A tenet of the American unemployment system has been that anyone collecting benefits, in good times and bad, must look for work.
That quid pro quo changed early in the pandemic. Profound fears of contagion and the sudden need for millions of workers to become caregivers led states to lift the requirements for reasons both practical and compassionate.
But as vaccinations increase and the economy revs back to life, more than half of all states have revived their work search requirements. Arkansas and Louisiana did so months ago in an effort to push workers off their swollen unemployment rolls. Others, like Vermont and Kentucky, have followed in the last few weeks.
ordered the Labor Department to “work with the remaining states, as health and safety conditions allow,” to put such requirements in place as the pandemic abates.
Research suggests that work search requirements of some form in normal economic times can compel workers to find their next job and reduce their time on unemployment. But the pandemic has added a new layer to a debate over how to balance relief with the presumption that joblessness is only transitory. Most states cut off unemployment benefits after 26 weeks.
Business groups say bringing back work search requirements will help juice the labor market and dissuade workers from waiting to return to their old employers or holding out for remote or better-paying jobs.
Opponents contend that the mandate keeps undue numbers of Americans from continuing to receive needed benefits because it can be hard to meet the sometimes arduous requirements, including documenting the search efforts. And they say workers may be forced to apply for and accept lower-paying or less-satisfying jobs at a time when the pandemic has caused some to reassess the way they think about their work, their family needs and their prospects.
“I think the work search requirement is necessary as an economist,” said Marta Lachowska, an economist at the W.E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research in Kalamazoo, Mich., who has studied the effects of work search requirements on employment. But she added, “Perhaps given the big disruption we have observed to the labor market, people should be given some slack.”
In Washington, the issue has become part of a larger clash over jobless benefits that intensified after the disappointing April jobs report, with Republicans asserting that Mr. Biden’s policies are deterring people from looking for work and holding back the economic recovery.
A rising number of Republican governors have taken matters into their own hands, moving to end a weekly $300 unemployment supplement and other federally funded emergency assistance that otherwise isn’t due to expire until September.
Job openings rose in March to 8.1 million, the Labor Department reported on Tuesday, yet there are more than eight million fewer people working than before the pandemic. Economists ascribe some of the incongruity to a temporary mismatch between the jobs on offer and the skills or background of those looking for work. They say that in a recovering labor market like the current one, there may not be enough suitable jobs for people seeking re-employment, which can frustrate workers and drive them to apply to positions haphazardly.
That has been the case for Rie Wilson, 45, who worked in venue sales for a nonprofit in New York City before she lost her job last summer.
To fulfill New York’s work search requirement, which generally makes unemployment applicants complete at least three job search activities each week, Ms. Wilson has had to apply for positions she would not typically consider, like administrative assistant jobs, she said.
The prospect of accepting such a job makes her anxious.
“There is always a thought in my mind that, ‘Well, what if I do get pulled in this direction just because I’m being forced to apply for these jobs? What does that look like for my career?’” she said.
The process has been time-consuming, she said, “and it’s also a mental wear and tear because you’re literally pulled from all angles in a very stressful situation.”
Alexa Tapia, the unemployment insurance campaign coordinator at the National Employment Law Project, a worker advocacy group, said work search requirements “harm more than they help,” especially during the pandemic.
In particular, she said, such requirements perpetuate systemic racism by trapping people of color, especially women, in underpaid work with fewer benefits. And she noted that people of color were more likely to be denied benefits on the basis of such requirements.
With state unemployment offices already overtaxed, she added, work search requirements are “just another barrier being put to claimants, and it can be a very demoralizing barrier.”
In states that have reinstated work search requirements, worker advocates say an especially frustrating obstacle has been a lack of guidance.
Sue Berkowitz, the director of the South Carolina Appleseed Legal Justice Center, which works with low-income South Carolinians, said unemployed workers in the state largely wanted to go back to work. But the information on the state’s website about work search requirements is so confusing, she said, that she worries workers won’t understand it.
Before the state reimposed the requirements last month, Ms. Berkowitz sent a marked-up copy of the proposed language to the chief of staff at the South Carolina Department of Employment and Workforce urging clarifications and changes. One of her biggest concerns was that the language as it stood was at a 12th-grade reading level, while the typical reading level of adult Americans is much lower. She did not hear back. “It was crickets,” she said.
More broadly, employees in South Carolina, where the minimum wage is $7.25 an hour, can be reluctant to take a job that pays less than the one they had before the pandemic, Ms. Berkowitz said.
“It’s not that they are below taking a job that makes a lot less, but their financial needs are high enough that they need to continue to make a certain salary,” she said.
Although work search requirements have become a political issue, their restoration does not fall solely along partisan lines. Florida, for instance, where the Republican governor has repeatedly flouted virus restrictions, had kept the work search waiver in place before announcing recently that it would reinstate the requirement at the end of the month.
But many other states, particularly Republican ones, have rushed to bring their work search requirements back.
That is what Crista San Martin found when they left their job out of health concerns at a dog boarding facility in Cypress, Texas, which reinstated its work search requirement in November.
Mx. San Martin, 27, who uses the pronouns they and them, said there were very few job openings near them in the pet care industry, making finding a position onerous.
“That made it really difficult for me to log any work searches, because there simply weren’t enough jobs that I would actually want to take for my career,” they said. The first job they applied to was at a Panera, “which is not in my field of interest at all.”
Above all, applying to arbitrary jobs felt risky, they said, because there was no way to assess potential employers’ Covid-19 safety protocols. Mx. San Martin has since returned to their old job.
“It’s pretty unfair,” they said. “Going out and just casting a wide net and seeing whether a random business will take you is not safe.”
Chipotle, McDonald’s said it hoped the higher pay would attract as many as 10,000 new employees in the next three months, as the busy summer season approaches and dine-in restrictions are removed at many of its restaurants.
At its company-owned restaurants, McDonald’s said the average employee wage would increase to $13 an hour, with some restaurants achieving an average wage of $15 an hour later this year. All company-owned restaurants expected to be at an average salary of $15 by 2024, the company noted.
Still, that falls short of the minimum wage of $15 an hour being demanded by the Fight for $15 organization, which is backed by the Service Employees International Union. The Fight for $15 organization is spearheading a strike by McDonald’s employees in several cities across the country on Wednesday ahead of the company’s annual shareholder meeting.
A leader for Fight for $15 dismissed McDonald’s move to bolster wages, saying it wasn’t enough.
“We’ve showed up to work day after day in the middle of a global pandemic, risking our lives without proper P.P.E. or paid time off to keep your stores open and corporate profits flowing,” Doneshia Babbitt, a McDonald’s employee in St. Louis and union leader, said in a statement. “You’ve called us essential for over a year, but your announcement today proves that you’ve seen us as disposable all along.”
The strikes in 15 cities on Wednesday, she said, would go on as planned.
In 2019, McDonald’s announced 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, the McDonald’s chief executive, Chris Kempczinski, said the company was doing “just fine” in the more than two dozen states that had increased minimum wages in a phased-in way.
