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Continuing Job Losses Put Spotlight on Economic Relief

Mr. Biden has proposed a $1.9 trillion stimulus package that would include $1,400 in direct payments to individuals, expanded unemployment benefits and money for hard-pressed states and cities.In written testimony released Thursday as part of her Senate confirmation process, Janet L. Yellen, Mr. Biden’s nominee for Treasury secretary, reiterated the urgency of renewed aid.“Unemployment remains troublingly high, and millions of families are facing hunger or the risk of eviction,” Ms. Yellen, a former Federal Reserve chair, told a questioner. “Additional relief is needed to strengthen the economy, address our public health challenge and provide relief to communities that have …

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Unemployment Claims Rise Sharply, Showing New Economic Pain

Ten months after the coronavirus crisis decimated the labor market, the resurgent pandemic keeps sending shock waves through the American economy.Though more than half of the 22 million jobs lost last spring have been regained, a new surge of infections has prompted shutdowns and layoffs that have hit the leisure and hospitality industries especially hard, dealing a setback to the recovery.The latest evidence came on Thursday when the Labor Department reported that initial claims for state unemployment benefits rose sharply last week, exceeding one million for the first time since July.Just days earlier, the government announced that employers …

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December Jobs Report: Recovery Goes Into Reverse

The already sputtering economic rebound went into reverse last month as employers laid off workers amid rising coronavirus cases and delayed government aid.U.S. employers cut 140,000 jobs in December, the Labor Department said Friday. It was the first net decline in payrolls since last spring’s mass layoffs and followed five straight months in which hiring had slowed.The report was a grim capstone to a year in which the economy lost more than nine million jobs, the worst on a percentage basis since World War II. It also means that President Trump will be the first chief executive …

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Biden Selects Heads of Labor, Commerce and Small Business Agencies

Ms. Raimondo, a moderate Democrat with a background in the financial industry, has served as governor since 2015. She is seen as a relatively traditional choice for commerce secretary, a post that oversees not only relations with the business community but also technology regulation, weather monitoring and the gathering of economic data, among other duties.As governor of Rhode Island, Ms. Raimondo introduced training programs, cut taxes, and eliminated regulations and offered new loans to support businesses. She clashed with unions but ultimately found compromise as she overhauled the state pension plan.Before running for office, she was a founding employee …

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New Signs of Economic Distress Emerge as Trump Imperils Aid Deal

With the fate of a federal aid package suddenly thrown into doubt by President Trump, economic data on Wednesday showed why the help is so desperately needed.Personal income fell in November for the second straight month, the Commerce Department said Wednesday, and consumer spending declined for the first time since April, as waning government aid and a worsening pandemic continued to take a toll on the U.S. economy.Separate data from the Labor Department showed that applications for unemployment benefits remained high last week and have risen since early November.Taken together, the reports are the latest evidence …

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Further Slowdown in Job Creation Sets Off Economic Alarms

The American job engine has slowed significantly, stranding millions who have yet to find work after being idled by the pandemic, and offering fresh evidence that the recovery is faltering.The Labor Department reported Friday that employers added 245,000 jobs in November, fewer than half the number created in October. The pace of hiring has now diminished for five straight months.While many of those knocked out of a job early in the pandemic have been rehired, there are roughly 10 million fewer jobs than there were in February. Many of the unemployed are weeks away from losing benefits that have sustained …

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Jobs Report Shows Gains but Vulnerability to New Coronavirus Surge

The American economy continues to heal from the devastating effects of the first wave of the coronavirus pandemic last spring, but a new wave of cases threatens prospects for sustained growth.

The Labor Department reported Friday that employers added 638,000 jobs in October, a figure that would have been larger without a drop in temporary census workers.

But the engines behind much of the gain — bars and restaurants, which added 192,000 jobs, and retailing, which picked up 104,000 — represent some of the jobs most at risk from a resurgence in coronavirus cases.

