A summer travel bonanza is exceeding expectations, helping airlines earn profits again and brightening the outlook for the rest of the year. It’s a welcome relief for a battered industry and a sign that the rebound that began this spring appears to be here to stay.
The economic upturn, aggressive cost-cutting and an enormous federal stimulus that paid many salaries have helped to improve the finances of the largest carriers, which took on vast amounts of debt and lost billions of dollars during the pandemic.
This month, consumer spending on airlines briefly exceeded 2019 levels on a weekly basis for the first time since the pandemic began, according to Facteus, a research firm that monitors millions of online payments. Ticket prices have rebounded, too: In June, fares were down only 1 percent from the same month in 2019, according to the Adobe Digital Economy Index, which is similarly based on website visits and transactions.
And on Sunday, the Transportation Security Administration screened more than 2.2 million travelers at its airport checkpoints, the most in one day since the start of the pandemic.
planned to hire hundreds of flight attendants and bring back thousands who volunteered for extended leaves during the pandemic.
increase its minimum wage to $15 an hour to retain and attract workers, while Delta is in the middle of hiring thousands of employees. United last month announced plans to buy 270 new planes in the coming years, the largest airplane order in its history and one that would create thousands of jobs nationwide.
Southwest on Thursday reported a profit of $348 million for the quarter that ended in June, its second profitable quarter since the pandemic began. American reported a $19 million profit over the same period, while Delta last week reported a $652 million profit, a pandemic first for each airline. United this week reported a loss, but projected a return to profitability in the third quarter as its business improved faster than forecast.
The financial turnaround has been buoyed by an infusion of $54 billion of federal aid to pay employee salaries over the past year and a half. Without those payments, none of the major airlines would have been able to report profits for the quarter that ended in June. The aid precludes the companies from paying dividends through September 2022.
Each airline offered a hopeful outlook for the current quarter. American projected that passenger capacity would be down only 15 to 20 percent from the third quarter of 2019, while United projected a 26 percent decline and Delta forecast a 28 to 30 percent drop. Southwest, which differs from the other three large carriers in that it operates few international flights, said it expected capacity to be comparable to the third quarter of 2019.
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“We are just really excited about the momentum we’re seeing in the numbers,” Doug Parker, American’s chief executive, told analysts after the company delivered its earnings report.
The financial results and forecasts for the rest of the summer are the latest sign of strength in a comeback that has been building for months. But the airlines have vast amounts of debt to repay — American, the most indebted carrier, announced a plan on Thursday to pay down $15 billion by the end of 2025 — and the rebound hasn’t been free of setbacks.
recent poll from the Global Business Travel Association, an industry association. If other companies follow Apple’s lead in delaying a return to the office, though, the corporate travel recovery could be held back.
Delta said it expected domestic business trips to recover to about 60 percent of 2019 levels by September, up from 40 percent in June. Those figures roughly align with estimates from United.
“The demand is recovering even faster than we had hoped domestically,” Mr. Kirby of United said on Wednesday.
International travel has slowly started to recover, too, as more countries, particularly in Europe, open up to American travelers who can provide proof of vaccination or a negative coronavirus test. But airlines are lobbying the Biden administration to loosen restrictions in kind, which, they say, will allow the recovery to accelerate.
“I think the surge is coming, and just as we’ve seen it on the consumer side, we’re getting ready for it on the business side,” Mr. Bastian of Delta said last week. “Once you open businesses, offices, and you get international markets opened, I think it’s going to be a very good run over the next 12 to 24 months.”
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.
SOACHA, Colombia — Already, two of Gloria Vásquez’s children had dropped out of school during the pandemic, including her 8-year-old, Ximena, who had fallen so far behind that she struggled with the most basic arithmetic.
“One plus one?” Ms. Vásquez quizzed her daughter one afternoon.
“Four?” the little girl guessed helplessly.
Now, Ms. Vásquez, a 33-year-old single mother and motel housekeeper who had never made it past the fifth grade, told herself she couldn’t let a third child leave school.
“Where’s Maicol?” she asked her children, calling home one night during another long shift scrubbing floors. “Is he studying?”
have returned to the classroom, 100 million children in Latin America are still in full or partial distance learning — or, as in Maicol’s case, some distant approximation of it.
The consequences are alarming, officials and education experts say: With economies in the region pummeled by the pandemic and connections to the classroom so badly frayed, children in primary and secondary school are dropping out in large numbers, sometimes to work wherever they can.
