More stories

  • in

    The Economic Rebound Is Still Waiting for Workers

    Despite school reopenings and the end of some federal aid, many people are in no rush to land a job. Savings and health concerns are playing a role.Fall was meant to mark the beginning of the end of the labor shortage that has held back the nation’s economic recovery. Expanded unemployment benefits were ending. Schools were reopening, freeing up many caregivers. Surely, economists and business owners reasoned, a flood of workers would follow.Instead, the labor force shrank in September. There are five million fewer people working than before the pandemic began, and three million fewer even looking for work.The slow return of workers is causing headaches for the Biden administration, which was counting on a strong economic rebound to give momentum to its political agenda. Forecasters were largely blindsided by the problem and don’t know how long it will last.Conservatives have blamed generous unemployment benefits for keeping people at home, but evidence from states that ended the payments early suggests that any impact was small. Progressives say companies could find workers if they paid more, but the shortages aren’t limited to low-wage industries.Instead, economists point to a complex, overlapping web of factors, many of which could be slow to reverse.The health crisis is still making it hard or dangerous for some people to work, while savings built up during the pandemic have made it easier for others to turn down jobs they do not want. Psychology may also play a role: Surveys suggest that the pandemic led many to rethink their priorities, while the glut of open jobs — more than 10 million in August — may be motivating some to hold out for a better offer.The net result is that, arguably for the first time in decades, workers up and down the income ladder have leverage. And they are using it to demand not just higher pay but also flexible hours, more generous benefits and better working conditions. A record 4.3 million people quit their jobs in August, in some cases midshift to take a better-paying position down the street.“It’s like the whole country is in some kind of union renegotiation,” said Betsey Stevenson, a University of Michigan economist who was an adviser to President Barack Obama. “I don’t know who’s going to win in this bargaining that’s going on right now, but right now it seems like workers have the upper hand.”The slow return of workers is causing headaches for the Biden administration, which was counting on a strong economic rebound to give momentum to its political agenda.Kendrick Brinson for The New York TimesRachel Eager spent last fall at home, taking the last class for her bachelor’s degree over Zoom while waiting to be recalled to her job at a New York City after-school program. That call never came.So Ms. Eager, 25, is looking for work. She has applied for dozens of jobs and had a handful of interviews, so far without luck. But she is taking her time. Ms. Eager says she is still worried about catching Covid-19 — she would prefer to work remotely, and if she does end up taking an in-person job, she wants it to be worth the risk. And she doesn’t want another job with low pay, little flexibility and no benefits.“Many, many people are realizing that the way things were prepandemic were not sustainable and not benefiting them,” she said. She has been applying for jobs in data analysis, nonprofit management and other fields that would offer better pay, benefits and a sense of purpose.Ms. Eager, who is vaccinated, said that she had always been careful with money and that she built savings this year by staying home and socking away unemployment benefits and other aid. “My financial situation is OK, and I think that is 99 percent of the reason that I can be choosy about my job prospects,” she said.Americans have saved trillions of dollars since the pandemic began. Much of that wealth is concentrated among high earners, who mostly kept their jobs, reduced spending on dining and vacations, and benefited from a soaring stock market. But many lower-income Americans, too, were able to set aside money thanks to the government’s multitrillion-dollar response to the pandemic, which included not only direct cash assistance but also increased food aid, forbearance on mortgages and student loans and an eviction moratorium. Economists said the extra savings alone aren’t necessarily keeping people out of the labor force. But the cushion is letting people be more picky about the jobs they take, when many have good reasons to be picky.In addition to health concerns, child care issues remain a factor. Most schools have resumed in-person classes, but parents in many districts have had to grapple with quarantines or temporary returns to remote learning. And many parents of younger children are struggling to find day care, in part because that industry is dealing with its own staffing crisis.Liz Kelly-Campanale left her job as a winemaker last year to care for her two children in Portland, Ore. She thought about going back to work when schools resumed in-person instruction this fall. But the Delta variant upended those plans.“If you have an exposure, all of a sudden your kids are out of school for 10 days,” she said. “For people who have jobs where they can work from home, it’s maybe a little more feasible, but I can’t really drive a forklift around the house.”Ms. Kelly-Campanale, 37, said she might go back to work once her children, now 6 and 3, are vaccinated and the pandemic seems under control. But she said the pandemic has led her to rethink her priorities.