Job growth slowed to the year’s weakest pace last month as the latest coronavirus wave dashed hopes of an imminent return to normal for the U.S. economy.
Employers added just 194,000 jobs in September, the Labor Department said Friday, down from 366,000 in August — and far below the increase of more than one million in July, before the highly contagious Delta variant led to a spike in coronavirus cases across much of the country. Leisure and hospitality businesses, a main driver of job growth earlier this year, added fewer than 100,000 jobs for the second straight month.
“Employment is slowing when it should be picking up because we’re still on the course set by the virus,” said Diane Swonk, chief economist for the accounting firm Grant Thornton.
for the Federal Reserve, which is weighing when to begin pulling back support for the economy.
It is possible that the recent slowdown is a Delta-driven blip and will soon fade — or, indeed, may already be largely in the past. The data released on Friday was collected in mid-September, when the Delta wave was near its peak. Since then, cases and hospitalizations have fallen in much of the country, and more timely data from private-sector sources suggests that economic activity has begun to rebound. If those trends continue, people on the sidelines could return to the labor force, and hiring should begin to pick up.
“This report is a glance in the rearview mirror,” said Daniel Zhao, an economist at the career site Glassdoor. “There should be some optimism that there should be a reacceleration in October.”
But it is also possible that the damage done by the pandemic will take longer to heal than economists had hoped. Supply-chain disruptions have been unexpectedly persistent, and shifts in consumer behavior during the pandemic may not soon reverse. In surveys, many workers say they are reconsidering their priorities and do not want to return to their old ways of working.
Expanded unemployment benefits, which many businesses blamed for discouraging people from looking for work, ended nationwide early last month. Schools reopened in person in much of the country, which should have made it easier for parents to return to work. Rising vaccination rates were meant to make reluctant workers feel safe enough to resume their job searches. As recently as August, many economists circled September as the month when workers would flood back into the job market.
Instead, the labor force shrank by nearly 200,000 people. The pandemic’s resurgence delayed office reopenings, disrupted the start of the school year and made some people reluctant to accept jobs requiring face-to-face interaction. At the same time, preliminary evidence suggests that the cutoff in unemployment benefits has done little to push people back to work.
“I am a little bit puzzled, to be honest,” said Aneta Markowska, chief financial economist for the investment bank Jefferies. “We all waited for September for this big flurry of hiring on the premise that unemployment benefits and school reopening would bring people back to the labor force. And it just doesn’t seem like we’re seeing that.”
Ms. Markowska said more people might begin to look for work as the Delta variant eased and as they depleted savings accumulated earlier in the pandemic. But some people have retired early or have found other ways to make ends meet and may be slow to return to the labor force, if they come back at all.
In the meantime, people available to work are enjoying a rare moment of leverage. Average earnings rose 19 cents an hour in September and are up more than $1 an hour over the last year, after a series of strong monthly gains. Pay has risen even faster in some low-wage sectors.
Many businesses are finding that higher wages alone aren’t enough to attract workers, said Becky Frankiewicz, president of the Manpower Group, a staffing firm. After years of expecting employees to work whenever they were needed — often with no set schedule and little notice — companies are finding that workers are now setting the terms.
“They get to choose when, where and in what duration they’re working,” Ms. Frankiewicz said. “That is a role reversal. That is a structural change in the workers’ economy.”
Arizmendi Bakery, a cooperative in San Rafael, Calif., recently raised its wages by $3 an hour, by far the biggest increase in its history. But it is still struggling to attract applicants heading into the crucial holiday season.
“There are many, many, many more businesses hiring than there used to be, so we’re competing with many other businesses that we weren’t competing with before,” said Natalie Baddorf, a baker and one of the owners.
The bakery has managed to hire a few people, including one who began this week. But other workers have given their notice to leave. The bakery, which has been operating on reduced hours since the pandemic began, now has enough business to return to its original hours, but cannot find enough labor to do so.
“We’re talking about cloning ourselves,” Ms. Baddorf said.
Jeanna Smialek and Jim Tankersley contributed reporting.
David Gross, an executive at a New York-based advertising agency, convened the troops over Zoom this month to deliver a message he and his fellow partners were eager to share: It was time to think about coming back to the office.
Mr. Gross, 40, wasn’t sure how employees, many in their 20s and early 30s, would take it. The initial response — dead silence — wasn’t encouraging. Then one young man signaled he had a question. “Is the policy mandatory?” he wanted to know.
Yes, it is mandatory, for three days a week, he was told.
Thus began a tricky conversation at Anchor Worldwide, Mr. Gross’s firm, that is being replicated this summer at businesses big and small across the country. While workers of all ages have become accustomed to dialing in and skipping the wearying commute, younger ones have grown especially attached to the new way of doing business.
