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    The Biden Administration Is Quietly Keeping Tabs on Inflation

    A monthslong effort to monitor and model economic trends inside the White House and the Treasury Department found little risk of prices spiraling upward faster than the Fed can manage.WASHINGTON — Even before President Biden took office, some of his closest aides were focused on a question that risked derailing his economic agenda: Would his plans for a $1.9 trillion economic rescue package and additional government spending overheat the economy and fuel runaway inflation?To find the answer, a close circle of advisers now working at the White House and the Treasury Department projected the behaviors of shoppers, employers, stock traders and others if Mr. Biden’s plans succeeded. Officials as senior as Janet L. Yellen, the Treasury secretary, pored over the analyses in video calls and in-person meetings, looking for any hint that Mr. Biden’s plans could generate sustained price increases that could hamstring family budgets. It never appeared.Those efforts convinced Mr. Biden’s team that there is little risk of inflation spiraling out of the Federal Reserve’s control — an outcome that Wall Street analysts, a few prominent Republicans and even liberal economists like Lawrence H. Summers, the former Treasury secretary, have said could flow from the trillions being pumped into the economy.Traditional readings of price increases are beginning to turn upward as the recovery accelerates. On Tuesday, the Consumer Price Index rose 0.6 percent, its fastest monthly increase in more than a decade, while a less volatile index excluding food and energy rose a more muted 0.3 percent.But Mr. Biden’s advisers believe any price spike is likely to be temporary and not harmful, essentially a one-time event stemming from the unique nature of a pandemic recession that ruptured supply chains and continues to depress activity in key economic sectors like restaurant dining and tourism.The administration’s view mirrors the posture of top officials at the Fed, including its chairman, Jerome H. Powell, whose mandate includes maintaining price stability in the economy. Mr. Powell has said that the Fed expects any short-term price pops to be temporary, not sustained, and not the type of uptick that would prompt the central bank to raise interest rates rapidly — or anytime soon.“What we see is relatively modest increases in inflation,” Mr. Powell said in March. “But those are not permanent things.”Armed with their internal data and conclusions, administration officials have begun to push back on warnings that a stimulus-fueled surge in consumer spending could revive a 1970s-style escalation in wages and prices that could cripple the economy in the years to come.Yet they remain wary of the inflation threat and have devised the next wave of Mr. Biden’s spending plans, a $2.3 trillion infrastructure package, to dispense money gradually enough not to stoke further price increases right away. Administration officials also continue to check on real-time measures of prices across the economy, multiple times a day.“We think the likeliest outlook over the next several months is for inflation to rise modestly,” two officials at Mr. Biden’s Council of Economic Advisers, Jared Bernstein and Ernie Tedeschi, wrote on Monday in a blog post outlining some of the administration’s thinking. “We will, however, carefully monitor both actual price changes and inflation expectations for any signs of unexpected price pressures that might arise as America leaves the pandemic behind and enters the next economic expansion.”Some Republicans call that posture dangerous. Senator Rick Scott of Florida, the chairman of his party’s campaign arm for the 2022 midterm elections, has called on Mr. Biden and Mr. Powell to present plans to fight inflation now.“The president’s refusal to address this critical issue has a direct negative effect on Floridians and families across our nation, and hurts low- and fixed-income Americans the most,” Mr. Scott said in a news release last week. “It’s time for Biden to wake up from his liberal dream and realize that reckless spending has consequences, inflation is real and America’s debt crisis is growing. Inflation is rising and Americans deserve answers from Biden now.”Economic teams in recent administrations spent little time worrying about inflation, because inflationary pressures have been tame for decades. It has fallen short of the Fed’s average target of 2 percent for 10 of the last 12 years, topping out at 2.5 percent in the midst of the longest economic expansion in history.Shortly before the pandemic recession hit the United States in 2020, President Donald J. Trump’s economic team wrote that “price inflation remains low and stable” even with unemployment below 4 percent. As the economy struggled to climb out from the 2008 financial crisis under President Barack Obama, White House aides feared that prices might fall, instead of rise.“Given the economic crisis, we worried about preventing deflation rather than inflation,” said Austan Goolsbee, a chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers during Mr. Obama’s first term.The conversation has changed given the large amounts of money that the federal government is channeling into the economy, first under Mr. Trump and now under Mr. Biden. Since the pandemic took hold, Congress has approved more than $5 trillion in spending, including direct checks to individuals.Mr. Biden’s aides are sufficiently worried about the risk of that spending fueling inflation that they shaped his infrastructure proposal, which has yet to be taken up by Congress, to funnel out $2.3 trillion over eight years, which is slower than traditional stimulus.An outdoor mall in Los Angeles. Critics have warned that that a stimulus-fueled surge in consumer spending could revive a 1970s-style escalation in wages and prices that could cripple the economy in the years to come.Philip Cheung for The New York TimesEven before Mr. Summers and others raised economic concerns about Mr. Biden’s $1.9 trillion relief bill, officials were wrestling with their own worries about its inflation risks. They had internally concluded, with direction from Mr. Biden, that the biggest risk to the economy was going “too small” on the aid package — not spending enough to help vulnerable Americans survive continued stints of joblessness or lost income. But they wanted to know the risks of going “too big.”They tested whether an uptick in inflation might cause people and financial markets to expect rapid price increases in the years to come, upending decades of what economists call “well anchored” expectations for prices and potentially creating a situation where higher expectations led to higher inflation. They estimated the odds that the Fed would react to such moves by quickly and steeply raising interest rates, potentially slamming the brakes on growth and causing another recession.The informal group that initially gathered to research those questions included Mr. Bernstein; David Kamin, a deputy director of the National Economic Council; Michael Pyle, Vice President Kamala Harris’s chief economic adviser; and two Treasury officials, Nellie Liang and Ben Harris. More members have joined over time, including Mr. Tedeschi.The group reports regularly to Ms. Yellen and other senior officials including Brian Deese, who heads the N.E.C., and Cecilia Rouse, who leads the C.E.A. Its work has informed economic briefings of Mr. Biden and Ms. Harris.“The president and the vice president, their job is to deliver good economic outcomes for the American people,” Mr. Pyle said in an interview. “Part of what delivering strong economic outcomes to the American people means is ensuring that their team is fully on top of both the tailwinds to the U.S. economy but also the risks that are out there. And this is one of them.”Mr. Pyle and his colleagues looked at financial market measures of inflation expectations, including one called the five-year, five-year forward, which currently shows investors expecting lower inflation levels over the next several years than they expected in 2018.At the same time, officials at the Treasury’s Office of Economic Policy conducted a series of modeling exercises to “stress test” the virus relief package and how it might change those price and expectation measures if put in place. They considered scenarios where consumers quickly spent their aid money, which included $1,400 checks, or where they did not spend much of it at all right away. They talked with large banks about trends in customers’ cash balances and how quickly people were returning to the work force. Ms. Yellen, a former Fed chair, helped adjust the models herself.The exercises produced a wide range of possibilities for inflation. But they never suggested it would rise so rapidly that the Fed could not easily handle it by adjusting interest rates or other monetary policy tools. They saw no risk of a sharp return to recession — and no reason to pull back from spending proposals that administration officials believe will help the economy heal faster and help historically disadvantaged groups, like Black and Hispanic workers, regain jobs and income.“We’re going to see some heat in this economy,” Mr. Pyle said. “That heat is going to be good and redound to the benefit of wages and labor market conditions overall and particularly for a number of communities that have been at the margins of the labor market for too long.”If the data proves that forecast wrong, officials say privately, they will be quick to adapt. But they will not say how. If inflation were to accelerate in a sustained and surprising way, some officials suggest, the administration would trust the Fed to step in to contain it.There is no plan, as of yet, for Mr. Biden to consider inflation-fighting actions of his own. More

