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    Are you still not working because of the pandemic? We want to hear from you.

    The economy has begun to rebound from the coronavirus pandemic, but millions of people still haven’t returned to work. Some are looking but haven’t been able to find jobs. Others can’t work because of child care or other responsibilities. Still others say the pandemic led them to rethink how they prioritize their careers.What is keeping you on the sidelines right now? How are you getting by financially without a steady paycheck? How has your time away from work changed your life, both now and in the future?Tell us about your experience. More

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    'Every Day Is Frightening': Working For Walmart Amid Covid

    It was a hot morning in Baton Rouge, La., the day that Peter Naughton woke up on the floor.Sore, disoriented, he’d already grasped what his mother was now telling him: He’d had another seizure. But he also grasped a larger truth: He needed to pull it together and somehow go to work.A cashier and self-checkout host at the nearby Walmart, Mr. Naughton dreaded depleting his limited paid time off in the midst of a pandemic. His mother, for her part, insisted that her epileptic son, then 44, stay home and rest. The hours after a seizure were difficult enough. Toss in the stress of Covid-19 and a customer base that largely — and often angrily — rejected mask use, and a day at work seemed anything but recuperative.In the end, Mr. Naughton’s growing headache and general fogginess were intense enough that he conceded to his mother’s wishes. He dialed once, twice, three times. No answer. Given the penalty for missing work without giving notice — and the fear of risking his job during uncertain times — he saw what he had to do. Reeling, he made the trip to the store and clocked in.That was the summer of 2020, and in the bewildering year since, the stakes and strain around low-wage frontline jobs like Mr. Naughton’s seem only to have multiplied.As shuttered offices cautiously debate the merits and logistics of reopening, a parallel sphere of workers — retail employees, day laborers, emergency personnel, medical staff, and so on — seemingly inhabit another country entirely. In their case nothing ever shuttered. Often their jobs just got really, really hard.“Every day is frightening,” Mr. Naughton said recently, now nearly two years into his employment at Walmart.Mr. Naughton said this in the dark, his power still out days after Hurricane Ida had barreled through Louisiana. It was 93 degrees. Later he would take another cold shower, also in the dark, in hopes of cooling off before bed.Mr. Naughton lives on a quiet, grassy street of low brick homes with his aging parents, not far from where he attended high school some two decades prior. He had an apartment of his own for a while last year, but his $11.55 hourly wage wasn’t enough to pay the rent, even working full time. So he moved back in with his mother and father, and now lives in fear of bringing the highly contagious Delta variant home to them. (Mr. Naughton is fully vaccinated. But at 78, his father has health issues that prevent him from getting the shots, Mr. Naughton said — health issues that make severe illness likelier should he contract the disease.)Mr. Naughton, 45, lives with his aging parents and worries about bringing the highly contagious Delta variant home to them.Emily Kask for The New York TimesElsewhere in the country, the conversation has begun to move on, away from early Covid alarm and into something more guardedly speculative. What will post-pandemic life look like? How have our priorities shifted? But for vast swaths of the nation, largely untouched by doses from Pfizer and Moderna, it remains late 2020 in many ways.“A lot of people here still don’t believe the virus is real — even when the hospitals are full, even when they have family dying,” Mr. Naughton said. “With the vaccines, one co-worker told me getting it would go against her faith. Another told me it contains baby fetuses and mercury. Someone else said it was created by Bill Gates to insert microchips to track you. I said, ‘Why would he want to track you?’”The conversations Mr. Naughton describes may be epidemiologically out of step, but he and thousands of others seem trapped in an America-right-now vortex, a swirl of politics, belief, resentment and fear. At fast food restaurants, grocery stores, warehouses, nursing homes and anywhere else frontline workers show up each day, a deep schism has taken hold. Workers nervous about the virus find themselves at the mercy of those who aren’t.“If I ask people to wear a mask or socially distance at work, they get mad and tell the manager. Then I have to get coached. If you get coached too many times, you lose your job,” Mr. Naughton said, referring to the company’s system for managing worker infractions. (Charles Crowson, a Walmart spokesman, did not dispute that an accumulation of coachings could lead to termination.)Draped over this dynamic are often the stark realities of poverty, and the stresses of navigating a low-paying job in a high-pressure situation. And so an already strained situation strains further. Bitterness over masking requests, job insecurity, a run on bottled water, vaccine politics — tensions routinely boil over in his store and beyond, Mr. Naughton said.