Inflation came in strong and wage growth remained elevated at the end of 2021, setting the stage for a challenging economic year in which the Federal Reserve and White House will try to maintain momentum in the job market while wrestling price gains under control.
The Personal Consumption Expenditures index, the Fed’s preferred inflation gauge, came in at 5.8 percent in December, up from 5.7 percent the prior month. That beat out the prior month to become the fastest pace since 1982.
climbed 4 percent in the year through the fourth quarter, with its wages and salaries measure picking up by 4.5 percent.
That marked the fastest pace of increase for both the overall compensation and the wages and salaries measure since the data series started two decades ago.
taken steps aimed at relieving pressure on choked supply chains, the job of slowing down demand to bring prices under control rests primarily with the Fed.
produced by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York that incorporates backlogs, delivery times and inventories.
Inflation sped up starting last year as people bought more goods, aided by repeated government relief checks and other federal benefits. The world’s factories and shipping lines have struggled to keep up with demand, resulting in rising prices for cars, lumber and clothing. While spending has moderated somewhat recently — it fell in December as Omicron spread, as goods consumption declined — it is unclear whether that is a blip caused by the pandemic or a lasting pullback.
Fed officials have been watching for signs that inflation, which they have projected will ease to less than 3 percent by the end of the year, might instead linger.
“We are attentive to the risks that persistent real wage growth in excess of productivity could put upward pressure on inflation,” Jerome H. Powell, the Fed’s chair, said during a news conference on Wednesday. Friday’s data could offer officials some slight reprieve.
Mr. Powell had in December specifically cited the previously Employment Cost Index reading — which came in high during the third quarter — as one reason that the Fed had decided to shift from stoking growth to preparing to fight back if inflation becomes long-lasting.
The fact that the measure did not pick up as sharply as expected in the final quarter of the year could give investors some confidence that the central bank’s policy-setting group, the Federal Open Market Committee, will not further speed up its plans to withdraw economic help.
University of Michigan survey has shown sentiment faltering as prices have risen, and the Conference Board’s index ticked down in January.
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What is inflation? Inflation is a loss of purchasing power over time, meaning your dollar will not go as far tomorrow as it did today. It is typically expressed as the annual change in prices for everyday goods and services such as food, furniture, apparel, transportation and toys.
What causes inflation? It can be the result of rising consumer demand. But inflation can also rise and fall based on developments that have little to do with economic conditions, such as limited oil production and supply chain problems.
Is inflation bad? It depends on the circumstances. Fast price increases spell trouble, but moderate price gains can lead to higher wages and job growth.
Can inflation affect the stock market? Rapid inflation typically spells trouble for stocks. Financial assets in general have historically fared badly during inflation booms, while tangible assets like houses have held their value better.
“You have very high inflation, so people are seeing an erosion of their purchasing power,” said Dana M. Peterson, chief economist at The Conference Board, noting that the resurgent virus is also to blame. “People will have higher confidence once we’re beyond Omicron.”
For now, it is a moment of pronounced economic uncertainty.
Ashley Fahr, the owner of the culinary company and event space La Cuisine in Venice, Calif., said rising grocery costs began to bite at a difficult moment — just before Omicron began to surge, causing people to pull back from activities like the cooking classes and catering events she offers.
She noticed in December that her food bill had gone up by about 15 percent, chipping away at her margins, and passed about 5 percent of that on to customers while absorbing the rest of the increase.
“I didn’t want to quote a number people would balk at,” she said.
Ms. Fahr said she pays her workers — most of whom are independent contractors — competitive wages and that it’s hard to keep up with rising prices and still turn a profit. She is watching to see what other local caterers and cooking classes do with their pricing — and whether they begin to pass on the full increase to customers.
“If everyone else does it, I’ll do it too,” Ms. Fahr said.
That sort of logic is what economic officials worry about. If businesses and consumers begin to expect prices to steadily rise, they may begin to accept instead of resisting them — and when inflation gets baked into expectations, it might spiral upward year after year, economists worry.
“What we’re trying to do is get inflation, keep inflation expectations well anchored at 2 percent,” Mr. Powell, the Fed chair, said at his news conference this week. “That’s always the ultimate goal.”
A Gallup survey conducted this month found that Americans view the economy more negatively than positively — with only 29 percent saying that the economy is improving, while 67 percent believe it is getting worse.
Still, 72 percent say it is a good time to find a quality job.
