referred to that consideration in a footnote to last week’s speech.

“Today we see little evidence of wage increases that might threaten excessive inflation,” he said.

Plus, it is unclear whether pay gains will remain robust as workers return. While it is hard to gauge how much enhanced unemployment benefits discouraged workers from taking jobs, and early evidence suggests that the effect was limited, a few companies have signaled that labor supply has been improving as they sunset.

Other trends — the end of summer and the resumption of in-person school and day care — could allow parents who have been on the sidelines to return to the job search, though that might be foiled if Delta keeps students at home.

“There’s still so much disruption, it’s hard for businesses and workers to make plans and move forward when you don’t know what’s coming around the next bend,” said Julia Coronado, the founder of MacroPolicy Perspectives, adding that this is a moment of “delicate transition.”

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Delays, More Masks and Mandatory Shots: Virus Surge Disrupts Office-Return Plans

He did not respond, but days later Apple posted an internal video in which company executives doubled down on bringing workers back to the office. In the video, Dr. Sumbul Desai, who helps run Apple’s digital health division, encouraged workers to get vaccinated but stopped short of saying they would be required to, according to a transcript viewed by The Times.

The video didn’t sit well with some employees.

“OK, you want me to put my life on the line to come back to the office, which will also decrease my productivity, and you’re not giving me any logic on why I actually need to do that?” said Ashley Gjovik, a senior engineering program manager.

When the company delayed its return-to-office date on Monday, a group of employees drafted a new letter, proposing a one-year pilot program in which people could work from home full time if they chose to. The letter said an informal survey of more than 1,000 Apple employees found that roughly two-thirds would question their future at the company if they were required to return to the office.

In Los Angeles, Endeavor, the parent company of the William Morris Endeavor talent agency, reopened its Beverly Hills headquarters this month. But it decided to shut down again last week when the county reimposed its indoor mask mandate in the face of surging case counts. An Endeavor spokesman said the company had decided that enforcement would be too difficult and would hinder group meetings.

The employment website Indeed had been targeting Sept. 7 as the date when it would start bringing workers back on a hybrid basis. Now it has begun to reconsider those plans, the company’s senior vice president of human resources, Paul Wolfe, said, “because of the Delta variant.”

Some companies said the recent spike in cases had not yet affected their return-to-office planning. Facebook still intends to reopen at 50 percent capacity by early September. IBM plans to open its U.S. offices in early September, with fully vaccinated employees free to go without a mask, and Royal Dutch Shell, the gas company, has been gradually lifting restrictions in its Houston offices, prompting more of its workers to return.

Hewlett Packard Enterprise began allowing employees to return to its offices Monday, bolstered by a survey of its California employees that found 94 percent were fully vaccinated.

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Pandemic Wave of Automation May Be Bad News for Workers

“You can pull a less-skilled worker in and have them adapt to our system much easier,” said Ryan Hillis, a Meltwich vice president. “It certainly widens the scope of who you can have behind that grill.”

With more advanced kitchen equipment, software that allows online orders to flow directly to the restaurant and other technological advances, Meltwich needs only two to three workers on a shift, rather than three or four, Mr. Hillis said.

Such changes, multiplied across thousands of businesses in dozens of industries, could significantly change workers’ prospects. Professor Warman, the Canadian economist, said technologies developed for one purpose tend to spread to similar tasks, which could make it hard for workers harmed by automation to shift to another occupation or industry.

“If a whole sector of labor is hit, then where do those workers go?” Professor Warman said. Women, and to a lesser degree people of color, are likely to be disproportionately affected, he added.

The grocery business has long been a source of steady, often unionized jobs for people without a college degree. But technology is changing the sector. Self-checkout lanes have reduced the number of cashiers; many stores have simple robots to patrol aisles for spills and check inventory; and warehouses have become increasingly automated. Kroger in April opened a 375,000-square-foot warehouse with more than 1,000 robots that bag groceries for delivery customers. The company is even experimenting with delivering groceries by drone.

Other companies in the industry are doing the same. Jennifer Brogan, a spokeswoman for Stop & Shop, a grocery chain based in New England, said that technology allowed the company to better serve customers — and that it was a competitive necessity.

“Competitors and other players in the retail space are developing technologies and partnerships to reduce their costs and offer improved service and value for customers,” she said. “Stop & Shop needs to do the same.”

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How a Bank of America Executive Created a Tense Work Culture

Last spring, as the pandemic raged through New York, Alexandria Taylor, who runs human resources for the banking and markets divisions, held a call with some trading floor managers and suggested they cajole their team members back to the office, said three people with knowledge of the calls. Other senior executives placed similar calls, but Ms. Taylor’s message carried weight because of her role as a representative of employee welfare and her rapport with Mr. Montag, current and recently departed employees said.