“It wasn’t always like this. It used to be more friendly here. It’s become hostile. People are really on edge. They fight with you in the store, or with each other,” he said. “The other day a woman wanted to fight over the price of potatoes. You can even see it in how people drive, like they have a death wish.”These days Mr. Naughton passes a fair amount of time alone. He burns off stress at the gym, goes on hikes, reads books on politics. (By flashlight, in the days after Hurricane Ida.) The Delta resurgence also dealt a blow to his social life — at one point, concerned about the alarming spread in Louisiana, he canceled plans to see live comedy with a co-worker. She went on without him; “she wasn’t worried about it,” he said.Over the last few months, Mr. Naughton has pinned his hopes on a transfer — there’s another nearby Walmart he believes to be less stressful. After extensive lobbying, he said the move was finally approved. Coincidentally, it’s to the same store where his father routinely shops, Covid risks and all.Mr. Naughton had an apartment of his own last year, but his $11.55 hourly wage wasn’t enough to pay the rent.Emily Kask for The New York Times“He’s stubborn. He goes there for pastries, for Coke. He spends hours there. We tell him not to, it’s not safe,” Mr. Naughton said.With nearly 1.6 million workers, Walmart is the largest private employer in the country. It employs 35,954 people in Louisiana alone, working for one of the 137 Supercenters, discount stores, neighborhood markets or Sam’s Clubs across the state. Covid appears to have been good for the bottom line: During fiscal 2020, the company generated $559 billion in revenue, up $35 billion from the previous year. But labor activists say too little of that money has gone toward work force protections, which in turn has prolonged the pandemic..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-w739ur{margin:0 auto 5px;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-w739ur{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-w739ur{font-size:1.6875rem;line-height:1.875rem;}}@media (min-width:740px){.css-w739ur{font-size:1.25rem;line-height:1.4375rem;}}.css-9s9ecg{margin-bottom:15px;}.css-uf1ume{display:-webkit-box;display:-webkit-flex;display:-ms-flexbox;display:flex;-webkit-box-pack:justify;-webkit-justify-content:space-between;-ms-flex-pack:justify;justify-content:space-between;}.css-wxi1cx{display:-webkit-box;display:-webkit-flex;display:-ms-flexbox;display:flex;-webkit-flex-direction:column;-ms-flex-direction:column;flex-direction:column;-webkit-align-self:flex-end;-ms-flex-item-align:end;align-self:flex-end;}.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;}According to United for Respect, a nonprofit labor advocacy group for Walmart and Amazon workers — Mr. Naughton is an outspoken member — safety measures remain deeply insufficient.“Thousands of Walmart associates across the country like Peter have been forced to endure poverty wages and abysmal benefits while working through a deadly pandemic, managing panic-buying sprees and culture wars over mask mandates,” said Bianca Agustin, the accountability director for United for Respect.In a survey the group conducted of Walmart associates — the term the company uses for all non-temporary employees — in May 2020, nearly half said they had come into work sick or would do so, fearing retaliation otherwise. This past April the group released a report with the public health nonprofit Human Impact Partners, finding that Walmart could have prevented at least 7,618 Covid cases and saved 133 lives with a more robust paid sick time policy. (Researchers have estimated that some 125,000 Walmart workers nationwide likely contracted Covid between February 2020 and February 2021.)United for Respect is pushing for five measures in response: hazard pay of $5 per hour; access to adequate paid and unpaid leave; immediate notification of positive cases within a given store; the inclusion of workers in the creation of safety protocols; and protection from retaliation. In the meantime, it has created a Covid reporting tool for workers at Amazon and Walmart. So far almost 1,900 cases have been claimed at 360 stores and facilities.“Walmart lets in people without masks all the time, and social distancing isn’t enforced,” Mr. Naughton said. “Our lives are constantly in danger. They have ‘health ambassadors,’ but all they do is sit at the door offering customers masks. I’ve had to fill in for them. A lot of people just ignore you, or else get angry.”In response, Mr. Crowson, the Walmart spokesman, replied that the company “has worked hard to protect the health and safety of associates and customers. This includes administering no-cost vaccinations, enhanced cleaning practices, daily health screenings and temperature checks for our associates, special bonuses and an emergency leave policy.”For Mr. Naughton, donning his yellow “Proud Walmart Associate” vest each morning and going to work is basic survival in perilous economic times.Emily Kask for The New York TimesFor his part, Mr. Naughton continues fearing work while also fearing the idea of missing any. That’s partly the work ethic he inherited from his father, who never once called in sick to the chemical plant where he spent his career. But it’s also basic survival in perilous economic times. Putting aside any medical implications for him or his loved ones, he worries that contracting Covid could cost him his job. At 45, reliant on Medicaid for health coverage and having no retirement plan to speak of, he continues to don his yellow “Proud Walmart Associate” vest each morning.Over the years Mr. Naughton has worked at fast food restaurants, grocery stores and an amusement park. The idea of finding a more Covid-safe work-from-home gig appeals to him, but his hours at Walmart leave little time for job hunting. Regardless, he says the positions he comes across are “the kind you can’t get without experience, but you can’t get experience without a job.”Asked about the distant universe of office careers and mask-wars-free remote work, Mr. Naughton, he replied that it all feels “unfair.”“They say we’re essential,” he said, “but they treat us like we’re disposable.” More

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    Could This Covid Wave Reverse the Recovery? Here’s What to Watch.

