Jennifer Ludden

Jennifer Ludden is a correspondent on NPR's National Desk. She covers a range of stories on family life and social issues.

In recent years, Ludden has reported on the changing economics of marriage, the changing role of dads, the impact of rising student debt loads, and the ethical challenges of modern reproductive technology.

Ludden helped cover national security after the 9/11 attacks, then reported on the Bush administration's crackdown on illegal immigrants as well as Congressional efforts to pass a sweeping legalization. She traveled to the Philippines for a story on how an overburdened immigration bureaucracy keeps families separated for years, and to El Salvador to profile migrants who had been deported or turned back at the border.

Prior to moving into her current assignment in 2002, Ludden spent six years as a foreign reporter for NPR covering the Middle East, Europe, and West and Central Africa. She followed the collapse of the decade-long Oslo peace process, shared in two awards (Overseas Press Club and Society of Professional Journalists) for NPR's coverage of the Kosovo war in 1999, and won the Robert F. Kennedy award for her coverage of the overthrow of Mobutu Sese Seko in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

When not navigating war zones, Ludden reported on cultural trends, including the dying tradition of storytellers in Syria, the emergence of Persian pop music in Iran, and the rise of a new form of urban polygamy in Africa.

Before joining NPR in 1995, Ludden reported in Canada, and at public radio stations in Boston and Maine.

Ludden graduated from Syracuse University in 1988 with a bachelor's degree in English and Television, Radio and Film Production.

A new report finds the U.S. birth rate has dropped to its lowest level on record, led by a dramatic decline in births among immigrant women. The trend has been visible at La Clinica del Pueblo, a nonprofit in Washington, D.C., that holds a weekly neonatal clinic.

When his teenage son ventured into social media, Virginia father Mike Robinson wanted to make sure he could keep tabs on him. Robinson works in IT, so he rigged a surveillance system that works no matter what kind of device either of them is on.

"It's sort of like a version of remote desktop that enables you to run the program kind of silently in the background," Robinson says.

One day, checking in from his iPhone, Robinson discovered that his son had come across an adult meet-up site on Facebook.

In a red brick rambler in a Maryland suburb of Washington, D.C., Onether Lowery begins her daily shift as a caregiver. She skillfully helps 86-year-old Rosalie Lewis into her electric wheelchair, holding her from the back, then bending over to ease her down.

It's an impressive feat: Lowery herself is 80 years old.

"My mother, she was 89 when she passed away," Lowery says. "I took care of her and I just fell in love with older people. I get along with them very well."

The home care workforce — some 2.5 million strong — is one of the nation's fastest growing yet also worst paid. Turnover is high, and with a potential labor shortage looming as the baby boomers age, there are efforts to attract more people to the job.

One topic you don't hear much about from Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney is climate change. Like so much else, it's become politically divisive, with polls showing Republicans far less likely to believe in it or support policies to address it.

But two new groups aim to work from within, using conservative arguments to win over skeptics.

Newly released census figures show a long-standing and glaring contrast: A third of families headed by single mothers are in poverty, and they are four times more likely than married-couple families to be poor. The disparity is on the rise, and as the number of single mothers grows, analysts are debating if more marriages could mean less poverty.

Say "adoption" and many Americans think "babies." The U.S. system was largely organized around placing infants, both from this country and abroad. It turns out that, by far, the largest number of adoptions in the U.S. is through the foster care system. That means toddlers, young children, even teens.

Yet many in the field say the system does little to help families cope with the special issues a number of these children will face, even years after adoption.

When Barb and Mike Cannata adopted their first daughter from China almost a decade ago, the process was smooth and relatively quick — just 17 months from start to finish.

Now a chatty and confident 9-year-old, Emma is an accomplished equestrian with her show horse, Ajax. But the family had trouble explaining to Emma why it took so long to get her a little sister.

When the Cannatas decided to adopt again in 2007, Barb Cannata says, everything had changed. They ruled out China early on.

The increasing debt load of college graduates has affected young people's lives in untold ways, from career choices to living arrangements. Now add another impact on a key part of young adult life: dating and marriage.

Rachel Bingham, an art teacher in Portland, Maine, learned this a few years back, when a guy broke it off after four months of a budding relationship. Among other reasons, he cited her $80,000 in student loan debt.

"He said it scared him," she recalls, "that it really made him anxious. And he just did not want to take on my responsibility."

Growing up near Philadelphia, Michelle Holshue's dream was to serve those in need. Applying to nursing school at the University of Pennsylvania seemed like a smart move — in 2007.

Nursing jobs were plentiful. The students' running joke was that hospital executives would soon be stopping them in the street, begging them to come to work.

Then the economy tanked. For a time, Holshue was an Ivy League grad on unemployment and food stamps.

B.J. Holt always wanted to be a dad. As he approached 40, with no life partner in sight, he felt a version of the ticking biological clock.

"The 'having the children thing' started to overwhelm the desire to have the relationship first," Holt says. "They sort of switched on me."

So Holt decided to go it alone. A few years ago, he used an egg donor and a surrogate to create a family of his own.

First came Christina, now 4, a strawberry-blond bundle of energy who loves to stage ballet performances in the living room of their New York City apartment.

Most of the estimated 1.5 million people graduating from a four-year college this spring will soon be looking for a job.

If the experiences of other recent college grads are any guide, many will be disappointed.

A new Rutgers University survey of those who graduated from college between 2006 and 2011 finds that just half of those grads are working full time.

Settling For Part Time

The past week's political firestorm in the presidential race focused on stay-at-home moms, but two-thirds of women with young children now work. Nearly half are their family's primary breadwinner. What some feel is being lost in the political debate are the challenges they face in the workplace.

When Kids Get Sick

Second in a four-part report

As she approached her sixth month of pregnancy last year, Whitney Watts' cervix had started to shorten. It's a common problem with twins. Watts was concerned, and was taking care not to overexert herself.

But it's probably fair to say her condition was far more frightening for Susan de Gruchy, the woman who had hired Watts to be a surrogate because she and her husband were unable to conceive. Nearly 400 miles away, de Gruchy was obsessed with worry.

Third in a four-part report

These days it can take a village to create a child. Technology means someone who never thought they'd be able to conceive can use a sperm donor, an egg donor and a surrogate — a woman who bears a child for someone else. But the law has not kept pace with technology, and with so many people involved, a key question remains: Who is a legal parent?

A retirement crisis is looming. As people live longer, one study finds that half of all households are at risk of coming up short on retirement money. And while many working households may feel they simply don't have enough to spare for retirement, experts say some of the biggest barriers to saving up are psychological.

Americans have learned to carefully craft their Facebook postings, and edit and spell-check e-mails. But apparently we don't give text messages much thought, and they're providing abundant and effective fodder for divorce attorneys.

So-called helicopter parents first made headlines on college campuses a few years ago, when they began trying to direct everything from their children's course schedules to which roommate they were assigned.

With millennial children now in their 20s, more helicopter parents are showing up in the workplace, sometimes even phoning human resources managers to advocate on their child's behalf.

Megan Huffnagle, a former human resources manager at a Denver theme park, recalls being shocked several years ago when she received a call from a young job applicant's mother.

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