In fact, despite having many of its dining rooms closed or with limited capacity in parts of the country for much of the pandemic, the strength of McDonald’s drive-throughs helped push its profit to more than $4.7 billion in 2020. It paid its shareholders more than $3.7 billion in dividends and spent another $874 million repurchasing shares before suspending the program in early March of last year.
Mr. Kempczinski agreed to cut his base salary in half last year, but his total compensation was still more than $10.8 million.
Elon Musk has been a big cryptocurrency booster of late, even directing Tesla to buy $1.5 billion in Bitcoin for its corporate treasury earlier this year. On Thursday, he abruptly reversed course, tweeting that Tesla would stop accepting Bitcoin as payment for cars, citing environmental reasons.
“We are concerned about rapidly increasing use of fossil fuels for Bitcoin mining and transactions, especially coal, which has the worst emissions of any fuel,” he said.
Bitcoin’s price promptly plunged by more than 10 percent, and Tesla’s shares dropped more than 4 percent, but recovered when trading began on Thursday.
Tesla said it would begin accepting the cryptocurrency a few months ago, when it also revealed a billion-dollar Bitcoin buy, pushing the price up by more than 10 percent. Bitcoin seems remarkably sensitive to the billionaire’s tweets. “If one person can dramatically alter spending power, the ‘stable store of value’ criteria of a currency is not met,” Paul Donovan of UBS wrote in a note to clients on Thursday.
Mining Bitcoin is energy-intensive, and the more it is worth, the more power it takes a network of computers to create the tokens, by design. Bitcoin’s climate problem is hardly a secret. The DealBook newsletter asks: What gives?
Tesla only started accepting Bitcoin for car purchases in the United States in March. Just over two weeks ago, Zach Kirkhorn, Tesla’s chief financial officer, told investors that “it is our intent to hold what we have long term and continue to accumulate Bitcoin from transactions from our customers as they purchase vehicles.” He described the rationale for buying and accepting Bitcoin as “Elon and I were looking for a place to store cash that wasn’t being immediately used, trying to get some level of return.”
An entry-level Tesla is worth about one Bitcoin, so the company’s $1.5 billion Bitcoin purchase in February far surpasses the amount of crypto it would collect from car sales for a very long time. That raises questions about the vetting and approval process for that investment, which may worry E.S.G. investors, who otherwise look favorably at an electric vehicle company. Did Mr. Musk not know about Bitcoin’s environmental impact until now? Who advised him on it? Did climate factor into the board’s approval process?
SpaceX’s rockets are massive carbon emitters. The Boring Company, his tunnel drilling endeavor, has also faced criticism about its environmental impact.
Mr. Musk’s statement said that “Tesla will not be selling any Bitcoin and we intend to use it for transactions as soon as mining transitions to more sustainable energy.” We’ll see whether it made any recent trades when it reports second-quarter results in July. Given the impact that Mr. Musk’s tweet had on Bitcoin’s price, any action just before or after will be scrutinized.
The return policy for cars bought with Bitcoin worked in Tesla’s favor, stipulating that buyers get back Bitcoin if it’s worth less than the equivalent dollar value at purchase but get back dollars if Bitcoin is worth more. That raises many issues, including accounting risks and worries about warranties and other consumer protection laws.
Mr. Musk can be an unreliable narrator. On Tuesday, he asked his followers on Twitter if Tesla should accept Dogecoin, the jokey cryptocurrency. (Most said yes.) On Sunday, he announced that SpaceX had taken Dogecoin as payment for shuttling a satellite to the moon. And as host of “Saturday Night Live,” he said that cryptocurrency was both “the future of currency” and “a hustle.”
New claims for unemployment benefits fell last week, the government reported on Thursday, as the labor market slowly recovers from the staggering losses wreaked by the coronavirus pandemic.
About 487,000 workers filed first-time claims for state benefits during the week that ended May 8, the Labor Department said, a decrease from 514,000 the week before. In addition, about 104,000 new claims were filed for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, a federal program covering freelancers, part-timers and others who do not routinely qualify for state benefits.
Neither figure is seasonally adjusted. On a seasonally adjusted basis, new state claims totaled 473,000.
After more than a year of being whipsawed by the pandemic, the economy has been showing new life. Restrictions are lifting, businesses are reopening and job listings are on the upswing. But hiring in April was weaker than expected.
“Over all, jobless claims are about three times as high as they were pre-Covid, but they’re coming down” said Heidi Shierholz, senior economist at the left-leaning Economic Policy Institute.
Some employers, particularly in the restaurant and hospitality sectors, have complained of having trouble finding workers. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and several Republican governors have asserted that a temporary $300-a-week federal unemployment supplement has made workers reluctant to return to the job.
The U.S. Labor Department said that as of Wednesday, six states — Iowa, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, North Dakota and South Carolina — had notified the department that they were terminating a network of federal pandemic-related unemployment benefits ahead of the Sept. 6 expiration date.
Several other states with Republican governors, including Tennessee, Arkansas, Alabama, Wyoming and Idaho, have said they also plan to withdraw from the federal programs in the next month or so.
In most cases, that would mean an end not only to the weekly supplements, but also to gig workers’ Pandemic Unemployment Assistance and extended benefits for those who have exhausted other state and federal jobless insurance.
Oxford Economics estimates that roughly 279,000 people in 11 states will lose the $300-a-week stipend, while an additional 609,000 will lose all benefits.
The unemployment rates in those states in March, the latest month for which data is available, ranged from 3.2 percent in Idaho to 6.3 percent in Mississippi.
Mississippi, Tennessee and Alabama are among the states that offer the lowest maximum benefit to qualified individuals — $275 or less each week. Nationwide, the average weekly benefit without federal supplements is $387, according to the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities.
Economists are skeptical that supplemental jobless benefits are playing anything more than a bit part in the pace of the job market’s recovery.
“There is tremendous churn in this labor market,” said Gregory Daco, chief U.S. economist at Oxford Economics. “There are still major supply constraints and unemployment benefits are not the most important one. The virus is.”
Many workers have children at home who are not attending school in person. Others are wary of returning to jobs that require face-to-face encounters. Covid-19 infections have decreased since September, but there are still 38,000 new cases being reported each day and 600 Covid-related deaths. Less than half the population is fully vaccinated.
There is halting progress from employers as well, as businesses continually update their assessment of costs and customer demand. “The hiring pattern isn’t going to be smooth,” Mr. Daco said. “Businesses hire and then reassess. They need to find the right balance, it’s a trial-and-error process more than anything.”
Prematurely halting federal jobless benefits is “detrimental to the economy,” Mr. Daco said. “You’re voluntarily hurting certain vulnerable tranches of the population.”
Nationwide, the unemployment rate was 6.1 percent, and there are 8.2 million fewer jobs than in February 2020.
U.S. stocks rebound on Thursday following a sell-off in European and Asian equities after faster-than-expected inflation data in the United States rattled markets the previous day.
The S&P 500 open nearly 1 percent higher, after a 2.1 percent drop on Wednesday. The Nasdaq climbed more than 1 percent.