    Some businesses are still hurting, and federal aid has wound down. But economists see sources of resilience and signs of strength.The spread of the Delta variant has delayed office reopenings, disrupted the start of school and generally dashed hopes for a return to normal after Labor Day. But it has not pushed the U.S. economic recovery into reverse.Now that recovery faces a new test: the removal of much of the aid that has helped keep households and businesses afloat for the past year and a half.The Paycheck Protection Program, which distributed hundreds of billions of dollars in grants and loans to thousands of small businesses, concluded last spring. A federal eviction moratorium ended last month after the Supreme Court blocked the Biden administration’s last-minute effort to extend it. Most recently, an estimated 7.5 million people lost unemployment benefits when programs that expanded the system during the pandemic were allowed to lapse.Next up: the Federal Reserve, which on Wednesday indicated it could start pulling back its stimulus efforts as early as November.The one-two punch of a resurgent pandemic and waning aid has led Wall Street forecasters, who were once rosy about the economy’s prospects this fall and winter, to turn increasingly glum. Goldman Sachs said this month that it expected third-quarter data to show a decline in consumer spending, the linchpin of the recovery for the past year. Many economists expect jobs numbers for September to show a second straight month of anemic growth.Yet economists also see important sources of strength that could help the recovery overcome the latest coronavirus wave and possibly fuel a strong rebound on the other side of it. Few believe the overall economy is headed for another recession, let alone a repeat of last year’s collapse.“There’s been a clear deceleration, but I would stress deceleration rather than retrenchment,” said Jay Bryson, chief economist for Wells Fargo. “We certainly think that the expansion will continue.”Rather than posing an immediate threat, what the withdrawal of aid does is leave the recovery with less of a safety net if economists are wrong or if the public health situation worsens — both scenarios that have recurred throughout the pandemic.“I think one should be concerned that we could see the recovery weaken further and that appetite for putting in place more fiscal stimulus has diminished,” said Karen Dynan, a Harvard professor who was a Treasury official under President Barack Obama.And even if the recovery stays on course, it will almost certainly leave out some individuals and businesses, who face an increasingly uncertain fall with little government help. Even under the most optimistic scenarios, it will take months for all the workers who lost benefits this month to find jobs.“Fall will be slower for all of us because we’ve withdrawn the support,” said William E. Spriggs, a Howard University professor and chief economist for the A.F.L.-C.I.O. “There will be a slowdown in the labor market, and it will be disproportionately Black and brown workers who will have to deal with it.”The pandemic isn’t holding back activity as it once did.The Delta variant has caused a clear slowdown in certain sectors, particularly dining and air travel. But so far the decline in activity is nothing like the economywide pullback that the United States experienced in previous Covid waves.State and local government officials have not reimposed the lockdown orders and business restrictions put in place in earlier waves of the pandemic, and they appear disinclined to do so. Consumers appear to have become more careful, but they haven’t abandoned in-person activities, and many businesses have found ways to adapt.Restaurant reservations on OpenTable, for example, have fallen less than 10 percent from their early-July peak. That is a far smaller decline than during the last Covid surge, last winter.“It has moved down, but it’s not the same sort of decline,” Mr. Bryson said of the OpenTable data. “We’re living with it.”One wild card is how the Delta variant could affect the supply of workers. If virus rates remain high, people may hesitate to take jobs requiring face-to-face interaction, particularly where vaccination rates are low. And if schools and day care centers can’t stay open consistently, parents may have difficulty returning to work.The government is still providing a boost.Government aid hasn’t dried up entirely. The Federal Reserve said Wednesday that it could soon begin to pare its $120 billion in monthly bond purchases — which have kept borrowing cheap and money flowing through the economy — but it will almost certainly keep interest rates near zero into next year. Millions of parents will continue to receive monthly checks through the end of the year because of the expanded child tax credit passed in March as part of President Biden’s $1.9 trillion aid package.That bill, known as the American Rescue Plan, also provided $350 billion to state and local governments, $21.6 billion in rental aid and $10 billion in mortgage assistance, among other programs. But much has not been spent, said Wendy Edelberg, director of the Hamilton Project, an economic-policy arm of the Brookings Institution.