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Janet Yellen Set to Lead Treasury Department Under Biden

WASHINGTON — Janet L. Yellen became an economist at a time when few women entered the profession and fewer still rose in a male-dominated environment. She is now poised to become the first female Treasury secretary and one of few people to ever have wielded economic power from the White House, the Federal Reserve and the president’s cabinet.

Her expected nomination would come as rebuilding a U.S. economy battered by the coronavirus pandemic and saddled with high unemployment presents a central challenge for President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s administration.

While Ms. Yellen is not the type of firebrand nominee some progressives might have hoped for — she has warned that the United States is borrowing too much money, a fact that some liberals count against her — she has paid consistent, careful attention to inequality and labor market outcomes, even when doing so earned her backlash from lawmakers.

As the chair of the Federal Reserve from 2014 to 2018, Ms. Yellen also oversaw an extremely slow set of interest rate increases as she and her colleagues tested whether unemployment could fall further without leading to higher prices. Her patience drew criticism from inflation-wary economists at the time, but the policies laid the groundwork for a strong labor market and a record-long expansion that drove unemployment to its lowest rate in 50 years before the pandemic turned the world upside down.

Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, one of the most prominent progressive Democrats in Congress, wrote on Twitter that Ms. Yellen “would be an outstanding choice for Treasury Secretary.”

But she faces a steep challenge: As Treasury secretary, Ms. Yellen will be at the forefront of navigating the economic fallout created by a pandemic that continues to inflict damage. While growth is recovering from earlier coronavirus-related lockdowns, infections are climbing and local governments are restricting activity again, most likely slowing that rebound.

Ms. Yellen has been a clear champion of continued government support for workers and businesses, publicly warning that a lack of aid to state and local governments could slow recovery, much as it did in the aftermath of the Great Recession, when Ms. Yellen was leading the Fed.

“While the pandemic is still seriously affecting the economy, we need to continue extraordinary fiscal support,” she said in a Bloomberg Television interview in October. She called fiscal support early in the crisis “extremely impressive” but noted that key provisions had lapsed.

Unlike the independent Fed, Ms. Yellen as Treasury secretary would find herself in a much more political role — one that is likely to require negotiating with a Republican-controlled Senate. With Mr. Biden expected to push for additional economic aid, Ms. Yellen would be central to brokering a stimulus deal in a politically divided Congress that has so far failed to agree on another round of aid.

Ms. Yellen declined to comment on her expected nomination, which was reported earlier by The Wall Street Journal.

She would be the first woman to hold a job that has been dominated by white men — like Alexander Hamilton — throughout its 231-year history and would have held the government’s top three economic jobs, including leading the White House Council of Economic Advisers during the Clinton administration.

A former academic who taught at the University of California, Berkeley, Ms. Yellen was also the president of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, a Fed governor and the Fed vice chair before becoming the central bank’s first female chair.

Ms. Yellen said she wanted to be reappointed when her term as Fed chair ended in 2018, but President Trump, eager to install his own pick, decided against renominating her.

By replacing Ms. Yellen, Mr. Trump broke with precedent. The previous three Fed chairs had been reappointed by presidents of the opposite political party.

Instead, Mr. Trump chose Jerome H. Powell, the Fed’s current chair, with whom Ms. Yellen could soon be working closely as Treasury secretary. The two still talk, and Ms. Yellen has consistently praised Mr. Powell’s performance at the Fed, suggesting they would have a good relationship.

Born in Brooklyn in 1946, Ms. Yellen was raised in Bay Ridge, a middle-class neighborhood across the waterfront from Staten Island. Her mother was a teacher who stayed home to raise Ms. Yellen and her brother. Her father was a family doctor. She was both valedictorian and editor of the newspaper at her high school.

She attended Brown University and went on to receive a doctorate from Yale. In an interview in 2013 with Simon Bowmaker, an economics professor at New York University, Ms. Yellen explained her rationale for becoming an economist, saying she had always liked the rigor of math but economics offered something more.

“I care about people,” she said. “I discovered that economics was of enormous relevance to our lives and had the potential to make the world a better place.”

She met her husband, George A. Akerlof, an economist who is now a Nobel laureate, while working in a research position at the Fed in 1977.

Ms. Yellen has spent her post-Fed years at the Brookings Institution, occupying an office close to Ben S. Bernanke, who preceded her as Fed chair, and other former Fed officials. They call their corridor the “F.O.M.C., Former Open Market Committee,” a play on the central bank’s rate-setting Federal Open Market Committee.

Ms. Yellen is a Keynesian economist, which means she believes markets have imperfections and sometimes need to be rerouted or kick-started by government intervention.

As Fed chair, she gave important speeches — including one at the storied annual conference in Jackson Hole, Wyo. — advocating continued watchfulness and wariness when it came to financial overhauls instituted after the 2008 crisis. She has struck a concerned tone about regulatory rollbacks under the Trump administration.

“It is certainly appropriate to simplify regulations that impose unnecessary burdens, particularly on small community banks,” she said in 2019. “But I’m greatly concerned that the regulatory work needed to address financial stability risk has stalled. There have been some worrisome reversals.”

She is relatively moderate on many topics, including trade. Mr. Akerlof recalled in a biographical note in 2001 that when he met her: “Not only did our personalities mesh perfectly, but we have also always been in all but perfect agreement about macroeconomics. Our lone disagreement is that she is a bit more supportive of free trade than I.”

Ms. Yellen has been a major influence on leading officials at the Fed. John C. Williams, who worked for her in San Francisco, now leads the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. Mary C. Daly, who now leads the San Francisco Fed, cites Ms. Yellen as a key mentor.

That, along with Ms. Yellen’s experience working with Mr. Powell, could help facilitate the kind of close relationship needed between the Fed and Treasury, which are collaborating on a variety of crisis response programs.

Henry M. Paulson Jr., who served as Treasury secretary under President George W. Bush, praised the selection. He said Ms. Yellen “will have a tough job ahead of her, but she has the experience, talent, credibility and relationships with members of Congress on both sides of the aisle to make a real difference.”

While the other leading contenders for the job also had extensive experience that spanned fiscal and monetary policy, Ms. Yellen was seen as well placed to make it through Senate confirmation, even if Republicans maintain control of the chamber.

Lael Brainard, another top candidate for the role, is the only remaining Fed governor from the Democratic Party on the seven-member board, which currently has two open slots. She might have been difficult to replace at the Fed: Nominees have been hard to confirm over the past decade, and the Senate may remain under Republican control.

While leading the Fed, Ms. Yellen at times had a testy relationship with congressional Republicans. In one instance, Representative Mick Mulvaney, then a South Carolina Republican, said Ms. Yellen was overstepping her boundaries by talking about inequality.

“You’re sticking your nose in places that you have no business to be,” Mr. Mulvaney said at a hearing in 2015.

But in many ways, those conflicts underline how much Washington has changed over the past five years. Fed officials now regularly talk about inequality, entirely unchallenged. The central bank has formalized policies much like Ms. Yellen’s patient approach to interest rate-setting as its official stance, which it explicitly hopes will foster more inclusive growth.

“It seems like a pretty subtle shift to most normal human beings,” Ms. Yellen said of that move. But “most of the Fed’s history has revolved around keeping inflation under control. This really does reflect a decisive recognition that we’re in a very different environment.”

Reporting was contributed by Michael D. Shear, Jim Tankersley, Alan Rappeport and Thomas Kaplan.

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Racism Impoverishes the Whole Economy

Discrimination hurts just about everyone, not only its direct victims.

New research shows that while the immediate targets of racism are unquestionably hurt the most, discrimination inflicts a staggering cost on the entire economy, reducing the wealth and income of millions of people, including many who do not customarily view themselves as victims.

The pernicious effects of discrimination on the wages and educational attainment of its direct targets are being freshly documented in inventive ways by scholarship. From the lost wages of African-Americans because of President Woodrow Wilson’s segregation of the Civil Service, to the losses suffered by Black and Hispanic students because of California’s ban on affirmative action, to the scarcity of Black girls in higher-level high school math courses, the scope of the toll continues to grow.

But farther-reaching effects of systemic racism may be less well understood. Economists are increasingly considering the cost of racially based misallocation of talent to everyone in the economy.

My own research demonstrates, for example, how hate-related violence can reduce the level and long-term growth of the U.S. economy. Using patents as a proxy for invention and innovation, I calculated how many were never issued because of the violence — riots, lynchings and Jim Crow laws — to which African Americans were subjected between 1870 and 1940.

The loss was considerable: The patents that African-Americans could have been expected to receive, given equal opportunity, would have roughly equaled the total for a medium-size European country during that time.

Those enormous creative losses can be expected to have had a direct effect on business investment and therefore on total economic activity and growth.

Other economists are beginning to estimate harm to the economy caused by racism in broad ways.

An important principle suggests that the person who can produce a product or service at a lower opportunity cost than his or her peers has a comparative advantage in that activity. Recent research calculates the effects of the discriminatory practice of placing highly skilled African-American workers, who might have flourished as, say, doctors, into lower-skilled occupations where they had no comparative advantage. Such practices 50 years ago — which linger, to a lesser extent, today — have cost the economy up to 40 percent of aggregate productivity and output today.