1.8 million children and young people abandoned their educations this school year because of the pandemic or economic hardship, according to the national statistics agency.
Ecuador lost an estimated 90,000 primary and secondary school students. Peru says it lost 170,000. And officials worry that the real losses are far higher because countless children, like Maicol, are technically still enrolled but struggling to hang on. More than five million children in Brazil have had no access to education during the pandemic, a level not seen in more than 20 years, Unicef says.
Increased access to education was one of the great accomplishments of the last half century in Latin America, with enrollment soaring for girls, poor students and members of ethnic and racial minorities, lifting many toward the middle class. Now, an onslaught of dropouts threatens to peel back years of hard-won progress, sharpening inequality and possibly shaping the region for decades to come.
some of the world’s worst outbreaks, yet several South American nations are now experiencing their highest daily death tolls of the crisis, even after more than a year of relentless loss. For some governments, there is little end in sight.
But unless lockdowns end and students get back into the classroom soon, “many children may never return,” the World Bank warns. And “those who do go back to school will have lost months or even years of education.” Some analysts fear the region could be facing a generation of lost children, not unlike places that suffer years of war.
Even before the pandemic, graduating from high school in Ms. Vásquez’s neighborhood was no small feat.
She and her children live at the end of a dirt road, just beyond Bogotá, Colombia’s sprawling, mountain-flanked capital, a deeply unequal city in one of the most unequal regions in the world. Violence and crime are as common here as the ice cream cart that circles the block each afternoon. For some children, the pandemic has been yet another trauma in a seemingly endless succession.
Many parents in the neighborhood make their living as recyclers, traversing the city with wooden wheelbarrows hitched to their backs. And many of their children don’t have computers, internet or family members who can help with class work. Often there is one cellphone for the family, leaving students scrambling for any connection to school.
Ms. Vásquez dropped out at 14 to help raise her siblings, and it has been her greatest regret. The motel she cleans is far from home, sometimes forcing her to leave her children for more than a day — 24 hours for her shift, with at least four hours of commuting. Even so, she rarely makes the country’s monthly minimum wage.
She had hoped her children — Ximena, 8, Emanuel, 12, Maicol, 13, and Karen, 15 — whom she calls “the motor of my life,” would leave the neighborhood, if only they could get through this never-ending pandemic with their schooling intact.
“I’ve always said that we have been dealt a difficult hand,” but “they have a lot of desire to learn,” she said.
Before the virus arrived, her children attended public schools nearby, wearing the colorful uniforms typical for Colombian pupils. Karen wanted to be a doctor. Maicol, a performer. Emanuel, a police officer. Ximena was still deciding.
By late May, the two boys were still officially enrolled in school, but barely keeping up, trying to fill out the work sheets their teachers sent via WhatsApp each week. They have no computer, and it costs Ms. Vásquez 15 cents a page to print the assignments, some of which are dozens of pages long. Sometimes, she has the money. Sometimes not.
Both girls had dropped out altogether. Ximena lost her spot at school just before the pandemic last year because she had missed classes, a not-so uncommon occurrence in Colombia’s overburdened schools. Then, with administrators working from home, Ms. Vásquez said she couldn’t figure out how to get her daughter back in.
Karen said she had lost contact with her instructors when the country went into lockdown in March 2020. Now, she wanted to return, but her family had accidentally broken a tablet lent to her by the school. She was terrified that if she tried to re-enroll, she would be hit with a fine her mother had no money to pay.
The family was already reeling because Ms. Vásquez’s hours at the motel had been cut during the crisis. Now they were four months behind on rent.
Ms. Vásquez was particularly worried about Maicol, who struggled to make sense of work sheets about periodic tables and literary devices, each day more frustrating than the last.
Lately, when he wasn’t recycling, he’d go looking for scrap metal to sell. To him, the nights out with his uncle were a welcome reprieve, like a pirate’s adventure: meeting new people, searching for treasure — toys, shoes, food, money.
But Ms. Vásquez, who had forbidden these jaunts, grew incensed when she heard he was working. The more time Maicol spent with the recycling cart, she feared, the smaller his world would become.
She respected the people who gathered trash for a living. She’d done it when she was pregnant with Emanuel. But she didn’t want Maicol to be satisfied with that life. During her shifts at the motel, cleaning bathrooms, she imagined her children in the future, sitting behind computers, running businesses.