“So much of how I saw myself was tied up in what I did for a living — it was a huge adjustment to all of a sudden not be doing that all the time,” she said. “But once I made that adjustment, it also became apparent that there were also benefits to having that work-life balance.”Economists worry that if the pandemic leads many people to opt out of the work force, it could have long-term consequences for economic growth. Rising labor force participation, particularly among women, was a major driver of the strong gains in income and production after World War II. Many economists argue that the reversal of that trend in recent decades has hurt economic growth..css-1xzcza9{list-style-type:disc;padding-inline-start:1em;}.css-3btd0c{font-family:nyt-franklin,helvetica,arial,sans-serif;font-size:1rem;line-height:1.375rem;color:#333;margin-bottom:0.78125rem;}@media (min-width:740px){.css-3btd0c{font-size:1.0625rem;line-height:1.5rem;margin-bottom:0.9375rem;}}.css-3btd0c strong{font-weight:600;}.css-3btd0c em{font-style:italic;}.css-1kpebx{margin:0 auto;font-family:nyt-franklin,helvetica,arial,sans-serif;font-weight:700;font-size:1.125rem;line-height:1.3125rem;color:#121212;}#NYT_BELOW_MAIN_CONTENT_REGION .css-1kpebx{font-family:nyt-cheltenham,georgia,’times new roman’,times,serif;font-weight:700;font-size:1.375rem;line-height:1.625rem;}@media (min-width:740px){#NYT_BELOW_MAIN_CONTENT_REGION .css-1kpebx{font-size:1.6875rem;line-height:1.875rem;}}@media (min-width:740px){.css-1kpebx{font-size:1.25rem;line-height:1.4375rem;}}.css-1gtxqqv{margin-bottom:0;}.css-1g3vlj0{font-family:nyt-franklin,helvetica,arial,sans-serif;font-size:1rem;line-height:1.375rem;color:#333;margin-bottom:0.78125rem;}@media (min-width:740px){.css-1g3vlj0{font-size:1.0625rem;line-height:1.5rem;margin-bottom:0.9375rem;}}.css-1g3vlj0 strong{font-weight:600;}.css-1g3vlj0 em{font-style:italic;}.css-1g3vlj0{margin-bottom:0;margin-top:0.25rem;}.css-19zsuqr{display:block;margin-bottom:0.9375rem;}.css-12vbvwq{background-color:white;border:1px solid #e2e2e2;width:calc(100% – 40px);max-width:600px;margin:1.5rem auto 1.9rem;padding:15px;box-sizing:border-box;}@media (min-width:740px){.css-12vbvwq{padding:20px;width:100%;}}.css-12vbvwq:focus{outline:1px solid #e2e2e2;}#NYT_BELOW_MAIN_CONTENT_REGION .css-12vbvwq{border:none;padding:10px 0 0;border-top:2px solid #121212;}.css-12vbvwq[data-truncated] .css-rdoyk0{-webkit-transform:rotate(0deg);-ms-transform:rotate(0deg);transform:rotate(0deg);}.css-12vbvwq[data-truncated] .css-eb027h{max-height:300px;overflow:hidden;-webkit-transition:none;transition:none;}.css-12vbvwq[data-truncated] .css-5gimkt:after{content:’See more’;}.css-12vbvwq[data-truncated] .css-6mllg9{opacity:1;}.css-qjk116{margin:0 auto;overflow:hidden;}.css-qjk116 strong{font-weight:700;}.css-qjk116 em{font-style:italic;}.css-qjk116 a{color:#326891;-webkit-text-decoration:underline;text-decoration:underline;text-underline-offset:1px;-webkit-text-decoration-thickness:1px;text-decoration-thickness:1px;-webkit-text-decoration-color:#326891;text-decoration-color:#326891;}.css-qjk116 a:visited{color:#326891;-webkit-text-decoration-color:#326891;text-decoration-color:#326891;}.css-qjk116 a:hover{-webkit-text-decoration:none;text-decoration:none;}In the shorter term, many economists think that more people will return to work as pandemic-related issues recede and as people deplete their savings.“Eventually those savings, especially for lower-income people, they’re going to run out,” said Pablo Villanueva, an economist at UBS. “A lot of people are going to be increasingly unable to stay out of work even if they have some fear of Covid.”Some businesses seem determined to wait them out. Wages have risen, but many employers appear reluctant to make other changes to attract workers, like flexible schedules and better benefits. That may be partly because, for all their complaints about a labor shortage, many companies are finding that they can get by with fewer workers, in some instances by asking customers to accept long waits or reduced service.“They’re making a lot of profits in part because they’re saving on labor costs, and the question is how long can that go on,” said Julia Pollak, chief economist for the employment site ZipRecruiter. Eventually, she said, customers may get tired of busing their own tables or sitting on hold for hours, and employers may be forced to give into workers’ demands.Some businesses are already changing how they operate. When Karter Louis opened his latest restaurant this year, he abandoned the industry-standard approach to staffing, with kitchen workers earning low wages and waiters relying on tips. At Soul Slice, his soul-food pizza restaurant in Oakland, Calif., everyone works full time, earns a salary rather than an hourly wage, and receives health insurance, retirement benefits and paid vacation. Hiring still hasn’t been easy, he said, but he isn’t having the staffing problems that other restaurants report.Restaurant owners wondering why they can’t find workers, Mr. Louis said, need to look at the way they treated workers before the pandemic, and also during it, when the industry laid off millions.“The restaurant industry didn’t really have the back of its people,” he said.Still, better pay and benefits alone won’t bring back everyone who has left the job market. The steepest drop in labor force participation came among older workers, who faced the greatest risks from the virus. Some may return to work as the health situation improves, but others have simply retired.And even some nowhere near retirement have made ends meet outside a traditional job.When Danielle Miess, 30, lost her job at a Philadelphia-area travel agency at the start of the pandemic, it was in some ways a blessing. Some time away helped her realize how bad the job had been for her mental health, and for her finances — her bank balance was negative on the day she was laid off. With federally supplemented unemployment benefits providing more than she made on the job, she said, she gained a measure of financial stability.Ms. Miess’s unemployment benefits ran out in September, but she isn’t looking for another office job. Instead, she is cobbling together a living from a variety of gigs. She is trying to build a business as an independent travel agent, while also doing house sitting, dog sitting and selling clothes online. She estimates she is earning somewhat more than the roughly $36,000 a year she made before the pandemic, and although she is working as many hours as ever, she enjoys the flexibility.“The thought of going to an office job 40 hours a week and clocking in at the exact time, it sounds incredibly difficult,” she said. “The rigidity of doing that job, feeling like I’m being watched like a hawk, it just doesn’t sound fun. I really don’t want to go back to that.” More

