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    In Washington, ‘Free Trade’ Is No Longer Gospel

    Like its predecessor, the Biden administration has largely dispensed with the idea of free trade as a goal in and of itself.WASHINGTON — For decades, the principle of “free trade” inspired a kind of religious reverence among most American politicians. Lawmakers, diplomats and presidents justified their policies through the pursuit of freer trade, which, like the spread of democracy and market capitalism, was presumed to be a universal and worthy goal.But as the Biden administration establishes itself in Washington, that longstanding gospel is no longer the prevailing view.Political parties on both the right and left have shifted away from the conventional view that the primary goal of trade policy should be speeding flows of goods and services to lift economic growth. Instead, more politicians have zeroed in on the downsides of past trade deals, which greatly benefited some American workers but stripped others of their jobs.President Donald J. Trump embraced this rethinking on trade by threatening to scrap old deals that he said had sent jobs overseas and renegotiate new ones. His signature pacts, including with Canada, Mexico and China, ended up raising some barriers to trade rather than lowering them, including leaving hefty tariffs in place on Chinese products and more restrictions on auto imports into North America.The Biden administration appears poised to adopt a similar approach, with top officials like Katherine Tai, Mr. Biden’s nominee to run the Office of the United States Trade Representative, promising to focus more on ensuring that trade deals protect the rights and interests of American workers, rather than exporters or consumers.The Senate is expected to vote on Ms. Tai’s nomination on Wednesday, and supporters say she will be easily confirmed.Mr. Biden and his advisers have promised to review the impact that past trade policies have had on economic and racial inequality, and put negotiating new trade deals on the back burner while they focus on improving the domestic economy. And they have not yet made any moves to scale back Mr. Trump’s hefty tariffs on foreign products, saying that they are reviewing them, but that tariffs are a legitimate trade policy tool.In her hearing before the Senate Finance Committee on Feb. 25, Ms. Tai emphasized that she would help usher in a break with past policies that would “pit one of our segments of our workers and our economy against another.”While Ms. Tai reassured senators that she would work with them to promote exports from their districts, she called for a policy that would focus more on how trade affects Americans as workers and wage earners.When asked by Senator Patrick J. Toomey, a Republican of Pennsylvania and a noted free trader, whether the goal of a trade agreement between two modern, developed economies should be the elimination of tariffs and trade barriers, Ms. Tai declined to agree, saying she would want to consider such agreements on a case-by-case basis.“Maybe if you’d asked me this question five or 10 years ago, I would have been inclined to say yes,” Ms. Tai responded. But after the events of the past few years — including the pandemic, the Trump administration’s trade wars and a failed effort by the Obama administration to negotiate a Pacific trade deal — “I think that our trade policies need to be nuanced, and need to take into account all the lessons that we have learned, many of them very painful, from our most recent history,” she said.Katherine Tai, the Biden administration’s nominee for trade representative, promised a break with past policies that had “pit one of our segments of our workers and our economy against another.”Pool photo by Bill O’LearyIn his first major foreign policy speech on March 3, Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken also said that the calculus on free trade had changed.“Some of us previously argued for free trade agreements because we believed Americans would broadly share in the economic gains,” he said. “But we didn’t do enough to understand who would be negatively affected and what would be needed to adequately offset their pain.”“Our approach now will be different,” Mr. Blinken said.Clyde Prestowitz, a U.S. negotiator in the Reagan administration, called the administration’s statements on trade “a revolution.” While Robert E. Lighthizer, Mr. Trump’s trade representative, also parted with the conventional wisdom on trade, he was seen as an exception, a former steel industry lawyer steeped in protectionism, said Mr. Prestowitz.“Now here is Ms. Tai, with a mostly government official career behind her, talking without making any of the formerly necessary gestures toward the sanctity and multitudinous bounties of free trade,” Mr. Prestowitz said. “The conventional wisdom on trade no longer has an iron grip on policymakers and thinkers.”Like Ms. Tai and Mr. Lighthizer, many past presidents and trade officials emphasized fair trade and the idea of holding foreign countries accountable for breaking trade rules. But many also paid homage to the conventional wisdom that free trade itself was a worthy goal because it could help lift the economic fortunes of all countries and enhance global stability by linking economies.That idea reached the height of its popularity under the presidencies of George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, where the United States negotiated the North American Free Trade Agreement, led the talks that gave the World Trade Organization its modern format, granted China permanent normal trading relations, and sealed a series of trade agreements with countries in Latin America, Africa and the Middle East.President Barack Obama initially put less emphasis on free trade deals, instead focusing on the financial crisis and the Affordable Care Act. But in his second term, his administration pushed to sign the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which came under criticism from progressive Democrats for exposing American workers to foreign competition. The deal never won sufficient support in Congress.For Democrats, the downfall of that deal was a turning point, propelling them toward their new consensus on trade. Some, like Dani Rodrik, a professor of political economy at Harvard, argue that recent trade deals have largely not been about cutting tariffs or trade barriers at all, and instead were focused on locking in advantages for pharmaceutical companies and international banks.David Autor, an economist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said that economic theory had never claimed that trade makes everybody better off — it had said that trade would raise overall economic output, but lead to gains and losses for different groups.But economists and politicians alike underestimated how jarring some of those losses could be. Mr. Autor’s influential research shows that expanded trade with China led to the loss of 2.4 million American jobs between 1999 and 2011. China’s growing dominance of a variety of global industries, often accomplished through hefty government subsidies, also weakened the argument that the United States could succeed through free markets alone.Today, “people are much more sensitive to the idea that trade can have very, very disruptive effects,” Mr. Autor said. “There’s no amount of everyday low prices at Walmart that is going to make up for unemployment.”But Mr. Autor said that while the old consensus was “simplistic and harmful,” turning away from the ideal of free trade held dangers too. “Once you open this terrain, lots of terrible policies and expensive subsidies can all march in under the banner of the protection of the American worker,” he said.Some have argued that the approach could forgo important economic gains.William Reinsch, the Scholl Chair in International Business at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, wrote that Americans had come to understand that the argument that “a rising tide would lift all boats” is not always correct.