Public health experts have linked a return to indoor dining and drinking establishments with increased cases of Covid-19, and those businesses face renewed restrictions as the outbreak worsens. Cooler temperatures are already curtailing outdoor dining, a lifeline for restaurants in many parts of the country.

Similarly, if apprehensive consumers stay away from shopping centers, retail hiring could be curtailed as the year-end shopping season approaches.

Job openings have been weaker than expected as retailers gear up for the holidays, according to Daniel Zhao, senior economist at the jobs site Glassdoor. “This could point to more muted spending and hiring,” he said. And despite the recent gains, employment in the leisure and hospitality sector and among retailers is well below levels that prevailed before the pandemic.

Still, there was a notable bright spot in the October report: the unemployment rate fell to 6.9 percent from 7.9 percent.

“It’s better than expected, but we’re starting to see headwinds,” Diane Swonk, chief economist at the accounting firm Grant Thornton in Chicago, said of the report. “The drop in the unemployment rate is welcome news, but there are still over 11 million unemployed workers.”

Unemployment rate

By Ella Koeze·Unemployment rates are seasonally adjusted.·Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

After strong gains in the third quarter, the pace of economic growth has eased as federal relief measures enacted at the pandemic’s onset have begun to expire. Prospects of another round of aid have faded with Democrats and Republicans at odds over the size of the package.

The Labor Department report also underscored the uneven nature of the pandemic-induced recession and subsequent recovery, in which low-wage employees have fared far worse than more highly skilled workers.

In October, the unemployment rate for high school graduates stood at 8.1 percent, while joblessness among college graduates was 4.2 percent.

“Low wage-workers have just been decimated,” Ms. Swonk said. “They are most at risk of falling into the ranks of the impoverished.”

Indeed, even as the unemployment rate has come down, joblessness for many has become more prolonged. The Labor Department said the number of long-term unemployed — those without work for 27 weeks or more — grew to 3.6 million in October, an increase of 1.2 million.

Share of unemployed who have been out of work 27 weeks or longer

By Ella Koeze·Data is seasonally adjusted.·Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

One-third of all unemployed workers now fall into the long-term category, the highest share since 2014. That could also spell trouble ahead, because the long-term unemployed often find it more difficult to find work again even as jobs become available.

What’s more, the government reported the number of people accepting part-time jobs because full-time work was unavailable grew by 383,000, to 6.7 million, an indication of increasing desperation.

Millions of unemployed workers have had a harder time paying bills since an emergency federal program providing $600 a week in additional benefits expired at the end of July. Another set of federal jobless benefits will last only through the end of the year.

The Economic Policy Institute, a left-leaning research group, estimates that more than 30 million workers have lost jobs or had their hours or pay reduced in the coronavirus-related downturn.

With the Senate remaining in Republican hands, as election returns suggest, any further relief will probably be more modest than the multitrillion-dollar package that seemed likely if a “blue wave” had given Democrats control of Congress and the White House. As a result, Carl Tannenbaum, chief economist at Northern Trust in Chicago, has cut his estimate of growth next year by a full percentage point.

“The good news is that the U.S. job market is healing,” Mr. Tannenbaum said. “But full recuperation may take awhile.”

Unemployed Americans are gradually returning to the job market, with the labor force growing by 724,000 in October. The employment-population ratio, the share of adults who are working, rose to 57.4 percent from 56.6 percent in September — though it was still far short of the 61.2 percent recorded a year earlier.

Nicole Zappone of Naugatuck, Conn., is one of the lucky ones, after having returned to work in August following a harrowing six months of unemployment.

Credit…Christopher Capozziello for The New York Times

“It was the worst part of my life,” said Ms. Zappone, 30, who took to reading novels by James Patterson and Michael Connelly to get through each day’s lonely hours. “I’ve been working since I was 14, and this was the first time I was laid off. And it was hard to comprehend.”

