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    Vermont May Be the Face of a Long-Term U.S. Labor Shortage

    At Lake Champlain Chocolates, the owners take shifts stacking boxes in the warehouse. At Burlington Bagel Bakery, a sign in the window advertises wages starting at $25 an hour. Central Vermont Medical Center is training administrative employees to become nurses. Cabot Creamery is bringing workers from out of state to package its signature blocks of Cheddar cheese.The root of the staffing challenge is simple: Vermont’s population is rapidly aging. More than a fifth of Vermonters are 65 or older, and more than 35 percent are over 54, the age at which Americans typically begin to exit the work force. No state has a smaller share of its residents in their prime working years.Vermont offers an early look at where the rest of the country could be headed. The baby boom population is aging out of the work force, and subsequent generations aren’t large enough to fully replace it. Immigration slumped during the pandemic, and though it has since rebounded, it is unclear how long that will last, given a lack of broad political support for higher immigration. Birthrates are falling.“All of these things point in the direction of prolonged labor scarcity,” said David Autor, an economist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who has studied long-term work force trends.Eric Lampman, right, the president and co-owner of Lake Champlain Chocolates, has revamped its production schedule to reduce its reliance on seasonal help.Lockers at Lake Champlain Chocolates. While other states have helped buttress their work forces through immigration, Vermont’s foreign-born population has remained small.Vermont’s unemployment rate was 1.9 percent in September, among the lowest in the country, and the labor force is still thousands of people smaller than before the pandemic. Employers are fighting over scarce workers, offering wage increases, signing bonuses and child care subsidies, alongside enticements such as free ski passes. When those tactics fail, many are limiting operating hours and scaling back product offerings.A rural state — Burlington, with a population under 45,000, is the smallest “biggest city” in the country — Vermont has for decades seen young people leave for better opportunities. And while other states have helped buttress their work forces through immigration, Vermont’s foreign-born population has remained small.But demographics are at the root of the problem.“We knew where we were headed — we just maybe got there a little bit quicker than we were expecting,” said Michael Harrington, the state’s labor commissioner. “There just aren’t enough Vermonters to meet the needs of our state and our employers in the future.”Gray Mountain StateA disproportionate share of Vermonters are in or near their retirement years. But the overall U.S. population is also aging.

