The Week in Business: Crypto’s Crashes

Good morning and happy Sunday. Here’s what you need to know in business and tech news for the week ahead. — Charlotte Cowles

had a rough week. Digital currencies saw several ugly crashes, with Bitcoin ending Friday nearly 30 percent below its price a week before. The plunge followed an announcement from China that effectively banned its financial institutions from providing services related to cryptocurrency transactions. (Elon Musk’s sudden about-face on Bitcoin probably didn’t help, either.) The volatility shook some investors’ confidence in crypto, which has ridden a seemingly unstoppable wave of popularity — and gained traction with mainstream investors — over the past year.

Texas, Oklahoma and Indiana joined more than a dozen other states that are ending federal pandemic unemployment benefits early, citing the need to incentivize people to get back to work. The decision will get rid of the $300-a-week supplement that unemployment recipients have been getting since March and were scheduled to receive through September. It will also end all benefits for freelancers, part-timers and those who have been out of work for more than six months. Some lawmakers believe that cutting off benefits will encourage more people to apply for jobs, but that’s not always the case — a persistent lack of child care has also prevented many parents from returning to work.

can cause premature death, according to a new study by the World Health Organization. Long hours — also known as overwork — are on the rise and are associated with an estimated 35 percent higher risk of stroke and 17 percent higher risk of heart disease compared with working 35 to 40 hours per week, researchers said.

give the Internal Revenue Service more money to chase down wealthy individuals and companies who cheat on their taxes. As part of the same effort to close tax loopholes, the U.S. Treasury Department is trying to convince other countries to back a 15 percent global minimum tax rate on big companies. The policy is meant to deter corporations from sheltering their operations in tax havens such as Bermuda and the British Virgin Islands. But a number of governments have been hesitant to sign on for fear that they’ll scare off businesses.

Congress wants to bolster the United States’ ability to compete with China and is willing to throw money at the problem. The senate is working on a bill that would invest $120 billion in the nation’s development of cutting-edge technology and manufacturing. Known as the Endless Frontier Act, the legislation would fund new research on a scale that its proponents say has not been seen since the Cold War. In related news, the European Union blocked an investment deal with China on Thursday, citing concerns with the country’s abysmal human rights record.

Executives from the largest U.S. banks, including JPMorgan, Bank of America and Goldman Sachs, will testify before lawmakers this week about their actions (or lack thereof) to help struggling Americans and small businesses during the pandemic. Democrats on the Senate Banking and House Financial Services committees organized the hearings to scrutinize the banks’ role in lending money to alleviate the financial pressures of the past 15 months. The testimony could affect how lawmakers seek to regulate Wall Street in the coming years.

soared 30 percent in its initial public offering on Wednesday. Amazon indefinitely extended its ban on police usage of its facial recognition software, which has faced ethical criticism. And New York City lifted nearly all of its pandemic restrictions, allowing businesses to welcome customers back at full capacity.

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Texas, Indiana and Oklahoma join states cutting off pandemic unemployment benefits.

Texas, Indiana and Oklahoma this week joined the growing number of states that are withdrawing from federal pandemic-related unemployment benefits.

Supported by Republican governors and lawmakers as well as national and state chambers of commerce, the decision will eliminate the temporary $300-a-week supplement that unemployment recipients have been getting and will end benefits for freelancers, part-timers and those who have been unemployed for more than six months.

In Wisconsin, where the governor is a Democrat, Republicans in the Assembly and Senate have introduced legislation to end participation.

Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Georgia, Idaho, Iowa, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, North Dakota, Ohio, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah, West Virginia and Wyoming also plan to end federal unemployment benefits, beginning in June or early July.

Gov. Greg Abbott said in a news release. “According to the Texas Workforce Commission, the number of job openings in Texas is almost identical to the number of Texans who are receiving unemployment benefits.”

The moves will affect more than 3.4 million people in the 21 states, according to a calculation by Oxford Economics, a forecasting and analysis firm. Of those workers, 2.5 million currently on unemployment would lose benefits altogether, it said.