“A rising tide does not lift all boats; it only lifts some boats, and for a long time, workers’ boats have been stuck in the muck while the owners’ yachts flow free,” he wrote. However, Mr. Reinsch added, “no tide lifts no boats. In economic terms, if we forgo the expansion of trade, we do not get the benefits trade provides, and there is nothing to distribute.”Workers making iron bars in a steel factory in China last month.Agence France-Presse — Getty ImagesIt remains to be seen how much the Biden administration will adhere to the Trump administration’s more protectionist policies — like keeping the tariffs on foreign metals and products from China.While the Biden administration has tried to distance its trade policy from that of the previous administration, many former Trump administration officials say the direction appears remarkably similar.In an interview in January, Mr. Lighthizer said that the Trump administration had reoriented trade policy away from the interests of multinational businesses and the Chamber of Commerce and toward working-class people and manufacturing, goals that Democrats also support. He said the Biden administration would try to make trade policy look like their own, but ultimately “stay pretty close.”“The goal is creating communities and families of working people, rather than promoting corporate profits,” Mr. Lighthizer said. “I think the outlines of what we’ve done will stay. They will try to Biden-ize it, make it their own, which they should do, but I’d be surprised if they back away from the great outline of what we’ve done and how we’ve changed the policy.”Ms. Tai has acknowledged some similarities between the Biden and Trump administration’s goals, but emphasized the difference in their tactics.In her confirmation hearing, she said that she shared the Trump administration’s goal of bringing supply chains back to America, but that the prior administration’s policies had created “a lot of disruption and consternation.”“I’d want to accomplish similar goals in a more effective, process-driven manner,” she said. More

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    Biden Highlights Small-Business Help, as Problems Persist With Lending Program

    President Biden visited a Black-owned flooring company as he continued his weeklong push to highlight the $1.9 trillion economic relief package.President Biden dropped by a flooring company in the Philadelphia suburbs on Tuesday to promote an assortment of measures in his $1.9 trillion aid package that are aimed at helping small employers and their workers endure the pandemic’s economic shocks.But Mr. Biden’s most immediate and sweeping small-business initiative — changes he made last month to the Paycheck Protection Program — has been mired in logistical challenges. With the relief program scheduled to end in just two weeks, the effect of his modifications will be blunted unless Congress extends it.Last month, Mr. Biden abruptly altered the rules of the $687 billion program to make business owners who employ only themselves eligible for more money. The move was intended to address a clear racial and gender disparity in the relief effort: Female and minority owners, who are much more likely to run tiny businesses than larger ones, were disproportionately hobbled by an earlier rule that based the size of sole proprietors’ loans on their annual profit.Many companies were shut out of the program because of that restriction, while others got loans as small as $1. The administration switched to a more forgiving formula that lets those businesses instead use their gross income, a change that significantly increased the money available to millions of business owners. Its implementation, though, has been a mess.The program’s government-backed loans are made by banks. The largest lender, JPMorgan Chase, refused to make the change, saying it lacked the time to update its systems before March 31, the program’s scheduled end date. The second-largest lender, Bank of America, decided to update all of its applications manually, causing anxiety and confusion among its borrowers. Wells Fargo released its revised application on Tuesday and told borrowers with pending applications that they had just three days to reapply using the new form.Compounding the problem is that Mr. Biden’s change was not retroactive, which has prompted backlash from the hundreds of thousands of borrowers who got much smaller loans than they would now qualify for. Many have used social media or written to government officials to vent their anger.JagMohan Dilawri, a self-employed chauffeur in Queens, got a $1,900 loan in February. Under the new rules, he calculates that he would have been eligible for around $15,000. That wide gulf frustrated Mr. Dilawri, who has struggled to keep up on his mortgage, car loan and auto insurance payments since the pandemic took hold.“When the Biden administration came, they said, ‘We will be fair with everyone,’” he said. “But this is unfair.”Officials at the Small Business Administration, which manages the program, said only Congress could fix that disparity. Absent legislative action, loans that were completed before the rule was revised “cannot be changed or canceled,” said Matthew Coleman, an agency spokesman.On Tuesday, the Senate confirmed Mr. Biden’s nominee to run the Small Business Administration, Isabel Guzman, by an 81-to-17 vote.Despite the concerns, Mr. Biden was met with praise in Chester, Pa., when he visited Smith Flooring, a Black-owned business that supplies and installs flooring. White House officials said the shop cut payroll over the last year, from 22 union employees to 12, after revenues declined by 20 percent during the pandemic. It has survived, the officials said, thanks in part to two rounds of loans from the Paycheck Protection Program, which Congress established last year during the Trump administration to help small businesses.“This is a great outfit. This is a union shop,” Mr. Biden said in brief remarks. Its employees, he said, “work like the devil, and they can make a decent wage, a living wage.”The owners of Smith Flooring, Kristin and James Smith, secured their second loan from the program as part of one of the Biden administration’s changes, which created a two-week exclusive period for certain very small businesses to receive loans. They thanked Mr. Biden for his efforts and for visiting Chester.Mr. Biden’s aid bill, signed last week, added $7 billion to the program and funded others to help struggling businesses, including a $28 billion grant fund for restaurants. The law also set aside additional money for other relief efforts run by the Small Business Administration, including a long-delayed grant program for music clubs and other live-event businesses, which the agency said would start accepting applications early next month.Lenders are scrambling to carry out the administration’s changes to the Paycheck Protection Program and finish processing a flood of applications before March 31. The American Institute of Certified Public Accountants called the deadline “unrealistic,” and 10 banking groups sent a letter to lawmakers urging Congress to give them more time.Advocacy groups are also calling, with increasing urgency, for both an extension and a fix to make the rule change for sole proprietors retroactive.Mr. Biden met with the owners of Smith Flooring, Kristin and James Smith, in Chester, Pa., on Tuesday.Doug Mills/The New York Times“We absolutely need those changes,” said Ashley Harrington, the federal advocacy director at the Center for Responsible Lending. In December, Congress made retroactive changes to Paycheck Protection Program loans for farmers that allowed those borrowers to recalculate and increase previously finalized loans..css-yoay6m{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;}@media (min-width:740px){.css-yoay6m{font-size:1.25rem;line-height:1.4375rem;}}.css-1dg6kl4{margin-top:5px;margin-bottom:15px;}.css-k59gj9{display:-webkit-box;display:-webkit-flex;display:-ms-flexbox;display:flex;-webkit-flex-direction:column;-ms-flex-direction:column;flex-direction:column;width:100%;}.css-1e2usoh{font-family:inherit;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;border-top:1px solid #ccc;padding:10px 0px 10px 