Similarly, other research estimates that aggregate economic output would have been $16 trillion higher since 2000 if racial gaps had been closed. To put that total in context, the gross domestic product of the United States in 2019 was $21.4 trillion. The researchers estimate that economic activity could be $5 trillion higher over the next five years if equal opportunity is achieved.

Right now, if more women and African-Americans were participating in the technical innovation that leads to patents, the economist Yanyan Yang and I calculate that G.D.P. per capita could be 0.6 to 4.4 percent higher. That is, it would be between $58,841 to $61,064 per person compared with $58,490 per person in 2019.

This entire line of research suggests that organizations — companies, laboratories, colleges and universities — are leaving colossal sums of money on the table by not maximizing talent and living standards for all Americans.

I have thought and written a lot about remedies. Here are a few ideas aimed at addressing discrimination in the innovation economy. First, we need more training in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), like the extensive and highly successful program once sponsored by Bell Labs to encourage participation in these fields by women and underrepresented minorities

STEM fields should not be the sole target, however, because the innovation economy encompasses more than this narrow set of subjects. Two of the last three people I’ve talked to at tech firms have a B.A. in international relations and a Ph.D. in political science. Clearly, problem-solving skills matter, but these skills are not unique to the STEM majors.

Second, there is substantial evidence of systemic racism in education, which needs to be addressed. Research shows that professors are less likely to respond to email inquiries about graduate study from Black, Hispanic and female students than from people who are discernibly white and male. A system of incentives — and penalties — could hold those responsible accountable at every level of the education and training process.

At the invention stage, such as at corporate, government and university labs, my research shows that mixed-gender teams are more prolific than those whose members are all female or male. And a large body of literature has documented the positive effects of diversity in teams. Managers at each level should be held responsible for being good stewards of the resources of their companies and promoting diverse teams and behavior and, therefore, better outcomes.

When invention is commercialized and companies sell shares to the public, the wealth gaps are stark. Seven of the world’s 10 richest people on the Forbes list are associated with tech companies that commercialize inventions. Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg and Elon Musk are in the top five. None among the top 10 (or 50) is Black.

The statistics for venture capital funding are striking. In 2014, less than 1 percent of venture capital funding went to businesses founded by African-American women, and in 2015, only 2 percent of all venture capitalists were African-American.

A number of worthwhile recommendations have been made to address the lack of diversity at the commercialization stage of innovation. These include:

  • Enhancing mentoring opportunities through programs such as those of the Small Business Administration.

  • Seeking and recruiting founders to invest in places like Atlanta, and not exclusively in Silicon Valley.

  • Addressing systemic racism at every level of management and within venture capital firms.

  • Diversifying corporate boards so that senior leadership will be held accountable for diversity and workplace climate. (California has done this with women on the boards of public companies.)

The Kapor Center, a think tank that promotes participation by underrepresented minorities in tech fields and education, has proposed noteworthy remedies at many stages, including at the pre-college level.

The social compact most societies have with their governments is that standards of living will rise continually and that each successive generation will be better off than preceding ones. We are robbing countless people of higher standards of living and well-being when we allow racial discrimination to flourish from generation to generation.

Lisa D. Cook, a professor of economics at Michigan State University, is a member of the Biden-Harris transition team.

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Recession With a Difference: Women Face Special Burden

For millions of working women, the coronavirus pandemic has delivered a rare and ruinous one-two-three punch.

First, the parts of the economy that were smacked hardest and earliest by job losses were ones where women dominate — restaurants, retail businesses and health care.

Then a second wave began taking out local and state government jobs, another area where women outnumber men.

The third blow has, for many, been the knockout: the closing of child care centers and the shift to remote schooling. That has saddled working mothers, much more than fathers, with overwhelming household responsibilities.

“We’ve never seen this before,” said Betsey Stevenson, a professor of economics and public policy at the University of Michigan and the mother of a second grader and a sixth grader. Recessions usually start by gutting the manufacturing and construction industries, where men hold most of the jobs, she said.

The impact on the economic and social landscape is both immediate and enduring.

The triple punch is not just pushing women out of jobs they held, but also preventing many from seeking new ones. For an individual, it could limit prospects and earnings over a lifetime. Across a nation, it could stunt growth, robbing the economy of educated, experienced and dedicated workers.

Inequality in the home — in terms of household and child care responsibilities — influences inequality in the workplace, Misty L. Heggeness, a principal economist at the Census Bureau, concluded in a working paper on the pandemic’s impact for the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis. Without a more comprehensive system of support, she said, “mothers will forever be vulnerable to career scarring during any major crisis like this pandemic.”

The latest jobs report from the Labor Department showed that some of the damage was reversed last month as the service industry revived, nudging down the jobless rate for women to 6.5 percent, slightly below men’s. But there were still 4.5 million fewer women employed in October than there were a year ago, compared with 4.1 million men.

And according to the Census Bureau, a third of the working women 25 to 44 years old who are unemployed said the reason was child care demands. Only 12 percent of unemployed men cited those demands.

Laci Oyler has felt that pressure. Her husband, employed by a large printing company, was already working from home when the pandemic shuttered day care and schools in Milwaukee. But after two days of taking care of their two young sons, “he said, ‘Absolutely no way,’” Ms. Oyler explained. So she cut her weekly hours as a mental health counselor for Alverno College, a small Catholic institution, to five from 32.

In August, when she learned that public schools would continue to offer only online classes for the fall, Ms. Oyler decided she had little choice but to take an unpaid leave.

This month, she decided to resign.

“Work is so much more than what you’re taking home as payment,” Ms. Oyler said. “But when you look at that bottom line of risk versus reward, it doesn’t seem worth it,” she added, referring to the cost of child care combined with the possibility of coronavirus infection for her or her children.

As a licensed professional, Ms. Oyler does not expect to have difficulty returning to the work force when she is ready. But for most working women, dropping out to take care of children or other family members exacts a sizable toll, several studies have shown. Rejoining is hard, and if women do, they generally earn less and have less security. And the longer someone is out of work, the tougher it is to get back in.

Claudia Goldin, an economics professor at Harvard, said this was the first recession where the economy was so intertwined with the network of child care.

“During the Great Depression, no one cared about the care sector,” she said. “Women weren’t in the labor force, and they weren’t supposed to be.”

One reason that Congress started giving financial assistance to poor households headed by women in the 1930s, under a program originally titled Aid to Dependent Children, was so they could stay home with their children and not compete with men for jobs, Ms. Goldin said.

Only during World War II, when women were urgently needed in factories and offices to replace men who were in the military, did the government establish a far-reaching federally subsidized network of nurseries and child care centers in nearly every state. Once the war ended, so did the support.

“You cannot have a contented mother working in a war factory if she is worrying about her children, and you cannot have children running wild in the streets without a bad effect on the coming generations,” Senator Carl Hayden, an Arizona Democrat, testified in 1943.

Women make up roughly half of the country’s work force. They range from entry-level to professional, they live in urban, suburban and rural areas, and they often care for toddlers and teenagers. But the burdens of the pandemic-induced recession have fallen most heavily on low-income and minority women and single mothers.

Members of these overlapping groups often have the most unpredictable schedules, and the fewest benefits, and are least able to afford child care. They fill most of the essential jobs that cannot be done from home and, therefore, carry the most risk for exposure to the virus. At the same time, they make up a disproportionate share of the service industries that have lost the most jobs. The jobless rate is 9.2 percent for Black women and 9 percent for Hispanic women.

When the pandemic caused housecleaning jobs to dry up, Andrea Poe was able to find cleaning work at a resort in Orange Beach, Ala., about a 45-minute drive from Pensacola, Fla., where she and her 14-year-old daughter, Cheyenne Poe, had moved in with an older daughter, her fiancé and their five children.

The families were behind in the rent and threatened with eviction when Hurricane Sally ripped through the coast in September. To escape the floods, they piled into two cars, drove to Biloxi, Miss., and spent five nights in a Walmart parking lot.

Now Ms. Poe and Cheyenne, who has turned 15, are in Peoria, Ariz., living in a room in her mother’s trailer.

She said she was applying for jobs every day, so far without luck. And the bills keep coming. Ms. Poe has missed two consecutive loan payments on her car and worries that it will be repossessed.

“I’m just hoping my unemployment checks come through so my car doesn’t get taken away,” she said. “If I lose my car, I’ll never be able to get a job.”

Credit…Adriana Zehbrauskas for The New York Times

Women with more resources are in a better position, but they struggle in other ways.

When the pandemic ripped through Seattle and compelled Kenna Smith, 37, to work from home, she initially saw one upside — a chance to spend more time with her 3-year old son.

“At first, I thought I’d just focus on my child,” said Ms. Smith, who had just started a branding and design company, Wildforth Creative. “It was fun for a while, but then the stress was intense.”

Like many families who were worried about the risk of infection or short of money and space, Ms. Smith and her husband let their son’s nanny go. Her husband, project manager for a general contractor, worked out of their bedroom.

“I’m not sure why it totally fell on me,” Ms. Smith said of child care. “I’m out in the living room, dining room area with a whole bunch of toys strewn about, with my laptop, trying to run my business.