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    'When is the housing market going to crash?' is a red-hot search on Google – here's why

    Rick Nazarro of Colonial Manor Realty talks with a pair of interested buyers in the driveway as a couple waits to enter a property he is trying to sell during a “controlled” open house on May 2, 2020 in Revere, MA.Blake Nissen | Boston Globe | Getty ImagesThe housing market has been white hot for the past year, thanks to the stay at home and work from anywhere culture of the coronavirus pandemic.But there is increasing concern among consumers that housing is experiencing a price bubble – and that the bubble may be ready to burst.Google reported last week that the search question “When is the housing market going to crash?” had spiked 2,450% in the past month. “Why is the market so hot?” searches had doubled in just a week.And, in the most telling indication that the market may be in a bubble, “How much over asking price should I offer on a home 2021″ jumped 350% in that same week.There are various measures of home prices, but one of the most timely and watched is from CoreLogic, which showed prices up 10.4% in February year over year. That is the largest annual jump since 2006.CNBC Real EstateRead CNBC’s latest coverage of the housing market:These are 2021′s best cities for first-time homebuyersHere’s how much weight Americans gained during Covid, and here’s how they’re losing itMortgage refinance demand drops 20% as rates rise to 10-month high”We’ve got an acute shortage of supply on the market for sale at the same time that record low mortgage rates are driving the appetite to buy by millennials and Gen-Xers,” said Frank Nothaft, chief economist at CoreLogic.There are about half as many homes actively listed for sale compared with this time a year ago, according to realtor.com. That has caused competition to ignite to the point where buyers are more likely to find themselves in bidding wars.That Google question about overpaying doesn’t sit well with Nothaft.”I have to admit I’m worried when I hear that. It does make me concerned,” he said. “That’s the mindset that comes in, because that means it’s an auction market.”At the start of this month, 42% of homes were selling for more than their list price, according to real estate brokerage Redfin. This was 16 percentage points higher than the same period a year earlier.”The housing market is more competitive than we’ve ever seen it, but a couple indicators are causing us to ask whether we’re nearing a peak in terms of how fast demand and prices can grow,” said Daryl Fairweather, Redfin’s chief economist. “Sellers’ asking prices may be starting to flatten in what so far appears to follow a typical seasonal pattern.”Fairweather sees the decline in mortgage purchase applications as a sign that some people are dropping out of the market because there’s a lack of affordable homes for sale.If these trends continue, she said, it could mean that we are “not in the midst of runaway home price speculation or a housing bubble.”As mortgage rates rise, which they are slowly doing now, and buyers hit an affordability wall, Nothaft said he expects to see annual home price gains nationally cool to the 3% range. But all real estate is local.A “For Sale” sign near a group of houses under construction at the Norton Commons subdivision in Louisville, Kentucky, on Monday, March 8, 2021.Luke Sharrett | Bloomberg | Getty Images”That does mean there will be some markets that are not going to have any price growth at all,” said Nothaft, adding, “I do think we’re likely to see some markets correct.”Nearly 75% of the 100 largest U.S. housing markets saw annual home price growth of 10% or higher, according to Black Knight. Markets with the strongest price appreciation could be most at risk.Many of those are in the West, where Californians have flocked during the recent exodus. Those include Boise City, Idaho, where prices are up 26% annually, according to Black Knight. Spokane, Washington (+20%); Ogden, Utah (+20%) and Phoenix (+18%) follow.Cities with the slowest home price appreciation are Chicago, Houston, New Orleans, Orlando, Florida, and Pittsburgh, all with single-digit gains.”Any hopes of 2021 bringing an influx of homes to the market and lessening pressure on prices appear to be dashed for now,” wrote Ben Graboske, president of data and analytics at Black Knight, noting the drop in new for-sale listings in January and February. “With higher interest rates and a continuing shortage of inventory, it will be important to keep a careful eye on both home prices and affordability metrics in the coming months.”Homebuilders are slowly increasing production, and new government Covid stimulus could add to that. As the economy opens and more Americans are vaccinated, cities could see a rebirth, taking some of the heat out of all that suburban competition. So will the housing market crash? Unlikely.It will cool, no question, but unlike the great housing crash a decade ago, mortgage underwriting is very strict now, so most homeowners can afford the homes they’re currently in.If prices chill or even drop slightly in some markets, it will not lead to a foreclosure crisis. Investors are quite heavy in the market as well, given the high demand for rentals, and that should serve as a backstop for major price declines. More

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    Consumer prices rise more than expected, pushed by 9.1% jump in gasoline

    Consumer prices shot higher in March, given a boost by a strong economic recovery and year-over-year comparisons to a time when the Covid-19 pandemic was about to throttle the U.S. economy, the Labor Department reported Tuesday.The consumer price index rose 0.6% from the previous month but 2.6% from the same period a year ago. The year-over-year gain is the highest since August 2018 and was well above the 1.7% recorded in February.The index was projected to rise 0.5% on a monthly basis and 2.5% from March 2020, according to Dow Jones estimates.Gasoline prices were the biggest contributor to the monthly gain, surging 9.1% in March and responsible for about half the overall CPI increase. Gasoline is up 22.5% from a year ago, part of a 13.2% increase in energy prices.Food nudged higher as well, up 0.1% for the month and 3.5% for the year. The food-at-home category increased 3.3%. All six of the government’s measures of grocery store indexes rose, with the biggest gain of 5.4% in the category of meats, poultry, fish and eggs.Food away from home increased 3.7%, while “limited services meals,” which include pickup, take out and delivery restaurants, jumped 6.5% for the year, the largest annual increase in the survey’s history dating to 1997.Markets showed a modest reaction to the news, with stock futures off their lows for the morning but still indicating a negative open. Government bond yields held mostly flat.That big surge on a year-over-year basis resulted from what economists call the “base effect,” or the lower level used for comparison. In March 2020, the government had just begun a massive shutdown of U.S. businesses that ultimately would see more than 22 million Americans on the unemployment line.Core CPI, which excludes volatile food and energy costs, increased 0.3% monthly and 1.6% year over year.While the inflation numbers look high, many economists as well as policymakers at the Federal Reserve expect the increase to be temporary. April likely also will show a sharp rise, but then the numbers are supposed to decrease as the worst months of the shutdown fall out of the data comparisons.Fed officials have said they won’t adjust policy based on short-term jumps in inflation readings. Chairman Jerome Powell told CBS’ “60 Minutes” in an interview that aired Sunday evening that he does not expect any interest rate hikes this year.Still, markets have been pricing in higher growth and inflation, with government bond yields rising to their highest levels since before the pandemic. The economic reopening and unprecedented levels of government support are contributing to the inflationary environment.Fed officials see GDP growth this year around 6.5%, which would be the fastest increase since 1984.Enjoyed this article?For exclusive stock picks, investment ideas and CNBC global livestreamSign up for CNBC ProStart your free trial now More

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    The inflation rate could jump, but there’s a simple reason not to read too much into it.

