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.

It may seem hard to believe after such a tumultuous week on Wall Street, but economists do see a few bright spots.

For one, Americans with good credit scores can get some of the best housing bargains in decades. Freddie Mac's latest survey shows the average rate on 30-year, fixed-rate mortgages has dropped to 4.32 percent. That's down to the half-century lows set during the fourth quarter of last year.

Many factors have been holding down job creation this summer — everything from the extremely hot weather in many regions to the weak housing market in just about every city. Another factor dampening job growth has been the political battle over the nation's debt.

One example of how the Washington debate is hurting workers involves aviation. Amid the bickering over the debt ceiling earlier in July, Congress failed to pass a short-term extension of the Federal Aviation Administration's budget.

Host Michel Martin and NPR Senior Business Editor Marilyn Geewax check the facts behind the debt debates. Geewax explains how poor people would be both harmed and helped by government spending cuts, and how Americans can safeguard their credit if a U.S. default happens.

A week from now, the U.S. Treasury may default on some debts as it hits against a $14.3-trillion debt ceiling.

Despite that once-unthinkable possibility, financial markets appear calm. The stock market has not crashed and interest rates have held steady.

Still, one indicator is showing investors are getting nervous: the cost of insuring U.S. government debt against default is starting to spike.

"It's an early-warning indicator," says Otis C. Casey III, director of credit research for Markit Group Ltd., a London-based financial information services company.

While Congress has been debating ways to lower the nation's debt ceiling, consumers have been quietly raising their own debt ceilings. Federal Reserve data show consumer debt has begun ticking up again after dropping during the recession.

In the years just before the financial crisis hit in 2008, Americans were borrowing more and more. In 2000, the total debt load for U.S. households was roughly $5 trillion. That shot to about $12.5 trillion by 2008, according to data compiled by the New York Federal Reserve Bank.

On Thursday morning, President Obama will meet in the White House with top Democratic and Republican lawmakers — four from the House and four from the Senate — to continue work on a massive debt-reduction deal.

The goal is to complete a long-term, multitrillion-dollar budget reduction package by about July 22. That would give Congress enough time to write the deal into legislation, pass it and get it to Obama for his signature before the federal government reaches its $14.3 trillion debt limit on Aug. 2.

The latest surveys show that both business owners and consumers have been losing confidence in the U.S. economy. That pessimism is just the latest blow to hopes for a speedy recovery.

Last week, even Federal Reserve officials said they have grown more pessimistic about the economic outlook this year. The policy makers cut their forecast for 2011 to a growth rate of just 2.7 to 2.9 percent — down from their April estimate of 3.1 to 3.3 percent.

Throughout April and May, U.S. farmers faced floods, tornados, downpours and droughts — all of which made planting difficult. Now in June, intense heat has been sweeping over much of the country.

The harsh weather likely will reduce the fall's harvest, according to a new report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. That, in turn, could further drive up grocery prices for consumers.

Pages