“I was wanting to work and wanting my business to succeed so badly,” she said. “I didn’t realize. …” She paused, interrupted by a voice: “Mommy, I want some applesauce.”

The couple recently decided to hire a part-time nanny, concluding that despite the expense, it was the only way both could keep working. (Ms. Smith’s sister is also helping out.)

From 2015 until the pandemic, women’s increasing participation in the work force was a primary driver of the economy’s expansion, said Ms. Stevenson, the Michigan economist. “It’s why the economy grew the way it did, why employers could keep hiring month after month,” she said.

Since February, women’s participation in the labor force has been falling, with the biggest decreases among women without college degrees who have children.

Changes forced on women by the pandemic elicit a mixture of anxiety and hope.

Many women worry that the changes will sharply narrow women’s choices and push them unwillingly into the unpaid role of full-time homemaker.

And the impact could stretch over generations, paring women’s retirement savings, and reducing future earnings of children now in low-income households.

“We are creating inequality 20 years down the line that is even greater than we have today,” said Ms. Stevenson, who was a member of President Barack Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers. “This is how inequality begets inequality.”

Yet there is also the possibility that the mounting pressures could create momentum to complete the unfinished project of fully integrating women into the work force by providing a system of family support — like affordable child care and paid parental and sick leave.

“I think we’re really at a crossroads,” said Julie Kashen, director for women’s economic justice at the Century Foundation and one of the authors of a new report on the pandemic and working women. “We’ve never built a workplace that worked for people with caregiving responsibilities.”

Gillian Friedman contributed reporting.

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A Korean Store Owner. A Black Employee. A Tense Neighborhood.

The crowd was growing impatient as Crystal Holmes fumbled with the keys to the store.

Dozens of people were swarming the street around Western Beauty Supply, the Chicago shop where Ms. Holmes works. She had persuaded some of them to let her open the store so they could rob it without breaking the windows.

“She’s taking too long,” someone yelled. “Let’s go in and get it.”

Western Beauty Supply sells products like wigs, hair extensions and combs mostly to Black women. Most of the employees, like Ms. Holmes, are also Black, but the owner is a Korean-American man, Yong Sup Na.

When a few young men appeared outside the store earlier that evening in May, Mr. Na went out to speak with them. He offered some of them cash, and they walked away. At that point, Mr. Na told Ms. Holmes that he felt confident his business was safe. “They are not going to break into the store,” he told her.

A few minutes later, though, a larger group showed up. A woman snatched Mr. Na’s keys, but Ms. Holmes persuaded her to give them back. Then she ordered Mr. Na, her boss, to leave. “You don’t know what could happen,” she told him.

Even as Ms. Holmes tried to save the store from ruin that evening, when protests and looting followed the police killing of George Floyd, she understood what was causing the turmoil roiling Chicago and dozens of other cities.

“I understand where the rage is coming from,” Ms. Holmes, 40, said in an interview. “We don’t have any businesses in the community and we are getting killed by the police and killing each other, and we are just getting tired.”

In the years she has spent working for Mr. Na, customers have constantly told her that she should open her own store. But she has watched some Black women struggle as owners in the industry, and her priority has been keeping a steady job to support her family.

Outside the store, people in the crowd kept pushing for Ms. Holmes to let them in. But she couldn’t get the keys into the lock. Her hands were shaking too much.

Mr. Na, who is 65, grew up in South Korea in a home with an outhouse. He watched television by standing outside a neighbor’s window and peering in at the set. Mr. Na was in his late 20s when he arrived in the United States. He knew only one person, a friend from his village who had moved to Chicago.

Not religious but seeking to meet other immigrants, Mr. Na soon joined a Korean church. A few years later, a friend from the church bought a shoe store on Chicago’s South Side from a white man who wanted out.

“This man was upset that the Black people were moving into the neighborhood,” Mr. Na recalled in an interview. “Koreans didn’t care. This was an area that they could afford.”

Credit…via Sandra Na

With no access to a bank loan, Mr. Na bought the store from his friend by using proceeds from the shoe sales. He paid $5,000 a month for 13 months. The business was straightforward.

“You were buying cheaply made goods at a low cost from a wholesaler,” Mr. Na said. “The customers were not snobby.” He also owned businesses that sold pagers, cellphones and clothing. The endeavors allowed him to pay for private school and then college for his two daughters.

Over the years, other Korean retailers told Mr. Na that beauty sales were a steady proposition, even in recessions. In 2007, he started his first beauty shop. He opened Western Beauty in 2014, on the city’s West Side, and started Modern Beauty in the South Side neighborhood of Bronzeville two years later.

The portion of the beauty industry that caters to Black women generates about $4 billion in sales a year. Much of those sales are rung up in small beauty supply stores, which are ubiquitous in predominantly Black neighborhoods. The stores seem like a natural answer to the numerous calls from policymakers and corporate America to create more Black-owned businesses after protests over systemic racism broke out this spring.

Yet fewer than 10 percent are owned by Black women, said Tiffany Gill, a history professor at Rutgers University. Instead, many of them are owned by Korean immigrants. Korean Americans also lead some of the largest wholesale distributors that import the hair products from China.

“These are two historically marginalized groups fighting over the same small slice of pie when there is so much more of the pie that neither has access to,” said Ms. Gill, the author of the book “Beauty Shop Politics: African-American Women’s Activism in the Beauty Industry.”

For years, Mr. Na worked seven days a week, from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. His daughter Sandra, 33, remembers one night when her father didn’t come home. He had been rushed into emergency surgery to remove a shard of glass from his face after a scuffle with someone who tried to rob the store.

The Na family lived for a time in a Latino neighborhood and eventually moved to a largely white suburb north of the city. Ms. Na said her parents had insisted that she spend her summers learning Korean, working as a tutor and taking academic enrichment classes. Ms. Na and her sister, Jenny, visited the store only rarely when they were growing up and played with the register.

She said her father never talked about the “social and racial impacts” as a retailer on the South Side. Her father came from a generation that experienced poverty and hardships, Ms. Na said, and didn’t have the time to focus on much else except taking care of his family, which included sending money to his siblings back in South Korea.

As part of a younger generation faced with fewer of these pressures, Ms. Na said, she has had opportunities to think about issues of race from a different perspective.

“But everything for my dad was about survival,” Ms. Na said.


Credit…Danielle Scruggs for The New York Times

Crystal Holmes grew up a world away from South Korea, in Chicago’s East Side. But like Mr. Na, she faced challenges from the start. She was raised mostly by her grandmother until she was a teenager.

“I knew I wanted better,” she said. “I always said I would never put my kids in the situation I was in.”

Ms. Holmes, a mother of two, worked for a time for a fried chicken chain, but switched to beauty supply stores when she found that many pay every week.

At the first store she worked in, the owner, a Korean man, was so impressed with her sales skills that he said he would help her open a store one day, Ms. Holmes said.

Then things soured. The owner accused her of stealing from him after he discovered the register short of cash, she said. She told him how one employee, who was also Korean, had insisted on taking turns on the register and had a gambling problem. But the owner didn’t believe her.

“I just walked out of the store,” she said. (A security tape later showed that she did not steal anything, according to Ms. Holmes.)

Many beauty supply stores have a reputation for being demeaning places for the Black women who shop in them. Ms. Holmes said she had been in numerous stores where employees followed customers or required them to check their bags at the door.


Credit…Danielle Scruggs for The New York Times

Credit…Danielle Scruggs for The New York Times

It’s not just small retailers. Until June, Walmart kept its Black beauty products in locked display cases. “You can’t treat everyone like a thief,” Ms. Holmes said.

Mr. Na’s stores are different, she said. Women are allowed to shop without being watched. She likes to walk the floor talking to the customers about their hair and offering them advice.

Ms. Holmes sometimes accompanies Mr. Na on trips to the wholesaler to pick up inventory. She is usually the only Black person in the warehouse. Once, she encountered another Black woman from a beauty shop in Wisconsin.

“I said, ‘What the hell are you doing here?’” Ms. Holmes recalled. “And she said, ‘What the hell are you doing here?’”

Still, there is tension. Some customers ask Ms. Holmes why she works so hard for a Korean owner. One woman said she was like a “slave.”

Ms. Holmes, who earns $14 an hour, was able to pay for three years of her son’s college tuition but could not afford his final year. Her son, now 26, plans to go back to school. But he lost his job at a downtown restaurant during the pandemic and has a baby on the way, so college may be further delayed.

Ms. Holmes also hopes her 20-year-old daughter, who has a 9-month-old son, can attend college eventually.

Mr. Na has been encouraging Ms. Holmes to start her own business one day and offering her advice on how to get started, like how much money she will need to save.

For now, Ms. Holmes appreciates the small perks of the job. How on a good day, the store can feel like a gathering place where women talk about their lives and swap beauty tips.

On many Sundays, Ms. Holmes opens and closes the store on her own. “Some customers see me by myself and say: ‘Where are the Koreans? Are they in back?’” When she explains that she runs the store on Sundays, “they are shocked,” she said.

“It’s mind-blowing to them that a Black woman is in charge.”