And in many cases, the decision to return pits older managers who view working in the office as the natural order of things against younger employees who’ve come to see operating remotely as completely normal in the 16 months since the pandemic hit. Some new hires have never gone into their employers’ workplace at all.
banking and finance, are taking a harder line and insisting workers young and old return. The chief executives of Wall Street giants like Morgan Stanley, Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan Chase have signaled they expect employees to go back to their cubicles and offices in the months ahead.
Other companies, most notably those in technology and media, are being more flexible. As much as Mr. Gross wants people back at his ad agency, he is worried about retaining young talent at a time when churn is increasing, so he has been making clear there is room for accommodation.
“We’re in a really progressive industry, and some companies have gone fully remote,” he explained. “You have to frame it in terms of flexibility.”
In a recent survey by the Conference Board, 55 percent of millennials, defined as people born between 1981 and 1996, questioned the wisdom of returning to the office. Among members of Generation X, born between 1965 and 1980, 45 percent had doubts about going back, while only 36 percent of baby boomers, born between 1946 and 1964, felt that way.
most concerned about their health and psychological well-being,” said Rebecca L. Ray, executive vice president for human capital at the Conference Board. “Companies would be well served to be as flexible as possible.”
Matthew Yeager, 33, quit his job as a web developer at an insurance company in May after it told him he needed to return to the office as vaccination rates in his city, Columbus, Ohio, were rising. He limited his job hunting to opportunities that offered fully remote work and, in June, started at a hiring and human resources company based in New York.
“It was tough because I really liked my job and the people I worked with, but I didn’t want to lose that flexibility of being able to work remotely,” Mr. Yeager said. “The office has all these distractions that are removed when you’re working from home.”
Mr. Yeager said he would also like the option to work remotely in any positions he considered in the future. “More companies should give the opportunity for people to work and be productive in the best way that they can,” he said.
Daily Business Briefing
Even as the age split has managers looking for ways to persuade younger hires to venture back, there are other divides. Many parents and other caregivers are concerned about leaving home when school plans are still up in the air, a consideration that has disproportionately affected women during the pandemic.
At the same time, more than a few older workers welcome the flexibility of working from home after years in a cubicle, even as some in their 20s yearn for the camaraderie of the office or the dynamism of an urban setting.
I get to exercise in the morning, have breakfast with my kids, and coach little league in the evenings. Instead of sitting in an office building I get to wear shorts, walk our dog, and have lunch in my own kitchen.” Chad, Evanston, Ill.
V.A. issues vaccine mandate for health care workers: “I am a VA physician and strongly support this decision. Believe it or not, I know and work closely alongside several frontline healthcare workers who are not vaccinated for COVID-19, almost all of whom have chosen to avoid the vaccine as a result of misinformation and political rhetoric.” Katie, Portland.
As China boomed, it didn’t take climate change into account. Now it must.:“I think this article really highlights the fact that capitalism is, and always will be, completely incapable of addressing long term existential threats like climate change.” Shawn, N.C.
“With the leverage that employees have, and the proof that they can work from home, it’s hard to put the toothpaste back in the tube,” he said.
Fearful of losing one more junior employee in what has become a tight job market, Mr. Singer has allowed a young colleague to work from home one day a week with an understanding that they would revisit the issue in the future.
doctrinaire view that folks need to be in the office.”
Amanda Diaz, 28, feels relieved she doesn’t have to go back to the office, at least for now. She works for the health insurance company Humana in San Juan, P.R., but has been getting the job done in her home in Trujillo Alto, which is about a 40-minute drive from the office.
Humana offers its employees the option to work from the office or their home, and Ms. Diaz said she would continue to work remotely as long as she had the option.
“Think about all the time you spend getting ready and commuting to work,” she said. “Instead I’m using those two or so hours to prepare a healthy lunch, exercising or rest.”
Alexander Fleiss, 38, chief executive of the investment management firm Rebellion Research, said some employees had resisted going back into the office. He hopes peer pressure and the fear of missing out on a promotion for lack of face-to-face interactions entices people back.
“Those people might lose their jobs because of natural selection,” Mr. Fleiss said. He said he wouldn’t be surprised if workers began suing companies because they felt they had been laid off for refusing to go back to the office.
Mr. Fleiss also tries to persuade his staff members who are working on projects to come back by focusing on the benefits of face-to-face collaborations, but many employees would still rather stick to Zoom calls.
“If that’s what they want, that’s what they want,” he said. “You can’t force anyone to do anything these days. You can only urge.”
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.”
Anxieties over a lag in hiring lifted on Friday as the government reported that employers added 850,000 workers in June, the largest monthly gain since last summer.
