More stories

  • in

    How 6 Workers Built New Careers In the Pandemic

    When the pandemic struck in 2020, entire industries were decimated overnight, leaving workers to survive on unemployment benefits. But for some, the Covid-19 crisis presented an opportunity to change course; indeed, the post-lockdown job market faces a shortage of workers even as it recovers.These are the stories of six people who transformed their careers during the past two years. For some, it was a financial imperative. For others, lockdowns became a chance to rethink their path. For each, it was a big risk on a new future..“My favorite part of the job is when I get a compliment from a customer.”Tre’Vonte CurrieTre’Vonte Currie frying fresh wontons during his dinner shift at Fahrenheit, where he’s learning the skills he’ll need to someday open his own food business.Amber Ford for The New York TimesFood has long been Mr. Currie’s passion.Amber Ford for The New York TimesMr. Currie prepping kale for salads.Amber Ford for The New York TimesWhen he was growing up, nothing brought Tre’Vonte Currie as much joy as food: his mom’s macaroni and cheese, the brownies and ice cream that fed his sweet tooth. Like a “mad scientist,” he created recipes for fried baloney, spaghetti and chicken Alfredo in his family’s kitchen.As a teenager, Mr. Currie dreamed of opening his own restaurant. It would be spacious and filled with warmth. Maybe there would be chandeliers. The food would include a range of cultural cuisines, from pizza to curry.At the start of the pandemic, Mr. Currie, 22, felt stuck. He had dropped out of high school in 2019 because he had had trouble focusing, even though he hadn’t found the curriculum difficult. He made money by doing odd jobs, like roofing and landscaping, around his Cleveland neighborhood, mostly from friends who wanted to help him out. But much of that work disappeared when Covid-19 swept the city.Then in August 2021, Mr. Currie’s mother learned about a free program near their home called Towards Employment, which offered career coaching and job search services. Mr. Currie was skeptical at first, but after speaking with the program’s coordinators, he signed up for two weeks of training in professional behaviors like how to dress for job interviews. Immediately afterward, he got a job at a restaurant in downtown Cleveland.In January, Mr. Currie took a new job at a high-end contemporary American restaurant, Fahrenheit, where he works 40 hours a week cooking and cleaning. He feels energized, knowing he is building the skills he needs to someday open his own business, maybe starting with a food truck.“My favorite part of the job is when I get a compliment from a customer about how good the meal was,” he said. “That lights up my day.”“I had generations before me teaching me to be a better mom.”Dwanét PerryDwanét Perry with her son. Nearly two years after being laid off, she has launched her own candlemaking business.Courtney Yates for The New York TimesMs. Perry has saved enough to move into her own apartment.Courtney Yates for The New York TimesMs. Perry sells her candles online.Courtney Yates for The New York TimesMs. Perry delivering for DoorDash, one of several jobs she juggles to support her family.Courtney Yates for The New York TimesDwanét Perry, 25, was six months pregnant when she was laid off from her job at a money transfer company in Queens in March 2020. The notice brought a jolt of pain and tough questions: How would she support herself and her baby? What could she do to move her life forward?Her son was born in June, and she moved the two of them into her mother’s home in Oradell, N.J. It was a painful period, but the bright spot was her family. She spent the summer surrounded by her mom, her grandmother and her younger sisters.“Everything there was cozy and comforting,” Ms. Perry said. “I had generations before me teaching me to be a better mom and telling me things I didn’t know.”Ms. Perry started thinking about how she might use the moment of upheaval to move toward her dream of doing something creative.She started watching YouTube and Instagram videos on candle making. Figuring that “everyone loves candles,” she decided to try making and selling her own. She melted soy wax in a double boiler and added oils to create different scents: pink sugar, cucumber melon, fallen leaves, sweater weather. She called her business Flame N Mama, in honor of her newborn son.Now Ms. Perry balances several jobs. She delivers for DoorDash three to four hours a day and was recently hired as a registration specialist at a car dealership. In the evenings, she makes and sells her candles to people who find her on social media.She was able to save up and move back to Queens with her son: “He has a very great sense of humor,” Ms. Perry said, laughing. “He loves to stick with his mommy.”“You have no choice but to be really good at it.”Liz MartinezLiz Martinez finds commonalities between her new career as a dental assistant and her old job as a beauty adviser.Christie Hemm Klok for The New York TimesMs. Martinez dropping her two daughters off at day care in San Francisco.Christie Hemm Klok for The New York TimesWhen Liz Martinez, 32, started training to be a dental assistant last year, she assumed it would be drastically different from her previous work as a beauty adviser at Sephora in San Francisco. But she found surprising commonalities: She practices the technical skills until they feel seamless, and she connects with clients and tries to ease their day.As a dental assistant, “you have no choice but to be really good at it,” she said. “It’s nice not being nervous.”Ms. Martinez hadn’t been closely following the news when Covid-19 started to spread in March 2020, so she was confused about why Sephora told her to put away makeup samples. Then she got an email that the store was temporarily closing. Soon after, she gave birth to her second daughter and wasn’t able to work because she had to look after her children during the day. She had no income to support her family.“I realized at that moment you can be surrounded by people and still be super alone,” she said.She learned that she could train to be a dental assistant through a local chapter of the Jewish Vocational Service, a nonprofit. She signed up for the three-month course: one month of Zoom classes, two months of hands-on training. By the fall of 2021, a clinic had hired her.The dentist she works with, Dr. Earl Capuli, continues to applaud Ms. Martinez’s improvement on the job, especially in mixing dental compounds. “The day I finally got it perfectly, he was bragging about it all day,” she said. “It’s really nice to hear positive feedback.”“That accident was the best thing that ever could have happened to me.”David LevyDavid Levy inside his second food truck, Tacos Cinco De Mayo.Lexey Swall for The New York TimesMr. Levy and his wife, Gloria, working in Arlington, Va.Lexey Swall for The New York TimesMr. Levy opened his first food truck with the insurance payout from a serious car accident.Lexey Swall for The New York TimesWhen the pandemic hit, David Levy, 61, was still reeling from a different life-altering disaster. In 2017, Hurricane Irma seriously damaged his family’s home in Florida, and Mr. Levy lost his job in construction shortly after, forcing him to pack up his belongings with his wife and three children and move in with his mother in Virginia.Mr. Levy struggled to find work in Virginia, so he started driving for Uber to make ends meet. When the pandemic struck, Uber trips fell off, and his income slowed to a trickle.Then he got a letter from the Senior Community Service Employment Program, which provides job training to older workers. In August 2020, he enrolled in a food entrepreneur workshop and had the idea to refashion a large storage trailer into a food truck. But he did not have enough capital to start his own business.And then something terrible and miraculous happened: A car accident left him with injuries serious enough to land him in a hospital. He won $65,000 in an insurance payout in August 2021 and used it to start a food truck business, Pizza Pita, which offers dishes that combine the flavors of Mediterranean and Colombian food.“It is crazy to think about it now, but that accident was the best thing that ever could have happened to me,” he said. “It made it possible for my dream of opening my own business to come true.”Mr. Levy, who was born in Colombia and has a Lebanese father, wanted to channel his heritage through cross-cultural flavor combinations. He recently converted to Judaism and was inspired by the Middle Eastern food he tasted during trips to Israel.Six months ago, he was financially stable enough to move his family out of his mother’s home and into one of their own in McLean, Va. Mr. Levy said his first food truck had been so successful that he opened another, Tacos Cinco De Mayo, last month.“Most days I work from 4:30 a.m. to midnight,” he said. “But no matter how hard it is, when you do something you love, it is worth it.”“I really needed to get out of that job.”Jane Watiri TaylorJane Watiri Taylor loading up her car with vegetables to sell to a grocery delivery service.Miranda Barnes for The New York TimesMs. Watiri Taylor’s tools for harvesting vegetables.Miranda Barnes for The New York TimesMs. Watiri Taylor bundling greens.Miranda Barnes for The New York TimesJane Watiri Taylor was working as a nurse at the Travis County Jail in Austin, Texas, when the pandemic hit. She called it the most frightening time she could remember in 10 years of nursing. Not only was she worried about catching the virus during her shifts, but some inmates took out their anger and frustration on her.“One time this person literally tried to spit on me,” she remembered. “They said, ‘I have Covid, and I’m going to give it to you.’ They spit on my scrubs; luckily it never got on my face.”For Ms. Watiri Taylor, 54, like so many other health care workers, “the burnout was real.”“I like taking care of people. But at that point, I was like, ‘I think I’m going to change jobs and start taking care of plants,’” she said. “You know, plants are never going to call me names, or insult or abuse me. I really needed to get out of that job.”In July 2021, she left to pursue a dream she’d had since her childhood in Kenya: to become a farmer.She had been growing fruits and vegetables in her backyard since 2015. To learn how to run her own farming business, she signed up for a class through Farmshare Austin, a nonprofit. She subleased a small piece of land in Lexington, Texas, to grow fruits and vegetables on a larger scale. She now sells her produce at local farmers’ markets.“I want to nurture people; that’s why I got into nursing,” she said. “With farming, you are still nurturing people, but in a different way. It is really satisfying when you grow stuff and are able to know that eventually it is going to help make sure someone has got food on the table and it is going to nourish their bodies. And to me, that’s enough.”Farming is much less predictable than nursing, and the financial instability worries her. Still, she says she is much happier than when she was working as a nurse.“Money is important,” she said. “But I want to be able to wake up every morning excited about what I’m doing. And that’s how I feel about farming.”“It was time for me to take a step back.”Adam SimonAdam Simon preparing sourdough loaves. He has no plans to return to his old career in finance.Tonje Thilesen for The New York TimesMr. Simon baking at the Entrepreneur Space in Queens.Photographs by Tonje Thilesen for The New York TimesLike many people, Adam Simon baked his own sourdough in the early months of the pandemic. He loved his pandemic hobby so much that he decided to turn it into a new career.In 2017, after working in finance for about 20 years, the 47-year-old left his job as a partner and director of research at the investment firm Echo Street Capital Management to spend more time with his family.“Every day of the week I was out the door before my kids woke up, and by the time I got home, they were asleep,” he said. “It was time for me to take a step back.”In June 2020, Mr. Simon, his wife and two daughters started baking sourdough bread and pastries and sharing the goods with their neighbors in Long Island.Though he had originally planned to return to finance, he decided instead to train himself to be a better baker. He read and watched everything he could about baking and worked in two local bakeries to hone his skills.In February 2022 he launched his own baking business, Sourdough Gambit, a homage to his love of chess.He makes his bread at the Entrepreneur Space, a food and business incubator in the Long Island City neighborhood of Queens, where he produces and sells about 300 baked goods each week. He hopes to open his own bakery and doesn’t plan to work in finance again.“It was a lot to walk away from,” he said. “But in hindsight, it was very much the right thing.” More