    When the government releases its latest consumer price inflation reading at 8:30 a.m. on Tuesday, Wall Street investors will be eagerly watching the data point, which is expected to jump starting this month.Inflation data matters because it gives an up-to-date snapshot of how much it costs Americans to buy the goods and services they regularly consume. And because the Federal Reserve is charged in part with keeping increases in prices contained, the data can influence its decisions — and those affect financial markets.But there’s a big reason not to read too much into the expected bounce in March and April — and it lies in so-called base effects.Inflation Is Set to Jump More

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    NYC Retail Zones: Midtown Has Been Empty, but Other Areas Have Bounced Back

    Shopping locally has helped foot traffic in some commercial districts across the city return almost to prepandemic levels.All eyes are on Midtown Manhattan as everyone anxiously waits to see if and when office workers and tourists will return to what have been eerily empty streets and whether the businesses that line them will regain customers lost during the pandemic.But other retail corridors across New York are also important barometers of the city’s economy, as well as key to its recovery; a survey of five of them, one in each borough, showed signs of resilience.“On the whole, business districts outside Manhattan are holding up better and some are really thriving,” said Jonathan Bowles, executive director of the Center for an Urban Future.This is not to gloss over the hardship experienced practically everywhere.Corridors outside Midtown that have much in common with it — commuter hubs drawing 9-to-5 workers — have also experienced a dramatic falloff in foot traffic and, therefore, customers for stores and restaurants. The same goes for areas reliant on leisure activities that Covid restrictions shut down.But retail hubs surrounded by residential development have fared better during a time when many people who normally work in offices were holed up at home for extended periods. When they went out, they spent locally. Supermarkets and other essential businesses have been flourishing.Larger economic forces that were in play even before the pandemic — such as the decline in brick-and-mortar retail in the face of online shopping — have continued to exact their toll. Empty storefronts were an issue on many streets before Covid, and the closing of Century 21 and Modell’s Sporting Goods outlets during the pandemic have left gaping holes in some shopping districts.Street vendors have long been part of the scene on Harlem’s 125th Street; some now sell face shields and other pandemic items.Katherine Marks for The New York TimesRetailers that remain have scrambled to adapt to ever-changing pandemic policies. Some have branched into online sales, often with the help of merchant groups, business improvement districts or the NYC Small Business Resource Network, a new public-private partnership that has deployed “small business support specialists” to neighborhoods throughout the city. But stores are also competing with street vendors, which have proliferated during the pandemic, and other problems have emerged, including increases in graffiti and litter.On streets with empty storefronts, asking rents are falling as landlords try to lure new tenants. Some new businesses have opened because they have been able to take advantage of lower rents, more flexible lease terms and the ability to move into a space that had already been kitted out by a departing business.But store openings do not match closings, and the moratorium on commercial evictions that was put in place to protect tenants during the pandemic is set to expire May 1. Many businesses owe back rent because they had no income during the lockdown and reduced earnings since then.“Many of our merchants are still in business because of the eviction moratorium,” said Jennifer Tausig, co-chair of the NYC BID Association, which represents 76 business improvement districts across the city. “We don’t know what will happen when the rent apocalypse hits.”Much is still unknown, and the absence of hard data has left people searching for signs of recovery wherever they can find them.Thomas J. Grech, president and chief executive of the Queens Chamber of Commerce, estimates that 1,000 of the 6,000 restaurants in his borough have closed for good. But he is busy going to ribbon cuttings for new businesses. And he has noticed more small delivery trucks on the streets — “the Boar’s Head trucks, the folks who supply bacon and eggs to diners.” To him, it means “people are buying sandwiches,” he said. “All that stuff has a ripple effect.”The businesses along 125th Street have benefitted from local residents shopping locally.Katherine Marks for The New York TimesManhattan: 125th Street While Midtown has been a ghost town for much of the pandemic, four miles north, 125th Street in Harlem has at times felt like its old bustling self, a clamorous mix of chain stores, mom-and-pop shops and sidewalk vendors.For years, Harlem boosters had made efforts to attract “Class A” office buildings and hotels, with relatively little success. But ironically, during the pandemic, that meant the east-west corridor did not suffer the way areas dependent on 9-to-5 workers and tourists have.Instead, 125th Street had 600,000 residents within walking distance and shopping locally. Those who otherwise would have been heading to offices sheltered in place and, when they ventured out, spent money closer to home.