  • in

    Biden to Announce Expansion of Port of Los Angeles's Hours

    The expansion of the Port of Los Angeles’s hours comes as the administration has struggled to untangle kinks in global supply chains and curb the resulting inflation.WASHINGTON — President Biden will announce on Wednesday that the Port of Los Angeles will begin operating around the clock as his administration struggles to relieve growing backlogs in the global supply chains that deliver critical goods to the United States.Product shortages have frustrated American consumers and businesses and contributed to rising prices that are hurting the president politically. And the problems appear poised to worsen, enduring into late next year or beyond and disrupting shipments of necessities like medications, as well as holiday purchases.Mr. Biden is set to give a speech on Wednesday addressing the problems in ports, factories and shipping lanes that have helped produce shortages, long delivery times and rapid price increases for food, televisions, automobiles and much more. The resulting inflation has chilled consumer confidence and weighed on Mr. Biden’s approval ratings. The Labor Department is set to release a new reading of monthly inflation on Wednesday morning.Administration officials say that they have brokered a deal to move the Port of Los Angeles toward 24/7 operations, joining Long Beach, which is already operating around the clock, and that they are encouraging states to accelerate the licensing of more truck drivers. UPS, Walmart and FedEx will also announce they are moving to work more off-peak hours.Mr. Biden’s team, including a supply chain task force he established earlier this year, is working to make tangible progress toward unblocking the flow of goods and helping the retail industry return to a prepandemic normal. On Wednesday, the White House will host leaders from the Port of Los Angeles, the Port of Long Beach, and the International Longshore and Warehouse Union to discuss the difficulties at ports, as well as hold a round table with executives from Walmart, UPS and Home Depot.But it is unclear how much the White House’s efforts can realistically help. The blockages stretch up and down supply chains, from foreign harbors to American rail yards and warehouses. Companies are exacerbating the situation by rushing to obtain products and bidding up their own prices. Analysts say some of these issues may last into late next year or even 2023.Administration officials acknowledged on Tuesday in a call with reporters that the $1.9 trillion economic aid package Mr. Biden signed into law in March had contributed to supply chain issues by boosting demand for goods, but said the law was the reason the U.S. recovery has outpaced those of other nations this year.Consumer demand for exercise bikes, laptops, toys, patio furniture and other goods is booming, fueled by big savings amassed over the course of the pandemic.Imports for the fourth quarter are on pace to be 4.7 percent higher than in the same period last year, which was also a record-breaking holiday season, according to Panjiva, the supply chain research unit of S&P Global Market Intelligence.Meanwhile, the pandemic has shut down factories and slowed production around the world. Port closures, shortages of shipping containers and truck drivers, and pileups in rail and ship yards have led to long transit times and unpredictable deliveries for a wide range of products — problems that have only worsened as the holiday season approaches.Home Depot, Costco and Walmart have taken to chartering their own ships to move products across the Pacific Ocean. On Tuesday, 27 container ships were anchored in the Port of Los Angeles waiting to unload their containers, and the average anchorage time had stretched to more than 11 days.Jennifer McKeown, the head of the Global Economics Service at Capital Economics, said that worsening supplier delivery times and conditions at ports suggested that product shortages would persist into mid- to late next year.“Unfortunately, it does look like things are likely to get worse before they get better,” she said.Ms. McKeown said governments around the world could help to smooth some shortages and dampen some price increases, for example by encouraging workers to move into industries with labor shortages, like trucking.President Biden is set to give a speech on Wednesday addressing the problems in ports, factories and shipping lanes that have helped create shortages.Stefani Reynolds for The New York Times“But to some extent, they need to let markets do their work,” she said.Phil Levy, the chief economist at the logistics firm Flexport and a former official in the George W. Bush administration, said a Transportation Department official gathering information on what the administration could do to address the supply chain shortages had contacted his company. Flexport offered the administration suggestions on changing certain regulations and procedures to ease the blockages, but warned that the problem was a series of choke points “stacked one on top of the other.”“Are there things that can be done at the margin? Yes, and the administration has at least been asking about this,” Mr. Levy said. However, he cautioned, “from the whole big picture, the supply capacity is really hard to change in a noteworthy way.”The shortages have come as a shock for many American shoppers, who are used to buying a wide range of global goods with a single click, and seeing that same product on their doorstep within hours or days.The political risk for the administration is that shortfalls, mostly a nuisance so far, turn into something more existential. Diapers are already in short supply. As aluminum shortages develop, packaging pharmaceuticals could become a problem, said Robert B. Handfield, a professor of supply chain management at North Carolina State University.And even if critical shortages can be averted, slow deliveries could make for slim pickings this Christmas and Hanukkah.“I think Johnny is going to get a back-order slip in his stocking this year,” Dr. Handfield said. Discontent is only fueled by the higher prices the shortages are causing. Consumer price inflation probably climbed by 5.3 percent in the year through September, data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics is expected to show on Wednesday. Before the pandemic, that inflation gauge had been oscillating around 2 percent.Officials at the White House and the Federal Reserve, which has primary responsibility for price stability, have repeatedly said that they expect the rapid price increases to fade. They often point out that much of the surge has been spurred by a jump in car prices, caused by a lack of computer chips that delayed vehicle production.But with supply chains in disarray, it is possible that some new one-off could materialize. Companies that had been trying to avoid passing on higher costs to customers may find that they need to as higher costs become longer lived.Others have been raising prices already. Tesla, for instance, had been hoping to reduce the cost of its electric vehicles and has struggled to do that amid the bottlenecks.“We are seeing significant cost pressure in our supply chain,” Elon Musk, the company’s chief executive, said during an annual shareholder meeting Oct. 7. “So we’ve had to increase vehicle prices, at least temporarily, but we do hope to actually reduce the prices over time and make them more affordable.”For policymakers at the White House and the Fed, the concern is that today’s climbing prices could prompt consumers to expect rapid inflation to last. If people believe that their lifestyles will cost more, they may demand higher wages — and as employers lift pay, they may charge more to cover the cost.What happens next could hinge on when — and how — supply chain disruptions are resolved. If demand slumps as households spend away government stimulus checks and other savings they stockpiled during the pandemic downturn, that could leave purveyors of couches and lawn furniture with fewer production backlogs and less pricing power down the road.If buying stays strong, and shipping remains problematic, inflation could become more entrenched.Some of the factors leading to supply chain disruptions are temporary, including shutdowns in Asian factories and severe weather that has led to energy shortages. Consumer habits, including spending on travel and entertainment, are expected to slowly return to normal as the pandemic subsides.But most companies have enormous backlogs of orders to work through. And company inventories, which provide a kind of insulation from future shocks to the supply chain, are extremely low.To get their own orders fulfilled, companies have placed bigger orders and offered to pay higher prices. The prospect of inflation has further encouraged companies to lock in large purchases of products or machinery in advance.“The customers that are willing to pay the most are most likely to get those orders filled,” said Eric Oak, an analyst at Panjiva. “It’s a vicious cycle.”Emily Cochrane More

