Outside the Pasadena Community Job Center in Pasadena, Calif., in May. A new report on the state’s labor force shows reveals stark inequities among workers affected by the pandemic.

Jobless Claims News: Live Updates

Jobless Claims News: Live Updates

Jobless Claims News: Live Updates

Outside the Pasadena Community Job Center in Pasadena, Calif., in May. A new report on the state’s labor force shows reveals stark inequities among workers affected by the pandemic.
Credit…Damian Dovarganes/Associated Press

New research from California illustrates both the scale and the inequality of the job losses during the pandemic — and makes clear that the crisis is far from over.

Close to half of all California workers — 47 percent of the labor force before the pandemic — have claimed unemployment benefits at some point in the pandemic, according to a report released Thursday by the California Policy Lab, a research organization affiliated with the University of California. The report reveals stark inequities: Nearly 90 percent of Black workers have claimed benefits, compared with about 40 percent of whites. Younger and less-educated workers have been hit especially hard.

The total includes filings under the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program, which has been plagued by fraudulent claims. But even a look at the state’s regular program, which hasn’t faced the same fraud issues, reveals remarkable numbers: Close to three in 10 California workers have claimed benefits during the crisis, and more than four in 10 Black workers. (Black workers, who are more likely to be left out of the regular unemployment system, are overrepresented in the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program.)

“That degree of inequality is mind-blowing,” said Till von Wachter of the University of California, Los Angeles, one of the report’s authors.

Many of the people who lost jobs early in the crisis have since returned to work. But millions more have not. The Policy Lab found that nearly four million Californians had received more than 26 weeks of benefits during the pandemic, a rough measure of long-term unemployment.

“We have solidly shifted into a world where a large-scale problem of long-term unemployment is now a reality,” Dr. von Wachter said. Black workers, older workers, women and those with less education have been more likely to end up out of work for extended periods.

The Policy Lab researchers had access to detailed information from the state that allowed them to track individual workers through the system, something not possible with federal data. The data showed that since last fall, most unemployment filings haven’t come from new applicants but rather from people who returned to work temporarily, then lost their jobs again. How that kind of stop-and-start pattern will affect workers over the long term is unclear, said Elizabeth Pancotti, policy director at Employ America, a group in Washington that has been an advocate for the unemployed.

“It is unlike any other recession,” Ms. Pancotti said. “We know that long-term unemployment has these detrimental long-term effects. We don’t know what happens if you’re out of work for two months, you come back to work for two months, you’re out of work for two months, you keep going back and forth.”

A restaurant in Seattle this month. The economy, while still struggling amid the pandemic, is showing signs of growth as more people are vaccinated.
Credit…Ruth Fremson/The New York Times

The wave of unemployment filings last March provided one of the first clear warnings of the havoc the pandemic was wreaking on the American economy.

One year later, that klaxon is still blaring.

More than 746,000 people filed first-time applications for state unemployment benefits last week, up 24,000 from the prior week, the Labor Department said Thursday. Another 282,000 filed for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, an emergency federal program that covers freelancers, self-employed workers and others who don’t qualify for benefits in normal times. Neither total is adjusted for seasonal trends.

On a seasonally adjusted basis, the figure for initial state claims was 770,000.

Last week was the 52nd straight with elevated unemployment filings. In one week last March, applications jumped tenfold, from fewer than 300,000 to about three million. A week later, they topped six million, as businesses across the country shut down.

The figures have fallen significantly since then but remain higher than in any previous recession, at least by some measures. And progress has stalled: Initial weekly claims under regular and emergency programs, combined, have been stuck at just above one million since last fall.

“It goes up a little bit, it goes down, but really we haven’t seen much progress,” said AnnElizabeth Konkel, an economist for the career site Indeed. “A year into this, I’m starting to wonder, what is it going to take to fix the magnitude problem? How is this going to actually end?”

Most forecasters expect the labor market recovery to accelerate in coming months, as warmer weather and rising vaccination rates allow more businesses to reopen, and as new government aid encourages Americans to go out and spend. Policymakers at the Federal Reserve said on Wednesday that they expected the unemployment rate to fall to 4.5 percent by the end of the year, a significant upgrade over the 5 percent they forecast three months ago.

