October 20, 2021

The Economic Rebound Is Still Waiting for Workers

“They’re making a lot of profits in part because they’re saving on labor costs, and the question is how long can that go on,” said Julia Pollak, chief economist for the employment site ZipRecruiter. Eventually, she said, customers may get tired of busing their own tables or sitting on hold for hours, and employers may be forced to give into workers’ demands.

Some businesses are already changing how they operate. When Karter Louis opened his latest restaurant this year, he abandoned the industry-standard approach to staffing, with kitchen workers earning low wages and waiters relying on tips. At Soul Slice, his soul-food pizza restaurant in Oakland, Calif., everyone works full time, earns a salary rather than an hourly wage, and receives health insurance, retirement benefits and paid vacation. Hiring still hasn’t been easy, he said, but he isn’t having the staffing problems that other restaurants report.

Restaurant owners wondering why they can’t find workers, Mr. Louis said, need to look at the way they treated workers before the pandemic, and also during it, when the industry laid off millions.

“The restaurant industry didn’t really have the back of its people,” he said.

Still, better pay and benefits alone won’t bring back everyone who has left the job market. The steepest drop in labor force participation came among older workers, who faced the greatest risks from the virus. Some may return to work as the health situation improves, but others have simply retired.

And even some nowhere near retirement have made ends meet outside a traditional job.

When Danielle Miess, 30, lost her job at a Philadelphia-area travel agency at the start of the pandemic, it was in some ways a blessing. Some time away helped her realize how bad the job had been for her mental health, and for her finances — her bank balance was negative on the day she was laid off. With federally supplemented unemployment benefits providing more than she made on the job, she said, she gained a measure of financial stability.

Ms. Miess’s unemployment benefits ran out in September, but she isn’t looking for another office job. Instead, she is cobbling together a living from a variety of gigs. She is trying to build a business as an independent travel agent, while also doing house sitting, dog sitting and selling clothes online. She estimates she is earning somewhat more than the roughly $36,000 a year she made before the pandemic, and although she is working as many hours as ever, she enjoys the flexibility.

“The thought of going to an office job 40 hours a week and clocking in at the exact time, it sounds incredibly difficult,” she said. “The rigidity of doing that job, feeling like I’m being watched like a hawk, it just doesn’t sound fun. I really don’t want to go back to that.”

Article source: https://www.nytimes.com/2021/10/19/business/economy/economy-workers-labor-force.html

Biden’s Paid Leave Plan at Risk as Lawmakers Seek Cuts

Research on California, the first state to offer paid family leave, has mostly shown that paid leave has a positive effect on women’s wages and participation in the labor force. Nine states and the District of Columbia have passed paid leave programs.

Christopher J. Ruhm, a professor of public policy and economics at the University of Virginia, found that under California’s paid leave law, new mothers who had worked during their pregnancy were estimated to be 17 percent more likely to have returned to work within a year of their child’s birth. During the second year of their child’s life, mothers’ time spent at work increased.

“The evidence is pretty strong that we’d see favorable effects,” Mr. Ruhm said. “It’s not going to lead to a huge increase in employment or labor force participation of women, but it would be a modest one.”

Maya Rossin-Slater, an associate professor of health policy at Stanford University, said research found that policies offering up to one year of paid leave can increase labor participation among women after childbirth. Under California’s program, the biggest gain in leave-taking is seen for Black mothers, who became more likely to take maternity leave, according to Ms. Rossin-Slater’s research.

“Implementation of paid family leave can reduce inequities,” Ms. Rossin-Slater said.

Pepper Nappo, 33, a mother in Derry, N.H., said she was left alone to take care of her newborn son the day she was discharged from the hospital in 2016. She had required stitches after childbirth.

As a barber, she did not have paid parental leave, and her husband could not afford to take more than a week off from his job at a landscaping company. The family downgraded their car and limited what they bought at the grocery store but still struggled to keep up with the bills.

“If I had paid leave, we wouldn’t have been behind,” Ms. Nappo said.

Public support for paid family and medical leave is strong, but Americans tend to differ over specific policies. A recent CBS News/YouGov poll found that 73 percent of U.S. adults surveyed supported federal funding for paid family and medical leave.

Article source: https://www.nytimes.com/2021/10/18/us/politics/biden-paid-leave.html

Debate Weighs Price of Biden’s Big Plan vs. Not Acting

Many Democrats fear the United States cannot afford to wait to curb climate change, help more women enter the work force and invest in feeding and educating its most vulnerable children. In their view, failing to invest in those issues means the country risks incurring painful costs that will slow economic growth.