  • in

    I.M.F. Lowers Economic Growth Forecast for 2021

    Whether it’s reporting on conflicts abroad and political divisions at home, or covering the latest style trends and scientific developments, Times Video journalists provide a revealing and unforgettable view of the world.Whether it’s reporting on conflicts abroad and political divisions at home, or covering the latest style trends and scientific developments, Times Video journalists provide a revealing and unforgettable view of the world. More

  • in

    College Graduates Find Booming Job Market a Year After Pandemic Lows

    Seniors and graduates are again in demand as companies revive recruiting, underscoring the economic premium that comes with a diploma.Trevaughn Wright-Reynolds, a senior at Colby College in Maine, expected a lengthy job search when he returned to campus in August. “I wasn’t sure how much interest I was going to get,” he said. “I didn’t know what to think of the job market.”It didn’t take him long to find out. By September, he was in the final round of interviews with several suitors, and on Oct. 1, Mr. Wright-Reynolds accepted a position with a proprietary trading firm in Chicago. “I didn’t think I would get an offer this quickly,” he said.For many college students, the pandemic’s arrival last year did more than disrupt their studies, threaten their health and shut down campus life. It also closed off the usual paths that lead from the classroom to jobs after graduation. On-campus recruiting visits were abandoned, and the coronavirus-induced recession made companies pull back from hiring.But this year, seniors and recent graduates are in great demand as white-collar employers staff up, with some job-seekers receiving multiple offers. University placement office directors and corporate human resources executives report that hiring is running well above last year’s levels, and in some cases surpasses prepandemic activity in 2019.“The current market is great for employment,” said Lisa Noble, director of employer partnerships and emerging pathways at Colby. “There was a lot of trepidation for companies in 2020. People wanted to see how things would work out and were stalling.” Since June 1, Ms. Noble has had discussions with 428 employers, compared with 273 in the same period last year.Much of the recruiting is taking place virtually, as are job fairs and even many internships. But the reliance on virtual platforms like Zoom and Microsoft Teams for interviews, job offers and eventually welcoming new hires aboard hasn’t dimmed enthusiasm among employers.“The appetite for college labor is strong right now, whether it’s student positions, or part time, all the way through entry-level jobs,” said Jennifer Neef, director of the Career Center at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.That appetite at this stage of the pandemic — when overall U.S. employment remains more than five million jobs below the level in early 2020 — underscores the longstanding economic premium for those with a college education over holders of just a high school diploma.The unemployment rate for all workers with a college degree stood at 2.8 percent in August, compared with 6 percent for high school graduates with no college. Among workers 22 to 27, the jobless rate in June was 6.2 percent for those with at least a bachelor’s degree and 9.6 percent for those without one, according to a study by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.“We’ve seen a bifurcation in the labor market recovery,” said Gregory Daco, chief U.S. economist at Oxford Economics. “College graduates were less affected by job losses and have seen a faster rebound while people with high school diplomas or less witnessed a much more serious decline in employment opportunities during the Covid crisis.”What’s more, the spread of the Delta variant of the coronavirus has been a one-two punch for those lacking a college degree, hitting the sectors they depend on the most, like restaurants and bars, hotels and retail businesses. By contrast, white-collar employers are thriving.Office work can also be done remotely, a key advantage over face-to-face jobs dealing with consumers that frequently employ less-educated workers. In many cases, the new hires will rarely set foot at corporate headquarters, with orientation and full-time work mostly taking place online.And the courtship rituals of recruiters haven’t changed, even if everything is done over the internet.“It’s back to business as usual,” said Wendy Dziorney, global university hiring leader at HP Inc. The company plans to hire 315 graduates of the class of 2021 in the United States, compared with 126 from the class of 2020 and 210 in the class of 2019.Fall marks the peak of the recruiting season on campus, with interviews and full-time offers for seniors, while internships beckon for sophomores and juniors.Students in search of jobs and internships gathered to listen to recruiters from a consulting firm at Colby College last week.Tristan Spinski for The New York Times“October is our busiest month,” said Jennifer Newbill, director of university recruitment at Dell Technologies. Her company has extended full-time offers to more than 1,300 graduates this year, up 60 percent from 2020.Recruiters of students in the hottest majors — including engineering, computer sciences, accounting and economics — find themselves butting up against one another for the same candidates.“I’ve been with the firm 26 years and I’ve never seen it this competitive,” said Rod Adams, talent acquisition and onboarding leader at PwC, the accounting and consulting firm. “It’s not just our direct competitors but also tech firms, big industry, banks and investment companies.”For this year, PwC plans to extend offers for internships and full-time jobs to 12,000 people, up 15 to 20 percent from 2020 and 10 percent above 2019 levels. Like many employers, PwC is approaching students earlier and trying to get top candidates to make a commitment as soon as possible.The interviewing process used to extend through November, but Mr. Adams hopes to get offers out by the middle of this month and to hear back from candidates by Thanksgiving. “We are moving faster, and the moment students set foot on campus, they start hearing from us,” Mr. Adams said.PwC is using a hybrid approach to recruiting, with Mr. Adams and his team visiting a few campuses in person while contacting many more virtually. “It allows us to extend our reach,” he said.In particular, the company has made an effort to pursue students from historically Black colleges and universities, recruiting from 35 of these institutions; five years ago, it recruited from seven.The rise in campus hiring means more choices for some current students as well as belated help for the pandemic-hit class of 2020, said Annette McLaughlin, director of the Office of Career Services at Fordham University.“Activity is up significantly from last year and is about 10 percent higher than it was before the pandemic,” she said. “It’s likely that students will get multiple offers and they will have to choose.”“The current market is great for employment,” said Lisa Noble, director of employer partnerships and emerging pathways at Colby.Tristan Spinski for The New York TimesThe rebound is also benefiting recent Fordham graduates like Jonah Isaac, who finished school in May 2020, two months after the pandemic struck. Several companies withdrew offers, and Mr. Isaac, a business administration major, spent a year interviewing for spots that never materialized until a Fordham alumnus helped him get a sales development job with Moody’s Analytics in June 2021.“It was a huge hit for many students, and not getting anything was demoralizing,” said Mr. Isaac, a Chicago native who was a wide receiver on Fordham’s football team. “I’d get to the third or fourth interview, and they’d say, ‘Sorry, we’re going in another direction.’”Members of the class of 2021 have had an easier time. Brittanie Rice, a Spelman College graduate, landed a job at Dell after working as an intern the summer before. “I felt lucky,” she said. “A lot of my friends had cancellations left and right, but my internship went on.”Ms. Rice was a computer science major, an especially sought-after concentration for many big employers. But Ms. Newbill, the university recruitment director for Dell, said her company was also hiring students majoring in nontechnical fields — like philosophy and journalism — for sales positions. “Sales is about the personality, not the degree,” she said.Still, graduates in STEM-related fields are having the most success.Manuel Pérez, 23, is two months into his job as a data analyst at Accenture, which led him to move to Nashville after graduating from the University of Puerto Rico, Mayagüez.Mr. Pérez, an information systems major, said he attended a virtual job fair last October and applied to work at Accenture after meeting with recruiters over Microsoft Teams. After three rounds of interviews, he received a job offer in March and started his position in the summer.“I had other job offers, but they all wanted me to start immediately, and I wanted to graduate first,” said Mr. Pérez, from Camuy, P.R. “I feel the job demand has grown, with more people demanding better pay, in every sector from retail to white-collar jobs.”Mr. Wright-Reynolds, the Colby senior, is studying statistics with a minor in computer sciences. A native of Medford, Mass., he will start at the trading firm in Chicago in August.“This was a great opportunity, and I couldn’t go wrong in accepting it,” he said. “I feel like a weight is off my shoulders. I have a lot more time to enjoy senior year.” More

