Low-Wage Workers Now Have Options, Which Could Mean a Raise

McDonald’s is raising wages at its company-owned restaurants. It is also helping its franchisees hang on to workers with funding for backup child care, elder care and tuition assistance. Pay is up at Chipotle, too, and Papa John’s and many of its franchisees are offering hiring and referral bonuses.

The reason? “In January, 8 percent of restaurant operators rated recruitment and retention of work force as their top challenge,” Hudson Riehle, senior vice president for research at the National Restaurant Association, said in an email. “By May, that number had risen to 72 percent.”

Restaurant workers — burger flippers and bussers, cooks and waiters — have emerged from the pandemic recession to find themselves in a position they could not have imagined a couple of years ago: They have options. They can afford to wait for a better deal.

In the first five months of the year, restaurants put out 61 percent more “workers wanted” posts for waiters and waitresses than they had in the same months of 2018 and 2019, before the coronavirus pandemic shut down bars and restaurants around the country, according to data from Burning Glass, a job market analytics firm.

replace their face-to-face workers with robots and software. Yet there are signs that the country’s low-wage labor force might be in for more lasting raises.

Even before the pandemic, wages of less-educated workers were rising at the fastest rate in over a decade, propelled by shrinking unemployment. And after the temporary expansion of unemployment insurance ends, with Covid-19 under control and children back at school, workers may be unwilling to accept the deals they accepted in the past.

Jed Kolko, chief economist at the job placement site Indeed, pointed to one bit of evidence: the increase in the reservation wage — the lowest wage that workers will accept to take a job.

According to data from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, the average reservation wage is growing fastest for workers without a college degree, hitting $61,483 in March, 26 percent more than a year earlier. Aside from a dip at the start of the pandemic, it has been rising since November 2017.

“That suggests it is a deeper trend,” Mr. Kolko noted. “It’s not just about the recovery.”

Other trends could support higher wages at the bottom. The aging of the population, notably, is shrinking the pool of able-bodied workers and increasing demand for care workers, who toil for low pay but are vital to support a growing cohort of older Americans.

“There was a work force crisis in the home care industry before Covid,” said Kevin Smith, chief executive of Best of Care in Quincy, Mass., and president of the state industry association. “Covid really laid that bare and exacerbated the crisis.”

more families turning their backs on nursing homes, which were early hotbeds of coronavirus infections, Mr. Smith said, personal care aides and home health aides are in even shorter supply.

“The demand for services like ours has never been higher,” he said. “That’s never going back.”

And some of the changes brought about by the pandemic might create new transition opportunities that are not yet in the Brookings data. The accelerated shift to online shopping may be a dire development for retail workers, but it will probably fuel demand for warehouse workers and delivery truck drivers.

The coronavirus outbreak induced such an unusual recession that any predictions are risky. And yet, as Ms. Escobari of Brookings pointed out, the recovery may provide rare opportunities for those toiling for low wages.

“This time, people searching for jobs may have a lot of different options,” she said. “That is not typical.”

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Naomi Osaka’s Net Worth, Beyond the Court

LOS ANGELES — In today’s world of celebrity branding, captions speak louder than words. But Naomi Osaka’s are decidedly understated.

“Keep on keeping on,” the 23-year-old tennis champion posted on Instagram under two on-court photos after making it through the fourth round of the Australian Open (which she went on to win).

For a slide show that began with a shot of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, whose Costume Institute Gala she will co-chair, in September: “oh we lit.”

Below a portrait of herself draped in Louis Vuitton and Nike (both sponsors of hers), simply: “yo.”

Her nonchalance, perhaps, is a way of guarding herself on social media, where many more loquacious celebrities have made unforced errors.

business is boomin’. Ms. Osaka is covering everything from ears to rears, making headphones with Beats, athleisure with Nike and denim with Levi’s. Dresses? She designed them with Adeam, a Japanese-American brand. Swimwear? She crafted a collection with Frankies Bikinis.

In April, she announced that she would serve as C.E.O. of her own company: Kinlò, a line of skin care made for people with melanated skin tones, produced with GoDaddy. According to Forbes, she made $37.4 million in endorsements and tournament prizes between May 2019 and May 2020, the most a female athlete has ever earned in a single year.

pain medication, watches (which Ms. Osaka also does, for Tag Heuer) and the ever-changing category of fast food. On a Monday in March, Ms. Osaka found herself in the Los Angeles test kitchen of the chain restaurant Sweetgreen, the Supreme of salad, trying to wrap her head around the notion that one of the restaurant’s dressings — rémoulade — would soon be disappearing from the menu.