The Stoxx Europe 600 index fell 0.4 percent, recovering from a 1.7 percent decline earlier. The Nikkei 225 slumped 2.5 percent in Japan, and the Hang Seng in Hong Kong dropped 1.8 percent.
The U.S. Consumer Price Index, a measure of inflation, climbed 4.2 percent in April from a year earlier, the fastest pace of increase since 2008. From March to April, prices increased 0.8 percent; economists surveyed by Bloomberg only forecast a 0.2 percent increase.
The yield on 10-year Treasury notes held steady at about 1.69 percent after jumping seven basis points, or 0.07 percentage point, on Wednesday.
Federal Reserve policymakers have said that they expect the current increase in inflation to be transitory and would not set off a pullback in monetary stimulus. But the increase in April’s inflation reading, beyond what other analysts forecast, has some traders testing this view.
Oil prices fell on Thursday after Colonial Pipeline said it had begun to restart operations along its massive pipeline, which transports gasoline, diesel and jet fuel from Texas to New Jersey. West Texas Intermediate, the U.S. benchmark, dropped more than 2 percent to $64.65 a barrel.
Other commodity prices have also fallen from recent highs. Iron ore futures were down 3.6 percent after climbing to a record this week. Aluminum prices fell 1.6 percent and silver prices were down 1.4 percent.
Bitcoin prices fell more than 10 percent to below $50,000, according to CoinDesk, after Elon Musk said Tesla would stop accepting the cryptocurrency as payment for its electric cars. Mr. Musk citing concerns about the energy consumption used in mining for Bitcoin, a longstanding issue. Tesla’s share price fell 1.5 percent in premarket trading, but recovered when markets opened.
Most other cryptocurrencies fell on Thursday with CoinMarketCap valuing the global market at $2.2 trillion, down 11 percent from the day before.
Shares in Coinbase, an exchange for people and companies to buy and sell various digital currencies, dropped nearly 2 percent.
China’s landmark $2.8 billion antitrust penalty against Alibaba caused the e-commerce giant to report a loss in the latest quarter, its first since going public seven years ago. But sales continued to grow despite the regulatory scrutiny, helped by China’s strong economic expansion.
Alibaba recorded an operating loss of $1.2 billion for the first three months of the year, the company said on Thursday. Without the antitrust fine, operating profits would have been $1.6 billion, a 48 percent increase from a year earlier, the company said.
Revenue for the quarter grew by nearly two-thirds from a year before, to $28.6 billion. That figure got a boost because Alibaba began including the sales of Sun Art, a supermarket operator in which the company took a controlling stake last October.
China is on a regulatory blitz to curtail what officials describe as unfair and monopolistic business practices by the country’s internet heavyweights. The fine last month against Alibaba was followed swiftly by the opening of an antitrust investigation into Meituan, a food-delivery platform that is among China’s most valuable internet companies.
Two days after China’s market regulator announced the fine against Alibaba, which the agency said was for illegally restricting the vendors on its shopping sites, the company said it would lower the fees it charges those merchants and invest in new services for them.
Speaking to analysts on Thursday, Alibaba’s chief executive, Daniel Zhang, pledged to put “all of our incremental profits this year” toward helping merchants lower their operating costs, expanding in new business areas such as brick-and-mortar grocery and improving technology. But Mr. Zhang also stressed that these investments would be “highly targeted and disciplined.”
For the 12 months that ended in March, Alibaba recorded $109.5 billion in revenue, an increase of 41 percent over the year before. The company’s Chinese retail platforms attracted 811 million active consumers during that period.
The operator of Colonial Pipeline said on Wednesday that it had started to resume pipeline operations but noted that “it will take several days for the product delivery supply chain to return to normal.”
The pipeline, which stretches from Texas to New Jersey, had been shut down since Friday after a ransomware attack.
“There will be lag time between Colonial Pipeline reopening and increases in fuel availability for general public,” warned an internal assessment of potential impact drawn up by the Departments of Energy and Homeland Security. It noted that the fuel “travels through the pipeline at 5 miles per hour” and would take “approximately two weeks to travel from the Gulf Coast to New York.”
The company has refused to say whether it had paid a ransom or was considering doing so. On Wednesday, administration officials said they believed the company was avoiding paying the ransom, at least for now. Instead, they said, the company was trying to reconstruct its systems with a patchwork of backed-up data.
Gasoline prices in Georgia and a few other states rose 8 to 10 cents a gallon on Wednesday alone, a jump not usually seen without a major hurricane shutting down refineries. At some stations, people were filling up gasoline cans, forcing others to wait longer and causing shouting matches. Lines of 20 to 25 cars waited at the few stations operating in Chapel Hill, N.C., where almost all the gas stations lacked fuel.
Elon Musk has been a big cryptocurrency booster of late, even directing Tesla to buy $1.5 billion in Bitcoin for its corporate treasury earlier this year. Yesterday, he abruptly reversed course, tweeting that Tesla would stop accepting Bitcoin as payment for cars, citing environmental reasons. “We are concerned about rapidly increasing use of fossil fuels for Bitcoin mining and transactions, especially coal, which has the worst emissions of any fuel,” he said.
Bitcoin’s price promptly plunged by more than 10 percent. Tesla said it would begin accepting the cryptocurrency a few months ago, when it also revealed a billion-dollar Bitcoin buy, pushing the price up by more than 10 percent. Bitcoin seems remarkably sensitive to the billionaire’s tweets, and “if one person can dramatically alter spending power, the ‘stable store of value’ criteria of a currency is not met,” Paul Donovan of UBS wrote in a note to clients today.
Bitcoin’s climate problem is hardly a secret. So what gives?
Why now? Tesla only started accepting Bitcoin for car purchases in the U.S. in March. Just over two weeks ago, Zach Kirkhorn, Tesla’s C.F.O., told investors that “it is our intent to hold what we have long term and continue to accumulate Bitcoin from transactions from our customers as they purchase vehicles.” He described the rationale for buying and accepting Bitcoin as, simply, “Elon and I were looking for a place to store cash that wasn’t being immediately used, trying to get some level of return.”
What changed about Tesla’s understanding of energy issues? An entry-level Tesla is worth about 1 Bitcoin, so the company’s $1.5 billion Bitcoin purchase in February far surpasses the amount of crypto it would collect from car sales for a very long time. That raises questions about the vetting and approval process for that investment, which may worry E.S.G. investors, who otherwise look favorably at an electric vehicle company. Did Musk not know about Bitcoin’s environmental impact until now? Who advised him on it? Did climate factor into the board’s approval process?
How does Musk justify the environmental impact of his other companies? SpaceX’s rockets are massive carbon emitters. The Boring Company, his tunnel drilling endeavor, has also faced criticism about its environmental impact.
Did Tesla or Musk sell Bitcoin before the announcement? Musk’s statement said that “Tesla will not be selling any Bitcoin and we intend to use it for transactions as soon as mining transitions to more sustainable energy.” We’ll see whether it made any recent trades when it reports second-quarter results in July. Given the impact Musk’s tweet had on Bitcoin’s price, any action just before or after will be scrutinized.
