“Our cellular service is more spotty, our wireless is more temperamental, and we definitely only have one choice,” Ms. Green, 35, said. “It’s a bit of a generational thing. We rely on internet access.”

Ms. Green moved home for family reasons. But finding others willing to do the same has been difficult. Broadband isn’t the only factor — shortages of housing and child care also rank high — but it is a major one. Recruiting is Weiler’s “No. 1 challenge,” Ms. Green said, despite wages that start around $20 an hour, before overtime.

The experience of the past year has accentuated the problem. When the pandemic hit last year, Weiler sent home any workers who didn’t have to be on the factory floor. But they quickly encountered a problem.

“I was shocked to know how many of our employees could not work from home because they did not have reliable internet access,” Ms. Green said. “We’re talking ‘seven minutes to download an email’ type internet access.”

Other local companies had a similar experience. In June, the Greater Des Moines Partnership, a regional business group, commissioned a study on how to improve the area’s digital infrastructure. With the state and federal governments considering significant investments, the group hopes its study will give it priority for funding, said Brian Crowe, the group’s head of economic development.

For Marion County and other rural areas, the widespread experiment with working from home during the pandemic could present an economic opportunity if the infrastructure is there to allow it. Many companies have said they will allow employees to continue to work remotely all or part of the time, which could free workers to ditch city life and move to the country — or take jobs at companies like Weiler while their spouses work from home.

“All of a sudden, it’s not going to be the case that in order to work for leading companies, you have to move to the cities where those companies are located,” said Adam Ozimek, chief economist for Upwork, a platform for freelancers. “It’s going to spread opportunity around.”

But broadband experts say there is no way that rural areas will get access to high-speed, reliable internet service without government help. If a place doesn’t have internet access in 2021, there is a reason: generally too few potential customers, too dispersed to serve efficiently.

“The private sector’s just not set up to solve this,” said Adie Tomer, a fellow at the Brookings Institution who has studied the issue. He likened the challenge to rural electrification almost a century ago, when the federal government had to step in to ensure that even remote areas had access to electrical power.

“This is exactly what we saw play out in terms of economic history in the 1910s, ’20s, ’30s,” he said. “It really is about towns being left behind.”

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Unemployment Job Search Requirements Return. Is It Too Soon?

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.”

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What Do New Mask Rules Mean for Company Vaccine Mandates?

“I don’t know if it’ll solve it in the long run,” said Mr. Gigante of Proskauer Rose. “But I do think that’s what we’re talking to people about and talking to clients about.”

Requiring tests before an employee can come to work doesn’t fully protect other employees from contracting the disease. Tests vary in accuracy, and results refer only to the moment tests were administered. The more frequent the tests, the more informative they are. Mr. Gigante said he most commonly hears of companies mandating tests twice a week, though some situations, like a movie set or a courtroom, may require daily testing.

Some companies may not want to deal with considerations that come with such a program — like the cost, the need to figure out where and how to administer the tests, and the headache of keeping track of the results.

“Logistics and costs were making it less likely to be relied on by employers as an avenue, but as tests are becoming more available and less expensive, employers are looking at testing as a good layer of protection,” said David Schwartz, who runs the labor group at the law firm Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom.

Laura Godfrey in Saugatuck, Mich., is curious about the relationship between vaccinations and employee health care plans. “Companies have been focused on wellness to a determined level,” she writes. “So to ask for a vaccine seems reasonable.”

“It’s definitely something that’s on a lot of employers’ minds,” said Emily Zimmer, a partner who specializes in employee benefits at the law firm Troutman Pepper.

That’s particularly the case for companies with established wellness programs, she said. For example, if a company already rewards employees who receive annual flu shots, it would be easier to do the same for employees who receive the Covid-19 vaccine.

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Amid Economic Turmoil, Biden Stays Focused on Longer Term

Administration officials express confidence that recent price surges in used cars, airfare and other sectors of the economy will prove temporary, and that job growth will speed up again as more working-aged Americans are vaccinated against Covid-19 and regain access to child care during work hours. They say Mr. Biden’s $1.9 trillion economic aid package, which he signed in March, will lift job growth in the coming months, noting that new claims for unemployment fell to a pandemic-era low on Thursday.

The officials also said it was appropriate for the president to look past the current crisis and push efforts to strengthen the economy long term.

The two halves of Mr. Biden’s $4 trillion agenda, the American Jobs Plan and the American Families Plan, are premised on the economy returning to a low unemployment rate where essentially every American who wants to work is able to find a job, Cecilia Rouse, the chair of the Council of Economic Advisers, said in an interview.

“The American Rescue Plan was rescue,” Dr. Rouse said. “It was meant as stimulus as we work through this hopefully once-in-a-century, if not longer, pandemic. The American Jobs Plan, American Families Plan are saying, look, that’s behind us, but we knew going into the pandemic that there were structural problems in our country and in our economy.”

Mr. Biden’s plans would raise taxes on high earners and corporations to fund new federal spending on physical infrastructure, care for children and older Americans, expanded access to education, an accelerated transition to low-carbon energy and more.