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    Percentage of 2022 population by age group
    Source: Census BureauBy The New York TimesThere were similar shortages across the country in 2021 and 2022, as demand — for both goods and workers — surged after pandemic lockdowns. The overall labor market has become more balanced as demand has cooled and Americans have returned to the work force. But economists and demographers say shortages will re-emerge as the population ages.“It seems to be happening slowly enough that we’re not seeing it as a crisis,” said Diana Elliott, vice president for U.S. programs at the Population Reference Bureau, a nonprofit research organization. “It’s happening in slow motion.”Long-run labor scarcity will look different from the acute shortages of the pandemic era. Businesses will find ways to adapt, either by paying workers more or by adapting their operations to require fewer of them. Those that can’t adapt will lose ground to those that can.“It’s just going to be a new equilibrium,” said Jacob Vigdor, an economist at the University of Washington, adding that businesses that built their operations on the availability of relatively cheap labor may struggle.“You may discover that that business model doesn’t work for you anymore,” he said. “There are going to be disruptions. There are going to be winners and losers.”Higher Wages, More OpportunityCentral Vermont Medical Center built a classroom and simulation lab for its training programs. A trainee practiced a procedure using a dummy.The winners are the workers. When workers are scarce, employers have an incentive to broaden their searches — considering people with less formal education, or those with disabilities — and to give existing employees opportunities for advancement.At Central Vermont Medical Center, as at rural hospitals across the country, the pandemic compounded an existing nursing shortage. An aging population means that demand for health care will only grow.So the medical center has teamed up with two local colleges on a program enabling hospital employees to train as nurses while working full time. The hospital built a classroom and simulation lab on site, and lent out its nurses to serve as faculty. Students spend 12 of their paid working hours each week studying — and if they stay on as nurses for three years after completing the program, their student debt is forgiven.The program has graduated 27 licensed practical nurses and eight registered nurses since 2021; some previously had administrative jobs. The hospital is expanding the training to roles like respiratory technicians and phlebotomists.Other businesses are finding their own ways to accommodate workers. Lake Champlain Chocolates, a high-end chocolate maker outside Burlington, has revamped its production schedule to reduce its reliance on seasonal help. It has also begun bringing former employees out of retirement, hiring them part time during the holiday season.The medical center has teamed up with two local colleges on a program enabling hospital employees to train as nurses while working full time.“We’ve adapted,” said Allyson Myers, the company’s marketing director. “Prepandemic we never would have said, oh, come and work in the fulfillment department one day a week or two days a week. We wouldn’t have offered that as an option.”Then there is the most straightforward way to attract workers: paying them more. Lake Champlain has raised starting wages for its factory and retail workers 20 to 35 percent over the past two years.Charles Goodhart, a British economist, said the aging of the population would tend to lead to lower inequality — albeit at the cost of higher prices.“Since the available supply of workers will go down, relative to demand, workers will demand and get higher wages,” Mr. Goodhart, who in 2020 published a book on the economic consequences of aging societies, wrote in an email.Robots and HousingCabot Creamery is in a rural area where cellphone coverage is spotty and many roads are unpaved. The county has only about 700 unemployed people, according to Vermont’s Labor Department.When Walmart reached out to Cabot Creamery about increasing distribution of its Greek yogurt, Jason Martin hesitated — he wasn’t sure he could find enough workers to meet the extra demand.Mr. Martin is senior vice president of operations for Agri-Mark, the agricultural cooperative that owns Cabot Creamery, the nationally distributed brand that employs close to 700 people in Vermont. When the company’s leadership talks about adding a product or expanding production, he said, labor is nearly always the first topic.“As I present products to our board of directors, in the back of my mind I always think, ‘I’m going to need to find the people,’” Mr. Martin said.The labor challenge is evident at Cabot Creamery’s packaging plant in the company’s namesake town. Blocks of cheese weighing close to 700 pounds are fed into machines that cut them, for one product, into cracker-size slices. Employees in gloves and hairnets then drop the slices into plastic pouches, which are sealed and packaged together. Many of the workers are in their 50s and 60s, and have been with Cabot for decades.Cabot is over an hour from Burlington, in a rural area where cellphone coverage is spotty and many roads are unpaved. The county has only about 700 unemployed people, according to the state’s Labor Department, and while the company has raised pay and offers generous benefits — a recent marketing campaign cites perks including a defined-benefit pension plan, tuition reimbursement and, of course, free cheese — hiring remains difficult.Cabot has raised pay and offers generous benefits such as pension plan, tuition reimbursement and, of course, free cheese, but hiring remains difficult.Adding to the challenge is Vermont’s housing shortage. Cabot has contracted with a local college to use unoccupied dormitories to house temporary workers brought in from other states and — on guest-worker visas — from other countries.It is also investing in automation — not just to require fewer workers but also to make jobs less taxing for its aging employee base. New equipment will package cheese slices automatically.To economists, investments like Cabot’s are good news — a sign that companies are finding ways to make the people they have more productive.But ultimately, many economists say, Vermont — and the country as a whole — will simply need more workers. Some could come from the existing population, through companies’ efforts to tap into new labor pools and through government efforts to address larger issues like the opioid crisis, which has sidelined hundreds of thousands of working-age Americans.Not all economists think aging demographics are likely to drive a national labor shortage.The ranks of people in their prime working years was stagnant for years before the pandemic, but labor was often plentiful, said Adam Ozimek, the chief economist at Economic Innovation Group, a bipartisan public policy organization. Increased immigration, he added, would add to demand as well as supply.Still, many economists argue that immigrants will be an important part of the solution, especially in fields, like elder care, that are rapidly growing and hard to automate.“We need to start looking at immigrants as a strategic resource, incredibly valuable parts of the economy,” said Ron Hetrick, senior labor economist at Lightcast, a labor market data firm.Workers WantedKevin Chu, the executive director of the Vermont Futures Project, sees the worker shortage as an imminent, long-term threat to the state’s economy.Kevin Chu has spent the past several months traveling around Vermont speaking to local business groups, elected officials, nonprofit organizations and pretty much anyone else who would listen. His message: Vermont needs more people.Mr. Chu is the executive director of the Vermont Futures Project, a nonprofit organization, backed by the Vermont Chamber of Commerce, that sees the worker shortage as an imminent, long-term threat to the state’s economy.Mr. Chu grew up in Vermont after his parents immigrated from China in the mid-1980s, part of a wave of immigrants — many of them refugees — who came to the state during that period. He recalls attending Burlington High School at a time when it flew the flag of its students’ home countries, dozens in all.“I feel like I got a glimpse of what Vermont could be,” he said.Mr. Chu’s message has resonated with business leaders and state officials, but it has been a tougher sell with the population as a whole. A recent poll found that a plurality — but not a majority — of Vermonters supported increasing the population.The Futures Project has set a goal of increasing the population to 802,000 by 2035, from fewer than 650,000 today. That would also help bring down Vermont’s median age to 40, from 42.7.The state has a long way to go: Vermont added just 92 people from 2021 to 2022.The root of Vermont’s staffing challenge is simple: More than a quarter of its adults are 65 or older, and more than 40 percent are over 54. More

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    How High Interest Rates Sting Bakers, Farmers and Consumers

    Home buyers, entrepreneurs and public officials are confronting a new reality: If they want to hold off on big purchases or investments until borrowing is less expensive, it’s probably going to be a long wait.Governments are paying more to borrow money for new schools and parks. Developers are struggling to find loans to buy lots and build homes. Companies, forced to refinance debts at sharply higher interest rates, are more likely to lay off employees — especially if they were already operating with little or no profits.Over the past few weeks, investors have realized that even with the Federal Reserve nearing an end to its increases in short-term interest rates, market-based measures of long-term borrowing costs have continued rising. In short, the economy may no longer be able to avoid a sharper slowdown.“It’s a trickle-down effect for everyone,” said Mary Kay Bates, the chief executive of Bank Midwest in Spirit Lake, Iowa.Small banks like Ms. Bates’s are at the epicenter of America’s credit crunch for small businesses. During the pandemic, with the Fed’s benchmark interest rate near zero and consumers piling up savings in bank accounts, she could make loans at 3 to 4 percent. She also put money into safe securities, like government bonds.But when the Fed’s rate started rocketing up, the value of Bank Midwest’s securities portfolio fell — meaning that if Ms. Bates sold the bonds to fund more loans, she would have to take a steep loss. Deposits were also waning, as consumers spent down their savings and moved money into higher-yielding assets.Higher Interest Rates Are Here More