0px;background-color:#fff;}.css-1jz6h6z{font-family:inherit;font-weight:bold;font-size:1rem;line-height:1.5rem;text-align:left;}.css-1t412wb{box-sizing:border-box;margin:8px 15px 0px 15px;cursor:pointer;}.css-hhzar2{-webkit-transition:-webkit-transform ease 0.5s;-webkit-transition:transform ease 0.5s;transition:transform ease 0.5s;}.css-t54hv4{-webkit-transform:rotate(180deg);-ms-transform:rotate(180deg);transform:rotate(180deg);}.css-1r2j9qz{-webkit-transform:rotate(0deg);-ms-transform:rotate(0deg);transform:rotate(0deg);}.css-e1ipqs{font-size:1rem;line-height:1.5rem;padding:0px 30px 0px 0px;}.css-e1ipqs a{color:#326891;-webkit-text-decoration:underline;text-decoration:underline;}.css-e1ipqs a:hover{-webkit-text-decoration:none;text-decoration:none;}.css-1o76pdf{visibility:show;height:100%;padding-bottom:20px;}.css-1sw9s96{visibility:hidden;height:0px;}#masthead-bar-one{display:none;}#masthead-bar-one{display:none;}.css-1cz6wm{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;font-family:’nyt-franklin’,arial,helvetica,sans-serif;text-align:left;}@media (min-width:740px){.css-1cz6wm{padding:20px;width:100%;}}.css-1cz6wm:focus{outline:1px solid #e2e2e2;}#NYT_BELOW_MAIN_CONTENT_REGION .css-1cz6wm{border:none;padding:20px 0 0;border-top:1px solid #121212;}Frequently Asked Questions About the New Stimulus PackageThe stimulus payments would be $1,400 for most recipients. Those who are eligible would also receive an identical payment for each of their children. To qualify for the full $1,400, a single person would need an adjusted gross income of $75,000 or below. For heads of household, adjusted gross income would need to be $112,500 or below, and for married couples filing jointly that number would need to be $150,000 or below. To be eligible for a payment, a person must have a Social Security number. Read more. Buying insurance through the government program known as COBRA would temporarily become a lot cheaper. COBRA, for the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act, generally lets someone who loses a job buy coverage via the former employer. But it’s expensive: Under normal circumstances, a person may have to pay at least 102 percent of the cost of the premium. Under the relief bill, the government would pay the entire COBRA premium from April 1 through Sept. 30. A person who qualified for new, employer-based health insurance someplace else before Sept. 30 would lose eligibility for the no-cost coverage. And someone who left a job voluntarily would not be eligible, either. Read moreThis credit, which helps working families offset the cost of care for children under 13 and other dependents, would be significantly expanded for a single year. More people would be eligible, and many recipients would get a bigger break. The bill would also make the credit fully refundable, which means you could collect the money as a refund even if your tax bill was zero. “That will be helpful to people at the lower end” of the income scale, said Mark Luscombe, principal federal tax analyst at Wolters Kluwer Tax & Accounting. Read more.There would be a big one for people who already have debt. You wouldn’t have to pay income taxes on forgiven debt if you qualify for loan forgiveness or cancellation — for example, if you’ve been in an income-driven repayment plan for the requisite number of years, if your school defrauded you or if Congress or the president wipes away $10,000 of debt for large numbers of people. This would be the case for debt forgiven between Jan. 1, 2021, and the end of 2025. Read more.The bill would provide billions of dollars in rental and utility assistance to people who are struggling and in danger of being evicted from their homes. About $27 billion would go toward emergency rental assistance. The vast majority of it would replenish the so-called Coronavirus Relief Fund, created by the CARES Act and distributed through state, local and tribal governments, according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition. That’s on top of the $25 billion in assistance provided by the relief package passed in December. To receive financial assistance — which could be used for rent, utilities and other housing expenses — households would have to meet several conditions. Household income could not exceed 80 percent of the area median income, at least one household member must be at risk of homelessness or housing instability, and individuals would have to qualify for unemployment benefits or have experienced financial hardship (directly or indirectly) because of the pandemic. Assistance could be provided for up to 18 months, according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition. Lower-income families that have been unemployed for three months or more would be given priority for assistance. Read more.“To have that change be made for one group and not be made for another — especially for a group that has so many Black and Latino business owners that have struggled so much in this crisis — really raised alarms and red flags for us,” Ms. Harrington said.Some key Democratic lawmakers said they were willing to extend the date. Representative Nydia M. Velázquez, a New York Democrat who leads the House Small Business Committee, said she was working with the Small Business Administration and congressional Republicans “to find a path forward, whether that be through agency action or additional legislation.”“For those sole proprietors who applied before the new rules took effect, we understand their concerns and are eager to work with Congress to resolve them,” said Bharat Ramamurti, the deputy director of the National Economic Council and the White House’s point person on the relief program.Mr. Ramamurti said that “tens of thousands” of loans had been approved by around 4,000 lenders using the new formula, and that some large lenders — including the online lender Biz2Credit and two banks, Cross River Bank and Customers Bank, that make loans for dozens of partner companies — said they had successfully made the needed updates.But many applicants are struggling. Chase’s refusal to make the change provoked outrage on social media from its customers. “What a slap in the face,” one tweeted at the bank. “Please make this right,” another begged.And some Bank of America customers are mired in confusion over the bank’s process, which required loan seekers to apply in writing for an incorrect amount — one that used the older formula — and rely on the bank’s staff to correct their applications by hand.Asim Khan, an environmental consultant in Ann Arbor, Mich., has been trying for two weeks to get his Bank of America application untangled. He has spent hours on the phone and on hold. “I’ve had two reps tell me they’ve seen it work for people, but yet they can’t make it work for me,” he said. “It’s all super clumsy.”Bill Halldin, a Bank of America spokesman, said the bank was “working with each individual client to manually update their loan information, which is the best way for us to help them take advantage of the recently announced rule change.”While the program still has two weeks left, the big banks are already shutting down. Bank of America stopped accepting new applications last week, and Chase plans to close its application system on Friday. More

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    Biden, Champion of Middle Class, Comes to Aid the Poor

