Jennifer Ludden

Jennifer Ludden is a correspondent on NPR's National Desk. She covers a range of stories on family life and social issues.

In recent years, Ludden has reported on the changing economics of marriage, the changing role of dads, the impact of rising student debt loads, and the ethical challenges of modern reproductive technology.

Ludden helped cover national security after the 9/11 attacks, then reported on the Bush administration's crackdown on illegal immigrants as well as Congressional efforts to pass a sweeping legalization. She traveled to the Philippines for a story on how an overburdened immigration bureaucracy keeps families separated for years, and to El Salvador to profile migrants who had been deported or turned back at the border.

Prior to moving into her current assignment in 2002, Ludden spent six years as a foreign reporter for NPR covering the Middle East, Europe, and West and Central Africa. She followed the collapse of the decade-long Oslo peace process, shared in two awards (Overseas Press Club and Society of Professional Journalists) for NPR's coverage of the Kosovo war in 1999, and won the Robert F. Kennedy award for her coverage of the overthrow of Mobutu Sese Seko in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

When not navigating war zones, Ludden reported on cultural trends, including the dying tradition of storytellers in Syria, the emergence of Persian pop music in Iran, and the rise of a new form of urban polygamy in Africa.

Before joining NPR in 1995, Ludden reported in Canada, and at public radio stations in Boston and Maine.

Ludden graduated from Syracuse University in 1988 with a bachelor's degree in English and Television, Radio and Film Production.

Transcript

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Working from home used to be an exception. Technology's changed that. And now an appeals court has ruled that being at work doesn't always require you to physically have to be at work. NPR's Jennifer Ludden reports.

More companies than ever before say that they're offering flexible hours or telecommuting to their workers. Still, San Francisco and the state of Vermont are trying a new approach to push businesses to do more: They're using the law.

Starting this year, employees in both places have the right to ask for a flexible or predictable work schedule, without fear of retaliation.

Women today are nearly half the workforce, and two-income couples are the norm. But the U.S. tax code? It's straight out of Ozzie and Harriet.

When it comes to paying taxes, economists say, a lot of secondary wage-earners are getting a raw deal. It's called the marriage penalty.

"The system was never designed to penalize working spouses," says Melissa Kearney, director of the Hamilton Project at The Brookings Institution. "It was just designed in a different era."

It's a truism in the financial industry that women need to get more out of their money than men since they live longer and make less, especially if they take time out to care for children or aging parents. But it's also a given that they lack confidence when it comes to investing, something that's clear on a recent evening at the Women's Center in Vienna, Va.

Anita Wallace has run a day care in her home in rural Athens County, Ohio, for eight years. The schedule is more family-friendly than when she logged 60 hours a week as a manager at Wal-Mart, and the pay is about $27,000 a year — not bad for the area.

Wallace adores the children, getting down on the floor to let toddlers snuggle on her shoulder. But Wallace, 40, and her husband, 47, also have three of their own kids to raise.

"They're very expensive!" she says, laughing, as her own children — two still live at home — inform her of the new track uniforms they need.

When Andrea Riquetti taught kindergarten in Providence, R.I., the disparity between more affluent students and those from poor families was painfully clear.

"We would read The Very Hungry Caterpillar," she says, "and I would ask them, 'What is this fruit?' And they would call all the fruits just 'fruits,' because they didn't have the specific name."

Many people may think of a "remote worker" as a harried mom in her bathrobe or a 20-something at a coffee shop. But that image doesn't actually reflect who is working outside the office, according to a new study.

"A remote worker, someone who does most of their work outside of their employer's location, is not a woman, is not a parent and is not a Gen-Y millennial," says Cali Williams Yost, a workplace flexibility strategist and CEO of the Flex+Strategy Group.

A Remote-Working Gender Gap

Fathers today spend more time than ever with their kids, experiencing just as much stress as women in balancing work and family, if not more. But when couples divorce and a custody dispute hits the courts, too many judges award custody to Mom, according to fathers' rights groups.

Ned Holstein, head of the National Parents Organization, formerly called Fathers and Families, says research shows that children do better academically and emotionally when they see a lot of each parent.

In America, total student loan debt tops $1 trillion and a four-year college degree can cost as much as a house — leaving many families wondering if college is really worth the cost.

Yes, a new study of young people finds. The study, released Tuesday by the Pew Research Center, looks at income and unemployment among young adults. Paul Taylor, executive vice president of special projects at Pew, says it's pretty much case closed when it comes to the benefits of going to college.

Rain is so important in Malawi's agriculture-based economy that there are names for different kinds of it, from the brief bursts of early fall to heavier downpours called mvula yodzalira, literally "planting rain." For generations, rainfall patterns here in the southeast part of Africa have been predictable, reliable. But not now.

In the village of Jasi, in the hot, flat valley of Malawi's Lower Shire, farmer Pensulo Melo says 2010 was a disaster.

The nation's capital is not exactly a beach town. But the cherry-tree-lined Tidal Basin, fed by the Potomac River, laps at the steps of the Jefferson Memorial. And, especially since Superstorm Sandy, officials in Washington have a clear idea of what would happen in a worst-case storm scenario.

"The water would go across the World War II memorial, come up 17th Street," says Tony Vidal of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. "And there are actually three spots where the water would come up where we don't have ... a closure structure right now."

NPR's Jennifer Ludden recently traveled to the African nation of Malawi, one of many countries in the developing world where child marriage remains prevalent. She found girls like Christina Asima, who was married at 12 and became a mother at 13. She is now divorced and caring for her infant son on her own. You can read Jennifer's full report here. Below are a few more things she learned while reporting on child marriage.

Christina Asima seems tired for a 13-year-old. I meet the shy-mannered girl in the remote farming village of Chitera, in the southern African nation of Malawi. She wears a bright pink zip-up shirt and a blue print cloth wrapped up to her chest. Snuggled in that, hugging her side, is a chubby-cheeked baby boy.

My gut assumption is that the infant must be Christina's little brother. I know 8-month-old Praise is actually her son. Still, it's startling when, as we speak, she shifts him around front to nurse.

The Adoption Network Law Center is based in California, but when someone in Illinois searches "adoption" on the Web, up it pops, right near the top.

"They're very specific in directing their advertising and marketing to people in Illinois," says Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, even though they're not licensed in the state. Illinois prohibits for-profit adoption agencies.

Losia Nyankale, 29, didn't mean to make a career in the restaurant business. But after Nyankale was in college for two years, her mom lost her job as a schoolteacher and could no longer pay tuition. Then, Nyankale's temp jobs in bookkeeping dried up in the recession. So she went back to her standby — restaurant work.

"I did some kitchen work. The pantries or the salad station," she says. "I've also managed, supervised, wash[ed] dishes."

Pages