“Those delays are frustrating,” she said. “At the same time, what that also means is that support is going to continue having an effect over the next several quarters.”Household savings could provide a buffer — if they last.Economists, including officials in the Biden administration, say that as the economy heals, there will be a gradual “handoff” from government aid to the private sector. That transition could be eased by a record-setting pile of household savings, which could help prop up consumer spending as government aid wanes.A lot of that money is held by richer, white-collar workers who held on to their jobs and saw their stock portfolios swell even as the pandemic constrained their spending. But many lower-income households have built up at least a small savings cushion during the pandemic because of stimulus checks, enhanced unemployment benefits and other aid, according to researchers at the JPMorgan Chase Institute.“The good news is that people are going into the fall with some reserves, more reserves than normal,” said Fiona Greig, co-director of the institute. “That can give them some runway in which to look for a job.”The risk, for individual households and the broader economy, is that aid will run out before the private sector can take the baton.Michael Ernette, 48, lost his job assembling manufactured homes in January and despite applying to four to five jobs a day, he hasn’t found work. He used his last unemployment check to pay off as many outstanding bills as possible, and now he is on a countdown to when he can’t make rent.“I took the last payment that we had and I paid everything and I’m roughly good through the end of October,” said Mr. Ernette, who lives near Pittsburgh. “That gives me 60 more days to find employment.”Businesses are entering a critical period.Eighty percent of small businesses are worried about the impact of the Delta variant, according to a recent survey by Alignable, a social network for small business owners. Not all have had sales turn lower, said Eric Groves, the company’s chief executive. But the uncertainty is hitting at a crucial moment, heading into the holiday season.“This is a time of year when business owners in the consumer sector in particular are trying to pull out their crystal ball,” he said. “Now is when they have to be purchasing inventory and doing all that planning.”“We pride ourselves on taking hits and getting back up,” said Ken Giddon, co-owner of the men’s clothing store Rothmans.Mohamed Sadek for The New York TimesRothmans, a century-old men’s clothing retailer in New York, is in one of the hardest-hit sectors in one of the nation’s hardest-hit cities. Yet a co-owner, Ken Giddon, is betting on the future: Last week, the company announced it would open a new location as part of a development project on the West Side of Manhattan.“We pride ourselves on taking hits and getting back up,” he said.The pandemic has been hard, Mr. Giddon said, but it has also created opportunities by driving down commercial rents and leaving fewer competitors. The Delta variant has delayed the return-to-office boom that retailers had been hoping for, but Mr. Giddon expects workers to return eventually — and to need new clothes when they do.“We don’t really care if people go back to work in suits or jeans,” he said. “We just want men to think about buying new clothes again.”In Minneapolis, however, Nicole Pomije is still struggling to make payroll.Ms. Pomije opened her baking business, the Cookie Cups, in 2018 after several years of selling at farmers’ markets and other events in the area. Much of her revenue came from cooking classes and birthday parties — activities that were virtually impossible for much of the past year and a half.Ms. Pomije closed one of her two locations for good in June. The other is hanging on, but barely — the store restarted cooking classes this year, which brought in some money, but parents are nervous about signing up their unvaccinated children for indoor activities.“I can’t tell you how many payrolls I’ve pulled out of my savings account the past two years,” Ms. Pomije said.Last year, Nicole Pomije introduced a set of baking kits aimed at children, which she is selling online.Caroline Yang for The New York TimesMs. Pomije is trying to adapt. Last year, she created a set of baking kits aimed at children, which she is selling online. The product has been a success — she has sold nearly 3,500 kits, and is expanding her offerings — but she has been plagued by supply-chain issues. A crucial shipment from Asia, containing the boxes she uses to package her kits, was held up at the Los Angeles port complex for 60 days.Ms. Pomije said she would be out of business already if she hadn’t received help from the federal government. Now, with more help unlikely, she is hoping holiday sales will help save her business.