“It’s all about what you prioritize,” said Allison Schrager, an economist and senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, a conservative think tank. Policymakers in Washington decided to err on the side of delivering too much pandemic aid rather than too little — and Ms. Schrager is among the analysts who say the trade-offs of that decision are becoming evident. If there had been less stimulus, she said, “inflation wouldn’t be as bad as it is.”
At a news conference on Wednesday, Jerome H. Powell, the Fed chair, conceded that “bottlenecks and supply constraints are limiting how quickly production can respond to higher demand in the near term” and that “these problems have been larger and longer lasting than anticipated.”
As analysts mull the direction and degree of price increases this year, many see the spring months as a crucial pivot point, said Ellen Zentner, a managing director and the chief U.S. economist at Morgan Stanley. This is partly because the Consumer Price Index reports in March and April of this year will provide the first relatively stable year-over-year comparisons that experts will have seen in three years: 2020 data was juxtaposed with the prepandemic normal of 2019; reports in 2021 after the economy reopened were measured against the abnormal, partly depressed environment of the vaccine-less economy in 2020.
“The hope is that changes as we’re getting into the second quarter,” Ms. Zentner said. And that high-single-digit inflation “doesn’t drag on further into the year.”
During quarterly earnings calls, JPMorgan Chase and Bank of America, which serve a combined 140 million households, have reported that families’ finances are technically better off than before the pandemic. Bank of America said its customers spent a record $3.8 trillion in 2021, a 24 percent jump from 2019 levels. But analysts note that dwindling savings and continuing price increases — along with any new coronavirus variants — could curb consumption.
The report on Thursday indicated that the cash reserves many Americans were able to build up during the pandemic continued to dwindle: Real disposable personal income decreased by 5.8 percent in the fourth quarter, and the personal saving rate — the percentage of overall disposable income that goes into savings each month — was 7.4 percent, compared with 9.5 percent in the third quarter.
NUREMBERG, Germany — Maria Liebermann came wrapped in fairy lights and waved a peace flag featuring a white dove. Martin Schmidt carried a Germany flag with the word RESIST scrawled across it in capital letters.
She is a self-described “eco-leftist.” He votes for the far-right Alternative for Germany. They disagree on everything from immigration to climate change, but on a recent Monday they marched side by side against the prospect of a general Covid vaccine mandate, shouting “Freedom!”
At the start of the pandemic, Germany was widely lauded as a model of unity in combating the coronavirus. A general trust in government encouraged citizens to comply with lockdowns, mask guidance and social distancing restrictions.
But that confidence in the authorities has steadily waned as the pandemic enters its third year and the fight has shifted toward vaccines, exposing deep rifts in German society and setting back efforts to combat Covid cases.
death threats from vaccine opponents in recent weeks.
In western Germany, the picture is more complicated.
A well-established tradition of homeopathy and natural cures has meant that a certain distrust of science and medicine has long been widely accepted in Germany’s middle class. Homeopathic doctors are commonplace, their services reimbursed by public health insurers. Germany’s new age esoteric industry — books, crystals, courses and the like — brings in an estimated 20 billion euros in revenue a year. Bavaria has the highest number of certified healers in the country.
unlikely coalition of protesters that includes naturalists, neo-Nazis and ordinary citizens alike. In China, authorities said that the 13 million residents in Xi’an will be allowed to travel in and out of the city, ending a 32-day lockdown.
Sophia, a 22-year-old who described herself as an “energetic healer,” and who was chatting to friends about an hour before the Nuremberg march, lamented the lack of opposition coming from parties on the left like the Greens that had traditionally challenged the status quo.
“Now they’re all backing the vaccine mandate,” she said. In the recent German election, Sophia, who declined to give her last name, supported the Basis party, a newly founded anti-vax party that garnered less than 3 percent of the vote.
Sophia comes from a family of doctors, and both her parents and her older brother got fully vaccinated and have urged her to do the same. But she is concerned that the vaccine was developed too fast, and doesn’t trust the government to disclose any serious side effects.
“My body is telling me that this is not a good idea,” she said. “I have a pretty good connection to my body.”
Her friends concurred. “It’s not about keeping us healthy, it’s about giving us all a QR code,” said Stefan, a 35-year-old father of five who advocates civil disobedience and also did not want his full name used. “They rule with fear. It’s a kind of tyranny.”
“Mainstream science is a religion,” he added.
Distrust in “mainstream science,” and mainstream politics, is one thing esoterics and the far right can agree on, said Mr. Grande of the WZB.
“The common denominator is distrust,” he said. “What unites these two very different groups is an alienation from traditional parties, from science, from media.”