Credit…Haruka Sakaguchi for The New York Times

Sandra Na has also wondered why Koreans dominate the sale of Black women’s hair products.

She acknowledges that Korean immigrant communities can be “insular,” and that her father, who speaks limited English, prefers to do business and associate with other Koreans because it is easier.

But other forces are also at play. Ms. Na said her father had been shaped by his parents’ experience living through the Japanese occupation of Korea and then the Korean War. That left him with a shared feeling of grief and loss, which Ms. Na said is often referred to as Han.

It helps explain, she said, why her father typically hires Korean managers in stores where most of the employees are Black.

“Han creates a level of trust among Koreans,” Ms. Na said. “That trust goes back decades.”

Since the protests, many business leaders and public figures have sought to address racial disparities with more investment. Square, the payments company led by Jack Dorsey, the billionaire founder of Twitter, has pledged $100 million to financial firms supporting Black communities. Senator Elizabeth Warren, Democrat of Massachusetts, has proposed a $7 billion federal fund for Black entrepreneurs.

But the struggles of Black women in the beauty supply industry show that some barriers to success are more complicated.

In interviews this summer, Black women who own beauty shops in Dallas, Buffalo and Sacramento said they were consistently denied accounts with major Korean-owned suppliers. One of the women said that as soon as she had sent over a copy of her driver’s license, the supplier stopped returning her calls.

These rejections, the women said, prevent them from stocking the most popular hairpieces, forcing their customers to shop elsewhere.

While Mr. Na is a retailer, not a distributor, he said he was aware of some of the challenges Black female proprietors faced in obtaining products.

He said Black owners were often unable to rent or buy stores that were physically large enough to allow them to work with the big suppliers.

“It has nothing to do with racism,” Mr. Na said. He acknowledged that if Black women gained a larger footing in the beauty supply industry they could seriously challenge Korean businesses.

“It is competition,” Mr. Na said. “Eat or be eaten.”


Credit…Danielle Scruggs for The New York Times

In the end, the group didn’t wait for Ms. Holmes to let it in. The looters smashed the window and barged inside.

Mr. Na walked across the street, sat in his car and looked on as his store was ransacked.

Like many Americans, Mr. Na had watched the footage of a Minneapolis police officer kneeling on Mr. Floyd’s neck in horror. He wondered if the unrest would ever stop and whether he should bother to rebuild.

“I feel like racism is something that will never go away,” he said.

After the looting, Ms. Holmes returned to the store to clean up. Some people from the neighborhood were surprised to see her helping Mr. Na. A few customers were angry she would not let them take some of the products that had been knocked off the shelves.

“Why are you on their side?” she remembers one Black person asking her. “Why aren’t you riding with us?”

Ms. Holmes said some people were too quick to judge. “They are on the outside looking in. They don’t know the person I work for. He’s a good man.”


Credit…Sandra Na

When Sandra Na drove to Chicago from Brooklyn, where she lives with her husband, she was struck by the level of destruction at Western Beauty Supply and Modern Beauty. A cash register that contained no money was smashed, the glass in the display case had been shattered, and dozens of bottles of hair solutions had been dumped on the floor.

She believes most of the looters were seizing on the chaos wrought by the protests over the killing of Mr. Floyd to steal desirable products, she said. A range of businesses across the city were destroyed that day, including pawnshops, grocery stores and Walmarts. Some of the damaged stores were Black-owned.

Ms. Holmes said she agreed that the crowd wanted only to steal merchandise from Mr. Na — not to make a statement that his store was not Black-owned.

Still, Ms. Na said she recognized that some people might begrudge small businesses like her father’s stores. “I have a hard time thinking there isn’t resentment there,” she said. “You see an outside ethnic group capitalizing on your people.”

As painful as it was to see her father’s shops destroyed, Ms. Na said she was heartened that the broader protests had spurred efforts to address systemic racism. “The attention is there,” she said.


The moments when a crowd broke into Modern Beauty in Chicago.

Mr. Na was able to reopen his business with insurance money, government grants and more than $94,000 in donations from a GoFundMe page his daughters set up. In August, though, he temporarily boarded up his stores after a police shooting in Chicago set off a fresh wave of protests and looting.

Back at work, Ms. Holmes said a few customers had told her again that she should open her own store.

She’s hoping Mr. Na will help her get started. Mr. Na, who is planning to retire in the next few years, said he had been considering ways he could do so.

“One day I’ll have a store, and you come shop with me,” Ms. Holmes tells customers. “Just wait.”

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Pantone’s Color of Menstruation? Period Red

Pantone, the color registry company, has introduced a new shade — Period red — that it hopes will get people talking about a part of life that often goes unmentioned.

By focusing on menstruation, Pantone said, it wants to overturn a taboo and draw attention to a regular life phase with a color that is “energizing” and “dynamic.”

Period red “emboldens people who menstruate to feel proud of who they are,” said Laurie Pressman, vice president of the Pantone Color Institute. She added that the goal was “to urge everyone, regardless of gender, to feel comfortable to talk spontaneously and openly about this pure and natural bodily function.”

The announcement is partly a marketing stunt: Pantone has teamed up with the Swedish feminine products brand Intimina, and the brand’s Seen+Heard campaign, to help make periods just a regular part of everyday life.

But there’s no arguing that attitudes toward menstruation are outdated: The average woman has her period for 2,535 days of her life, yet it continues to be a barrier to women’s equality. In some parts of the world, women still face discrimination, miss school to manage their periods and lack clean, safe products and lavatory facilities.

And periods don’t stop for pandemics. As the coronavirus crisis ravaged global supply chains and disrupted work and social lives, women and girls around the world were struggling to find basic essentials like pads and tampons.

In recent years, businesses and governments have taken steps to combat the stigma. Zomato, an Indian food-delivery firm with 4,000 workers in 24 countries, introduced a paid period leave policy in August for employees dealing with cramps and stomach pains brought on by menstruation. In 2018, Scotland became the first country to provide free sanitary products to students at schools, colleges and universities, so girls and women will no longer have to miss studies because they cannot afford sanitary products. In early 2020, the British government followed suit.

According to Plan International UK, a girls’ rights charity, one in 10 girls in Britain cannot afford sanitary wear, and nearly half of girls ages 14 to 21 are embarrassed by their periods.

Menstrual equity is a political movement as well as a marketing effort. There are longstanding calls to abolish what is known as the “tampon tax,” or sales tax on sanitary products, in places across the United States.

Pantone is one of the most influential organizations in color forecasting and in savvy marketing, experts say, with its annual color of the year. In 2019, the pick was a “classic blue” to mirror the world’s collective anxiety and stress.

On Twitter, Period red and the statement behind it were met with praise by some and derided as virtue-signaling by others. And some raised concerns about the color match. “I’m all for ending period taboos,” one user said, “but I don’t think painting your walls Manchester United red is really the answer.”

Zareen Ahmed, founder of the Gift Wellness Foundation, a charity in Britain that provides sanitary pads to women in crisis, said anything that was done to normalize the conversation was positive.

“This is the last taboo, the last form of discrimination that is so viscerally rooted in our patriarchal, cultural DNA that even women won’t admit to it,” she said.

Gabby Edlin, founder of Bloody Good Period, a British charity that provides products for those who can’t afford them, said: “It is a P.R. stunt, but I think that doesn’t make it inherently bad. I think that’s a really interesting way in showing how far we’ve come.”

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Pandemic Imperils Promotions for Women in Academia

EVANSTON, Ill. — Like millions of parents, Kimberly Marion Suiseeya, a political-science professor at Northwestern University, saw her work life upended when her third grader’s school shut down in March. Later, she was demoralized to learn that local schools would not reopen this fall.

But Dr. Marion Suiseeya faced an additional source of stress: her looming all-or-nothing tenure evaluation, which will determine whether she earns a lifetime appointment at Northwestern or must find a new job.

“This year was critical for me to finalize my tenure packet,” she said. “I stare at my computer and try to be productive. And every five minutes my daughter comes in and says, ‘My Zoom link doesn’t work.’”

The pandemic has been brutal on many working mothers, especially those with little leverage on the job. Experts say it may be uniquely unforgiving for mothers in so-called up-or-out fields, where workers face a single high-stakes promotion decision. The loss of months or more of productivity to additional child care responsibilities, which fall more heavily on women, can reverberate throughout their careers.

“Will this disproportionately affect female lawyers, accountants, people in various positions in finance, management, academics, all of whom have up-or-out or winner-take-all positions?” asked Claudia Goldin, an economic historian at Harvard who studies women in the labor market. “I would say yes.”

The angst has been especially evident on some college campuses, which tend to be more fertile grounds for activism than other up-or-out workplaces.

Credit…Olivia Obineme for The New York Times

At Northwestern, hundreds of female faculty members have pressed the university to alleviate the disruption of the pandemic, but with limited success. “The present is unsustainable,” said Susan Pearson, a tenured Northwestern history professor who has helped rally colleagues to seek more accommodations.

Dr. Pearson, who is divorced and is the primary caregiver for her two children, said parenthood was too often seen in academic settings “as a personal choice” rather than as a societal obligation — “like if you choose to live two hours away from work and you have a long commute, the university shouldn’t have to do anything about it.”