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    Drivers and Dealers Could Soon Feel Impact of U.A.W. Strikes

    Lengthy and expanding walkouts by the United Automobile Workers union against Ford, General Motors and Stellantis could strain a fragile supply chain.More than a week into its targeted strike at the three established U.S. car companies, the United Automobile Workers union has poked holes in a supply chain that has still not fully recovered from the pandemic.The companies and the union remain far apart in negotiations, and the U.A.W. could expand its strikes to more locations as soon as Friday. Depending on how long the strikes last, it could exact a heavy toll on autoworkers and the three companies — General Motors, Ford Motor and Stellantis, the parent of Chrysler and Jeep. But the work stoppages could also be painful to drivers, car dealers and auto-parts suppliers.A long and expanding strike will reduce the number of new cars on dealer lots, make it harder for people to repair their vehicles and reduce demand for parts needed to make new vehicles.So far, the economic damage has been limited because the U.A.W. has struck only a small number of plants and warehouses, but the pain could worsen if work stoppages grow to include many more locations and last weeks or months.“The economic spillovers from the U.A.W. strike remain contained as we near the two-week mark,” said Gabriel Ehrlich, an economic forecaster at the University of Michigan. “We are seeing some layoffs among automotive suppliers, ranging from seat makers to steelworkers. We would expect these impacts to accumulate as the strike persists and additional targets are announced.”When the union started walkouts at assembly plants, it appeared to target plants that make popular models, like the Ford Bronco, the Jeep Wrangler and the Chevrolet Colorado. It widened the strike on Sept. 22 to include parts distribution centers at G.M. and Stellantis.As those popular models become more scarce, dealers are likely to push up prices.“They took out the ones that are going to hurt the most,” said Jeff Rightmer, a professor at Wayne State University who specializes in supply chain management. “At this point, they’re not going to be able to get that production back.”New-car sales are expected to rise this month, despite the strike and high interest rates, according to Cox Automotive. And for now, overall inventories for the three companies remain stable, except for the most popular models, according to data from CoPilot, a firm that tracks dealer inventories.As of Sept. 24, G.M. had enough vehicles on dealer lots to meet demand for 40 to 70 days across its four brands. Ford had enough cars and trucks for 74 days. And Stellantis had more than 100 days across three of its four divisions; Jeep had less than 100 days.Jeep Wranglers at the Stellantis Toledo Assembly Complex in Toledo, Ohio, at the beginning of the strike.Evan Cobb for The New York TimesAmong the 10 models affected by the first set of U.A.W. strikes, supply for four models has dwindled to less than one month’s sales.“Once that dries up, they’re not building anything, so it’s important that the strike is as short as possible,” said Wes Lutz, a car dealer in Jackson, Mich., who sells Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep and Ram models.He has been getting cars from other plants, including large pickup trucks imported from Mexico. But he is worried that an expanding strike could reduce the supply of more models.An even bigger concern, Mr. Lutz said, is that the strikes at G.M. and Stellantis parts warehouses could soon make it hard to repair vehicles, leaving some drivers stranded. He said that he was working with other dealers to trade spare parts among themselves to keep their service departments going.Servicing and repairing vehicles is generally the most profitable part of car dealerships. Service departments bring in so much money that they can cover most or all of the costs of running dealerships, said Pat Ryan, chief executive of CoPilot.That’s why a parts shortage could deal a bigger blow to dealers than not having enough vehicles to sell. If parts are hard to come by for weeks or months, some dealers may suspend repairs and lay off mechanics.Another group of businesses exposed to the strikes are the companies that make parts and components like batteries and mufflers for new vehicles. Nearly 700 auto suppliers could be hurt by the strike, according to Resilinc, a supply chain monitoring company.CIE Newcor, an auto components maker, notified workers on Sept. 21 that it expected to lay off 300 employees at four Michigan plants starting Oct. 2. The extent of the layoffs will be “determined by the length of the potential U.A.W. — Detroit 3 strike,” the company said in a regulatory filing.Much of the auto industry practices “just in time” production, meaning materials are delivered and parts are built and sent to car factories as they are needed.If smaller suppliers go more than a few weeks without selling products to customers, some may have to seek bankruptcy protection, said Ann Marie Uetz, a Detroit-based partner at the law firm Foley & Lardner who represents auto suppliers. “There is definite strain in the supply chain, and you’re going to see some of them suffer as a result of the strike if it lingers for a month or more.” More

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    U.A.W. Starts Strike Small, but Repercussions Could Prove Far-Reaching