“We had a lot of the essentials — the banks, the telecoms, even the pawn shops,” said Barbara Askins, the president and chief executive of the 125th Street Business Improvement District. “People needed money and that kept the pawn shops busy.”When Covid restrictions shut down the Apollo Theater, 125th Street lost a  major generator of foot traffic.Katherine Marks for The New York TimesAll is far from normal, though. The Apollo Theater, which typically attracts about 220,000 visitors annually, was forced to close, eliminating a big draw.Overall pedestrian activity declined, according to the BID’s counts. After a dramatic falloff during the lockdown of April and May of last year, it rose steadily until, by September, foot traffic was back to February 2020 levels. It dropped again when the city’s gradual reopening was put on hold by the surge in Covid cases last fall and winter.Vacant storefronts are noticeable, and average asking rents have declined six percent since 2019, according to a report from the Real Estate Board of New York. Some landlords are trying to hang onto the tenants they have. Leah Abraham, the founder of Settepani and the owner of a building on 125th Street, has lost a tenant and cut the rent of others, with her eye on better days to come. “Harlem has such a strong cachet,” Ms. Abraham said. “I am sure it will rebound.” One promising sign: Trader Joe’s and Target will be coming to a 17-story mixed-use development on 125th Street at Malcolm X Boulevard that is slated to open in 2023 and will also include some affordable housing, the headquarters for the National Urban League and New York’s first civil rights museum.Some retailers on Fordham Road in the Bronx say sales are nearing pre-pandemic levels.Karsten Moran for The New York TimesThe Bronx: Fordham Road Fordham Road, the biggest shopping district in the Bronx, an open-air bazaar strung along a major east-west transportation corridor, went into the pandemic with a three percent vacancy rate, according to the Fordham Road Business Improvement District. Today, the vacancy rate is still three percent. And asking rents, after declining slightly last year, are back up to prepandemic levels, said Scott Silverstein, a broker with Colliers.All this says something about the staying power of the historic shopping corridor, especially after a year that saw the loss of 40 percent of the borough’s businesses, not to mention the highest Covid death rates in the city and an increase in the unemployment rate to nearly 18 percent.While some businesses have closed during the pandemic, street vendors have proliferated.Karsten Moran for The New York TimesIt also says something about the demographics of the area around Fordham Road. Many people who live nearby are essential workers who continued to commute to work, providing foot traffic to the businesses that occupy 175 storefronts between Jerome and Washington Avenues, the core of the district.Businesses hustled to survive — adding masks and hand sanitizer to their offerings, shifting to online sales and banding together in what Wilma Alonso, executive director of the Fordham Road BID, called a “mini mall” trend. Where a single establishment might previously have occupied a storefront, now there could be multiple businesses in one location. “It looks like one store,” Ms. Alonso said, “but when you go inside there’s an eyebrow place, a jewelry store and a lingerie person.”City Jeans, a Bronx-born chain started in 1993, has a store on Fordham Road — one of many sneaker outlets here. Sales are 80 to 85 percent of prepandemic levels, said Marko Majic, community coordinator for the chain. The City Point shopping center, just off Downtown Brooklyn’s Fulton Mall, draws shoppers from a wide swath of Brooklyn.Stefano Ukmar for The New York TimesBrooklyn: Fulton Mall As in Midtown Manhattan, the office buildings of Downtown Brooklyn have been largely empty during the pandemic. Ditto the courthouses.The absence of commuters has been felt on Fulton Mall, the eight-block stretch of Fulton Street that is closed to cars and normally sees some 77,000 people a day, according to the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership, a local development corporation. In 2020 foot traffic dropped by 48 percent to less than 41,000.But there has been a boom in residential development in the area in recent years, with new towers rising around the mostly low-rise buildings on Fulton Mall. And with people sheltering in place and shopping locally, this has helped balance things out, said Regina Myer, president of the development corporation.City Point, a multilevel indoor shopping mall just off Fulton, has drawn people from a wider swath of Brooklyn to its stores, which include anchor tenants Target and Trader Joe’s. This has benefited Fulton Mall as a whole, said Ms. Myer, pointing to pedestrian counts that reached 91 percent of 2019 levels on the corner of Fulton and Hanover Place in December.But it’s unclear whether Brooklynites flocking to City Point are also shopping in the chain stores and at independents selling cellphones, children’s clothing, sneakers and flashy gold jewelry on Fulton Mall.Of the strip’s 83 storefronts, 11 are closed permanently, although some of the closings predated the pandemic and some inactive sites are being marketed for redevelopment.The historic Gage & Tollner restaurant opens for indoor dining April 15 on a block where some vacant storefronts have been identified for redevelopment.Stefano Ukmar for The New York TimesGage & Tollner, the recently revived Victorian-era restaurant on the strip, has been doing takeout business since February but will open for indoor dining April 15. On a recent visit, its ornate white-painted facade stood out on a block lined with gated storefronts. “We have no neighbors here,” said St. John Frizell, a partner in the restaurant.Gage & Tollner is a landmark and by law must be preserved, but other sites on the block are slated for redevelopment, according to Claire Holmes, a spokeswoman for the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership.Rents on sites not up for redevelopment range from $125 to $250 per