The Uncertain Hour ★★★★★

The Uncertain Hour ★★★★★
Krissy Clark hosts this 6-part series about the welfare system: how it came to be, who it benefits, and who it doesn’t.

This special guest post was written by Christine Hollins. Check out this note about her background, and this additional review she wrote about Awesome Etiquette!


The Uncertain Hour is a new podcast from the folks at American Public Media – Marketplace Wealth & Poverty desk. It is a spin off podcast from the main Marketplace programs and is an in-depth look at our economy from a fresh perspective, as illustrated by their tag line “the things we fight the most about are the things we know the least about.” In this inaugural season the topic is welfare and so far host Krissy Clark has led us through episode one – the reformers – and episode two – those in the system who have been reformed upon. Welfare is one of those hot button issues that we like to pull out during election cycles, the thing we wonder if the mom with 8 kids in line a Walmart is using, and the dirty little secret we don’t like to talk about and when we do, we make others feel ashamed to use or depend on it.

There is a lot of content packed into the hour long, bi-weekly podcast so I will just highlight a few things from the most recent episode – White Gloves, Aluminum Cans and Plasma (May 11, 2016). This episode tells the story of two women: Ruby and Josephine, both of whom at some point in their life were on the welfare rolls. In Ruby’s story we learn that she absolutely hated being on welfare, but that she was forced to after a serious back injury at work left her unable to provide for her family and hold down steady employment. Ruby’s time on welfare was in the late 1960’s, a time when racial tensions were high in this country. The racial disparity was felt even in the welfare system – as we learn in the reporting there were sanctioned checklists and rules which treated blacks and whites differently as part of the application and administration of welfare benefits. There were any number of questions related to how often you had sex, to how clean your house was, and surprise night inspections to find out if there was a man living with you – since at that time welfare was limited to single mothers. It sounds abhorrent to imagine government workers being that intrusive into your life – just to get you help to feed/care for your family when there were no other options. Of course it did not stop there; Ruby, through interactions with other recipients, soon uncovered the payment disparity between black and white – which led her to organize protests against these dissimilarities. As a result of her and others efforts many of the discriminatory rules were thrown out or deemed unconstitutional – a result – welfare enrollment increased threefold. As the system grew and became more diverse our (political) scrutiny of the system expanded.

Our other main story in this episode was a follow-up with Josephine, who had actually been interviewed by the folks at Marketplace after the sweeping Welfare Reforms of 1996 popularly known as Welfare to Work (a program highlighted in episode one). Josephine has lived for most of her life in an economically depressed area of West Virginia. At the time of the original report the area was economically depressed with most major employers leaving her area – now 20 years later, even more employers have left, and as we hear there is not much available to help the residents meet their daily needs – but Josephine is no longer on welfare; however, she is still living in poverty. Josephine had worked on and off before the reform and sometimes she would have enough work that she didn’t need additional support in the form of welfare. After the welfare reforms went into place she did not go on welfare again – but that was more from the sacrifices she and her family made and not because she found steady work, and pulled herself out of poverty – as was the “dream” of Welfare to Work. Josephine for most of her life did not have a car, couldn’t afford one, which meant getting to work – which was outside of where she lived was nearly impossible. A family member’s illness caused her and her family to briefly move to North Carolina where they were able to find steady employment for a time – and earn enough to get a vehicle. This vehicle allows them to travel up to 2 hours to get to work – when work is available in neighboring areas of their West Virginia community. How do they make it when they don’t have steady work? Check the episode title for hints.

This podcast is part of a greater discussion, and episode one, “The Magic Bureaucrat,” is a must listen as well. This one examines a welfare reformer in California who was heralded as a miracle worker in the welfare reform world at the time – it also comes with a rather interesting and catchy soundtrack – but I will let you investigate that one more on your own. This is a fascinating podcast and I really enjoy the in-depth reporting on a topic I previously knew little about, save the snippets on CNN or as fodder in political campaigns. This should be recommended listening to anyone interested in or serving in political office and wanting to “change things” – because you first have to know and understand a problem before you can fix it.

The Uncertain Hour is on my must listen to podcast list – and I encourage you to listen to each episode a few times – so you don’t miss anything. Host Krissy Clark has a great style and you can almost envision yourself there at the table of the interviews face-to-face with those speaking.

What do you think of this podcast? Leave a comment below and let’s discuss! Also subscribe to my twice-monthly newsletter

Audible Feast Ratings

Educational Value 5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

Pop Culture Value 3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5)

Host Listen-ability 5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

Flow & Production Value 5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

Humor 4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

Investigation 5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

Storytelling 5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

Makes Me a Better Person 5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

Overall Audible Feast Rating: 5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

You May Also Like … 

Planet Money, Marketplace, Actuality, Conversations from the Corner Office, Harvard Business Review Ideacast, Knowledge@Wharton, Global Public Policy Watch, The Economist

The Uncertain Hour from Marketplace

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