    Autoworkers walked off the job on Friday at three factories that produce some of the Detroit carmakers’ most popular vehicles, the opening salvos in what could become a protracted strike that hurts the U.S. economy and has an impact on the 2024 presidential election.Nearly 13,000 members of the United Auto Workers at plants in Ohio, Michigan and Missouri joined early Friday in what the union described as a targeted strike that could expand to more plants if its demands for pay raises of up to 40 percent and other gains were not met.The union’s four-year contracts with three automakers — General Motors, Ford Motor and Stellantis, which owns Chrysler, Jeep and Ram — expired Thursday, and the companies and the union remained far from striking new deals.The U.A.W.’s president, Shawn Fain, used sweeping language on Thursday to describe why his members were going on strike against all three automakers at the same time — something the union had never done in its nearly 90-year history.“This is our generation’s defining moment,” Mr. Fain, the union’s first leader elected directly by members, said in an online video. “The money is there, the cause is righteous, the world is watching, and the U.A.W. is ready to stand up.”The union and the companies did not negotiate on Friday, but the U.A.W. said it planned to resume bargaining on Saturday. President Biden dispatched two senior administration officials to Detroit on Friday to encourage the companies and union to reach agreements.At a Ford plant in Wayne, Mich., west of Detroit, strikers waved placards — one read, “Record Profits; Record Contracts” — and gave thumbs-up to honking vehicles. A metal sign on a chain-link fence read, “Absolutely NO foreign cars allowed.” The protesters were assigned to a six-hour shift on the picket line. If the strike continues, they will be called to one shift per week.While first and foremost a battle between autoworkers and automakers, the conflict could have far-reaching consequences. A lengthy strike would reduce the number of new cars available for sale, which could fuel inflation and force the Federal Reserve to keep interest rates high.The U.A.W.’s president, Shawn Fain, center, at the walkout early Friday at Ford Motor’s assembly plant in Wayne, Mich.Cydni Elledge for The New York TimesA strike also presents a quandary for Mr. Biden, who has called for rising incomes but must also be mindful of the strike’s economic impact and his goal to promote electric vehicles as a solution to climate change.Speaking at the White House on Friday, the president strongly supported the union. “Over the past decade, auto companies have seen record profits, including in the last few years, because of the extraordinary skill and sacrifices of U.A.W. workers,” he said. “But those record profits have not been shared fairly.”The U.A.W. says its pay demands roughly correspond to the increases in the compensation of the top executives at Ford, G.M. and Stellantis. The raises are also meant to help compensate workers for the ground they have lost to inflation and big concessions the union made to the automakers after the 2007-8 financial crisis, when G.M. and Chrysler were forced to restructure themselves in bankruptcy court.But auto executives say they already pay production workers substantially more than rivals, like Tesla and Toyota, whose U.S. workers are not unionized. The companies also contend that such big raises would undermine their efforts to develop electric vehicles and remain relevant as the industry makes a difficult and costly shift from gasoline cars and trucks to electric vehicles.If unions got all that they were asking for, “we would have to cancel our E.V. investments,” Jim Farley, the chief executive of Ford, said in an interview on Friday. Instead, Ford would need to concentrate on large sport utility vehicles and pickups that generate the most profit, he said.Ford, which employs the most union members, reported a profit of $1.9 billion in the second quarter, equal to 4 percent of its sales. Tesla made $2.7 billion in the same period, about 11 percent of its sales.Mr. Farley sounded pessimistic about the chances of agreeing on a contract soon. “They are not negotiating in good faith if they are proposing deals that they know are going to crater our investments,” he said.Mr. Fain’s decision to shut down just three factories is a departure for the union, which in previous strikes typically walked out of all the factories of a single automaker. By interrupting production of some of the most profitable vehicles, while allowing most plants to keep operating, the union hopes to inflict pain on the carmakers while allowing most of its members to continue collecting paychecks.But it may be difficult for the union to limit the damage to its members’ incomes. Ford told workers at a facility in Michigan, who were not on strike, to stay home Friday because of parts shortages caused by the strike. G.M. said it would probably lay off 2,000 workers at a factory in Kansas next week because of a lack of parts produced at the factory near St. Louis that is on strike.Fewer than 10 percent of the nearly 150,000 U.A.W. members at the three companies are on strike. Limited strikes could allow the union to maintain the pressure longer by preserving its strike fund of $825 million. The union will pay striking workers $500 a week and cover their health insurance premiums.Automakers have been earning record profits “because of the extraordinary skill and sacrifices of U.A.W. workers,” President Biden said at the White House on Friday.Anna Rose Layden for The New York TimesIn addition to the Ford plant in Michigan, which makes the Bronco and the Ranger pickup truck, and the G.M. plant in Wentzville, Mo., which makes the GMC Canyon and the Chevrolet Colorado, workers shut down a Stellantis complex in Toledo, Ohio, that makes the Jeep Gladiator and Jeep Wrangler. If no agreement is reached, the union is expected to target additional factories in weeks to come.The union is also seeking cost-of-living adjustments that would protect workers if inflation flares up again. And it wants to reinstate pensions that the union agreed to do away with for newer workers after the financial crisis, improved retiree benefits and shorter work hours. The union also wants to eliminate a wage system that starts new hires at much lower wages than the top U.A.W. pay of $32 an hour.As of Friday last week, the companies had offered to raise pay by around 14.5 percent to 20 percent over four years. Their offers include lump-sum payments to help offset the effects of inflation, and policy changes that would lift the pay of recent hires and temporary workers, who typically earn about a third less than veteran union members.In a last-minute attempt to keep assembly lines running, G.M. offered its employees a 20 percent raise late Thursday and said it was willing to pay cost-of-living adjustments to veteran workers. The 20 percent increase would be far more than employees had received in decades. But the union rejected the offer, which it says would barely compensate for inflation.Autoworkers striking at the G.M. factory in Wentzville, Mo.Neeta Satam for The New York TimesLeaders of the automakers have criticized the U.A.W.’s tactics, focusing on Mr. Fain, who became president in March and declared an end to what he said were overly friendly relations between union leaders and auto executives. He took office after a federal corruption investigation resulted in prison terms for two former U.A.W. presidents.Carlos Tavares, the chief executive of Stellantis, has called Mr. Fain’s strategy “posturing.” Mr. Farley of Ford said the two sides should be negotiating instead of “planning strikes and P.R. events.” And Mary T. Barra, the G.M. chief executive, said that “every negotiation takes on the personality of its leader.”If the autoworkers are successful, they could inspire workers in other industries. Union activism is on the rise: Hollywood screenwriters and actors have been on strike for months, and in August, United Parcel Service employees won their biggest raises ever in a contract negotiated by the International Brotherhood of Teamsters.“Workers have been squeezed for too long and now are realizing they can do something about it,” said Mijin Cha, an assistant professor at the University of California, Santa Cruz, who studies the relationship between labor’s interests and the fight against climate change. “People see there is a pathway to more economic security and workers do have power together.”Late on Friday, at an outdoor rally in downtown Detroit attended by several hundred U.A.W. members, Mr. Fain introduced Senator Bernie Sanders, a Vermont independent, who told the crowd: “The fight you are waging here is not just about decent wages and working conditions and pensions in the auto industry. It’s a fight to take on corporate greed.”The strikes come as auto production is still recovering from the effects of the pandemic, which caused shortages of semiconductors and other components. Car prices and wait times have come down, but dealer inventories remain low and a lengthy strike could eventually make it hard to find popular U.S.-made models.“We’re not back to speed inventory-wise,” said Wes Lutz, the owner of Extreme Dodge, a car dealership in Jackson, Mich.Wes Lutz, the owner of Extreme Dodge in Michigan said, “We’re not back to speed inventory wise.”Brittany Greeson for The New York TimesScarcity is not always bad for carmakers. It allowed them to earn higher profit margins during the pandemic. And it would benefit any carmakers that were having trouble moving some models. Pat Ryan, chief executive of the car-shopping app Co-Pilot, said that Stellantis had at least 100 days of inventory for brands like Dodge and Chrysler, and that a strike could help it clear many dealers’ lots.Still, if prices for popular models rise, that will be yet another speed bump in the Federal Reserve’s road to lowering inflation, and a political liability for Mr. Biden. The president, who has no formal role in the negotiations, said Friday that he had been in touch with union leaders and auto executives, in addition to dispatching the two administration officials to Detroit.Reporting was contributed by More

