Marilyn Geewax

Marilyn Geewax is a senior editor, assigning and editing business radio stories. She also serves as the national economics correspondent for the NPR web site, and regularly discusses economic issues on NPR's mid-day show Here & Now.

Her work contributed to NPR's 2011 Edward R. Murrow Award for hard news for "The Foreclosure Nightmare." Geewax also worked on the foreclosure-crisis coverage that was recognized with a 2009 Heywood Broun Award.

Before joining NPR in 2008, Geewax served as the national economics correspondent for Cox Newspapers' Washington Bureau. Before that, she worked at Cox's flagship paper, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, first as a business reporter and then as a columnist and editorial board member. She got her start as a business reporter for the Akron Beacon Journal.

Over the years, she has filed news stories from China, Japan, South Africa and Europe. Recently, she headed to Europe to participate in the RIAS German/American Journalist Exchange Program.

Geewax was a Nieman Fellow at Harvard, where she studied economics and international relations. She earned a master's degree at Georgetown University, focusing on international economic affairs, and has a bachelor's degree from The Ohio State University.

She is a member of the National Press Club's Board of Governors and serves on the Global Economic Reporting Initiative Committee for the Society of American Business Editors and Writers.

JP Morgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon, wearing a dark suit possibly made of sackcloth, didn't hold back when discussing the derivative trades that led to massive losses for his company.

"We made a stupid error," he said before a lunchtime audience at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington on Wednesday. "We screwed up."

Then he got more specific: "I should have caught it ... I didn't."

The company estimates it lost $5.8 billion, thanks to a London-based trader, nicknamed the "London whale," who took large, risky positions in credit derivatives.

With a new report showing the nation's unemployment rate fell to 7.8 percent last month, the Obama administration got good news Friday: Jobs are indeed growing. But, as Republicans noted, the pace remains well below the level needed to provide paychecks for the 12.1 million people seeking them.

The truth is, each party could find evidence to support either a positive or negative spin on the labor market, which is recovering — yet weak.

In their first debate Wednesday night, the two presidential candidates will explain their plans for fixing the U.S. economy.

Good luck.

The problems are complicated and long-standing, so the solutions may not be easy to spell out in the two minutes allowed for each answer under the debate rules.

But President Obama, the Democratic incumbent, and former Gov. Mitt Romney, his Republican challenger, will try, and about 60 million people are expected to tune in. This first debate will focus on domestic issues, with the economy topping the list of homefront problems.

Unless Congress passes legislation in a lame-duck session, taxes will be higher by a half-trillion dollars next year, costing the average household nearly $3,500 a year, according to a just-released report by the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center.

After studying details of the tax changes now set to take effect for 2013, the researchers were struck by "how big the tax increase is," said Eric Toder, one of those researchers. "It's a huge, huge number."

In January, NPR and ProPublica reported on a potential conflict of interest at Freddie Mac, a mortgage giant sponsored by the federal government. The stories noted that even as Freddie Mac was writing rules making it harder for homeowners to refinance their mortgages, it also was stepping up investments in securities that gain when homeowners remain stuck in high-rate loans.

As this presidential election year was kicking off, strategists were saying the focus would be on the economy. But now — even as absentee ballots are being filled in — the candidates are still dodging details about how to improve growth.

"President Obama doesn't have a plan," says Kevin Hassett, an economic adviser to Republican candidate Mitt Romney.

Jeffrey Liebman, an economic adviser to President Obama, says Romney has revealed no plan other than "going back to the failed policies of the past decade."

As the political conventions wrap up, talking points concerning the economy may seem locked into place: Growth is continuing, but at a slow pace.

Don't be fooled.

There's still plenty of time for big surprises, and Thursday provided a stunning example. Stock prices shot to highs not seen in years.

As a tropical storm was gathering strength last week, fears were growing that the fierce winds might knock out Gulf Coast refineries, send gasoline prices soaring and seriously damage the U.S. economy.

But when Hurricane Isaac slammed into the Gulf Coast on Tuesday, it was only a Category 1 hurricane, far weaker than Katrina, the monster storm that hit seven years ago.

In late August of 2008, just as delegates were coming together for their political-party conventions, the U.S. economy was falling apart. Home sales were shutting down, employers were slashing payrolls, and financial institutions were lurching toward chaos.

Subsequent weeks saw political leaders and regulators fighting through one gut-wrenching day after another, trying to avert a complete collapse of global markets. On Sept. 24, Republican presidential candidate John McCain temporarily suspended his campaign to help Congress develop financial bailout plans.

For weeks, Democrats have been trying to call voters' attention to the financial dealings of Mitt Romney, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee.

Supporters of President Obama, the Democratic Party's candidate, have been suggesting that Romney has exploited tax shelters and offshore accounts to build and protect his wealth in ways that average taxpayers would never be able to do.

They are demanding Romney release many years of tax returns.

Could it be that American Airlines CEO Tom Horton is resisting the warm embrace of US Airways CEO Doug Parker over a little thing like money?

During a National Press Club luncheon Wednesday, Parker didn't exactly shoot down suggestions that American's leadership has been stalling on a merger of the two carriers because of the potential for personal gain.

Asked whether Horton is focused on the payday he would get if American were to remain independent a while longer, Parker hesitated. For more than 8 seconds, his answer was: "Um. The. Uh. Let's see."

High-profile experts are staging two separate Washington press conferences Tuesday to demand action on public-debt problems. One group is targeting state budget crises; the other, the federal budget mess.

If the ancient Greek philosopher Plato were still alive, he might hold a third press conference to declare: "It's hopeless. I told you so. Democracy will always degenerate into chaos because people will vote for their immediate self interests, not the long-term good."