  • in

    Retail Sales Fell in December, a Slowdown in a Robust Holiday Shopping Season

    Retail sales fell 1.9 percent in December, the Commerce Department reported on Friday, reflecting a slowdown during an otherwise robust holiday shopping season that started earlier in the year for many consumers.It was the first drop after four straight months of sales increases, though the gain in November slowed from October because of the lengthened holiday shopping season brought on by fears of product shortages and price increases. Total sales for October through December were up 17.1 percent from a year earlier, according to the report. December sales rose 16.9 percent from 2020.Beth Ann Bovino, chief U.S. economist at S&P Global, said that although there was bound to be “headline shock” over a weaker number, the broader picture for retail sales had been strong over the past few months.“This is not a sign of consumer weakness,” said Ms. Bovino, who had forecast a decline. “Given that households have relatively strong balance sheets with high savings levels and a strong job market with wages climbing higher, it seems that consumers are not necessarily closing their pocketbooks. They’re taking a brief pause.”

    .dw-chart-subhed {
    line-height: 1;
    margin-bottom: 6px;
    font-family: nyt-franklin;
    color: #121212;
    font-size: 15px;
    font-weight: 700;

    Monthly retail sales
    Note: Advance monthly sales estimates for retail and food services, seasonally adjustedSource: Commerce DepartmentThe New York TimesThe retail sales report provides a data point on the mind-set of consumers after a report this week showed that inflation at the end of 2021 climbed to its highest level in 40 years. Prices have increased as new variants of the coronavirus have exacerbated supply chain issues and robust consumer demand for goods. At the same time, the Omicron wave has caused widespread staffing shortages and may have played a role in diverting some consumers from stores and holiday gatherings.Ms. Bovino said that she did not believe inflation played a role in the overall sales decline but that concerns around higher prices were likely to show up in the first quarter of this year.Understand the Supply Chain CrisisThe Origins of the Crisis: The pandemic created worldwide economic turmoil. We broke down how it happened.Explaining the Shortages: Why is this happening? When will it end? Here are some answers to your questions.Gifts Arrive on Time: Fears that a disrupted supply chain could wreak havoc on the holidays turned out to be wrong. Here’s why.Car Shortages: The limited supply of vehicles is forcing some to go to great lengths to find them, including traveling hundreds of miles.A Key Factor in Inflation: In the U.S., inflation is hitting its highest level in decades. Supply chain issues play a big role.Economists at Morgan Stanley had forecast retail sales to rise 0.4 percent in December. Even though inflation topped the coronavirus as the No. 1 concern for consumers whom Morgan Stanley surveyed in November, that “came with no dent to spending plans,” the economists said in a note last week.Instead, the holiday shopping season appeared to break records and lower-income consumers seemed to be operating with relatively better buying power, the economists wrote. At the same time, they anticipated that the Omicron wave drove more spending to goods rather than services.The pandemic has continued to shape consumer habits in the United States.Fewer people shopped in stores this holiday season, even though the Omicron variant did not become a prominent threat until December. Retail foot traffic in the United States between Nov. 21 and Jan. 1 was down 19.5 percent compared with 2019, according to Sensormatic Solutions. That was a slight improvement from the depths of the pandemic in 2020, when foot traffic in the same period was down 33.1 percent from 2019, but still a significant change.Fewer people shopped in stores this holiday season, with more consumers relying on e-commerce.Justin Sullivan/Getty ImagesAs retailers grapple with inflation and supply chain issues, it has given an additional advantage to the biggest U.S. retailers. They had already benefited during the pandemic by being able to remain open while others closed, from the variety of goods that they carry and through initiatives like curbside delivery.“We’re talking about the Walmarts and Targets and Costcos, the big players,” said Mickey Chadha, a retail analyst at Moody’s Investors Service. “They’ve leased their own ships, and they’re bringing in product. They have a lot more power with vendors to get priority. And they actually planned ahead as well.”At the same time, Mr. Chadha said, they have not had to raise their prices as much as smaller retailers, and are likely to benefit as lower-income consumers search for value to stretch their dollars.“They are taking market share because they have the ability to price lower and absorb that hit to the margin a lot better than some of the smaller, weaker retailers,” he said.Costco, for example, said on a December earnings call that it believed it was successfully managing the effects of inflation through its relative purchasing power and its relationships with vendors. That often meant that Costco and its suppliers were each taking less in the way of price markups, Richard Galanti, the company’s chief financial officer, said on the call.“We’ve always said we want to be the last to raise the price and the first to lower the price, recognizing there’s a limit to what you can do based on these cost increases,” Mr. Galanti said.How the Supply Chain Crisis UnfoldedCard 1 of 9The pandemic sparked the problem. More

  • in

    The Holiday Shopping Season Is Here, but Is It Back?