Wages jumped for the third month in a row, a sign that employers are trying to attract applicants with higher pay and that workers are gaining bargaining power.
Rising Covid-19 vaccination rates and a growing appetite for travel, dining out, celebrations and entertainment gave a particular boost to leisure and hospitality businesses. The biggest chunk of June’s gains — 343,000 — could be found there.
accelerated rate of early retirements means that some of those workers will never come back.
“Today there are more job openings than before the pandemic and fewer people in the labor force,” said Becky Frankiewicz, president of the staffing company ManpowerGroup North America. “The single defining challenge for employers is enticing American workers back to the work force.”
The report follows several promising economic developments this week. Consumer confidence, which surged in June, is at its highest point since the pandemic’s onset last year. Stocks closed out the first half of the year at record highs. And the Congressional Budget Office said Thursday that the economy was on track to recover all the jobs lost in the pandemic by the middle of next year.
But economists cautioned against trying to divine the complex currents crisscrossing the labor market from a single month’s data, particularly given how much the pandemic has disrupted employment patterns.
may reflect smaller-than-expected layoffs rather than big gains. Over a longer period, employment in both public and private education remains significantly below its prepandemic level.
remarks from the White House.
The June figures are unlikely to allay the concerns of small-business owners and managers who complain about the difficulty finding workers. Nearly half report that they cannot fill openings, according to a recent survey by the National Federation of Independent Business.
The competition for workers has pushed up wages. Average hourly earnings climbed 3.6 percent in the year through June and 0.3 percent over the month. Low-wage workers seem to be the biggest beneficiaries of the bump in pay.
Ms. Frankiewicz of ManpowerGroup said the rise of “superemployers” like Amazon and Walmart was making it even more difficult for small and medium-size businesses to attract workers. In the summer of 2019, the top 25 employers had 10 percent of the open jobs, she said, while “today 10 employers do.”
moved to end distribution of federal pandemic-related jobless benefits even though they are funded until September, arguing that the assistance — including a $300 weekly supplement — was discouraging people from returning to work.
The latest jobs report did not reflect the cutoff’s impact because the government surveys were completed before any states ended benefits.
Staffing firms said they had not seen a pickup in job searches or hiring in states that have since withdrawn from the federal jobless programs.
Indeed surveyed 5,000 people in and out of the labor force and found that child care responsibilities, health concerns, vaccination rates and a financial cushion — from savings or public assistance — had all affected the number looking for work. Many employers are desperate to hire, but only 10 percent of workers surveyed said they were urgently seeking a job.
And even among that group, 20 percent said they didn’t want to take a position immediately.
Aside from ever-present concerns about pay and benefits, workers are particularly interested in jobs that allow them to work remotely at least some of the time. In a survey of more than 1,200 people by the staffing company Randstad, roughly half said they preferred a flexible work arrangement that didn’t require them to be on site full time.
Some employers are getting creative with work arrangements in response, said Karen Fichuk, chief executive of Randstad North America. One employer changed the standard shift to match the bus schedule so employees could get to work more easily. Others adjusted hours to make it easier for parents with child care demands.
Health and safety concerns are also on the minds of workers whose jobs require face-to-face interactions, the survey found.
Black and Hispanic workers, who were disproportionately affected by the coronavirus and by job losses, are having trouble regaining their foothold. “The Black unemployment rate is still exceptionally high,” at 9.2 percent compared with 5.2 percent for white workers, said Michelle Holder, an economist at John Jay College in New York.
One factor in the elevated Black jobless rate is that the ranks of Black workers employed or seeking jobs grew sharply last month. But participation in the labor force remains lower than it was before the pandemic among all major racial and ethnic groups.
Professor Holder said some people were reluctant to rejoin the labor force because of the quality and the pay of the work available.
“We don’t have a shortage of people to work,” she said. “What we don’t have are decent jobs.”
Jeanna Smialek and Ben Casselman contributed reporting.
On a recent Tuesday evening, Jully Lee and her boyfriend curled up on the couch and turned on the TV to watch the Ovation Awards, a ceremony honoring stage work in the Los Angeles area that was held virtually this year because of the coronavirus pandemic. Ms. Lee, an actor, had been nominated for her role in the play “Hannah and the Dread Gazebo,” which was in production before the pandemic.
Ms. Lee, 40, had submitted a prerecorded acceptance speech in case she won. During the ceremony, each nominee’s photo was shown as his or her name was announced. When Ms. Lee’s category arrived, her name was called, and a photo appeared on the screen. A photo of the wrong Asian: her colleague Monica Hong. The announcer also mispronounced Ms. Lee’s name.