“We’re already starting to see improvement now, and I think that will start to accelerate fairly quickly,” said Daniel Zhao, an economist at the career site Glassdoor. He called the increase in claims last week a “hiccup,” possibly caused by data quirks in specific states, rather than a more serious sign of erosion in the job market.

A rebound can’t come too soon for rising share of job seekers who are classified as long-term unemployed. As of late February, nearly six million people were enrolled in federal extended-benefit programs that cover people who have exhausted their regular benefits, which last for six months in most states. The aid package signed by President Biden last week ensures that those programs will continue until fall, but benefits alone won’t prevent the damage that prolonged joblessness can do to workers’ careers and mental and physical health.

“The recovery needs to be on the scale of being a once-in-a-generation economic upswing to really pull those people back into the labor market,” Ms. Konkel said.

The Fed chair, Jerome H. Powell, said policymakers would signal “well in advance of any decision” to scale back stimulus measures.
Credit…Pool photo by Jim Lo Scalzo

Stocks on Wall Street were down on Thursday, after another big jump in yields on government bonds signaled that investors continue to worry about inflation and tighter economic policy as the economy recovers.

The trading mirrored moves seen earlier this month. Rising government bond yields reflect expectations for growth, but also the concern that it could lead to price increases that will prompt the Federal Reserve to pull back on its efforts to stimulate the economy.

Rising bond yields are a problem for the stock market, because they dampen the appeal of high-flying investments like technology stocks and mean that borrowing costs for consumers and companies will climb. That could hurt profits and spending throughout the economy.

On Thursday, the yield on 10-year Treasury notes climbed 10 basis points, or 0.1 percentage point, to 1.74 percent, the highest since January 2020. Yields on 30-year notes rose above 2.5 percent, the highest since July 2019.

The S&P 500 was down about 0.2 percent by midday, while the Nasdaq composite was down more than 1 percent.

The jump in yields on Thursday came even after Federal Reserve policymakers had projected that the central bank would not be raising interest rates anytime soon.

Jerome H. Powell, the Fed chair, indicated on Wednesday that he and his colleagues were not ready to even start talking about when they might reduce monetary support, including the bond-buying program.

Bill Papadakis, a strategist at Lombard Odier, said the Fed still left some questions unanswered. Policymakers did forecast higher economic growth and inflation and lower unemployment but left their projections for interest rates unchanged near zero.

“We do not know how far the Fed’s tolerance will extend,” Mr. Papadakis wrote in a note.

One of the Fed’s goals is full employment, which the labor market is still far from reaching. Data from the Labor Department on Thursday showed that 770,000 people filed first-time applications for state unemployment benefits last week, higher than the week before and exceeding economists’ expectations.

  • The pound fell slightly against the dollar and 10-year government bond yields dipped after the Bank of England announced Thursday it would hold interest rates at 0.1 percent and didn’t make any changes to its bond-buying program.

  • Policymakers said in the minutes of their meeting that they wouldn’t tighten monetary policy until there was “clear evidence that significant progress” had been made getting inflation to an annual rate of 2 percent sustainably. The minutes echoed the Fed’s in signaling that any changes to policy weren’t imminent and that they also expected the increase in inflation in coming months to be temporary.

  • The Bank of England also said that it would not increase the pace of its asset purchases. Last week, the European Central Bank decided to speed up its purchases of government and corporate bonds to try to keep borrowing costs down.

Theater ticket sales dropped 72 percent in 2020, while subscriptions to online video services grew 26 percent.
Credit…Karen Ducey/Getty Images

Research released on Thursday put into sharp relief the turn toward streaming services during a year of pandemic lockdowns and movie theater closures.

In 2020, subscriptions to online video providers surpassed 1.1 billion globally, a 26 percent increase from 2019, according to an annual report by the Motion Picture Association on the state of the entertainment industry. (The organization no longer includes “of America” in its name.) The worldwide market for TV and movies watched outside theaters reached $68.8 billion, a 23 percent increase. Ticket sales, in contrast, totaled $12 billion, a 72 percent decline from 2019.