    The pandemic is not over but with the help of vaccinations and Covid-19 safety precautions, Santa Claus is feeling much better about coming to town this year.Stephen Arnold, president of the International Brotherhood of Real Bearded Santas, a trade group with more than 1,800 members, appeared at only a single tree lighting event last year. It was a frightening time, he said, particularly for a group of elderly men who are often overweight and have diabetes.But this season, Mr. Arnold said that all five of his tree lighting ceremonies are back, including a splashy event that he loves at Graceland, Elvis Presley’s estate in Mr. Arnold’s hometown, Memphis. He plans to participate in more than 200 appearances, on par with his prepandemic schedule in 2019. At times, he may perform from inside a life-size snow globe like last year, and a sizable chunk of his events will be held virtually, but it’s a world apart from 2020.“I think almost all of our Santas intend to work a great deal more than they did last year, and a much higher percentage, probably 65 to 70 percent of us, will return to what we consider some kind of normal schedule,” Mr. Arnold, 71, said. “I’m trying to be prepared for a season of relatively close contact.”And so it goes as the United States enters a holiday shopping season that is much more physically present than 2020, but not quite as carefree as it was prepandemic. People are more comfortable shopping at stores, but the number who return will likely vary by geography, and the employees will typically be wearing masks.The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade was massively expanded, with more floats and a longer route, though children under 12 were not allowed to participate in the parade itself. Big chains will offer certain festivities, like Champagne bars, that were missing last year. Gift ideas and decorations will feature more prominently in stores as retailers anticipate more people browsing and planning bigger gatherings.Stephen Arnold was happy to be able to return to Graceland in Memphis as Santa last week.Houston Cofield for The New York TimesThis year promises to be different. “I’m trying to be prepared for a season of relatively close contact,” Mr. Arnold said.Houston Cofield for The New York Times“There’s a lot of pent-up energy to do things,” said Marie Driscoll, managing director of luxury and fashion at Coresight Research, an advisory and research firm. “Everything old is new again.”But hallmarks of a changed season remain. Many stores closed on Thanksgiving and holiday hours at certain malls and chains will be shortened, in part because of a national labor shortage. And many people are bracing for a dearth of products like popular toys as “supply chain issues” becomes the refrain of 2021. There are also those customers who will stay away from stores, based on new habits adopted during the pandemic or ongoing concerns about the virus, and opt to shop online or using curbside pickups.Ms. Driscoll said that signs of precautions would likely be visible throughout stores. “Retailers are going out of their way to make everybody feel comfortable, so at your own discretion you’re wearing a mask, there will be cleansers everywhere, there are options for self-checkout to not necessarily have to queue up and wait in lines,” she said..css-1xzcza9{list-style-type:disc;padding-inline-start:1em;}.css-3btd0c{font-family:nyt-franklin,helvetica,arial,sans-serif;font-size:1rem;line-height:1.375rem;color:#333;margin-bottom:0.78125rem;}@media (min-width:740px){.css-3btd0c{font-size:1.0625rem;line-height:1.5rem;margin-bottom:0.9375rem;}}.css-3btd0c strong{font-weight:600;}.css-3btd0c em{font-style:italic;}.css-1kpebx{margin:0 auto;font-family:nyt-franklin,helvetica,arial,sans-serif;font-weight:700;font-size:1.125rem;line-height:1.3125rem;color:#121212;}#NYT_BELOW_MAIN_CONTENT_REGION .css-1kpebx{font-family:nyt-cheltenham,georgia,’times new roman’,times,serif;font-weight:700;font-size:1.375rem;line-height:1.625rem;}@media (min-width:740px){#NYT_BELOW_MAIN_CONTENT_REGION .css-1kpebx{font-size:1.6875rem;line-height:1.875rem;}}@media (min-width:740px){.css-1kpebx{font-size:1.25rem;line-height:1.4375rem;}}.css-1gtxqqv{margin-bottom:0;}.css-1g3vlj0{font-family:nyt-franklin,helvetica,arial,sans-serif;font-size:1rem;line-height:1.375rem;color:#333;margin-bottom:0.78125rem;}@media (min-width:740px){.css-1g3vlj0{font-size:1.0625rem;line-height:1.5rem;margin-bottom:0.9375rem;}}.css-1g3vlj0 strong{font-weight:600;}.css-1g3vlj0 em{font-style:italic;}.css-1g3vlj0{margin-bottom:0;margin-top:0.25rem;}.css-19zsuqr{display:block;margin-bottom:0.9375rem;}.css-12vbvwq{background-color:white;border:1px solid #e2e2e2;width:calc(100% – 40px);max-width:600px;margin:1.5rem auto 1.9rem;padding:15px;box-sizing:border-box;}@media (min-width:740px){.css-12vbvwq{padding:20px;width:100%;}}.css-12vbvwq:focus{outline:1px solid #e2e2e2;}#NYT_BELOW_MAIN_CONTENT_REGION .css-12vbvwq{border:none;padding:10px 0 0;border-top:2px solid #121212;}.css-12vbvwq[data-truncated] .css-rdoyk0{-webkit-transform:rotate(0deg);-ms-transform:rotate(0deg);transform:rotate(0deg);}.css-12vbvwq[data-truncated] .css-eb027h{max-height:300px;overflow:hidden;-webkit-transition:none;transition:none;}.css-12vbvwq[data-truncated] .css-5gimkt:after{content:’See more’;}.css-12vbvwq[data-truncated] .css-6mllg9{opacity:1;}.css-qjk116{margin:0 auto;overflow:hidden;}.css-qjk116 strong{font-weight:700;}.css-qjk116 em{font-style:italic;}.css-qjk116 a{color:#326891;-webkit-text-decoration:underline;text-decoration:underline;text-underline-offset:1px;-webkit-text-decoration-thickness:1px;text-decoration-thickness:1px;-webkit-text-decoration-color:#326891;text-decoration-color:#326891;}.css-qjk116 a:visited{color:#326891;-webkit-text-decoration-color:#326891;text-decoration-color:#326891;}.css-qjk116 a:hover{-webkit-text-decoration:none;text-decoration:none;}The retail industry is still recovering from a plummet in store shoppers last year. In November and December 2020, foot traffic to department stores plunged more than 30 percent from the prior year, according to data from Vince Tibone, a senior analyst at Green Street, a real estate analytics firm. That picture seems to be improving, though, with department store foot traffic down 9 percent in October compared with October 2019, the data showed.Jeff Gennette, Macy’s chief executive, said in a recent interview that foot traffic at stores had recovered significantly from 2020 but remained down about 19 percent from 2019. The decline has been “stubborn,” he said, adding that the retailer expected it to improve in 2022.Shoppers may be returning, but they are also bracing for shortages because of supply chain issues.Jeenah Moon for The New York TimesTom Nolan, chief executive of Kendra Scott, a fashion jewelry business with 119 locations, said that in-store visits varied by region.“In the Northeast and West Coast, the numbers aren’t what they have been in Texas and the Southeast,” he said in an interview. While the chain’s sales were robust compared with 2019 or 2020, he noted that it was a boost for business when customers came in to browse, especially with family and friends.People are much more likely to make purchases when they’re at a store than while browsing the store’s website, said Meredith Darnall, senior vice president in the retail division of Brookfield Properties, which oversees more than 130 malls. “The ability to touch and see and talk to somebody about the product is real. They also have add-on sales — you come in for the T-shirt, you’re likely to buy the denim.” Adding to the appeal of in-store shopping for retailers, she said, is the fact that return rates are much higher for e-commerce purchases, especially in apparel and shoes.Plenty of consumers seem eager to shop in person this year. The NPD Group recently surveyed more than 1,000 people about holiday traditions that they missed most in 2020 and hoped to return to this year. About 36 percent said they missed browsing retail stores, while 30 percent said they looked forward to returning to shopping in malls and the “Thanksgiving and Black Friday frenzy.”The experience of shopping was drastically transformed last year as many people avoided lingering in stores and were discouraged from touching and testing products. Fitting rooms were closed or limited in many places. Makeup counters were not offering makeovers or samples of lipstick or perfume. Plastic partitions, hand sanitizer and reminders to socially distance peppered the landscape. Shopper events were downsized or canceled.Ralph Lauren offered a pop-up hot chocolate cart at Bloomingdale’s in Manhattan. Other retailers are back to offering drinks and snacks.Jeenah Moon for The New York TimesThis week, Saks Fifth Avenue unveiled its holiday window display and 10-story-tall light show at its New York flagship store. The retailer, which took a pause from its annual tradition of shutting down Fifth Avenue for a musical performance last year, returned to it this year with a performance by the Young People’s Chorus of New York City and an appearance from Michelle Obama. About 22 Nordstrom stores will have “immersive” photo booths.At the flagship Bloomingdale’s on 59th Street, the store is offering fewer events than the 400-plus it held in 2019, but many more than 2020, when its limited activities were held outdoors. There will be more food and drink for shoppers this season, including Champagne and cups of espresso, though they are being handled more carefully than in years past. The store hosted a performance by Bebe Rexha when it unveiled its holiday windows this month, but kept it to roughly 15 minutes and carefully managed capacity and spacing.“If you would have talked to me in 2019, we would have had elaborate spreads with caterers coming in and passed hors d’oeuvres and Champagne flowing,” said Frank Berman, Bloomingdale’s chief marketing officer. Now, the food is more likely to be prepackaged, and events like cooking demonstrations have been smaller.Still, he said, the retailer has been seeing a recent uptick in tourists and a growing willingness from shoppers to spend time wandering the store.Champagne and espresso are available to shoppers at Bloomingdale’s.Jeenah Moon for The New York Times“As it relates to Covid, they’re feeling safer, and you’re seeing more of that inspirational shopping, people going to make a day of it in our store,” Mr. Berman said. “They’re moving through the store and it’s not about, ‘I need to get this item and get out.’”There are also significant shifts in what people are buying compared to last year. Dressy clothing and luggage are popular again as people have resumed traveling and socializing. And the boom in pet adoptions has led to an explosion in clothing for dogs, which are welcome in the store, Mr. Berman said.The imprint of technology on physical retail has never been starker. Bloomingdale’s is still offering dozens of virtual events in addition to in-store activities. Shoppers now expect the ability to see whether products are in stock before they head to stores and for associates to help mail them, free of charge, when they’re not available, Ms. Driscoll of Coresight said.Nordstrom is among retailers using space at the front of its stores for shelves dedicated to online pickup, Ms. Darnall of Brookfield Properties said. Curbside pickup remains popular at malls and other big box stores.Photos with Santa were a rarity last year, but have largely returned.Jeenah Moon for The New York TimesAs for Santa Claus, Mr. Arnold is busier than ever as virtual visits add to his in-person gigs. Some parents prefer them after last year because the experience can be more magical once Santa is prepped by parents.“You have so much information, you become so real and have a real conversation,” he said. “Then you stop talking and solicit things from them, maybe about elves or reindeer or Mrs. Claus and what she bakes in the kitchen. Once in a while you get a hard question like, ‘Can you bring back Grandpa?’ and you try to wiggle your way out of that one.”Still, it is a rebuilding year.Mr. Arnold’s group, which had more than 2,000 members last year, shrank after many performers who could not or did not want to work in 2020 failed to renew their memberships. Mr. Arnold is confident in a robust return next year by the time of the International Santa Celebration event in Atlanta in April, which had been delayed by the pandemic.“You’re going to see the majority of Santas are going to feel like they’re returning to relatively normal conditions,” he said, adding that he was prepared with his vaccine and a booster. “And most of us who are smart enough will practice safety measures.” More