    #masthead-section-label, #masthead-bar-one { display: none }Biden’s Stimulus PlanWhat to Know About the BillSenate PassageWhat the Senate Changed$15 Minimum WageChild Tax CreditAdvertisementContinue reading the main storySupported byContinue reading the main storyWith Relief Plan, Biden Takes on a New Role: Crusader for the PoorPresident Biden’s new role as a crusader for Americans in poverty is an evolution for a politician who has focused on the working class and his Senate work on the judiciary and foreign relations.President Biden at a round-table discussion on the American Rescue Plan this month. The House passed the measure on Wednesday and cleared it for his signature.Credit…Al Drago for The New York TimesMichael D. Shear, Carl Hulse and March 11, 2021, 3:00 a.m. ETWASHINGTON — Days before his inauguration, President-elect Biden was eying a $1.3 trillion rescue plan aimed squarely at the middle class he has always championed, but pared down to attract some Republican support.In a private conversation, Senator Chuck Schumer, the New York Democrat who is now the majority leader, echoed others in the party and urged Mr. Biden to think bigger. True, the coronavirus pandemic had disrupted the lives of those in the middle, but it had also plunged millions of people into poverty. With Democrats in control, the new president should push for something closer to $2 trillion, Mr. Schumer told Mr. Biden.On Friday, “Scranton Joe” Biden, whose five-decade political identity has been largely shaped by his appeal to union workers and blue-collar tradesmen like those from his Pennsylvania hometown, will sign into law a $1.9 trillion spending plan that includes the biggest antipoverty effort in a generation.The new role as a crusader for the poor represents an evolution for Mr. Biden, who spent much of his 36 years in Congress concentrating on foreign policy, judicial fights, gun control and criminal justice issues by virtue of his committee chairmanships in the Senate. For the most part, he ceded domestic economic policy to others.But aides say he has embraced his new role. Mr. Biden has done so in part by following progressives in his party to the left and accepting the encouragement of his inner circle to use Democratic power to make sweeping rather than incremental change. He has also been moved by the inequities in pain and suffering that the pandemic has inflicted on the poorest Americans, aides say.“We all grow,” said Representative James E. Clyburn of South Carolina, the No. 3 House Democrat, whose endorsement in the primaries was crucial to Mr. Biden winning the presidency. “During the campaign, he recognized what was happening in this country, this pandemic. It is not like anything we have had in 100 years. If you are going to address Covid-19’s impact, you have to address the economic disparities that exist in this country.”A vast share of the money approved by Congress will benefit the lowest-income Americans, including tax credits and direct checks, of which nearly half will be delivered to people who are unemployed, below the poverty line or barely making enough to feed and shelter their families. Billions of dollars will be used to extend benefits for the unemployed. Child tax credits will largely benefit the poorest Americans.“Millions of people out of work through no fault of their own,” the president said moments after the relief act passed the Senate over the weekend. “I want to emphasize that: through no fault of their own. Food bank lines stretching for miles. Did any of you ever think you’d see that in America, in cities all across this country?”Mr. Biden touring a food bank in Houston last month. “Food bank lines stretching for miles,” he said after the relief act passed the Senate over the weekend. “Did any of you ever think you’d see that in America, in cities all across this country?”Credit…Doug Mills/The New York TimesThe president’s closest advisers insist that the far-reaching antipoverty effort — a core tenet of the progressive wing of the Democratic Party — is less of an ideological shift from Mr. Biden’s middle-class roots than it is a response to the moment he finds himself in: presiding over a historic health crisis that has vastly increased the number of poor Americans.They are quick to note that the president’s American Rescue Plan also directs enormous sums of money to middle-income people who have jobs but are struggling. Working families making up to $150,000 will receive direct payments, help for child care and expanded child tax credits that will bolster their annual incomes during the pandemic.Mr. Biden is planning a public relations blitz across the country during the next several weeks to promote the benefits of the relief package and his role in pushing it through Congress. His campaign will begin on Thursday with a prime-time address from the Oval Office for the first anniversary of the Covid restrictions imposed by President Donald J. Trump.After that, aides say Mr. Biden will travel to communities that benefit from the provisions of the new law, in part to build the case for making some of the temporary measures a permanent part of the social safety net.Congressional Democrats are also determined to make sure the public understands what is in the new bill. In a letter sent on Tuesday to his colleagues, Mr. Schumer said that “we cannot be shy in telling the American people how this historic legislation directly helps them.”Among the lessons Democrats say they have learned from the political backlash in 2010 to their handling of the economic crisis in 2009 is that they were not aggressive enough in selling the benefits of their stimulus package to voters a decade ago. It is not a mistake they intend to make again.Even as Mr. Biden’s stimulus victory lap will be embraced by the left, he remains in the cautious middle so far on foreign policy, easing off on punishing the crown prince of Saudi Arabia for ordering the killing of a Washington Post journalist and imposing only modest sanctions on Russia for the poisoning and jailing of Aleksei A. Navalny, the opposition leader there.Mr. Biden’s former Senate colleagues also acknowledge that historically he was never a driver of liberal economic policy.Once a 29-year-old Senate candidate who pushed for civil rights and opposed the Vietnam War, Mr. Biden later drifted toward the middle, adapting to the political moment in 1996 by backing a bipartisan welfare overhaul supported by President Bill Clinton but opposed by many liberals who saw it as punitive and politically driven. Mr. Biden is now embracing a sweeping expansion of the welfare state with a price tag that is just under half of what the entire federal government spent in 2019.“He has gotten in front of it and put his stamp on it,” said Rahm Emanuel, the former Chicago mayor and former White House chief of staff..css-yoay6m{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;}@media (min-width:740px){.css-yoay6m{font-size:1.25rem;line-height:1.4375rem;}}.css-1dg6kl4{margin-top:5px;margin-bottom:15px;}.css-k59gj9{display:-webkit-box;display:-webkit-flex;display:-ms-flexbox;display:flex;-webkit-flex-direction:column;-ms-flex-direction:column;flex-direction:column;width:100%;}.css-1e2usoh{font-family:inherit;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;border-top:1px solid #ccc;padding:10px 0px 10px 0px;background-color:#fff;}.css-1jz6h6z{font-family:inherit;font-weight:bold;font-size:1rem;line-height:1.5rem;text-align:left;}.css-1t412wb{box-sizing:border-box;margin:8px 15px 0px 15px;cursor:pointer;}.css-hhzar2{-webkit-transition:-webkit-transform ease 0.5s;-webkit-transition:transform ease 0.5s;transition:transform ease 0.5s;}.css-t54hv4{-webkit-transform:rotate(180deg);-ms-transform:rotate(180deg);transform:rotate(180deg);}.css-1r2j9qz{-webkit-transform:rotate(0deg);-ms-transform:rotate(0deg);transform:rotate(0deg);}.css-e1ipqs{font-size:1rem;line-height:1.5rem;padding:0px 30px 0px 0px;}.css-e1ipqs a{color:#326891;-webkit-text-decoration:underline;text-decoration:underline;}.css-e1ipqs a:hover{-webkit-text-decoration:none;text-decoration:none;}.css-1o76pdf{visibility:show;height:100%;padding-bottom:20px;}.css-1sw9s96{visibility:hidden;height:0px;}#masthead-bar-one{display:none;}#masthead-bar-one{display:none;}.css-1cz6wm{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;font-family:’nyt-franklin’,arial,helvetica,sans-serif;text-align:left;}@media (min-width:740px){.css-1cz6wm{padding:20px;width:100%;}}.css-1cz6wm:focus{outline:1px solid #e2e2e2;}#NYT_BELOW_MAIN_CONTENT_REGION .css-1cz6wm{border:none;padding:20px 0 0;border-top:1px solid #121212;}Frequently Asked Questions About the New Stimulus PackageThe stimulus payments would be $1,400 for most recipients. Those who are eligible would also receive an identical payment for each of their children. To qualify for the full $1,400, a single person would need an adjusted gross income of $75,000 or below. For heads of household, adjusted