One of the most urgent questions in economics is why pay for middle-income workers has increased only slightly since the 1970s, even as pay for those near the top has escalated.
For years, the rough consensus among economists was that inexorable forces like technology and globalization explained much of the trend. But in a new paper, Lawrence Mishel and Josh Bivens, economists at the liberal Economic Policy Institute, conclude that government is to blame. “Intentional policy decisions (either of commission or omission) have generated wage suppression,” they write.
Included among these decisions are policymakers’ willingness to tolerate high unemployment and to let employers fight unions aggressively; trade deals that force workers to compete with low-paid labor abroad; and the tacit or explicit blessing of new legal arrangements, like employment contracts that make it harder for workers to seek new jobs.
Together, Dr. Mishel and Dr. Bivens argue, these developments deprived workers of bargaining power, which kept their wages low.
decline of unions; a succession of trade deals with low-wage countries; and increasingly common arrangements like “fissuring,” in which companies outsource work to lower-paying firms, and noncompete clauses in employment contracts, which make it hard for workers to leave for a competitor.
also written about unions and other reasons that workers have lost leverage, said the portion of the wage gap that Dr. Mishel and Dr. Bivens attribute to such factors probably overstated their impact.
The reason, he said, is that their effects can’t simply be added up. If excessive unemployment explains 25 percent of the gap and weaker unions explain 20 percent, it is not necessarily the case that they combine to explain 45 percent of the gap, as Dr. Mishel and Dr. Bivens imply. The effects overlap somewhat.
Dr. Katz added that education plays a complementary role to bargaining power in determining wages, citing a historical increase in wages for Black workers as an example. In the first several decades of the 20th century, philanthropists and the N.A.A.C.P. worked to improve educational opportunities for Black students in the South. That helped raise wages once a major policy change — the Civil Rights Act of 1964 — increased workers’ power.
“Education by itself wasn’t enough given the Jim Crow apartheid system,” Dr. Katz said. “But it’s not clear you could have gotten the same increase in wages if there had not been earlier activism to provide education.”
Daron Acemoglu, an M.I.T. economist who has studied the effects of technology on wages and employment, said Dr. Mishel and Dr. Bivens were right to push the field to think more deeply about how institutions like unions affect workers’ bargaining power.
But he said they were too dismissive of the role of market forces like the demand for skilled workers, noting that even as the so-called college premium has mostly flattened over the last two decades, the premium for graduate degrees has continued to increase, most likely contributing to inequality.
Still, other economists cautioned that it was important not to lose sight of the overall trend that Dr. Mishel and Dr. Bivens highlight. “There is just an increasing body of work trying to quantify both the direct and indirect effects of declining worker bargaining power,” said Anna Stansbury, the co-author of a well-received paper on the subject with former Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers. After receiving her doctorate, she will join the faculty of the M.I.T. Sloan School of Management this fall.
“Whether it explains three-quarters or one-half” of the slowdown in wage growth, she continued, “for me the evidence is very compelling that it’s a nontrivial amount.”
Chipotle, McDonald’s said it hoped the higher pay would attract as many as 10,000 new employees in the next three months, as the busy summer season approaches and dine-in restrictions are removed at many of its restaurants.
At its company-owned restaurants, McDonald’s said the average employee wage would increase to $13 an hour, with some restaurants achieving an average wage of $15 an hour later this year. All company-owned restaurants expected to be at an average salary of $15 by 2024, the company noted.
Still, that falls short of the minimum wage of $15 an hour being demanded by the Fight for $15 organization, which is backed by the Service Employees International Union. The Fight for $15 organization is spearheading a strike by McDonald’s employees in several cities across the country on Wednesday ahead of the company’s annual shareholder meeting.
A leader for Fight for $15 dismissed McDonald’s move to bolster wages, saying it wasn’t enough.
“We’ve showed up to work day after day in the middle of a global pandemic, risking our lives without proper P.P.E. or paid time off to keep your stores open and corporate profits flowing,” Doneshia Babbitt, a McDonald’s employee in St. Louis and union leader, said in a statement. “You’ve called us essential for over a year, but your announcement today proves that you’ve seen us as disposable all along.”
The strikes in 15 cities on Wednesday, she said, would go on as planned.
In 2019, McDonald’s announced it would no longer use its powerful lobbying arm to fight attempts to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour at the federal, state and local level. In a call with Wall Street analysts in January, the McDonald’s chief executive, Chris Kempczinski, said the company was doing “just fine” in the more than two dozen states that had increased minimum wages in a phased-in way.
In fact, despite having many of its dining rooms closed or with limited capacity in parts of the country for much of the pandemic, the strength of McDonald’s drive-throughs helped push its profit to more than $4.7 billion in 2020. It paid its shareholders more than $3.7 billion in dividends and spent another $874 million repurchasing shares before suspending the program in early March of last year.
Mr. Kempczinski agreed to cut his base salary in half last year, but his total compensation was still more than $10.8 million.
Elon Musk has been a big cryptocurrency booster of late, even directing Tesla to buy $1.5 billion in Bitcoin for its corporate treasury earlier this year. On Thursday, he abruptly reversed course, tweeting that Tesla would stop accepting Bitcoin as payment for cars, citing environmental reasons.
“We are concerned about rapidly increasing use of fossil fuels for Bitcoin mining and transactions, especially coal, which has the worst emissions of any fuel,” he said.
Bitcoin’s price promptly plunged by more than 10 percent, and Tesla’s shares dropped more than 4 percent, but recovered when trading began on Thursday.
Tesla said it would begin accepting the cryptocurrency a few months ago, when it also revealed a billion-dollar Bitcoin buy, pushing the price up by more than 10 percent. Bitcoin seems remarkably sensitive to the billionaire’s tweets. “If one person can dramatically alter spending power, the ‘stable store of value’ criteria of a currency is not met,” Paul Donovan of UBS wrote in a note to clients on Thursday.