And 55 percent of adults in the United States reported that they had watched more films and TV shows through Netflix, Disney+ or another online portals in 2020. More than 85 percent of children and more than 55 percent of adults watched movies or shows on mobile devices.

They are scary numbers if you are a traditional movie executive in Hollywood. The question is whether the pandemic year has permanently shifted consumer behavior. Will audiences return now that movie theaters are reopening (the nation’s largest multiplex chain, AMC, will have restored operations at 98 percent of its locations by Friday) and studios are no longer delaying their biggest movies (“A Quiet Place Part II,” arrives exclusively in theaters on May 28)?

Perhaps the most telling part of the 63-page report came from reading between the lines. Theatrical statistics have always led the association’s annual accounting, even in years when ticket sales declined. This time, the first 32 pages were devoted almost entirely to home and mobile viewing.

The shift could just be about emphasizing the positive. But it was hard not to view the reordering as telegraphing Hollywood’s new pecking order. The Motion Picture Association has six member studios. Netflix, which joined in 2019, is the newest member. And of the others, Disney, Paramount, Universal and Warner Bros. are all embedded within corporations that are aggressively building streaming services. (Sony is the only exception.)

Leslie H. Wexner, the former chief executive of L Brands, the parent company of Bath & Body Works and Victoria’s Secret.
Credit…Jay LaPrete/Associated Press

Leslie H. Wexner, the longtime chief executive of L Brands who retired last year, said on Thursday that he and his wife, Abigail, would not stand for re-election to the retailer’s board in May. The move signals a major step away from the company he built and its brands, Bath & Body Works and Victoria’s Secret.

The company, based in Columbus, Ohio, also said it had appointed two female executives to the board as independent members. In May, once the Wexners leave, six of the company’s 10 board members will be women, including its chair, and nine will be independent.

The new directors are Francis Hondal, president of loyalty and engagement at Mastercard, and Danielle Lee, chief fan officer for the National Basketball Association.

The changes come after reporting from The The New York Times last year showed that Mr. Wexner and his former chief marketing officer, Ed Razek, presided over an entrenched culture of misogyny, bulling and harassment at L Brands and Victoria’s Secret. The retailer and its parent company came under intense scrutiny for the lack of women in executive roles and on the board, as well as a dearth of independent oversight. L Brands, which is trying to spin off Victoria’s Secret, has been responding to the criticism by installing new executives, showcasing more diverse body types in its advertising and making changes to its board.

Mr. Wexner, who is considered the modern-day founder of Victoria’s Secret, also attracted unwanted attention after his close ties to the convicted sex criminal Jeffrey Epstein came to light in 2019. A law firm working on behalf of two independent L Brands board members contacted multiple current and former Victoria’s Secret employees last year, saying that it was investigating “allegations raised in shareholder demand letters and civil complaints concerning, among other things, connections between L Brands and Jeffrey Epstein,” The Times reported in November.

Jerome Powell, the chair of the Federal Reserve.
Credit…Eric Baradat/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Jerome H. Powell, the chair of the Federal Reserve, struck a characteristically cautious tone about the digital future of money during remarks on Thursday about the outlook for payments.

Any digital currency offered by a central bank “needs to coexist with cash and other types of money in a flexible and innovative payment system,” Mr. Powell said, speaking in a recorded video at a Bank for International Settlements event. He was emphasizing a finding from a recent report by a group of global central banks.

Mr. Powell said that the Fed’s Washington-based board was experimenting with central bank digital currencies, and that the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston was collaborating with researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology on “complementary efforts.”

But the Fed has been a relatively slow mover when it comes to digital currencies, arguing that as the steward of the U. S. dollar, which is central to the global economy, it needs to move carefully rather than quickly when it comes to embracing the emerging technology. Some central banks in other countries are further along in their programs to develop digital cash — Sweden has been examining digital currency since 2017, and the Bahamas recently offered a so-called digital “sand dollar.”

The U.S. central bank is working on modernizing the payment system in other ways. It is setting up a faster or instant payments system, called FedNow, which is set to begin in 2023 or 2024. The service, details of which were released midway through 2020, is meant to offer round-the-clock processing and advanced security features. The goal is to streamline the nation’s clunky money transfer system, which can now take several days to clear checks and move funds into recipients’ accounts.