“This fourth quarter is going to be really critical to our success,” she said. “If we do sell enough product online even to just pay our payroll, rent and critical bills to stay afloat, with enough inventory still to sell, I think we’ll be fine.”Supply issues are putting policymakers in a bind.Early in the pandemic, economists had a simple message for policymakers: Go big. If some aid ended up going to people or businesses that didn’t really need help, that was a reasonable trade-off for the benefit of getting money to the millions who did.Today, the calculus is different. The impact of the pandemic is more tightly focused on a few industries and groups. At the same time, many businesses are having trouble getting workers and materials to meet existing demand. Traditional forms of stimulus that seek to stoke demand won’t help them. If automakers can’t get needed parts, for example, giving money to households won’t lead to more car sales — but it might lead to higher prices.That puts policymakers in a tight spot. If they don’t get help to those who are struggling, it could cause individual hardship and weaken the recovery. But indiscriminate spending could worsen supply problems and lead to inflation. That calls for a more targeted approach, focusing on the specific groups and industries that need it most, said Nela Richardson, chief economist for ADP, the payroll processing firm.“There are a lot of arrows in the quiver still, but you need them to go into the bull’s-eye now rather than just going all over,” Ms. Richardson said. More

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    They Never Could Work From Home. These Are Their Stories.

    Day after day, they went to work.While white-collar America largely worked from the cocoons of their homes, these workers left for jobs elsewhere. Most had no choice.For many workers around the country, the Delta variant’s surge this summer upended long-awaited plans to return to the office this fall. But millions more — including nurses, cashiers, restaurant and grocery workers, delivery drivers, factory workers, janitors and housekeepers — never worked from home in the first place.“They’re the people who often are working around the public, often working in jobs that are requiring them to be at particular risk from the virus,” said Eliza Forsythe, an economist at the University of Illinois. “All of these types of jobs where you’re not sitting at a computer — that’s what’s really been the backbone for allowing the rest of the economy to go remote.”More than a year and a half after the pandemic disrupted nearly all aspects of everyday life, one of the starkest economic divides to emerge has been between workers who can work from home and those who cannot.We asked six never-remote workers about their experiences and they shared their stories below.Just 35 percent of Americans — fewer than 50 million people out of 137 million — worked from home at some point in May 2020 because of the pandemic, when remote work was at its peak, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.Those who could not work from home were employed in a wide array of industries, including health care, agriculture, leisure and hospitality, retail, transportation, construction and manufacturing. Many were considered part of the army of frontline and essential workers, with jobs that were considered so critical that they could not be put on hold even during a public health crisis. They were typically lower-wage, less educated and disproportionately people of color. During a time when millions of Americans lost their jobs, a portion of these workers — those who worked throughout the pandemic or who were only unable to work in the early days of the virus — could be considered relatively lucky. At the same time, many of these never-remote workers could not afford, or did not have the necessary skills, to find other jobs despite the fear of contagion. And a large share also lost their jobs completely, in part because they were unable to work remotely when their businesses temporarily or permanently closed during the pandemic. Many of these workers had jobs in the service industry. Perhaps most importantly, the pandemic has shed more light on how grueling and thankless many of these never-remote jobs are — a parallel universe of work in which millions of employees did not have the luxury of thinking about returning to the office at all.(The workers’ interviews have been edited for length and clarity.)Anjannette Reyes, 54, Orlando, Fla.Airport wheelchair attendantPhotography by Eve Edelheit for The New York TimesSo many didn’t come back to work. People are afraid to work at the airport. We push more than one wheelchair at the same time because we don’t have manpower. Sometimes for international flights, we have 17 wheelchairs and only two of us. We take them through security and run to get the others. People miss flights. People cry. We’re constantly apologizing.I was recently hurt from pushing too many wheelchairs. My whole arm felt like needles and pounding. The doctor said I had a tear. I was off for two weeks. I didn’t get paid for that.I earn $7.58 an hour plus tips. You don’t get sick pay. You don’t get vacation pay. There’s no retirement pay. There are other people who are injured