Did regulation play a role in the reversal? The return policy for cars bought with Bitcoin worked in Tesla’s favor, stipulating that buyers get back Bitcoin if it’s worth less than the equivalent dollar value at purchase but get back dollars if Bitcoin is worth more. That raises many issues, including accounting risks and worries about warranties and other consumer protection laws.
Musk can be an unreliable narrator. On Tuesday, he asked his followers on Twitter if Tesla should accept Dogecoin, the jokey cryptocurrency. (Most said yes.) On Sunday, he announced that SpaceX had taken Dogecoin as payment for shuttling a satellite to the moon. And as host of “Saturday Night Live,” he said that cryptocurrency was both “the future of currency” and “a hustle.”
around $1 billion in so-called meme coins to a Covid relief fund in India.
HERE’S WHAT’S HAPPENING
The Colonial Pipeline resumes operations. The pipeline, which supplies the East Coast with nearly half its transportation fuel, took the first step in restarting after a ransomware attack as panicked consumers rushed to buy gasoline. Normal conditions won’t return for several days.
The C.D.C. approves the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for 12- to 15-year-olds. The move is meant to accelerate school reopenings. Meanwhile, Ohio is creating a lottery with $1 million prizes to encourage residents to get vaccinated, and seven New York Yankees — all fully vaccinated — have been quarantined after testing positive.
Opposition to pandemic unemployment benefits grows. At least 11 Republican-led states plan to end the $300 weekly checks as early as June, amid debate over whether they are contributing to labor shortages. Senator Joe Manchin, Democrat of West Virginia, said he won’t vote to extend them when their authorization expires in September.
amassed a 6 percent stake in the chain, praising its performance during the pandemic and its delivery capabilities. He also hinted that his $5 billion SPAC was working on a complex deal for a well-known company.
Coinbase faces its first test as a publicly traded company. The cryptocurrency exchange will report its first earnings since going public after markets close today. Analysts expect a strong set of numbers, though they’re closely watching for the impact of increased competition.
Markets fear inflation
U.S. stock futures and global indexes are down this morning, following yesterday’s market drop — the third in a row — after consumer price data stoked fears of rising inflation that would test the Fed’s commitment to keeping interest rates low. All that also has the Biden administration increasingly concerned about the fate of its ambitious (and expensive) economic proposals.
The S&P 500 dropped 2 percent, its worst day since February, while the tech-heavy Nasdaq fell 2.7 percent. (The flagship fund of Ark Invest, which bet heavily on high-growth tech darlings, has fallen to a six-month low.) The yield on the 10-year Treasury note jumped to around 1.7 percent, from 1.5 percent a week ago.
said Richard Clarida, the central bank’s Trump-appointed vice chair, though he conceded that yesterday’s numbers were a “surprise.” Clarida cited last week’s disappointing job gains data as a reason for the Fed to stay its course on interest rates. But some economists remain skeptical: “There is a lot of concern that the Fed is behind the curve on this,” Alan Detmeister of UBS told The Times.
The Washington Post reports. Officials from the National Economic Council and the Treasury Department met over the weekend to discuss strategy. And an effort yesterday to woo Republican support for President Biden’s $2.3 trillion infrastructure proposal appeared to gain no converts.
Publicly, administration officials said they were committed to their agenda: “If anything, what we’re seeing are the positive impacts of the rescue plan as they work their way through the recovery,” the economic adviser Jared Bernstein said.
“Those who are least engaged are very comfortable working from home.”
— Sandeep Mathrani, WeWork’s C.E.O., at a Wall Street Journal event. “People are happier when they come to work,” the chief of the office rental company added.
Sewing up the carried interest loophole
Yesterday, Democratic senators introduced the Carried Interest Fairness Act, proposing to end a tax break that benefits real estate, private equity and venture capital investors above all. Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia, the centrist Democrat who doesn’t always toe the party line, is among those proposing to shut the long-debated, little-understood loophole, which is one sign that it may become law after previous false starts.
Investment managers often pay less tax on earnings than other workers. Money from investment returns (or “carry”) is taxed at the capital gain rate, about 20 percent. Regular income is taxed at more than double this rate, when state and local levies are taken into account. Proponents of the practice, who hold a lot of political sway via their connections and donations, say that the funds merely represent a return on investment, not income.
Closing the gap would raise $15 billion over 10 years, according to the Joint Committee on Taxation. “For far too long, hedge fund managers working on Wall Street have not paid their fair share,” Manchin said in a statement.
Donald Trump campaigned on a promise to end the break, but the tax law that emerged from Congress did not address it. The loophole’s persistence surprised even Larry Kudlow, the conservative economist who crafted Trump’s tax plan. “I don’t know how that thing survived,” he said at the time. “I’m sure the lobbying was intense.”
President Biden has also promised a fix. He called on Congress to eliminate the loophole, saying it would be “an important structural change that is necessary to ensure” fairness. The Democrats have narrow majorities in both chambers, but the loophole has proved hard to close.
Shares in Hertz soared after the rental-car company backed a $6 billion takeover bid that includes a rare payout to shareholders of a bankrupt company. (CNBC)
The activist hedge fund ValueAct has taken a 4 percent stake in the owner of 7-Eleven and suggested it favors breaking up the convenience store operator. (Reuters)
Politics and policy
Behind the infighting on how to manage trillion-dollar federal stimulus programs: “It is just staggering how little oversight there is.” (NYT)
The U.S. ran a nearly $2 trillion budget gap in the first seven months of its fiscal year, a record. (WSJ)
David Cameron, the former British prime minister, will testify today about his multimillion-pound work advising the now-failed lender Greensill Capital. (WSJ)
Amazon won an appeal over a $300 million tax bill from the E.U., as American tech giants turn to courts to battle tighter regulation. (NYT)
Facebook’s digital currency project abandoned its application for a Swiss payments license and will focus on operating in the U.S. (CNBC)
An Airbnb pricing algorithm led to wider racial pricing disparities, including for Black hosts, a new study found. (FT)
Best of the rest
JPMorgan Chase and Wells Fargo are among the banks that plan to issue credit cards to people with no credit scores, using deposit account data instead. (WSJ)
Ellen DeGeneres is ending her talk show after two decades, following a ratings slide and accusations of a hostile work environment. (NYT)
How N.B.A. stars turned Top Shot Moments into some of the most popular NFTs around. (NYT)
We’d like your feedback! Please email thoughts and suggestions to email@example.com.
The latest update on the labor market is scheduled to arrive Thursday morning when the government releases its weekly report on jobless claims.
Analysts surveyed by Bloomberg expect that the number of new claims filed will fall slightly from the previous week.
Last week, the Labor Department reported that 505,000 workers filed first-time claims for state benefits in the week that ended May 1. An additional 101,000 new claims were filed for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, a federal program covering freelancers, part-timers and others who do not routinely qualify for state benefits. Neither figure is seasonally adjusted.