“We can’t afford not to do these kinds of investments,” David Kamin, a deputy director of the White House National Economic Council, said in an interview.

Take climate change: The Democratic think tank Third Way estimates that if Congress passes an aggressive plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, U.S. companies will invest an additional $1.3 trillion in the construction and deployment of low-emission energy like wind and solar power and energy-efficient technologies over the next decade, and $10 trillion by 2050. White House officials say that if the country fails to reduce emissions, the federal government will face mounting costs for relief and other aid to victims of climate-related disasters like wildfires and hurricanes.

“Those are the table stakes for the reconciliation and infrastructure debate,” said Josh Freed, the senior vice president for climate and energy at Third Way. “It’s why we think the cost of inaction, from an economic perspective, is so enormous.”

But to some centrist Democrats, who have expressed deep reservations about spending $2 trillion on a bill to advance Mr. Biden’s plans, “affordable” still means what it did in decades past: not adding to the federal debt. The budget deficit has swelled in recent years, reaching $1 trillion in 2019 from additional spending and tax cuts that did not pay for themselves, before topping $3 trillion last year amid record spending to combat the coronavirus pandemic.

Mr. Manchin says he fears too much additional spending would feed rising inflation, which could push up borrowing costs and make it harder for the country to manage its budget deficit. He has made clear that he would like the final bill to raise more revenue than it spends in order to reduce future deficits and the threat of a debt crisis. Mr. Biden says his proposals would help fight inflation by reducing the cost of child care, housing, education and more.

Article source: https://www.nytimes.com/2021/10/17/us/politics/biden-budget-affordability.html

Biden’s Plans Raise Questions About What U.S. Can Afford Not to Do

Many Democrats fear the United States cannot afford to wait to curb climate change, help more women enter the work force and invest in feeding and educating its most vulnerable children. In their view, failing to invest in those issues means the country risks incurring painful costs that will slow economic growth.

“We can’t afford not to do these kinds of investments,” David Kamin, a deputy director of the White House National Economic Council, said in an interview.

Take climate change: The Democratic think tank Third Way estimates that if Congress passes an aggressive plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, U.S. companies will invest an additional $1.3 trillion in the construction and deployment of low-emission energy like wind and solar power and energy-efficient technologies over the next decade, and $10 trillion by 2050. White House officials say that if the country fails to reduce emissions, the federal government will face mounting costs for relief and other aid to victims of climate-related disasters like wildfires and hurricanes.

“Those are the table stakes for the reconciliation and infrastructure debate,” said Josh Freed, the senior vice president for climate and energy at Third Way. “It’s why we think the cost of inaction, from an economic perspective, is so enormous.”

But to some centrist Democrats, who have expressed deep reservations about spending $2 trillion on a bill to advance Mr. Biden’s plans, “affordable” still means what it did in decades past: not adding to the federal debt. The budget deficit has swelled in recent years, reaching $1 trillion in 2019 from additional spending and tax cuts that did not pay for themselves, before topping $3 trillion last year amid record spending to combat the coronavirus pandemic.

Mr. Manchin says he fears too much additional spending would feed rising inflation, which could push up borrowing costs and make it harder for the country to manage its budget deficit. He has made clear that he would like the final bill to raise more revenue than it spends in order to reduce future deficits and the threat of a debt crisis. Mr. Biden says his proposals would help fight inflation by reducing the cost of child care, housing, education and more.

Article source: https://www.nytimes.com/2021/10/17/us/politics/biden-budget-affordability.html

China’s GDP Growth Slows as Property and Energy Take a Toll

Volkswagen, the market leader in China, said on Friday that its production had been falling as the company faced an ever-worsening chip shortage and other supply chain issues. The company doesn’t have enough cars to fill customers’ and dealerships’ orders, creating a backlog.

“Our priority is to work off our backlog,” said Stephan Wöllenstein, the chief executive of Volkswagen’s China division.

For months, economists have made the same prediction: the fast growth of China’s exports cannot last.

The economists were wrong.

China’s exports kept surging through the third quarter and finished strong, up 28.1 percent in September compared with the same month last year. China posted its third-highest monthly trade surplus ever last month.

China has essentially maintained its strength in exports ever since its economy emerged from the pandemic in the spring of last year. As much of the world hunkered down at home, families splurged on consumer electronics, furniture, clothing and other goods that China manufactures in abundance.

The export boom, though, is creating another source of tension between the United States and China.