and still pushing chairs. There’s people with back ulcers and shoulder pain. Co-workers are getting sick. I tell them, “Go home.” But they don’t. They rely on the tips to survive.Even though I’m going through this, I don’t feel safe getting another job out there. If there’s another breakout, we’ll feel safer at the airport. This is the only place that kept on going because they needed to move people around — people who were sick, doctors, lawyers. We needed to keep the airport open.Avelina Mendes, 63, Brockton, Mass.College custodianPhotography by Gretchen Ertl for The New York TimesAt first, I didn’t know how serious the virus was. I mean, I protected myself, but I didn’t pay that much attention to it until my sister got Covid. It was Dec. 27.She had the symptoms. She’s 75. She decided to go to the emergency room so she took a shower and then, all of a sudden, she collapsed. She hurt her back. She’s been paralyzed since.She’s in a nursing home now. I used to go and see her from the window and we would talk on the phone. She would tell me what she wants and I would bring it. She likes to eat Cape Verdean food.Every time I think about it, I cry. Then I wipe my tears, put my mask on and go to work.I clock in. I put all the trash outside. After I disinfect the bathroom, I vacuum the lobby. As long as it’s not that many cases on campus, I feel pretty good about it.But if it goes up, that’s when the fear comes. I panic. I lose sleep. When I think about my sister, that could be me. I am out all the time, doing the work.Kim Ducote, 42, St. George, UtahRestaurant server and homeless shelter case managerPhotography by Bridget Bennett for The New York TimesI was jobless from March 15 to August of 2020, and I had $200 left in my bank account. And some friends of mine opened a restaurant and they offered me a serving position there. I was the only server. And I thought ‘Oh my god, this was a godsend.’ Like, I had no idea what I was going to do. I’m down to $200 in my bank, no options. I didn’t really want to go back into the service industry but this was the only opportunity that presented itself.I went back, and things were starting to look up and go well. And I started making money again and people were loving this food and we were really quickly building a name for ourselves. And in October, all three of us got Covid so we had to shut down for I think it was just over six weeks.The husband-and-wife chef team — they got Covid really bad. Their symptoms were pretty severe. And for me, I just had a terrible headache, a very slight cough and severe exhaustion for about three days, and then I bounced right back. And they were unsure how long it was going to take them to reopen.So during that time, I decided ‘Well, I can’t be jobless again for an indefinite period of time. I have to look for something else.’ So I applied at a local homeless shelter and I got a job there.Juan Sanchez Bernal, 62, Harrison, N.J.Commuter rail custodianPhotography by Juan Arredondo for The New York TimesWhen the pandemic began, the number of people we saw in the offices, it almost dropped to half. It created panic. Many of us would have loved to work from home, but sadly, because we are cleaning people, how can we?One employee from our group got sick and died. I felt sad. We were a team, you know? We talked about baseball, basketball, about the countries we came from.This is the country that chose us. If in a moment of crisis, we got to choose between the things we like and the things we don’t like, what’s the contribution we are making? We have all done the essential work required — we have all contributed our grain of sand.We didn’t stop working. I arrive at 6 in the morning. We take out the trash. We are always disinfecting. We always use masks.My youngest daughter studied from home because her university was closed. She was watching over me. When I came back from work, she was all over me: Did you wash your hands? Take off your clothes! Take a shower right now! My other daughter called all the time.I would tell them, ‘Remember that everybody who was born has to die, so calm down.’ They laughed. If you get more stressed, you’ll die faster. So, you better laugh.Isabela Burrows, 19, Grand Blanc, Mich.Pet store workerPhotography by Brittany Greeson for The New York TimesI don’t want people to be treated the same way that I have been and to feel that loneliness and fear that I felt.I started working at a major pet store in late September last year. I made $10.50 an hour. For the first five months of my job, I was just a cashier. One day, a tall, bulky man leaned around my Plexiglas shield and purposely coughed. I think we were out of the dog food that he needed or something.My brother passed on May 22. He was my little buddy. He had a stroke that crushed his brain stem. He couldn’t keep going, so we decided it would be best if we took him off life support. My manager was not empathetic or compassionate. She even told me to just get over it, that my feelings from home didn’t transfer over to work. It was traumatic. I was not comfortable working in that store anymore. I transferred