“‘Look,’ people would say, ‘those are Gloria’s kids,’” she said. “They don’t have to bear the same destiny as their mother.”
Over the last year, school began in earnest only after she came home from work. One afternoon, she pulled out a study guide from Emanuel’s teacher, and began dictating a spelling and grammar exercise.
“Once upon a time,” she read.
“Once upon a time,” wrote Emanuel, 12.
“There was a white and gray duck —”
“Gray?” he asked.
When it came to Maicol’s more advanced lessons, Ms. Vásquez was often lost herself. She didn’t know how to use email, much less calculate the area of a square or teach her son about planetary rotations.
“I try to help them with what I understand,” she said. “It’s not enough.”
Lately, she’d become consumed by the question of how her children would catch up when — or if? — they ever returned to class.
The full educational toll of the pandemic will not be known until governments bring children back to school, experts warn. Ms. Di Gropello, of the World Bank, said she feared that many more children, especially poorer ones without computers or internet connections, would abandon their educations once they realize how far behind they’ve fallen.
By mid-June, Colombia’s education ministry announced that all schools would return to in-person courses after a July vacation. Though the country is enduring a record number of daily deaths from the virus, officials have determined that the cost of staying closed is too great.
But as school principals scramble to prepare for the return, some wonder how many students and teachers will show up. At Carlos Albán Holguín, one of the schools in Ms. Vásquez’s neighborhood, the principal said some instructors were so afraid of infection that they had refused to come to the school to pick up the completed assignments their pupils had dropped off.
One recent morning, Karen woke before dawn, as she often does, to help her mother get ready for her shift at the motel. Since leaving school last year, Karen had increasingly taken on the role of parent, cooking and cleaning for the family, and trying to protect her siblings while their mother was at work.
At one point, the responsibility got to be so much that Karen ran away. Her flight lasted just a few hours, until Ms. Vásquez found her.
“I told my mother that she had to support me more,” Karen said. “That she couldn’t leave me alone, that I was an adolescent and I needed her help.”
In their shared bedroom, while Ms. Vásquez applied makeup, Karen packed her mother’s blue backpack, slipping in pink Crocs, a fanny pack, headphones and a change of clothes.
Ms. Vásquez had gone out to march one day, too, blowing a plastic horn in the crowd and calling on the authorities to guarantee what she called a “dignified education.”
But she hadn’t returned to the streets. If something happened to her at the marches, who would support her children?
“Do you want me to braid your hair?” Karen asked her mother.
At the door, she kissed Ms. Vásquez goodbye.
Then, after months of hardship, came a victory.
Ms. Vásquez received messages from Maicol’s and Emanuel’s teachers: Both schools would bring students back, in person, in just a few weeks. And she finally found a spot for Ximena, who had been out of school entirely for more than a year.
“A new start,” Ms. Vásquez said, giddy with excitement.
Karen’s future was less certain. She had worked up the courage to return the broken tablet. Administrators did not fine her — and she applied to a new school.
Now, she was waiting to hear if there was space for her, trying to push away the worry that her education was over.
“I’ve been told that education is everything, and without education there is nothing,” she said. “And, well, it’s true — I’ve seen it with my own eyes.”
Reporting was contributed by Sofía Villamil in Bogotá and Soacha, Colombia; José María León Cabrera in Quito, Ecuador; Miriam Castillo in Mexico City; Mitra Taj in Lima, Peru; and Ana Ionova in Rio de Janeiro.
BOGOTÁ, Colombia — Protests have rocked Colombia for three weeks, with thousands of people pouring into the streets of its major cities — and facing a crackdown by government security forces. More than 40 people, many of them protesters, are dead.
On Monday, Colombia’s president, Iván Duque, ordered the “maximum deployment” of the country’s military and police forces to clear roads blocked by protesters, a move he said would “allow all Colombians to regain mobility,” but that some feared would lead to more violence.
The fuse for the protests was a tax overhaul proposed by Mr. Duque, which many Colombians felt would have made getting by in an economy squeezed by the pandemic even harder.
But the outpouring quickly morphed into a widespread expression of anger over poverty and inequality — which have risen as the virus has spread — and over the violence with which the police have confronted the movement.
calls for the government to guarantee a minimum income, to prevent police violence and to withdraw a health reform plan that critics say does not do enough to fix systemic problems.