Katherine Tai, the United States trade representative, suggested in a speech two weeks ago that China’s export prowess was partly the result of subsidies and other unfair practices. “For too long, China’s lack of adherence to global trading norms has undercut the prosperity of Americans and others around the world,” she said.

But Chinese officials and experts contend that the country’s success is the result of a strong work ethic and consistent, large investments in manufacturing. They are quick to point out that by bringing the pandemic firmly under control within several weeks early last year, China was able to reopen its factories and offices quickly.

Article source: https://www.nytimes.com/2021/10/17/business/economy/china-economy-gdp.html

Funding Fight Threatens Plan to Pump Billions Into Affordable Housing

A few years ago she was told that a voucher was about to become available, but that fell through, and she has spent much of the past 13 years hopping from apartment to apartment. Last spring, Ms. Sylve moved in with her daughter across the bay in San Francisco, because the neighborhood around her apartment had become too dangerous.

“They give you hope, and that’s the hardest part,” Ms. Sylve said. “But you keep hoping, year after year after year.”

A survey of 44 large housing authorities across the country conducted by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a left-leaning Washington think tank, painted a grim picture of the voucher program. A total of 737,000 people were on waiting lists, and 32 of the authorities are refusing to take new applications, with a few exceptions for particularly vulnerable populations.

The situation on the West Coast was especially dire, with eight times as many people lingering on waiting lists as receiving aid in San Diego, where the list has topped 108,000. Long waiting lists are also a staple in Washington, Philadelphia, Houston, Honolulu, Little Rock, Ark., and New York, which closed its list years ago.

Will Fischer, director for housing policy for the center, said bolstering the voucher program was the most important single move the federal government could make to address the homelessness crisis.

“Look, the public housing money is urgently needed — but it would be for existing units, for families who already have a place to live,” he said. “And most of the other funding in the proposal actually serves people a little bit higher up the income scale.”

Representative Ritchie Torres, a Bronx Democrat whose district is among the poorest in the country, said housing always seemed to be listed as the third, fourth or fifth priority of many liberal lawmakers.

Article source: https://www.nytimes.com/2021/10/15/us/politics/affordable-housing-spending-plan.html

Rising Rents Stoke Inflation Data, a Concern for Washington

The recovery in the New York area as a whole has been uneven as some families have moved to the city, bidding up prices, while others are struggling to pay, said Jay Martin, executive director of the Community Housing Improvement Program, which represents landlords of mostly rent-stabilized housing.

“You have bidding wars for one unit, and then a renter who can’t pay,” he said. “A tale of two cities is happening within the same building.”

Drew Hamrick, the senior vice president of the Colorado Apartment Association, a landlord group, said the rise in rents is not driven by landlords but by market factors.

“Landlords don’t really set the price, consumers set the price,” he said. “It’s musical chairs.”

Even if there is a pullback in rents next year, today’s suddenly higher housing costs could make for a painful adjustment period. Higher rent costs can reverberate through people’s lives and force tough decisions.

Luke Martinez, a 27-year-old in Greenville, a town in East Texas, is contemplating buying a trailer and setting his family up on an R.V. lot after learning that he is losing the three-bedroom house he has been renting for about $1,000 per month since 2016.

“It’s insane the amount of rent, even in this little podunk town,” Mr. Martinez said.

He’s looking at paying up to $1,500 per month for a new place, which will be tough. After getting laid off at the start of the pandemic, he had been living partly on savings — padded by an insurance payout after his car was stolen and totaled. He returned to working in automotive repair only this week. His wife had been working the front desk at a hotel until two months ago, but she is now home-schooling their 8-year-old.

If they end up renting at the higher price, they will most likely afford it by forgoing a new car.

“It’s pretty much just scraping by,” he said of his lifestyle.

Article source: https://www.nytimes.com/2021/10/15/business/economy/rent-inflation.html

U.S. Renews Its Support for the World Trade Organization

Jake Colvin, the president of the National Foreign Trade Council, which represents major multinational companies, said it was “fundamentally encouraging to hear Ambassador Tai reaffirm the continued commitment of the administration to the W.T.O.”

“That’s important and can’t be taken for granted,” he said. “I would agree with her, and the administration would agree with her, that the organization needs to show that it’s capable of addressing challenges and it’s not just trade for trade’s sake.”

Richard E. Baldwin, a professor of international economics at the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies, posed questions to Ms. Tai after her speech. He was enthusiastic about the departure from the Trump administration’s harsh critiques. “I haven’t heard optimism and W.T.O. said in the same sentence in a long time,” he said.