  • in

    Higher Food Prices Hit the Poor and Those Who Help Them

    Many households are being forced to adjust their shopping lists or seek assistance. But food banks, too, are feeling the pinch.With food prices surging, many Americans have found their household budgets upended, forcing difficult choices at the supermarket and putting new demands on programs intended to help.Food banks and pantries, too, are struggling with the increase in costs, substituting or pulling the most expensive products, like beef, from offerings. What’s more, donations of food are down, even as the number of people seeking help remains elevated.Even well-off Americans have noticed that many items are commanding higher prices, but they can still manage. It’s different for people with limited means.“Any time someone is low income, that means they’re spending a higher percentage on needs like food and housing,” said Diane Whitmore Schanzenbach, director of the Institute for Policy Research at Northwestern University. “When prices go up, they have less slack in their budgets to offset and they are quick to fall into hardship.”Before the run-up in prices — driven by supply-chain knots and rising labor costs — Robin Mueller would buy ground beef for meatloaf or hamburgers to serve once or twice a week for her family in Indianapolis. Now she can afford to cook it only once or twice a month.“You have to pick and choose,” said Ms. Mueller, who is 52 and disabled and lives with her daughter and her husband. “Before, you didn’t have to do that. You could just go in and buy a week or two’s worth of food. Now I can barely buy a week’s worth.”She has turned to food banks in Indianapolis for help, but they, too, are feeling the pinch.A case of peanut butter that was $13 to $14 before the pandemic now costs $16 to $19, according to Alexandra McMahon, director of food strategy for the Gleaners Food Bank of Indianapolis. Green beans that used to retail for $9 a case now sell for $14.“It has a big impact,” said Joseph Slater, chief operating officer of Gleaners. “It’s on our minds and it’s on the minds of our hungry neighbors as well.”In New York, Tynicole Lewis and her daughter, Lanese, depend on food stamps, but Ms. Lewis said that the aid runs out well before the end of the month now. Lanese is diabetic and Ms. Lewis serves as much protein and vegetables as possible — foodstuffs that have become especially pricey.“Food is expensive, and when the food stamps are gone, they’re gone,” said Ms. Lewis, who lives on the Lower East Side of Manhattan and earns $12,000 a year as a grocery store worker. “I have to wait.”She, too, depends on food pantries and has given up buying meat for the most part. “I eat a lot from the pantry, whatever they get,” Ms. Lewis said. “I like fish and I’ll treat myself when I get the food stamps.”While overall consumer prices in September were up 5.4 percent from a year ago, the cost of meat is up slightly more than that. Prices of staples like dairy products, fruits, grains and oils are also rising.Prices of meat, poultry, fish and eggs in U.S. cities are up 15 percent since the start of 2020, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.The run-up in costs at the supermarket comes even as gasoline prices have risen and natural gas and heating oil prices are predicted to be higher this winter, putting further pressure on those with low incomes.In addition, the mammoth assistance programs rolled out by the federal government in response to the pandemic in 2020 have largely lapsed. While some households built up savings from government payments, others have little room for extra expenses.The forces behind higher food prices have been building for some time and aren’t going away anytime soon, said Michael Swanson, chief agricultural economist at Wells Fargo.“People are shocked, but this is a slow-motion train wreck,” he said. “The scary thing is that food companies haven’t passed along all of their costs yet.”The warehouse at the Gleaners Food Bank.Kaiti Sullivan for The New York TimesHigher transportation and warehousing expenses lead the list of causes, along with rising labor costs at meat processing centers and other nodes in the food supply chain.To be sure, there are some winners as a result of the cost squeeze. While meat prices are up sharply for consumers, prices for cattle and other livestock haven’t moved as much. The result is buoyant profits for beef processors, Mr. Swanson said.“This is not going to go backwards anytime soon,” he added. “As soon as producers and retailers get these price increases, they are very sticky.”Behind the scenes, logistics expenses have jumped even more sharply than prices for foodstuffs, along with the costs of unglamorous items that few gave much thought to a few years ago.Understand the Supply Chain CrisisCard 1 of 5Covid’s impact on the supply chain continues. More