Mining Bitcoin is energy-intensive, and the more it is worth, the more power it takes a network of computers to create the tokens, by design. Bitcoin’s climate problem is hardly a secret. The DealBook newsletter asks: What gives?
Tesla only started accepting Bitcoin for car purchases in the United States in March. Just over two weeks ago, Zach Kirkhorn, Tesla’s chief financial officer, told investors that “it is our intent to hold what we have long term and continue to accumulate Bitcoin from transactions from our customers as they purchase vehicles.” He described the rationale for buying and accepting Bitcoin as “Elon and I were looking for a place to store cash that wasn’t being immediately used, trying to get some level of return.”
An entry-level Tesla is worth about one Bitcoin, so the company’s $1.5 billion Bitcoin purchase in February far surpasses the amount of crypto it would collect from car sales for a very long time. That raises questions about the vetting and approval process for that investment, which may worry E.S.G. investors, who otherwise look favorably at an electric vehicle company. Did Mr. Musk not know about Bitcoin’s environmental impact until now? Who advised him on it? Did climate factor into the board’s approval process?
SpaceX’s rockets are massive carbon emitters. The Boring Company, his tunnel drilling endeavor, has also faced criticism about its environmental impact.
Mr. Musk’s statement said that “Tesla will not be selling any Bitcoin and we intend to use it for transactions as soon as mining transitions to more sustainable energy.” We’ll see whether it made any recent trades when it reports second-quarter results in July. Given the impact that Mr. Musk’s tweet had on Bitcoin’s price, any action just before or after will be scrutinized.
The return policy for cars bought with Bitcoin worked in Tesla’s favor, stipulating that buyers get back Bitcoin if it’s worth less than the equivalent dollar value at purchase but get back dollars if Bitcoin is worth more. That raises many issues, including accounting risks and worries about warranties and other consumer protection laws.
Mr. Musk can be an unreliable narrator. On Tuesday, he asked his followers on Twitter if Tesla should accept Dogecoin, the jokey cryptocurrency. (Most said yes.) On Sunday, he announced that SpaceX had taken Dogecoin as payment for shuttling a satellite to the moon. And as host of “Saturday Night Live,” he said that cryptocurrency was both “the future of currency” and “a hustle.”
New claims for unemployment benefits fell last week, the government reported on Thursday, as the labor market slowly recovers from the staggering losses wreaked by the coronavirus pandemic.
About 487,000 workers filed first-time claims for state benefits during the week that ended May 8, the Labor Department said, a decrease from 514,000 the week before. In addition, about 104,000 new claims were filed for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, a federal program covering freelancers, part-timers and others who do not routinely qualify for state benefits.
Neither figure is seasonally adjusted. On a seasonally adjusted basis, new state claims totaled 473,000.
After more than a year of being whipsawed by the pandemic, the economy has been showing new life. Restrictions are lifting, businesses are reopening and job listings are on the upswing. But hiring in April was weaker than expected.
“Over all, jobless claims are about three times as high as they were pre-Covid, but they’re coming down” said Heidi Shierholz, senior economist at the left-leaning Economic Policy Institute.
Some employers, particularly in the restaurant and hospitality sectors, have complained of having trouble finding workers. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and several Republican governors have asserted that a temporary $300-a-week federal unemployment supplement has made workers reluctant to return to the job.
The U.S. Labor Department said that as of Wednesday, six states — Iowa, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, North Dakota and South Carolina — had notified the department that they were terminating a network of federal pandemic-related unemployment benefits ahead of the Sept. 6 expiration date.
Several other states with Republican governors, including Tennessee, Arkansas, Alabama, Wyoming and Idaho, have said they also plan to withdraw from the federal programs in the next month or so.
In most cases, that would mean an end not only to the weekly supplements, but also to gig workers’ Pandemic Unemployment Assistance and extended benefits for those who have exhausted other state and federal jobless insurance.
Oxford Economics estimates that roughly 279,000 people in 11 states will lose the $300-a-week stipend, while an additional 609,000 will lose all benefits.
The unemployment rates in those states in March, the latest month for which data is available, ranged from 3.2 percent in Idaho to 6.3 percent in Mississippi.
Mississippi, Tennessee and Alabama are among the states that offer the lowest maximum benefit to qualified individuals — $275 or less each week. Nationwide, the average weekly benefit without federal supplements is $387, according to the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities.
Economists are skeptical that supplemental jobless benefits are playing anything more than a bit part in the pace of the job market’s recovery.
“There is tremendous churn in this labor market,” said Gregory Daco, chief U.S. economist at Oxford Economics. “There are still major supply constraints and unemployment benefits are not the most important one. The virus is.”
Many workers have children at home who are not attending school in person. Others are wary of returning to jobs that require face-to-face encounters. Covid-19 infections have decreased since September, but there are still 38,000 new cases being reported each day and 600 Covid-related deaths. Less than half the population is fully vaccinated.
There is halting progress from employers as well, as businesses continually update their assessment of costs and customer demand. “The hiring pattern isn’t going to be smooth,” Mr. Daco said. “Businesses hire and then reassess. They need to find the right balance, it’s a trial-and-error process more than anything.”
Prematurely halting federal jobless benefits is “detrimental to the economy,” Mr. Daco said. “You’re voluntarily hurting certain vulnerable tranches of the population.”
Nationwide, the unemployment rate was 6.1 percent, and there are 8.2 million fewer jobs than in February 2020.
U.S. stocks rebound on Thursday following a sell-off in European and Asian equities after faster-than-expected inflation data in the United States rattled markets the previous day.