square foot, according to brokers, reflecting a slight drop from prepandemic highs. “They were hitting $300 per square foot at one point,” said Peter Ripka, co-founder of Ripco Real Estate.But Mr. Ripka was bullish about what he called “one of the granddaddies of the great borough streets.” “Fulton Mall will come back,” he added.Shoppers have returned to downtown Flushing, but storefront vacancies have increased and rents have fallen.Tom Sibley for The New York TimesQueens: Main Street in FlushingFlushing’s Chinatown is typically teeming, especially on weekends when people who live outside Downtown Flushing make pilgrimages to its dim sum restaurants and Asian specialty stores. The neighborhood is a major shopping district and transportation hub.The district went uncharacteristically quiet in early 2020, long before other parts of the city shut down, when many Chinese business owners here recognized the seriousness of the pandemic, and hostility directed at Asian-americans became more overt. Area residents were among the first to don face masks, shelter at home — and close stores and restaurants.Many of these businesses have not survived the year since then. Nearly half of the barbershops and hair and nail salons, many of which had been situated on side streets, have closed. So have about 35 restaurants, including longtime favorites like Joe’s Shanghai and Good Kitchen. Banks, medical offices and grocery stores, on the other hand, have done well, and a new supermarket has just opened in a space Modell’s previously occupied.There has been a 16 percent increase in consumer interest for shopping, restaurant and food categories in the Main Street corridor since the beginning of the pandemic, according to Yelp, at the same time that the share of consumer interest declined 49 percent for Midtown.These days the street feels as busy as ever, but the vacancy rate has risen to five or six percent from less than one percent, said Dian Song Yu, executive director of the Downtown Flushing Transit Hub BID. “We’ve never seen that before,” he added. Rents have dropped about 15 percent, said Michael Wang, founding partner of Project Queens, a brokerage. But deals are being made.In response to anti-Asian hate crimes, a volunteer patrol has sprung up to help keep local streets safe.Tom Sibley for The New York Times“Pre-Covid, if you had a retail store in the main strip you would have 30 offers,” Mr. Wang said. “Now the demand is much lower, but you still have five people very serious about moving in.”But anti-Asian racism that existed before the pandemic has flared up here, just as it has elsewhere, with people falsely blaming Asian-Americans for spreading the coronavirus. Earlier this year a woman was thrown against a row of newspaper stands and injured outside a bakery. Main Street Patrol, a volunteer group, has sprung up to document, record and, if necessary, intervene in hate crimes, as have other neighborhood watch groups around the city.Empire Outlets, an outdoor shopping mall in St. George, lost 65 to 70 percent of its foot traffic during the pandemic but visitors have recently increased.Erica Price for The New York TimesStaten Island: Bay Street The city’s most suburban-style, car-centric borough doesn’t have the density other parts of the city do, and many of its retailers line small commercial corridors and strip malls.The former have fared better than the latter during the pandemic, said Linda M. Baran, the president and chief executive of the Staten Island Chamber of Commerce. While most of the stores and restaurants along places like New Dorp Lane and Forest Avenue have been holding their own, the strip malls “are where I’m seeing vacancies,” she said. Six percent of the borough’s businesses have closed for good, according to a recent survey by the chamber.Bay Street, on the North Shore, is in its own category. It stretches from the Staten Island Ferry terminal south through three neighborhoods that together make up Downtown Staten Island: St. George, Tompkinsville and Stapleton.Home to mostly mom-and-pops, Bay Street was regarded as a work-in-progress before the pandemic. A 2017 city report counted 232 storefronts, many in poor condition, and put the vacancy rate at 21 percent. The rate had declined somewhat by early 2020, however.St. George, the neighborhood most familiar to day trippers who arrive by ferry, is the area that has seen the greatest falloff in foot traffic. This is where borough hall, courthouses and cultural institutions are clustered, and the businesses here have struggled ever since government workers were sent home, tourists stopped riding the ferry from Manhattan and the St. George Theater closed to visitors.Vacant storefronts have been a longstanding issue on Bay Street.Erica Price for The New York TimesSome restaurants have pivoted to takeout (and Enoteca Maria, famed for its rotating cast of chef grandmas, to selling bottled sauces). Some have opted to shut their doors and wait out the pandemic. But some new food purveyors have opened, including on Bay Street.Empire Outlets, an outdoor shopping mall near the ferry terminal, was still finding its footing before the pandemic. It has lost 65 to 70 percent of its visitors and four retailers, said Joseph Ferrara, a principal at BFC Partners, the mall’s developer. However, foot traffic increased 20 percent between February and March and parking jumped 140 percent.Empire Outlets and other area businesses are banking on the return of municipal workers, now scheduled for June 1. NYC Fast Ferry will start providing service to St. George from Battery Park City and Midtown Manhattan this summer. And on the horizon: the recently announced revival of the New York Wheel project, albeit in a scaled-down form and not until 2025.For weekly email updates on residential real estate news, sign up here. Follow us on Twitter: @nytrealestate. More