in mid-June.My new store is short staffed. We’re all being wrung dry. You’ll be trying to unload inventory from a truck shipment and then there will be someone needing fish or four different phone calls. Sometimes someone will forget to give the birds more millet.I’m worried about the weather getting cold again, if the cases will spike and whether my family and co-workers will be safe. I’ve already had one loss this year.April Fitch, 58, Newark, N.J.Airport security guardPhotography by Juan Arredondo for The New York TimesMore people would have preferred to stay home or work from home. If I had that opportunity, I would have, most definitely.I caught Covid at the end of March. I was not feeling well. My mom was in a nursing home. I called her on April 6 and told her that my birthday was soon. I told her, “I’m coming to break you out of the house.” She laughed. On April 8, the nursing home called me and told me she was taken to the hospital. A week later she passed away due to Covid.I ended up using two weeks of vacation days, all of my sick days and they gave me my three days for bereavement. There was no time to even deal with the fact that I lost my mom while I was dealing with Covid myself.The first day going back to work was scary. I’m still scared. It’s very crowded now. I try to stay six feet apart. If someone asks me a question, I try to keep them at a distance.Aidan Gardiner contributed reporting on the worker interviews. Eduardo Varas translated Juan Sanchez’s interview from Spanish. More

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    Retailers Rethink Pandemic-Battered Manhattan

    Starbucks has closed more than 40 stores, while adding mobile-order pickup counters in others. Other chains like Sonic are taking advantage of vacancies to establish themselves in New York.In the heart of Manhattan’s garment district, a once-busy Starbucks on the corner of Eighth Avenue and 39th Street sits empty. Just down the block, a Dos Toros Taqueria that opened just three years ago is now closed. And Wok to Walk, which once served steaming containers of noodles mixed with chicken and vegetables to a bustling lunch crowd, is also shuttered.While the Delta variant of the coronavirus has again delayed plans by many companies to bring employees back to offices en masse, workers who have been trickling into Midtown are discovering that many of their favorite haunts for a quick cup of coffee and a muffin in the morning or sandwich or salad at lunchtime have disappeared. A number of those that are open are operating at reduced hours or with limited menus.With the pandemic keeping millions of New York City office employees home for the past year, restaurants, coffee shops, apparel retailers and others struggled to stay afloat.By the end of 2020, the number of chain stores in Manhattan — everything from drugstores to clothing retailers to restaurants — had fallen by more than 17 percent from 2019, according to the Center for an Urban Future, a nonprofit research and policy organization.Across Manhattan, the number of available ground-floor stores, normally the domain of busy restaurants and clothing stores, has soared. A quarter of the ground-floor storefronts in Lower Manhattan are available for rent, while about a third are available in Herald Square, according to a report by the real-estate firm Cushman & Wakefield.Starbucks has permanently closed 44 of its 235 locations in Manhattan. It is now adding pickup areas in many stores.Hilary Swift for The New York TimesStarbucks has permanently closed 44 outlets in Manhattan since March of last year. Pret a Manger has reopened only half of the 60 locations it had in New York City before the pandemic. Numerous delicatessens, independent restaurants and smaller local chains have gone dark.“Midtown clearly has been the hardest hit of any of the areas of Manhattan,” said Jeffrey Roseman, a veteran retail real-estate broker with Newmark. “If you think of other office-centric areas, whether all the way downtown or Flatiron or Hudson Yards, there is a lot of residential surrounding those areas that helped sustain those markets. Midtown, for the most part, is a one-trick pony.“It’s mostly offices and hotels, which also took a hit from the downturn in tourism.”The turmoil has reached farther downtown though. Last week, the luxury furniture retailer ABC Carpet & Home — whose flagship store was a fixture of the Union Square area — filed for bankruptcy protection, in part because of “a mass exodus of current and prospective customers leaving the city.”But in a city where one person’s downturn is someone else’s opportunity, some restaurant chains are taking advantage of the record-low retail rents to set up shop or expand their presence in New York City.In the second quarter, food and beverage companies signed 23 new leases in Manhattan, leading apparel retailers, which signed 10 new leases, according to the commercial real estate services firm CBRE.Shake Shack and Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen were among those signing new rental agreements this year. So was the burger chain Sonic, which