Northwestern, like other universities, initially responded to the pandemic by pausing the so-called tenure clocks of junior faculty members, giving them an extra year to publish academic work that would help them earn the promotion.

But research has shown that stopping the tenure clock is an imperfect policy. According to a study of tenure decisions in economics departments published in 2018, men were substantially more likely to receive tenure at their first job after the university allowed an extension for new parents of either sex, while women were substantially less likely to receive tenure than they were before the policy change.

The reason, said Jenna Stearns, an economist at the University of California, Davis, and a co-author of the paper, is that men appear to devote more of the additional year to academic research, while women appear to spend more of it managing parental obligations.

There is evidence that the pandemic is having a similar effect, with the gender divide in new academic papers skewing more male in recent months.

Several women on Northwestern’s faculty said they doubted that the additional time for tenure consideration would offset the pandemic’s impact on their work.


Credit…Olivia Obineme for The New York Times

Dr. Marion Suiseeya, who is completing a book that she considers critical to her tenure prospects — about the injustices facing people who live in forests — estimates that she was two months from finishing the manuscript in March, but that it will take her at least four more months to finish now.

She said that she was spending no more than two hours a day on the project, versus the three or four she would spend in a typical term, and that the quality of those work hours had declined significantly.

“I’m literally working in a closet,” she said. “My daughter has different perceptions. She thinks all I do is work. But I work a lot less.”

Dr. Marion Suiseeya intends to come up for tenure in the spring as originally planned because the stress of an unfinished book is too hard on her family and she doesn’t want to prolong it. But she is not sure she’ll be ready.

Instead of an extension, she would prefer additional child care subsidies and a more nuanced evaluation process with less weight on whether her book has been published.

Magdalena Osburn, a geobiology professor at Northwestern, divided days into two-hour shifts with her husband, a fellow research scientist, when their son’s day care facility shut down in March.

“With a 4-year-old, there are interruptions even when it’s your time to work,” she said. “Mommy knows where everything is. Nothing can proceed without Mommy’s permission.”

Dr. Osburn, who submitted her tenure materials this month, said she was down to three or four hours of daily work after the pandemic hit, with much of the time spent figuring out how to teach a lab course online. Though her son’s day care provider reopened in July, her output had been further squeezed by months of unreliable lab access for herself and her students.

In the winter term, she is scheduled to teach two courses online that will again require considerable preparation, she said, and some relief from her teaching obligations would have been far more helpful than delaying the tenure decision.

“I don’t need a clock extension,” Dr. Osburn said. “I need an acknowledgment that this year is trash.”

Other Northwestern professors seeking tenure echoed those concerns, as did a survey of nearly 200 female faculty members by a campus group. The survey also highlighted the tendency of other workplace obligations, such as advising students struggling with emotional stress, to fall disproportionately on women.


Credit…Olivia Obineme for The New York Times

“Beyond the pandemic, there’s the protests and everything that’s happening with Black Lives Matter,” said Sylvia Perry, an assistant professor of psychology who teaches a course on prejudice and stereotypes. “Students wanted to take time to talk about what’s going on, how it’s impacting them as individuals, because they know I study it, because of my identity.”

Dr. Perry, who is Black, said additional flexibility in her teaching schedule would be “extremely helpful.”

Thus far, however, Northwestern has offered faculty members few across-the-board policies beyond the tenure-clock extension — primarily a subsidized rate for up to 10 days of child care. While it has announced support for alternative work arrangements such as sharing teaching responsibilities, faculty members must consult their supervisors about these options — and many junior faculty members are wary of doing so for fear of being labeled slackers.

In an interview, Kathleen Hagerty, the university’s provost, said there was always a trade-off between blanket policies like the tenure-clock extension, which she conceded could have inequitable effects, and more tailored accommodations that put the onus on employees to arrange them.

“That’s the contradiction,” she said, adding that she generally favored the latter approach. “Maximum flexibility is the university policy. That has been the order from the top: to be as flexible as you possibly can, as empathetic as you possibly can.”

Faculty members say they have been disappointed that there wasn’t more planning for the possibility that schools and child care facilities would not reopen in the fall — or more sensitivity to the challenges.

“I have two young ones at home and a working spouse, though she has definitely taken on the heavy lift and allowed me to focus on Northwestern!” one administrator remarked in an email after Dr. Pearson asked about plans for the fall. The administrator assured her that the university took the issue very seriously.

Unsatisfied — “that set of assumptions and practices is EXACTLY what I am suggesting that NU not perpetuate,” she later told the university’s president by email — Dr. Pearson teamed up with a fellow historian and mother, Amy Stanley, to write a letter to the administration. Among the options they urged the university to explore was paid leave for parents with pressing child care needs and a reduction in teaching obligations.

Both women have tenure and said it allowed them to speak up for more vulnerable colleagues, including assistant professors and faculty members not on the tenure track concerned that their jobs were in danger. More than 200 faculty and staff members signed the letter, but the administration barely acknowledged it, Dr. Pearson said.


Credit…Olivia Obineme for The New York Times

Dr. Hagerty said that while the administration didn’t respond directly to the letter, it later circulated information to deans about resources available to faculty members, which she said the university might not have done enough to publicize.

Last week, the Organization of Women Faculty, the campus group that produced the survey of female professors, released its own proposals. They included additional child care subsidies and adjustments in tenure standards to “reflect pandemic realities.”

Dr. Hagerty, who said she was willing to take part in a moderated discussion that the group had requested, said the concerns raised in the survey were painfully familiar to her as a longtime professor with three children.

“In my younger days, I didn’t want to ever suggest that I couldn’t do something because I had kids,” she said. “They said, ‘Be department chair, even though your husband is in Washington all week and you’ve got three kids under 10.’ You know, ‘Sure, I’ll do it.’” She added: “It was killing me, but I did it.”

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As School Begins, Mothers Working Retail Jobs Feel Extra Burden

The start of the virtual school year has been a struggle for Patricia Reveles, a pharmacy technician at a CVS in Los Angeles, whose daughter is in fourth grade.

Ms. Reveles, 49, is single and has long relied on her mother to help with child care. But she realized during the first months of the coronavirus pandemic that remote learning required more tech savvy than her mother could provide. Her daughter, 9, needed an adult to help her when the internet went out or her iPad froze, Ms. Reveles said.

So Ms. Reveles recently asked CVS, where she has worked for more than 20 years, to reduce her hours to 24 per week so that she could be home during the day to help her daughter while allowing her to keep some of the benefits that come with being a full-time employee.

“I like my job and I am thankful for it, but I am a single parent and I can’t be there for my daughter,” she said. A CVS spokesman said the company was working with Ms. Reveles’ union to try to accommodate her request.

Ms. Reveles is not alone. As the pandemic wears on and school begins across the country, women working in retail say they are being forced to choose between keeping their jobs and making sure their children can keep up with remote learning.

Women in all types of jobs are feeling this squeeze. According to a study last month by the Census Bureau, women were three times more likely than men to have left their job because of child-care issues during the pandemic. But the inflexibility of retail work schedules — where shifts can vary widely week-to-week and employees have little choice but to take the hours they are given — make the pressure on those employees particularly acute and likely to lead to more women dropping out of the work force.

Credit…Maggie Shannon for The New York Times

“The caregiving responsibilities outside of work are falling heavier on women than on men, and the retail sector in particular is one where you generally don’t have a lot of control over your schedule, which can lead to a real crunch,” said Emily Martin, vice president for education and workplace justice at the nonprofit National Women’s Law Center.

The retail industry, the second-biggest private-sector employer in the United States after health care, has been roiled by the pandemic, with millions of people out of work. Women made up nearly half of the 15.7 million workers in retail before the pandemic, but they accounted for 65 percent of the industry’s job losses between February and June, according to a report from the center.

Those who have kept their jobs were heralded as heroes and rewarded with bonuses and temporary raises during the early months of the pandemic. However, many of these same retail workers find themselves struggling to fulfill endless parenting obligations while hanging onto jobs that seem increasingly precarious in a weak economy.

To date, federal and state governments have offered little or no child-care relief to working parents. The current debate in Washington has focused on restoring additional unemployment assistance, which lapsed in July, and granting more tax deductions to businesses, ostensibly to help them stay afloat and keep people employed.

But employees, union leaders and labor experts say none of that government support has motivated companies to find ways to accommodate workers who also need to supervise their children during online school.

Amazon is offering 10 days of subsidized child care, asking employees to cover no more than $35 a day for day-care centers and $5 an hour for in-house babysitters. The benefit ends next month.

Rachel Belz, who was an Amazon warehouse worker in West Deptford, N.J., said she needed more coverage.

Before she left her job this month, she was ending her shift at 5 a.m. and then getting only a few hours of sleep before having to get up to watch her son.

“I am not asking you to take care of my kid,’” said Ms. Belz, 32, whose son is in kindergarten. “I am asking you to make it easier for me to take care of my kid.”

Amazon said it was taking other steps to accommodate working parents, like allowing employees to start shifts at as many as 10 different times during the day and night. The company said these “unique start times” are meant “to provide our associates with more options to work around their child/children’s schedules.”