The labor market is struggling to return to normal after more than a year of being whipsawed by the pandemic. Restrictions are lifting, businesses are reopening and job listings are on the upswing. Hiring increased in April but at a slower pace than anticipated.
complained of having trouble finding workers. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and several Republican governors have asserted that a temporary $300-a-week federal unemployment supplement has made workers reluctant to return to the job.
The U.S. Labor Department said that as of Wednesday, six states — Iowa, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, North Dakota and South Carolina — had notified the department that they were terminating federal pandemic-related unemployment benefits next month.
The unemployment rates in those states in March, the latest month for which data is available, ranged from 3.7 percent in Iowa to 6.3 percent in Mississippi.
A handful of other states with Republican governors, including Tennessee, Arkansas, Alabama, Wyoming and Idaho, have said they also planned to withdraw from the federal program.
38,000 new cases being reported each day and 600 Covid-related deaths. Less than half the population is fully vaccinated.
There is halting progress from employers as well, as businesses continually update their assessment of costs and customer demand. They are wary of locking themselves in to hiring more workers or raising pay when there is so much uncertainty swirling.
Nationwide, the unemployment rate was 6.1 percent, and there are 8.2 million fewer jobs than in February 2020.
The central fact of the American economy in mid-2021 is that demand for all sorts of goods and services has surged. But supplies are coming back slowly, with the economy acting like a creaky machine that was turned off for a year and has some rusty parts.
The result, as underlined in new government data this week, is shortages and price inflation across many parts of the economy. That is putting the Biden administration and the Federal Reserve in a jam that is only partly of their own making.
Higher prices and the other problems that result from an economy that reboots itself are frustrating, but should be temporary. Still, the longer that the surges in prices continue and the more parts of the economy that they encompass, the greater the chances that Americans’ psychology about prices and inflation could shift in ways that become self-sustaining.
For the last few decades, companies have resisted raising prices or paying higher wages because they felt that doing so would cost them too much business. That put a damper on inflation across the economy. The question is whether current circumstances are evolving in a way that could change that.
shortage of limes, their prices spike and people use more lemons.
after a cyberattack shut down a major pipeline, are truly random events that tell us virtually nothing about underlying supply and demand or future inflation.
Some other sectors seem poised to experience price rises. Restaurants, for example, are complaining of severe labor shortages that are forcing them to curtail service or sharply raise pay for line cooks and dishwashers. If they try to reflect those higher costs in their prices, it will cause the price of food away from home to start rising faster than the (already fairly high) 3.8 percent figure over the last year.
Professional inflation-watchers are on close watch for signs that these forces might be unleashing a form of thinking about price dynamics unseen since the early 1980s, when prices rose in part because everyone expected them to.
The Fed is betting that won’t happen — that even if there are several months of surging prices, it will be at worst a one-time adjustment, and potentially something that reverses as old spending patterns return and workers return to their jobs.
“If past experience is any guide, production will rise to meet the level of goods demand before too long,” the Fed governor Lael Brainard said in a speech this week. “A limited period of pandemic-related price increases is unlikely to durably change inflation dynamics.”
For now, movements in key financial markets mostly align with the Fed view.
Futures contracts for major commodities like oil and copper, for example, suggest that traders expect prices to fall slightly in the years ahead, not rise further.
And in the bond market, even after a surge in longer-term interest rates following the high inflation reading Wednesday, most signs point to future inflation consistent with the 2 percent the Fed aims for.
Still, the level of future inflation implied by those bond prices has risen significantly in the last few weeks, meaning further moves are likely to increase worries that the inflation issues will be not-so-transitory after all. And the pattern could change abruptly if more evidence starts to arrive that the outlook for inflation is becoming unmoored.
“We aren’t obviously on the way to a very high and persistent inflation outcome,” said Brian Sack, director of global economics at the hedge fund D.E. Shaw and a former senior Federal Reserve official. “But we’re at an inflection point, in that the rise in inflation expectations to date has been a policy success, but a rise from here could become a policy problem.”
The Fed may believe that the evidence emerging in various corners of the economy is a one-time occurrence that will fade into memory before too long. The Biden administration is betting its agenda on the same idea.
Ultimately, what matters more than whatever the bond market does is how ordinary Americans who make everyday economic decisions — demanding raises or not, paying more for a car or not — view things. Can they wait for the complex machinery of the American economy to fully crank into gear?
Exclusive: L Brands will spin off Victoria’s Secret
L Brands has decided to spin off Victoria’s Secret rather than sell it, DealBook is first to report. The company said last year it was considering separating Victoria’s Secret from the rest of its business, and we previously reported that it was testing private equity’s interest. Ultimately, sources say, L Brands has decided to split itself into two independent, publicly listed companies: Victoria’s Secret and Bath & Body Works. The deal is expected to close in August.
Bids didn’t match what Victoria’s Secret expects to get in a spinoff. DealBook hears that L Brands received several bids north of $3 billion. It turned them down, because it expects to be valued somewhere between $5 billion and $7 billion in a spinoff to L Brands shareholders. Analysts at Citi and JPMorgan recently valued Victoria’s Secret as a stand-alone company at $5 billion.
The pandemic torpedoed a sale last year for much less. That agreement, announced in February 2020 with the investment firm Sycamore Partners, valued Victoria’s Secret at $1.1 billion. Apart from a pandemic that was about to upend the retail industry, Victoria’s Secret was dealing with a series of challenges: a brand that had fallen out of touch, accusations of misogyny and sexual harassment in the workplace and revelations about the ties between Les Wexner, the company’s founder and former chairman, and Jeffrey Epstein. (Wexner stepped down as C.E.O. last year and said in March that he and his wife are not running for re-election on the company’s board.)
As the pandemic shuttered stores and battered sales, Sycamore sued L Brands to get out of the deal, and L Brands countersued to enforce it, heralding a spate of similar battles between buyers and sellers. Eventually, in May 2020, the sides agreed to call off the deal.
Dick’s Sporting Goods, Michaels and others were able to accelerate digital transformations that may have otherwise taken years. Direct sales at Victoria’s Secret in North America rose to 44 percent of the total last year, from 25 percent the year before. It’s unclear whether pandemic shopping trends will stick, and “it would be reasonable to expect some reversion,” Stuart Burgdoerfer, the L Brands C.F.O., said at a March event. “But I also think that people have very much enjoyed some of the benefits that were forced on us or triggered through the pandemic.”
bump in inflation and that factory-gate prices in China rose more than expected last month. April’s Consumer Price Index data is set to be released today, and is expected to show a sharp rise from a pandemic-depressed level last year.
China’s birthrate slows again. The country’s population is growing at its slowest pace in decades, posing grave social and economic risks to the world’s second-largest economy. While the U.S. also reported a drastic slowdown in population expansion, China “is growing old without first having grown rich,” The Times’s Sui-Lee Wee writes.
President Biden defends federal unemployment benefits. He rejected claims that $300-a-week supplemental payments are deterring unemployed Americans from seeking work, but he ordered the Labor Department to help reinstate work search requirements. Separately, Chipotle said it was raising wages, to an average of $15 an hour, to attract workers.