signed a lease for its first New York City outpost, replacing a Pax Wholesome Foods location in Midtown. The Philippines-based chicken joint Jollibee, which enjoys a committed following, plans to open a massive flagship restaurant in Times Square.Sonic signed a lease for its first New York City outpost, replacing a Pax Wholesome Foods in Midtown.Hilary Swift for The New York TimesStill, with so much uncertainty about when employees may fully return to Midtown offices, some companies are proceeding carefully. The coffee shop Bluestone Lane had plans to expand aggressively into Manhattan before the pandemic and is still considering locations in Midtown. But it has now turned its focus to opening in more residential neighborhoods like Battery Park City, Hudson Yards and Tribeca.“We intentionally selected urban residential areas for our new cafes so we are not dependent on our locals returning to a physical office space, and are well-positioned for the future of hybrid work,” Nick Stone, the founder and chief executive of Bluestone Lane, said in an emailed statement.And some chain restaurants that already have reopened in Midtown are altering their strategies to address what they believe are the changing needs of customers in a post-Covid world.On a recent weekday, a handful of customers were nibbling on salads and sandwiches at the Bryant Park location of Le Pain Quotidien. The long, communal tables that once dominated the front of the restaurant are gone for now, while refrigerated cases for a selection of grab-and-go drinks, salads and sandwiches will be expanded next year as part of a remodeling. A new app to preorder and pick up food became available in May.While the new technologies work for some customers, others long for the past.A Europa Cafe in Times Square closed, one of numerous stores to shutter during the pandemic.Hilary Swift for The New York Times“We used QR codes for guests to look at the menu as we tried to limit the contact of surfaces, but the majority of our guests want to hold a real menu,” said Stephen Smittle, the senior vice president of operations for Le Pain Quotidien. “They very much want to feel normal. They want a server. They want to hold a cup of coffee, not a paper cup.”Struggling before the pandemic, Le Pain Quotidien filed for bankruptcy in May 2020. It was acquired by Aurify Brands, which has since reopened many of the Le Pain Quotidien locations around the city, including several in Midtown.“Our thinking is that Midtown New York will come back to a level that might not be 100 percent prepandemic, but based upon information we have gathered, I do believe that Midtown is going to come back to a prominent level,” Mr. Smittle said.An online-order status board at Starbucks.Hilary Swift for The New York TimesCustomers increasingly like ordering drinks online and then picking up at the store.Hilary Swift for The New York TimesFor Starbucks, one of the big lessons from the pandemic was that customers liked ordering their drinks online and then quickly picking them up at stores or drive-throughs. Starbucks had started to offer that even before the pandemic, opening a pickup location in Midtown’s Pennsylvania Plaza in late 2019.Since early 2020, Starbucks has permanently closed 44 of its 235 locations in Manhattan. But it is in the process of adding mobile pickup areas in many stores and adding more pickup-only locations. The company says that it expects to have net new store growth in Manhattan in the next few years.Before the pandemic, Starbucks operated three stores around the Columbus Circle area. It closed them and this year, opened one large restaurant. Now runners from Central Park pick up their preordered drinks from a mobile counter and head out again, while other customers stand in line to place their orders and can sit at nearby tables.“We were going to build the concept out and evolve over time,” said John Culver, the president of North America and chief operating officer for Starbucks. “What we’ve done is taken the opportunity that the pandemic has presented and accelerated the transformation of our portfolio of stores. Consumer behaviors during the pandemic have accelerated at levels that no one expected.” More

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    Photos: Witnessing the U.S. Economy’s Recovery in 2021

    September glimmered in the distance. As a hopeful spring gave way to summer, this was to be the month when pandemic restrictions and government aid would fully cease, and when a new season of live gatherings, face-to-face schooling and office work would begin. But events spilled out in unpredictable ways. New York Times photographers around […] More

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    August 2021 Jobs Report: Employers Added Only 235,000 Jobs

    The American economy slowed abruptly last month, adding 235,000 jobs, a sharp drop from the huge gains recorded earlier in the summer and an indication that the Delta variant of the coronavirus is putting a damper on hiring.August added a disappointing number of jobs.Cumulative change in jobs since before the pandemic More