  • in

    Return to Office Makes a Big Difference for Budding Lawyers

    The generational divide on returning to the office is not neatly drawn. For some young professionals, even in a pandemic, showing up is more than half the battle.It looked like a middle-aged person’s idea of what a young person would find fun. There was a dartboard on the wall, a pool table to the side and a Blue Bunny ice cream cart near the entrance, tended to by representatives from H.R.On the Thursday after Labor Day, about 20 attorneys and staff members at the Chicago branch of the law firm Dickinson Wright gathered to commemorate their formal office return. The group bantered gamely while clutching treats, like people who were not especially concerned about the pandemic, but not not concerned about it, either.The only suspicious note was the relative lack of millennials. Near the very end, a first-year associate darted into the room, grabbed a plastic-wrapped ice cream bar and darted out again, barely exchanging more than a sentence or two with colleagues. It seemed like a rebuke to the whole affair.Yet when I later tracked down the associate, Akshita Singh, expecting to find her disillusioned with the office return and irritated by the oldsters trying to sell it, it became clear that something else was going on: She wasn’t conscientiously objecting to the office. She had actually embraced it.“I’ve been coming in every day,” said Ms. Singh, who turned out to be swamped that afternoon. “It’s nice to leave my laptop here knowing I’ll come back tomorrow.”Since the beginning of the year, as mass vaccinations loomed and “return to office” became an incantation so popular it earned its own abbreviation, workers under 40 have been notably resistant.But what the stories of uprisings and generational conflict, even a trying-too-hard office mixer, don’t entirely capture is this: Amid the ranks of 20- and 30-somethings is a large and growing group of employees who, for reasons part careerist and part emotional, increasingly crave the office as well.In a survey by the Conference Board in June, 55 percent of millennials expressed doubts about returning to work, versus 36 percent of baby boomers. By August, with Delta raging, that figure had dropped to 48 percent of millennials. Nearly two-thirds of millennials expressed concern about a “lack of connection” with colleagues, more than any other age group.Ms. Singh, of all people, appeared to reflect the trend. “I see value every time I come in, workwise,” she told me.Akshita Singh joined Dickinson Wright over the summer.Many desks at the firm’s office in Chicago were still empty in September.A Different TackWhen I started asking Chicago-area employers about their R.T.O. plans in the spring, national infection rates were plummeting and well over a million Americans were getting vaccinated each day.Many employers appeared to be nudging workers back to the office in a kind of soft ramp-up over the summer, while circling September as the month when they would commit to it more formally.“We’ll get going on that in July, be full tilt after Labor Day,” Adam Fox, the chief executive of the Chicago Sky, the Women’s National Basketball Association franchise, told me in May.But as the Delta variant of the coronavirus surged, Mr. Fox and other executives pushed their plans off. McDonald’s, whose headquarters is in Chicago, postponed its office opening until Oct. 11.A data management firm, Infutor, which had abandoned its downtown office during the pandemic and expanded its suburban footprint, kept a brave face for weeks. But the day before I was supposed to visit in mid-August to observe how its return plans were progressing, an executive begged off, citing the rising number of Covid-19 cases and the small number of workers who were turning up.We tentatively postponed until mid-September before that date fell through, too. “We are not prepared to reschedule but would like to keep in touch,” a spokeswoman wrote by email. (Infutor now says it won’t consider a formal return until 2022.)Dickinson Wright, a 500-lawyer firm with headquarters in Michigan and offices in 18 U.S. cities and Toronto, took a different tack.A stack of masks on Jim Boland’s desk at Dickinson Wright. The firm has mandated vaccinations for employees and visitors.In late July, as the curve turned upward, the firm was completing its post-Labor Day plans, having concluded that in-person interaction was important for collaboration and training. The firm encouraged all lawyers to spend at least some time in the office regularly, and required many to show up when it was necessary for client work. Younger lawyers were asked to work out a schedule with leaders of the firm if they wanted to stay partly remote.Michael Hammer, the chief executive, confessed to a “medium” level of anxiety but told me that he was heartened by the 89 percent of U.S. personnel who were fully vaccinated. Dickinson Wright was picking up a few more “persuadable people” every week, he said. We set a late-August date for me to visit the Chicago office, which has roughly 20 lawyers.As the visit got close, daily infection rates swelled to around 150,000 nationally. I braced for another cancellation. If I’m being honest, I was secretly rooting for one.But the email never came. Mr. Hammer, who had since mandated vaccinations for all workers and visitors, was convinced that science had spoken. And though the din of the Delta variant might have momentarily drowned it out, he believed the bottom line was still clear: Returning to work was eminently safe for the vaccinated.I told him I’d be sure to bring my vaccination card. “Lol. Thank you,” he responded.Beyond Social BenefitsWhen I turned up at the firm in August, the people who seemed most committed to being back were a handful of partners. Trent Cornell, a litigator who had spent years at the firm that Dickinson Wright acquired to create its Chicago office, and who returned this March after working elsewhere, told me that he had started coming in when he rejoined the firm.“I had so much paper I was taking with me, it was easier to bring it into an office,” he said.Mr. Cornell stuck with it even as the office stayed largely vacant, and felt something had been lost during the months of isolation.“It’s nice to bounce ideas off people,” he said. “If I had a question for you, would I pick up the phone and call?” Not necessarily, he worried.Ms. Singh, the most junior lawyer in the office, was less convinced. Though she acknowledged the benefits of collaborating in person, she seemed more excited about the idea of working from home.“I can sleep longer, work out more, even if the day sometimes doesn’t end at 5,” she told me. “If you come in five days, your weekends are really hectic.” She said she hoped to come in two or three days each week after Labor Day.Trent Cornell, a litigator at the firm, worked at the office in the spring even as it stayed largely vacant.Yet over time, it became clear that the more tenure and experience a lawyer had — the farther you moved up the organizational chart from Ms. Singh to Mr. Cornell — the less urgent it was for the lawyer to be in the office.The partners who came in frequently all had vaguely plausible rationales for why a centralized work space was preferable, but were often at a loss to identify something they could not accomplish without one. Even the casual office drop-by seemed overrated. At a national firm like Dickinson Wright, many co-workers are at other locations whether or not there’s a pandemic.For the firm’s middle ranks, the brass-tacks calculus tilted somewhat more in favor of office time. Jim Boland, a fifth-year associate who joined the firm during the pandemic, complained that remote work was not especially conducive to assimilating.