Credit…Maggie Shannon for The New York Times

Prandai Ramnauth, who works part-time at Bloomingdale’s Manhattan flagship store, was already facing a child-care crisis last year after her mother died.

She was able to keep working and pay for her son’s after-school care with a grant from Local 3 of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, where she is a member. The grant covered after-school care but would not pay for babysitting costs during the day when she went back to work in June.

So Ms. Ramnauth relied on her 16-year-old daughter to care for her son, who is in the third grade.

“I told her she has to help me, that’s the only way I can hold a job or pay the bills — we have to help each other,” she said.

But with school starting up again, Ms. Ramnauth’s daughter has to concentrate on her own remote school work.

Ms. Ramnauth, who works about 25 hours a week and is her children’s sole caregiver, said she considered taking a leave as she tried to figure out her son’s needs during the day and when he needed to submit his schoolwork.

That would have been a setback for Ms. Ramnauth, who had just returned to the work force. The extra support her family has received from food stamps in recent years is also in limbo, since the $600 a week in extra unemployment benefits she received disqualified her from the program. She reapplied for the assistance once she stopped receiving the unemployment booster.

Despite the sprawling size of the retail industry, few workers are unionized like Ms. Ramnauth, making it difficult for employees to push for more family-friendly policies or to even speak freely about their jobs and how they are treated.

Among full-time, year-round workers, women in retail are typically paid $34,000, compared to $42,000 for men, according to the National Women’s Law Center. The group said that in 2018, about 9 percent of women in retail jobs lived in poverty, with poverty rates “considerably higher” for Black women, Latinas and women with disabilities.

Wages and benefits are not likely to rise for women, particularly in parts of the retail sector that are under extreme financial strain or facing bankruptcy.

Jennifer Perez, a general merchandise clerk at a Stater Brothers Market in Ontario, Calif., has had to go to about 30 hours a week from 40 so she can better help her two daughters with remote school.


Credit…Maggie Shannon for The New York Times

Ms. Perez, 37, heads into the store at 3 a.m. and works until about 7 a.m., when she returns home to help with online school. With less income, she and her family have cut back on expenses like eating out and cable channels.

Ms. Perez said her manager was not thrilled with her request to move to part time, but she was grateful that he approved it. “I don’t know what I would do,” she said.

Onie Patrick, 37, works 12 to 28 hours a week as a part-time cashier at Aldi in Rockford, Ill. She has four children who are in eighth grade, kindergarten and preschool this year.

Ms. Patrick usually works at night and her husband is also home during the day. He does basic child care, she said, but virtual school has largely become her responsibility.

“He doesn’t really have the patience, he’s not as involved in their school, so he really doesn’t know as far as the schoolwork and level of what they know or don’t know — that’s mostly been me,” Ms. Patrick said. “It seems like a lot of moms, they take on the brunt of everything.”

Contact Sapna Maheshwari at and Michael Corkery at

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Housekeepers Face a Disaster Generations in the Making

The scariest day of Maria Del Carmen’s life started with a phone call that initially cheered her up.

A native of Mexico, she has spent the last 24 years as a housekeeper in Philadelphia and had a dozen regular clients before the pandemic began. By April, she had three. Food banks became essential to feeding herself and her three children. To earn extra money, she started selling face masks stitched on her sewing machine.

So in mid-August, when a once-regular client — a pair of professors from the University of Pennsylvania and their children — asked her to come and clean, she was delighted. No one was home when she arrived, which seemed like a wise precaution, given social distancing guidelines. What struck her as odd were the three bottles of Lysol on the dining room table. She had a routine at every home, and it had never involved disinfectant.

Ms. Del Carmen started scrubbing, doing laundry and ironing. After a few hours, she stepped outside to throw away some garbage. A neighbor spotted her and all but shrieked: “Maria, what are you doing here?!” The professors and their children, the neighbor said, had all contracted the coronavirus.

“I was terrified,” Ms. Del Carmen recalled. “I started crying. Then I went home, took off all of my clothing, showered, got in bed, and for the next night and the next day, I waited for the coronavirus.”

She never got sick, but she still is livid. At 58 and, by her account, overweight, she considers herself at high risk. That is why she never took off her mask while cleaning that day — diligence she thinks might have saved her life.

“There are a lot of people who don’t want to disinfect their own homes,” she said, “so they call a housekeeper.”

The pandemic has had devastating consequences for a wide variety of occupations, but housekeepers have been among the hardest hit. Seventy-two percent of them reported that they had lost all of their clients by the first week of April, according to a survey by the National Domestic Workers Alliance. The fortunate had employers who continued to pay them. The unlucky called or texted their employers and heard nothing back. They weren’t laid off so much as ghosted, en masse.

Since July, hours have started picking up, though far short of pre-pandemic levels, and often for lower wages.

“We plateaued at about 40 percent employment in our surveys of members,” said Ai-jen Poo, executive director of the alliance. “And because most of these people are undocumented, they have not received any kind of government relief. We’re talking about a full-blown humanitarian crisis, a Depression-level situation for this work force.”

Credit…Hannah Yoon for The New York Times

The ordeal of housekeepers is a case study in the wildly unequal ways that the pandemic has inflicted suffering. Their pay dwindled, in many cases, because employers left for vacation homes or because those employers could work from home and didn’t want visitors. Few housekeepers have much in the way of savings, let alone shares of stock, which means they are scrabbling for dollars as the wealthiest of their clients are prospering courtesy of the recent bull market.

In a dozen interviews, housekeepers in a handful of cities across the country described their feelings of fear and desperation over the last six months. A few said the pain had been alleviated by acts of generosity, mostly advances for future work. Far more said they were suspended, or perhaps fired, without so much as a conversation.

One of them is Vicenta, a 42-year-old native of Mexico who lives in Los Angeles, and who, like many contacted for this article, did not want her last name used because she is undocumented.

For 10 years, she had earned $2,000 a month cleaning two opulent homes in gated communities in Malibu, Calif. This included several exhausting weeks in 2018, when fires raged close enough to cover both homes in ash. Three times a week, she would visit both houses and scrub ash off floors, windows, walls and, for one family, a fluffy little dog named Bobby.

Vicenta received nothing extra for the added time it took to scour those houses during the fires. She would have settled for a glass of water, she said, but neither family offered one.

“It was incredibly hot, and my mouth and throat were really sore,” she recalled. “I should have seen a doctor, but we don’t have health insurance.”

If Vicenta thought her years of service had banked some good will, she was wrong. Early in May, both families called and left a message with her 16-year-old son, explaining that for the time being, she could not visit and clean. There was some vague talk about eventually asking her to return, but messages she left with the families for clarification went unreturned.

“Mostly, I feel really sad,” Vicenta said. “My children were born here, so they get coupons for food, but my husband lost his job as a prep cook in a restaurant last year and we are three months behind on rent. I don’t know what will happen next.”

Housekeepers have long had a uniquely precarious foothold in the U.S. labor market. Many people still refer to them as “the help,” which makes the job sound like something far less than an occupation. The Economic Policy Institute found that the country’s 2.2 million domestic workers — a group that includes housekeepers, child care workers and home health care aides — earn an average of $12.01 an hour and are three times as likely to live in poverty than other hourly workers. Few have benefits that are common in the American work force, like sick leave, health insurance, formal contracts or protection against unfair dismissal.

This underclass status can be traced as far back as the 1800s, historians say, and is squarely rooted in racism. Domestic work was then one of the few ways that Black women could earn money, and well into the 20th century, most of those women lived in the South. During the Jim Crow era, they were powerless and exploited. Far from the happy “mammy” found in popular culture like “Gone With the Wind,” these women were mistreated and overworked. In 1912, a publication called The Independent ran an essay by a woman identified only as a “Negro Nurse,” who described 14-hour workdays, seven days a week, for $10 a month.

“I live a treadmill life,” she wrote. “I see my own children only when they happen to see me on the streets.”

In 1935, the federal government all but codified the grim conditions of domestic work with the passage of the Social Security Act. The law was the crowning achievement of the New Deal, providing retirement benefits as well as the country’s first national unemployment compensation program — a safety net that was invaluable during the Depression. But the act excluded two categories of employment: domestic workers and agricultural laborers, jobs that were most essential to Black women and Black men, respectively.

The few Black people invited to weigh in on the bill pointed out the obvious. In February 1935, Charles Hamilton Houston, then special counsel to the N.A.A.C.P., testified before the Senate Finance Committee and said that from the viewpoint of Black people, the bill “looks like a sieve with the holes just big enough for the majority of Negroes to fall through.”

The historian Mary Poole, author of “The Segregated Origins of Social Security,” sifted through notes, diaries and transcripts created during the passage of the act and found that Black people were excluded not because white Southerners in control of Congress at the time insisted on it. The truth was more troubling, and more nuanced. Members of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s administration — most notably, the Treasury secretary, Henry Morgenthau Jr. — persuaded congressional leaders that the law would be far simpler to administer, and therefore far more likely to succeed, if the two occupations were left out of the bill.