Ms. Taylor does not report to Mr. Montag. But the rapport between them has been a source of consternation for years, said current and former employees, because it meant one of the people best situated to correct the problems in Mr. Montag’s culture was also unusually close with him in ways that drew notice.

The two collaborated frequently on employee matters, and Ms. Taylor eventually moved her desk to a spot right outside Mr. Montag’s office. At one point, the executives even embarked on a low-carbohydrate, high-fat keto diet together, according to two people who discussed it with Ms. Taylor at the time. They were so at ease around each other that at one point last November she openly scratched or rubbed Mr. Montag’s back on the trading floor, according to three people who witnessed the interaction. Ms. Taylor said in a statement that “these items are inaccurate.”

During the pandemic, the productivity spreadsheet, titled “Tom/Dashboard,” according to an image of it, allowed Mr. Montag to track individual profits and losses of employees working at home versus those still in the office, according to that and other images and two people with knowledge of the spreadsheets. In the office, said one of those employees, Mr. Montag would sometimes pop by individual desks and say, “I knew you’d be here.”

Last summer, after news reports about their work-from-home policies, the bank took a more accommodating stance, current and former employees said. By fall, the spreadsheet had vanished from circulation, two of those people said.

“I do believe, long term, that it’s better culturally to know people and see them and be around them some,” Mr. Montag said in February. “Physical presence is good.”

It’s unclear how long Mr. Montag will be present himself. In February, he said that given his age, at some point “they’re going to kick me out of here.” And in a note to some employees last July, he appeared sanguine about his career. “I came to New York to make a few dollars, go back to Oregon, and buy a house,” he wrote. “Everything else has been gravy.”

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Amid Economic Turmoil, Biden Stays Focused on Longer Term

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

One of the most urgent questions in economics is why pay for middle-income workers has increased only slightly since the 1970s, even as pay for those near the top has escalated.

For years, the rough consensus among economists was that inexorable forces like technology and globalization explained much of the trend. But in a new paper, Lawrence Mishel and Josh Bivens, economists at the liberal Economic Policy Institute, conclude that government is to blame. “Intentional policy decisions (either of commission or omission) have generated wage suppression,” they write.

Included among these decisions are policymakers’ willingness to tolerate high unemployment and to let employers fight unions aggressively; trade deals that force workers to compete with low-paid labor abroad; and the tacit or explicit blessing of new legal arrangements, like employment contracts that make it harder for workers to seek new jobs.

Together, Dr. Mishel and Dr. Bivens argue, these developments deprived workers of bargaining power, which kept their wages low.

decline of unions; a succession of trade deals with low-wage countries; and increasingly common arrangements like “fissuring,” in which companies outsource work to lower-paying firms, and noncompete clauses in employment contracts, which make it hard for workers to leave for a competitor.

also written about unions and other reasons that workers have lost leverage, said the portion of the wage gap that Dr. Mishel and Dr. Bivens attribute to such factors probably overstated their impact.

The reason, he said, is that their effects can’t simply be added up. If excessive unemployment explains 25 percent of the gap and weaker unions explain 20 percent, it is not necessarily the case that they combine to explain 45 percent of the gap, as Dr. Mishel and Dr. Bivens imply. The effects overlap somewhat.

Dr. Katz added that education plays a complementary role to bargaining power in determining wages, citing a historical increase in wages for Black workers as an example. In the first several decades of the 20th century, philanthropists and the N.A.A.C.P. worked to improve educational opportunities for Black students in the South. That helped raise wages once a major policy change — the Civil Rights Act of 1964 — increased workers’ power.

“Education by itself wasn’t enough given the Jim Crow apartheid system,” Dr. Katz said. “But it’s not clear you could have gotten the same increase in wages if there had not been earlier activism to provide education.”

Daron Acemoglu, an M.I.T. economist who has studied the effects of technology on wages and employment, said Dr. Mishel and Dr. Bivens were right to push the field to think more deeply about how institutions like unions affect workers’ bargaining power.

But he said they were too dismissive of the role of market forces like the demand for skilled workers, noting that even as the so-called college premium has mostly flattened over the last two decades, the premium for graduate degrees has continued to increase, most likely contributing to inequality.

Still, other economists cautioned that it was important not to lose sight of the overall trend that Dr. Mishel and Dr. Bivens highlight. “There is just an increasing body of work trying to quantify both the direct and indirect effects of declining worker bargaining power,” said Anna Stansbury, the co-author of a well-received paper on the subject with former Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers. After receiving her doctorate, she will join the faculty of the M.I.T. Sloan School of Management this fall.

