice to provide care yourself is fraught with financial risks and personal sacrifices.

Those who become full-time caregivers often look back and wish they had taken the time to better understand the financial position they would be getting themselves into.

Planning a wedding is exciting.

Mapping out a vacation is fun.

Figuring how to afford care for your confused, elderly father? That one may never cross your mind — at least, not until you need more money to care for him.

"Never thought about it," Natasha Shamone-Gilmore, 58, says about her younger self. "Never ever."

She thinks about it a lot these days. Shamone-Gilmore, a computer trainer in Maryland, now shares a modest home with her husband, 24-year-old son and 81-year-old father.

Steven Rattner — the "car czar" when the Obama administration was restructuring the auto industry in 2009 — today spoke in favor of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act.

But it wasn't exactly a double thumbs up.

On a panel at an ideas conference in New York City, Rattner noted that before the financial crisis began in 2008, Wall Street was the "global leader in finance. ... But of course, it got out of control."

Part of the Family Matters series

The Great Recession slammed into all age groups, flattening the career dreams of young people and squeezing the retirement accounts of middle-aged savers. It financially crippled many elderly people who had thought they could stand on their own.

Why do economists keep getting it wrong?

For months, the job market's strength has been exceeding economists' predictions. It happened again today: the Labor Department's weekly report on first-time jobless claims came in at just 348,000 — the lowest level in four years.

Most economists had predicted about 355,000 people had applied for unemployment benefits in the week ended March 17. So why do they keep missing the mark?

Millions of Americans are still searching for jobs or facing home foreclosures. For them, the Great Recession drags on into its fifth year.

But for others, the U.S. economy is looking up.

Companies in certain sectors are buying equipment again and hiring workers. These pockets of strength — found in energy, technology, manufacturing, autos, agriculture and elsewhere — are helping invigorate the broader economy.

No one ever said economic forecasting was easy:

On the last day of February 2007, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke told Congress that "the fundamentals are very strong" for the U.S. economy.

And about those problems starting to show up in the housing market? "We don't see it as being a broad financial concern or a major factor in assessing the course of the economy," he said back then.

For airlines, it ain't easy making a buck. In fact, even a penny is out of reach.

Airlines for America, a trade association for major U.S. carriers, says the industry earned less than half a penny in profits for every $1 of revenue generated during 2011.

The poor financial performance wasn't a fluke. Over the past decade, airlines have lost a collective $50 billion.

On Tuesday, the trade group said something has got to change. Association CEO Nicholas Calio sat down with journalists to explain a new industry push for a "National Airline Policy."

The rapidly rising price of gasoline has not stalled the economic recovery — at least not yet. And one reason for that may be found in fields of daffodils.

This year's unusually warm winter has held down heating costs, helping consumers spend less on their monthly utility bills.

"Weather plays a big role" in determining what's left in your checking account as winter wraps up, said Jonathan Cogan, a spokesman for the Energy Information Administration.

Congress on Friday approved legislation to continue a payroll tax holiday and extend benefits for the long-term unemployed.

The goal is to make sure Americans have enough spending money to keep the recovery from faltering. President Obama is expected to sign the legislation.

Former Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin says the U.S. economic outlook is the most "uncertain" he has seen in his lifetime.

Given that he was born during the Great Depression (1938), and lived through the Cold War, the 1970s' inflation, a brutal 1980-82 recession and the recent global financial crisis, that may be saying a lot.

Rubin, who was President Clinton's Treasury secretary, is now co-chairman of the Council on Foreign Relations. He spoke Wednesday in Washington, D.C., at a conference called "American Competitiveness: What Works," sponsored by General Electric.

Five years ago, a subprime mortgage firestorm was melting down the U.S. economy, but most analysts didn't see it happening.

Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, testifying before Congress in February 2007, said the housing sector "is a concern, but at this point we don't see it as being a broad financial concern or a major factor in assessing the course of the economy."

If he and the vast majority of economists were blind to the economic and financial calamity taking shape then, could they also be missing the start of a huge economic boom now?

A boom? Really?

The Keystone XL pipeline is supposed to connect Canada to Texas. But does it also have to connect to a payroll tax holiday?

White House Senior Advisor Valerie Jarrett, speaking today on NPR's Tell Me More, said no link should be made because the oil pipeline is not "germane" to legislation involving a tax holiday.

When winter reaches its dreariest depths each year, Americans cheer themselves by planning Super Bowl parties. They want to reconnect with friends, eat, drink and share observations about who is likely to win — or lose.

But if you are very smart or very rich or even better, both — then you break up the mid-winter blahs by going to Davos.

That's the Swiss town where the financially, intellectually and politically powerful convene each year to reconnect with friends, eat, drink and share observations about winning and losing.

In the run-up to Saturday's GOP presidential primary in South Carolina, candidates have clashed over the role of Bain Capital — a firm that either creates or kills jobs, depending upon whom you believe.

Front-runner Mitt Romney sees the bright side. Before entering politics in the 1990s, he co-founded Boston-based Bain Capital, one of the nation's largest and most profitable private equity funds. He has said he created 100,000 jobs while at Bain.

The "Battle Over Bain" has become a hot topic at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, a key player in politics.

U.S. Chamber of Commerce President Tom Donohue says he is "disappointed" that some GOP presidential candidates are attacking front-runner and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney for his work at Bain Capital in the 1990s.

Europe's debt crisis is a huge threat to the U.S. economy. Or is it?

For many months, economists have been warning that Europe's debt troubles could spiral into a massive recession that drags down U.S. growth.

But some analysts say those fears may be wildly exaggerated. The U.S. economy has been "decoupling" from Europe for some time, and wouldn't be significantly harmed by any recession taking shape over there, they argue.

Of all the good news in the December unemployment report, perhaps the most encouraging sign for the 2012 labor market was the increase in construction jobs. That sector has lost more than 2 million jobs as the housing market imploded 5 years ago, but increases in construction hiring and spending could be cautious signs of a turnaround, analysts say.

Overall, employers created 200,000 jobs last month, sending the U.S. unemployment rate down to 8.5 percent, the Labor Department said Friday.

Last New Year's Day, most economic forecasters were predicting a good year ahead. But 2011 turned out to be another disappointment for stock investors and home sellers, and a discouraging time for job seekers.

Now, as 2012 begins, economists are hoping their crystal balls are working a bit better. Most are seeing a brighter picture.

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