In the years that followed, Black domestic workers were consistently at the mercy of white employers. In cities like New York, African-American women lined up at spots along certain streets, carrying a paper bag filled with work clothes, waiting for white housewives to offer them work, often for an hour or two, sometimes for the day. A reporter, Marvel Cooke, and an activist, Ella Baker, wrote a series of articles in 1935 for The Crisis, the journal of the N.A.A.C.P., describing life in what they called New York City’s “slave markets.”

The markets’ popularity diminished in the ’40s after Mayor Fiorello La Guardia opened hiring halls, where contracts were signed laying out terms for day labor arrangements. But in early 1950, Ms. Cooke found the markets in New York City were bustling again. In a series of first-person dispatches, she joined the “paper bag brigades” and went undercover to describe life for the Black women who stood in front of the Woolworths on 170th Street.

“That is the Bronx Slave Market,” she wrote in The Daily Compass in January 1950, “where Negro women wait, in rain or shine, in bitter cold or under broiling sun, to be hired by local housewives looking for bargains in human labor.”

That same year, domestic work was finally added to the Social Security Act, and by the 1970s it had been added to federal legislation intended to protect laborers, including the Fair Labor Standards Act. African-American women had won many of those protections by organizing, though by the 1980s, they had moved into other occupations and were largely replaced by women from South and Central America as well as the Caribbean.


Credit…Lyndon French for The New York Times

Today, many housekeepers are undocumented and either don’t know about their rights or are afraid to assert them. The sort of grass-roots organizations that tried to eradicate New York City’s “slave markets” are lobbying for state laws to protect domestic work. Nine states have domestic workers’ rights laws on the book. Last summer, Senator Kamala Harris introduced the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights, which would guarantee a minimum wage and overtime pay, along with protections against racial discrimination. The bill has yet to pass, and if it did, labor advocates and historians say it would merely be a beginning.

“It’s important to get a federal bill, but it leaves unanswered the question of enforcement,” said Premilla Nadasen, the author of “Household Workers Unite” and a professor of history at Barnard College. “The Department of Labor is overextended and it tends not to check up on individual employers. The imbalance of power between employer and employee has been magnified by the pandemic because millions of people are now looking for work. And xenophobic rhetoric has made women more fearful of being deported.”

The pandemic has laid bare not just the vulnerability of housekeepers to economic shocks but their total lack of leverage. Several workers said they had clients who would not let anyone clean who has had Covid-19; others know clients who will hire only Covid survivors, on the theory that after their recovery, they pose no health risk. Housekeepers are often given strict instructions about how they can commute, and are quizzed about whether and how much they interact with others. But they have no idea whether their employers are taking similar precautions. Nor, in many cases, are they accorded the simple decencies that are part of formal employment.

“It would be nice to have at least two days’ notice when someone cancels on you, either to let you know or compensate you for your time,” said Magdalena Zylinska, a housekeeper in Chicago who helped lobby for a domestic workers’ rights bill that passed in Illinois in 2017. “I think a lot of people don’t realize that if I don’t work, I don’t get paid and I still have to buy food, pay bills, utilities.”

Ms. Zylinska emigrated from Poland more than 20 years ago and has yet to get a week of paid vacation. The closest she came was in 1997, when a couple handed her $900 in cash, all at once — for work she’d just finished, work she would soon do, plus a holiday bonus.

“The couple said, ‘Merry Christmas, Maggie,’” she said. “I remember counting that money four times.”

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Preaching Equality, Start-Up Didn’t Practice It With Employees

SAN FRANCISCO — Onstage at an industry conference last year, Henry Ward, chief executive of the financial technology start-up Carta, described his vision for transforming the way that workers get paid.

Working for a paycheck had evolved from indentured servitude and serfdom, he said. In the next era, employees would own a stake in their companies.

“Our mission is to create more owners in the world,” Mr. Ward said.

Carta has turned that message into a $3 billion valuation and become one of Silicon Valley’s hottest start-ups. But even as it espoused its ownership-for-all creed, the company behaved inequitably to many of its own 838 workers, according to interviews with more than a dozen current and former employees, along with reviews of emails, internal communications and corporate documents.

The current and former employees, four of whom spoke on the record, said they were often belittled, excluded from meetings and made to feel as if they were at fault for their own mistreatment. Those who voiced concerns said they were sidelined, demoted or given pay cuts.

Many of those who were mistreated were women, the current and former employees said. One woman was fired after an emotional outburst in a meeting. Another was pushed out after raising regulatory concerns.

Some former workers are now pushing back. Three of them, including a former top operations executive, have sued Carta in the last year, accusing it of wrongful termination. In a suit last month, Emily Kramer, a former Carta marketing executive, said that she had been paid less than her male peers and that Mr. Ward had disparaged her with a vulgarity after she voiced concerns about a presentation. She said that incident had forced her out of the company.

Ms. Kramer’s lawsuit and others said Mr. Ward set the tone by denigrating employees and dismissing concerns. While his blunt management style fostered loyalty among some, the current and former employees said, it alienated many others.

The discontent at Carta has emerged as the mission-driven facade of many idealistic tech start-ups has started cracking. In recent months, workers at the apparel start-up Everlane, the feminist work space The Wing and the therapy app Talkspace have criticized the mismatch between their employers’ public messages of empowerment and justice and their private actions.

Credit…Cayce Clifford for The New York Times

The current and former Carta employees said what they had experienced was directly at odds with the start-up’s crusade for fairness for workers and more equality for women. Mr. Ward not only stated those goals publicly but had Carta advertise them on billboards in San Francisco, including one that implored other tech companies to close a “gender equity gap” faced by women.

“This is a company that makes a conscious decision to market itself as a company that cares about fair practices,” Ms. Kramer said in an interview. “I know it’s smoke and mirrors.”

A Carta spokeswoman said the start-up was a “consistent, vocal and passionate advocate for gender equity, internally and externally.” She said that one-third of Carta’s top executives were women and that its female employees had reported higher satisfaction than men in its most recent survey.

Jane Alexander, Carta’s chief of staff, said of Mr. Ward: “Henry has a polarizing style that is a combination of his personality, his vision and his passion. It does not work for everyone.” But, she said, he “is fair and cares fiercely about Carta’s employees.”

Mr. Ward, 44, has worked in sales and operations at Silicon Valley start-ups since the early 2000s. In 2012, he founded Carta, initially called eShares. Investors, start-ups and their employees use Carta’s software to manage, issue and value their equity; the company takes a fee for the use of its systems.

The start-up, which is based in Palo Alto, Calif., has raised nearly $700 million from investors including Andreessen Horowitz and Goldman Sachs. Among Carta’s customers are the stock trading app Robinhood and the fitness booking service ClassPass.

Mr. Ward hired new employees quickly. In public, he said he wanted the “Cartans” to stay for a decade or more. But he privately told executives to “hire fast, fire fast” lest workers become too comfortable, said three former employees who heard him. A Carta spokeswoman denied Mr. Ward had said that.

In a 2015 memo to new employees, Mr. Ward offered a warning: “Doing Carta is hard. You will learn that soon.”

Issues surfaced. Liz LeCrone, a product manager, said a young female employee staying in Carta’s corporate apartment told her in 2017 that she had woken up to discover a male co-worker, who was senior to her, in her room naked. The woman reported the incident to the company, Ms. LeCrone and two others with knowledge of the situation said. Carta excused it as sleepwalking.

Ms. LeCrone, who left Carta in 2018, said that while the company had believed the woman’s account, “how they handled the situation proved to us that they did not value her.”

A Carta spokeswoman said the company had fully investigated the matter and handled the situation accordingly.

That year, Mr. Ward attended a meeting with an internal group that was set up to discuss women’s issues. The group proposed that Carta create a way for women to anonymously report harassment or discrimination without fear of retaliation, four people who attended said.

Mr. Ward dismissed the idea. Attendees erupted into emotional outbursts and raised voices, the people said.



The next day, Carta fired one of the women who had spoken up in the meeting. She was told it was because she did not receive feedback well and had shown frustration in meetings, according to four people, as well as a review of emails and text messages.

Carta said “departure paperwork” for the woman had been filed before the meeting. The company said it created the anonymous reporting tool last year.

Caroline Griffith, who worked on Carta’s sales and marketing teams in 2017 and 2018, said she was fired in 2018 for reasons that were not made clear to her. When she received an offer for a new job afterward, a Carta executive whom Ms. Griffith had little contact with told her future employer that she was difficult. The offer was rescinded, she said.

Carta said it prohibited providing information on former employees, other than confirming dates of employment.

In 2018, the company published a study on women and equity, called the Gap Table. It also examined its own compensation practices and found pay disparities based on gender.

To fix those, Carta added $2 million in annual payroll and issued $8.3 million of equity to employees. But equity is doled out in tranches over years and rises in value when start-ups raise funding at higher valuations, rewarding those who joined early and stayed longer. Carta did not make up for the lost time or higher valuation for the employees who had been underpaid.

“I’m embarrassed that we are part of the problem,” Mr. Ward wrote in a blog post about the study. “But we want to be part of the solution.”

He wrote that Carta would add its first female board member by the end of 2018. The company has not done so. Carta said it was still committed to appointing one.

