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economy

Sure, the U.S. economy has problems: income inequality, aging infrastructure and slowing entrepreneurship.

But cheer up, Americans. The latest figures on developed economies show the United States is in far better shape than other countries.

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, an international group that tracks global growth, said Thursday that the United States is making one of the strongest comebacks in the developed world.

British voters on June 23 will cast what some have called the most important ballot of their lives — whether the U.K. should remain in the European Union or pull out, in what's become popularly known as a "Brexit."

There's been a blizzard of claims from both supporters and opponents of exiting the union, and while most polls show a neck-and-neck race at the moment, the number of undecided voters is high.

Bill Radke, second from left, said he was sick of frozen smiles. And Melanie McFarland, next to him, pointed out that crazy bouquet that's been sitting in our green room. Far left, former Mayor Mike McGinn. And far left, Seattle Channel's Joni Balter.
KUOW Photo/Isolde Raftery

Yeah, those flowers are amazing. But this week!

Seattle city Councilmember Tim Burgess is proposing new regulation on short-term rentals that would affect how people rent on sites like Airbnb and VRBO. He sees it as one the fixes to the affordable housing crisis in the city. Is it fair to fix Seattle’s housing crisis at the expense of short term renters?

We often associate climate change with too much water — the melting ice caps triggering a rise in sea levels. Now a new World Bank report says we also need to think about too little water — the potable sort.

Dow Constantine
KUOW Photo/Jason Pagano

There is more evidence that the middle class is shrinking in metropolitan Seattle. A report from the Pew Research Center says the middle class has slipped by 7 percent since 2000 to just over half the region’s households. 

Here’s where our region is different from the overall trend: the households replacing those in the middle class here are mostly richer, not poorer. 

Economy reporter Carolyn Adolph discusses this issue with King County Executive Dow Constantine.

Studies have been showing for years that this country's middle class is shrinking.

Now, the nonpartisan Pew Research Center has added another dimension to the story: Its examination of government data shows the problem is not confined to the Rust Belt or Appalachia.

In fact, the middle is shrinking from coast to coast.

This week, NPR and some member stations will be talking about trade on the campaign trail and in communities around the country.

Economists for decades have agreed that more open international trade is good for the U.S. economy. But recent research finds that while that's still true, when it comes to China, the downside for American workers has been much more painful than the experts predicted.

And that's playing out on the presidential campaign trail in a big way.

'Disastrous' Trade Agreements?

Martha Guise is the principal of Century High School in Hillsboro, a Portland suburb. She says class sizes at her school are around 34 — much higher than desired.
KUOW Photo/Carolyn Adolph

For all Washington's fretting over state funding for education, there are people in Oregon who would love to have Washington's problems.

Bill Radke speaks with Seattle Times economics columnist Jon Talton about neoliberalism, what it means for the 2016 election cycle and the consequences for the American middle class.

Oregon's economy continues to flourish, but the long-term outlook isn't as rosy. That was the message to lawmakers Wednesday from state economists, who released their quarterly revenue forecast.

Emily Martin created a state-by-state map of the gender wage gap in the United States. She calculated: Washington, D.C., has the smallest wage gap where women average nearly 90 cents to a man's dollar; Louisiana has the largest gap — women there earn just 65 percent of what men do.

Nationally, women earn an average 79 cents for every dollar men do. The gender wage gap is even wider for black and Hispanic women.

Ebrahim Pourfaraj wants to build the biggest hotel in all of Iran.

He's already started his project in the far north Tehran, a wealthy zone where the city climbs up the slopes of the snow-capped Alborz Mountains.

You get out of the car, carefully stepping over the little mountain stream that flows in a channel beside the curb. After stepping through a construction trailer, you emerge on a steel-mesh platform looking over the edge of an enormous hole.

A construction crane working on a building is shown with Port of Seattle cranes in the background on a foggy summer day, Monday, July 15, 2014, in Seattle.
AP Photo/Ted S. Warren

Bill Radke speaks with Seattle Times economics columnist Jon Talton about why some people see a recession coming our way and what that could mean for the Seattle boom.

Guadalupe Rangel scoops up hearty servings of homemade pulled pork, rice and coleslaw for her two teenage sons. 

This simple plate of food is not something Rangel and her sons take for granted. There was a time when she didn’t have enough money to even buy eggs, she says, her eyes welling up with tears. She was devastated to see her children hungry and losing focus in school.

“We were desperate, and it was very difficult,” she says. “I felt a lot of depression just knowing that I couldn’t give them the basics.”

Once upon a time, the Northwest was home to ten massive aluminum smelters. As of today, just one still operates. And the Alcoa company plans to idle that smelter near Ferndale, Washington, indefinitely in June.

Is it the end for a one-time pillar of the Northwest economy or merely a pause?