The Colonial Pipeline is expected to “substantially” reopen within days. The pipeline, which supplies nearly half of the East Coast’s fuel, is expected to restore most services by the weekend after a ransomware attack. U.S. authorities formally blamed a hacker group and pledged to “disrupt and prosecute” the perpetrators.
12- to 15-year-olds in the U.S., potentially helping reopen schools and other parts of the economy more quickly. But while cases are declining worldwide, they are surging in countries that lack vaccines. And the W.H.O. labeled a virus variant spreading fast in India as “of concern.”
Does Amazon need more money?
Amazon sold $18.5 billion worth of bonds yesterday, joining other corporate giants taking advantage of ultralow interest rates to raise money because … well, why not? The e-commerce titan sold some of its debt at a record-low interest rate for a corporate issuer — barely above what the U.S. government pays.
About $1 billion worth of two-year bonds has a yield just 0.1 percentage points above the equivalent in Treasuries. That’s a huge vote of confidence in Amazon, which has emerged as a winner during the pandemic. The company also set a record for yields on a 20-year bond, besting Alphabet. Over all, investors placed $50 billion worth of orders, underscoring enthusiasm for debt that yields next to nothing.
Today in Business
It raised another $1 billion in the form of a sustainability bond, which is meant to finance investments in environmentally minded projects like zero-carbon infrastructure and cleaner transportation. Amazon is the latest company to sell bonds aimed at E.S.G. investors, a market that reached $270 billion last year and could double this year.
To be sure, the bulk of the offering will finance typical corporate maneuvers like share buybacks, acquisitions and capital expenditures, according to the bond prospectus. It will add to the nearly $34 billion in cash that Amazon had on hand at the end of March — as will profits that are growing at extraordinary rates for a company of its size.
a bold bet by the beleaguered retailer that shoppers and workers will flood back there after the pandemic.
offshore tax evasion. “The tax gap is a massive problem, especially the part driven by ultrarich individuals and corporations stashing income overseas,” Senator Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island, the subcommittee chair, told DealBook. That gap “could be as much as a trillion dollars,” he said. “That’s trillion with a ‘T.’” This money would help fund President Biden’s spending plans, which also run into the trillions.
It’s difficult to quantify just how much money goes uncollected each year, officials say. Corporate tax collections in the U.S. are “at historic lows and well below what other countries collect,” according to a recent Treasury report. U.S. multinational companies can be taxed at a 50 percent discount compared with their domestic peers, an incentive to shift profits abroad. “Bermuda, a country of merely 64,000 people, shows 10 percent of all reported U.S. multinational foreign profit,” the report explained.
“The Biden administration is serious about stopping tax cheats and so are we,” Whitehouse said. The hearing, which features I.R.S. and Treasury officials, will discuss legislation to end corporate tax breaks that incentivize profit shifting, a proposed $80 billion investment in I.R.S. enforcement, a new approach to international tax diplomacy and proposed changes to the tax code.
THE SPEED READ
The investment firm TPG named Jon Winkelried as its sole C.E.O.; Jim Coulter, who previously shared the role, will become executive chairman and lead the firm’s E.S.G.-focused funds. (Bloomberg)
Vice Media is closing in on a deal to merge with a SPAC at a $3 billion valuation, which would leave existing investors in control. (WSJ)
Elliott Management has reportedly taken a stake in Duke Energy and plans to push for a change in strategy, after the utility rejected a takeover bid by NextEra Energy. (WSJ)
Politics and policy
In Wall-Streeters-seeking-political-office news: Glenn Youngkin, the former Carlyle Group co-C.E.O., won the Republican nomination for Virginia governor; and Alex Lasry, the son of the hedge fund mogul Marc Lasry, is running for the U.S. Senate in Wisconsin as a Democrat. (NYT, WaPo)
Big semiconductor makers and their customers have formed a new group to push for billions in federal funding to promote chip manufacturing in the U.S. (NYT)
Forty-four state attorneys general warned Facebook against plans to introduce a version of Instagram for children. (NYT)
The Pentagon reportedly may scrap its JEDI cloud-computing program, the subject of a lawsuit by Amazon and criticism from lawmakers. (WSJ)
Veteran traders are bringing old Wall Street tricks to crypto market-making. (Bloomberg)
Best of the rest
NBC said it won’t air next year’s Golden Globes ceremony, the biggest blow yet to the awards show as its organizers face criticism over a lack of diversity. (NYT)
An American court rejected an Australian company’s bid to scrap Ugg as a U.S. trademark. In Australia, it’s a catchall term for sheepskin boots with fleece linings. (NYT)
“How the Zoom era has ruined conversation” (WaPo)
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REHOBOTH BEACH, Del. — Dogfish Head Craft Brewery is struggling to hire manufacturing workers for its beer factory and staff members for its restaurants in this coastal area, a shortage that has grown so acute that the company has cut dining room hours and is now offering vintage cases of its 120 Minute India Pale Ale as a signing bonus to new hires.
The company is using its hefty social media presence “to get the bat signal out” and “entice beverage-loving adults” to join the team, Sam Calagione, the company’s founder, said on a steamy afternoon this month at Dogfish’s brewpub, which was already doing brisk business ahead of vacation season.
Economic activity is expected to surge in Delaware and across the country as people who missed 2020 getaways head for vacations and the newly vaccinated spend savings amassed during months at home.
Yet as they race to hire before an expected summertime economic boom, employers are voicing a complaint that is echoing all the way to the White House: They cannot find enough workers to fill their open positions and meet the rising customer demand.
April labor market report underscored those concerns. Economists expected companies to hire one million people, but data released on Friday showed that they had added only 266,000, even as vaccines became widely available and state and local economies began springing back to life. Many analysts thought labor shortages might explain the disappointment.
Some blame expanded unemployment benefits, which are giving an extra $300 per week through September, for keeping workers at home and hiring at bay. Republican governors in Arkansas, Montana and South Carolina moved last week to end the additional benefits for unemployed workers in their states, citing companies’ labor struggles.
President Biden said on Monday that there was no evidence that the benefit was chilling hiring. In remarks at the White House, he said his administration would make clear that any worker who turned down a suitable job offer, with rare exceptions for health concerns related to the coronavirus, would lose access to unemployment benefits. But school closings, child care constraints and incomplete vaccine coverage were playing a larger role in constraining hiring, the president said.
He called on companies to step up by helping workers gain access to vaccines and increasing pay. “We also need to recognize that people will come back to work if they’re paid a decent wage,” Mr. Biden said.
In tourist spots like Rehoboth Beach, companies face a shortage of seasonal immigrants, a holdover from a ban enacted last year that has since expired. But the behavior of the area’s businesses, from breweries to the boardwalk, suggests that much of the labor shortage also owes to the simple reality that it is not easy for many businesses simultaneously to go from a standstill to an economic sprint — especially when employers are not sure the new boom will last.
The New York Times visited last year to take the temperature of the labor market, think workers will come flooding back in September, when the more generous unemployment benefits expire.