In years past, she had worked in a consignment shop and done babysitting and dog walking. Finding work had never been hard — until now.

Indeed, when she was let go as a substitute teacher in Waterbury, Conn., in March, she had no idea how severe the impact of the virus and the ensuing lockdown would be. By summer, she was applying for job after job on with no response.

“I felt like a failure, even though I knew it was beyond my control,” she said. “I can’t tell you how many jobs I applied for.”

When she got a nibble from a local information technology company for a public relations job, she couldn’t believe her luck. One week after a phone interview, she was hired for a 20-hour-a-week position that she hopes will become full time. She is working from home and has been in the office only once — to sign her contract.

“I love it,” she said. “I get to use my passion for writing and talk to people from all over the country.”

For others, regaining a job has been a bigger challenge.

Jodi Jackson, 57, worked as a buyer for J.C. Penney at the company’s headquarters in Plano, Texas, until she was laid off in April 2019. She has looked for a job as a buyer at other chains, with no success. And she has considered moving into another field.


Credit…Zerb Mellish for The New York Times

“I could do sales, and I’ve tried to switch, but unless you know somebody, it’s hard to get an interview,” Ms. Jackson said.

“I was born to be a buyer,” she added. “I would buy screws and nails for Home Depot at this point.”

Ms. Jackson worked for the Census Bureau for three months, but that job ended last month. “I don’t live above my means,” she said. She sold her condominium in Ann Arbor, Mich., before moving to Plano in 2019, she said, and has mostly been living off the proceeds of that sale. (She collected unemployment benefits after her J.C. Penney layoff, and may do so again based on the loss of the census job.)

She took a temporary job as a cashier at Macy’s during the holiday rush last year. “It was only $9.45 an hour, which was a fraction of what I earned at J.C. Penney,” she said. “But I wanted to work and to be around people. And retail is something I know.”

Ms. Jackson has ruled out another holiday season at Macy’s because the pay is too low. And despite the industry’s worsening problems, she hasn’t given up hope. On Wednesday, a retailer based in Plano asked her to come in for a third interview next week.

“I feel really positive,” she added. “I’m going to get a job.”

Jeanna Smialek contributed reporting.

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Labor Department Curbs Announcements of Company Violations

For years, the Labor Department has made a practice of issuing sternly worded news releases calling out companies deemed by its enforcement staff to have violated the law, including rules governing discrimination, worker safety, the minimum wage and overtime.

But the department’s appetite for using that spotlight appears to have waned.

In a Sept. 24 memo, a copy of which was obtained by The New York Times, Deputy Secretary Patrick Pizzella instructed the heads of the department’s enforcement agencies that “absent extraordinary circumstances,” the findings of their agencies “generally should not be the basis” for news releases.

Mr. Pizzella argued that such releases tend to linger prominently in search results about companies and can prove misleading if a citation or other enforcement action “is ultimately found to be unjustified.” He instructed officials responsible for enforcing labor and employment laws to generally refrain from issuing releases until after a matter has reached its conclusion — for example, once a court has issued a judgment or an employer has reached a settlement with the department.

Citations are often issued at roughly the same point in the enforcement process that a prosecutor would bring an indictment in a criminal matter.

The memo may be having some effect already. Since its flurry of releases about citations in mid-September, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration has not issued discrete news releases about particular companies for Covid-related violations, instead providing a weekly summary of proposed penalties with a table listing up to three dozen companies that have recently been cited.

The summaries include little detail about what violations the companies may have committed and no comments from department officials.

News of the memo alarmed some experts in workplace regulation, who see publicizing violations as one of the most cost-effective tools the department has for ensuring compliance with regulations, such as those enforced by OSHA.

“OSHA is a tiny agency, and if it doesn’t amplify the impact of its inspections it will have very little effect on almost every workplace in the United States,” said David Michaels, an epidemiologist who headed the agency under President Barack Obama. “The basis of every inspection is to increase deterrence.”