“I was just stunned,” Ms. Lee said. She added that after a pause, she and her boyfriend started cracking up. “When things are awkward or uncomfortable or painful, it’s much safer to laugh than to express other emotions. It’s like a polite way of responding to things.”
A Rise in Anti-Asian Attacks
A torrent of hate and violence against people of Asian descent around the United States began last spring, in the early days of the coronavirus pandemic.
Background:Community leaders say the bigotry was fueled by President Donald J. Trump, who frequently used racist language like “Chinese virus” to refer to the coronavirus.
Data: The New York Times, using media reports from across the country to capture a sense of the rising tide of anti-Asian bias, found more than 110 episodes since March 2020 in which there was clear evidence of race-based hate.
Underreported Hate Crimes: The tally may be only a sliver of the violence and harassment given the general undercounting of hate crimes, but the broad survey captures the episodes of violence across the country that grew in number amid Mr. Trump’s comments.
In New York:A wave of xenophobia and violence has been compounded by the economic fallout of the pandemic, which has dealt a severe blow to New York’s Asian-American communities. Many community leaders say racist assaults are being overlooked by the authorities.
What Happened in Atlanta: Eight people, including six women of Asian descent, were killed in shootings at massage parlors in Atlanta on March 16. A Georgia prosecutor said that the Atlanta-area spa shootings were hate crimes, and that she would pursue the death penalty against the suspect, who has been charged with murder.
The LA Stage Alliance, which hosted the ceremony, disbanded in the wake of outrage over the blunder.
The irony of a mix-up like this wasn’t lost on Ms. Lee. It was rare to even be performing with other Asian actors, rather than competing for the same part. “It’s so funny because when there’s so many Asians, then you can’t tell them apart, but in media there are so few Asians that you can’t tell us apart,” she said. “What is it?”
The invisibility of Asians in pop culture is part of what, scholars say, contributes to the “wrong Asian” experience: When people aren’t accustomed to seeing Asian faces onstage or onscreen, they may have more trouble telling them apart in real life. To put it another way: If all you really have to work with are John Cho, Steven Yeun, Aziz Ansari and Kal Penn, that’s not going to go a long way in training you to distinguish among men of Asian descent offscreen. In contrast, Hollywood has given everyone plenty of training on distinguishing white faces, Dr. Nadal said.
Out of Hollywood’s top 100 movies of 2018, only two lead roles went to Asian and Asian American actors (one male and one female), according to a study by the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism.
Donatella Galella, a professor of theater history and theory at the University of California, Riverside, said that popular culture has long reflected the Western world’s xenophobic views toward Asians, which resulted in placing them in diminished roles onstage and onscreen — the villain, the sidekick. That entrenched a kind of marginalization feedback loop.
Roller-coaster operators and lemonade slingers at Kennywood amusement park, a Pittsburgh summer staple, won’t have to buy their own uniforms this year. Those with a high school diploma will also earn $13 as a starting wage — up from $9 last year — and new hires are receiving free season passes for themselves and their families.
The big pop in pay and perks for Kennywood’s seasonal work force, where nearly half of employees are under 18, echoes what is happening around the country as employers scramble to hire waiters, receptionists and other service workers to satisfy surging demand as the economy reopens.
For American teenagers looking for work, this may be the best summer in years.
As companies try to go from hardly staffed to fully staffed practically overnight, teens appear to be winning out more than any demographic group. The share of 16- to 19-year-olds who are working hasn’t been this high since 2008, before the unfolding global financial crisis sent employment plummeting. Roughly 256,000 teens in that age group gained employment in April — counting for the vast majority of newly employed people — a significant change after teenagers suffered sharp job losses at the beginning of the pandemic. Whether the trend can hold up will become clearer when jobs data for May is released on Friday.
It could come with a downside. Some educators warn that jobs could distract from school. And while employment can itself offer learning opportunities, the most recent wave of hiring has been led by white teens, raising concerns that young people from minority groups might miss out on a hot summer labor market.
antique roller coaster and snapping people into paddle boats when she thought it paid $9 — so when she found out the park was lifting pay to $13 an hour, she was thrilled.
“I love it,” she said. She doesn’t even mind having to walk backward on the carousel to check that everyone is riding safely, though it can be disorienting. “After you see the little kids and they give you high-fives, it doesn’t matter at all.”
It’s not just Kennywood paying up. Small businesses in a database compiled by the payroll platform Gusto have been raising teen wages in service sector jobs in recent months, said Luke Pardue, an economist at the company. Teens took a hit at the onset of the pandemic but got back to their pre-coronavirus wage levels in March 2021 and have spent the first part of May seeing their wages accelerate above that.
raised the starting pay to $10 an hour and dropped the minimum age for applicants from 16 years old to 15. It seems to have worked: More teenagers applied and the city has started interviewing candidates for the open positions.