“Whether it explains three-quarters or one-half” of the slowdown in wage growth, she continued, “for me the evidence is very compelling that it’s a nontrivial amount.”

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China Wants to Boost Births. But It’s Wary of Losing Control.

When Fan Jianhua had her third daughter last April, she was afraid that she would be fined for violating China’s birth limits.

Ms. Fan was already heavily in debt paying for treatment for her 6-year-old, who has leukemia. To her relief, when she registered her new baby with the police, she didn’t have to pay the $7,500 fine.

“I was really happy and could finally relax,” said Ms. Fan, 34, a stay-at-home mother in the central city of Danjiangkou, in Hubei Province.

Slowly, in fits and starts, China’s ruling Communist Party is loosening its long-held restrictions over childbirth and women’s bodies. Some local governments have tacitly allowed couples to have more than two children. Beijing has said civil servants will no longer be fired for such infringements. Party leaders have pledged to make population policies more inclusive, a signal that some have taken to mean the rules will be eased further.

decline in birthrates. A once-a-decade population census, released on Tuesday, showed that the number of births last year fell to the lowest since the Mao era. Low fertility translates to fewer workers and weaker demand, which could stunt growth in the world’s second-largest economy.

But the party is wary of giving up control and has resisted scrapping birth restrictions wholesale. Instead, Beijing has been taking a piecemeal approach by slowly dismantling the once-powerful family-planning bureaucracy and carving out exemptions. In many places, police officers, employers and city officials are deciding how strictly, or loosely, to enforce the rules.

That can mean more freedom for some, like Ms. Fan, to have more children. But it also creates uncertainty about the risks, adding to a reluctance about having more children.

The strategy could also founder amid broad cultural changes. Anxiety over the rising cost of education, housing and health care is now deeply ingrained in society. Many Chinese simply prefer smaller families, and the government’s efforts to boost the birthrate, including introducing a two-child policy in 2016, have largely fizzled.

“If the restrictions on family planning are not lifted, and they are encouraging births at the same time, this is self-contradictory,” said Huang Wenzheng, a demography expert with the Center for China and Globalization, a Beijing-based research center. He said that removing all birth limits would convey an important message. “I think such a step has to be taken.”

official murmurs about a reconsideration of the one-child policy surfaced but were quickly dismissed. It took years before the government moved to allow all couples to have two children.

Now, the population is aging more rapidly than those of many developed countries, including the United States, and some argue that the government cannot afford to keep any restrictions on procreation.

“We have to take advantage of the fact that a certain number of residents now are willing to give birth but aren’t allowed to,” China’s central bank said in a working paper it published on April 14. “If we wait to lift it when no one wants to give birth, it will be useless.”

harshly enforced family-planning rules in what Beijing has depicted as a fight against religious extremism. The campaign has led in recent years to a rise in sterilizations and contraceptive procedures — forcibly imposed in some cases — in the region’s Muslim-dominated areas.

China’s family-planning policy has long given local officials a powerful weapon of control — one that may be hard, or costly, to wrest back. Before they were unwound, family-planning agencies hired around eight million people, down to the village level, who corralled women to be fitted with intrauterine devices or coerced them into abortions.

The officials also collected large fines from couples who broke the rules. One senior researcher at the Central Party School estimated in 2015 that the fees amounted to between $3 billion and $5 billion annually.

In recent years, the government has been reassigning family-planning employees to roles including in population research and tackling Covid-19. But local governments retain the power to enforce birth limits as they see fit, which has led to inconsistencies.

The central government said in May last year that civil servants did not have to lose their jobs for violating birth limits, yet months later, a village committee in the eastern city of Hangzhou fired a woman after she had a third child — prompting a public outcry.

Ultimately, the fate of China’s family-planning policies may change little. A generation of highly educated women are putting off marriage and childbirth for other reasons, including a rejection of traditional attitudes that dictate women should bear most of the responsibility of raising children and doing housework.

Liu Qing, a 38-year-old editor of children’s books in Beijing, said getting married and having children were never in her future because they would come at too great a personal cost.

“All the things that you want — your ideals and your ambitions — have to be sacrificed,” Ms. Liu said.

Ms. Liu said Chinese society imposed a motherhood penalty on women, pointing to the discrimination that mothers often faced in hiring.

“I’m furious about this environment,” she said. “I’m not the kind of person who would accept this reality and compromise. I just won’t.”

For other Chinese, having fewer children is a matter of necessity when holes in the country’s social safety net mean that a major illness can lead to financial ruin.

Ms. Fan, the woman in Hubei who was spared a fine, said that she and her husband, a laborer, were getting increasingly desperate. Public health insurance had covered half the cost of her daughter’s treatment for leukemia, but they were on the hook for $76,000.