The S&P 500 open nearly 1 percent higher, after a 2.1 percent drop on Wednesday. The Nasdaq climbed more than 1 percent.
The Stoxx Europe 600 index fell 0.4 percent, recovering from a 1.7 percent decline earlier. The Nikkei 225 slumped 2.5 percent in Japan, and the Hang Seng in Hong Kong dropped 1.8 percent.
The U.S. Consumer Price Index, a measure of inflation, climbed 4.2 percent in April from a year earlier, the fastest pace of increase since 2008. From March to April, prices increased 0.8 percent; economists surveyed by Bloomberg only forecast a 0.2 percent increase.
The yield on 10-year Treasury notes held steady at about 1.69 percent after jumping seven basis points, or 0.07 percentage point, on Wednesday.
Federal Reserve policymakers have said that they expect the current increase in inflation to be transitory and would not set off a pullback in monetary stimulus. But the increase in April’s inflation reading, beyond what other analysts forecast, has some traders testing this view.
Oil prices fell on Thursday after Colonial Pipeline said it had begun to restart operations along its massive pipeline, which transports gasoline, diesel and jet fuel from Texas to New Jersey. West Texas Intermediate, the U.S. benchmark, dropped more than 2 percent to $64.65 a barrel.
Other commodity prices have also fallen from recent highs. Iron ore futures were down 3.6 percent after climbing to a record this week. Aluminum prices fell 1.6 percent and silver prices were down 1.4 percent.
Bitcoin prices fell more than 10 percent to below $50,000, according to CoinDesk, after Elon Musk said Tesla would stop accepting the cryptocurrency as payment for its electric cars. Mr. Musk citing concerns about the energy consumption used in mining for Bitcoin, a longstanding issue. Tesla’s share price fell 1.5 percent in premarket trading, but recovered when markets opened.
Most other cryptocurrencies fell on Thursday with CoinMarketCap valuing the global market at $2.2 trillion, down 11 percent from the day before.
Shares in Coinbase, an exchange for people and companies to buy and sell various digital currencies, dropped nearly 2 percent.
China’s landmark $2.8 billion antitrust penalty against Alibaba caused the e-commerce giant to report a loss in the latest quarter, its first since going public seven years ago. But sales continued to grow despite the regulatory scrutiny, helped by China’s strong economic expansion.
Alibaba recorded an operating loss of $1.2 billion for the first three months of the year, the company said on Thursday. Without the antitrust fine, operating profits would have been $1.6 billion, a 48 percent increase from a year earlier, the company said.
Revenue for the quarter grew by nearly two-thirds from a year before, to $28.6 billion. That figure got a boost because Alibaba began including the sales of Sun Art, a supermarket operator in which the company took a controlling stake last October.
China is on a regulatory blitz to curtail what officials describe as unfair and monopolistic business practices by the country’s internet heavyweights. The fine last month against Alibaba was followed swiftly by the opening of an antitrust investigation into Meituan, a food-delivery platform that is among China’s most valuable internet companies.
Two days after China’s market regulator announced the fine against Alibaba, which the agency said was for illegally restricting the vendors on its shopping sites, the company said it would lower the fees it charges those merchants and invest in new services for them.
Speaking to analysts on Thursday, Alibaba’s chief executive, Daniel Zhang, pledged to put “all of our incremental profits this year” toward helping merchants lower their operating costs, expanding in new business areas such as brick-and-mortar grocery and improving technology. But Mr. Zhang also stressed that these investments would be “highly targeted and disciplined.”
For the 12 months that ended in March, Alibaba recorded $109.5 billion in revenue, an increase of 41 percent over the year before. The company’s Chinese retail platforms attracted 811 million active consumers during that period.
The operator of Colonial Pipeline said on Wednesday that it had started to resume pipeline operations but noted that “it will take several days for the product delivery supply chain to return to normal.”
The pipeline, which stretches from Texas to New Jersey, had been shut down since Friday after a ransomware attack.
“There will be lag time between Colonial Pipeline reopening and increases in fuel availability for general public,” warned an internal assessment of potential impact drawn up by the Departments of Energy and Homeland Security. It noted that the fuel “travels through the pipeline at 5 miles per hour” and would take “approximately two weeks to travel from the Gulf Coast to New York.”
The company has refused to say whether it had paid a ransom or was considering doing so. On Wednesday, administration officials said they believed the company was avoiding paying the ransom, at least for now. Instead, they said, the company was trying to reconstruct its systems with a patchwork of backed-up data.
Gasoline prices in Georgia and a few other states rose 8 to 10 cents a gallon on Wednesday alone, a jump not usually seen without a major hurricane shutting down refineries. At some stations, people were filling up gasoline cans, forcing others to wait longer and causing shouting matches. Lines of 20 to 25 cars waited at the few stations operating in Chapel Hill, N.C., where almost all the gas stations lacked fuel.
The latest update on the labor market is scheduled to arrive Thursday morning when the government releases its weekly report on jobless claims.
Analysts surveyed by Bloomberg expect that the number of new claims filed will fall slightly from the previous week.
Last week, the Labor Department reported that 505,000 workers filed first-time claims for state benefits in the week that ended May 1. An additional 101,000 new claims were filed for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, a federal program covering freelancers, part-timers and others who do not routinely qualify for state benefits. Neither figure is seasonally adjusted.
The labor market is struggling to return to normal after more than a year of being whipsawed by the pandemic. Restrictions are lifting, businesses are reopening and job listings are on the upswing. Hiring increased in April but at a slower pace than anticipated.
complained of having trouble finding workers. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and several Republican governors have asserted that a temporary $300-a-week federal unemployment supplement has made workers reluctant to return to the job.
The U.S. Labor Department said that as of Wednesday, six states — Iowa, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, North Dakota and South Carolina — had notified the department that they were terminating federal pandemic-related unemployment benefits next month.