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    Italy’s Government Takes Aim at Taxi Shortages

    The government took steps this week to increase the supply of cabs after months of shortages, but critics say the problems with the industry run deeper.This summer, countless tourists, as well as residents of many top Italian destinations, found themselves in the fruitless pursuit of elusive game: a taxi.In Italy, where ride-sharing services like Uber, Lyft and Bolt have been met with strong resistance and are heavily restricted, social media sites channeled tirades describing hourslong taxi lines at train stations and airports. Callers to taxi dispatch numbers were put on hold for interminable waits. And regular taxi apps failed to find cars.Returning to Rome from Naples one Monday afternoon in June, a train trip that takes just over an hour, Daniele Renzoni said that he and his wife waited for more than an hour and a half at Termini station for a cab under a blazing sun.“Just image a long line of grumbling, frustrated people, complaining, cursing. Hot day, angry tourists, there’s not much else to say,” said Mr. Renzoni, who is retired. “Taxi drivers will tell you there’s too much traffic, too many requests, too much everything, but the fact is, the customer pays.”The situation is “a disgrace to Italy,” said Furio Truzzi, president of the consumer rights group Assoutenti, one of several associations that protested the shortage.Things got so bad that earlier this week the government intervened, introducing measures that would simplify procedures so that cities can issue new taxi licenses, including temporary ones to cover peak periods like the summer or major events like the Catholic Church’s Jubilee in 2025 and the Winter Olympics in Milan and Cortina d’Ampezzo in 2026.Major cities and those with international airports, like Rome, Milan and Naples, where the taxi crunch has been felt most keenly, will also be able to increase the number of licenses by 20 percent, though owners of the new permits must use electric or hybrid cars.In Rome, for example, there are now about 7,800 taxis, and if 20 percent more licenses were issued, there would be about 1,500 more. Parliament now has two months to convert the decree into law.But transportation experts said the decree falls far short of what they say is a needed overhaul of the industry, which holds outsized sway over local — and national — politics. Thanks to the taxi lobby, ride-sharing services are almost nonexistent in Italy, where Uber is the only platform in use, with many restrictions.The government lost an opportunity for real change, said Andrea Giuricin, a transportation economist at a research center at the University of Milan Bicocca. He said the best way to meet consumer needs would be to increase the number of licenses for Italy’s chauffeur services, known as N.C.C., which work with Uber.“It’s very difficult in Italy” because “there isn’t a culture of liberalization in general,” creating little opportunity for competition, said Professor Giuricin. Taxis “are a small but powerful lobby” that easily influences politics, “which is very weak” in Italy, he said.Taxis parked in the Piazza del Plebiscito in Naples during a strike last year. Taxi drivers are a powerful lobby, and ride-sharing services have only made timid inroads in Italy.Ciro Fusco/EPA, via ShutterstockAngela Stefania Bergantino, a professor of transportation economics at the University of Bari, pointed out that previous governments had tried to open up the taxi market. But they failed.“The problem is that taxis are regulated by municipal governments, which can find themselves captive in the sense that it is difficult for City Hall to implement policies that the cab lobby doesn’t like,” she said. “These are lobbies that have effective strike tools,” like wildcat strikes or traffic blockages that can paralyze entire cities, she said.Industry officials were dismissive of the new decree. “Much ado about nothing,” said Andrea Laguardia, director of Legacoop Produzione e Servizi, an association of taxi cooperatives. “The government presented these measures as crucial to resolving the taxi shortage,” he said, but city governments, which issue taxi licenses, could already issue more if warranted. The measures don’t “resolve the problem of urban mobility,” Mr. Laguardia said.According to a 2022 report by Italy’s transportation authority, Italy has roughly one taxi for every 2,000 people, fewer than other European countries like France or Spain.Italy’s competition watchdog said this month that it was also examining the industry.Representatives of drivers for chauffeur services, who have much to gain from any liberalization of the market, say they are being held hostage by the taxi lobby, even as the world becomes digital and a rebound in tourism increases demand.“We are losing out on rides because we can’t increase the number of cars on the road,” said Luigi Pacilli, the president of Federnoleggio, a group representing some N.C.C. drivers.“It’s a complete bluff,” he said of the new measures, which allow, but do not mandate, new licenses. Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni could shake things up, he said, “but I don’t know if she’ll have the will or desire to fight one of the strongest lobbies in Europe.”Taxi drivers say they are taking the hit for a plethora of problems: traffic in cities that slows cars to a snail’s pace, the surge in tourism after the pandemic’s peak and inefficient public transportation.