A Labor Department spokeswoman said, “The departmental memo is part of an effort to take a more thoughtful and deliberative approach that informs the public about bad actors while allowing accused labor unions and employers the opportunity to defend themselves.”

She added that the recent, consolidated announcements of Covid-related violations were a response to the rising number of such citations — “to make it easier for the public to see all of the establishments.”

Dr. Michaels, who now teaches at the George Washington University School of Public Health, is credited for increasing the practice of issuing news releases when he was at the department.

In 2009, he helped make it OSHA policy to put out a news release in any case where the agency had proposed a fine of roughly $40,000 or more. At the time, Dr. Michaels said the purpose was to discourage other employers from running afoul of OSHA rules. Borrowing from an academic literature on the subject, he called the approach “regulation by shaming.”

An article by the Duke University economist Matthew S. Johnson, published this year in The American Economic Review, concluded that the policy had largely achieved its goals. Mr. Johnson found that an OSHA news release led to a more than 70 percent reduction in violations at facilities in the same sector within roughly three miles of the company cited, and a 30 percent reduction in violations at facilities within 30 miles.

According to Mr. Johnson’s analysis, the releases created negative publicity in the local press, mobilizing workers at other companies to increase pressure on employers.

To have the same impact as a single news release through inspections alone, Mr. Johnson estimated, OSHA would need to perform more than 200 additional safety inspections.

After President Trump’s inauguration in 2017, it was unclear if his administration would continue the practice. But after Alexander Acosta, Mr. Trump’s first labor secretary, was sworn in that April, the department largely resumed its publicity strategy, albeit with less frequency.

Under the Obama administration, the news releases “tended to be scathing, inflammatory, embarrassing for the company,” said Eric J. Conn, a lawyer who represents employers in OSHA enforcement actions and follows the department’s releases closely. “There was a lot of, ‘This company made employees choose between their lives and a paycheck, that sort of tone.’”

“What was really surprising to us was when the Trump administration started issuing press releases again, they maintained those D.O.L. and OSHA official quotations,” Mr. Conn added. “They were maybe marginally less inflammatory, but they still followed that same pattern.”

That appeared to continue through the pandemic. In the second week of September, the department issued a series of news releases citing employers for Covid-related violations. Among them was a release about a plant owned by the pork producer Smithfield Foods and a separate release about a plant owned by its fellow meatpacking giant JBS, both of which were cited for “failing to protect employees from exposure to the coronavirus.”

“Employers need to take appropriate actions to protect their workers from the coronavirus,” OSHA’s Denver-area director said in the release about JBS.

Arthur G. Sapper, a lawyer at Ogletree Deakins who represents employers in such matters, said such releases undermined the rule of law.

“Employers spend decades and resources, often in the millions of dollars, to ensure their good name, and they treat their customers well, and they believe they treat employees well,” Mr. Sapper said. “But with one press release issued by a prosecution-minded agency without any review by an impartial observer, all that can be destroyed. And it stays destroyed even if the employer is later vindicated.”

Mr. Sapper said that he was aware of several instances in which citations were thrown out but the employer could not undo the damage caused by OSHA’s news releases. Mr. Conn argued that the department could just as easily wait until the cases were fully resolved before issuing a news release and still have a steady flow of enforcement actions to publicize.

But M. Patricia Smith, the Labor Department’s top lawyer under President Obama from 2010 to 2017, said publicizing the findings of enforcement actions was standard practice across government, including at the Justice Department, where prosecutors routinely publicize charges before any trial or settlement.

“Press releases are good compliance tools,” Ms. Smith said. “You want the general public, the regulated public, to know what you’re doing.”

She said it was relatively simple for the department to update a news release on its website if the case status changed.

Dr. Michaels said waiting until the legal process runs its course could take years, as deep-pocketed companies contest and appeal. “It will have no effect if it will occur long after the inspection occurs,” he said.