Answering kids' questions about the economy (and animals) : The Indicator from Planet Money Stacey and Cardiff answer questions from kids...also, a few animal facts.

Questions From Kids

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So, Cardiff, we periodically do shows about listener questions.



VANEK SMITH: And people send us questions. And every once in a while, we get a question from a kid. And I have to say, like, I kind of - I always like those questions the most.

GARCIA: Yeah. And we thought, let's do a whole episode devoted just to kids' questions. I mean, it should be easy, right?

VIKRAM: Hi. My name is Vikram (ph). I'm 12, and I live in California. If so many people are losing jobs during COVID, why is the stock market doing so well?

GARCIA: Twelve going on 45, oh, my God.

VANEK SMITH: (Laughter) I know. I was like, Cardiff, I'll let you take this one.


VANEK SMITH: It is such a good question. Vikram is right. There are millions of people out of work right now, and the Dow Jones Industrial Average is near an all-time high. It's crazy.

GARCIA: And to get a good answer for Vikram, we hit up an old friend of the show, Josh Brown. Josh is the CEO of Ritholtz Wealth Management, and he's the co-editor of a new book, "How I Invest My Money."

JOSH BROWN: Vikram, it's a great question. You are wise beyond your 12 years. Here's what I would tell you. The stock market is not a great reflection of the actual economy. What the stock market does a really good job at is serving as a reflection of a group of very large corporations. And if that sounds very far away from real life, it is.

VANEK SMITH: Here's the thing. Josh says because of the pandemic and all of the working from home and just staying at home that we've all been doing, we have been using technologies from some of these really huge companies - like Apple, Amazon, Microsoft and Google - more than we used to. So those companies have been doing really well.

GARCIA: And because those companies are so big, whenever they do well, they end up pulling up the whole stock market, even though for most companies, the last eight months have been really, really tough. But thanks again for that excellent question, Vikram. And our next question comes from Dylan (ph) in Washington state.

DYLAN: This isn't really about money, but I think you should do animal facts.

GARCIA: Good call.

VANEK SMITH: Such a good point. I mean, you know, here at THE INDICATOR, Cardiff, it's economics, economics, Fed policy, finance, like, all the time, every day. Where are the animal facts? - not once.

GARCIA: (Laughter).

VANEK SMITH: Not once have we done a show about animal facts. What's wrong with us?




VANEK SMITH: Is this Dr. Madeline Sofia?

SOFIA: Stacey, I think we both know that it is.

VANEK SMITH: (Laughter).

GARCIA: Maddie Sofia is the host of a great podcast here at NPR called Short Wave that's all about science. And Maddie has a Ph.D. in microbiology.

VANEK SMITH: AKA animal facts for really tiny animals.

GARCIA: (Laughter).

SOFIA: THE INDICATOR has kind of an alligator thing, right?

VANEK SMITH: Yes, yes.

SOFIA: Like, you guys are...

VANEK SMITH: It's our little mascot - the indigator (ph).

SOFIA: Yes. OK, OK. So I've got an alligator fact for you.

VANEK SMITH: Thank you.

SOFIA: Did you know, Stacey Vanek Smith, that alligators have, like, 80 teeth in their mouth, like, roughly at any one time?


SOFIA: And they constantly grow new ones and replace them. So an alligator can go through, like, 3,000 teeth in a lifetime.

VANEK SMITH: Oh, they, like, lose them when they bite people.

SOFIA: Yeah, they'll like - Stacey, stop making these animals human murderers, you know? They...

VANEK SMITH: I'm sorry. I'm sorry.

SOFIA: But they - yeah. They lose them. They have another tooth that's, like, ready to go. They're just dropping teeth, dropping teeth, dropping teeth. Could you imagine having that many teeth?

VANEK SMITH: No, it seems a little painful. I mean, I had four wisdom teeth pulled, and that almost did me in. So I'm feeling a little bit for the alligators.

SOFIA: (Laughter) Yeah, yeah.

GARCIA: Well, there you go, Dylan - cool animal fact from an actual doctor of microbiology.

VANEK SMITH: Maddie Sofia.

GARCIA: All right. Coming up next, a question about college and student loans right after a quick break.