gross income would need to be $112,500 or below, and for married couples filing jointly that number would need to be $150,000 or below. To be eligible for a payment, a person must have a Social Security number. Read more. Buying insurance through the government program known as COBRA would temporarily become a lot cheaper. COBRA, for the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act, generally lets someone who loses a job buy coverage via the former employer. But it’s expensive: Under normal circumstances, a person may have to pay at least 102 percent of the cost of the premium. Under the relief bill, the government would pay the entire COBRA premium from April 1 through Sept. 30. A person who qualified for new, employer-based health insurance someplace else before Sept. 30 would lose eligibility for the no-cost coverage. And someone who left a job voluntarily would not be eligible, either. Read moreThis credit, which helps working families offset the cost of care for children under 13 and other dependents, would be significantly expanded for a single year. More people would be eligible, and many recipients would get a bigger break. The bill would also make the credit fully refundable, which means you could collect the money as a refund even if your tax bill was zero. “That will be helpful to people at the lower end” of the income scale, said Mark Luscombe, principal federal tax analyst at Wolters Kluwer Tax & Accounting. Read more.There would be a big one for people who already have debt. You wouldn’t have to pay income taxes on forgiven debt if you qualify for loan forgiveness or cancellation — for example, if you’ve been in an income-driven repayment plan for the requisite number of years, if your school defrauded you or if Congress or the president wipes away $10,000 of debt for large numbers of people. This would be the case for debt forgiven between Jan. 1, 2021, and the end of 2025. Read more.The bill would provide billions of dollars in rental and utility assistance to people who are struggling and in danger of being evicted from their homes. About $27 billion would go toward emergency rental assistance. The vast majority of it would replenish the so-called Coronavirus Relief Fund, created by the CARES Act and distributed through state, local and tribal governments, according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition. That’s on top of the $25 billion in assistance provided by the relief package passed in December. To receive financial assistance — which could be used for rent, utilities and other housing expenses — households would have to meet several conditions. Household income could not exceed 80 percent of the area median income, at least one household member must be at risk of homelessness or housing instability, and individuals would have to qualify for unemployment benefits or have experienced financial hardship (directly or indirectly) because of the pandemic. Assistance could be provided for up to 18 months, according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition. Lower-income families that have been unemployed for three months or more would be given priority for assistance. Read more.Tom Daschle, the former Senate Democratic leader and a longtime colleague of Mr. Biden’s, acknowledged that the president — who was the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee from 1987 to 1995 and the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee from 2001 to 2003 — was not a leader in those years on economic policy. But he said it was natural that Mr. Biden would aggressively tackle it now, given conditions in the country.“Times have changed,” Mr. Daschle said, noting that “economic and racial disparities have become more acute, more understood and more important in recent years.” He pointed to the new $3,000 child tax credit, a temporary benefit included in the package, and compared its transformational potential to the Medicare program enacted under President Lyndon B. Johnson should it become permanent.“If or when it does,” Mr. Daschle said, “Joe Biden will be seen as the L.B.J. for low-income families in dramatically improving their economic circumstances.”Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the majority leader, at a news conference last week. “We cannot be shy in telling the American people how this historic legislation directly helps them,” he wrote in a letter sent on Tuesday to colleagues.Credit…Erin Schaff/The New York TimesDuring the presidential campaign, Mr. Biden spoke about “rebuilding the backbone of the nation,” a phrase that sometimes appeared to include a promise to provide significant help for people at the bottom of the economic ladder.“Ending poverty won’t be just an aspiration, but a way to build a new economy,” he said in 2019, as he campaigned for the Democratic nomination. Once in the Oval Office, Mr. Biden hung a picture of President Franklin D. Roosevelt and invoked the Depression-era president in his private conversations with lawmakers.The plight of the middle class has long animated Mr. Biden. He lamented their fortunes when he ran for president in 1988, during the Reagan era, and was often a lonely voice for the same constituency while serving as vice president, when he was President Barack Obama’s de facto liaison to organized labor.To that end, Mr. Biden has also emphasized the parts of the relief package dedicated to making life easier for the working- and middle-class voters he has always courted.“For a typical middle-class family of four — husband and wife working, making $100,000 a year total with two kids — will get $5,600, and it’ll be on the way soon,” Mr. Biden told reporters on Saturday.But for now, his path forward is clear. Even though Mr. Biden listened politely last month when a group of Senate Republicans visited the Oval Office and pitched him on a smaller compromise deal on the relief package, he held fast to the ambitious proposal put forth by congressional Democrats. In his first major act as president, Mr. Biden leveraged the pandemic to fulfill some of the left’s longstanding goals.Representative Pete Aguilar of California, a member of the Democratic leadership, announced at a news conference on Tuesday that the relief law “represents the boldest action taken on behalf of the American people since the Great Depression.” And Representative Hakeem Jeffries of New York, the fourth-ranking House Democrat, praised the president.“Joe Biden has been clear that we have to go big at a moment like this,” he said.AdvertisementContinue reading the main story More

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    Photographer Captures Economic Impact of Covid on New York

    #masthead-section-label, #masthead-bar-one { display: none }The Coronavirus OutbreakliveLatest UpdatesMaps and CasesRisk Near YouVaccine RolloutGuidelines After VaccinationAdvertisementContinue reading the main storySupported byContinue reading the main storyTimes InsiderA City Strapped: Photographing a New York in NeedThe pandemic shattered the city’s economy, affecting people’s homes, livelihoods and wallets. One photojournalist documented the hardships, as both a lament and a tribute.Madison Avenue on the Upper East Side, last September.Credit…Ashley Gilbertson for The New York TimesMarch 10, 2021, 5:00 a.m. ETTimes Insider explains who we are and what we do, and delivers behind-the-scenes insights into how our journalism comes together.Last year, as the coronavirus began spreading in New York, I worked closely with Renee Melides, a photo editor on the Business desk, on a photo essay that visualized the city as it became a global epicenter of the pandemic. When that piece was just a concept and life still seemed somewhat normal, the two of us sat over a coffee. To this day, it’s the only time I’ve had an editor green light an idea mid-pitch.