The unemployment rates in those states in March, the latest month for which data is available, ranged from 3.7 percent in Iowa to 6.3 percent in Mississippi.
A handful of other states with Republican governors, including Tennessee, Arkansas, Alabama, Wyoming and Idaho, have said they also planned to withdraw from the federal program.
38,000 new cases being reported each day and 600 Covid-related deaths. Less than half the population is fully vaccinated.
There is halting progress from employers as well, as businesses continually update their assessment of costs and customer demand. They are wary of locking themselves in to hiring more workers or raising pay when there is so much uncertainty swirling.
Nationwide, the unemployment rate was 6.1 percent, and there are 8.2 million fewer jobs than in February 2020.
KATHMANDU, Nepal — Most of Nepal is under lockdown, its hospitals overwhelmed. Bangladesh suspended vaccination sign-ups after promised supplies were cut off. Sri Lanka’s hopes of a tourism-led economic revival have collapsed.
As India battles a horrific surge of the coronavirus, the effects have spilled over to its neighbors. Most nearby countries have sealed their borders. Several that had been counting on Indian-made vaccines are pleading with China and Russia instead.
The question is whether that will be enough, in a region that shares many of the risk factors that made India so vulnerable: densely populated cities, heavy air pollution, fragile health care systems and large populations of poor workers who must weigh the threat of the virus against the possibility of starvation.
Though the countries’ outbreaks can’t all be linked to India, officials across the region have expressed growing dread over how easily their fates could follow that of their neighbor.
huge, maskless rallies in India hosted by Prime Minister Narendra Modi even as infections rose. Likewise, both the ruling and opposition parties in Nepal held large political gatherings after the prime minister dissolved Parliament in December.
told CNN on Saturday that Nepal’s situation was “under control” but acknowledged that “political instability” had led to “some mistakes.” On Monday night, Mr. Oli lost a vote of no confidence in Parliament, throwing Nepal into further turmoil.
Aid workers have warned that the parallels between Nepal and India may continue, as hospitals turn all but the most critically ill patients away. With medical oxygen supplies running short, as they did in India, Nepal’s government has imposed quotas for each hospital, which doctors say are far from adequate. Reports of patients dying from insufficient oxygen have spread.
said in a statement last week.
Vaccines are unlikely to help immediately. Nepal paid for two million doses from India’s Serum Institute, the world’s largest producer of vaccines. But as India’s crisis has escalated, its government has essentially halted exports, leaving Nepal a million doses short.
India’s pause has also scrambled vaccination plans in Bangladesh. Late last month, the authorities there announced that they would temporarily stop accepting new registrations for shots after supplies from the Serum Institute were cut off.
95 percent of its eligible population. Bhutan last month suspended entry for foreign workers, after experts cited concerns about laborers coming from India.
The border between Pakistan and India was closed even before the pandemic because of political tensions. But in Pakistan, too, cases are rising. Asad Umar, the official leading its coronavirus response, cited the fact that “the entire region is exploding with cases and deaths” to explain new lockdowns.
coronavirus response plan last May, it estimated that local facilities would be insufficient if there were more than 5,000 active cases at once. Now there are more than 100,000.
For many Nepalis, anger and sorrow have mixed with utter helplessness.
Pramod Pathak, a businessman in the border district of Kailali, has watched in anxiety and sorrow as migrant workers returned from India. They have crowded every day into overwhelmed testing centers, or — for the many for whom there are no tests — simply crammed into shared cars and returned to their villages.
“The virus is transmitting as they travel in jam-packed vehicles,” Mr. Pathak said. “There’s no safety for them no matter where they go — be it India or Nepal.”
Bhadra Sharma reported from Kathmandu, Nepal; Aanya Wipulasena from Colombo, Sri Lanka; and Vivian Wang from Hong Kong. Julfikar Ali Manik contributed reporting from Dhaka, Bangladesh, and Chencho Dema from Thimphu, Bhutan.
WASHINGTON — Lawmakers have unleashed more than $5 trillion in relief aid over the past year to help businesses and individuals through the pandemic downturn. But the scale of that effort is placing serious strain on a patchwork oversight network created to ferret out waste and fraud.
The Biden administration has taken steps to improve accountability and oversight safeguards spurned by the Trump administration, including more detailed and frequent reporting requirements for those receiving funds. But policing the money has been complicated by long-running turf battles; the lack of a centralized, fully functional system to track how funds are being spent; and the speed with which the government has tried to disburse aid.
The scope of oversight is vast, with the Biden administration policing the tail end of the relief money disbursed by the Trump administration last year in addition to the $1.9 trillion rescue package that Democrats approved in March. Much of that money is beginning to flow out the door, including $21.6 billion in rental assistance funds, $350 billion to state and local governments, $29 billion for restaurants and a $16 billion grant fund for live-event businesses like theaters and music clubs.
The funds are supposed to be tracked by a hodgepodge of overseers, including congressional panels, inspectors general and the White House budget office. But the system has been plagued by disagreements and, until recently, disarray.
released a scathing report accusing other Treasury officials of blocking him from conducting more extensive investigations.
Mr. Miller was selected to oversee relief programs managed by the Treasury Department, but the agency’s officials believed his role was to track only a $500 billion pot of money for the Federal Reserve’s emergency lending programs and funds for airlines and companies that are critical to national security. Mr. Miller said that Treasury officials were initially cooperative during the Trump administration, but that after the transition to the new administration started, his access to information dried up.
After Mr. Miller’s requests for program data were denied, he appealed to the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, which ruled against him last month. His team of 42 people has been left with little to do.