Mr. Grande said the high levels of trust in government shown by Germans early in the pandemic, when nine in 10 backed the coronavirus restrictions, began to erode after the first lockdown as weariness with the pandemic set in.
The danger now, Mr. Grande said, is that the weekly contact with the far right on the streets normalizes that group for those who belong to what he calls “the distrustful center.” Both camps share a belief in conspiracy theories, which have the power to radicalize the movement beyond the fringes.
The vaccine mandate, which will be debated in parliament at the end of the month, is the decisive driver of the protests. “The debate about vaccine mandate is oil into the fire of the radicalization,” Mr. Grande said.
“I fear we have a difficult political phase ahead of us in this pandemic,” he said.
When the International Olympic Committee met seven years ago to choose a host for the 2022 Winter Games, China’s leader, Xi Jinping, sent a short video message that helped tip the scale in a close, controversial vote.
China had limited experience with winter sports. Little snow falls in the distant hills where outdoor events would take place. Pollution was so dense at times that it was known as the “Airpocalypse.”
Mr. Xi pledged to resolve all of this, putting his personal prestige on what seemed then like an audacious bid. “We will deliver every promise we made,” he told the Olympic delegates meeting in Malaysia’s capital, Kuala Lumpur.
host of the Summer Olympics, the Games have become a showcase of the country’s achievements. Only now, it is a very different country.
China no longer needs to prove its standing on the world stage; instead, it wants to proclaim the sweeping vision of a more prosperous, more confident nation under Mr. Xi, the country’s most powerful leader since Mao Zedong. Where the government once sought to mollify its critics to make the Games a success, today it defies them.
Beijing 2022 “will not only enhance our confidence in realizing the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation,” said Mr. Xi, who this year is poised to claim a third term at the top. It will also “show a good image of our country and demonstrate our nation’s commitment to building a community with a shared future for mankind.”
Mr. Xi’s government has brushed off criticism from human rights activists and world leaders as the bias of those — including President Biden — who would keep China down. It has implicitly warned Olympic broadcasters and sponsors not to bend to calls for protests or boycotts over the country’s political crackdown in Hong Kong or its campaign of repression in Xinjiang, the largely Muslim region in the northwest.
combat Covid and imposed stricter safety measures than those during the Summer Olympics in Tokyo last year. It has insisted on sustaining its “zero Covid” strategy, evolved from China’s first lockdown, in Wuhan two years ago, regardless of the cost to its economy and its people.
an accusation of sexual assault by the tennis player Peng Shuai, a three-time Olympian, the I.O.C. did not speak out. Instead, it helped deflect concerns about her whereabouts and safety.
staggering costs of the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, Russia, and the white-knuckle chaos of preparations for the 2016 Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro.
blue skies. High-speed railways have slashed the trip from Beijing to the most distant venues from four hours to one.
In an area perennially short of water, China built a network of pipelines to feed a phalanx of snow-making machines to dust barren slopes in white. Officials this week even claimed the entire Games would be “fully carbon neutral.”
Christophe Dubi, executive director of the upcoming Games, said in an interview that China proved to be a partner willing and able to do whatever it took to pull off the event, regardless of the challenges.
“Organizing the Games,” Mr. Dubi said, “was easy.”
The committee has deflected questions about human rights and other controversies overshadowing the Games. While the committee’s own charter calls for “improving the promotion and respect of human rights,” officials have said that it was not for them to judge the host country’s political system.
Instead, what matters most to the committee is pulling off the Games. By selecting Beijing, the committee had alighted on a “safe choice,” said Thomas Bach, the committee’s president.
unseasonably warm weather. Sochi 2014 — intended as a valedictory of Vladimir V. Putin’s rule in Russia — cost a staggering $51 billion.
Growing wariness of organizing the quadrennial event gave China an unexpected advantage. Beijing — no one’s idea of a winter sports capital — could reuse sites from the 2008 Games, including the iconic Bird’s Nest stadium for the opening ceremony. The Water Cube, which held the swimming and diving events 14 years ago, was rebranded as the Ice Cube.
Almaty, the former capital of Kazakhstan, once a republic of the Soviet Union.
The final tally was 44 to 40 for Beijing, with one abstention. Almaty’s supporters were left to fume over a glitch in the electronic voting system that prompted a manual recount to “protect the integrity of the vote.” That Kazakhstan has plunged into political turmoil on the eve of the Games seems now, in hindsight, further validation of the choice to pick Beijing.