Those efforts “reflect the empirical evidence that a strong economy depends on a solid foundation of public investment, and that investments in workers, families and communities can pay off for decades to come,” Mr. Biden’s advisers wrote. “These plans are not emergency legislation; they address longstanding challenges.”

The five-page brief focuses on arguments about what drives productivity, wage growth, innovation and equity in the economy. The issues predate the coronavirus recession and recovery, and Democrats in particular have pledged for years to address them.

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McDonald’s Will Raise Wages at Company-Owned Restaurants

Battling to hire employees in a tight job market, McDonald’s on Thursday joined a growing list of fast-food and restaurant companies that are lifting hourly wages in the hopes of attracting job seekers.

Earlier this week, Chipotle said it was raising hourly pay at its restaurants in the hopes of hiring 20,000 new employees and, in late March, Olive Garden said it was raising workers’ pay.

Fast-food and casual dining restaurants have struggled to find workers in parts of the country. As coronavirus vaccinations have increased and government restrictions have eased, the restaurant industry, which laid off or furloughed millions of employees during the pandemic, has begun a hiring spree, as have several other service-related industries.

But even as McDonald’s and other restaurant chains raise wages, union activists say it is not enough for the employees who went to work daily during the pandemic and helped the restaurants survive or even thrive.

report released last week showed a significant jump in the number of workers hired in the restaurant and bar sector, employment levels at full-service restaurants in February remained 20 percent lower than they were a year ago, according to the National Restaurant Association. That’s the equivalent of 1.1 million jobs. Employment at fast-food and fast-casual restaurants was down 6 percent over the same period.

Some restaurants say the challenge of hiring workers could slow their own recoveries from the pandemic. But some potential employees — whether concerned about the safety of serving customers dining indoors, buoyed by government stimulus checks or simply unhappy with the pay being offered — are wary of returning to work.

“We’re not only competing with our peer companies out there, and I know everybody is challenged with that,” Greg Levin, the president and chief financial officer of B.J.’s Restaurants, an American grill chain, told Wall Street analysts in April. “We’re also right now kind of competing with the federal government and somewhat of the unemployment subsidies.”

The company estimates that it needs to hire an additional 5,000 employees to return to prepandemic sales levels.

But some analysts say other factors may be playing a role in making it difficult for the restaurant industry to hire, namely employees who left permanently after the volatility of the past year and others who may have found jobs in other, faster-growing sectors.

added more than 400,000 employees last year, and on Thursday said it was planning to hire an additional 75,000 workers. It will offer a $1,000 signing bonus in some locations, and pay an average of $17 an hour.

McDonald’s, hoping to add 10,000 new employees in the next three months, said it would increase hourly wages for current employees by an average of 10 percent and that the entry-level wage for new employees would rise to $11 to $17 an hour, based on the location of the restaurant.

At its company-owned restaurants, McDonald’s said the average employee wage would increase to $13 an hour, with some restaurants getting to an average wage of $15 an hour later this year. All company-owned restaurants are expected to be at an average hourly wage of $15 by 2024, the company said.

But while the coffee chain Starbucks said last year it would raise the pay for all employees to $15 an hour over a three-year span, McDonald’s has been reluctant to commit to a similar minimum-wage move.

In 2019, the company said 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, Mr. Kempczinski, the McDonald’s C.E.O., said the company was doing “just fine” in the more than two dozen states that had increased minimum wages in a phased-in way.

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Met Opera Protest: Unions Rally Against Proposed Pay Cuts

Tensions rose even higher when the stagehands learned that the Met had outsourced some of its set construction to nonunion shops elsewhere in this country and overseas. (In a letter to the union last year, Peter Gelb, the Met’s general manager, wrote that the average full-time stagehand cost the Met $260,000 in 2019, including benefits; the union disputes that number, saying that when the steady extra stagehands who work at the Met regularly, and sometimes full-time, are factored in, the average pay is far lower.)

The stagehand lockout has not been absolute. Claffey said that at the Met’s request, he has allowed several Local One members to work at the Met under the terms of the previous contract, particularly to help the union wardrobe staff who are on duty.

But although the Met has now reached a deal with the American Guild of Musical Artists, which represents its chorus, it has yet to reach one with Local 802 of the American Federation of Musicians, which represents the orchestra. Both groups were furloughed without pay for nearly a year after the opera house closed before they were brought back to the bargaining table with the promise of partial pay of up to $1,543 per week.

Adam Krauthamer, the president of Local 802, pointed out that because of the Met’s labor divisions, other performing arts institutions were ahead of the Met in reopening.

“Broadway is selling tickets; the Philharmonic is doing performances; they’re building stages right before our eyes,” Krauthamer said in a speech at the rally. “The Met is the only place that continues to try to destroy its workers’ contracts.”

The rally had the backing of several local politicians who spoke, including Gale Brewer, the Manhattan borough president, and the New York State Senators Jessica Ramos and Brad Hoylman, who had a message for the Met’s general manager: “Mr. Gelb, could you leave the drama on the stage, please?”

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Middle-Class Pay Lost Pace. Is Washington to Blame?

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.”

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Unemployment claims report will shed new light on the economy.

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.

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India’s Neighbors Struggle Amid Regional Covid-19 Outbreak

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.

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