Economic Injury Disaster Loans. But federal oversight experts and watchdog groups say the exact scale of problems in the $2 trillion bipartisan stimulus relief bill in March 2020 is virtually impossible to determine because of insufficient oversight and accountability reporting.
Mr. Miller has been pursuing cases of business owners double dipping from various pots of relief money, such as airlines taking small-business loans and also receiving payroll support funds. The Small Business Administration’s inspector general said last year that the agency “lowered the guardrails” and that 15,000 economic disaster loans totaling $450 million were fraudulent.
The Government Accountability Office also placed the small-business lending programs on its “high risk” watch list in March, warning that a lack of information about the recipients of aid and inadequate safeguards could lead to many more problems than have been reported. The report identified “deficiencies within all components of internal control” in the Small Business Administration’s oversight and concluded that officials “must show stronger program integrity controls and better management.”
proposal to revamp many, but not all, of its procedures.
Oversight veterans and some lawmakers say they want to see a more cohesive approach and more transparency from the Biden administration.
“It is just staggering how little oversight there is,” said Neil M. Barofsky, who was the special inspector general for the Troubled Asset Relief Program from 2008 to 2011. “Not because of the fault of the people who are there, but because of the failure to empower them and give them the opportunity to do their jobs.”
Senator Elizabeth Warren, Democrat of Massachusetts, said she had pushed hard for more oversight last year because she believed that Trump administration officials had conflicts of interest. Despite improvements, she said, the Biden administration could be doing more.
“I kept pushing for more oversight — we got some of it, but not all of what we need,” Ms. Warren said. “We are talking hundreds of billions here.”
She added: “The Biden administration is definitely doing better, but there’s no substitute for transparency and oversight — and we can always do better.”
programs intended to speed $25 billion for emergency housing relief passed last year.
Watchdog groups are wary that speed could sacrifice accountability.
Under Mr. Trump, the Office of Management and Budget, which is responsible for setting policy in federal agencies, refused to comply with all the reporting requirements in the 2020 stimulus that called for it to collect and release data about businesses that borrowed money under the small-business lending programs.
To some observers, Mr. Biden’s budget office has not moved quickly enough to reverse the Trump-era policy. Instead, Mr. Sterling’s team is working on a complex set of benchmarks — tailored to individual programs included in the $1.9 trillion relief bill — which will be released one by one in the coming months.
stymied by disagreements about a program to prop up struggling state and local governments.
Its legally mandated report to Congress was delayed for weeks, and a member of the panel, Bharat Ramamurti, accused his Republican colleagues of stalling the group’s work. Mr. Ramamurti has since left to work for the Biden administration, and the five-person panel now has three commissioners and no chair. Its latest report was only 19 pages.
The central fact of the American economy in mid-2021 is that demand for all sorts of goods and services has surged. But supplies are coming back slowly, with the economy acting like a creaky machine that was turned off for a year and has some rusty parts.
The result, as underlined in new government data this week, is shortages and price inflation across many parts of the economy. That is putting the Biden administration and the Federal Reserve in a jam that is only partly of their own making.
Higher prices and the other problems that result from an economy that reboots itself are frustrating, but should be temporary. Still, the longer that the surges in prices continue and the more parts of the economy that they encompass, the greater the chances that Americans’ psychology about prices and inflation could shift in ways that become self-sustaining.
For the last few decades, companies have resisted raising prices or paying higher wages because they felt that doing so would cost them too much business. That put a damper on inflation across the economy. The question is whether current circumstances are evolving in a way that could change that.
shortage of limes, their prices spike and people use more lemons.
after a cyberattack shut down a major pipeline, are truly random events that tell us virtually nothing about underlying supply and demand or future inflation.
Some other sectors seem poised to experience price rises. Restaurants, for example, are complaining of severe labor shortages that are forcing them to curtail service or sharply raise pay for line cooks and dishwashers. If they try to reflect those higher costs in their prices, it will cause the price of food away from home to start rising faster than the (already fairly high) 3.8 percent figure over the last year.
Professional inflation-watchers are on close watch for signs that these forces might be unleashing a form of thinking about price dynamics unseen since the early 1980s, when prices rose in part because everyone expected them to.
The Fed is betting that won’t happen — that even if there are several months of surging prices, it will be at worst a one-time adjustment, and potentially something that reverses as old spending patterns return and workers return to their jobs.
“If past experience is any guide, production will rise to meet the level of goods demand before too long,” the Fed governor Lael Brainard said in a speech this week. “A limited period of pandemic-related price increases is unlikely to durably change inflation dynamics.”
For now, movements in key financial markets mostly align with the Fed view.
Futures contracts for major commodities like oil and copper, for example, suggest that traders expect prices to fall slightly in the years ahead, not rise further.
And in the bond market, even after a surge in longer-term interest rates following the high inflation reading Wednesday, most signs point to future inflation consistent with the 2 percent the Fed aims for.
Still, the level of future inflation implied by those bond prices has risen significantly in the last few weeks, meaning further moves are likely to increase worries that the inflation issues will be not-so-transitory after all. And the pattern could change abruptly if more evidence starts to arrive that the outlook for inflation is becoming unmoored.
“We aren’t obviously on the way to a very high and persistent inflation outcome,” said Brian Sack, director of global economics at the hedge fund D.E. Shaw and a former senior Federal Reserve official. “But we’re at an inflection point, in that the rise in inflation expectations to date has been a policy success, but a rise from here could become a policy problem.”
The Fed may believe that the evidence emerging in various corners of the economy is a one-time occurrence that will fade into memory before too long. The Biden administration is betting its agenda on the same idea.
Ultimately, what matters more than whatever the bond market does is how ordinary Americans who make everyday economic decisions — demanding raises or not, paying more for a car or not — view things. Can they wait for the complex machinery of the American economy to fully crank into gear?