VANEK SMITH: Our next question is from Sydney (ph). It is about college.

SYDNEY: I think it's kind of stupid that we have to go to college and spend thousands of dollars just to get a good enough job to pay off the college. Like, why is that the cycle?

VANEK SMITH: There you go.

JILL SCHLESINGER: Brilliant, brilliant.

VANEK SMITH: I know. Sydney nailed it.

GARCIA: That is Jill Schlesinger, business analyst for CBS News and the author of "The Dumb Things Smart People Do With Their Money."

SCHLESINGER: A college degree is worth it. There is no doubt. A college degree pays dividends in the future in terms of your earnings, and it's great. However, it doesn't mean that you should go into debt so that it's taking you decades to pay off that college degree. Students should borrow total for four years of college - the total amount should not exceed what you think you can earn in your first job out of school.

So if you are going into some super-duper engineering program and you're going to be a coder and life's going to be great and you'll probably make 75 or 80 grand the first year you come out, fine, borrow that much money. But if you're an art history major and your first job out of school - if you're lucky to get one - is a minimum wage job as you are, you know, basically, a free docent somewhere, you cannot borrow a lot of money.

VANEK SMITH: Our next question is from 11-year-old Ethan (ph).

ETHAN: I want to know why the government doesn't give unlimited money to the people who need it.

VANEK SMITH: So I love this question, Cardiff, because it is at the heart of a big fight happening right now in Washington. In fact, this is one of the main reasons that Congress cannot get another economic aid bill passed.

GARCIA: So here is what's going on. As part of the CARES Act, which was passed back in March, people who are getting unemployment insurance benefits also got an extra $600 every week from the government for help.

VANEK SMITH: Yeah. And that $600 a week plus unemployment benefits got millions of people back to the same amount of money they were earning before they lost their jobs, but that program expired over the summer.

GARCIA: Now, some people in Congress say that we should keep paying that extra $600 a week. Others say we should pay less than that or no money at all.

VANEK SMITH: Yes. So critics say if you keep paying people all this money, they will not go out and look for work. They won't have an incentive to go out to find a job. That is really bad for businesses because then businesses cannot find workers to fill their jobs. And there have been reports from around the country from businesses saying they are having trouble finding workers right now.

GARCIA: And on the other side, you've got people saying that not giving people that extra $600 is bad for businesses because if people are earning what they did before they lost their jobs, they will keep spending about the same amount of money on food and clothes and other things. And when people don't have that money, they will cut back on their spending, which hurts businesses.

VANEK SMITH: And also, not having that extra money could mean enormous hardship for people. Without that money, people are at risk of losing their homes and ending up in really difficult situations that could take them years to get out of.

And that is it. Thank you so much to all of our brilliant kids for their amazing questions. If you have a question for us, whatever your age, please send it along to us. Send us a voice memo -

GARCIA: And, finally, we thought we'd leave you with one final animal fact from the doctor herself.

SOFIA: OK. So this one, Stacey, I'm a little nervous about. I don't know how your listeners are going to feel about this.



SOFIA: And so most if not all adults have microscopic mites that live on our skin.

VANEK SMITH: They just live, like, just sit there?

SOFIA: They're in your hair follicles, yeah. They're light-sensitive, so they normally, like, stay in the follicle until night. And then they, like, come out and party on your face.

VANEK SMITH: Do they eat you? Like, what did they eat?

SOFIA: No. Well, they're not sure what they eat, but they could be eating oil from your skin. They could be eating the bacteria that live on your skin. There is very little evidence that they are harmful at all. There's very little evidence. I'll say that.

VANEK SMITH: But they come out and, like, party on your face at night.

SOFIA: Mmm hmm.

VANEK SMITH: Microscopic disco dance party.

SOFIA: Also pretty much everywhere else on your body - you're never alone.


GARCIA: Short Wave recently did a whole episode about these hard-partying mites. We'll have a link to it on our website at

VANEK SMITH: This episode of THE INDICATOR was produced by Jamila Huxtable, fact-checked by Sean Saldana. THE INDICATOR is edited by Paddy Hirsch and is a production of NPR.


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