When Carta raised new funding last year, Andrea Walne, head of liquidity solutions, attended the investor meetings because she led the business side of CartaX, an exchange for private stocks that the company was planning. She said it had become clear that she was not supposed to speak, even when executives told investors that CartaX — which has not been released — would be available by mid-2020.

“I was there as a prop,” she said.

Ms. Walne said she had raised concerns to the legal team that CartaX would not get regulatory approvals by mid-2020. Soon after, she said, she was informed that she had performance issues, though she was not provided details. Then she was offered a “revised” compensation plan of 35 percent less and given 24 hours to decide whether to accept, she said. She left the next week.


Credit…Madeline Cass for The New York Times

A Carta spokeswoman denied Ms. Walne’s allegations.

Ms. Kramer said she had been sidelined after she protested a slide in a Carta presentation last year that included a reference to slavery. She said the mention of slavery was offensive.

In November, Mr. Ward told Ms. Kramer in a meeting that she had received passes because she is a woman. He called her an “asshole” who needed to go into recovery for her behavior, her lawsuit said. She left Carta, saying she had no other choice.

Ms. Kramer also said in her suit that she had been granted only a third of the equity of her male peers. While Carta later rectified the disparity, it did not accelerate her vesting schedule to make up for the lost time, she said.

In a Slack message about Ms. Kramer’s departure, which was viewed by The Times, Mr. Ward praised her work. “She bent the arc for us,” he wrote. “We will always be grateful.”

Carta said Ms. Kramer’s allegations were “unfounded.”

In December, Frank Han, a senior vice president of operations who left Carta in March 2019, filed a lawsuit accusing the company of wrongful termination and retaliation. In his suit, Mr. Han said Mr. Ward had recruited him in late 2018, persuading him to walk away from a different job offer he had accepted.

But less than three months after joining, Mr. Han was demoted and Carta tried to lower his compensation, including reducing his equity grant by almost half, the lawsuit said. When Mr. Han protested, he was fired, according to the lawsuit.

He declined to comment. Carta said the suit “has no merit.”

Tyler Borer, who worked in Carta’s client services, also filed a wrongful-termination suit last year. He said in the suit that he had been fired while hospitalized. A lawyer for Mr. Borer said that the case had been resolved and that the resolution was confidential. Mr. Borer and Carta declined to comment on the suit.

Last month, three days after Ms. Kramer’s lawsuit became public, Mr. Ward addressed it on a Zoom call with employees. He repeated the conversation that Ms. Kramer cited in her suit and said many had agreed with him. He also described two times when he had snapped at other employees, displaying his online conversations with those workers and reading one of his apologies aloud, according to two people who attended.

In a question-and-answer session afterward, employees asked about Carta’s gender ratio and efforts to change its culture. Mr. Ward dismissed the questions, the attendees said.

He later posted a message to the company’s Slack channel thanking employees for their feedback.

“I realized I should have started by reiterating that gender and racial inequality in the workplace, particularly in technology, is a serious issue,” Mr. Ward wrote.

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Helping Girls Step Up to Entrepreneurship

As the school year ended and summer began, Page Curtin, a mother of three, was looking at a summer of canceled plans for her children. Her daughter M.G., 12, would not be going to sleep-away camp as planned.

Then she heard through her husband’s employer about a program that aimed to teach girls financial, entrepreneurial and business skills in a five-week virtual program. M.G. jumped at the opportunity, and during the program she joined other girls to create a mask awareness campaign that would be driven by tweens.

The program, Girls With Impact, “became a great Plan B,” Ms. Curtin said. “It provided a little bit of structure to the week. She had homework, and she was accountable for each session.”

It also helped her daughter begin to understand things many parents fret about for their children: knowledge of personal finances, business skills and the ability to collaborate.

Financial literacy programs are intended to give children an understanding of business skills at an early age. The practical guidelines they learn will help them later when they need to make decisions about cars, college and debt, and the lessons will stick with them as they begin to manage their own finances in their 20s.

Private banks and wealth managers have for years designed programs to help the children of their wealthiest clients with these skills. But Girls With Impact is a nonprofit organization created by a group of successful businesswomen.

A majority of parents surveyed this year ranked financial literacy at the top of their list of noncore courses they wanted taught in school, according to a report to be released next week by the Charles Schwab Foundation. The report surveyed 5,000 people in February before the pandemic took hold and 2,000 more in June.

Second was health and wellness, at around 40 percent; college placement finished third. When parents were asked about the importance of various life skills to their children, learning money management tied with the dangers of drugs and alcohol.

“This pandemic has exposed so many Americans’ financial vulnerabilities,” said Carrie Schwab-Pomerantz, chair and president of the Charles Schwab Foundation. “People are putting a high priority on educating this next generation, so they don’t experience what they’re experiencing today.”

The aim of Girls With Impact is to push the students to grow comfortable discussing money and ideas with new people their own age and learn skills that may spur them to go into business themselves.

“You can go online and learn pieces of this, but the beauty of this program is in the structure, the experience of being in a setting with peers” who might question your ideas, said Jennifer Openshaw, the chief executive of Girls With Impact and a former Wall Street executive. “It can be scary.”

Credit…Marcus Smith for The New York Times

When the organization surveyed graduates of the program, it found that 81 percent viewed themselves as leaders after the course, versus 47 percent before, and 91 percent said they were more confident raising their hand, an increase from 44 percent at the start. More than 80 percent said they were better equipped to manage cash flow in a business and felt more financially literate in general.

Interest in the program has surged. In the six months of the pandemic, more than 2,900 girls have completed the program, increasing the number it has reached since starting two years ago. In total, 3,175 girls have participated in the program.

In some ways, Girls With Impact had an advantage when the world went virtual after the pandemic closed schools and offices. The program has always used Zoom, so it was able to work out the kinks in the years before the coronavirus sent teachers and students online.

“The world has finally gotten with the fact that digital learning is here,” Ms. Openshaw said. “When Covid hit, we went into schools with our program, and they were not prepared. Now, parents are seeing that if it’s done well, it can keeps kids advancing and prepared.”

An ancillary benefit of many parents working from home during the pandemic is that qualified working mothers with extra time are asking about becoming a mentor or coach. “The power of this is, it’s more accessible to people even in remote areas,” Ms. Openshaw said.

In its original incarnation, the program brought together girls from different socioeconomic backgrounds who lived relatively close to one another. But it has expanded to reach girls around the country, with some paying the full $495 tuition for the program and others receiving financial aid through the group’s mix of individual and corporate donors.

The program has allowed participants to focus on real-world issues like the pandemic and the Black Lives Matter movement.

“One of our graduates said entrepreneurship is activism in disguise,” said Josephine Panzera, the organization’s chief operating officer, who has a background in corporate finance. “She wants to take her frustration and execute on it.”

Neha Shukla, a 15-year-old high school sophomore in Mechanicsburg, Pa., began worrying in April about her grandparents contracting the coronavirus.

She applied to the program, and with her interest in engineering and technology, she began working on a device that would keep people six feet apart. The result is a hat with sensors that beep and vibrate when someone breaches the six-foot perimeter.


Credit…Marcus Smith for The New York Times

“I just realized that it’s difficult to estimate six feet,” Neha said. “Once I programmed the device, wired, soldered and assembled it, it really came together. You no longer have to guess.”

It’s been a hit with her friends, too: “The ultrasonic sensors look like eyes; it’s really cute.”

Through the initial stage of the program, called the Academy, Neha has filed for a patent and is working on upgrading the technology to include voice commands. What she has found most helpful is the mentorship. After completing the initial program, she became eligible for the Boardroom, a more involved mentoring program to help participants continue to develop their idea.

But not everyone is an entrepreneur, so Girls With Impact has added a series of programs it calls future-ready workshops. They include hourlong seminars on innovation, money and email etiquette, as well as a primer on entrepreneurship that may direct girls to its flagship program. They cost $15 to $20 each.

“We’re very upfront with the girls that the end goal for everyone may not be running a business,” said Liz Czepiel, an instructor for Girls With Impact and a business coach who has worked with executives at Bain, Spotify and United Rentals. “But this is a taste of what that might entail. Success definitely centers around building confidence.”

About three weeks before the stay-at-home orders were put in place, Ms. Openshaw addressed a group of women packed onto a veranda at a fund-raiser at a home in Greenwich, Conn. Gretchen Carlson, the former Fox News anchor who was instrumental in the #MeToo movement, spoke about the challenges she faced.

But it was the young women who talked about their ventures who brought the affluent women to consider making donations. One of them, Kellie Taylor, 19 and a Girls With Impact participant, started her business two years ago as a senior in high school. Her company, named Cleo after her grandmother, is building an app to find beauty and fashion resources for African-American women and girls.

Ms. Taylor, who grew up in Stratford, Conn., said her business was inspired by her braids. “I had the hardest time finding someone in Stratford or Bridgeport to do my hair,” she said.

Nervous at first to even try starting a business, she said, she was encouraged by her mother. Two years later, Ms. Taylor is refining it, and she is working with the same mentor.

“I still have my mentor’s number,” she said. “I text her whenever I need her help.”

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