Although business owners and managers have complained that unemployment benefits are discouraging people from answering help-wanted ads, the evidence is mixed. Vaccination rates are picking up but less than half of adults are fully vaccinated. In surveys, people have cited continuing fear of infection. A lack of child care has also prevented many parents from returning to work full time.

Arizona, Montana and Oklahoma are offering newly hired workers an incentive bonus.

Gov. Ned Lamont of Connecticut, a Democrat, said this week that his state would offer $1,000 bonuses to 10,000 workers who have experienced long-term unemployment and obtain new jobs. His state is not dropping the federal benefits.

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What TikTok Stars Owe ‘The Ellen DeGeneres Show’

In May 2010, well before the TikTok era, a 12-year-old from Oklahoma named Greyson Chance was summoned to “The Ellen DeGeneres Show.” A couple of weeks earlier, Greyson had found early viral fame after he posted his middle school talent show performance of Lady Gaga’s “Paparazzi” on YouTube. When Greyson came on the show, where he sat in a plush chair directly across from the daytime star and discussed his Gaga cover, the YouTube video had a million page views.

His “Ellen” appearance brought him to a new stratosphere. In the following days, media coverage around the 12-year-old sensation exploded, and his performance ballooned to more than 30 million views. Madonna’s and Lady Gaga’s managers began representing him. Ms. DeGeneres signed him to a record contract.

“It’s crazy thinking about 30 million people,” Greyson said when he returned to the show two weeks later. “It just makes me happy.”

Next year, Ms. DeGeneres will step down from her daytime talk show, signing off after a 19-season run of light jokes, celebrity interviews and cash giveaways. But perhaps one of the most enduring legacies of her show was the host’s role in the early viral video economy: Making an appearance on “Ellen” brought a viral sensation a whole new wave of clicks, fame and cash.

“Ellen,” Ms. DeGeneres’ role in daytime television has diminished. Her viewership figures have plummeted 44 percent this season, and competitors like “Dr. Phil” (2.4 million viewers) and “Live With Kelly and Ryan” (2.6 million) are now beating “Ellen” by roughly a million viewers.

Likewise, if a YouTube or TikTok performance begins to catch steam, a stop on “Ellen” is no longer a key step to hitting a new threshold of fame.

“Ellen could pluck you off YouTube and make you a star,” said Joe Kessler, the global head of the United Talent Agency’s UTA IQ division, which uses data analytics to advise clients on digital strategies.

introduced a segment called “Ellen’s Wonderful Web of Wonderment,” which promised to “find undiscovered talent online & share it with you!”

As more viral stars appeared on her show, any time an online video started gaining traction a decade ago, “people would reply or comment on these videos: ‘Tell Ellen!’ ‘Call Ellen!’” Ms. Weber said. “That was weirdly the assumed next step for everyone.”

The year after Greyson Chance appeared on “Ellen,” the show invited 8-year-old Sophia Grace, a burgeoning internet personality, and her cousin Rosie to come in from England and to do a cover of a Nicki Minaj song. That video now has more than 144 million views on YouTube.

An “Ellen” appearance usually featured a twist, too. When Greyson came on, Lady Gaga herself phoned in to the show to express her admiration for his performance. When Sophia Grace appeared on “Ellen,” Nicki Minaj made a surprise appearance, and the 8-year-old flung herself into the arms of the singer.

Mr. DeVore estimated that the family had taken in $150,000 from all the exposure, including the sales of T-shirts. And they’re not quite finished milking it, either. Earlier this month, Mr. DeVore auctioned “David After Dentist” as an NFT, or a nonfungible token, a digital collectible item, BuzzFeed reported. It sold for $13,000.

Mr. Kessler, from UTA, estimated that big digital personalities in the early 2010s could make in the mid-six figures.

An influencer now can make in the millions, and in a handful of cases, tens of millions. And as YouTube and TikTok helped the influencer industry take flight, Ms. DeGeneres’s role as a digital kingmaker began to wane.

“If we’re comparing it to now, people’s viral moments are shorter,” Ms. Weber said. “In the time it takes as a producer to call and say, ‘Come on Ellen!’ there’s a new viral moment somewhere else. It’ll be passé.”