“For the first couple of months, I was like, ‘I don’t know if anyone knows I work here,’” he said.Nicole Sappingfield, a fourth-year associate, shares a two-bedroom apartment with her husband, who recently left a job in sales. She said there were times during the pandemic when both were on calls and her work space at home felt small.Still, she considered the benefits of the office to be largely social. While interviewing for a summer job at the firm, Ms. Sappingfield said, “I loved the fact that everyone had their door open, everyone was popping in and out.”Partners and more senior associates seemed to regard personal interaction as a kind of workplace luxury good that the firm had purchased for them through its safety policies. At one point I asked Ms. Sappingfield about a serial cougher and sniffler we heard in the middle distance.“It’s one of these things when you’re like, ‘What?’ Then you’re like, ‘Oh, it’s fine. Someone could be choking on water,’” she said. “I feel an extra level of security given that the firm has been so good about vaccinations.”Nicole Sappingfield, a fourth-year associate, worked from the firm’s office last month.She said there were times during the pandemic when both she and her husband were on calls and her work space at home felt small.There was, however, one group for whom the benefits of face time were not merely social but exceedingly concrete — the first- and second-year associates. This prompted Mr. Hammer to ask them to spend more time in the office than senior lawyers.As it happens, the most valuable currency for any associate are hours spent working on client business, which are both a measure of productivity and a way for young lawyers to learn their trade.At most large firms, associates have formal quotas for billable hours, typically 1,800 to 2,000 per year. Those who want to be promoted tend to focus on accumulating these hours, which they track with time-keeping software, sometimes monomaniacally. (At Dickinson Wright, the required minimum is 1,850 hours for the first few years.).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;}The catch is that few first-year associates enter a firm with work awaiting them. For this, they are largely at the mercy of the senior associates and partners who dispense it.And how, exactly, does one land assignments from these colleagues? It turns out there is no more reliable way than, well, showing up.“People give work to people they think of,” said Amanda Newman, a senior associate in Dickinson Wright’s Phoenix office, who serves as a liaison between associates and management. “If they’re seeing you every day, they think of you.”Or as Ms. Singh, the first-year associate, put it, alluding to a recent assignment: “It was 9 a.m., I was here. Jim’s like, ‘Are you doing anything?’”‘It’s Good to Have Face Time’By late September, attendance was ticking up, and I began to make out a core group of officegoers. One pillar of the group was Mr. Cornell, who was braving a commute that ranged from 30 minutes to over two hours through morning traffic and had spent weeks mulling a return to public transit.“My parking pass for the train station starts on Oct. 1,” he told me, trying to commit himself to the change.He was trying to get back to other parts of his routine, too, with mixed results. He ventured to a Mexican restaurant called Dos Toros for lunch — “not bad” — but mourned the loss of a beloved Mediterranean place that had opened shortly before the pandemic.Ms. Sappingfield, who lived only a mile from the office, often walked. But some days she opted for the L, the elevated-train and subway system, working through calculations about which car seemed least crowded as a train pulled into the station.Ms. Sappingfield searched for the least crowded train car before taking the L to work one day last month.She spent one Thursday fielding increasingly frantic calls from a junior associate in another office who had been summoned to help close a transaction. They would not have been face to face even without a pandemic, but I couldn’t help feeling that the young associate could have benefited from some in-person reassurance.“He’ll say, ‘I know you’re holding my hand, but tell me again what you told me on the walk to work?’” Ms. Sappingfield said.Things seemed briefly under control until the associate learned that the client’s middle initial had appeared incorrectly on a document. “No, you’re OK,” Ms. Sappingfield told the associate when he called for at least the third time in three hours. “We had no way of knowing his middle initial was L rather than a D.”Ms. Singh, too, appeared to be under more stress. “I came in every day this week,” she said, estimating that she was arriving at work between 8:30 and 9 and staying until 6 or 7. “The hours have been a little longer than I expected.”But she seemed increasingly committed to the office. “It’s good to have face time, even if it’s with one person,” she told me.The day before, she had turned in a due-diligence memo to Ms. Sappingfield — an assignment she earned through her tried-and-true method of “being there” — and had to turn around a draft of another, similar memo, which kept her working late into the evening.The second memo was for a senior associate in Columbus, Ohio, but there was a benefit to working on it from the office, too — call it the seamless availability of help. When she got stuck, she simply went down the hall and asked Ms. Sappingfield to unstick her. Though Ms. Singh could have called the associate she was working with, she was reluctant to play phone tag on a question she needed answered quickly.In the Chicago office, she could exploit the tiniest opening in a co-worker’s schedule. “I had a call in two minutes,” Ms. Sappingfield said. “If she were to call me rather than walk into my office two minutes before a call, I probably wouldn’t have answered.”The next week, Ms. Singh showed up all five days. A team including Mr. Boland, who had been brought to the firm to help clients win licenses to produce or dispense cannabis products, asked her to write a memo for a client on marijuana regulations in Illinois. She figured she would get it done from the office, even though it meant trooping in on a Friday, a day most of her colleagues work from home.“I came in because I knew I had something due,” she said. “Almost no one was here.”As the weeks progressed, Ms. Singh seemed increasingly committed to the idea of being in the office. “It’s good to have face time, even if it’s with one person,” she said.By the next Tuesday, she was finally getting caught up on her memos when another assignment landed on her desk — more research on cannabis regulations.I asked if that was how she planned to spend her afternoon. Ms. Singh seemed slightly harried: “That, and an application that’s in the queue for Michigan.” (She wouldn’t get to it until the next week.)I began to wonder if there might be a more relaxed way to train young lawyers — one that didn’t require the same accumulation of office hours, the same anxious petitioning for work and for help. By the standards of Big Law, an industry known for workaholism and burnout, Dickinson Wright seemed humane. On the other hand, it was only six weeks earlier that Ms. Singh had been optimistic about spending a large chunk of her work life at home. Now she was in the office even on a Friday, when it was mostly empty.She did not seem especially troubled by the turnabout, pointing out that the overall volume of work was still manageable even if it did require the occasional late shift or weekend.“I might be jinxing it,” she said, “but I really thought I’d be pulling all-nighters all the time.” More