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    The third round of stimulus checks helped, but millions of Americans are still struggling

    While the number of Americans struggling to put food on the table and pay bills fell last month, new data shows that millions are still feeling the financial effects of the Covid-19 pandemic. The third round of stimulus payments started to hit bank accounts on March 12, so it’s not surprising that the number of Americans who couldn’t cover household expenses in late March fell from 33.8% to 28.9%, according to the latest U.S. Census Bureau data collected March 17-29. The number of Americans who sometimes or often do not have enough to eat on a weekly basis also fell, from 10.7% to 8.8%. But that still leaves about 18 million adults who are going hungry, a figure that is much higher than the number of Americans who said they didn’t have enough to eat prior to the start of the pandemic in 2019, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.”While the latest figures are a welcome improvement, they show that many Americans will need more help to enable them to climb out of debt and to return the nation to pre-pandemic levels of hardship — let alone to reach a more equitable recovery that reduces hardship further,” writes Claire Zippel, a senior research analyst with CBPP. In many cases, Americans are still experiencing financial hardship because households aren’t earning the same amount they did before the pandemic started, in part because of unemployment, furloughs and pay cuts. About 54 million Americans say they aren’t using regular income sources, such as their paychecks, side hustle earnings or rental income, to help cover their expenses on a weekly basis. Instead, millions have turned to borrowing, the CBPP finds. About 50 million Americans reported using credit cards or loans to cover their expenses. About 20 million say they borrowed money from family or friends. Although those two groups overlap, it adds up to about 34 million adults total who say they used some type of borrowing to get by financially last month, the CBPP finds. Those who are borrowing in order to stay financially afloat more often than not have children and are renters. Additionally, a higher portion of Black, Latino and Asian adults are borrowing than their white counterparts.Check out: Meet the middle-aged millennial: Homeowner, debt-burdened and turning 40Don’t miss: Saved more during the pandemic? Here are 4 ways to put extra money to work More

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    Drought and Abundance in the Mesopotamian Marshes

    On my most recent visit to the Mesopotamian marshes, in March, I arrived at Sayeed Hitham’s for breakfast. The pandemic had kept me away for more than a year.The sun was just rising, the sky pink and golden. Hana, Hitham’s wife, stood smiling near the door to their reed house. “Tea is ready, bread is ready,” she said. “Come on in.”We sat on the worn-out carpet around a glowing kerosene heater, sipping tea and dipping the flat naan Hana had just baked into hot buffalo milk. “What took you so long, Emi?” Sayeed asked with a tone of reproach. “We haven’t seen you in forever.”A woman floats past a mudhif, a traditional house made of reeds.Water buffaloes in the Central Marsh, one of three main areas in the Mesopotamian marshes.Indeed. A year was the longest I’d gone without visiting the Mesopotamian marshes since I began documenting the area in late 2016.At that time, when journalists and photographers were flocking to the north of Iraq, where the battle for Mosul was raging, I took the opposite path and headed south. I was in search of another view of the country, something different from the war I’d been covering for the previous year and a half.A fisherwoman at work in the Hammar Marsh.It was a moment of real discovery for me — one of those few times when you connect with a place, with a people.A fisherman casts his net in the Euphrates River, between the Central Marsh and the Hammar Marsh.Fishermen in the Central Marsh.The Mesopotamian marshes, a series of wetlands that sit near Iraq’s southeast border, feel like an oasis in the middle of the desert — which they are. The ruins of the ancient Sumerian cities of Ur, Uruk and Eridu are close at hand. The broader region, known as the cradle of civilization, saw early developments in writing, architecture and complex society.Iraq’s Central Marsh.The marshes are home to a people called the Ma’dan, also known as the Marsh Arabs, who live deep in the wetlands, mostly as buffalo breeders in isolated settlements, a majority of which are reachable only by boat. Others live in small cities on the banks of the Tigris or Euphrates rivers, which feed the