  • in

    Oil and Gas Prices May Stay High as Investors Chase Clean Energy

    Even as more costly fuel poses political risks for President Biden, oil companies and OPEC are not eager to produce more because they worry prices will drop.HOUSTON — Americans are spending a dollar more for a gallon of gasoline than they were a year ago. Natural gas prices have shot up more than 150 percent over the same time, threatening to raise prices of food, chemicals, plastic goods and heat this winter.The energy system is suddenly in crisis around the world as the cost of oil, natural gas and coal has climbed rapidly in recent months. In China, Britain and elsewhere, fuel shortages and panic buying have led to blackouts and long lines at filling stations.The situation in the United States is not quite as dire, but oil and gasoline prices are high enough that President Biden has been calling on foreign producers to crank up supply. He is doing so as he simultaneously pushes Congress to address climate change by moving the country away from fossil fuels toward renewable energy and electric cars.U.S. energy executives and the Wall Street bankers and investors who finance them are not doing anything to bolster production to levels that could bring down prices. The main U.S. oil price jumped nearly 3 percent on Monday, to about $78 a barrel, a seven-year high, after OPEC and its allies on Monday declined to significantly increase supply.Producers are still chafing at memories of the price crash early in the pandemic. Wall Street is even less enthusiastic. Not only have banks and investors lost money in the boom-bust cycles that whipsawed the sector over the past decade, but many also say they are prepared to pare their exposure to fossil fuels to meet the commitments they have made to fight climate change.“Everyone is very wary since it was just 15 or 16 months ago we had negative-$30-a-barrel oil prices,” said Kirk Edwards, president of Latigo Petroleum, which has interests in 2,000 oil and natural gas wells in Texas and Oklahoma. He was recalling a time of so little demand and storage capacity that some traders paid buyers to take oil off their hands.If the drillers don’t increase production, fuel prices could stay high and even rise. That would present a political problem for Mr. Biden. Many Americans, especially lower-income families, are vulnerable to big swings in oil and gas prices. And while use of renewable energy and electric cars is growing, it remains too small to meaningfully offset the pain of higher gasoline and natural gas prices.Goldman Sachs analysts say energy supplies could further tighten, potentially raising oil prices by $10 before the end of the year.That helps explain why the Biden administration has been pressing the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries to produce more oil. “We continue to speak to international partners, including OPEC, on the importance of competitive markets and setting prices and doing more to support the recovery,” Jen Psaki, Mr. Biden’s press secretary, said last week.But OPEC and its allies on Monday merely reconfirmed existing plans for a modest rise in November. They are reluctant to produce more for the same reasons that many U.S. oil and gas companies are unwilling to do so.Oil executives contend that while prices may seem high, there is no guarantee that they will stay elevated, especially if the global economy weakens because coronavirus cases begin to increase again. Since the pandemic began, the oil industry has laid off tens of thousands of workers, and dozens of companies have gone bankrupt or loaded up on debt.Oil prices may seem high relative to 2020, but they are not stratospheric, executives said. Prices were in the same territory in the middle of 2018 and are still some ways from the $100-a-barrel level they topped as recently as 2014.Largely because of the industry’s caution, the nationwide count of rigs producing oil is 528, roughly half its 2019 peak. Still, aside from recent interruptions in Gulf of Mexico production from Hurricane Ida, U.S. oil output has nearly recovered to prepandemic days as companies pull crude out of wells they drilled years ago.Another reason for the pullback from drilling is that banks and investors are reluctant to put more money into the oil and gas business. The flow of capital from Wall Street has slowed to a trickle after a decade in which investors poured over $1.4 trillion into North American oil and gas producers through stock and bond issues and loans, according to the research firm Dealogic.“The banks have pulled away from financing,” said Scott Sheffield, chief executive of Pioneer Natural Resources, a major Texas oil and gas producer. The flow of money supplied by banks and other investors had slowed even before the pandemic because shale wells often produced a lot of oil and gas at first but were quickly depleted. Many oil producers generated little if any profit, which led to bankruptcies whenever energy prices fell.Companies constantly sold stock or borrowed money to drill new wells. Pioneer, for example, did not generate cash as a business between 2008 and 2020. Instead, it used up $3.8 billion running its operations and making capital investments, according to the company’s financial statements.Industry executives have come to preach financial conservatism and tell shareholders they’re going to raise dividends and buy back more stock, not borrow for big expansions. Mr. Sheffield said Pioneer now intended to return 80 percent of its free cash flow, a measure of money generated from operations, to shareholders. “The model has totally changed,” he said.Among oil executives, there are still vivid memories of the collapse in energy prices last year, as the pandemic curtailed commuting and travel.Tamir Kalifa for The New York TimesOil company shares, after years of declines, have soared this year. Still, investors remain reluctant to finance a big expansion in production.With oil and gas exploration and production businesses taking a cautious approach and returning money to shareholders, the first company “that deviates from that strategy will be vilified by public investors,” said Ben Dell, managing director of Kimmeridge, an energy-focused private equity firm. “No one is going down that path soon.”This aversion to expanding oil and gas production is driven in part by investors’ growing enthusiasm for renewable energy. Stock funds focusing on investments like wind and solar energy manage $1.3 trillion in assets, a 40 percent increase this year, according to RBC Capital.And the biggest investment firms are demanding that companies cut emissions from their operations and products, which is much harder for oil and gas companies than for technology companies or other service-sector businesses.BlackRock, the world’s largest asset manager, wants the businesses it invests in to eventually remove as much carbon dioxide from the environment as they emit, reaching what is known as net-zero emissions. The New York State Common Retirement Fund, which manages the pension funds of state and local government workers, has said it will stop investing in companies that aren’t taking sufficient steps to reduce carbon emissions.But even some investors pushing for emissions reductions express concern that the transition from fossil fuels could drive up energy prices too much too quickly.Mr. Dell said limited supply of oil and natural gas and the cost of investing in renewable energy — and battery storage for when the sun is not shining and the wind is not blowing — could raise energy prices for the foreseeable future. “I am a believer that you’re going to see a period of inflating energy prices this decade,” he said.Laurence D. Fink, chairman and chief executive of BlackRock, said this could undermine political support for moving away from fossil fuels.“We risk a supply crisis that drives up costs for consumers — especially those who can least afford it — and risks making the transition politically untenable,” he said in a speech in July.There are already signs of stress around the world. Europe and Asia are running low on natural gas, causing prices to rise even before the first winter chill. Russia, a major gas supplier to both regions, has provided less gas than its customers expected, making it hard for some countries to replace nuclear and coal power plants with ones running on gas.OPEC, Russia and others have been careful not to raise oil production for fear that prices could fall if they flood the market. Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Russia and a few other producers have roughly eight million barrels of spare capacity.“The market is not structurally short on oil supply,” said Bjornar Tonhaugen, head of oil markets for Rystad Energy, a Norwegian energy consulting firm.Helima Croft, head of global commodity strategy at RBC Capital Markets, said she expected that OPEC and Russia would be willing to raise production if they saw the balance between supply and demand “tighten from here.”If OPEC raises production, U.S. producers like Mr. Edwards of Latigo Petroleum will be even more reluctant to drill. So far, he has stuck to the investment plans he made at the beginning of the year to drill just eight new wells over the last eight months.“Just because prices have jumped for a month or two doesn’t mean there will be a stampede of drilling rigs,” he said. “The industry always goes up and down.”Clifford Krauss reported from Houston, and Peter Eavis from New York. More

