Stacey Vanek Smith

Stacey Vanek Smith is the co-host of NPR's The Indicator from Planet Money. She's also a correspondent for Planet Money, where she covers business and economics. In this role, Smith has followed economic stories down the muddy back roads of Oklahoma to buy 100 barrels of oil; flew to Pune, India, to track down the man who pitched the country's dramatic currency devaluation to the prime minister; and spoke with a North Korean woman who made a small fortune smuggling artificial sweetener in from China.

Prior to coming to NPR, Smith worked for Marketplace, where she was a correspondent and fill-in host. While there, Smith was part of a collaboration with The New York Times, where she explored the relationship between money and marriage. She was also part of Marketplace's live shows, where she produced a series of pieces on getting her data mined.

Smith is a native of Idaho and grew up working on her parents' cattle ranch. She is a graduate of Princeton University, where she earned a bachelor's degree in comparative literature and creative writing. She also holds a master's in broadcast journalism from Columbia University.

Cobalt used to be a byproduct of copper mining, used in everyday, boring stuff like tires and magnets.

But that all changed when someone discovered its ability to stabilize the lithium in batteries for electronics like cell phones.

Now it's become one of the most important and sought after metals on the periodic table. Which has implications for big tech firms like Apple.

The quality of American cars got a lot better after the financial crisis. They got lighter, more efficient and more reliable. And the car business boomed.

But now they're getting too expensive. Sticker prices for the SUVs and trucks that Americans love are high enough that manufacturers don't have to sell as many vehicles to make money.

But that's not going to last.

Nearly every sport has been hit with news of doping — of athletes using illegal performance-enhancing drugs. Perhaps the most famous example is cyclist Lance Armstrong, who denied doping allegations for years and then admitted using performance-enhancing drugs in 2013. That's where the documentary Icarus begins.

Like all oil well owners, Jason Bruns watches the oil market closely. When crude hits a certain price, he'll either switch a pump on - if prices are rising - or turn it off, if they're not.

Right now oil prices are at a bit of a sweet spot for small producers like Jason. Pumpjacks all over the country are being switched on. Consumers may not like rising oil prices much, but they're a sign the economy is doing better.

Since the late 1990s, inflation — or average prices — has increased by 55.6 percent. But while things like televisions and smartphones have gotten much cheaper in that time, certain other things have gotten much more expensive.

So while some people may be able to afford the latest gadget, certain other things remain out of reach. Today on the show we look at what that tells us about the true cost of living in America in the 21st century.