marshes.Many of the Ma’dan left decades ago, when the marshes were ravaged by war, famine and repression.A Ma’dan with water buffaloes in the Central Marsh.Ma’dan children milking buffaloes at dawn.During the Iran-Iraq war, waged between 1980 and 1988, the wetland’s proximity to the Iranian border turned the area into a conflict zone, a theater for bloody battles. Later, in the early 1990s, in the aftermath of a Shiite uprising against his Baath Party, Saddam Hussein intentionally drained the region — where many of the Shiite rebels had fled — as a punishment and a way to stifle the insurrection.The marshes turned into a desert for more than a decade, until the United States-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.A boy carries reeds across the railway that passes through the marshes between Baghdad and Basra.The Central Marsh, as a sandstorm approaches. In the background is a village that was destroyed by Saddam Hussein’s regime during the 1990s.By then, damage had already been done. By the early 2000s, less than 10 percent of the area’s original wetland existed as a functioning marshland.A woman leads her water buffaloes.Today, after being re-flooded and partially restored, the marshes are once again endangered — by climate change, lack of ecological awareness on a local level and, perhaps most dramatically, by the construction of dams in Turkey and Syria and upriver in Iraq.Fishing with electricity, as these men are doing, is quite common in the marshes. The electricity kills everything within a few feet and can harm the ecosystem.The cultivation of reeds, which are used to build homes, is a key element of Ma’dan culture.In 2018, an extremely hot summer followed by a lack of rain caused a serious drought. In some areas, the water level fell by more than three feet.Once largely drained, the Mesopotamian Marshes have since been reflooded and partially restored.A man fishes at night on the Euphrates.“That’s it,” I remember thinking, as the small boat crossed the marsh where corpses of young buffaloes floated in the water. Buffalo breeders like Sayeed Hitham lost about a third of their livestock, and many had to leave when areas turned into a desert. They migrated to neighboring cities — or farther still, to the poor suburbs of Karbala, Basra or Baghdad.During a period of severe drought, a child, Zaineb, plays with a relative while her uncle, Sayeed Aqeel, watches.Fatma, at age 2, tries to kiss a young buffalo.But then, a few months later, the water began to rise. People returned. I photographed the renewal, just as I’d photographed drought the year before. But it felt then — it still feels now — like a sword of Damocles hung over the region.A family in the Hammar Marsh.The stakes are high, both ecologically and for the people who live here. If the already-depleted marshes dry up again, the Ma’dan may have no choice but to leave, to cast away from a peaceful enclave into a troubled land.Two children — Inas, on the left, and Baneen, on the right — sit in their house during the month of Muharram.Children sleep outside under a mosquito net.Still, I’ve kept coming back. Over the years, I’ve seen drought and abundance, freezing winters and burning summers. I’ve seen children born, and watched them grow up. I’ve followed Sayeed Hitham and his family as they moved around the marsh, the location of their new home dependent on the water level — and each time built out of reeds.Oum Hanin laughs inside her little home in the Hammar Marsh. She lives alone with her buffaloes.I’ve even gotten used to the huge water buffaloes, known locally as jamous, which represent the main source of income for most of the Ma’dan.The buffaloes scared me at the beginning. But I’ve learned to walk through a herd of horns, to let them smell me, to pet the fluffy, friendly calves — the ones that try to lick my hand like oversized dogs.A teenager milks the family’s water buffaloes at dawn. Known locally as jamous, water buffaloes are often the only source of income for Ma’dan families, who sell the animals’ milk in the nearby towns.Dawn in the Central Marsh.When I outlined my progress to Sayeed, as we wrapped up breakfast, he burst into his wonderful, exuberant laughter. “You still know nothing, Emi,” he said. “You can’t even tell the mean jamous in the herd.”Then, serious, and still smiling, he said: “It’s OK. You have time to learn.”Emilienne Malfatto is a photojournalist and writer based in Iraq and Southern Europe. You can follow her work on Instagram and Twitter.Follow New York Times Travel on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook. And sign up for our weekly Travel Dispatch newsletter to receive expert tips on traveling smarter and inspiration for your next vacation. More