“What’s in it that makes it seasonal?” Ms. Osaka said.

“The pickles,” said Katelyn Shannon, a research and development chef of Sweetgreen.

blog post Women Laughing Alone With Salad went viral. Most of those women were white; perhaps none of them compelled anyone to eat a salad (unironically, anyway).

“Representation is important,” said Ms. Osaka, who is Haitian and Japanese. (Part of the proceeds of a salad she designed for Sweetgreen — with baby spinach and tortilla chips, among other ingredients — will go toward nonprofits working to increase food access in Asian-American and Pacific Islander communities.)

this was a turning point: taking a stance increased her brand value. She shortly thereafter teamed up with Basic Space, an online swap meet for hype beasts (sample items for sale include a St. John coat and a Range Rover) to sell 500 masks designed by her 25-year-old sister, Mari. They sold out in 30 minutes, with proceeds going to UNICEF.

The Unsuspecting Player,” reaching $150,000. It is a Mangaesque imagining of a brown-skinned woman with a tennis racket and a cascade of pink hair not unlike a wig Ms. Osaka wore in a recent Instagram post.

“I’ve always felt like my sister knows me best,” Naomi Osaka said during an April interview on Clubhouse, the audio broadcasting app. “I’ve grown up watching her draw and do digital art and paintings, I always wanted to find a way to use my platform to showcase that.”

“Though maybe not exactly how I am,” she added, “she captured me well.”

It was Ms. Osaka’s first time on Clubhouse, and she did not hide her bemusement when the volume of Mari’s audio dwarfed her own. “I’m literally right next to my sister, so I don’t get why I have a bad connection and she doesn’t,” she said.

Many of her brand partnerships involve Mari. They collaborate on sketches for clothing Ms. Osaka designs with her fashion sponsors, like an upcoming capsule collection with Levi’s. “I draw really badly, she can make it look good,” Ms. Osaka said. “She’s able to interpret. Sometimes we don’t even have to talk for her to understand what I’m thinking.”

Before the pandemic, Ms. Osaka visited the Levi’s workshop in West Hollywood to conceptualize the pieces, which include an obi-inspired bustier and denim shorts with crystal fringe. When in-person meeting became impossible, she went on Zoom, signing off on 10 designs before they went into production.

“As a little kid, I would watch ‘America’s Next Top Model’ and ‘Project Runway,’ and those were sort of scratching the surface of what goes on behind the scenes,” she said. At Levi’s, she said, she could see the process, “how technical they are about buttons and cutting fabric.”

Far from the celebrity sponsorship model of yore, in which stars of syndicated TV shows claim to color their own hair at home, Ms. Osaka does not want to work with a company unless she’s learning on the job.

As companies scurry to make up for decades of underrepresentation of races other than white, Ms. Osaka is aware that she may seem like the golden ticket.

“I don’t just want to be a figurehead, or someone used,” she said. “If I’m with a brand, I want it to be from my heart instead of just trying to promote a message, just for money.”

Surely, some thirsty brands have offered some pretty sweet deals?

Ms. Osaka laughed. “That’s really a him question,” she said, gesturing at Stuart Duguid, her agent and manager.

“She’s not taking incoming calls,” he said.

Back in the test kitchen, Ms. Osaka had cast herself, convincingly, as student in salad master class, asking about the pros and cons of various greens, what ingredients go together, watching and learning as Mr. Ru, the Sweetgreen co-founder, demonstrated the proper way to mix with tongs “You’ve got to do the twist,” he said, flipping his wrist.

Upstairs, in a makeshift conference room, she photographed a mood board taped to a concrete wall. She gazed at the unfinished ceiling and a rattling screen window. “Really pretty architecture,” she said, sincerely. . Many celebrities are more keen on checking their texts than looking around the room. That’s not Ms. Osaka, or her brand.

“I’m very curious about a lot of things,” she said. “Being curious is one of the happinesses of life, because if you’re not curious, that means you’re sort of settled. I feel really humbled, that I play tennis but I’m able to have all these new experiences and opportunities, like getting to make a salad here. I don’t think a lot of people can say that.”

“I’m really good at tennis,” she added, “but I’d like to be really good at other things, too.”

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