  • in

    U.K. Braces for a Difficult Holiday Season Due to Shortages

    Military personnel are driving transport trucks. Pig farmers may start culling their stock. Even the government says shortages will affect Christmas, as Britons brace for a challenging winter.BUNGAY, England — To understand the deep sense of anxiety Britons feel about the supply shortages currently afflicting the nation — and threatening disruptions to the Christmas dinner table — one need only travel to Simon Watchorn’s pig farm, about two hours northeast of London.In 2014, Mr. Watchorn was England’s pig farmer of the year, with a thriving business. But this year, he said, the outlook for the fall is bleak.Slaughterhouses are understaffed and are processing a smaller-than-usual number of pigs. There is a shortage of drivers to move pork to grocery stores and butcher shops. And there are fewer butchers to prepare the meat for consumers.If the problems persist, Mr. Watchorn may have to start culling some of his 7,500 pigs by the end of next month. Pigs grow about 15 pounds each week, and after a certain point, they are too big for slaughterhouses to process.Mr. Watchorn said the last time he can remember things being this bad was during an outbreak of mad cow disease in the late 1990s. “It’s a muddle,” he said. “It’s worse than a muddle, it’s a disaster, and I don’t know when it’s going to finish.”Mr. Watchorn, 66, is one of many producers of food and other goods warning of a daunting winter ahead for Britons. Shortages continued to bedevil the British economy on Monday as gas stations in London and in southeastern England reported trouble getting fuel, and the government began deploying military personnel to help ease the lack of drivers. Supermarket consortiums say pressures from rising transport costs, labor shortages and commodity costs are already pushing prices higher and will likely continue to do so.The chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak, acknowledged on BBC Radio on Monday that there will shortages at Christmastime. He said the government was doing “everything we can” to mitigate the supply chain issues but admitted there was no “magic wand.”Mr. Watchorn, whose farm is near the town of Bungay, England, northeast of London, is convinced that Brexit is responsible for the current distress.Andrew Testa for The New York TimesMr. Watchorn, who prides himself on running a farm where all adult stock live outside, is convinced that Brexit is responsible for the current distress, saying the exodus of European workers from Britain had led to damaging labor shortages. The British people voted to break with the European Union to reduce immigration, he believes, without realizing how damaging a cliff-edge exit from the bloc would be for businesses.“They didn’t vote for supermarket shortages,” he said on Sunday as dozens of pigs gathered around him to be fed. “They didn’t understand that was going to be a probable, likely outcome.”Mr. Sunak and other Conservative leaders say supply problems are a global issue largely attributable to the pandemic and not limited to Britain. Indeed, businesses around the world are facing rising energy prices, product shortages and labor shortages.But the challenges in Britain are acute, with many industries facing a shortage of workers — in part because of the pandemic, but also, many business owners say, because of stricter immigration laws that came into effect after Britain’s exit from the European Union on Jan. 1.“We are desperately trying to find workers,” said Jon Hare, a spokesman for the British Meat Processors Association, which estimates that Britain is short of about 25,000 butchers and processing plant workers.He called on the government to issue more short-term visas to foreign workers to help the industry with the transition outside of the European Union. “There are only so many people you can take out of the production system before the system starts breaking down,” he said.A shopper confronted sparse food shelves in a Co-op supermarket in Harpenden, England, in September.Peter Cziborra/ReutersThe specter of disruptions to the holiday season is particularly resonant in Britain, where Christmas isn’t Christmas without traditional foods. And yet British meat producers say the dinner table could be lacking some of the seasonal specialties that people count on every December. That includes pigs in a blanket (bacon-wrapped sausages that are different from the American version), glazed ham and Yorkshire pudding, which require additional labor to prepare, Mr. Hare said.The National Pig Association has warned that about 120,000 pigs are backed up on farms because of a lack of slaughterhouse workers, and the British Poultry Council said it expected to cut Christmas turkey production by 20 percent. On Monday, protesters gathered outside of the Conservative Party conference in Manchester with signs that said “All we want for Christmas is our pigs in a blanket” and “#saveourbacon.”Consumers are already anticipating shortages. One farmer in Leeds said that by last month, customers had already ordered all 3,500 turkeys she was raising for Christmas — a first.A lack of truck drivers has also caused sporadic shortages for staples including eggs, milk and baked goods. One in six people in Britain said that in recent weeks they had not been able to buy certain essential food items because they were unavailable, according to a report by the Office for National Statistics, which surveyed about 3,500 households.Some consumers interviewed in recent days said they had not had any trouble finding what they wanted at grocery stores. But Meriem Mahdhi, 22, who moved from Italy to Colchester in southeast England last month to attend college, said she had struggled to find essential items at her local grocery store, Tesco, Britain’s largest supermarket chain.“All the dried foods like pasta, canned fruit, it’s all gone, every day,” she said. Tesco did not respond to a request for comment.Seeking a quick fix, 200 military personnel in fatigues on Monday arrived at refineries to help deliver fuel to gas stations. About half of them drove civilian vehicles and the others provided logistical support. “As an extra precaution we have put the extra drivers on,” Mr. Sunak said.Over the weekend, the government said it had extended thousands of temporary visas for foreign workers to work in Britain until the first few months of next year. But economists said the temporary visas were unlikely to be enough to make much of a difference, since there are shortages at every link in the supply chain.“There is a lack of workers coming in, and British people are not willing to do the job,” said Robert Elliott, a professor at the University of Birmingham. He said it was difficult to say how much of the supply-chain issues were a result of Brexit versus the pandemic, but regardless, the government has chosen policies that have not made the situation better.The government has underinvested in training workers to drive trucks, he said, and too few young people are pursuing the profession to replace ones who have retired.Even before Brexit, the meat industry had difficulties attracting workers because of the hard work, low pay and remote locations of processing plants. Producers have raised wages for butchers by an average of 10 percent this year, the British Meat Processors Association said, but shortages are still so severe that members of the British Poultry Council reported they had cut weekly chicken production by five to 10 percent.Mr. Watchorn said the situation was “a disaster, and I don’t know when it’s going to finish.”Andrew Testa for The New York TimesJames MacGregor, the general manager at Riverford, an organic food company based in Devon, England, said he was short of about 40 workers, or about 16 percent of the company. Butchers have been particularly hard to find, he said. To cope with the shortages, Riverford will likely offer fewer products for sale around Christmas.“It feels like we’re staring down the barrel of a gun a little bit at the moment,” Mr. MacGregor said. “It’s highly likely if we don’t see movement in terms of fuel and labor, we will ultimately end up passing some of this cost on to the consumer.”Kathy Martyn, the owner of Oakfield Farm in East Sussex, which has about 100 pigs, said she was relieved to find fuel on Friday, just in time to make it to a catering job for a wedding over the weekend. She said that fuel shortages have made planning difficult, and that she may have to cull about 20 of her pigs this year.“We’ll just roll up our sleeves and take a deep breath,” Ms. Martyn said.Mr. Watchorn, the pig farmer, said his farm will be losing money this year. Even culling pigs is costly. If it comes to that, he would have to find someone to slaughter the animals and then take them away. Financial help from the government to do that would help, but he said he was not counting on it. “When pigs fly,” he quipped.Mr. Watchorn said the last time he can remember things being this bad was during an outbreak of mad cow disease in the 1990s.Andrew Testa for The New York TimesAina J. Khan More