“Let’s make local public transportation work well and then we can decide if more licenses are necessary,” said Loreno Bittarelli, the president of one of Italy’s largest taxi dispatch consortiums.The drivers say that critical shortages last only last a few months each year, and that demand slows to a standstill in winter. Adding new licenses would only stretch the winter fasting among more drivers.Above all, though licenses are issued by the city, they can then be sold by the drivers, for sums that can reach 250,000 euros, or about $276,000, depending on the city — a retirement nest egg for many. With an influx of new licenses, the value of an existing license would depreciate.City administrators fear cabbies could revolt and strike if the status quo changes. “If I decide to issue new licenses,” said Eugenio Patanè, Rome’s city councilor in charge of transportation, “I’m going to find 1,000 taxis blocking traffic in Piazza Venezia,” the downtown Rome square that taxi drivers habitually clog while protesting. More

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    Job Turnover Eased in June as Labor Market Cooled

    The NewsJob turnover decreased in June, the Labor Department reported on Tuesday, suggesting that the American labor market continues to slow down from its meteoric ascent after the pandemic lockdowns.A flier advertising open positions at a job fair in Minneapolis.Tim Gruber for The New York TimesThe NumbersThere were 9.6 million job openings in June, roughly the same as a month earlier, according to the Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey (JOLTS).Employers have tightened the screws on hiring in recent months, with job openings falling to their lowest level since April 2021 as the economy responds to tightening monetary policy.The most notable changes in June were not in job openings but in hiring and quitting. There were 5.9 million hires in June, down from 6.2 million in May. And the quits rate, a measure of workers’ confidence in the job market and bargaining power, decreased to 2.4 percent, from 2.6 percent in May and down from a record of 3 percent in April 2022. The number of workers laid off was 1.5 million, about the same as in May.Quotable: ‘The labor market is unbalanced.’“We’re still in an economy where the labor market is unbalanced,” said Michael Strain, an economist at the American Enterprise Institute, “with the demand for workers substantially outpacing the supply of workers.” There are roughly 1.6 job openings for each unemployed worker.Why It Matters: The economy moves closer to a ‘soft landing.’Over the past 16 months, as they have sought to curb inflation and make sure the economy does not overheat, Federal Reserve policymakers have pursued the coveted “soft landing.” That means bringing down inflation to the Fed’s target of 2 percent by raising interest rates without causing a significant jump in unemployment, avoiding a recession.The June JOLTS report provides more optimism that the Fed is approaching that soft landing, as demand for workers remains robust while tapering gradually. Inflation remains high by historical standards — at 3 percent, according to the latest data — but has eased substantially.“This is a really strong labor market that is staying strong but slowing down,” said Preston Mui, a senior economist at Employ America, a research and advocacy group focused on the job market.At the end of their meeting last Wednesday, policymakers raised rates a quarter-point, and the Fed’s chair, Jerome H. Powell, said its staff economists were no longer projecting a recession for 2023. But Mr. Powell left the door open to further rate increases and said the economy still had “a long way to go” to 2 percent inflation.Background: It’s been a good time to be a worker.As the U.S. economy rapidly rose out of the Covid-19 recession in 2020, a powerful narrative built: “Nobody wants to work.” There was some truth to that hyperbole. Employers had a hard time finding workers, and workers reaped the rewards, quitting their jobs to find better-paying ones (and succeeding).With quit rates falling in recent months, the so-called great resignation appears to be over, if not receding, and the continued downward trajectory of job openings implies that employers are less eager to fill staffing shortages.Employers are not hiring with the fervor they were a few months ago, but they are not yet casting aside workers, who might not lose the gains they have achieved during the pandemic recovery.What’s Next: The July jobs report lands on Friday.The Labor Department will release the July employment report on Friday. The unemployment rate for June sat at 3.6 percent, a dip from 3.7 percent in May but higher than the 3.4 percent recorded in January and April, the lowest jobless rate since 1969.June was the 30th consecutive month of gains in U.S. payrolls, as the economy added 209,000 jobs, and economists surveyed by Bloomberg expected the economy to have added another 200,000 jobs in July. Fed policymakers will be watching the report closely, but one more month’s data will arrive before they next convene Sept. 19-20. More