 Jaxon Ravens, chairman of the Washington State Democratic Party
Flickr Photo/Ronald Woan (CC BY NC 2.0)/http://bit.ly/1JCLnwP

Bill Radke speaks with Jaxon Ravens, chairman of the Washington State Democratic Party, about voters' feelings on the economy as we head into the 2016 election year. He said that middle class incomes have struggled to keep pace, but as a whole the state has been doing very well. 

Bill Radke speaks with Susan Hutchison, chairman of the Washington State Republican Party, about voters' feelings on the economy as we head into the 2016 election year. She said there's a difference between those who live in downtown Seattle -- who have a sense that the engine is roaring due to Amazon -- and those who live in smaller cities or Eastern Washington. 

When people had trouble paying the rent in the early 1900s, they might hold a party in their homes, with music and dancing, and sell tickets at the door. Now, a nonprofit group is holding a modern-day version of the rent party to shine a light on the growing lack of affordable housing.

The new parties aren't exactly like the old ones, which were mostly held in Harlem. There's no dancing, food or tickets. But there is music, as was the case recently in Annapolis, Md., where about 20 people gathered in Tom Wall's small apartment to help him, and others like him, pay the rent.

Washington's governor is ruling out a direct public subsidy to save the jobs of hundreds of workers at the Northwest's last operational aluminum smelters. But other forms of support such as retraining assistance remain under consideration.

This day is starting out really nasty if you happen to be an oil driller — or a baby boomer who would like to retire with a nest egg.

Through the night and into the morning, the price of oil has been falling. You can now buy a barrel for less than $30. (Remember, it was nearly $115 as recently as June 2014.) The market for oil has been thrown into disarray because of worries about possible declining Chinese demand and surging Iranian supplies.

That means U.S. oil producers will continue to see their profits plunge and industry layoffs worsen.

When President Obama first took the oath of office seven years ago this month, the U.S. economy was so battered that many economists were pondering the possibility of another Great Depression.

The fears were real: Employers were cutting 796,000 jobs; the auto industry was facing bankruptcy; private foreclosures and public debts were soaring.

A new era in Saudi Arabia was demonstrated at gas stations across the country on Monday night: Long lines of cars stretched from the pumps as drivers filled up to beat price hikes announced by the government earlier in the day.

It was an unusual scene for the world's largest oil producer, but it underscored the economic impact of dramatically lower crude prices on a government budget that relies on it.

The swift deadline to chop government subsidies on gas, water and electricity surprised Saudis, and some stations ran out of gas and shut down in the storm of demand.

Canadian dollar, or 'loonie'
Flickr Photo/Jackman Chiu (CC BY NC ND 2.0)/http://bit.ly/1ZpVqsL

David Hyde speaks with Vancouver Sun columnist Vaughn Palmer about the continued fall of the Canadian dollar. Palmer also gives an update on plans for a sewage treatment plant in Victoria, B.C.

Gas prices are under $2 a gallon across much of the country. That's because crude oil has plummeted to the lowest price in nearly a decade.

The average U.S. household has saved an estimated $700 this year because of lower gas prices. And drivers can expect more savings in 2016.

Recently, Sharlene Brown was filling up her minivan at a Philadelphia gas station. When prices are down, Brown says, she drives more.

"It changes where I go, who I pick up because a lot of times I pick up and do errands for the church," she says.

Every investor celebrating Christmas this week would love this gift: a really good crystal ball.

It'd be so helpful to look right through the orbuculum and glimpse the future prices of stocks, bonds and gold bars.

Unfortunately, no such ball exists. Our next best option is to turn to economic forecasters. And in general, the professionals see mostly good news for 2016.

Americans have long lived in a nation made up primarily of middle-class families, neither rich nor poor, but comfortable enough.

This year, that changed, according to the Pew Research Center.

No question, this was a traumatic, sad week because of the mass shooting in San Bernardino, Calif. It's not easy to turn to good news.

But putting grief aside for a moment, there were indeed positive developments for the country in recent days. With cheaper energy, more jobs and higher stock prices, most Americans have been seeing their financial situations improve. Here are some of this week's highlights:

Professor Robert Reich at Town Hall Seattle on Oct. 19, 2015.
Flickr Photo/Al Garman (CC BY NC ND 2.0)/http://bit.ly/1TeSMCu

Robert Reich says he’s often stopped by strangers at airports. People walk right up to him, forego any niceties, and get straight to the question: “What are we going to do?”

Reich says that makes him optimistic, because it’s not just liberals asking.

When you drive the new expressway to the airport in the Chinese city of Luliang, you are as likely to come across a stray dog as another vehicle. When I recently drove it, a farmer was riding in a three-wheel flatbed truck and heading in the wrong direction. But it didn't matter. There was no oncoming traffic.

Taking on Wall Street makes for good politics in the Democratic Party. And several of the candidates at Tuesday night's debate had tough words about big banks. That was particularly true of former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders.

Although he didn't say so directly, O'Malley suggested several times that consolidation in the banking business was a big factor in the 2008 financial crash and that the U.S. economy remains vulnerable because of it.

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