Xinhua, compared to 480,000 three years before.
ceremonial scepter popular in the Qing dynasty, complete with a 6,000-seat stadium at the bottom that is supposed to hold soccer matches after the Olympics.
military preparations for the Games, including the installation of 44 antiaircraft batteries around Beijing, even though the likelihood of an aerial attack on the city seemed far-fetched.
“A safe Olympics is the biggest symbol of a successful Beijing Olympic Games, and is the most important symbol of the country’s international image,” he said then.
accusation of sexual harassment rocked the sports world last fall, the committee found itself caught in the furor.
fumed in private. Without the protective cover of the international committee, they feared reprisals if they spoke out individually.
The 2008 Olympics also faced harsh criticism. A campaign led by the actress Mia Farrow called the event the “genocide games” because of China’s support for Sudan despite its brutal crackdown in the Darfur region. The traditional torch relay was hounded by protests in cities on multiple continents, including Paris, London, San Francisco and Seoul.
The accusations against China today are, arguably, even more serious. The United States and other countries have declared that China’s crackdown against the Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang amounts to genocide. Ms. Farrow’s biting sobriquet has resurfaced for 2022, with a Twitter hashtag.
only screened spectators of its own choosing. It will mostly be a performance for Chinese and international television audiences, offering a choreographed view of the country, the one Mr. Xi’s government has of itself.
If the coronavirus can be kept under control, Beijing could weather the Olympics with fewer problems than seemed likely when it won the rights to the Games seven years ago. Mr. Xi’s government has already effectively declared it a success. A dozen other Chinese cities are already angling for the 2036 Summer Olympics.
“The world looks forward to China,” Mr. Xi said in an New Year’s address, “and China is ready.”
Chris Buckley contributed reporting. Claire Fu, Liu Yi and Li You contributed research.
China’s “zero Covid” policy has a dedicated following: the millions of people who work diligently toward that goal, no matter the human costs.
In the northwestern city of Xi’an, hospital employees refused to admit a man suffering from chest pains because he lived in a medium-risk district. He died of a heart attack.
They informed a woman who was eight months pregnant and bleeding that her Covid test wasn’t valid. She lost her baby.
Two community security guards told a young man they didn’t care that he had nothing to eat after catching him out during the lockdown. They beat him up.
a strict lockdown in late December when cases were on the rise. But it was not prepared to provide food, medical care and other necessities to the city’s 13 million residents, creating chaos and crises not seen since the country first locked down Wuhan in January 2020.
the weaknesses in China’s authoritarian system. Now, with patients dying of non-Covid diseases, residents going hungry and officials pointing fingers, the lockdown in Xi’an has shown how the country’s political apparatus has ossified, bringing a ruthlessness to its single-minded pursuit of a zero-Covid policy.
Xi’an, the capital of Shaanxi Province, is in a much better position than Wuhan in early 2020, when thousands of people died of the virus, overwhelming the city’s medical system. Xi’an has reported only three Covid-related deaths, the last one in March 2020. The city said 95 percent of its adults were vaccinated by July. In the latest wave, it had reported 2,017 confirmed cases by Monday and no deaths.
read a self-criticism letter in front of a video camera. “I only cared about whether I had food to eat,” the young man read, according to a widely shared video. “I didn’t take into account the serious consequences my behavior could bring to the community.” The volunteers later apologized, according to The Beijing News, a state media outlet.
Three men were caught while escaping from Xi’an to the countryside, possibly to avoid the high costs of the lockdown. They hiked, biked and swam in wintry days and nights. Two of them were detained by the police, according to local police and media reports. Together they were called the “Xi’an ironmen” on the Chinese internet.
Then there were the hospitals that denied patients access to medical care and deprived their loved ones the chance to say goodbye.
The man who suffered chest pain as he was dying of a heart attack waited six hours before a hospital finally admitted him. After his condition worsened, his daughter begged hospital employees to let her in and see him for the last time.
A male employee refused, according to a video she posted on Weibo after her father’s death. “Don’t try to hijack me morally,” he said in the video. “I’m just carrying out my duty.”
commented that some local officials were simply blaming their underlings. It seemed, the broadcaster wrote, only low-level cadres have been punished for these problems.
There are reasons people in the system showed little compassion and few spoke up online.
An emergency room doctor in eastern Anhui Province was sentenced to 15 months in prison for failing to follow pandemic control protocols by treating a patient with a fever last year, according to CCTV.
A deputy director-level official at a government agency in Beijing lost his position last week after some social media users reported that an article he wrote about the lockdown in Xi’an contained untruthful information.