Mr. Duque’s popularity had dropped before the pandemic, and is now near its lowest point since his election in 2018, according to the polling firm Invamer.
ravaged populations and economies in the region.
many Colombians viewed the plan as an attack on their already difficult existences.
Even before the pandemic, many Colombians with full-time jobs struggled to make even the minimum wage of about $275 a month.
Helena Osorio, 24, for example, is a nurse who works nights and earns $13 per shift caring for Covid patients, barely enough for her and her younger brother to survive. This pushed her to attend recent protests.
The president’s tax proposal also came as coronavirus cases and deaths were rising in the country, leaving hundreds of desperate Colombians to wait for a bed at overloaded hospitals even as the vaccination campaign rollout has been slow.
longstanding frustrations to a boil.
Colombia is among the most unequal countries in the world. A report from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development in 2018 said that it would take 11 generations for a poor Colombian to approach the mean income in his or her society — the highest number of 30 countries examined.
Despite reductions in poverty in the decades before the pandemic, many Colombians, particularly the young, feel the engines of upward mobility are beyond their reach.
violence continues in many rural areas, fueling frustration.
As the protests have escalated, resulting in clashes between demonstrators and police, Mr. Duque’s government has frequently blamed the violence on armed groups it says have infiltrated the protests.
responded with force, sometimes firing bullets at peaceful protesters, according to New York Times interviews with witnesses. This has exacerbated anger.
At least 42 people are dead, according to Colombia’s Defensoría del Pueblo, a government agency that tracks alleged human rights violations. But Human Rights Watch and other organizations say that the death toll is likely higher.
The Defensoría says that it has received 168 reports of people who have disappeared amid the protests, and only some of them have been found.
In an interview, Mr. Duque recognized that some officers had been violent, but attributed the violence to a few bad actors, saying major change in the police force was not needed.
“There have been acts of abuse of force,” he said. But “just saying that there could be any possibility that the Colombian police will be seen as a systematic abuser of human rights — well, that will be not only unfair, unjust, but without any base, any ground.”
What about the protesters, have they engaged in violence as well?
Protesters have also blocked major roads, preventing food and other essential goods from getting through. Officials say this has hampered efforts to fight the coronavirus at a time when new cases and virus deaths are at near record highs.
The defense department says that hundreds of officers have been hurt, and one has been killed, while people associated with the protests have vandalized police stations and buses.
While tens of thousands have marched in the streets, not everyone supports the protests.
Jhon Henry Morales, 51, a taxi driver in Cali, said his city had been nearly paralyzed in recent days, with some protesters blocking the roads with tires.
He had not been able to work, he said, putting him behind on his bills. “Protest is legal,” he said. But, he said, “I also have rights as a Colombian citizen.”
Reporting was contributed by Sofía Villamil and Steven Grattan in Bogotá.
HONG KONG — The noodle shop was doing a brisk Friday evening business, with diners crowded at shared tables. Eni Lestari, a migrant domestic worker in Hong Kong, spotted a seat near another woman and hurried to claim it.
Suddenly, the woman stood, and, according to Ms. Lestari, declared that she would not sit near her.
She did not give a reason. But hours earlier, the Hong Kong government had ordered virtually all of the city’s 370,000 migrant domestic workers — mostly Southeast Asian women in an otherwise largely racially homogeneous city — to take coronavirus tests and vaccines. Officials said they were “high risk” for infection, because of their habit of “mingling” with other migrant workers.
“They don’t think about us as humans who also have a social life,” said Ms. Lestari, who came to Hong Kong from Indonesia 20 years ago. “The frustration and anger of the Hong Kong public during Covid-19 — now it’s directed at the domestic workers.”
exposed the plight of migrant and other low-paid workers, whose labor undergirds local economies but is often unrecognized or exploited. Hong Kong has one of the world’s highest densities of migrant domestic workers, who make up about 10 percent of the working population.
excludes migrant workers.
In the pandemic, government officials and employers have invoked public health to impose more restrictions.
Domestic workers — euphemistically called “helpers” — have described being barred from leaving their employers’ homes on their day off, in the name of preventing infection. Those who can leave say they are harassed by the police and passers-by. The government has repeatedly accused the workers of violating social distancing restrictions, though other groups, including expatriates and wealthy locals, have been at the heart of the city’s major outbreaks.