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Diet Companies See Gains as Americans Try to Drop Pandemic Pounds

Maybe it was the frozen pizza. Or the cheesy snack crackers she mindlessly nibbled on as she worked from home over the past year. Or those darn cookies.

Whatever the cause, Jessica Short stepped onto the scale this spring and found she was 25 pounds heavier than before the pandemic.

“I had to leave the house for several days in a row and realized then that none of my pants fit,” said Ms. Short, a 39-year-old conservation program assistant in Lansing, Mich. Determined not to buy a whole new wardrobe, Ms. Short signed up for her first weight-loss program in early April. In three weeks, she was down five pounds using the Noom app. “My goal is to lose the whole 25 pounds,” she added.

While some spent the year of the pandemic creating healthy meals or riding their Pelotons for hours, many others managed their anxiety and boredom through less healthy means. They spent the pandemic sitting on their couches, wearing baggy sweatsuits, drinking chardonnay and munching on Cheetos.

according to the analysis firm Research and Markets.

Many of these companies shy away from using the dreaded four letter word — diet — to describe what they sell, instead leaning into updated phrases like “health” and “wellness” to promote their programs.

“We see Covid as accelerating trends around health and wellness that already existed and will persist long after, and we believe that the desire to live a healthier lifestyle and placing a prioritization on one’s health is permanent,” a spokeswoman for Noom said in a statement.

It is clear that numerous people put on weight during the pandemic. A small study of individuals under shelter-in-place orders found that they gained more than a half a pound every 10 days. If they continued to live as if they were in lockdown conditions, they could have put on 20 pounds over the year, concluded the authors of the study, which was published in March in the peer-reviewed JAMA Network Open.

Still, critics of many of the popular weight-loss programs note that while people are likely to lose weight if they follow the strict guidelines of meal-replacement plans, for many that weight will eventually come back.

“If you have a wedding to go to in two weeks, a meal-replacement program, for instance, can be helpful,” said Dr. Susan Roberts, a professor of nutrition at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University and a professor of psychiatry at the university’s School of Medicine. “The problem is, it doesn’t train people how to eat when the program ends, so weight regain is pretty common.”

Dr. Roberts developed her own weight loss diet, called the Instinct diet, that aims to retrain people’s brains around food. She claims participants on her plan achieve weight loss by reducing hunger and unhealthy cravings.

Despite the criticism, many people coming out of the pandemic and preparing to re-enter the world are turning to the diet industry for help.

After spending much of the past year holed up in her apartment in Austin, Texas, studying for her Ph.D. in nursing from the University of Oklahoma, Brenda Olmos, 31, realized the steady stream of takeout food and snacks she’d been eating had resulted in an additional 15 pounds. In early April, she signed up for the Optavia plan and quickly lost 4.5 pounds.

“I had tried intermittent fasting, and I couldn’t stop thinking about food because I couldn’t have it,” Ms. Olmos said. “I tried keto, but I couldn’t stop thinking about carbs. I’m giving myself six months to lose 30 pounds.”

Likewise, Stacey Moskowitz, a 57-year-old retired elementary schoolteacher from New City, N.Y., said she had tried many other diets over the years.

“I would lose the weight, and then it would inch back,” she said. “I exercised a lot and lost some weight, but not as much for the amount of effort I was putting in.”

She became concerned about her overall health after she contracted Covid-19 in late February 2020. When she began seeing her weight creep back up last fall, Ms. Moskowitz decided to try Optavia. She has since lost 37 pounds and hopes to drop an additional 20 to 25 pounds.

“This is not about me looking a certain way or wearing a certain outfit,” she said. “I’m not going to put on a bikini. It’s about my health.”

Ms. Moskowitz said there was one problem with the Optavia program: It has gotten so popular the company has struggled to fulfill orders.

“I had a particular shake, the Tropical Fruit Smoothie, that I liked. I had it for a month, and now it’s gone,” Ms. Moskowitz said, noting that she has become dependent on the program, which costs $400 a month and provides five of her daily six meals. “You order every month, and it’s taking them two weeks to get the order to you. And I know some people are ordering extra food and hoarding because they’re worried they won’t get their next order in time.”