At least 10 people in and around Rehoboth, managers and workers alike, cited expanded payments as a key driver of the labor shortage, though only two of them personally knew someone who was declining to work to claim the benefit.
“Some of them are scared of the coronavirus,” said Alan Bergmann, a resident who said he knew six or seven people who were forgoing work. Mr. Bergmann, 37, was unable to successfully claim benefits because the state authorities said he had earned too little in either Delaware or Pennsylvania — where he was living in the months before the pandemic — to qualify.
Whether it is unemployment insurance, lack of child care or fear of infection that is keeping people home, the perception that the job market is hot is at odds with overall labor numbers. Nationally, payroll employment was down 8.2 million compared with its prepandemic level, and unemployment remained elevated at 6.1 percent in April.
shorti” hoagies each shift for new associates. A local country club is offering referral bonuses and opening up jobs to members’ children and grandchildren. A regional home builder has instituted a cap on the number of houses it can sell each month as everything — open lots, available materials, building crews — comes up short.
Openings have been swiftly increasing — a record share of small business owners report having an opening they are trying to fill — and quit rates have rebounded since last year, suggesting that workers have more options.
Mr. Bergmann is among those who are benefiting. He said he had a felony on his record, and between that and the coronavirus, he was unable to find work last year. He struggled to survive with no income, cycling in and out of homelessness. Now he works a $16-an-hour job selling shirts on the boardwalk and has been making good money as a handyman for the past three months, enough to rent a room.
Brittany Resendes, 18, a server at the Thompson Island Brewing Company in Rehoboth Beach, took unemployment insurance temporarily after being furloughed in March 2020. But she came back to work in June, even though it meant earning less than she would have with the extra $600 top-up available last year.
“I was just ready to get back to work,” she said. “I missed it.”
She has since been promoted to waitress and is now earning more than she would if she were still at home claiming the $300 expanded benefit. She plans to serve until she leaves for the University of Delaware in August, and then return during school breaks.
Scott Kammerer oversees a local hospitality company that includes the brewery where Ms. Resendes works, along with restaurants like Matt’s Fish Camp, Bluecoast and Catch 54. He has been able to staff adequately by offering benefits and taking advantage of the fact that he retained some workers since his restaurants did not close fully or for very long during the pandemic.
optimism and trillions in government spending fuel an economic rebound. If many businesses treat the summer bounce as likely to be short lived, it may keep price gains in check.
At Dogfish Head, the solution has been to also temporarily limit what is on offer. The Rehoboth brewpub has cut its lunches, and its sister restaurant next door is closed on Mondays. Mr. Calagione said he did not want to think about the business they would forgo if they cannot hire the dozens of employees needed by the peak summer season.
But as it offers cases of its cult-favorite beer and signing bonuses to draw new hires, the company seems less focused on another lever: lasting pay bumps. Steve Cannon, a server at Dogfish Head, can walk to what he regards as his retirement job. He said he was not thinking of switching employers, but several co-workers had left recently for better wages elsewhere.
“There’s nobody,” said Mr. Cannon, 57. “So people are going to start throwing money at them.”
When asked if it was raising pay, Dogfish Head said it offered competitive wages for the area.
WASHINGTON — President Biden ordered the Labor Department on Monday to ensure that unemployed Americans cannot draw enhanced federal jobless benefits if they turn down a suitable job offer, even as he rejected claims by Republicans that his weekly unemployment bonus is undermining efforts to get millions of Americans back to work.
Stung from a weekend of criticism over a disappointing April jobs report, Mr. Biden struck a defiant tone, seeking to make clear that he expects workers to return to jobs if they are available, while defending his signature economic policy effort thus far and blaming corporate America, in part, for not doing more to entice people to go back to work.
The president told reporters at the White House that child care constraints, school closures and fears of contracting the coronavirus had hindered job creation last month, and he challenged companies to help workers gain access to vaccines and to raise their pay.
“The last Congress, before I became president, gave businesses over $1.4 trillion in Covid relief,” Mr. Biden said. “Congress may have approved that money, but let’s be clear: The money came from the American people, and it went from the American people to American businesses, many of them big businesses, to help them get through this pandemic and keep their doors open.”
legal confrontation over whether states can cut taxes after taking relief money and using it to solidify their budgets.
the guidance said.
Treasury and White House officials made clear that they would scrutinize how the funds were being used to ensure that state budgets were not being gamed to violate the intent of the law. A new recovery office at the Treasury Department will coordinate with states to help determine if their policies are in line with conditions set forth in the law.
The relief money also cannot be paid into state pension funds to reduce unfunded liabilities.
A White House official would not comment on whether initiatives like Montana’s return-to-work bonuses could be funded using relief money. States and cities are being given broad discretion on how they can use the money, which is intended to replace public sector revenue that was lost during the pandemic; to provide extra pay for essential workers; and to be invested in sewer, water and broadband infrastructure.
Treasury Secretary Janet L. Yellen’s guidance failed to clarify the matter.
“Arizona should not be put in a position of losing billions of dollars because the federal government wants to commandeer states’ tax policies,” Mr. Brnovich said.
The allocation of the funds is also likely to be a contentious matter as the money starts to flow. Some states have complained that states that managed the pandemic well are essentially being penalized because the formula for awarding aid is based on state unemployment rates.
The Treasury Department said on Monday that the states that were hardest hit economically by the pandemic would also get their money faster.
Local governments will generally receive half of the money this month and the rest next year. But states that currently have a net increase in unemployment of more than two percentage points since February 2020 will get the funds in a lump sum right away.
Officials also said Monday that the administration would issue new guidelines meant to speed money from the recovery act to help child care centers reopen, and that the Labor Department would highlight a program that allows some unemployed workers to accept offers of part-time jobs without losing access to the federally supplemented benefits.
Mr. Biden said that the efforts would help the economy recover — and that the rebound from recession remained on track.
“Let’s be clear: Our economic plan is working,” he said. But he said recovery would not always prove to be easy or even. “Some months will exceed expectations,” he said, “others will fall short.”
Good morning and happy Mother’s Day. (Hi, mom!) Here’s the news you need to know for the week ahead in business and tech. — Charlotte Cowles
What’s Up? (May 2-8)
Economists expected the April jobs report to be full of great news — lower unemployment, robust hiring, confetti! And by most measures, they were disappointed. The pace of hiring actually slowed, and the unemployment rate rose slightly, to 6.1 percent, for the first time in a year. What’s going on? It’s complicated. Some lawmakers say that the government’s supplemental unemployment benefits are discouraging people from re-entering the work force, particularly in lower-wage positions. Others point to the millions of Americans who aren’t able to work because they’re managing child care, as many schools still aren’t yet back to normal operations. Either way, the country’s economic recovery isn’t going to be simple.
Is He In, or Out?