Officials singled out domestic workers with their first, and only, vaccination order. The requirement did not apply to the workers’ employers, with whom they are in daily contact.
is high across Hong Kong, Law Chi-kwong, the city’s labor secretary, said in a news conference that the workers were in a “different situation” than locals. If they did not want to get vaccinated, he added, “they can leave Hong Kong.”
Workers denounced the announcement as racist. Officials from the Philippines and Indonesia — Hong Kong’s primary sources of migrant labor — objected. A few days later, Carrie Lam, Hong Kong’s chief executive, withdrew the vaccination requirement, though she maintained the only consideration had been public health.
But the testing requirement remained — and last week, Mrs. Lam ordered a second round, even though the first had yielded just three positive cases.
“What is the scientific basis?” said Dolores Balladares, a Filipina worker and spokeswoman for Asian Migrants Coordinating Body, an advocacy group. “Are they not fed up with thinking that migrant domestic workers are virus carriers?”
proposed locking down workers on their day off. She did not propose any restrictions during the week, when they often buy groceries and run other errands.
Mr. Law, the labor secretary, rejected that proposal at the time, noting that the infection rate among domestic workers was half of the rate in the general public.
Maricel Jaime, a Filipina worker who has been in Hong Kong for six years, said she had come to expect constant supervision on Sundays, when most domestic workers are off. During Christmas, she and her friends were careful to gather in small groups and to maintain distance. Still, whenever they briefly got close — to pass around food, or to retrieve something from a bag — officers hurried over to chastise them, she said.
“The police are around us, always checking. Even if we are following the rules, the police are still hassling us,” Ms. Jaime said.
Puja Kapai, a law professor at the University of Hong Kong who studies ethnic minorities’ rights.
immediately denied that the rule was discriminatory. (He had, however, previously said that restricting access to restaurants by vaccination status could be discriminatory.)
Despite the attention that the pandemic has brought to the difficulties faced by migrant workers, Professor Kapai said she doubted that governments would embrace reform. Hong Kong’s economy has been battered by the outbreak, making pay raises for domestic workers unlikely, and few local residents have spoken out in the workers’ defense.
“I don’t think there is much of an incentive for the Hong Kong government to do anything differently,” she said.
Still, some workers are trying to create change.
Ms. Jaime, who is also a leader in a union for domestic workers, said she spends her Sundays trying to inform other workers of their rights — while complying with social distancing rules.
“I have fear to go outside because of Covid,” she said. “But I have so much fear that this kind of discrimination will get worse and worse.”
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.”
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.
Hoping to attract more employees, Chipotle said on Monday that it was increasing its wages to an average of $15 an hour by the end of June.
The fast-food chain, which is looking to hire 20,000 employees for its peak season and to staff the more than 200 restaurants it plans to open this year, said the wage increase would result in hourly workers making between $11 and $18 an hour.
Chipotle is the latest restaurant chain to raise wages or offer incentives as it struggles to staff its restaurants. As coronavirus vaccinations have increased and government restrictions eased, the restaurant industry, which laid off or furloughed millions of employees during the pandemic, suddenly went on a hiring spree, as did several other service-related industries.
That sudden high demand for restaurant workers has been tough to meet. Some potential employees, whether concerned about the safety of serving customers dining indoors or buoyed by government stimulus checks, are wary of returning to work.
report released last week showed a significant jump in the number of workers hired in the restaurant and bar sector, but employment levels at full-service restaurants in February remain 20 percent lower than 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.
Raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour has been one of the items on the agenda of President Biden. An attempt to add the provision to the pandemic relief bill signed in March failed after Congress removed it from the package.
At the time, the restaurant industry had argued that a wage increase would imperil the recovery for the industry because it would result in higher prices and mean not as many workers could be hired.
Now, struggling to attract candidates, Chipotle is not only raising its hourly wages, it is offering referral bonuses for crew members and managers.
PARIS — For six months, Christophe Thiriet has been waiting for France’s grinding national lockdowns to be lifted so he can reopen his company’s restaurants and hotels in a picturesque corner of eastern France and recall the 150 employees who were furloughed months ago.
But when he asked them to return for a reopening in mid-May, he faced an unexpected headache: At least 30 said they wouldn’t be coming back, leaving him scrambling to hire new workers just as he needed to swing into action.
“When you close things for so long, people think twice about whether they want to stay,” said Mr. Thiriet, a co-manager of the Heintz Group, which owns 11 hotels and three restaurants around the riverside city of Metz, near the border with Luxembourg.