If you’ve enjoyed working from home during the pandemic — no commute, cooking lunch in your own kitchen or being around family more often — the chief executive of WeWork has some thoughts about you.
“Those who are least engaged are very comfortable working from home,” Sandeep Mathrani, the C.E.O. of the coworking company said at a Wall Street Journal event on Wednesday. “Those who are überly engaged with the company want to go to the office two-thirds of the time, at least.”
“People are happier when they come to work,” he added. The company is betting on people wanting to — or being required to — work outside of their homes once it is safe to do so widely.
His comments were not received well by many online as many companies and employees consider the post-Covid-19 workplace after more than a year of doing their jobs from home.
wrote one Twitter user.
Others noted that working from home has benefited parents, and that working from home has improved some workers’ mental health.
Ann Johnson, a corporate vice president at Microsoft, wrote: “If the only way you can keep your employees engaged is by being in the office with them, you have a leadership issue — not an employee engagement issue.”
Google said this month it would relax its remote work protocols, and that it expected 20 percent of its employees to work remotely after its offices reopen. The tech giant had previously been one of the industry’s holdouts on flexible remote work, and Insider reported that some employees had threatened to quit if they couldn’t keep working from home.
Park Na-rae, a comedian, grabbed a male doll, placed its plastic arm between its legs and made a suggestive remark.
By the standards of Western comedy, the stunt on her YouTube show in March would have hardly seemed offensive. But the skit became a scandal in her home country, South Korea. Legions of aggrieved young men accused her of sexual harassment. The police are investigating.
The scandal has made headlines for weeks and has threatened to inflict lasting damage on Ms. Park’s career, two years after she became the first female comedian from South Korea to host a Netflix special.
Her supporters say the outcry illustrates a double standard in a culture where men often brag about sexual conquests and where sexual harassment is endemic, but where women who dare to mention sex in public can be penalized.
suggested that women use sex to get jobs. Since he was punished for inappropriate comments, they argued, Ms. Park should be called to account, as well.
Lee Wonjae, a professor at the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology who studies online, said that most of Ms. Park’s critics were not trolls from misogynistic, far-right websites, but ordinary men from mainstream society.
Professor Lee said that many young men in South Korea — which has one of the highest gender pay gaps in the developed world — feel threatened by certain gender trends and President Moon Jae-in’s attempts to push for gender equality. These men see women as growing competitors for jobs and gaining more bargaining power in the marriage market.
“Why are you going to support women more? Look at me: I’m doing my military service. What are you doing for me?” he said of how young men see their lot in life. “That is the message.” (Men in South Korea age 18 to 28 are required to serve in the military for about two years.)
Sexism is deeply entrenched in South Korea. There is an epidemic of men using hidden cameras to spy on women in public restrooms and changing rooms. Misogynistic posts are a defining feature of Reddit-like forums. “It’s everyday life, this kind of gender conflict, misogyny, backlash and hatred,” Dr. Mo said.
Park Won-soon, was one of many male politicians to be accused of sexual harassment. (He died by suicide last year.) And the Seoul authorities apologized this year after issuing guidelines that advised pregnant women to cook, clean and work on their appearances to ensure that their husbands still found them attractive.
sentenced to prison in 2019 for raping women who were too drunk to consent to sex.
Yet, other male celebrities and public figures have made sexist remarks without facing the kind of scrutiny faced by Ms. Park. She already had a reputation for pushing the boundaries of what female South Korean comedians can say or do. She began her 2019 Netflix special, “Glamour Warning,” by talking about her “first time doing it without a man.”
Ms. Park resigned from her YouTube show a few days after the scandal broke. The Seoul police later said that they were investigating the harassment claims to determine whether she had broken any laws. The police did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
OpenNet, a South Korean nongovernmental organization that advocates for internet privacy, said this month that her doll stunt did not constitute sexual harassment under policies set by the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family. The group said that she had merely tried to express female sexual identity.
Ms. Park’s talent agency, JDB Entertainment, said that she was not available for an interview.
In a handwritten note to her 1.8 million Instagram followers in March, Ms. Park said that it was her duty as a performer and public figure to “take responsibility” for her own acting and props. “I am nothing but sorry to the many people who trusted and supported me,” she wrote.
Last month, she visited her grandparents for one of her other television shows, “I Live Alone,” and expressed remorse for how her stunt with the doll had caused harm to her castmates.
“Humans are imperfect,” her grandfather, who was not named in the broadcast, said as Ms. Park burst into tears. “Don’t listen to hate.”
LONDON — At 7:30 p.m. on Monday, Maureen Lyon will be murdered at St. Martin’s Theater in London, her screams piercing the air.
Her death is a moment many in London’s theater industry will welcome for one simple reason: It’s the opening of “The Mousetrap,” Agatha Christie’s long-running whodunit, and it will signal that the West End is finally back.
For the last 427 days, the coronavirus pandemic has effectively shut London’s theaters. Some tried to reopen in the fall, only for England to plunge into a new lockdown before they even got to rehearsals.
They tried again in December, and several musicals, including “Six,” about the wives of Henry VIII, reopened to ecstatic audiences. But just days later, the shows were forced closed once more.
said theaters can reopen with social distancing on Monday and without it on June 21, provided coronavirus cases stay low, thanks to the country’s rapid vaccination drive. Vaccine passports might be required by then — a measure many major theater owners back.
A host of shows are scheduled to reopen this month, with Andrew Lloyd Webber’s new “Cinderella” musical coming June 25 and a deluge of others soon after. “Hamilton” reopens in August. What happens to these shows will likely be a bellwether for Broadway’s reopening in September.
But what’s it actually like for the theatermakers who are starting work again after 15 months? Has the pandemic shaped the way they think about theater? We visited four to find out.