She had a third child only because she heard that a sibling’s cord blood could help in the treatment of leukemia. But she later learned that such treatment would cost more than $100,000.

“I don’t dare think about the future,” Ms. Fan said. She added that if her daughter’s condition deteriorated or they went broke, they would have to give up treatment.

“We can only leave it up to her fate,” she said.

Research was contributed by Claire Fu, Liu Yi, Albee Zhang and Elsie Chen.

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Helen Murray Free Dies at 98; Chemist Developed Diabetes Test

Helen Murray Free, a chemist who ushered in a revolution in diagnostic testing when she co-developed the dip-and-read diabetes test, a paper strip that detected glucose in urine, died on Saturday at a hospice facility in Elkhart, Ind. She was 98.

The cause was complications of a stroke, her son Eric said.

Before the invention of the dip-and-read test in 1956, technicians added chemicals to urine and then heated the mixture over a Bunsen burner. The test was inconvenient, and, because it could not distinguish glucose from other sugars, results were not very precise.

Working with her husband, who was also a chemist, Ms. Free figured out how to impregnate strips of filter paper with chemicals that turned blue when glucose was present. The test made it easier for clinicians to diagnose diabetes and cleared the way for home test kits, which enabled patients to monitor glucose on their own.

People with diabetes now use blood sugar meters to monitor their glucose levels, but the dip-and-read tests are ubiquitous in clinical laboratories worldwide.

commemorative booklet produced by the American Chemical Society in 2010.

She received her bachelor’s degree in 1944 and went to work for Miles Laboratories in Elkhart, first in quality control and then in the biochemistry division, which worked on diagnostic tests and was led by her future husband, Alfred Free. They married in 1947.

He provided the ideas; she was the technician “who had the advantage of picking his brain 24 hours a day,” Ms. Free recalled in an interview for this obituary in 2011. They soon set their sights on developing a more convenient glucose test “so no one would have to wash out test tubes and mess around with droppers,” she said. When her husband suggested chemically treated paper strips, “it was like a light bulb went off,” she said.

American Chemical Society in 1993. In 2009, she was awarded a National Medal of Technology and Innovation by President Barack Obama, and in 2011 she was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame in Seneca Falls, N.Y., for her role in developing the dip-and-read test.

Alfred Free died in 2000. In addition to her son Eric, Ms. Free is survived by two other sons, Kurt and Jake; three daughters, Bonnie Grisz, Nina Lovejoy and Penny Moloney; a stepson, Charles; two stepdaughters, Barbara Free and Jane Linderman; 17 grandchildren; and nine great-grandchildren.

Miles Laboratories followed the introduction of the dip-and-read glucose test with a host of other tests designed to detect proteins, blood and other indicators of metabolic, kidney and liver disorders. “They sure went hog wild on diagnostics, and that’s all Al’s fault,” Ms. Free said in the commemorative booklet. “He was the one who pushed diagnostics.”

It wasn’t all smooth sailing. Several years after the introduction of the dip-and-read test, Miles moved Ms. Free to another division, citing an anti-nepotism policy. But two years later, after a change in management, she was transferred back to her husband’s division.

“They realized that breaking up a team like this was interfering with productivity in the lab,” Ms. Free said.

Alex Traub contributed reporting.

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A third of Basecamp’s workers resign after a ban on talking politics.

About a third of Basecamp’s employees have said they are resigning after the company, which makes productivity software, announced new policies banning workplace conversations about politics.

Jason Fried, Basecamp’s chief executive, detailed the policies in a blog post on Monday, calling “societal and political discussions” on company messaging tools “a major distraction.” He wrote that the company would also ban committees, cut benefits such as a fitness allowance (with employees receiving the equivalent cash value) and stop “lingering and dwelling on past decisions.”

Basecamp had 57 employees, including Mr. Fried, when the announcement was made, according to a staff list on its website. Since then, at least 20 of them have posted publicly that they intend to resign or have already resigned, according to a tally by The New York Times. Basecamp did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Mr. Fried and David Hansson, two of Basecamp’s founders, have published several books about workplace culture, and news of their latest management philosophy was met with a mix of applause and criticism on social media.

details of a dispute within the company that contributed to the decision to ban political talk, Mr. Hansson wrote in another blog post that Basecamp had offered severance of up to six months of salary to employees who disagreed with the founders’ choice.

“We’ve committed to a deeply controversial stance,” Mr. Hansson, Basecamp’s chief technology officer, wrote. “Some employees are relieved, others are infuriated, and that pretty well describes much of the public debate around this too.”

Coinbase, a start-up that allows people to buy and sell cryptocurrencies, announced a similar ban last year, with a similar offer to give severance to employees who disagreed. The company said 60 of its employees had resigned, about 5 percent of its work force.

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