And Mr. Powell noted that the Financial Stability Board, a global organizing and oversight body, has set out a road map for improving payments across country lines.

“The Covid crisis has brought into even sharper focus the need to address the limitations of our current arrangements for cross-border payments,” Mr. Powell said.

Mr. Powell’s remarks come immediately on the heels of the central bank’s March meeting on Wednesday, at which officials left interest rates on hold near-zero and signaled that they expect to keep them at rock bottom for years to come — even as the economy heats up. He offered no further details about the economic outlook or the Fed’s economic policy plans in his prepared remarks.

Sundar Pichai, the chief executive of Google, said the expansion would create 10,000 jobs at the company this year.
Credit…Brandon Wade/Reuters

Google said Thursday that was planning to invest $7 billion in offices and data centers in 19 states this year. It is the latest tech giant to expand its footprint while other companies retrench in a commercial real estate market roiled by the pandemic.

Sundar Pichai, Google’s chief executive, said in a blog post that the move would create 10,000 jobs at the company this year. Alphabet, Google’s parent company, employed around 135,000 people at the end of 2020.

The plan includes investments in data centers in places like Nebraska, South Carolina and Texas. The company recently opened its first office in Minnesota and an operations center in Mississippi. It will open its first office in Houston this year.

“Coming together in person to collaborate and build community is core to Google’s culture,” Mr. Pichai wrote. Google was one of the first companies to tell employees to work from home in the early stages of the pandemic, and it now expects workers to begin returning to offices in September. When that happens, it will test a “flexible workweek,” with employees spending at least three days a week in the office.

Other large companies have recently announced similar moves allowing more remote work. Ford Motor said on Wednesday that it would transition to a “flexible hybrid work model,” allowing workers to stay home for focused work. Target said last week that it would transition to a partial-remote model. And Salesforce said in February that it was adopting a “Work From Anywhere” plan that would give its employees flexibility in how, when and where they work.

Ford, which has its main campus in Dearborn, Mich., will transition to a model in which some employees work from home part of the time.
Credit…Rebecca Cook/Reuters

Many of Ford Motor’s employees to continue to work remotely at least some of the time after the pandemic is over.

The company said on Wednesday that it would transition to a “flexible hybrid work model” that will allow workers to stay home for focused work and come into the office for collaboration-based activities, such as team-building exercises.

In the United States, Ford has more than 30,000 employees working remotely because of the pandemic. The new system will go into effect in July, when the company, which has its main campus in Dearborn, Mich., expects to gradually start bringing more employees back to the office, it said.

“Every non-place-dependent employee, from our leadership team on down, will participate in the hybrid approach,” Kiersten Robinson, the company’s chief people officer, wrote in a handbook distributed to employees. “While we recognize this will take different skill sets and resources, we see it as a great accelerator and competitive advantage for the company. It will enable us to be agile and nimble, and to unleash the full potential of our team.”

Ford is the latest company to announce that remote work will continue even after the pandemic ends.

In February, San Francisco-based Salesforce said it would not require the majority of its global work force to return to the office after the pandemic is over, adopting a “Work From Anywhere” plan that would give its employees flexibility in how, when and where they work. Target also has said it would transition to a partial-remote model and would shed some of its office space.

Special acquisition companies, or SPACs, have raised more than $84 billion so far this year, a milestone for one of Wall Street’s hottest trends.

Also known as “blank check” companies, SPACs are publicly traded shell companies that raise money to acquire an unspecified private company at some point in the future, usually within two years.

As of Wednesday, the value of funds raised by blank-check companies had surpassed the total raised in all of 2020, which was a record for SPAC listings. According to Dealogic, so far this year, 264 SPACs have listed their shares, compared with 256 last year.

SPACs sitting on some $135 billion are seeking takeover targets, according to SPAC Research. Because they typically buy companies five times their size, by taking on outside investors at the time of acquisition, that implies buying power of well over $600 billion, setting up a scramble for deals in the coming months.

Some SPAC deals have run into trouble, most recently Lordstown Motors, an electric vehicle company that went public through a blank-check firm last year. It said on Wednesday that it was cooperating with an inquiry from the Securities and Exchange Commission, after an investment firm accused it of misleading investors about its business prospects.