“Yes,” Renee said, interrupting me. “Do it. Now.” And I walked outside and started photographing.Back then, anxiety and uncertainty dominated New York, and when the story ran, it led with an image of a man praying during a meal in a Greenwich Village McDonald’s.With that story published, I pulled back from daily assignments as a freelance photographer in an attempt to understand the virus, as well as the risks that my family and I faced. I never stopped working, though. Instead, I moved through many parts of New York on long daily runs. Nine miles out, nine miles back. I’d pass through different neighborhoods, assessing and acknowledging changes by shooting on my iPhone.For a while, the pictures were mostly empty streets, ambulances and those frightening freezer truck morgues. Then the spring surge abated and people started emerging, and the vulnerabilities of our city, exposed by the virus, became more apparent than ever. I would post images to my Instagram account, unsure of what else to do with them or even what I was trying to say.I could see that inequality had become more pronounced, observing the rich and the needy forced to share the same sidewalks. I watched as stores closed down on street corners one by one until nothing but “For Rent” signs remained, and I found myself stunned as I moved through parts of the city that were once thronged by tourists but were now empty. One day in Times Square, as I sat waiting for a pedestrian to pass through a composition I had made, it was quiet enough for me to hear the sounds of the traffic lights changing.The Coronavirus Outbreak More

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    Child Tax Credit, Proposed in Stimulus, Advances an Effort Years in the Making

    #masthead-section-label, #masthead-bar-one { display: none }Biden’s Stimulus PlanSenate PassageWhat to Know About the BillWhat the Senate Changed$15 Minimum WageWhere Trump Voters StandAdvertisementContinue reading the main storySupported byContinue reading the main storyIn the Stimulus Bill, a Policy Revolution in Aid for ChildrenThe $1.9 trillion pandemic relief package moving through Congress advances an idea that Democrats have been nurturing for decades: establishing a guaranteed income for families with children.Anique Houpe, a single mother in Georgia, is among the parents whom Democrats are seeking to help with a plan to provide most families with a monthly check of up to $300 per child.Credit…Audra Melton for The New York TimesMarch 7, 2021Updated 5:03 p.m. ETWASHINGTON — A year ago, Anique Houpe, a single mother in suburban Atlanta, was working as a letter carrier, running a side business catering picnics and settling into a rent-to-own home in Stone Mountain, Ga., where she thought her boys would flourish in class and excel on the football field.Then the pandemic closed the schools, the boys’ grades collapsed with distance learning, and she quit work to stay home in hopes of breaking their fall. Expecting unemployment aid that never came, she lost her utilities, ran short of food and was recovering from an immobilizing bout of Covid when a knock brought marshals with eviction papers.Depending on when the snapshot is dated, Ms. Houpe might appear as a striving emblem of upward mobility or a mother on the verge of homelessness. But in either guise, she is among the people Democrats seek to help with a mold-breaking plan, on the verge of congressional passage, to provide most parents a monthly check of up to $300 per child.Obscured by other parts of President Biden’s $1.9 trillion stimulus package, which won Senate approval on Saturday, the child benefit has the makings of a policy revolution. Though framed in technocratic terms as an expansion of an existing tax credit, it is essentially a guaranteed income for families with children, akin to children’s allowances that are common in other rich countries.The plan establishes the benefit for a single year. But if it becomes permanent, as Democrats intend, it will greatly enlarge the safety net for the poor and the middle class at a time when the volatile modern economy often leaves families moving between those groups. More than 93 percent of children — 69 million — would receive benefits under the plan, at a one-year cost of more than $100 billion.The bill, which is likely to pass the House and be signed by Mr. Biden this week, raises the maximum benefit most families will receive by up to 80 percent per child and extends it to millions of families whose earnings are too low to fully qualify under existing law. Currently, a quarter of children get a partial benefit, and the poorest 10 percent get nothing.While the current program distributes the money annually, as a tax reduction to families with income tax liability or a check to those too poor to owe income taxes, the new program would send both groups monthly checks to provide a more stable cash flow.By the standards of previous aid debates, opposition has been surprisingly muted. While the bill has not won any Republican votes, critics have largely focused on other elements of the rescue package. Some conservatives have called the child benefit “welfare” and warned that it would bust budgets and weaken incentives to work or marry. But Senator Mitt Romney, Republican of Utah, has proposed a child benefit that is even larger, though it would be financed through other safety net cuts.While the proposal took center stage in response to the pandemic, supporters have spent decades developing the case for a children’s income guarantee. Their arguments gained traction as science established the long-term consequences of deprivation in children’s early years, and as rising inequality undercut the idea that everyone had a fair shot at a better life.The economic shock and racial protests of the past year brought new momentum to a plan whose reach, while broad, would especially help Black and Latino families, who are crucial to the Democrats’ coalition.Mr. Biden’s embrace of the subsidies is a leftward shift for a Democratic Party that made deep cuts in cash aid in the 1990s under the theme of “ending welfare.” As a senator, Mr. Biden supported the 1996 welfare restrictions, and as recently as August his campaign was noncommittal about the child benefit.The president now promotes projections that the monthly checks — up to $300 for young children and $250 for those over 5 — would cut child poverty by 45 percent, and by more than 50 percent among Black families.“The moment has found us,” said Representative Rosa DeLauro, a Connecticut Democrat who has proposed a child allowance in 10 consecutive Congresses and describes it as a children’s version of Social Security. “The crystallization of the child tax credit and what it can do to lift children and families out of poverty is extraordinary. We’ve been talking about this for years.”Ms. Houpe’s home state has been crucial to the advance of the benefit. Democrats are in position to enact it only because they won Georgia’s two Senate seats in runoff elections in January, barely gaining control of the chamber. Ms. Houpe decided that she needed to stay home to care for her boys during the pandemic and left a job with the Postal Service that paid nearly $18 an hour.Credit…Audra Melton for The New York TimesWhile Ms. Houpe, an independent, skipped the presidential election, that promise of cash relief led her to vote Democratic in January. “I just felt like the Democrats would be more likely to do something,” she said.Her precarious situation is the kind the subsidy seeks to address. Born to a teenage mother, Ms. Houpe, 33, grew up straining to escape hardship. Though she was young when she had a child, she came close to finishing a bachelor’s degree, found work as pharmacy technician and took a job with the post office to lift her wage to nearly $18 an hour. Raising a son on her own, she took in a nephew whom she regards as a second child.Ms. Houpe seemed on the rise before the pandemic, with the move to a new house. The monthly payment consumed 60 percent of her income, twice what the government deems affordable, but she trimmed the cost by renting out a room and started a side job catering picnics.Biden’s Stimulus PlanFrequently Asked QuestionsUpdated March 6, 2021, 1:58 p.m. ETHow big are the stimulus payments in the bill, and who is eligible?How would the stimulus bill affect unemployment payments?What would the bill do to help people with housing?During the pandemic, she spent six months waiting for schools to reopen until the boys’ plummeting grades — Trejion is 14 and Micah 11 — persuaded her that she could not leave them alone.