In remarks at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington on Thursday, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, the director general of the W.T.O., said that despite a bruising trade war, discussion of decoupling the United States and China, and pandemic-related shortages, global trade was actually at historic highs and the multilateral trading system continued to strongly benefit the global economy.

“To paraphrase Mark Twain, reports of the death of multilateral trade are greatly exaggerated,” she said. “Warnings of deglobalization are not matched by the evidence, not yet, at least.”

As the organization prepares for its meeting next month, W.T.O. members are divided over whether to grant a waiver that allows countries to bypass the intellectual property protections pharmaceutical companies have on their products to more quickly produce and distribute coronavirus vaccines to lower-income nations.

Backed by the progressive wing of the Democratic Party, the Biden administration has stated its support for the waiver. But it continues to face criticism, both from supporters who say the administration isn’t doing enough to provide vaccine access to poorer countries, and from the business community, which worries about the long-run effects of the erosion of intellectual property rights.

Article source: https://www.nytimes.com/2021/10/14/business/economy/trade-wto-katherine-tai.html

John Deere Workers Strike After Failed Contract Talks

Mr. Volkmann said the financial damage from the labor dispute, if it was settled quickly, would be limited. The company’s bigger challenge, he said, comes from the pandemic’s disruption to the worldwide supply chain, which has caused shortages and raised prices for some components.

“Deere is already under some stress,” he said. “They’re not producing at full capacity anyway — they just don’t have the parts.”

As many employers grapple with worker shortages, workers across the country appear more willing to undertake strikes and other labor actions.

Last week, more than 1,000 workers at Kellogg, the cereal maker, went on strike, and Mondelez International, which makes Oreos and other Nabisco snacks, experienced a work stoppage this summer. Coal miners in Alabama have been on strike for months. Workers have also waged prominent union campaigns at Amazon and Starbucks.

Those on strike elsewhere in the country have raised similar complaints as the Deere employees, pointing out that they put in long hours as essential workers during the pandemic but are not sharing much of the profits that their companies reaped during that time.

“There was no reprieve — everyone was working seven days a week,” said Dan Osborn, the president of a Kellogg workers local in Omaha.

Mr. Osborn said his members were upset over a two-tier compensation system that they worry puts downward pressure on the wages and benefits of veteran workers. “Divide and conquer, it’s an age-old adage,” he said.

Article source: https://www.nytimes.com/2021/10/14/business/economy/john-deere-strike.html

As Western Oil Giants Cut Production, State-Owned Companies Step Up

Kuwait announced last month that it planned to invest more than $6 billion in exploration over the next five years to increase production to four million barrels a day, from 2.4 million now.

This month, the United Arab Emirates, a major OPEC member that produces four million barrels of oil a day, became the first Persian Gulf state to pledge to a net zero carbon emissions target by 2050. But just last year ADNOC, the U.A.E.’s national oil company, announced it was investing $122 billion in new oil and gas projects.

Iraq, OPEC’s second-largest producer after Saudi Arabia, has invested heavily in recent years to boost oil output, aiming to raise production to eight million barrels a day by 2027, from five million now. The country is suffering from political turmoil, power shortages and inadequate ports, but the government has made several major deals with foreign oil companies to help the state-owned energy company develop new fields and improve production from old ones.

Even in Libya, where warring factions have hamstrung the oil industry for years, production is rising. In recent months, it has been churning out 1.3 million barrels a day, a nine-year high. The government aims to increase that total to 2.5 million within six years.

National oil companies in Brazil, Colombia and Argentina are also working to produce more oil and gas to raise revenue for their governments before demand for oil falls as richer countries cut fossil fuel use.

After years of frustrating disappointments, production in the Vaca Muerta, or Dead Cow, oil and gas field in Argentina has jumped this year. The field had never supplied more than 120,000 barrels of oil in a day but is now expected to end the year at 200,000 a day, according to Rystad Energy, a research and consulting firm. The government, which is considered a climate leader in Latin America, has proposed legislation that would encourage even more production.

“Argentina is concerned about climate change, but they don’t see it primarily as their responsibility,” said Lisa Viscidi, an energy expert at the Inter-American Dialogue, a Washington research organization. Describing the Argentine view, she added, “The rest of the world globally needs to reduce oil production, but that doesn’t mean that we in particular need to change our behavior.”

Article source: https://www.nytimes.com/2021/10/14/business/energy-environment/oil-production-state-owned-companies.html