Returns for investors in SPACs can be heavily tilted toward the initial sponsors and investors who buy shares early, before an acquisition is made. The latest frenzy has also attracted a host of celebrities to join SPAC teams as advisers or investors, including Jay-Z and Serena Williams, helping attract attention in an increasingly crowded field. The S.E.C. recently issued a warning to investors that said, “It is never a good idea to invest in a SPAC just because someone famous sponsors or invests in it.”

  • The Internal Revenue Service will give Americans until May 17 to file their taxes, the agency said Wednesday. The I.R.S. emphasized that the extra time is only for federal returns, not state returns, so taxpayers should check with their state tax agencies about any deadline changes. It also does not apply to estimated tax payments that are due on April 15, which are still due on that day.

  • The Federal Reserve’s latest projections showed that the central bank’s policymakers don’t anticipate an increase in interest rates at least until 2023. The Fed is also buying $120 billion in bonds per month — $80 billion in Treasury securities, plus $40 billion in mortgage-backed debt. Jerome Powell, the Fed chair, indicated on Wednesday that the Fed was not ready to even start talking about when it might reduce that support. “We’ll be carefully looking ahead,” he said. “When we see that we’re on track” then “we’ll say so, and we’ll say so well in advance of any decision to actually taper.”

Wages at plants that have successfully avoided unionization have tended to be substantially higher than the typical wage in their areas. At Amazon’s Bessemer, Ala., facility, workers make nearly $3 less than the median income in the area.
Credit…Bob Miller for The New York Times

The most recent figure for the median wage in the greater Birmingham, Ala., was nearly $3 above Amazon’s pay at its warehouse in Bessemer, despite Amazon promoting that most rank-and-file workers there make around $15.50 an hour.

It is common for employers facing a union vote to emphasize the generosity of their wages and to suggest that workers could be worse off if they unionize, Noam Scheiber reports for The New York Times.

The catch is that wages at plants that have successfully avoided unionization have tended to be substantially higher than the typical wage in their areas, reinforcing workers’ sense that they had something valuable to lose.

  • Veteran production workers made $23.50 an hour at a Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga, Tenn., in 2019 when unionization was considered there.

  • The comparable figure was $23 at Boeing’s South Carolina facility when workers voted on a union.

  • At Nissan’s Mississippi plant during the vote there, also in 2017, the number was $26.

The union lost in all three cases.

By contrast, unions have been successful when companies have held down wages. During the first half the 2010s, workers unionized at several auto parts suppliers in Alabama and elsewhere in the South, often citing low pay and benefits as the impetus.

In 2015, employees at Commercial Vehicle Group in Piedmont, Ala., which made seats for trucks, voted to join the United Automobile Workers union by a roughly two-to-one ratio. Workers at the plant complained of wages that started as low as $9.70 an hour for temporary workers and topped out at $15.80 for full-time employees.

“Workers always say this: It’s about respect, recognition,” said Gary Casteel, the U.A.W.’s former second-ranking official, who helped oversee much of its organizing in the South. “That’s not the case. It is about the money. Everybody wants to get paid more.”

The Commerce Department said on Wednesday that it had served subpoenas to multiple Chinese companies asking them to provide the government with more information on their use and transfers of American data, to ensure that sensitive information was not being shared with China.

The department did not clarify which Chinese companies were affected.

“In issuing subpoenas today, we are taking an important step in collecting information that will allow us to make a determination for possible action that best protects the security of American companies, American workers and U.S. national security,” Gina Raimondo, the commerce secretary, said in a statement.

“The administration is firmly committed to taking a whole-of-government approach to ensure that untrusted companies cannot misappropriate and misuse data and ensuring that U.S. technology does not support China’s or other actors’ malign activities,” she said.

The subpoenas are part of a review of company activities connected to an executive order issued by the Trump administration on the information and communications technology and services industry.

The order would give the Commerce Department sweeping powers to police transactions by companies in the industry that are owned by foreign nations and pose a risk to American national security. The measure, which was first issued in May 2019, has been criticized for its vague wording and for leaving so much discretion to the commerce secretary.

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