Economists typically pay more attention to the survey of businesses, which is larger and seen as more reliable. But some say they will be paying closer attention than usual this month to the data from the survey of households, because it will do a better job of distinguishing between temporary absences and more lasting effects from Omicron, such as layoffs or postponed expansions.

But economists have also cautioned not to minimize the impact that even temporary absences from work could have on families and the economy, especially now that the government is no longer offering expanded unemployment benefits and other aid.

“There isn’t that much Covid relief funding sloshing about anymore, so absences from work may actually reflect a meaningful decline in income,” said Julia Pollak, chief economist at the employment site ZipRecruiter.

Even in normal times, January jobs data can be tough to interpret. Retailers, shippers and other companies every year lay off hundreds of thousands of temporary workers hired during the holiday season. Government statisticians adjust the data to account for those seasonal patterns, but that process is imperfect. January is also the month each year when the Labor Department incorporates long-run revisions and other updates to its estimates.

“January is a messy month as it is,” Mr. Amarnath said.

This year, it could be extra messy because the pandemic has disrupted normal seasonal patterns. The labor shortage led some companies to hire permanent workers instead of short-term seasonal help during the holidays; others may have retained temporary workers longer than planned to cover for employees who were out sick. If that results in fewer layoffs than usual, the government’s seasonal adjustment formula will interpret that continued employment as an increase.

Other numbers could also be deceptive. The unemployment rate, for example, could fall even if hiring slowed. That is because the government considers people unemployed only if they are actively searching for work, and the spike in Covid cases may have led some to suspend their job searches.

Data on average hourly earnings could also be skewed because it is based on the payroll data — people who aren’t on payrolls aren’t counted in the average at all. Low-wage workers were probably the most likely to be missing from payrolls last month, since higher-wage workers are more likely to have access to paid sick leave. That could lead to an artificial — and temporary — jump in average earnings when policymakers at the Fed are watching wage data for hints about inflation.

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100 Isn’t a Magic Number, So Why Is It Part of the Vaccine Mandate?

But if you want a small-business loan? There, the government’s definition is far more expansive. The Small Business Administration, which orchestrated the popular Paycheck Protection Program, generally considers any company with fewer than 500 employees a “small” one. Unless you’re in one of dozens of industries with exceptions, which are detailed in a 49-page document that can seem almost whimsical in its divisions. A company that mines gold ore counts as small if it has up to 1,500 employees, but the limit falls to 750 for iron miners and just 250 for those that extract silver.

One thing about tiny companies is clear: They vastly outnumber their bigger brethren. The government estimates that there are nearly 32 million small businesses in America. Most have no employees beyond the owner. Their ranks include practitioners of nearly every profession — solo lawyers and accountants, Uber drivers, tutors, gig-working delivery cyclists, artists and writers and musicians and millions of salaried workers with side hustles.

Weed out those businesses and you’re left with six million employer firms, each with a payroll ranging from a handful of people to a few hundred. Only 20,000 companies in the country, according to data from the Census Bureau, are truly large businesses, with 500 or more employees.

To entrepreneurs in that squishy middle, the line between being a little business and a big one can feel pretty fuzzy. Twenty years ago, Franz Spielvogel joined Laughing Planet, which was at the time a single-location fast-casual cafe in Portland, Ore. It was a hit, so he and his business partner opened another Laughing Planet. Then another. Today, Mr. Spielvogel runs 15 locations in three states, with 224 workers.

Mr. Spielvogel said his mini-chain feels like a collection of neighborhood spots, which he likes. “We’re not Sweetgreen,” he said. “We’re not saying, ‘Let’s do 100 stores in the next six months.’ That’s not our mission.”

Being a midsize company can have some pain points, like having a limited legal and human resources infrastructure to handle the thicket of regulations that come with employing hundreds of people. But Mr. Spielvogel enjoys running a company small enough that it is able to preserve that first shop’s ethos and corporate culture. He’s unfazed — and honestly somewhat relieved, he said — by the new vaccination-or-testing mandate. He has been trying to coax his staff to get vaccinated by offering paid time off for each shot, and he hopes a mandate will convince his last few holdouts.

Even some teeny companies are eager to embrace it. Aaron Seyedian, the founder of Well-Paid Maids in Washington, said he wished the mandate extended to companies like his, which has 17 people.

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Why You Might Not Be Returning to the Office Until Next Year

Postponing gives the workers who are responding to new requirements sufficient time to become fully vaccinated. And it gives companies more time to set up the logistics that accompany vaccination mandates, such as processes for tracking vaccination status and, soon, who has received a booster.

“Within a company, a C.E.O. can say: ‘Our company, our culture, our business. We need to be together, we need to be in the office, this is the date,’” said Mary Kay O’Neill, a senior health consultant at Mercer Consulting Group. “And then our friends in H.R. are like, ‘How are we going to do that?’”