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    Fed Chief Says U.S. Economy Is at an ‘Inflection Point’ as Risks Remain

    “It’s going to be smart if people can continue to socially distance and wear masks,” Jerome Powell said on “60 Minutes.”WASHINGTON — The economy is at an “inflection point” and on the cusp of growing more quickly, the Federal Reserve chairman, Jerome H. Powell, said in an interview broadcast on Sunday night. But he warned that the crisis was not yet over.In the interview, with “60 Minutes” on CBS, Mr. Powell said that the American economy “has brightened substantially” as more people are vaccinated and businesses reopen. But he cautioned that “there really are risks out there,” specifically coronavirus flare-ups, if Americans return to normal life too quickly.“The principal risk to our economy right now really is that the disease would spread again more quickly,” he said. “And that’s troubling. It’s going to be smart if people can continue to socially distance and wear masks.”The Fed has held interest rates near zero since March 2020 and has been buying about $120 billion in government-backed bonds each month, policies meant to stoke spending by keeping borrowing cheap. Fed officials have been clear that they will continue to support the economy until it is closer to their goals of maximum employment and stable inflation — and that while the situation is improving, it is not there yet.Mr. Powell reiterated that approach on Sunday, saying that the central bank would “consider raising rates when the labor market recovery is essentially complete, and we’re back to maximum employment, and inflation is back to our 2 percent goal and is on track to move above 2 percent for some time.”But he said it would “be a while until we get to that place.”Discussing inflation, Mr. Powell once again made clear that the Fed wanted to see “sustainable” price increases before it adjusted monetary policy.“Inflation has been below 2 percent,” he said. “We want it to be just moderately above 2 percent. So that’s what we’re looking for.” “And when we get that,” he added, “that’s when we’ll raise interest rates.”Some prominent onlookers have warned that the economy has the potential overheat as the federal government pumps out trillions of dollars in stimulus aid and other spending and as the economy reopens, allowing consumers to spend more money.So far, no sustained inflation spike has materialized.Figures show the economy is recovering, albeit slowly. Employers added more than 900,000 workers to payrolls last month, but the country is still missing millions of jobs compared with February 2020, and just last week state jobless claims climbed.Mr. Powell on Sunday highlighted that while some workers were doing well, others had yet to get back to where they were before Covid-19 lockdowns, a phenomenon that will influence when the Fed reduces or removes policy support.“What you’re seeing is some parts of the economy are doing very well, have fully recovered, have even more than fully recovered in some cases,” Mr. Powell said. “And some parts haven’t recovered very much at all yet. So you do see real disparities between different parts of the economy. It’s sort of unusual for an economy like ours.”Mr. Powell also pointed to data that shows the burden is falling hardest on those least able to bear it: Lower-income service workers, who are heavily people of color and women, have been hit hard by job losses.While he expects those workers to get back to their jobs more quickly as the economy rebounds, the Fed needs to “stick with those people and support them as they try to get back to where they were in life, which was working,” he said, adding, “They were in jobs just a year ago.” More