“Between 2020 and 2021, it seems like a lot of the retail starting salaries really jumped up, and we just kind of had to follow suit if we wanted to be competitive and get qualified applicants,” said Trace Stevens, the city’s director of parks and recreation.
Apps for Apps” deal in which applicants who were interviewed received a free appetizer voucher. Restaurants and gas stations across the country are offering signing bonuses.
But the perks and better pay may not reach everyone. White teens lost employment heavily at the beginning of the pandemic, and they’ve led the gains in 2021, even as Black teens have added comparatively few and Hispanic teens actually lost jobs. That’s continuing a long-running disparity in which white teens work in much greater numbers, and the gap could worsen if the current trajectory continues.
More limited access to transportation is one factor that may hold minority teens back from work, Ms. Sasser Modestino said. Plus, while places like Cape Cod and suburban neighborhoods begin to boom, some urban centers with public transit remain short on foot traffic, which may be disadvantaging teens who live in cities.
“We haven’t seen the demand yet,” said Joseph McLaughlin, research and evaluation director at the Boston Private Industry Council, which helps to place students into paid internships and helps others to apply to private employers, like grocery stores.
Ms. Sasser Modestino’s research has found that the long-running decline in teen work has partly come from a shift toward college prep and internships, but that many teens still need and want jobs for economic reasons. Yet the types of jobs teens have traditionally held have dwindled — Blockbuster gigs are a thing of the past — and older workers increasingly fill them.
Teenagers who are benefiting now may not be able to count on a favorable labor market for the long haul, said Anthony P. Carnevale, the director of Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce.
“There may be what will surely be a brief positive effect, as young people can move into a lot of jobs where adults have receded for whatever reason,” he said. “It’s going to be temporary, because we always take care of the adults first.”
Educators have voiced a different concern: That today’s plentiful and prosperous teen jobs might be distracting students from their studies.
When in-class education restarted last August at Torrington High School, which serves 330 students in a small city in Wyoming, principal Chase Christensen found that about 10 of his older students weren’t returning. They had taken full-time jobs, including working night shifts at a nursing home and working at a gravel pit, and were reluctant to give up the money. Five have since dropped out of or failed to complete high school.
“They had gotten used to the pay of a full-time worker,” Mr. Christensen said. “They’re getting jobs that usually high schoolers don’t get.”
If better job prospects in the near term overtake teenagers’ plans for additional education or training, that could also spell trouble. Economic research consistently finds that those who manage to get through additional training have better-paying careers.
Still, Ms. Sasser Modestino pointed out that a lot of the hiring happening now was for summer jobs, which have less chance of interfering with school. And there may be upsides. For people like Ms. Bailley, it means an opportunity to save for textbooks and tuition down the road. She’d like to go to community college to complete prerequisites, and then pursue an engineering degree.
“I’ve always been interested in robots, I love programming and coding,” she said, explaining that learning how roller coasters work lines up with her academic interests.
Shaylah Bentley, 18 and a new season pass taker at Kennywood, said the higher-than-expected wage she’s earning will allow her to decorate her dorm room at Slippery Rock University. She’s a rising sophomore this year, studying exercise science.
“I wanted to save up money for school and expenses,” she said. “And have something to do this summer.”
Perhaps even worse, Ms. Cooper remarked early on that she’d never heard of Brian Lehrer, the beloved WNYC morning host whose gently probing, public-spirited interviews embody the station’s appeal, and that she didn’t “get” why he was popular. She has since come to the view that “Brian is the soul of the station and, in many ways, the city itself,” a WNYC spokeswoman, Jennifer Houlihan Roussel, said in an email.
In fact, Ms. Cooper’s mission was to jump-start the station’s lagging digital transformation, something she had done with unusual success in San Francisco and that requires a willingness to make enemies. She has ambitious plans to hire 15 to 20 more reporters — but first she had the near-impossible assignment of bringing together a group of traditional radio journalists, used to working for days and occasionally weeks on colorful local features, with the reporters at Gothamist, the scrappy local blog that WNYC bailed out in 2018. Ms. Cooper sought to professionalize Gothamist away from its bloggy and irreverent roots, telling reporters to be less openly hostile to the New York Police Department in their reporting, two reporters said. Ms. Roussel suggested that Ms. Cooper was trying to rein in Gothamist’s habit of adding “an element of editorializing to its coverage that can be interpreted as bias.”