In the article, he called the lockdown measures “inhumane” and “cruel.” It bore the headline “The Sorrow of Xi’an Residents: Why They Ran Away from Xi’an at the Risk of Breaking the Law and Death.”
diary, no citizen journalists Chen Qiushi, Fang Bin or Zhang Zhan posting videos. The four of them have either been silenced, detained, disappeared or left dying in jail — sending a strong message to anyone who might dare to speak out about Xi’an.
The only widely circulated, in-depth article about the Xi’an lockdown was written by the former journalist Zhang Wenmin, a Xi’an resident known by her pen name, Jiang Xue. Her article has since been deleted and state security officers have warned her not to speak further on the matter, according to a person close to her. Some social media users called her garbage that should be taken out.
A few Chinese publications that had written excellent investigative articles out of Wuhan didn’t send reporters to Xi’an because they couldn’t secure passes to walk freely under lockdown, according to people familiar with the situation.
The Xi’an lockdown debacle hasn’t seemed to convince many people in China to abandon the country’s no-holds-barred approach to pandemic control.
told Xi’an officials on Monday that their future pandemic control efforts should remain “strict.”
“A needle-size loophole can funnel high wind,” he said.
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Long checkout lines. Closed fitting rooms. Empty shelves. Shortened store hours.
Plus the dread of contracting the coronavirus and yet another season of skirmishes with customers who refuse to wear masks.
A weary retail work force is experiencing the fallout from the latest wave of the pandemic, with a rapidly spreading variant cutting into staffing.
While data shows that people infected with the Omicron variant are far less likely to be hospitalized than those with the Delta variant, especially if they are vaccinated, many store workers are dealing with a new jump in illness and exposures, grappling with shifting guidelines around isolation and juggling child care. At the same time, retailers are generally not extending hazard pay as they did earlier in the pandemic and have been loath to adopt vaccine or testing mandates.
“We had gotten to a point here where we were comfortable, it wasn’t too bad, and then all of a sudden this new variant came and everybody got sick,” said Artavia Milliam, who works at H&M in Hudson Yards in Manhattan, which is popular with tourists. “It’s been overwhelming, just having to deal with not having enough staff and then twice as many people in the store.”
said last week that it would shorten store hours nationally on Mondays through Thursdays for the rest of the month. At least 20 Apple Stores have had to close in recent weeks because so many employees had contracted Covid-19 or been exposed to someone who had, and others have curtailed hours or limited in-store access.
At a Macy’s in Lynnwood, Wash., Liisa Luick, a longtime sales associate in the men’s department, said, “Every day, we have call-outs, and we have a lot of them.” She said the store had already reduced staff to cut costs in 2020. Now, she is often unable to take breaks and has fielded complaints from customers about a lack of sales help and unstaffed registers.
“Morale could not be lower,” said Ms. Luick, who is a steward for the local unit of the United Food and Commercial Workers union. Even though Washington has a mask mandate for indoor public spaces, “we get a lot of pushback, so morale is even lower because there’s so many people who, there’s no easy way to say this, just don’t believe in masking,” she added.
Store workers are navigating the changing nature of the virus and trying their best to gauge new risks. Many say that with vaccinations and boosters, they are less fearful for their lives than they were in 2020 — the United Food and Commercial Workers union has tracked more than 200 retail worker deaths since the start of the pandemic — but they remain nervous about catching and spreading the virus.
More broadly, the staffing shortages have put a new spotlight on a potential vaccine-or-testing mandate from the Biden administration, which major retailers have been resisting. The fear of losing workers appears to be looming large, especially now.
While the retail industry initially cited the holiday season rush for its resistance to such rules, it has more recently pointed to the burden of testing unvaccinated workers. After oral arguments in the case on Friday, the Supreme Court’s conservative majority expressed skepticism about whether the Biden administration had legal authority to mandate that large employers require workers to be vaccinated.
The National Retail Federation, a major industry lobbying group, said in a statement last week that it “continues to believe that OSHA exceeded its authority in promulgating its vaccine mandate.” The group estimated that the order would require 20 million tests a week nationally, based on external data on unvaccinated workers, and that “such testing capacity currently does not exist.”
When the top managers at Mr. Waugh’s Stop & Shop store began asking employees whether they were vaccinated in preparation for the federal vaccine mandates that could soon take effect, he said, a large number expressed concern to him about being asked to disclose that information.
“It was concerning to see that so many people were distressed,” he said, though all of the employees complied.
Ms. Luick of Macy’s near Seattle said that she worked with several vocal opponents of the Covid-19 vaccines and that she anticipated that at least some of her colleagues would resign if they were asked to provide vaccination status or proof of negative tests.