  • in

    How Asia, Once a Vaccination Laggard, Is Revving Up Inoculations

    Several countries are now on track to surpass the United States in fully vaccinating their populations, lifting hopes of a more permanent return to normality.SINGAPORE — As the United States and Europe ramped up their Covid-19 vaccination programs, the Asia-Pacific region, once lauded for its pandemic response, struggled to get them off the ground. Now, many of those laggards are speeding ahead, lifting hopes of a return to normality in nations resigned to repeated lockdowns and onerous restrictions.The turnabout is as much a testament to the region’s success in securing supplies and working out the kinks in their programs as it is to vaccine hesitancy and political opposition in the United States.South Korea, Japan and Malaysia have even pulled ahead of the United States in the number of vaccine doses administered per 100 people — a pace that seemed unthinkable in the spring. Several have surpassed the United States in fully vaccinating their populations or are on track to do so, limiting the perniciousness of the Delta variant of the coronavirus.In South Korea, the authorities said vaccines had helped keep most people out of the hospital. About 0.6 percent of fully vaccinated people who contracted Covid had severe illness and about 0.1 percent died, according to data collected by the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency from May to August.In Japan, serious cases have fallen by half over the last month, to a little over 1,000 a day. Hospitalizations have plummeted from a high of just over 230,000 in late August to around 31,000 on Tuesday.“It’s almost like the tortoise and the hare,” said Jerome Kim, director general of the International Vaccine Institute, a nonprofit organization based in Seoul and focused on vaccine research for the developing world. “Asia was always going to use vaccines when they became available.”Pfizer vaccines arriving in South Korea in July. When the country opened vaccinations to people in their 50s, roughly 10 million simultaneously logged on to a government website to sign up for shots.Ahn Young-Joon/Associated PressRisks remain for the region. Most of the countries do not manufacture their own vaccines and could face supply problems if their governments approve boosters.In Southeast Asia, the rollout has been slow and uneven, dragging down economic prospects there. The Asian Development Bank recently lowered its 2021 growth outlook for developing Asia to 7.1 percent from 7.3 percent, in part over vaccination issues.But for much of the region, the shift has been striking, success that is rooted in its different worldviews and governance structures.In a contrast with the United States, vaccines were never a polarizing issue in Asia-Pacific.Although each country has had to contend with its own anti-vaccine movements, they have been relatively small. They have never benefited from an ecosystem — sympathetic media, advocacy groups and politicians — that has allowed misinformation to influence the populace.Overall, most Asians have trusted their governments to do the right thing, and they were willing to put the needs of the community over their individual freedoms.Reuben Ng, an assistant professor at the National University of Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy who has studied vaccine hesitancy globally for the past decade, said that pre-Covid, the discussion around immunization had always been mixed in Asia because of some skepticism about the safety.But Mr. Ng and his team, who have been analyzing media reports, have found that the region now holds mostly positive views on vaccines.An overcrowded hospital in Surabaya, Indonesia, in July, when the country was dealing with a sudden increase in Covid cases.Trisnadi/Associated PressThere is widespread belief in Asia that vaccines are the only way out of the pandemic. This month, when a vaccination center in Tokyo offered 200 walk-in shots for young people, hopefuls queued from the early morning hours, and the line extended for blocks.In South Korea, when the authorities opened vaccinations to people in their 50s, roughly 10 million simultaneously logged on to a government website to sign up for shots. The system, which was designed to process up to 300,000 requests at a time, temporarily crashed.People in poorer nations whose lives were upended by extended lockdowns felt they had no choice but to get vaccinated. Indonesia and the Philippines are home to thousands of daily-wage workers who cannot rely on unemployment benefits to survive.Arisman, 35, a motorcycle taxi driver in Jakarta, Indonesia, said he got his second shot of the Chinese-made Sinovac vaccine in July because his job involved contact with many people.