Last week, executives at Medifast told Wall Street analysts that they hoped to have expanded manufacturing by the end of the second quarter and distribution by the end of the third to meet demand.

“I’m very happy with the program,” Ms. Moskowitz said. “But I’m very nervous about whether I’ll get my next order in time.”

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U.S. Virus Cases Have Recently Dropped in Over Half of States

More than half of U.S. states have seen a significant decline in new coronavirus cases over the past two weeks, as federal health officials have begun to suggest that the virus’s trajectory is improving. Still, the uneven levels of vaccination across the country point to the challenge of reaching those people who have not gotten shots.

As of Tuesday, the United States was averaging almost 54,000 new cases a day, a 24 percent decline from two weeks ago, and comparable to the level of cases reported in mid-October before the deadly winter surge, according to a New York Times database. Since peaking in January, cases, hospitalizations and deaths nationwide have drastically declined.

Over the past two weeks, case numbers have fallen by 15 percent or more in 27 states, the District of Columbia and the U.S. Virgin Islands, with drops of 30 percent or more in 11 states. As of Tuesday, Oklahoma reported a 55 percent decline in the average number of new cases a day, while Michigan, which had one of the nation’s most severe recent outbreaks, is now seeing rapid improvement with cases there down nearly 40 percent.

In New York City, which had seen stubbornly high caseloads for months, the second wave is receding a half-year after it started, the city’s health commissioner said.

a recurring sense of “impending doom” last month, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said on Wednesday that she was beginning to see signs of progress.

“Cases are starting to come down. We think that this is related to increased vaccination, increased people taking caution, and so I’m cautiously optimistic that we’re turning the corner,” she said on “Good Morning America.”

But she warned that “the virus is an opportunist” and could strike in communities with low vaccination rates. Persistent vaccine hesitancy remains a challenge, and the pace of vaccination will ebb, officials have acknowledged, amid issues of supply and demand.

About 43 percent of people have received at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine, and 30 percent have been fully vaccinated. Providers are administering about 2.67 million doses per day on average, as of Wednesday, about a 21 percent decrease from the peak of 3.38 million reported on April 13.

The C.D.C.’s move to relax mask guidance outdoors this week is a reflection of the rise in the total number of vaccination — and an incentive to get a shot, experts said.

a Tuesday interview on CNN.

As President Biden addresses a joint session of Congress on Wednesday evening, he has set a target date of July 4 for the country “to get life in America closer to normal.” But public health experts have emphasized that the experience of the pandemic across the world is not universal. India, for example, is experiencing a catastrophic second wave that could have global implications.

“Pandemics require global cooperation and mutual support,” Dr. Murthy said. “When there’s uncontrolled spread of the virus in any part of the world, that means that variants can arise, variants which may over time become resistant to the protection that we get from vaccines, which could mean a real problem for us here in the United States.”

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College Accounts at Birth: State Efforts Raise New Hopes

Braylon Dedmon was 3 days old when his mother, Talasheia, was offered $1,000 to open a college savings account in his name.

“I was like, ‘What?’” Ms. Dedmon recalled. Her skeptic’s antennae tingled. “I was a little scared.” Was this a scam?

It wasn’t. The offer was the beginning of a far-reaching research project begun in Oklahoma 14 years ago to study whether creating savings accounts for newborns would improve their graduation rates and their chances of going to college or trade school years later.

A few weeks after that initial conversation in 2007, the first statement arrived, showing $1,000 in Braylon’s name. “I was shocked,” said Ms. Dedmon, who now lives in Muskogee. “They started sending me statements every three months, and have been sending me them since then.”

Research about the Oklahoma project published this month by the Center for Social Development at Washington University in St. Louis, which created SEED OK, found that families that had been given accounts were more college-focused and contributed more of their own money than those that hadn’t been. And the effects are strongest among low-income families.

The approach breaks with most social policy programs created over the last half-century, which focus on income supplements. Child savings accounts, by contrast, concentrate on accumulating assets over the long term.