And Ms. Cooper started pushing the radio journalists to pick up their pace and to file stories for the web. That seemed like a reasonable request, but it led to another stumble in early February, when an 18-year veteran of the radio side, Fred Mogul, filed a story with one paragraph printed in a different font. The editor realized it was Associated Press copy; Ms. Cooper promptly fired Mr. Mogul (who declined through his union to be interviewed) for plagiarism without a review of whether he’d ever done it before.
Ms. Cooper declined to speak to me about Mr. Mogul’s termination. But one thing I learned this week about public radio is that no matter what is happening, someone is always recording it. And that was true when Ms. Cooper called a virtual meeting Feb. 5 over Zoom to inform the full newsroom of her decision to fire Mr. Mogul. According to a copy of the recording provided to me by an attendee, Ms. Cooper told the staffers, “It’s totally OK to be sad.” But then several stunned radio reporters questioned the move, explaining that they regularly incorporated A.P. copy into stories on air and had imported the practice to WNYC’s little-read website, crediting The A.P. at the bottom of the story.
“Gothrough every single one of our articles and fire all of us, because that is exactly what we have all done,” one host, Rebeca Ibarra, told her.
On Feb. 10, more than 60 employees — including Mr. Lehrer — signed a letter asking Ms. Cooper to reconsider and calling the firing a “troubling precedent.”
A tenet of the American unemployment system has been that anyone collecting benefits, in good times and bad, must look for work.
That quid pro quo changed early in the pandemic. Profound fears of contagion and the sudden need for millions of workers to become caregivers led states to lift the requirements for reasons both practical and compassionate.
But as vaccinations increase and the economy revs back to life, more than half of all states have revived their work search requirements. Arkansas and Louisiana did so months ago in an effort to push workers off their swollen unemployment rolls. Others, like Vermont and Kentucky, have followed in the last few weeks.
ordered the Labor Department to “work with the remaining states, as health and safety conditions allow,” to put such requirements in place as the pandemic abates.
Research suggests that work search requirements of some form in normal economic times can compel workers to find their next job and reduce their time on unemployment. But the pandemic has added a new layer to a debate over how to balance relief with the presumption that joblessness is only transitory. Most states cut off unemployment benefits after 26 weeks.
Business groups say bringing back work search requirements will help juice the labor market and dissuade workers from waiting to return to their old employers or holding out for remote or better-paying jobs.
Opponents contend that the mandate keeps undue numbers of Americans from continuing to receive needed benefits because it can be hard to meet the sometimes arduous requirements, including documenting the search efforts. And they say workers may be forced to apply for and accept lower-paying or less-satisfying jobs at a time when the pandemic has caused some to reassess the way they think about their work, their family needs and their prospects.
“I think the work search requirement is necessary as an economist,” said Marta Lachowska, an economist at the W.E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research in Kalamazoo, Mich., who has studied the effects of work search requirements on employment. But she added, “Perhaps given the big disruption we have observed to the labor market, people should be given some slack.”
In Washington, the issue has become part of a larger clash over jobless benefits that intensified after the disappointing April jobs report, with Republicans asserting that Mr. Biden’s policies are deterring people from looking for work and holding back the economic recovery.
A rising number of Republican governors have taken matters into their own hands, moving to end a weekly $300 unemployment supplement and other federally funded emergency assistance that otherwise isn’t due to expire until September.
Job openings rose in March to 8.1 million, the Labor Department reported on Tuesday, yet there are more than eight million fewer people working than before the pandemic. Economists ascribe some of the incongruity to a temporary mismatch between the jobs on offer and the skills or background of those looking for work. They say that in a recovering labor market like the current one, there may not be enough suitable jobs for people seeking re-employment, which can frustrate workers and drive them to apply to positions haphazardly.
That has been the case for Rie Wilson, 45, who worked in venue sales for a nonprofit in New York City before she lost her job last summer.
To fulfill New York’s work search requirement, which generally makes unemployment applicants complete at least three job search activities each week, Ms. Wilson has had to apply for positions she would not typically consider, like administrative assistant jobs, she said.
The prospect of accepting such a job makes her anxious.
“There is always a thought in my mind that, ‘Well, what if I do get pulled in this direction just because I’m being forced to apply for these jobs? What does that look like for my career?’” she said.
The process has been time-consuming, she said, “and it’s also a mental wear and tear because you’re literally pulled from all angles in a very stressful situation.”
Alexa Tapia, the unemployment insurance campaign coordinator at the National Employment Law Project, a worker advocacy group, said work search requirements “harm more than they help,” especially during the pandemic.
In particular, she said, such requirements perpetuate systemic racism by trapping people of color, especially women, in underpaid work with fewer benefits. And she noted that people of color were more likely to be denied benefits on the basis of such requirements.
With state unemployment offices already overtaxed, she added, work search requirements are “just another barrier being put to claimants, and it can be a very demoralizing barrier.”