“If I get sick, I don’t get money,” said Arisman, who like many Indonesians goes by one name. “If I don’t work, I don’t get money.”The lack of social safety nets in many Asian countries motivated many governments to roll out the vaccines quickly, said Tikki Pangestu, a co-chair of the Asia-Pacific Immunization Coalition, a group that assesses Covid-19 vaccine preparedness. “At the end of the day, if they don’t do it, they’re going to end up with social unrest, which is the last thing they want,” he added.A farmer in rural Sabak Bernam, Malaysia, getting vaccinated in July. The lack of social safety nets in many Asian countries motivated many governments to roll out the vaccines quickly.Vincent Thian/Associated PressWhen the United States and European nations were rushing to vaccinate their people late last year, many Asian countries felt they had the luxury of time. They had kept the coronavirus under control by masking, testing and keeping their borders shut. Many nations wanted to wait until the clinical trials were completed before they placed orders.Then came the Delta variant. Despite keeping their countries largely sealed off, the virus found its way in. And when it did, it spread quickly. In the summer, South Korea battled its worst wave of infections; hospitals in Indonesia ran out of oxygen and beds; and in Thailand, health care workers had to turn away patients.With cases surging, countries quickly shifted their vaccination approach.Sydney, Australia, announced a lockdown in June after an unvaccinated limousine driver caught the Delta variant from an American aircrew. Then, Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who had previously said vaccination “was not a race,” called in July on Australians to “go for gold” in the country’s inoculation drive.He moved to overcome a supply shortage, compounded by the slow regulatory approval. In August, Australia bought one million Pfizer doses from Poland; this month, Mr. Morrison announced a purchase of a million Moderna shots from Europe.When the Delta outbreak emerged, fewer than 25 percent of Australians over the age of 16 had received a single shot. In the state of New South Wales, which includes Sydney, 86 percent of the adult population has now received a first dose, and 62 percent of adults are fully vaccinated. The country expects to fully inoculate 80 percent of its population over the age of 16 by early November.“There was great community leadership — there were people from across the political divide who came out to support vaccination,” said Greg Dore, an infectious-disease expert at the University of New South Wales. “It really helped us turn around a level of hesitancy that was there.”Many governments have used incentives to encourage inoculations.In South Korea, the authorities eased restrictions in August on private gatherings for fully vaccinated people, allowing them to meet in larger groups while maintaining stricter curbs for others. Singapore, which has fully vaccinated 82 percent of its population, previously announced similar measures.Researchers there have also analyzed the pockets of people who refuse to be inoculated and are trying to persuade them.Dr. Ng from the National University of Singapore and his team recently found out that a group of seniors who lived alone were worried about possible adverse effects from the vaccine, fearing they could die in solitude. The volunteers promised they would visit after the vaccinations, a strategy that worked.“This targeted approach does make a difference, because at the end of the day, the mass communications campaign can only take you so far,” Dr. Ng said.Rangers in the Thai Army built bamboo beds for hospitals in the southern province of Narathiwat last week.Madaree Tohlala/Agence France-Presse — Getty ImagesOnce countries were able to order vaccines, many had to scramble to set up the infrastructures needed to immunize the masses and quell public anger over the initially slow rollouts.Miharu Kuzuhara, 26, a graphic illustrator in Tokyo, got her Pfizer shots in July and August but was frustrated that she had to wait that long. “We were losing to our other Asian neighbors, like Taiwan and South Korea,” Ms. Kuzuhara said. “I had this feeling of disappointment, like Japan is really the worst.”The Japanese government dispatched the country’s military to run vaccination centers in Tokyo and Osaka and authorized companies to give shots to their employees. Local governments offered payments to doctors and nurses to administer the shots during their days off.The share of people inoculated against Covid-19 in Japan, at 69.6 percent, recently overtook that of the United States. In some rural areas, vaccination rates are already close to 100 percent. “Normally, people are hesitant, they’re not very enthusiastic about vaccines,” said Dr. Takashi Nakano, a professor of infectious diseases at Kawasaki Medical School. But “there was strong political commitment, a real feeling in the nation that because this is an infectious disease, we need to take steps to prevent it.”Reporting was contributed by More