Michael Sherraden, the founder of the center at Washington University, said the idea was to give everyone a stake — an investment — in the future. Benefits of the program extend not just to bank accounts but also to behavior. Households with the seed money — especially poorer ones with parents who did not attend college — have greater expectations about higher education, are more optimistic, have lower rates of depression and save more.

College savings accounts known as 529 plans, which restrict withdrawals and grow tax-free, are used by only a tiny share of American households, mostly in the upper reaches of the income ladder.

Assets and the Poor,” has been pushing for savings accounts, also known as development accounts, that would automatically be opened for every child born in the United States. Canada, Israel, South Korea and Singapore have established versions of the idea.

“We need to create structures to enable people to accumulate assets over the long term,” Mr. Sherraden said. He argues that a universal program is necessary to sustain political support, but that it would nonetheless deliver disproportionate gains at the lower end of the economic spectrum.

“You will reduce the difference in the gap between the highest and lowest group over time,” he said.

In Maine, the private Harold Alfond Foundation started offering every child born in the state a $500 grant in 2009. Mr. Alfond, who founded the Dexter Shoe Company before selling it to Warren E. Buffett, had been writing a $500 check to each of his newborn grandchildren.

California has allocated $25 million for a similar program.

Rhode Island and Nevada are among the states that have established child development account programs. There are several other programs of varying scope and size across the United States, according to the nonprofit group Prosperity Now. Several programs include incentives and subsidies for lower-income families, which are disproportionately Black and Latino.

Automatic enrollment in a saving program, with the ability to opt out, turns out to have a much higher participation rate than relying on individuals to take the initiative. In the first years of the Maine program, when families had to open accounts themselves, participation never rose above 50 percent. In 2013, the Alfond Foundation switched to automatic enrollment, and since then, pretty much every newborn in the state has gotten an account.

William Elliott III, a professor of social work at the University of Michigan and a co-author of “Making Education Work for the Poor,” said knowledge about how to administer savings accounts and their impact had jumped over the last decade.

“It’s one of the best delivery systems” to help low-income children build assets and direct them toward college, Mr. Elliott said. He added that there was more rigorous data on the positive impact of child savings accounts than there was on student loans, government Pell grants and free college.

“A savings account for a low-income kid means a lot more to them than it does for a wealthy kid,” Mr. Elliott said, and establishing it early can transform expectations about the future.

Kandynace Boyd, who lives in Oklahoma City, hasn’t been able to contribute any additional money to her son Manuel’s account. She works part time in an acute care facility and is struggling to keep up with bills. But she said Manuel, 13, was already talking about going to culinary school.

“He’s got nearly $2,000 in it,” she said of the account. “I wish I could do it for my other two kids.”

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Covid-19 Vaccine ‘Passports,’ Passes and Apps Around the Globe

Isn’t the European Union also developing a system? Yes. On June 21, the E.U. is expected to introduce a certificate called a Digital Green Pass, with the aim of allowing people who have been vaccinated against the coronavirus to travel more freely. Under the proposed rules, each nation within the bloc could decide which travel restrictions, such as obligatory quarantine, to waive for Digital Green holders. But many countries, including Denmark, say they cannot afford to wait for the Digital Green Pass and are developing their own versions.

Name of card: The Green Pass

Could it get you an indoor table? Yes.

How about entry to a concert or sports game? That, too.

Anything else? The pass allows you to enter many businesses, including swimming pools, gyms, theaters and wedding halls, as well as cultural events, such as concerts, sports games and religious gatherings. Having the pass may also mean that you may not have to quarantine for 10 to 14 days after international travel.

How does it work? In late February, Israel’s ministry of health began offering the Green Pass to fully vaccinated residents and individuals who have recovered from Covid-19. When booking a table at a restaurant, many of the businesses began to ask, “Do you have a Green Pass?” Israelis can print their certificates containing a QR code, download the code onto their phones or flash the app itself.

What’s with that family? The app and other Green Pass materials feature an animated illustration of a family of three. The man is wearing shorts, a backpack and a camera around his neck, suggesting he’s on vacation. His son and wife are wearing masks, but their postures are relaxed as they pull their suitcases.