  • in

    Retailers’ Latest Headache: Shutdowns at Their Vietnamese Suppliers

    Factories in the country, a major apparel and footwear supplier to the U.S., have been forced by the pandemic to close or operate at reduced capacity, complicating the all-important holiday season.After a bruising 18 months of the pandemic, this fall represented a fresh start for the apparel company Everlane. It was preparing to release a slew of new products, with September marking the beginning of an ambitious marketing campaign around its denim.Instead, Everlane has spent this month scrambling just to get jeans — along with other products like bags and shoes — out of Vietnam, where a surge in coronavirus cases has forced factories to either close or operate at severely reduced capacity with staff living in on-site bubbles.“At this point, we have factories in 100 percent lockdown,” Michael Preysman, Everlane’s chief executive, said in an interview. “Do we fly things over? Do we move things? Do we adjust in the factory? It’s a nonstop game of Tetris.”The crisis in Vietnam, which has grown in recent years to become the second-biggest supplier of apparel and footwear to the United States after China, is the latest curveball to be tossed at the retail industry, which has been battered by the pandemic. Vietnam made it through the first part of the pandemic relatively unscathed, but now the Delta variant of the coronavirus is on a rampage, highlighting the uneven distribution of vaccines globally and the perils that new outbreaks pose to the world’s economy.With the holiday season fast approaching, many American retailers are anticipating delays and shortages of goods, along with higher prices tied to labor and already skyrocketing shipping costs. Everlane said it was facing delays of four to eight weeks, depending on when factories it worked with in Vietnam had closed. Nike cut its sales forecast last week, citing the loss of 10 weeks of production in Vietnam since mid-July and reopenings set to start in phases in October.The apparel company Everlane said that 40 percent of its wares came from Vietnam.Justin Kaneps for The New York Times“We weren’t anticipating a full lockdown,” said Jana Gold, a senior director with Alvarez & Marsal’s consumer and retail group, who has been helping retailers with supply chain issues. “We’re going to continue to see a high demand for goods from highly vaccinated countries or regions, but who are getting the goods from highly unvaccinated countries that could be struggling.”The logjam has put a spotlight on Vietnam’s key role in outfitting American consumers. Many retailers moved their manufacturing to the country from China over the past decade because of rising costs. New tariffs on China instituted under former President Donald J. Trump accelerated the shift.Contract factories in Vietnam manufactured 51 percent of total Nike brand footwear last year. Lululemon and Gap, which also owns Old Navy, have said a third of their merchandise comes from factories in Vietnam. Everlane said the country supplies 40 percent of its wares.As the coronavirus tore across the globe, Vietnam was hailed as a bright spot for its rock-bottom caseload and strong economy. Over 15 months, only 3,000 infections and 15 deaths were reported in the country. But during the summer, the Delta variant erupted among a population that was almost entirely unvaccinated. Now, the caseload has surged past 766,000 and the death toll is nearing 19,000.The densely packed industrial hub of Ho Chi Minh City, the country’s virus epicenter, has experienced a series of increasingly stringent lockdowns, with many factories temporarily closing in July. That paralyzed commercial activity and added stress to a strained global supply chain. Although new cases have started to decline, the government extended the lockdown through the end of September, as it struggles to vaccinate its residents.People waiting to receive their vaccination in Hanoi, Vietnam, this month.Linh Pham/Getty ImagesAt the beginning of September, only 3.3 percent of the country’s population was fully vaccinated, while 15.4 percent had received one shot.The American apparel and footwear industry has asked the Vietnamese government to prioritize shots among factory workers. Executives from roughly 90 companies, including Nike and Fruit of the Loom, asked the Biden administration in a letter in mid-August to accelerate vaccine donations, saying that “​​the health of our industry is directly dependent on the health of Vietnam’s industry.” The group said the industry employed about three million U.S. workers.On a visit to Vietnam last month, Vice President Kamala Harris said the United States would send an additional one million vaccine doses, on top of the five million already donated, along with $23 million in emergency aid and 77 freezers to store the vaccine.“The situation in Vietnam is exactly why we need to be accelerating our efforts to provide donations of vaccines around the world,” said Steve Lamar, president of the American Apparel & Footwear Association, a trade group. Retailers have been setting up vaccination sites at factories to help administer shots once doses are obtained and are trying to keep manufacturing going through “three-in-one place” policy, where workers eat, sleep and work at factories, he said.According to the latest figures from the government, nearly everyone in Ho Chi Minh City has received the first shot.A garment factory in Hanoi in January, before the lockdown.Kham/ReutersJason Chen, chairman and founder of Singtex, a garment factory owner, said last week that the company’s 350-person factory in Binh Duong Province was down to 80 people, who were living on the premises to comply with government restrictions. The factory erected a tent to serve dinner to workers and has been shifting some retail orders to Singtex’s factories in Taiwan. Mr. Chen said he was prepared for the Vietnamese factories to remain closed until November.“This year in the U.S.A., everybody wants to go shopping,” Mr. Chen said. “Some goods cannot be delivered in the right time. So it really will affect the holiday.”He added that administrators at the factory were calling workers who were in lockdown to see if they needed financial and other assistance. But many are struggling.Le Quoc Khanh, 40, who assembles electronic home appliances at Saigon Hi-Tech Park, said the rigidity of the government lockdown had been “very hard” for him and his wife, who have three small children and rent their home in Ho Chi Minh City. His employer is not yet able to bring him back, even though he is vaccinated, and he said he had been forced to borrow money at high interest rates to pay for electricity, diapers and food.“On Sept. 15, when I heard that anyone who had two doses could go to work, my wife and I were so happy that we burst into tears, but now the government says to wait until the end of September,” he said. “My wife and I are so worried. It’s like we are sitting on fire — we really need money for living now.”The pandemic’s continuing impact on crucial supply chains may have a longer-lasting impact on future investment decisions in Vietnam and other emerging economies. Companies choosing where to invest abroad have always evaluated a broad slate of conditions, like taxes, regulatory requirements and labor force availability.“All of a sudden, they have to start thinking about the public health response,” said Chad P. Brown, an economist at the Peterson Institute for International Economics. Huong Le Thu, a senior analyst at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, added: “The Delta wave is just one of the variants. Vietnam, just like other countries, will have to prepare for the long game and potentially more outbreaks even after mass vaccination.”Hoping that restrictions will be eased in October, some factories in Ho Chi Minh City that have been closed since July are preparing to resume production.At the moment, though, American companies are looking outside Vietnam, often returning to Chinese factories that they worked with previously or finding partners in other countries that are not in the middle of a surge.Whether they will have enough time to shift before the holidays is questionable. “September is a bad time to reposition things,” said Gordon Hanson, an economist and urban policy professor at Harvard Kennedy School.Vietnam has been a regular topic on recent earnings calls for retailers, and concerns have probably ballooned as reopenings have been pushed. Adidas, based in Germany, said last month that delays that started with closings in mid-July were among issues that could cost the company more than 500 million euros in sales in the second half of the year.Restoration Hardware cited the shutdowns as a key factor in its decision to push the introduction of a new collection to next spring and to delay fall catalogs. Urban Outfitters said that while it would normally replenish best-selling products during the holiday season, its top concern now was simply getting products into the United States.The outbreak emerged just as the United States appeared to be regaining its economic footing and retailers were seeing a rebound in sales after a difficult 2020.Gihan Amarasiriwardena, right, with his Ministry of Supply co-founder Aman Advani, said the brand had paid about $1.50 per $125 shirt in transportation costs before the pandemic. Now, the cost is nearly $6.Tony Luong for The New York Times“In mid-June, the world looked like a pretty good place, at least in the U.S., and we anticipated this great recovery and here we are,” said Gihan Amarasiriwardena, president and co-founder of Ministry of Supply, a small apparel brand.Production delays aren’t the only problem. Ocean freight costs have soared during the pandemic, ports are crowded and demand for air shipping has jumped so significantly that Ms. Gold of Alvarez & Marsal said some retailers had chartered their own airplanes to transport goods.Since last year, the cost of shipping a container from East Asia to the West Coast of North America has leapt to $20,000 from $4,000, according to the transportation company FreightCo.Mr. Amarasiriwardena said Ministry of Supply had paid about $1.50 in transportation costs for a $125 shirt before the pandemic. Now, the cost is nearly $6 per shirt.Macy’s chief executive, Jeff Gennette, said, “This is the one keeping me up at night,” referring to supply chain issues at ports and in Vietnam. For the company, “it’s a bigger potential problem in the near term than where Covid is right now,” he said.Retailers are already trying to prepare customers. L.L. Bean just added a banner to its website warning customers about holiday shipping delays and shortages and urging early shopping. Stephen Smith, the company’s chief executive, said that the messaging was “unprecedented” for mid-September and that the company normally started talking about holiday orders and shipping cutoffs “deep into October or even November.”Mr. Preysman of Everlane said he anticipated that the supply chain would not rebound to its prepandemic health for several years.“You have to live in a new normal where the stability of 2019 doesn’t come back for three to five years,” he said. “This is going to take a long time to sort out.”Chau Doan More

  • in

    If You Never Met Your Co-Workers in Person, Did You Even Work There?