“I had to make a decision,” Ms. Houpe said, “my boys or my job.”But when her requests for unemployment were denied, the bottom fell out.While critics fear cash aid weakens work incentives, Ms. Houpe said it might have saved her job by allowing her to hire someone part time to supervise the boys.“I definitely would have kept my job,” she said.If she had been receiving the child benefit last year, Ms. Houpe said, she would have used it to hire someone to help watch her boys so she could have kept her job.Credit…Audra Melton for The New York TimesThe campaign for child benefits is at least a half-century old and rests on a twofold idea: Children are expensive, and society shares an interest in seeing them thrive. At least 17 wealthy countries subsidize child-rearing for much of the population, with Canada offering up to $4,800 per child each year. But until recently, a broad allowance seemed unlikely in the United States, where policy was more likely to reflect a faith that opportunity was abundant and a belief that aid sapped initiative.It was a Democratic president, Bill Clinton, who abolished the entitlement to cash aid for poor families with children. The landmark law he signed in 1996 created time limits and work requirements and caused an exodus from the rolls. Spending on the poor continued to grow but targeted low-wage workers, with little protection for those who failed to find or keep jobs.In a 2018 analysis of federal spending on children, the economists Hilary W. Hoynes and Diane Whitmore Schanzenbach found that virtually all the increases since 1990 went to “families with earnings” and those “above the poverty line.”But rising inequality and the focus on early childhood brought broader subsidies a new look. A landmark study in 2019 by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine showed that even short stints in poverty could cause lasting harm, leaving children with less education, lower adult earnings and worse adult health. Though welfare critics said aid caused harm, the panel found that “poverty itself causes negative child outcomes” and that income subsidies “have been shown to improve child well-being.”Republicans may have unwittingly advanced the push for child benefits in 2017 by doubling the existing child tax credit to $2,000 and giving it to families with incomes of up to $400,000, but not extending the full benefit to those in the bottom third of incomes.Republicans said that since the credit was meant to reduce income taxes, it naturally favored families who earned enough to have a tax liability. But by prioritizing the affluent, the move amplified calls for a more equitable child policy.Efforts to increase the benefit and include the needy drew strong support from Speaker Nancy Pelosi and was led in the Senate by the Democrats Sherrod Brown of Ohio, a progressive, and Michael Bennet of Colorado, a centrist. A majority of Democrats in both chambers were on board when unemployment surged because of the coronavirus.“The crisis gave Democrats an opportunity by broadening the demand for government relief,” said Sarah A. Binder, a political scientist at George Washington University.Welfare critics warn the country is retreating from success. Child poverty reached a new low before the pandemic, and opponents say a child allowance could reverse that trend by reducing incentives to work. About 10 million children are poor by a government definition that varies with family size and local cost of living. (A typical family of four with income below about $28,000 is considered poor.)“Why are Republicans asleep at the switch?” wrote Mickey Kaus, whose antiwelfare writings influenced the 1990s debate. He has urged Republicans to run ads in conservative states with Democratic senators, attacking them for supporting “a new welfare dole.”Under Mr. Biden’s plan, a nonworking mother with three young children could receive $10,800 a year, plus food stamps and Medicaid — too little to prosper but enough, critics fear, to erode a commitment to work and marriage. Scott Winship of the conservative American Enterprise Institute wrote that the new benefit creates “a very real risk of encouraging more single parenthood and more no-worker families.”But a child allowance differs from traditional aid in ways that appeal to some on the right. Libertarians like that it frees parents to use the money as they choose, unlike targeted aid such as food stamps. Proponents of higher birthrates say a child allowance could help arrest a decline in fertility. Social conservatives note that it benefits stay-at-home parents, who are bypassed by work-oriented programs like child care.And supporters argue that it has fewer work disincentives than traditional aid, which quickly falls as earnings climb. Under the Democrats’ plan, full benefits extend to single parents with incomes of $112,500 and couples with $150,000.Backlash could grow as the program’s sweep becomes clear. But Samuel Hammond, a proponent of child allowances at the center-right Niskanen Center, said the politics of aid had changed in ways that softened conservative resistance.A quarter-century ago, debate focused on an urban underclass whose problems seemed to set them apart from a generally prospering society. They were disproportionately Black and Latino and mostly represented by Democrats. Now, insecurity has traveled up the economic ladder to a broader working class with similar problems, like underemployment, marital dissolution and drugs. Often white and rural, many are voters whom Republicans hope to court.“Republicans can’t count on running a backlash campaign,” Mr. Hammond said. “They crossed the Rubicon in terms of cash payments. People love the stimulus checks.”The muted opposition to the proposal, he said, showed that “people on the right are curious about the child benefit — not committed, but movable.”An analysis by Sophie M. Collyer of Columbia University underscored the plan’s broad reach. She found that in Georgia, the child allowance would bring net gains per child of $1,700 for whites, $1,900 for Latinos and $2,100 for Blacks.As a suburban independent in a state that was long red, Ms. Houpe is among those whose loyalties are up for grabs. She rejected the argument that a child subsidy would promote joblessness and warned that some parents had to work too much. “My son had football games every Saturday morning,” she said, “and I wasn’t there for him as much as I wanted to be.”If aid posed risks, Ms. Houpe said, so did the lack of any. Out of money last fall, she suffered debilitating depression, and a panic attack grew so severe she pulled her car to the side of road. “My son was freaking out” looking for her asthma inhaler, she said. Still trying to get unemployment benefits, Ms. Houpe has plans for a baking business called The Munchie Shopp. She has practiced strawberries dipped in white chocolate and honed her red velvet cake. This week, she tried dying one blue but denied making a political statement.“During an election, people say anything to win,” she said. “Let’s see what they do.”AdvertisementContinue reading the main story More

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    To Juice the Economy, Biden Bets on the Poor

    #masthead-section-label, #masthead-bar-one { display: none }The Jobs CrisisCurrent Unemployment RateWhen the Checks Run OutThe Economy in 9 ChartsThe First 6 MonthsAdvertisementContinue reading the main storySupported byContinue reading the main storynews analysisTo Juice the Economy, Biden Bets on the PoorMr. Biden’s bottom-up $1.9 trillion aid package is a sharp reversal from the tax cut bill that was President Donald J. Trump’s first big legislative victory.Volunteers distributing food on Monday in Warren, Mich. President Biden’s economic relief plan overwhelmingly helps low earners and the middle class and is more focused on people than on businesses.Credit…Elaine Cromie for The New York TimesPublished More

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    They Were on Equal Footing. Then the Ground Shifted.