“Work that engages with who we are now.”
palo santo — a wood shamans use to cleanse evil spirits — and burned it in front of his cast. He’d only performed a ritual like that once before, he said, as he’d been afraid of “feeling like an idiot.”
But the actors also wanted to mark the occasion. “Every day now they’re saying, ‘Can we burn some more?’” Rickson said.
One of Britain’s most in-demand directors, Rickson’s Broadway triumphs include “Jerusalem” and the 2008 revival of “The Seagull.” (“The finest and most fully involving production of Chekhov that I have ever known,” wrote Ben Brantley in The New York Times.)
The night the shutdown hit, he was in a dress rehearsal for the play “All of Us” at the National Theater, while his revival of “Uncle Vanya” was attracting sellout crowds in the West End. Suddenly, he was without work or a sense of purpose. During lockdown last spring, he walked round the West End and cried while looking at all the shut theaters.
He kept himself busy by filming “Uncle Vanya,” but said he spent most of the time reflecting on what he wanted theater to be when it returned. His answer: “New work, work that engages with who we are now, courageous work.”
“Walden,” by the largely unknown American playwright Amy Berryman, is the first example of that. He came across the play — about two sisters with contrasting views on how humanity should deal with climate change — last summer, while searching for scripts with the producer Sonia Friedman.
“It’s kind of dazzling in its imaginative scope,” Rickson said. “It’s like a play by a writer who’s written 20 plays, not a debut.”
Britain’s vaccine rollout was “fast by any measure,” she said. “Of course, “if we weren’t selling any tickets, I wouldn’t feel so jolly.”
Burns, the chief executive of Nimax Theaters, is one of the unsung heroes of the West End’s comeback. Over the past year, many figures in Britain’s theaterland have grabbed headlines for trying to support workers during the pandemic.
Lloyd Webber continually harangued the British government to let theaters reopen, even hosting a government-sanctioned experiment in July to prove it could happen safely. The “Fleabag” star Phoebe Waller-Bridge set up a fund to support freelance theatermakers, as did the director Sam Mendes.
But Burns did something else: She tried, repeatedly, to open her six theaters with social distancing and mask mandates.
In October, she managed to open the Apollo for 14 performances by Adam Kay, a comedian and former doctor, before England went into a second lockdown. In December, she opened several more for just over a weekend, before England went into lockdown again.
said when naming her its producer of the year. “In the face of overwhelming odds this year, she has consistently tried to make it happen, when some other established commercial producers didn’t.”
Now, she’s planning to open them all once more. “Six,” the musical about the wives of Henry VIII, will play at the Lyric. “Everybody’s Talking About Jamie,” a musical about a boy dreaming of being a drag queen, will be right next door at the Apollo.
announced a Rising Stars festival, letting 23 young producers host shows in her venues this summer. The shows include “Cruise,” a one-man tale of gay life in London, as well as an evening of magic acts.
be built down the road from the Palace.
It doesn’t have a name yet, she said. How about the Burns Theater? “No, no, no, no, no,” she replied. She’s naming a bar inside after herself. “That’s enough,” she said.
Lead Actor, ‘Everybody’s Talking About Jamie’
“I’ve learned that I don’t need to change to please anyone”
a hit musical about a gay teenager who dreams of becoming a drag queen.
His dressing room was adorned with art from fans, and months after dropping out of drama school to take the role, he had become used to seeing his face plastered on London’s buses. Then the pandemic forced his theater shut, and he found himself at home with his mum, dad and sister.
tweeted a picture of a full airplane, alongside one of an empty theater. “It just made me think, ‘Why’s that one OK, and the other isn’t?’” he said. “Every other industry was talking about getting back to work, and we were all sitting at home.”
During lockdown, he read a host of scripts and learned to cook pasta dishes and curries (“I’m going to be the meal-prep queen when we go back”). And he spent a lot of time reflecting on who he wanted to be as an actor.
“I see the world through a different gaze now,” he said. “I’ve learned that I don’t need to change to please anyone.”
Thomas said he thought that attitude would help when the musical returns May 20. Jamie “is so unapologetically himself, and he’s calling for the world to adapt to him and his fabulousness and his queerness,” Thomas said. “He’s not changing.”
The show, which has a cast of 26 and a nine-person band, is the largest to reopen next month, thanks to a government grant. Thomas said he knows what to expect in terms of coronavirus precautions, as his show was one of the few to briefly reopen in December.
“It was weird,” he said, “but the rules and the mitigations and masks are such a small sacrifice in order to be able to do our jobs.”
The Mousetrap,” was trying to do a costume fitting for the actor Sarah Moss — without touching her.
It started well. Inside a cramped room at the St. Martin’s Theater, Hudson-Holt handed Moss a heavy black wool coat, then stood back to admire the fit. But within seconds, she had leapt forward, grabbed the rumpled collar and adjusted it.
“Sorry!” she said, realizing she’d broken the rules. “It’s just instinct.”
“The Mousetrap,” which has been running in the West End since 1952 is scheduled to reopen on May 17, the first play here to do so.
“We’ve been going so long,” Hudson-Holt said. “If we can survive this, others can,” she added.
Hudson-Holt, who’s been with the show for almost 20 years, had spent most of the past year at home. “We were lucky, as the very good management kept us furloughed,” she said, meaning the government paid a chunk of her salary. “But for a lot of freelancers — costume makers, propmakers, actors — it’s been just devastating.”
To lessen coronavirus risks, two casts will now alternate in the eight roles. The show’s website makes that move sound like a canny piece of marketing, encouraging audiences to see both sets of actors. In reality, it’s in case illness strikes; if one cast has to isolate, the other can step in.
all its stores have closed.
Her daily routine changed in other ways. Rather than taking measurements in person, she called the actors, politely inquiring if they’d gained weight or muscle in lockdown and would be needing a bigger size.
