The Uncertain Hour 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

The Uncertain Hour

From APM Reports

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.

Most Recent Episodes

My boss is an app

The gig-app workforce has arrived at our doorstep. But Silicon Valley's innovations in hiring are only the latest round of this long-running battle over what employment means in the American economy. This concludes our fifth season of "The Uncertain Hour." To be the first to hear about our next season, subscribe to our mailing list.

Inside baseball

In minor league baseball, professional athletes train, suit up and play for wages that would be illegal in most sectors. Players live in crowded apartments, sleep on air mattresses, work side jobs and scrape by. This week, a story about life in the minor leagues and how the baseball industry convinced Congress to rewrite federal law — and carve an entire workforce out of minimum wage and overtime requirements. 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 the Save America's Pastime Act.

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."

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."

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."

"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."

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."

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.

'The Uncertain Hour' is back!

'The Uncertain Hour' is back!

Employment as we know it is changing. The kinds of jobs where one person works for one employer for years — with health insurance, sick days, paid vacation and a retirement fund — are getting harder to find. Throughout the economy, companies have pivoted to outsourced, subcontracted, freelance, temporary or gig workers. Many of those jobs don't have benefits; some of them don't even pay minimum wage. And while it's accelerated during recent recessions, the trend has been decades in the making. This season, "The Uncertain Hour" is looking at 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 new season starts Wednesday, Feb. 3. Here's a preview.

Answering your "History of Now" questions

Answering your "History of Now" questions

We've spent the past five weeks trying to make sense of this moment, where the inequalities of our society have been suddenly set in high relief. In that time, you all have written in with a bunch of questions big and small. Today, we're going to cap off this pop-up season by answering a few of them. Questions like: What would chicken cost if plant workers got better wages and benefits? And how did health insurance get tied to our jobs anyway? We'll also look back at two very clear moments, both after pandemics, when economic inequality started to fall dramatically. Thanks so much to everyone who listened and sent in questions. We'll be back later this year with new episodes. Until, then, there's always our first three seasons.

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