For some organizations, negotiations with unions are also a factor. A spokeswoman for NPR, which has not set a date for returning to the office, said the public radio network was working “with key stakeholders, including our unions, to evaluate the best approaches to keeping our staff safe and maintaining our operations.”

With new logistics around vaccine mandates, continued uncertainty around variants, and increasingly vocal employee demands, some companies, including The New York Times and American Airlines, have opted out of setting return dates.

The agility of technology companies, alongside industries like consulting and media, is in many ways unique. CVS Health is still eyeing a fall return, albeit with a degree of flexibility worked in. And many employees never went home at all — with a good portion of workers at companies like General Motors, Ford Motor and Chevron having worked on-site throughout most of the pandemic.

Many companies that did send employees home remain eager to bring them back. The longer workers stay out of the office, the harder it may be to cajole their return. And real estate costs are difficult to justify if offices are left empty.

In finance, which traditionally puts a priority on in-person apprenticeship and hustling, the prominent firms have made being in the office a recruiting tool. Goldman Sachs brought back its employees in June and JPMorgan Chase in July. The rise of the Delta variant didn’t slow those plans down, but it did seemingly expedite measures to prevent the spread of the virus. Goldman said last month that it would require anyone who entered its U.S. offices, including clients, to be fully vaccinated.

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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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Biden’s Proposals Aim to Give Sturdier Support to the Middle Class

Skeptics have warned of government overreach and the risk that deficit spending could ignite inflation, but Mr. Biden and his team of economic advisers have, nonetheless, embraced the approach.

“It’s time to grow the economy from the bottom and middle out,” Mr. Biden said in his speech to a joint session of Congress last week, a reference to the idea that prosperity doesn’t trickle down from the wealthy, but flows out of a well-educated and well-paid middle class.

He underscored the point by singling out workers as the dynamo powering the middle class.

“Wall Street didn’t build this country,” he said. “The middle class built the country. And unions built the middle class.”

Of course, the economy that lifted millions of postwar families into the middle class differed sharply from the current one. Manufacturing, construction and mining jobs, previously viewed as the backbone of the labor force, dwindled — as did the labor unions that aggressively fought for better wages and benefits. Now, only one out of every 10 workers is a union member, while roughly 80 percent of jobs in the United States are in the service sector.

And it is these types of jobs, in health care, education, child care, disabled and senior care, that are expected to continue expanding at the quickest pace.

Most of them, though, fall short of paying middle-income wages. That does not necessarily reflect their value in an open market. Salaries for teachers, hospital workers, lab technicians, child care providers and nursing home attendants are determined largely by the government, which collects tax dollars to pay their salaries and sets reimbursements rates for Medicare and other programs.

They are also jobs that are filled by significant numbers of women, African-Americans, Latinos and Asians.

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The Week in Business: Time to Buy (or Sell) a House?

Good morning. Have you gotten your vaccine yet? The Biden administration is offering tax breaks to companies that give their workers paid time off to get their shot. Here’s what else you should know in business and tech for the week ahead. — Charlotte Cowles

Credit…Giacomo Bagnara

On Earth Day, President Biden kicked off a virtual climate summit with a guest list of who’s who in world power — including the pope, Bill Gates and President Xi Jinping of China. He put forth a high-flying goal for the United States to slash greenhouse gas emissions by 50 percent below 2005 levels by 2030, setting the bar for other leaders to follow suit. The plan is aggressive in scope but vague on specifics. Climate experts say it would require drastic changes in many areas of the country’s economy — too drastic, according to some critics. Think a rapid transition to electric cars, the end of coal-fueled power plants and a vast expansion of wind turbine energy.

Amazon’s founder, Jeff Bezos, who is stepping down from his role as the company’s chief executive next quarter, addressed a few elephants in the room in his latest (and last?) shareholder’s letter. Such as: Even though Amazon workers in Alabama recently rejected a major campaign to unionize, he still thinks that “we need to do a better job for our employees.” He also said that workers get bathroom breaks whenever they want (i.e. they do not have to pee in bottles, contrary to what you may read on Twitter). Anyway, what else is new at Amazon? The company is developing a furniture assembly service to compete with the home goods e-commerce giant Wayfair, for one thing. Oh, and opening a hair salon in London where you can preview hairdos virtually before trying them out in real life.

home prices up by about 16 percent since the pandemic began. Analysts believe the market will stay strong through the end of the year at least.

Credit…Giacomo Bagnara

Apple introduced its latest slate of products and software last week, including new computer colors — a mustard-yellow desktop monitor, anyone? As expected, it also revealed the AirTag, a $29 disc that attaches to keys, wallets and other items so they can be tracked down if lost. But slipped in with the jazzy stuff was new privacy software that will make it harder for advertisers to monitor people. The feature will require apps to get explicit permission from users before spying on — sorry, tracking — their digital behavior. If people decline, companies that rely on digital advertising (like, say, Facebook) are expected to gather less data about users’ activity.