Still, Macy’s was among major employers that started asking employees for their vaccination status last week ahead of the Supreme Court hearing on Friday and said it might require proof of negative tests beginning on Feb. 16.
“Our primary focus at this stage is preparing our members for an eventual mandate to ensure they have the information and tools they need to manage their work force and meet the needs of their customers,” said Brian Dodge, president of the Retail Industry Leaders Association, which includes companies like Macy’s, Target, Home Depot, Gap and Walmart.
As seasonal Covid-19 surges become the norm, unions and companies are looking for consistent policies. Jim Araby, director of strategic campaigns for the food and commercial workers union in Northern California, said the retail industry needed to put in place more sustainable supports for workers who got ill.
For example, he said, a trust fund jointly administered by the union and several employers could no longer offer Covid-related sick days for union members.
“We have to start treating this as endemic,” Mr. Araby said. “And figuring out what are the structural issues we have to put forward to deal with this.”
Even if you didn’t experience the famine personally you must have been deeply aware of it and affected by it.
A thousand percent. First of all, you have to remember we come from massive families. My mom has 24 siblings. And you grow up very much aware of it. I grew up in a country where fuel was rationed, where food, sugar, toilet paper was rationed no matter who you are. It didn’t matter if you lived in Addis or outside of Addis. When toilet paper shortages happened during Covid and everybody was running to stock up, I was like, “I don’t know why you’re stocking up. I have like 80 rolls of toilet paper.”
People were like, “Why do you have 80 rolls of toilet paper?” And I was like, “Is that not how one lives in life? In fear that things might run out?” But it is how we were raised, very much aware that you can’t take anything for granted, that anything can disappear. We had neighbors that disappeared.
How did you wind up coming to the United States for college?
I studied really, really hard. I wanted to get out. My parents sacrificed absolutely everything to send us to the best school in the country, and I knew every day that my obligation to them was to do well, because they gave up most of their income to make sure we went to that school.
Also, my dad was born in an Italian prison. My grandfather orchestrated the plot to kill General Graziani when Mussolini tried to colonize Ethiopia, and it ended up costing his life. They assassinated my grandfather when my grandmother was pregnant with my dad, and they took her as a prisoner of war to Italy, and she gave birth to my dad in an Italian prison. So I was raised in a pretty strong family, in that fighting for survival kind of way, and I just felt like I owed it to my family to do well in life.
When you joined Morgan Stanleydid you figure you wanted to be in finance for the rest of your life, or were you saying, “I got to get out of here as fast as I can”?
I decided that the only job I would take in finance would be to work in commodities. It was the only section of finance that I felt was connected to the real world and all the things I cared about. One day I got up and I decided I was ready to trade. So I went to my boss and said, “Hey, you’re going to hire me to trade natural gas.” He was like, “I’m not hiring.” And I was like, “No, no, you’re going to hire me.” And he did, so I started trading gas, and then he got promoted, and I took over that business.
SEOUL — They have shown up whenever women rallied against sexual violence and gender biases in South Korea. Dozens of young men, mostly dressed in black, taunted the protesters, squealing and chanting, “Thud! Thud!” to imitate the noise they said the “ugly feminist pigs” made when they walked.
“Out with man haters!” they shouted. “Feminism is a mental illness!”
On the streets, such rallies would be easy to dismiss as the extreme rhetoric of a fringe group. But the anti-feminist sentiments are being amplified online, finding a vast audience that is increasingly imposing its agenda on South Korean society and politics.
These male activists have targeted anything that smacks of feminism, forcing a university to cancel a lecture by a woman they accused of spreading misandry. They have vilified prominent women, criticizing An San, a three-time gold medalist in the Tokyo Olympics, for her short haircut.
They have threatened businesses with boycotts, prompting companies to pull advertisements with the image of pinching fingers they said ridiculed the size of male genitalia. And they have taken aim at the government for promoting a feminist agenda, eliciting promises from rival presidential candidates to reform the country’s 20-year-old Ministry of Gender Equality and Family.
runaway housing prices, a lack of jobs and a widening income gap.
YouTube channel with 450,000 subscribers. To its members, feminists equal man haters.
Its motto once read, “Till the day all feminists are exterminated!”
The backlash against feminism in South Korea may seem bewildering.
the highest gender wage gap among the wealthy countries. Less than one-fifth of its national lawmakers are women. Women make up only 5.2 percent of the board members of publicly listed businesses, compared with 28 percent in the United States.