    Kathryn Gregorio joined a nonprofit foundation in Arlington, Va., in April last year, shortly after the pandemic forced many people to work from home. One year and a zillion Zoom calls later, she had still never met any of her colleagues, aside from her boss — which made it easier to quit when a new job came along.Chloe Newsom, a marketing executive in Long Beach, Calif., cycled through three new jobs in the pandemic and struggled to make personal connections with co-workers, none of whom she met. Last month, she joined a start-up with former colleagues with whom she already had in-person relationships.And Eric Sun, who began working for a consulting firm last August while living in Columbus, Ohio, did not meet any of his co-workers in real life before leaving less than a year later for a larger firm. “I never shook their hands,” he said.The coronavirus pandemic, now more than 17 months in, has created a new quirk in the work force: a growing number of people who have started jobs and left them without having once met their colleagues in person. For many of these largely white-collar office workers, personal interactions were limited to video calls for the entirety of their employment.Never having to be in the same conference room or cubicle as a co-worker may sound like a dream to some people. But the phenomenon of job hoppers who have not physically met their colleagues illustrates how emotional and personal attachments to jobs may be fraying. That has contributed to an easy-come, easy-go attitude toward workplaces and created uncertainty among employers over how to retain people they barely know.Already, more workers have left their jobs during some pandemic months than in any other time since tracking began in December 2000, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. In April, a record 3.9 million people, or 2.8 percent of the work force, told their employers they were throwing in the towel. In June, 3.8 million people quit. Many of those were blue-collar workers who were mostly working in person, but economists said office workers who were stuck at home were also most likely feeling freer to bid adieu to jobs they disliked.“If you’re in a workplace or a job where there is not the emphasis on attachment, it’s easier to change jobs, emotionally,” said Bob Sutton, an organizational psychologist and a professor at Stanford University.While this remote work phenomenon is not exactly new, what’s different now is the scale of the trend. Shifts in the labor market usually develop slowly, but white-collar work has evolved extremely quickly in the pandemic to the point where working with colleagues one has never met has become almost routine, said Heidi Shierholz, a senior economist at the Economic Policy Institute, a nonprofit think tank.“What it says the most about is just how long this has dragged on,” she said. “All of a sudden, huge swaths of white-collar workers have completely changed how they do their work.”The trend of people who go the duration of their jobs without physically interacting with colleagues is so new that there is not even a label for it, workplace experts said.Many of those workers who never got the chance to meet colleagues face to face before moving on said they had felt detached and questioned the purpose of their jobs.Ms. Gregorio, 53, who worked for the nonprofit in Virginia, said she had often struggled to gauge the tone of emails from people she had never met and constantly debated whether issues were big enough to merit Zoom calls. She said she would not miss most of her colleagues because she knew nothing about them.“I know their names and that’s about it,” she said.Other job hoppers echoed the feeling of isolation but said the disconnect had helped them reset their relationship with work and untangle their identities, social lives and self-worth from their jobs.Joanna Wu, who started working for the accounting firm PwC last September, said her only interactions with colleagues were through video calls, which felt like they had a “strict agenda” that precluded socializing.“You know people’s motivation is low when their cameras are all off,” said Ms. Wu, 23. “There was clear disinterest from everyone to see each other’s faces.”Joanna Wu said her only interactions with colleagues were through video calls, which felt like they had a “strict agenda” that precluded socializing.Akilah Townsend for The New York TimesInstead, she said, she found solace in new hobbies, like cooking various Chinese cuisines and inviting friends over for dinner parties. She called it “a double life.” In August, she quit. “I feel so free,” she said.Martin Anquetil, 22, who started working at Google in August last year, also never met his colleagues face to face. Google did not put much effort into making him feel connected socially, he said, and there was no swag or other office perks — like free food — that the internet company is famous for..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;}Mr. Anquetil said his attention had begun to wander. His lunchtime video game sessions seeped into work time, and he started buying basketball highlights on N.B.A. Top Shot, a cryptocurrency marketplace, while on the clock. In March, he quit Google to work at Dapper Labs, the start-up that teamed up with the National Basketball Association to create Top Shot.If one wants to work at Google and “put in 20 hours a week and pretend you’re putting in 40 while doing other stuff, that’s fine, but I wanted more connection,” he said.Google declined to comment.To help prevent more people from leaving their jobs because they have not formed in-person bonds, some employers are reconfiguring their corporate cultures and spinning up new positions like “head of remote” to keep employees working well together and feeling motivated. In November, Facebook hired a director of remote work, who is responsible for helping the company adjust to a mostly remote work force.Other companies that quickly shifted to remote work have not been adept at fostering community over video calls, said Jen Rhymer, a postdoctoral scholar at Stanford who studies workplaces.“They can’t just say, ‘Oh, be social, go to virtual happy hours,’” Dr. Rhymer said. “That by itself is not going to create a culture of building friendships.”She said companies could help isolated workers feel motivated by embracing socialization, rather than making employees take the initiative. That includes scheduling small group activities, hosting in-person retreats and setting aside time for day-to-day chatter, she said.Employers who never meet their workers in person are also contributing to job hopping by being more willing to let workers go. Sean Pressler, who last year joined, an e-commerce website in San Francisco, to make marketing videos, said he was laid off in November without warning.Mr. Pressler, 35, said not physically meeting and getting to know his bosses and peers made him expendable. If he had built in-person relationships, he said, he would have been able to get feedback on his pan videos and riff on ideas with colleagues, and may have even sensed that cutbacks were coming well before he was let go.Instead, he said, “I felt like a name on a spreadsheet. Just someone you could hit delete on.”And his co-workers? “I don’t even know if they know who I was,” he said. More

  • in

    The Work-From-Home Economy and the Urban Job Outlook

    Restaurant Associates is not the company it used to be. It has long operated restaurants, catered events and run corporate dining rooms for clients including Google and the Smithsonian Institution. Now it employs about half of the 10,000 or so people it had on staff before the pandemic.As its lines of business dried up, the company invented new ones. It has made soups and side dishes for the online grocer FreshDirect. It has delivered meals to displaced Wall Street traders working from Connecticut, and to guests attending “virtual galas” from home.Restaurant Associates is probably going to have to keep improvising. Just as things started looking up in the summer — with some museums reopening, businesses scheduling a return to the office, and catered galas bouncing back in full force — the Delta variant of the coronavirus brought everything, again, to a halt.“We were very hopeful that by September we would start coming back strong,” said Dick Cattani, the chief executive. Now, he said, “we don’t know what’s happening, what’s next.”This anxiety is widespread across the American economy. As Kevin Thorpe, chief economist of the commercial real estate services firm Cushman & Wakefield, noted, “The longer the virus lingers, the more transformative it is going to be.”A critical question is whether the urban service economy — the restaurants, hotels, taxi services and entertainment venues that employ millions of workers — can recover from the multiple waves of Covid-19 that have kept their customers away.After months of social distancing and remote work, this will depend to a large extent on how employers and workers readjust their attitude toward proximity and density — toward space.Three researchers — José María Barrero of Autonomous Technological Institute of Mexico, Nicholas Bloom of Stanford University and Steven J. Davis of the University of Chicago — estimate that from April to December 2020, half of the working hours in the American economy were supplied from home. After the pandemic ends, they think, the share will fall to around 20 percent. That is still four times the amount of work delivered remotely in 2017 and 2018.And remote work will be concentrated among the most highly paid workers in the most densely populated places. For instance, over half of the workers in high-skill, information-intensive services — in finance and insurance, information, professional services and management — were still working from home in January, according to researchers from Princeton, Georgetown, Columbia and the University of California, San Diego.Big cities face a dual threat of losing both their most skilled workers and the consumer service economies they sustain, the researchers wrote. “As a result,” the authors added, “they may shrink in size unless they manage to provide advantages that justify the costs of urban density when residential choices are set free from proximity-to-workplace considerations.”About 18 percent of office space in central business districts across the United States is vacant, compared with 12 percent before the pandemic, according to Cushman & Wakefield. Groupon, Twitter, United Airlines and other businesses are shedding office space. Some are rethinking their use of space entirely.Restaurant Associates, which has long operated restaurants, catered events and run corporate dining rooms, is working with about half of the 10,000 or so people it employed before the pandemic.Amy Lombard for The New York TimesAs its lines of business dried up, the company invented new ones.Amy Lombard for The New York TimesRestaurant Associates now delivers meals to guests attending “virtual galas” and Wall Street traders working from home.Amy Lombard for The New York TimesThe sports equipment retailer REI sold the corporate headquarters it was building in the Seattle area, meant to house some 1,800 employees, and is setting up three smaller satellite offices around the area, for workers to gravitate to if they wish. They can work entirely from home, too.“We felt there are moments when being physically together makes a difference but it doesn’t have to be all the time,” said Christine Putur, REI’s executive vice president for technology and operations. “We want to move forward with more habits, new norms — let the outcomes drive when and how we get together.”This reconfiguration of work is likely to reconfigure the American economy, changing wages and spending patterns.Google, for instance, is allowing employees to work remotely. But it will adjust compensation depending on the local cost of living. In a blog post to employees, Google’s chief executive, Sundar Pichai, estimated that some 20 percent of them would choose to work from home permanently. And the company developed a calculator for employees to figure out the effect on their pay.Mr. Davis of the University of Chicago and his co-authors estimate that the increase in working from home will reduce spending in city centers by 5 to 10 percent, hurting business at restaurants, bars and other spots that rely on the spending of office workers.“Some of the leisure and hospitality activities will follow those people that are no longer in the downtown area,” Mr. Davis said. But the spending of newly suburbanized workers may be different, including fewer lunches and happy hours than when they worked downtown.America’s economic geography looks different from what it did two years ago. New York City’s share of the nation’s employment fell to 2.8 percent in July 2021, from 3.1 percent in July 2019. That means about 375,000 fewer jobs than if the city had at least kept pace with the country as a whole. More