Mr. Biden rolled out a new plan that would raise taxes on the rich to reduce costs for child care and education. The proposals align with his campaign promise to increase taxes on corporations and the wealthy, but not on households earning less than $400,000. Still, Wall Street wasn’t happy about it, and the stock market fell after his announcement. Mr. Biden is expected to defend his ideas when he gives his first address to a joint session of Congress on Wednesday.

The tobacco industry has heavily marketed menthol cigarettes specifically to Black communities for decades, and they are used by 85 percent of Black smokers. (Because of their flavor, menthol cigarettes are considered easier to get hooked on and harder to quit.) As a result, Black Americans suffer disproportionate health consequences of addiction to menthol cigarettes. This Thursday, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration will respond to a court order that compels it to take a position on whether to ban the product. But it’s complicated. Some critics of the ban say that it could cause police to more aggressively target Black Americans suspected of selling illegal cigarettes.

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For Extra Days Off, This Couple Had 4 Weddings and 3 Divorces

In Taiwan, one of the few places in the world to offer marriage leave to couples heading to the altar, a bank employee married his partner on April 6, 2020.

They got divorced days later, on April 16.

Then they remarried the following day.

Another divorce and a third marriage followed on April 28 and April 29.

After a third divorce, on May 11, they got married for the fourth time, on May 12.

It was all a plot to take advantage of the self-governing island’s time-off policy for couples who get married — eight days of leave — the man’s employer, a bank in Taipei, said in public records.

The bank refused to approve the man’s application for paid time off beyond the mandated eight days for his first marriage. That prompted him to lodge a complaint with the Labor Department for violations of leave entitlements. The bank was fined $700 last October, but appealed the penalty in February, claiming that the employee had abused his rights.

Facebook last week. “The law exists for the people and not for exploitation, profit or harm. Of course it is important to enforce the law, but not knowing when to be flexible is the real disaster!” she added.

The case has also thrown the labor authorities in Taipei, the capital, into disarray and raised questions about how easy it is to exploit the marriage leave policy. In a statement, Ms. Chen, the labor official, called on public servants not to lose sight of common sense.

“Even though my colleagues had seriously studied the labor laws, they had not reached a breakthrough as to whether the bank employee abused his rights.” Ms. Chen added, “Instead, they had been digging into the black hole of ‘whether the marriage was real.’”

Marriage leave was introduced in Taiwan as part of other employment benefits, such as public holidays and paid time off for illness and bereavement, when the island’s labor laws were established in 1984, according to Chiou Jiunn-yann, a professor specializing in labor law at the Chinese Culture University in Taiwan.

Malta provides two working days. Vietnam allows three days for one’s own marriage and one day for the wedding of a child. In China, the duration of leave varies by region: Most offer at least three days, but Shanxi Province allows 30 days.

The Taiwanese marriage leave does not impose quotas on those who claim it, nor does it restrict how frequently employees could take the leave. The entitlement is simply renewed for each marriage, even for those marrying each other repeatedly. (In comparison to the marriage leave, workers get five days of parental leave.)

“The worker is entitled to leave if he remarries,” said Chen Kun-Hung, the chief labor standards official in the Taipei City government.

The penalty slapped on the bank was revoked after the case was covered by local news outlets, spurring public debate, he added. “The public thought there was concern over the abuse of labor rights, and the abuse hasn’t been regulated in laws or discussed by the central government to clarify the situation,” he said in a phone interview on Thursday.

Professor Chiou added that the government should consider appropriate measures to ensure fairness to both employers and employees.

“If there’s no plan to resolve this, there’s no guarantee that there wouldn’t be someone who plays this kind of game with you 365 days a year,” he said.

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Biden will ask U.S. employers to give workers paid time off to get vaccinated.

President Biden on Wednesday is expected to call on every employer in America to give their employees paid time off to get vaccinated, the administration’s latest move to try and persuade more than half of the nation’s adults who have yet to get a dose to do so.

Mr. Biden will also announce a paid leave tax credit to offset the cost for companies with fewer than 500 employees, according to senior administration officials, who previewed the announcement on condition of anonymity.

The announcement will come in conjunction with an address by the president to mark what his aides are calling a major milestone: 200 million shots in the arms of the American people, with a week to go before the president’s 100th day in office. As of Tuesday, more than 196 million doses have been administered across the country beginning Jan. 20, according to data as reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

But the distribution of those shots in uneven: While New Hampshire has given at least one shot to 59 percent of its citizens (a percentage that includes children, most of whom are not yet eligible), Mississippi and Alabama at 30 percent.

