Scott Horsley | KUER 90.1

Scott Horsley

Scott Horsley is NPR's Chief Economics Correspondent. He reports on ups and downs in the national economy as well as fault lines between booming and busting communities.

Horsley spent a decade on the White House beat, covering both the Trump and Obama administrations. Before that, he was a San Diego-based business reporter for NPR, covering fast food, gasoline prices, and the California electricity crunch of 2000. He also reported from the Pentagon during the early phases of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Before joining NPR in 2001, Horsley worked for NPR Member stations in San Diego and Tampa, as well as commercial radio stations in Boston and Concord, New Hampshire. Horsley began his professional career as a production assistant for NPR's Morning Edition.

Horsley earned a bachelor's degree from Harvard University and an MBA from San Diego State University. He lives in Washington, D.C.

Updated at 10:09 a.m. ET

For the first time in nearly a decade, the U.S. suffered a net loss of jobs as the coronavirus began to take hold in the country. But a monthly snapshot from the Labor Department shows only the first pinpricks of what will soon be a gaping wound.

Factories in the U.S. are hunkering down like the rest of us.

Manufacturing activity slowed in March, according to a survey conducted by the Institute for Supply Management.

Production and factory employment fell sharply, as the coronavirus pandemic and other problems weighed on the factory sector. New orders hit their lowest level in 11 years.

With millions of American workers suddenly idled in an effort to slow the spread of the coronavirus, the United States appears poised to go from the lowest unemployment rate in half a century to the highest since World War II.

Toilet tissue isn't the only paper product that Americans are hoarding these days. Paper money is also in high demand.

Banks are seeing more cash withdrawals as nervous customers try to protect themselves from the uncertainty of the coronavirus clampdown.

The U.S. economy has never hit the brakes quite like this before.

While the course of the coronavirus pandemic is unpredictable, forecasters are using their economic models and making some educated guesses about just how bad the damage will be. The forecasts are not pretty:

  • Oxford Economics expects the U.S. economy to shrink at an annual rate of 12% between April and June.
  • JPMorgan Chase sees a second-quarter contraction of 14%.

Six minutes after trading began on the New York Stock Exchange on Monday, it was suddenly halted. That's when the S&P 500 index had plummeted 7% and marketwide circuit breakers kicked in. Trading resumed about 15 minutes later.

The marketwide halt was the first since the stock market crash of Oct. 27, 1997, when the Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 554 points, or 7.2%.

Under market rules, circuit breakers kick in at three thresholds:

Updated at 10:31 a.m. ET

Fear of the coronavirus doesn't appear to have infected the U.S. job market yet, despite sending shivers through Wall Street.

A new report from the Labor Department says employers added 273,000 jobs in February — the same as in January. The February increase was about 100,000 more than private analysts had forecast. The unemployment rate dipped to 3.5%, matching a 50-year low.

Job gains for December and January were revised up by a total of 85,000.

Updated at 4:05 p.m. ET

Stocks continued their free-fall on Thursday, with major indexes falling into correction territory. The Dow Jones Industrial Average tumbled nearly 1,200 points as worries mounted about the economic toll of a widening coronavirus epidemic.

The Dow ended the day down 4.4%, and nearly 13% below its recent peak on Feb. 12. A drop of 10% from a recent high is the technical definition of a "correction."

Stocks fell sharply for a second day in a row. The Dow dropped 879 points on Tuesday, after tumbling more than 1,000 points on Monday.

While the coronavirus outbreak in China appears to have peaked, investors are worried by the growing number of cases in other countries, as well as a warning from U.S. health officials that the virus could hit closer to home.

Just last week, the S&P 500 stock index was hitting record highs. Now it's fallen more than 6% in just the last two days.

Updated at 5:05 p.m. ET

The coronavirus contagion has spread to Wall Street.

U.S. markets fell sharply Monday amid widening concern that the continuing spread of cases could lead to a global pandemic. The Dow Jones Industrial Average tumbled nearly 1032 points, or 3.56% All of the major market indexes were down more than 3%.

Stock markets in Europe and Asia were also down sharply.

"This is not a health pandemic yet, but it's rapidly becoming an economic pandemic," said Diane Swonk, chief economist at Grant Thornton.

Wells Fargo has agreed to pay $3 billion to settle charges that the bank engaged in fraudulent sales practices for more than a decade.

The company acknowledged collecting millions of dollars in fees for bank accounts, debit cards and other products that customers neither asked for nor needed. The illegal practices were carried out by thousands of Wells Fargo employees in order to meet unrealistic sales targets.

Updated at 11:23 a.m. ET

The U.S. labor market revved up in January, with employers adding 225,000 jobs. That's well above the number forecasters were expecting. The unemployment rate inched up to 3.6%, near a 50-year low, according to a new report from the Labor Department.

Employment growth for November and December was also revised upwards by a total of 7,000 jobs.

Updated at 10:05 a.m. ET

The U.S. economy grew 2.3% last year, the Commerce Department said Thursday. That's a slowdown from the previous year, when the economy grew 2.9%. And it's well short of the 3% growth target set by the White House.

The "Phase 1" trade deal with China that President Trump signed this week is unlike any previous free trade agreement. From Trump's point of view, that's the whole point.

"We are righting the wrongs of the past," Trump said Wednesday during a White House signing ceremony, "and delivering a future of economic justice and security for American workers, farmers and families."