In states that have reinstated work search requirements, worker advocates say an especially frustrating obstacle has been a lack of guidance.
Sue Berkowitz, the director of the South Carolina Appleseed Legal Justice Center, which works with low-income South Carolinians, said unemployed workers in the state largely wanted to go back to work. But the information on the state’s website about work search requirements is so confusing, she said, that she worries workers won’t understand it.
Before the state reimposed the requirements last month, Ms. Berkowitz sent a marked-up copy of the proposed language to the chief of staff at the South Carolina Department of Employment and Workforce urging clarifications and changes. One of her biggest concerns was that the language as it stood was at a 12th-grade reading level, while the typical reading level of adult Americans is much lower. She did not hear back. “It was crickets,” she said.
More broadly, employees in South Carolina, where the minimum wage is $7.25 an hour, can be reluctant to take a job that pays less than the one they had before the pandemic, Ms. Berkowitz said.
“It’s not that they are below taking a job that makes a lot less, but their financial needs are high enough that they need to continue to make a certain salary,” she said.
Although work search requirements have become a political issue, their restoration does not fall solely along partisan lines. Florida, for instance, where the Republican governor has repeatedly flouted virus restrictions, had kept the work search waiver in place before announcing recently that it would reinstate the requirement at the end of the month.
But many other states, particularly Republican ones, have rushed to bring their work search requirements back.
That is what Crista San Martin found when they left their job out of health concerns at a dog boarding facility in Cypress, Texas, which reinstated its work search requirement in November.
Mx. San Martin, 27, who uses the pronouns they and them, said there were very few job openings near them in the pet care industry, making finding a position onerous.
“That made it really difficult for me to log any work searches, because there simply weren’t enough jobs that I would actually want to take for my career,” they said. The first job they applied to was at a Panera, “which is not in my field of interest at all.”
Above all, applying to arbitrary jobs felt risky, they said, because there was no way to assess potential employers’ Covid-19 safety protocols. Mx. San Martin has since returned to their old job.
“It’s pretty unfair,” they said. “Going out and just casting a wide net and seeing whether a random business will take you is not safe.”
REHOBOTH BEACH, Del. — Dogfish Head Craft Brewery is struggling to hire manufacturing workers for its beer factory and staff members for its restaurants in this coastal area, a shortage that has grown so acute that the company has cut dining room hours and is now offering vintage cases of its 120 Minute India Pale Ale as a signing bonus to new hires.
The company is using its hefty social media presence “to get the bat signal out” and “entice beverage-loving adults” to join the team, Sam Calagione, the company’s founder, said on a steamy afternoon this month at Dogfish’s brewpub, which was already doing brisk business ahead of vacation season.
Economic activity is expected to surge in Delaware and across the country as people who missed 2020 getaways head for vacations and the newly vaccinated spend savings amassed during months at home.
Yet as they race to hire before an expected summertime economic boom, employers are voicing a complaint that is echoing all the way to the White House: They cannot find enough workers to fill their open positions and meet the rising customer demand.
April labor market report underscored those concerns. Economists expected companies to hire one million people, but data released on Friday showed that they had added only 266,000, even as vaccines became widely available and state and local economies began springing back to life. Many analysts thought labor shortages might explain the disappointment.
Some blame expanded unemployment benefits, which are giving an extra $300 per week through September, for keeping workers at home and hiring at bay. Republican governors in Arkansas, Montana and South Carolina moved last week to end the additional benefits for unemployed workers in their states, citing companies’ labor struggles.
President Biden said on Monday that there was no evidence that the benefit was chilling hiring. In remarks at the White House, he said his administration would make clear that any worker who turned down a suitable job offer, with rare exceptions for health concerns related to the coronavirus, would lose access to unemployment benefits. But school closings, child care constraints and incomplete vaccine coverage were playing a larger role in constraining hiring, the president said.
He called on companies to step up by helping workers gain access to vaccines and increasing pay. “We also need to recognize that people will come back to work if they’re paid a decent wage,” Mr. Biden said.
In tourist spots like Rehoboth Beach, companies face a shortage of seasonal immigrants, a holdover from a ban enacted last year that has since expired. But the behavior of the area’s businesses, from breweries to the boardwalk, suggests that much of the labor shortage also owes to the simple reality that it is not easy for many businesses simultaneously to go from a standstill to an economic sprint — especially when employers are not sure the new boom will last.
The New York Times visited last year to take the temperature of the labor market, think workers will come flooding back in September, when the more generous unemployment benefits expire.
At least 10 people in and around Rehoboth, managers and workers alike, cited expanded payments as a key driver of the labor shortage, though only two of them personally knew someone who was declining to work to claim the benefit.