White House is steering clear of the discussion, saying the decision to require vaccination or proof of it will be left to individual employers. And with the economy gearing up, managers are reluctant to demand inoculation, fearing too many employees would seek work elsewhere.

worrisome new variants could emerge that evade the vaccine.

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Welcome to the YOLO Economy

In addition to the job-hopping you’d expect during boom times, the pandemic has created many more remote jobs, and expanded the number of companies willing to hire outside of big, coastal cities. That has given workers in remote-friendly industries, such as tech and finance, more leverage to ask for what they want.

“Employees have a totally unprecedented ability to negotiate in the next 18 to 48 months,” said Johnathan Nightingale, an author and a co-founder of Raw Signal Group, a management training firm. “If I, as an individual, am dissatisfied with the current state of my employment, I have so many more options than I used to have.”

Individual YOLO decisions can be chalked up to many factors: cabin fever, low interest rates, the emergence of new get-rich-quick schemes like NFTs and meme stocks. But many seem related to a deeper, generational disillusionment, and a feeling that the economy is changing in ways that reward the crazy and punish the cautious.

Several people in their late 20s and early 30s — mostly those who went to good schools, work in high-prestige industries and would never be classified as “essential workers” — told me that the pandemic had destroyed their faith in the traditional white-collar career path. They had watched their independent-minded peers getting rich by joining start-ups or gambling on cryptocurrencies. Meanwhile, their bosses were drowning them in mundane work, or trying to automate their jobs, and were generally failing to support them during one of the hardest years of their lives.

“The past year has been telling for how companies really value their work forces,” said Latesha Byrd, a career coach in Charlotte, N.C. “It has become challenging to continue to work for companies who operate business as usual, without taking into account how our lives have changed overnight.”

Ms. Byrd, who primarily coaches women of color in fields like tech, finance and media, said that in addition to suffering from pandemic-related burnout, many minority employees felt disillusioned with their employers’ shallow commitments to racial justice.

“Diversity, equity and inclusion are extremely important now,” she said. “Employees want to know, ‘Is this company going to support me?’”

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New Zealand Approves Paid Leave After Miscarriage

AUCKLAND, New Zealand — New Zealand’s Parliament on Wednesday unanimously approved legislation that would give couples who suffer a miscarriage or stillbirth three days’ paid leave, putting the country in the vanguard of those providing such benefits.

Ginny Andersen, the Labour member of Parliament who drafted the bill, said she had not been able to find comparable legislation anywhere in the world. “We may well be the first country,” she said, adding, “But all the countries that New Zealand is usually compared to legislate for the 20-week mark.”

Employers in New Zealand, as in some other countries, had already been required to provide paid leave in the event of a stillbirth, when a fetus is lost after a gestation of 20 weeks or more. The new legislation will expand that leave to anyone who loses a pregnancy at any point, removing any ambiguity. The measure is expected to become law in the coming weeks.

“I felt that it would give women the confidence to be able to request that leave if it was required, as opposed to just being stoic and getting on with life, when they knew that they needed time, physically or psychologically, to get over the grief,” Ms. Andersen said.

decriminalized abortion last year, ending the country’s status as one of the few wealthy nations to limit the grounds for ending a pregnancy in the first half.

In Australia, people who miscarry are entitled to unpaid leave if they lose a fetus after 12 weeks, while in Britain, would-be parents who experience a stillbirth after 24 weeks are eligible for paid leave. The United States does not require employers to provide leave for anyone who suffers a miscarriage.

Up to 20 percent of all known pregnancies in the United States end in miscarriage, according to the Mayo Clinic. In New Zealand, whose population is five million, the Ministry of Health estimates that one to two pregnancies in 10 will end in miscarriage.

The charity Sands New Zealand, which supports parents who have lost a pregnancy, says 5,900 to 11,800 miscarriages or stillbirths occur each year. More than 95 percent of the miscarriages occur in the first 12 to 14 weeks of pregnancy, according to data from the New Zealand College of Midwives.

A miscarriage or stillbirth remains a fraught and painful topic, one that is difficult to talk about publicly or seek support for, health advocates say.

“If you ring the hospital saying, ‘I think I’m miscarrying my baby,’ so many women will say, ‘I felt like I was the first person in the world to be miscarrying,’” said Vicki Culling, an educator about baby loss who has pushed for better support for bereaved parents in New Zealand.

“The foundations of your world just crumble, because you expect to have this beautiful baby, and when that baby dies, whether it’s in utero or soon after birth, everything is shattered.”

Ms. Culling applauded the New Zealand legislation as a first step but said there was more to be done.

“You get three days’ paid leave, maybe you bury your baby or you have a service, and then you go back to work, and you carry on — and then what? That’s my concern,” she said.

“I’m celebrating it, but I want to see us keeping this compassion going, and looking further into the needs of these parents.”

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