    #masthead-section-label, #masthead-bar-one { display: none }The Coronavirus OutbreakliveLatest UpdatesMaps and CasesRisk Near YouVaccine RolloutNew Variants TrackerAdvertisementContinue reading the main storySupported byContinue reading the main storyThey Were on Equal Footing. Then the Ground Shifted.A year of pandemic restrictions has meant some friends are flush and others foundering.Robin Arnone, Tim Gallagher, Traci Warner, and Julie Stark are among the millions of Americans whose lives and careers have been upended by the pandemic.CreditFeb. 27, 2021, 5:00 a.m. ETRobin Arnone, a part-time trainer before the coronavirus pandemic, hasn’t set foot in the Colosseum Gym in Columbia, Md., since the virus shut it down almost a year ago. The gym is open again, but she doesn’t need the work. Things are going gangbusters in her other job as a home appraiser, and she hasn’t looked back.For Julie Stark, one of Ms. Arnone’s best friends and a professional dog walker, things are not so rosy. With many clients stuck at home in the pandemic and taking care of their own pets, her services are no longer in demand. Instead of walking seven dogs each day, she now walks three.Ms. Stark has had to economize, eliminating dance and gymnastics classes for her children to save $350 a month. She doesn’t know when her clients will want her back, but it’s not something she discusses with Ms. Arnone. “We don’t talk about money,” Ms. Stark said.“It would be awkward if she were a dog walker and doing unbelievably well,” she added. “I’m happy for her.”And there is a lot in Ms. Arnone’s life to be happy about. She replaced her used Lexus with a new one last year, and in December she indulged herself with a $550 Dyson hair dryer. “It felt a little ridiculous,” she said of the purchase. “But I worked hard, and if there’s any year I’m going to do it, it’s this year.”Robin Arnone and Julie Stark are among the millions of friends who were on a relatively equal financial footing before last March — people who would have thought nothing of splitting the check on a night out — and now find themselves on vastly different trajectories. Lockdowns changed what Americans can do as well as what services they need, and in the process created divergent fates for many workers.The pandemic has wreaked havoc on many who were already struggling. Nearly 10 million fewer people have jobs, and some 26 million reported not always having enough to eat, according to Census Bureau data.For the 50 percent or so of the population that make up the middle class — defined by Pew Research Center as having an income ranging from around $45,000 to $135,000 for a household of three — the toll has been uneven. Like a tornado, the pandemic can devastate one household and leave neighboring ones unscathed.Ms. Arnone’s world, in the Washington-Baltimore area, exemplifies that. The gym where she worked, the Colosseum, is owned by her friend Tim Gallagher. His monthly income at the gym is down 25 to 30 percent, and a quarter of the gym’s members have suspended their accounts. To save money, he has lowered the thermostat at home to 60 degrees from 65, and while his truck has more than 340,000 miles on it, he has no plans to replace it.“You just got to scrape along and gut it out,” he said. “We’re really struggling to get by.”But in Ms. Arnone’s other field, home appraising, her friends and colleagues are reaping rewards from the booming housing market, where January sales were up 23.7 percent from a year earlier, according to the National Association of Realtors. Ultralow mortgage rates have prompted a wave of refinancings, which require fresh appraisals.“I don’t have much to complain about,” said Traci Warner, a friend of Ms. Arnone’s and a home appraiser in Waldorf, Md., south of Washington. After her husband was laid off from his sales job in April, Ms. Warner’s work picked up the slack.It’s not that things are perfect, but unlike Mr. Gallagher, she does not feel that she is barely hanging on.This contrast is mirrored in the larger economy. Weekly unemployment claims by newly laid-off workers remain at historically elevated levels even as stock indexes reach record highs.Vaccines have arrived, but their slow rollout means it will be months before anything resembling normal activity can resume at restaurants, hotels, gyms, airports, malls and other businesses that depend on bringing people together.“It’s very uneven,” said Gregory Daco, chief U.S. economist at Oxford Economics, a forecasting and research group. “The recovery for the most vulnerable parts of the population will take years.” Not only are wages and salaries down for the hardest-hit segments of the work force, he noted, but so are overall employment and participation in the labor force.At the very top, the gains have been staggering. In eight months after the pandemic hit the United States, the wealth of the country’s roughly 650 billionaires grew by $1 trillion, according to a November study by the Institute for Policy Studies and other progressive groups. That included a $70 billion lift for just one of those magnates: the founder of Amazon, Jeff Bezos.White-collar employees, having emerged mostly unscathed from the sharp downturn in 2020, are looking forward to what they hope will be a robust recovery in 2021 once most people are vaccinated. Service workers, devastated by the idling of entire industries amid lockdowns and other restrictions, just want the pain to abate.The split was evident in the latest jobs report from the Labor Department. While professional and business services employment jumped by 97,000 in January, that job growth was almost entirely offset in the private sector by losses in retail, leisure and hospitality industries, among others.So while lines at food banks lengthen, new Teslas dot parking lots, and there are waiting lists for Peloton machines so the most fortunate can keep up with their workouts from home.Peter Atwater, a lecturer in economics at the College of William & Mary, has popularized a term for this phenomenon: the K-shaped recovery. While one arm of the K ascends, the other is driving lower. “There’s an enormous divide in confidence,” he said. “And we buy and spend based on how we feel.”Janet L. Yellen, the newly confirmed Treasury secretary, extended the metaphor during her confirmation hearings. “We are living in a K-shaped economy, one where wealth built upon wealth, while working families fell farther and farther behind,” she said.Life on the UpsideRobin Arnone replaced her used Lexus with a new one last year.Ms. Arnone misses her days at the gym, especially spending time with clients. It is the first time since she was 15 that she hasn’t worked as a trainer, she said. But she is feeling pretty good otherwise.Before the pandemic, she would train people in the morning and shift to her real estate work in the afternoon. Now she rises at 6 a.m. to start writing up appraisals before hitting the road to visit as many as eight homes in a day.“I’ve declined a boatload of appraisal jobs,” she said. “I just didn’t have the time.”After typically handling 500 appraisals a year, she did 635 last year. She is paid by the banks that issue the mortgages, and last year she estimates she earned roughly $250,000 for her services, up from about $185,000 in previous years.The Coronavirus Outbreak More