When Moody's downgraded the credit ratings of most major U.S. banks on Thursday, you'd have thought Friday would be a tough day for bank stocks.

But bank stocks ticked up — largely because investors were relieved. They had feared the downgrades would be worse. The Dow Jones industrial average was recovering from Thursday's 250-point drop, the second-worst of the year.

The Federal Reserve — the nation's central bank — will end its two-day meeting on Wednesday by offering its assessment of the economy, and then declaring its latest plan for making things better.

Investors all over the world will be waiting to hear just how weak — or not — the Fed thinks the U.S. economy is. And they will be watching to see whether the bankers plan to continue trying to stimulate growth by extending two controversial programs, one known as Operation Twist, and the other as quantitative easing.

At any gathering of business owners, you're likely to hear about how hard it is to fill jobs because of a "skills gap."

Lots of employers say they want to hire welders, software engineers, nurses, oil-field workers and so many others, but can't find applicants with the right talents and education.

But Peter Cappelli, a professor of management at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School and director of its Center for Human Resources, says these complaints are largely bunk.

Americans who fear the economy is losing steam would like to see the Federal Reserve turn up the heat.

That might happen when the central bank holds its next meeting June 19-20. The Fed could take steps to drive interest rates even lower, or create fresh piles of cash to stimulate growth.

But with the election season gearing up, the Fed's ability to act boldly may be restrained. That's because the monetary policymakers want to preserve the Fed's credibility as a nonpartisan entity.

Part of the Family Matters series

Some financial problems have obvious solutions.

For example, colleges aren't graduating enough engineers. But as more students become wary of fat loans and slim job prospects, many may shift majors. Change is possible.

But that's not the case with this problem: The number of elderly Americans in need of expensive care is about to surge, and there's no stopping the calendar.

May's higher unemployment rate and meager job creation couldn't have come at a worse time for people like Julia Gray. A Chicago-based writer and editor with a master's degree, Gray said she has been unemployed for 17 months. "The media world in Chicago is dead and deader," she said.

"I was collecting unemployment benefits for a while," she said. "It helped a great deal — it was incredibly important."

But now her benefits have run out, and her employment search goes on.

Making the decision to move a parent out of the homestead can hurt.

The house may be full of good ghosts and happy memories. But it also has too many steps and too much lawn to mow. So the time comes to pack up and move on.

A decade ago, at least one part of that transition wasn't so tough. When the for-sale sign went up, an eager buyer was likely to show up with a good offer. But today, families are facing a much more difficult real estate environment.

Journalists have spent many days and millions of words hashing over the news that banking giant JPMorgan Chase lost billions of dollars trading "synthetic" derivatives.

I am one of those journalists who, more or less, can understand what the bank says it was trying to do, i.e., hedge against loan losses. But here's what I have a hard time explaining:

What does this kind of complex trading have to do with the price of eggs?

Middle age is prime time for saving money. From your late 40s through early 60s, you're supposed to squirrel away cash to cope with health care costs in your old age.

But for millions of Americans, middle age also is the time when children are seeking help with higher-education bills, and elderly parents may be needing assistance with daily care.

Americans routinely buy all sorts of insurance — for cars, homes, health and even pets and boats.

But when it comes to long-term-care insurance, relatively few sign up. Out of more than 313 million Americans, only about 8 million have any such protection, according to the American Association for Long-Term Care Insurance. The low participation rate largely reflects the high cost of long-term-care insurance.

The unemployment rate slipped a notch to 8.1 percent in April, but not because employers went on a hiring spree.

Instead, the jobless rate appeared to improve because fewer people were applying for positions. Last month, the civilian labor force shrank by 342,000 people.

Economists say many of those workforce dropouts were "discouraged" workers who moved to the sidelines after months, even years, of trying to nail down jobs.

Walk through any nursing home, and your first thought might be: "I need to take care of Mom myself."

Few people want to turn over a loved one to institutional care. No matter how good the nursing home, it may seem cold and impersonal — and very expensive. But making the choice to provide care yourself is fraught with financial risks and personal sacrifices.

Those who become full-time caregivers often look back and wish they had taken the time to better understand the financial position they would be getting themselves into.

Planning a wedding is exciting.

Mapping out a vacation is fun.

Figuring how to afford care for your confused, elderly father? That one may never cross your mind — at least, not until you need more money to care for him.

"Never thought about it," Natasha Shamone-Gilmore, 58, says about her younger self. "Never ever."

She thinks about it a lot these days. Shamone-Gilmore, a computer trainer in Maryland, now shares a modest home with her husband, 24-year-old son and 81-year-old father.

Part of the Family Matters series

The Great Recession slammed into all age groups, flattening the career dreams of young people and squeezing the retirement accounts of middle-aged savers. It financially crippled many elderly people who had thought they could stand on their own.

This week, European leaders will huddle in intense meetings, trying to work out a comprehensive plan to solve crushing debt problems.

Higher stakes are hard to imagine.

If all goes well at a summit in Brussels, the political leaders will make an announcement Friday, spelling out their long-term commitment to a plan to loosen a choking tangle of debt troubles. If they can't agree on a plan, the EU debt crisis could lead to the kind of financial chaos that economists say surely would hurt the United States.

Shoppers stormed retail stores this past weekend, and now on Cyber Monday, many are clicking their way to more purchases.

"I am definitely a price-based shopper," said Sarah Kelly, a 28-year-old Washington, D.C., resident who bought a KitchenAid mixer Monday morning as a holiday gift. She also bought shoes, clothes and other presents after waking early to search for online coupons and shipping offers. "I only purchase if the shipping is free," she said.

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