“Some of them are scared of the coronavirus,” said Alan Bergmann, a resident who said he knew six or seven people who were forgoing work. Mr. Bergmann, 37, was unable to successfully claim benefits because the state authorities said he had earned too little in either Delaware or Pennsylvania — where he was living in the months before the pandemic — to qualify.
Whether it is unemployment insurance, lack of child care or fear of infection that is keeping people home, the perception that the job market is hot is at odds with overall labor numbers. Nationally, payroll employment was down 8.2 million compared with its prepandemic level, and unemployment remained elevated at 6.1 percent in April.
shorti” hoagies each shift for new associates. A local country club is offering referral bonuses and opening up jobs to members’ children and grandchildren. A regional home builder has instituted a cap on the number of houses it can sell each month as everything — open lots, available materials, building crews — comes up short.
Openings have been swiftly increasing — a record share of small business owners report having an opening they are trying to fill — and quit rates have rebounded since last year, suggesting that workers have more options.
Mr. Bergmann is among those who are benefiting. He said he had a felony on his record, and between that and the coronavirus, he was unable to find work last year. He struggled to survive with no income, cycling in and out of homelessness. Now he works a $16-an-hour job selling shirts on the boardwalk and has been making good money as a handyman for the past three months, enough to rent a room.
Brittany Resendes, 18, a server at the Thompson Island Brewing Company in Rehoboth Beach, took unemployment insurance temporarily after being furloughed in March 2020. But she came back to work in June, even though it meant earning less than she would have with the extra $600 top-up available last year.
“I was just ready to get back to work,” she said. “I missed it.”
She has since been promoted to waitress and is now earning more than she would if she were still at home claiming the $300 expanded benefit. She plans to serve until she leaves for the University of Delaware in August, and then return during school breaks.
Scott Kammerer oversees a local hospitality company that includes the brewery where Ms. Resendes works, along with restaurants like Matt’s Fish Camp, Bluecoast and Catch 54. He has been able to staff adequately by offering benefits and taking advantage of the fact that he retained some workers since his restaurants did not close fully or for very long during the pandemic.
optimism and trillions in government spending fuel an economic rebound. If many businesses treat the summer bounce as likely to be short lived, it may keep price gains in check.
At Dogfish Head, the solution has been to also temporarily limit what is on offer. The Rehoboth brewpub has cut its lunches, and its sister restaurant next door is closed on Mondays. Mr. Calagione said he did not want to think about the business they would forgo if they cannot hire the dozens of employees needed by the peak summer season.
But as it offers cases of its cult-favorite beer and signing bonuses to draw new hires, the company seems less focused on another lever: lasting pay bumps. Steve Cannon, a server at Dogfish Head, can walk to what he regards as his retirement job. He said he was not thinking of switching employers, but several co-workers had left recently for better wages elsewhere.
“There’s nobody,” said Mr. Cannon, 57. “So people are going to start throwing money at them.”
When asked if it was raising pay, Dogfish Head said it offered competitive wages for the area.
Despite the falloff in applicants, he is confident the company will get the workers it needs. “Our funnel hasn’t been filling as fast but there’s been no major service disruptions,” he said.
Gail Myer, whose family owns six hotels in Branson, Mo., has been having more trouble. “I talk to people all over the country on a regular basis in the hospitality industry, and the No. 1 topic of discussion is shortage of labor,” he said.
Before the pandemic, Mr. Myer said, there were about 150 full-time employees at his six hotels, but now staffing is down about 15 percent. Jobs at Myer Hospitality for housekeepers, breakfast attendants and receptionists are advertised as paying $12.75 to $14 an hour, plus benefits and a $500 signing bonus.
Returning to work is not yet an option for Lauren Fine, an education consultant in Denver. Ms. Fine, who is single and has a toddler, lost her job early in the pandemic. She initially collected unemployment benefits, but for the last nine months she has cobbled together jobs like tutoring and contract work.
She said she has been making less than half of her previous salary, creating something of an inescapable cycle: She cannot afford to send her son to day care for more than two days a week, and her child-care responsibilities are preventing her from taking a full-time job. In addition, she said, she has an autoimmune illness, making the possibility of contracting Covid-19 in the workplace especially harrowing.
“I like to say it’s just like spinning plates,” she said. Ms. Fine is considering giving up looking for a full-time job for the next year, until her son is old enough to attend school five days a week.
Jillian Melton worked for six years at a restaurant in Memphis before the pandemic, but she said the danger of infection coupled with low pay and babysitter costs make working not worth the risk right now. She is at home caring for her five children, including one with asthma, and her 93-year-old grandmother.