Restaurants and hotels across the country are facing the same problem. After months on furlough, workers in droves are deciding not to return to jobs in the hospitality industry. It’s a particular concern in France, which typically tops the list of the world’s most visited countries.
lost revenue since last year.
“We know we’re going to have customers again this summer — that’s not the problem,” said Yann France, the owner of La Flambée, a restaurant in the popular northern seaside city of Deauville. “The concern is that we won’t have an adequate work force at a time when we need to make up for a huge loss in sales.”
make ends meet, could eventually fill any shortfall.
NT Hotel Gallery group, which owns five hotels and three restaurants around Toulouse. “Will things stay open, or could there be another shutdown because of a new virus?”
For those already facing signs of a labor squeeze, it’s now clear that a generous state-subsidized furlough scheme intended to help French employers keep staff on standby has also created unexpected downsides. In the half year in which hospitality employees received 85 percent of their salaries to stay home, many have had ample time to re-evaluate their futures.
“Many people are deciding they have other things to do than continue in a profession where nothing has been happening,” said Mr. Thiriet, who is also a representative of France’s biggest hospitality trade organization, UMIH, the Union of Hospitality Trades and Industries. He added that thousands of other employers in the organization have reported the same recruiting difficulties.
Catherine Praturlon is among those who decided to shift gears completely during the pandemic. A manager of a hotel in the Moselle region of eastern France for nearly 30 years, she had thought of doing something different but never made the leap.
When the government shuttered hotels on and off for months, and travelers slowed to a trickle, the job became boring, she said. “You had no perspective on the future,” Mrs. Praturlon said.
Instead of returning from furlough, she recently quit her job and took one in a different industry. (She said a confidentiality agreement prevented her from naming the field.) “The pandemic lit a fire under me to make that change,” she said.
announced this past week by President Emmanuel Macron.
imminent lifting of a yearlong ban on all but the most essential travel from the United States to the European Union, just in time for summer vacation, will draw back free-spending Americans after a long absence.
Breakfast in America, a popular pancake restaurant in Paris, said the furlough schemes, while essential to the restaurant’s survival, had paradoxically put some of his higher-paid workers at a disadvantage.
While waitstaff earning France’s monthly minimum wage of €1,539 get their full pretax salary under the furlough program, cooks and managers, who earn more, took about a 15 percent pay cut to stay home until the pancake house reopens.
For one manager, a single father with two children, the reduced pay means “he’s really struggling,” Mr. Carlson said.
At Mr. Thiriet’s restaurants and hotels in Metz, the 30 unexpected job vacancies are not yet debilitating, since restaurant reopenings will come in stages and tourism and bookings at hotels are not likely to return to prepandemic levels quickly.
Still, he said, it’s a challenge to replace employees with years and even decades of experience who decided during the pandemic that the work was no longer what they wanted.
“At first people said this is nice, one or two months relaxing at home,” Mr. Thiriet said. “Now, there’s a lack of long-term visibility about this industry, and some people are not so sure they want to be in it.”
He is working with other hotel and restaurant owners in the area to create retraining programs, in hopes of luring new candidates.
Mr. France said he and local restaurant and hotel owners were also working with unemployment offices in hopes of securing applicants in need of seasonal work to be ready for the anticipated crowds.
“We’ll try to limit the damage that’s been done to our business,” Mr. France added.
“But if we don’t have workers, it will be really hard.”
When Graham Brooks received his ballot in early February, asking whether he wanted to form a union at the Amazon warehouse in Alabama where he works, he did not hesitate. He marked the NO box, and mailed the ballot in.
After almost six years of working as a reporter at nearby newspapers, Mr. Brooks, 29, makes about $1.55 more an hour at Amazon, and is optimistic he can move up.
“I personally didn’t see the need for a union,” he said. “If I was being treated differently, I may have voted differently.”
Mr. Brooks is one of almost 1,800 employees who handed Amazon a runaway victory in the company’s hardest-fought battle to keep unions out of its warehouses. The result — announced last week, with 738 workers voting to form a union — dealt a crushing blow to labor and Democrats when conditions appeared ripe for them to make advances.
annual letter to investors that the outcome in Bessemer did not bring him “comfort.”
“It’s clear to me that we need a better vision for how we create value for employees — a vision for their success,” he wrote.