Bryant Urstadt

Covering the First Wave of the Pandemic for Planet Money

On March 12, 2020, NPR’s New York studios closed. Like so many workers, we all dispersed and went into lockdown, in apartments around the city, and, eventually, the country. With no studios and a support staff that was just learning how to operate remotely, we turned to the biggest crisis Planet Money had yet covered: the Pandemic. 

We tried to help listeners understand how a two trillion dollar rescue package -- the largest ever by a large margin -- would work, and, astonishingly, if two trillion dollars was even enough. We asked how an unemployment system would deal with more than 3 million jobless claims in one week, another record. And how the unemployed would deal with their new reality. We tried to understand how it could be that essential workers, who were disproportionately women and people of color, could be asked to work with hazard pay. And how it could be true that stimulus checks being sent to the unemployed often exceeded the salaries of those essential workers? We brought numbers and analysis to questions we never thought we’d ask, like: What is a life worth? And if you can even get a number--you can, and it’s about $10 million--how do you balance that against the value of the economy? 

Below are a handful of episodes from the first weeks of the First Wave of the pandemic, along with their original descriptions:

March 26, 2020: Where Do We Get $2,000,000,000,000?
The government's economic rescue package will cost so much it's worth writing out the full number: $2,000,000,000,000. Where will that money come from? And what will happen next?

March 28, 2020: America Unemployed
There are 3,283,000 new claims for unemployment – but the unemployment system wasn't designed for that kind of record number. Now 3 million people are asking, "What's next?"

April 3, 2020: The Economics Of Hospital Beds
Bellevue is the oldest public hospital in the nation. It's seen everything, and survived everything. But even they might not have enough beds for the COVID peak. Here's why.

April 10, 2020: The Big Small Business Rescue
This past week, millions of small business owners have been trying to take advantage of a $349 billion rescue program.

April 15, 2020: Lives Vs. The Economy
The economy will start back up again. When it does, it'll be because someone decided that it was worth the lives risked, and lost. Today on the show: How that decision is made.

May 1, 2020: About That Hazard Pay
Many essential workers right now are low paid. And they're being asked to risk more. Titles got fancier but their job got worse. So... why aren't these workers getting paid more?

Listeners responded, driving the show to record numbers. Media critics like New York Magazine’s Vulture noticed what was happening at Planet Money, too, writing, “We [find] ourselves in the depths of another economic calamity — quite possibly the worst ever experienced by this country. And Planet Money has stepped up to cover this new crisis with reliable gusto, producing some of the best work that the show’s ever done, almost twelve years into its existence.”

Other critics noticed, too, like Eleanor W., 13, who, in the middle of the First Wave took the time to write, “I am 13 and this is where I love to go to get my economic dose of information each day. Though I am not the main demographic for this show I really enjoy it. I feel like I am there with them which is really nice for me because not really anyone else is into this stuff. So thanks Planet Money for being there for my obsession with economics. Everyone should listen to this show.”