“I was having to ask people, ‘Oh, have you been doing any sport lately? Or maybe some baking?’” she said.
Despite the no-touching rule, the fittings went according to plan. Hudson-Holt had found a hat for Moss, new to the role of Miss Casewell, one of many potential murderers stuck in an English guesthouse after a snowstorm.
Only a lime green silk scarf caused problems. Hudson-Holt tried showing Moss how to fold, then tie it, but Moss was flummoxed. “Can you slow down a bit and show me again?” she said.
“Today’s a fun test for everyone,” Hudson-Holt said.
Once the fitting was over, Hudson-Holt put Moss’s outfit aside. It would be steamed later to kill any potential viruses. “I know it seems hyper vigilant,” she said, “but who wants to be the one that mucks this up?”
When Fan Jianhua had her third daughter last April, she was afraid that she would be fined for violating China’s birth limits.
Ms. Fan was already heavily in debt paying for treatment for her 6-year-old, who has leukemia. To her relief, when she registered her new baby with the police, she didn’t have to pay the $7,500 fine.
“I was really happy and could finally relax,” said Ms. Fan, 34, a stay-at-home mother in the central city of Danjiangkou, in Hubei Province.
Slowly, in fits and starts, China’s ruling Communist Party is loosening its long-held restrictions over childbirth and women’s bodies. Some local governments have tacitly allowed couples to have more than two children. Beijing has said civil servants will no longer be fired for such infringements. Party leaders have pledged to make population policies more inclusive, a signal that some have taken to mean the rules will be eased further.
decline in birthrates. A once-a-decade population census, released on Tuesday, showed that the number of births last year fell to the lowest since the Mao era. Low fertility translates to fewer workers and weaker demand, which could stunt growth in the world’s second-largest economy.
But the party is wary of giving up control and has resisted scrapping birth restrictions wholesale. Instead, Beijing has been taking a piecemeal approach by slowly dismantling the once-powerful family-planning bureaucracy and carving out exemptions. In many places, police officers, employers and city officials are deciding how strictly, or loosely, to enforce the rules.
That can mean more freedom for some, like Ms. Fan, to have more children. But it also creates uncertainty about the risks, adding to a reluctance about having more children.
The strategy could also founder amid broad cultural changes. Anxiety over the rising cost of education, housing and health care is now deeply ingrained in society. Many Chinese simply prefer smaller families, and the government’s efforts to boost the birthrate, including introducing a two-child policy in 2016, have largely fizzled.
“If the restrictions on family planning are not lifted, and they are encouraging births at the same time, this is self-contradictory,” said Huang Wenzheng, a demography expert with the Center for China and Globalization, a Beijing-based research center. He said that removing all birth limits would convey an important message. “I think such a step has to be taken.”
official murmurs about a reconsideration of the one-child policy surfaced but were quickly dismissed. It took years before the government moved to allow all couples to have two children.
Now, the population is aging more rapidly than those of many developed countries, including the United States, and some argue that the government cannot afford to keep any restrictions on procreation.
“We have to take advantage of the fact that a certain number of residents now are willing to give birth but aren’t allowed to,” China’s central bank said in a working paper it published on April 14. “If we wait to lift it when no one wants to give birth, it will be useless.”
harshly enforced family-planning rules in what Beijing has depicted as a fight against religious extremism. The campaign has led in recent years to a rise in sterilizations and contraceptive procedures — forcibly imposed in some cases — in the region’s Muslim-dominated areas.
China’s family-planning policy has long given local officials a powerful weapon of control — one that may be hard, or costly, to wrest back. Before they were unwound, family-planning agencies hired around eight million people, down to the village level, who corralled women to be fitted with intrauterine devices or coerced them into abortions.
The officials also collected large fines from couples who broke the rules. One senior researcher at the Central Party School estimated in 2015 that the fees amounted to between $3 billion and $5 billion annually.
In recent years, the government has been reassigning family-planning employees to roles including in population research and tackling Covid-19. But local governments retain the power to enforce birth limits as they see fit, which has led to inconsistencies.
The central government said in May last year that civil servants did not have to lose their jobs for violating birth limits, yet months later, a village committee in the eastern city of Hangzhou fired a woman after she had a third child — prompting a public outcry.
Ultimately, the fate of China’s family-planning policies may change little. A generation of highly educated women are putting off marriage and childbirth for other reasons, including a rejection of traditional attitudes that dictate women should bear most of the responsibility of raising children and doing housework.
Liu Qing, a 38-year-old editor of children’s books in Beijing, said getting married and having children were never in her future because they would come at too great a personal cost.
“All the things that you want — your ideals and your ambitions — have to be sacrificed,” Ms. Liu said.
Ms. Liu said Chinese society imposed a motherhood penalty on women, pointing to the discrimination that mothers often faced in hiring.
“I’m furious about this environment,” she said. “I’m not the kind of person who would accept this reality and compromise. I just won’t.”
For other Chinese, having fewer children is a matter of necessity when holes in the country’s social safety net mean that a major illness can lead to financial ruin.
Ms. Fan, the woman in Hubei who was spared a fine, said that she and her husband, a laborer, were getting increasingly desperate. Public health insurance had covered half the cost of her daughter’s treatment for leukemia, but they were on the hook for $76,000.
She had a third child only because she heard that a sibling’s cord blood could help in the treatment of leukemia. But she later learned that such treatment would cost more than $100,000.
“I don’t dare think about the future,” Ms. Fan said. She added that if her daughter’s condition deteriorated or they went broke, they would have to give up treatment.
“We can only leave it up to her fate,” she said.
Research was contributed by Claire Fu, Liu Yi, Albee Zhang and Elsie Chen.