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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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Congressional Aides Unite to Push for Change at the Capitol After the Riot

WASHINGTON — After the attack on the Capitol by a pro-Trump mob on Jan. 6, Herline Mathieu knew things had to change.

As president of the Congressional Black Associates, one of a hodgepodge of organizations on Capitol Hill that represent the aides who serve members of the House and Senate, she heard from scores of fellow staff members who did not want to return to the complex after the violence and racism of the riot.

“I spoke with at least 60 members who were just really concerned about their safety,” said Ms. Mathieu, a legislative aide.

One staff member told her bluntly, “I don’t know if I can work here.”

So Ms. Mathieu began to organize, a relatively rare endeavor for employees in Congress, which is exempt from most labor laws, including occupational safety and anti-discrimination statutes.

disparate treatment that Black Lives Matter protesters received from law enforcement compared with the relatively restrained tactics used against the pro-Trump mob.

“Many of my members, we marched last summer in the protests against police brutality,” Ms. Mathieu said. “We were overwhelmed with the security.”

But in their push for a safer environment, the aides are also pressing to ensure that the Capitol Police does not resort to racial profiling or cracking down on minority groups in response to the latest rash of violence.

“We’ve seen in post-9/11 that South Asians have been disproportionately profiled,” said Nishith Pandya, the president of the Congressional South Asian-American Staff Association and the legislative director for Representative Bobby L. Rush, Democrat of Illinois. “It is very clear who the perpetrators of this attack were, and it’s nobody who looks like the people here. Yet we all have to be concerned about racial profiling because of how this country has reacted to attacks like this before.”

congressional aides have reported trouble sleeping and feeling anxious, claustrophobic, angry and depressed. Lawmakers have requested additional resources to support the mental health needs of employees in response to surging demand.

Ms. Pelosi has pledged to spend what is necessary to make sure the Capitol is safe.

“It’s going to take more money,” she said at a recent news conference, “to protect the Capitol in a way that enables people to come here, children to come and see our democracy in action, all of you to cover what happens here safely, members to be comfortable that they are safe when they are here.”

The organizing after Jan. 6 is not the first time some of the staff associations have joined forces. In November, a task force from the Congressional Black Associates and Senate Black Legislative Staff Caucus produced a policy report on racial justice and reform. Several of the groups had previously teamed up to work on a campaign to increase diversity among Capitol Hill staff.

According to a 2019 survey of about 10,000 House employees — about half of whom responded — nearly 70 percent of employees are white, compared with nearly 15 percent Black, 12 percent Hispanic and nearly 7 percent Asian.

Kameelah Pointer, the president of the Senate Black Legislative Staff Caucus and an aide to Senator Tammy Duckworth, Democrat of Illinois, said the 9/11-style commission should include a racially diverse team. Ms. Pointer said that would be vital to “analyze how race played a role” in the failure to adequately prepare for the Capitol rampage, which was led by supporters of President Donald J. Trump and included white supremacist and extremist groups.

The organizations say they will watch the commission closely and ask for more meetings with leadership.

“This won’t be the last time that we work together to address the aftermath of the Jan. 6 attack,” Ms. Ramirez said.

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