And yet, most young men in the country argue that it is men, not women, in South Korea who feel threatened and marginalized. Among South Korean men in their 20s, nearly 79 percent said they were victims of serious gender discrimination, according to a poll in May.
“There is a culture of misogyny in male-dominant online communities, depicting feminists as radical misandrists and spreading fear of feminists,” said Kim Ju-hee, 26, a nurse who has organized protests denouncing anti-feminists.
The wave of anti-feminism in South Korea shares many of the incendiary taglines with right-wing populist movements in the West that peddle such messages. Women who argue for abortion rights are labeled “destroyers of family.” Feminists are not champions of gender equality, but “female supremacists.”
In South Korea, “women” and “feminists” are two of the most common targets of online hate speech, according to the country’s National Human Rights Commission.
abortions were common.
mandatory military service. But many women drop out of the work force after giving birth, and much of the domestic duties fall to them.
“What more do you want? We gave you your own space in the subway, bus, parking lot,” the male rapper San E writes in his 2018 song “Feminist,” which has a cult following among young anti-feminists. “Oh girls don’t need a prince! Then pay half for the house when we marry.”
The gender wars have infused the South Korean presidential race, largely seen as a contest for young voters. With the virulent anti-feminist voice surging, no major candidate is speaking out for women’s rights, once such a popular cause that President Moon Jae-in called himself a “feminist” when he campaigned about five years ago.
It is hard to tell how many young men support the kind of extremely provocative and often theatrical activism championed by groups like Man on Solidarity. Its firebrand leader, Mr. Bae, showed up at a recent feminist rally dressed as the Joker from “Batman” comics and toting a toy water gun. He followed female protesters around, pretending to, as he put it, “kill flies.”
Tens of thousands of fans have watched his stunts livestreamed online, sending in cash donations. During one online talk-fest in August, Mr. Bae raised nine million won ($7,580) in three minutes.
legalize abortion and started one of the most powerful #MeToo campaigns in Asia.
Lee Hyo-lin, 29, said that “feminist” has become such a dirty word that women who wear their hair short or carry a novel by a feminist writer risk ostracism. When she was a member of a K-pop group, she said that male colleagues routinely commented on her body, jeering that she “gave up being a woman” when she gained weight.
“The #MeToo problem is part of being a woman in South Korea,” she said. “Now we want to speak out, but they want us to shut up. It’s so frustrating.”
On the other side of the culture war are young men with a litany of grievances — concerns that are endlessly regurgitated by male-dominated forums. They have fixated, in particular, on limited cases of false accusations, as a way to give credence to a broader anti-feminist agenda.
Son Sol-bin, a used-furniture seller, was 29 when his former girlfriend accused him of rape and kidnapping in 2018. Online trolls called for his castration, he said. His mother found closed-circuit TV footage proving the accusations never took place.
“The feminist influence has left the system so biased against men that the police took a woman’s testimony and a mere drop of her tears as enough evidence to land an innocent man in jail,” said Mr. Son, who spent eight months in jail before he was cleared. “I think the country has gone crazy.”
As Mr. Son fought back tears during a recent anti-feminist rally, other young men chanted: “Be strong! We are with you!”
On a Sunday night in September, Ashley Estrada was at a friend’s home in Los Angeles when she received a strange notification on her iPhone: “AirTag Detected Near You.”
An AirTag is a 1.26-inch disc with location-tracking capabilities that Apple started selling earlier this year as a way “to keep track of your stuff.” Ms. Estrada, 24, didn’t own one, nor did the friends she was with. The notification on her phone said the AirTag had first been spotted with her four hours earlier. A map of the AirTag’s history showed the zigzag path Ms. Estrada had driven across the city while running errands.
“I felt so violated,” she said. “I just felt like, who’s tracking me? What was their intent with me? It was scary.”
posted on TikTok, Reddit and Twitter about finding AirTags on their cars and in their belongings. There is growing concern that the devices may be abetting a new form of stalking, which privacy groups predicted could happen when Apple introduced the devices in April.
warned its community of the tracking potential of the devices after an AirTag was found on a car bumper. Apple complied with a subpoena for information about the AirTag in the case, which may lead to charges, West Seneca police said.
And in Canada, a local police department said that it had investigated five incidents of thieves placing AirTags on “high-end vehicles so they can later locate and steal them.”
Researchers now believe AirTags, which are equipped with Bluetooth technology, could be revealing a more widespread problem of tech-enabled tracking. They emit a digital signal that can be detected by devices running Apple’s mobile operating system. Those devices then report where an AirTag has last been seen. Unlike similar tracking products from competitors such as Tile, Apple added features to prevent abuse, including notifications like the one Ms. Estrada received and automatic beeping. (Tile plans to release a feature to prevent the tracking of people next year, a spokeswoman for that company said.)