Aparna Nair, a professor of science history at the University of Oklahoma who maintains a collection of vaccination certificates going back to the 1820s, said that this detail was noteworthy: “They are using the design of the vaccine passport to form visual connections with life after the pandemic, essentially, the vaccine as a literal passport to the rest of the world.”

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Overdue VHS Tape of ‘Sabrina the Teenage Witch’ Prompts Arrest Warrant

They once dotted shopping plazas in America with ubiquity, beckoning binge watchers with shelves of VHS cassettes, microwave popcorn and boxes of candy — and a reminder to “Be Kind, Rewind.”

Video rental stores, pushed closer to the brink of extinction by streaming services like Netflix and changing technology, may be a thing of the past but an overdue rental became an issue of the present for a Texas woman.

The woman, who was identified in court records as Caron Scarborough Davis, recently learned that there was a 21-year-old outstanding warrant for her arrest in Oklahoma.

reported on Thursday.

“I thought I was going to have a heart attack,” she said.

Ms. Davis said motor vehicle officials referred her to the district attorney’s office for Cleveland County, Okla., where a woman explained the charge against her.

last Blockbuster video store, in Bend, Ore., said in an interview on Sunday that bringing criminal charges for an unreturned movie seemed overly punitive.

“We’ve definitely not sent out a warrant for anybody for that,” she said. “That’s a little a bit crazy to me.”

Blockbuster assesses daily late fees of 49 to 99 cents for overdue videos up to 10 days. After that, the store charges customers up to $19.99 to replace one of its DVDs or Blu-ray discs, Ms. Harding said.

In some cases, the store, which does not rent VHS cassettes, will refer past-due accounts for collection, she said.

“We would never charge someone $100 for a copy of ‘Scooby-Doo’ that they never returned,” she said.

It was not immediately clear who owned the now-shuttered video store where Ms. Davis rented the tape or whether she owed any late fees. She told KOKH Fox 25 that she had no recollection of renting the video, saying that she lived with a man at the time who had two young daughters.

“I’m thinking he went and got it and didn’t take it back or something,” she said. “I have never watched that show in my entire life — just not my cup of tea.”

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C.E.O. Pay Remains Stratospheric, Even at Companies Battered by Pandemic

And, according to security filings, a select few are rapidly accumulating new fortunes. Chad Richison, founder and chief executive of an Oklahoma software company, Paycom, is worth more than $3 billion and was awarded $211 million last year, when his company made $144 million in profit. John Legere, the former chief executive of T-Mobile, was awarded $137.2 million last year, a reward for taking over the rival Sprint.

“We’ve created this class of centimillionaires and billionaires who have not been good for this country,” said Nell Minow, vice chair of ValueEdge Advisors, an investment consulting firm. “They may build a wing on a museum. But it’s not infrastructure — it’s not the middle class.”

The gap between executive compensation and average worker pay has been growing for decades. Chief executives of big companies now make, on average, 320 times as much as their typical worker, according to the Economic Policy Institute. In 1989, that ratio was 61 to 1. From 1978 to 2019, compensation grew 14 percent for typical workers. It rose 1,167 percent for C.E.O.s.

The pandemic only compounded these disparities, as hundreds of companies awarded their leaders pay packages worth significantly more than most Americans will make in their entire lives.

“To my mind, they’re the logical consequence of our total embrace of shareholder capitalism, starting with the corporate raiders of the 1980s, to the exclusion and sacrifice of all else, including American workers,” said Robert Reich, a labor secretary under President Bill Clinton. “The pay packages reflect soaring share prices, which in turn reflect, at least in part, the willingness if not eagerness of corporations to cut payrolls at the slightest provocation.”

AT&T, the media conglomerate, lost $5.4 billion and cut thousands of jobs throughout the year. John Stankey, the chief executive, received $21 million for his work in 2020, down from $22.5 million in 2019.

T-Mobile said it would create new jobs through its merger with Sprint, but has already begun layoffs. It made $3.1 billion in 2020. In addition to Mr. Legere’s windfall, the company awarded its current chief executive, Mike Sievert, $54.9 million.

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