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    Jobs Sit Empty in the Public Sector, So Unions Help Recruit

    Shortages of state and city personnel, especially those who must work on site, are so dire that unions are helping to get people in the door.The State of Minnesota, like nearly every public-sector employer across the country, is in a hiring crunch.Not just for any job, though. The desk jobs that can be done remotely, with flexible schedules? Applicants for those positions are relatively abundant. It’s the nurses, groundskeepers, plumbers, social workers and prison guards — those who are on site, sometimes at odd hours — that the state really can’t find.“It’s terrifying, if I’m being honest,” said Mitchell Kuhne, a sergeant with the Department of Corrections staffing a table at a state jobs fair in Minneapolis this week. “People just don’t know about the opportunities that exist. It’s a great work force, it’s a great field to be in, but it’s a really intimidating thing that isn’t portrayed accurately in the movies and media.”Understaffing requires employees to pick up many hours of mandatory overtime, Mr. Kuhne said. The additional income can be welcome, but also makes home life difficult for new recruits, and many quit within a few weeks. So his union, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, is playing an unusual role — helping their bosses recruit workers.It’s a nationwide quandary. While private-sector employment fully regained its prepandemic level a year ago — and now sits 3 percent above it — state and local governments remain about 1 percent below the 20 million people they had on staff in February 2020. The job-opening rate for public-sector positions is below that of private businesses, but hasn’t come down as much from the highs of 2022.Private-Sector Employment Bounced Back. State and Local Government Hasn’t Recovered.Employment level as a percentage of employment in February 2020