“Apple automatically turned every iOS device into part of the network that AirTags use to report the location of an AirTag,” Ms. Galperin said. “The network that Apple has access to is larger and more powerful than that used by the other trackers. It’s more powerful for tracking and more dangerous for stalking.”
Apple does not disclose sales figures, but the tiny $29 AirTags have proved popular, selling out consistently since their unveiling.
An Apple spokesman, Alex Kirschner, said in a statement that the company takes customer safety “very seriously” and is “committed to AirTag’s privacy and security.” He said the small devices have features that inform users if an unknown AirTag might be with them and that deter bad actors from using an AirTag for nefarious purposes.
“If users ever feel their safety is at risk, they are encouraged to contact local law enforcement who can work with Apple to provide any available information about the unknown AirTag,” Mr. Kirschner said.
Police could ask Apple to provide information about the owner of the AirTag, potentially identifying the culprit. But some of the people who spoke with The Times were unable to find the associated AirTags they were notified of and said the police do not always take reports of the notifications on their phones seriously.
After a Friday night out with her boyfriend this month, Erika Torres, a graduate music student in New Orleans, was notified by her iPhone that an “unknown accessory” had been detected near her over a two-hour period, moving with her from a bar to her home.
other devices could set off the alert, including AirPods. When Ms. Torres posted a video about her experience to YouTube, a dozen people commented about it happening to them. “The number of reports makes me think there must be some sort of glitch that is causing all these people to experience this,” Ms. Torres said. “I hope they’re not all being stalked.”
posted a video of her ordeal on TikTok, which went viral.
“Apple probably released this product with the intent to do good, but this shows that the technology can be used for good and bad purposes,” Ms. Estrada said.
Ms. Estrada said she was told by a Los Angeles police dispatcher that her situation was a nonemergency and that if she wanted to file a report she’d have to bring the device with her to the station in the morning. She didn’t want to wait and disposed of it after taking several photos.
A spokesperson for the Los Angeles police told The Times that the department had not heard of cases in which an AirTag had been used to track a person or a vehicle. But Ms. Estrada said that after she posted her TikTok video, an Apple employee, acting on their own, contacted her. The employee was able to connect the AirTag to a woman whose address was in Central Los Angeles.
Another woman was notified by her iPhone that she was being tracked by an “unknown accessory” after leaving her gym in November. When she got home, she called the police.
pushed an update to AirTags to cause them to start beeping within a day of being away from their linked devices, down from three days. Still, “they don’t beep very loudly,” Ms. Galperin said.
A person who doesn’t own an iPhone might have a harder time detecting an unwanted AirTag. AirTags aren’t compatible with Android smartphones. Earlier this month, Apple released an Android app that can scan for AirTags — but you have to be vigilant enough to download it and proactively use it.
Apple declined to say if it was working with Google on technology that would allow Android phones to automatically detect its trackers.
People who said they have been tracked have called Apple’s safeguards insufficient. Ms. Estrada said she was notified four hours after her phone first noticed the rogue gadget. Others said it took days before they were made aware of an unknown AirTag. According to Apple, the timing of the alerts can vary depending on the iPhone’s operating system and location settings.
The devices’ inconsistencies have caused confusion for people who weren’t necessarily being tracked nefariously. Mary Ford, a 17-year-old high school student from Cary, N.C., received a notification in late October that she was being tracked by an unknown AirTag after driving to an appointment. She panicked as she searched her car.
Ms. Ford only realized it wasn’t a threat when her mother revealed she had put the tracker in the vehicle about two weeks earlier to follow her daughter’s whereabouts.
“I was nervous about Mary being out and not being able to find her,” said her mother, Wendy Ford. She said she hadn’t intended to keep the knowledge of the AirTag from her daughter, “but if I knew she would have been notified, I probably would have told her.”
Jahna Maramba rented a vehicle from the car-sharing service Turo last month in Los Angeles, then received a notification about an unknown AirTag near her on a Saturday night with her girlfriends.
She took the vehicle to her friend’s parking garage where she searched the outside of the car for an hour before its owner notified her that he had placed the device inside the vehicle. Ms. Maramba had been driving the car for two days.
A spokesperson for Turo said in a statement that the company has no control over the technology car owners use on the vehicles they rent out.
“Imagine finding out via a notification that you’re being tracked,” Ms. Maramba said. “And you can’t do anything about it.”