Updated at 2:07 p.m. ET

A year and a half after launching his trade war against China, President Trump signed a partial truce on Wednesday.

"We mark more than just an agreement. We mark a sea change in international trade," Trump said during a White House signing ceremony. "At long last, Americans have a government that puts them first."

China is light-years ahead of the United States in doing away with old-fashioned paper money. Now China's central bank is preparing to test a digital currency. And some observers say it could mark the beginning of a new economic arms race, challenging the supremacy of the U.S. dollar.

Already, hundreds of millions of consumers in China have grown used to paying for purchases without cash, using popular smartphone apps such as WeChat and Alipay.

Job growth slowed last month as U.S. employers added just 145,000 jobs. But there was an interesting milestone in Friday's report from the Labor Department. Ninety-five percent of the net jobs added in December went to women.

Updated at 10:53 a.m. ET

Hiring slowed somewhat in December, as U.S. employers added 145,000 jobs. According to the Labor Department, that's down slightly from the three previous months, when employers added an average of 200,000 jobs. But the unemployment rate held steady at 3.5%, matching its lowest level in 50 years.

Kecia Jolley is getting a pay raise this week. But she's still making minimum wage.

Jolley works as a grocery store cashier in Missouri — one of nearly two dozen states that increased their minimum wages on Jan. 1. Economists say those mandatory wage hikes are an important factor boosting pay for workers at the bottom of the income ladder.

Jolley's Friday paycheck will be the first to reflect Missouri's 2020 minimum of $9.45 an hour, up from $8.60 last year.

"I think that I'll be better off," she says. "But I think that it's going to still be a struggle."

Before we close the books on 2019, we want to look back at some of the business stories that made headlines this year. While some were in the news for weeks — like the trade war or the strike at General Motors, which idled tens of thousands of workers — other stories came and went quickly, but not before leaving a mark on the nation's economy.

Mississippi immigration raids

Two years ago Friday, Republicans in Congress passed a sweeping tax cut. It was supposed to be a gift-wrapped present to taxpayers and the economy. But in hindsight, it looks more like a costly lump of coal.

Passed on a party-line vote, the tax cut is the signature legislative accomplishment of President Trump's first term. He had campaigned hard for the measure, promising it would boost paychecks for working people.

It took seven decades after World War II to put together a system of free trade around the world. That system has been rocked in just the past seven days.

Last Tuesday, congressional Democrats agreed to an updated trade agreement with Canada and Mexico. Three days later, China agreed to its own, preliminary trade pact with the United States.

House Democrats and organized labor have thrown their support behind an updated trade agreement among the U.S., Mexico and Canada. The announcement came on the same day Democrats unveiled articles of impeachment against President Trump.

"This is a day we've all been working to," declared House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. "There is no question, of course, that this trade agreement is much better than NAFTA. But in terms of our work here, it is infinitely better than what was initially proposed by the administration."

Updated at 2:33 p.m. ET

U.S. employers added a better-than-expected 266,000 jobs in November in a sign the economy continues to power ahead.

The unemployment rate dipped to 3.5%. Job gains for the two previous months were revised up by a total of 41,000.

"It's a tremendous report," said White House economist Tom Philipson. "Obviously, it's something to be very happy about."

Updated at 9:58 a.m. ET

The tariff war has caused a lot of anxiety for business owners and farmers. But how much has it hurt the overall economy?

The stock market got off to a rocky start this week when President Trump launched a new round of tariff threats. But administration loyalists insist concern about the trade war is overblown.

A new Gilded Age has emerged in America — a 21st century version.

The wealth of the top 1% of Americans has grown dramatically in the past four decades, squeezing both the middle class and the poor. This is in sharp contrast to Europe and Asia, where the wealth of the 1% has grown at a more constrained pace.

President Trump is abruptly reimposing tariffs on steel and aluminum imported from Brazil and Argentina.

Trump announced the move in a pair of tweets Monday, saying he was acting in response to "massive devaluation" of the two countries' currencies. Brazil and Argentina had been exempted from Trump's 25% tariff on imported steel and his 10% tariff on imported aluminum since May of last year.

Updated at 10:27 a.m. ET

The Misco speaker company in St. Paul, Minn., is celebrating its 70th anniversary this year. But the company's future is uncertain — a result of the trade war between the U.S. and China.

Dan Digre's dad started Misco after serving in World War II.

"He was a B-17 radio operator and came back to the United States and married a woman with a bad radio," Digre says. "Turned out the radio wasn't bad but the speaker was bad, so he started his own speaker repair business."

President Trump said Friday he supports pro-democracy demonstrators in Hong Kong. But he stopped short of saying he would sign legislation requiring sanctions against China for any crackdown on Hong Kong protesters.

"We have to stand with Hong Kong, but I'm also standing with President Xi," Trump said in an interview on the Fox News program Fox and Friends. "He's a friend of mine."

President Trump says the U.S. and China are close to striking a mini trade agreement. But he offered no guarantees.

In a speech to the Economic Club of New York on Tuesday, Trump downplayed the cost of his trade war, which has hurt farm exports and contributed to a slowdown in the U.S. manufacturing sector.

"The real cost would be if we did nothing," he said.

Trump offered few clues about the status of trade talks except to say, "We're close."

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