    Source: Bureau of Labor StatisticsBy The New York TimesIn historical perspective, it could be worse: State and local government employment had only barely recovered from a long slide after the 2007-9 recession, which left many public services underpowered as states and cities lacked the funding to return to full strength.This time, the problem is different. Tax collections recovered more quickly than expected, and the federal government helped with transfers of cash to local jurisdictions to offset the effects of the Covid-19 crisis. That helped many governments award temporary pay increases to retain key personnel, and hire others into departments that had been cut to the bone, such as public health.But officials then faced a new twist. Wages in the private sector were growing faster than they had in decades, drawing people away from government jobs that had, for some, become too stressful. Civil servants also tend to be older than other workers, and more of them retired early rather than put up with mounting strain. As federal relief funds peter out, governments face difficult questions about how to maintain competitive pay.Public needs, however, have only increased. Minnesota, along with recovering from a hiring freeze early in the pandemic, has passed larger budgets and new laws — regulating cannabis sales, for example — that have added hundreds of positions across several agencies. At the same time, the federal infrastructure bill is supercharging demand for people to manage construction projects.That’s a victory for labor unions, which typically push for more hiring, higher wages and better benefits. But it doesn’t help them much if positions stay empty. A survey of local government human resource officers, released in June by the nonprofit research organization Mission Square, found that more than half the respondents had to reopen recruitment processes very often or frequently for lack of enough applications. In Minnesota, the vacancy rate for state government jobs rose to 11.5 percent in the 2023 fiscal year from 7.5 percent in 2019.That’s why the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, known as AFSCME, decided it needed to pitch in on a function usually reserved for human resources departments: getting people in the door. The union has started a national campaign to generate buzz around frontline positions, while locals are contacting community organizations and even families of union members to spotlight opportunities.“Our employers are feeling the heat,” said Lee Saunders, the union’s president. “They understand that services are not being provided at the level that they should be provided. It’s a team effort as far as bringing fresh blood into the public service.”That was the point of the hiring fair in Minneapolis. Seventy-five job seekers filtered through, often looking for more stable or higher-paying positions than the ones they held, usually referred by a friend or relative in the union.Cassandra Crawford spoke to someone at nearly every table, looking for something better paid and more active than her remote job in health care administration. “The older you get, the more you want to move your body,” she said. Speaking with recruiters in person was also more encouraging than sending her résumé to an automated portal. “I think they might remember me,” she said, laughing.Joel Shanight, 43, a disabled Army veteran and Peace Corps volunteer with experience in hostile environments, expressed confidence that he had landed a job doing roadway assistance on state highways. After doing unsatisfying accounting work in the private sector, he was glad to have learned about positions that could allow him to help people again.“I can’t find that in the corporate world,” Mr. Shanight said. “There’s no compassion anymore.”Also present were high-level officials from the state government, including Jamie Long, the House majority leader, who praised the union for helping out. Other government unions — like the American Federation of Teachers, which represents a field that saw an exodus during the pandemic — also have programs to try to bring more people into the classroom.AFSCME plans to create a national training and development center that will maintain a database of available union-represented jobs and centralize apprenticeship programs to build the next generation of public servants.Joseph McCartin, the executive director of the Kalmanovitz Initiative for Labor and the Working Poor at Georgetown University, said he hadn’t seen anything similar since World War II, when unions joined the federal government to fill positions essential to the military effort. Unions can be trusted messengers in communities, he said, and have a better understanding of what job seekers are looking for than employers do.A tour bus used for recruitment by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, a trade union of public employees, at the hiring fair in Minneapolis this week.Tim Gruber for The New York Times“I think it’s an extraordinary development,” Dr. McCartin said. “It’s a great advantage when you have a partner that’s going to be working with you to try to help you solve this problem.”Some states that limit collective bargaining in the public sector think that not having to deal with labor organizations allows them to adapt compensation more quickly in response to staffing needs. But they still deal with their share of difficulty in hiring.Take Idaho, whose population boomed during the pandemic. By the 2022 fiscal year, the state was facing vacancy rates as high as 20 percent at the Department of Corrections and 15 percent in the Department of Health and Welfare. A benchmarking analysis found that state jobs paid 24.6 percent less than the private sector for comparable positions, and annual turnover had reached 21.8 percent.The state ramped up recruiting, eased formal education requirements for some positions and brought on contractors to fill labor gaps, which is expensive. Those moves didn’t solve the problem, especially for less attractive shifts at hospitals, prisons and veterans’ homes, which couldn’t fill available beds because of understaffing.So in early 2023, Gov. Brad Little, a conservative Republican, asked for an 8.5 percent across-the-board pay increase for state workers over two years, with another 6 percent for those in public safety. Next year the governor plans to seek the same bump for workers in health care, information technology and engineering.The Legislature generally went along with those recommendations, with a few tweaks. But given the continuing constraints, Lori Wolff, head of the Division of Human Resources, said she was looking for ways to provide services with fewer people, especially for tasks like enrolling people in state benefits.“There’s a lot of jobs that we’re going to have to start looking at technology to solve,” Ms. Wolff said.The state’s 199 municipalities have an even tougher time increasing pay and adopting automated services. The state has limited their ability to raise revenue through property taxes, so it has been more difficult to compete. Skyrocketing housing costs are compounding that problem, fueled by high-income remote workers who moved out of bigger cities during the pandemic.Kelley Packer, director of the Association of Idaho Cities, said she had recently spoken with a member whose public works director had been forced to live in his car.“It’s a really interesting balancing act to allow for the growth to happen, and meet the needs of the housing crisis that we’re in, and still be able to provide services with a restricted property tax system,” Ms. Packer said.Of course, it’s not all about salary. Rivka Liss-Levinson, research director with Mission Square, said people usually listed three primary motivations to work for governments: job security, job satisfaction and robust retirement benefits. Conveying the value of comparatively generous health care coverage and pensions, plus the public service mission, is still the basic strategy.“Those things haven’t really changed over time,” Dr. Liss-Levinson said. “States and localities that are able to address these needs and concerns are the ones that are going to thrive when it comes to recruitment and retention.” More

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    Russian Attack Threatens Even Alternative Routes for Ukrainian Grain

    The attack on a grain hangar on the Danube River, an alternative export route that has become an economic lifeline, complicates Ukraine’s efforts to export its grain.For shipping companies looking for a way to bring Ukrainian grain to global markets, the options keep dwindling, escalating a trade crisis that is expected to add pressure on global food prices.Russia last week pulled out of an agreement that had allowed for the safe passage of vessels through the Black Sea. On Monday it threatened an alternative route for grain, attacking a grain hangar at a Ukrainian port on the Danube River that has served as a key artery for transporting goods while the Black Sea remains blockaded. “It’s opening a new front in the targeting of Ukrainian grain exports,” said Alexis Ellender, an analyst at Kpler, a commodities analytics firm, adding that the route had been considered safe because of its proximity to Romania, a NATO member.“This will potentially close off that route,” he said. It could also raise rates for shipping insurance and further cripple Ukraine’s ability to export grain.Hours after the predawn attack on the hangar at the Ukrainian port of Reni, dozens of vessels that had been bound to collect grain from Ukraine were clustered at the mouth of the Danube. More