It’s been five months since Facebook barred former President Donald J. Trump indefinitely for his role in inciting the Jan. 6 insurrection at the Capitol. As for when to allow him back, the platform kicked the question over to its independent oversight board, a group of about 20 academics, human rights leaders and political figures from around the globe. Last Wednesday, the group upheld Facebook’s ban, but ruled that the company had to establish a clearer policy for it. Facebook now has six months to make a long-term decision about Mr. Trump’s account and create community standards that justify it.
are divorcing. Their eponymous foundation has an endowment of about $50 billion and spent over $1 billion to combat the coronavirus pandemic in the past year alone. The organization released a statement saying that the couple intends to remain co-chairs and trustees, and no changes are expected. Still, the divorce will affect their shared fortune, much of which has been pledged but not yet donated to the foundation. Mr. Gates, 65, co-founded Microsoft and is one of the richest people in the world.
What’s Next? (May 9-15)
Let’s Get Together
President Joseph R. Biden will hold a meeting with the four top House and Senate leaders, from both sides of the aisle, for the first time since taking office. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer, and their Republican counterparts, Kevin McCarthy and Mitch McConnell, are expected to discuss Mr. Biden’s $4 trillion economic agenda and his plans to fund it by taxing the rich. Republican lawmakers have fought the proposals from day one. Sounds like a fun conversation.
The Inflation Debate
Warren Buffett, the chief executive of Berkshire Hathaway, says inflation is rising. The price of building materials and other consumer goods is going up as demand grows and production costs increase. But the Federal Reserve has repeatedly encouraged investors not to fret. Is the economy going to overheat, with interest rates so low? Probably a bit. But slightly higher prices for a temporary period is in step with the Fed’s general aim for an inflation rate of 2 percent on average over time, to make up for exceptionally weak gains over the past several years.
Share the Shots
The Biden administration has backed a temporary suspension of intellectual property rights for coronavirus vaccines, which would allow third-party drugmakers around the world to manufacture and distribute them to nations that need them. But the U.S. pharmaceutical industry is not happy about this, particularly those who hold the patents on these vaccines. (Pfizer alone generated $3.5 billion in revenue from its Covid-19 vaccine in the first three months of this year.) Representatives of the companies argue that suspending those patents will discourage future innovation and potentially decrease the safety standards of vaccine manufacturing and efficacy. Support from the White House does not guarantee that a waiver will happen, but it adds momentum.
WASHINGTON — The disappointing jobs report released Friday by the Labor Department is posing the greatest test yet of President Biden’s strategy to revive the economy, with business groups and Republicans warning that the president’s policies are causing a labor shortage and that his broader agenda risks stoking runaway inflation.
But the Biden administration showed no signs on Friday of changing course, with the president defending the more generous jobless benefits included in the $1.9 trillion bill he signed into law in March and saying the $4 trillion in spending he proposed for infrastructure, child care, education and other measures would help create more and better-paying jobs after the pandemic.
Speaking at the White House, Mr. Biden urged “perspective” on the report, which showed only 266,000 new jobs added in April. He said it would take time for his aid bill to fully reinvigorate the economy and hailed the more than 1.5 million jobs added since he took office. And he rejected what he called “loose talk that Americans just don’t want to work.”
“The data shows that more workers are looking for jobs,” he said, “and many can’t find them.”
Republicans cast the report as a sign of failure for Mr. Biden’s policies, even though job creation has accelerated since Mr. Biden replaced President Donald J. Trump in the White House. They called on his administration to end the $300 weekly unemployment supplement, while several Republican governors — including those in Arkansas, Montana and South Carolina — moved to end the benefit for unemployed people in their states, citing worker shortages.
relief money to subsidize tax cuts, which could further slow the rollout.
Mr. Biden said at the White House that the administration would begin releasing the first batch of money to state and local governments this month. He said the money would not restore all of the lost jobs in one month, “but you’re going to start seeing those jobs in state and local workers coming back.”
The administration also took steps on Friday to get money out the door more quickly, saying the Treasury Department would release $21.6 billion of rental assistance that was included in the pandemic relief legislation to provide additional support to millions of people who could be facing eviction in the coming months.
Officials said they expected increased vaccination rates to ease some lingering fears about returning to jobs in the pandemic. The number of Americans 18 to 64 who are fully vaccinated grew by 22 million from mid-April, when the survey for the jobs report was conducted, to Friday. That was an acceleration from the previous month. Some White House officials said the administration’s push to further increase the ranks of the vaccinated could be the most important policy variable for the economy this summer.
Treasury Secretary Janet L. Yellen, speaking at the White House, said that a lack of child care related to irregular school schedules was making it a challenge to get the labor market back to full strength. She also said that health concerns about the pandemic were holding back some workers who might return to the market.
“I don’t think that the addition to unemployment compensation is really the factor that’s making the difference,” Ms. Yellen said.
She said that she believed the labor market was healthier than the figures released on Friday suggested, but she allowed that the economic recovery would take time.
“We’ve had a very unusual hit to our economy,” Ms. Yellen said, “and the road back is going to be somewhat bumpy.”
Ms. Boushey and Mr. Bernstein said that it appeared the economy was working through a variety of rapid changes related to the pandemic, including supply chain disruptions that have hurt automobile manufacturing by reducing the availability of semiconductor chips and businesses beginning to rehire after a year of depressed activity because of the virus.
“It’s our view that these misalignments and bottlenecks are transitory,” Mr. Bernstein said, “and they’re what you expect from an economy going from shutdown to reopening.”
Other key economic officials treated the report as a sign that the labor recovery ahead is likely to prove wildly unpredictable. Robert S. Kaplan, the president at the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, said in an interview that his economics team had warned him that the April report might show a significant slowdown as shortages of materials — including lumber and computer chips — and labor bit into employment growth.
He said he was hoping to see those supply bottlenecks cleared up, but he was watching carefully in case they did not resolve quickly.
“It shows me that getting the unemployment rate down and moving forward to improved employment to population is going to have fits and starts,” Mr. Kaplan said. He noted that sectors that were struggling to acquire materials, like manufacturing, shed jobs, and he said leisure and hospitality companies would have added more positions if not for challenges in finding labor.
“It’s just one jobs report,” cautioned Tom Barkin, the president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond, in Virginia. But he said labor supply issues could be at play: Some people may have retired, others may have health concerns, and unemployment insurance could be encouraging low-paid workers to stay at home or allowing them to come back on their own terms.
“I get the feeling that people are being choosy,” Mr. Barkin said. “The first question I have in my mind is — is it temporary or is it more structural?”
He said that the supply constraints playing out were likely to fade over time, and that while businesses complain about rising input costs and might have to raise entry-level wages somewhat, he struggled to see that leading to much higher inflation — the kind that would worry the Fed.
The Fed is trying to achieve maximum employment and stable inflation around 2 percent on average. It has pledged to keep its cheap-money policies, which make borrowing inexpensive, in place until it sees realized progress toward those goals.
Neel Kashkari, the president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, said the payrolls disappointment vindicated the Fed’s slow-moving stance.
“I feel very good about our policy approach, which is outcome-based,” Mr. Kashkari said, speaking on a Bloomberg television interview shortly after the report came out. “Let’s actually allow the labor market to recover, let’s not just forecast that it’s going to recover.”