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    If There Is a ‘Male Malaise’ With Work, Could One Answer Be at Sea?

    Before dawn on a recent day in the port of Seattle, dense autumn fog hugged Puget Sound and ship-to-shore container cranes hovered over the docks like industrial sentinels. Under the dim glimmer of orange floodlights, the crew of the tugboat Millennium Falcon fired up her engines for a long day of towing oil barges and refueling a variety of large vessels, like container ships.The first thing to know about barges is that they don’t move themselves. They are propelled and guided by tugs like the Falcon, which is owned by Centerline Logistics, one of the largest U.S. transporters of marine petroleum. Such companies may not be household names, but the nation’s energy supply chain would have broken under the pandemic’s pressure without the steady presence of their fleets — and their crews.“We’re a floating gas station,” said Bowman Harvey, a director of operations at Centerline, as he stood aboard the Falcon, his neck tattoo of the Statue of Liberty pivoting from the base of his flannel whenever he gestured at a machine or busy colleague nearby. Demand is solid, he said, and the enterprise is profitable. The company’s client list, which includes Exxon Mobil and Maersk, the global shipping giant, is robust. But manning the fleet has become a struggle.Multiyear charter contracts for key lines of business — refueling ships, transporting fuel for refineries and general towing jobs — are locked in across all three coasts, plus Hawaii, Alaska and Puerto Rico, Mr. Harvey said. Yet as pandemic-related staffing shortages have eased in other industries, Centerline is still short on staff. “Hands down,” Mr. Harvey said, “our biggest challenge right now is finding crew.”Safely moving, loading and unloading oil at sea requires both simple and high-skill jobs that cannot be automated. And the labor supply issues in merchant marine transportation are emblematic of the conundrum seen in a variety of decently paying, male-heavy jobs in the trades.Overall Labor Force Participation Has Fallen Among Men

    Note: The overall labor force, as defined by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, includes all Americans age 16 and older who are classified as either working or actively looking for work.Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics By The New York TimesOver the past 50 years, male labor force participation, the share of men working or actively looking for work, has steadily fallen as female participation has climbed.Some scholars have a grim explanation for the trend. Nicholas Eberstadt, the conservative-leaning author of “Men Without Work,” argues that there has been a swell in men who are “inert, written off or discounted by society and, perhaps, all too often, even by themselves.” Others, like the Brookings Institution senior fellow Richard V. Reeves, put less emphasis on potential social pathologies but say a “male malaise” is hampering households and the economy.“Hands down, our biggest challenge right now is finding crew,” said Bowman Harvey, a director of operations at Centerline.Members of the Millennium Falcon crew.Centerline employees are among about 75,000 categorized by the Department of Labor as water transportation workers, a group in which men outnumber women five to one.The State of Jobs in the United StatesEconomists have been surprised by recent strength in the labor market, as the Federal Reserve tries to engineer a slowdown and tame inflation.October Jobs Report: U.S. employers continued to hire at a fast clip, adding 261,000 jobs in the 10th month of the year despite the Fed’s push to cool the economy.A Self-Fulfilling Prophecy?: Employees seeking wage increases to cover their costs of living amid rising prices could set off a cycle in which fast inflation today begets fast inflation tomorrow.Disabled Workers: With Covid prompting more employers to consider remote arrangements, employment has soared among adults with disabilities.A Feast or Famine Career: America’s port truck drivers are a nearly-invisible yet crucial part of the global supply chain. And they are sinking into desperation.Though the gender split in the industry is more even for onshore office roles, workers and applicants for jobs on the water are predominantly male. Centerline says it has roughly 220 offshore crew members and about 35 openings. Captains and company managers agree that changing attitudes toward work among young men play a part in the labor shortage. But the strongest consensus opinion is that structural demographic shifts are against them. “We’re seeing a gray wave of retirement,” said Mr. Harvey, who is 38.Even though replacements are needed and, on the whole, lacking, there are new young recruits who are thriving, such as Noah Herrera Johnson, 19, who has joined Centerline as a cadet deckhand, an entry-level role.On a Thursday morning out in the harbor, Mr. Herrera Johnson deftly unknotted, flipped and refastened a series of sailing knots as the crew unmoored from a sister boat that was aiding the refueling of a Norwegian Cruise Line ship. A small crowd of curious cruise passengers peeked down as he bopped through the sequences and the sun’s glare began to pierce the fog, bouncing off the undulating waves.“I enjoy it a lot,” Mr. Herrera Johnson said of his work, as he sliced some meat in the galley later on. (Some kitchen work and cleaning are part of the gig and the fraternal ritual of paying dues.) “I get along with everyone — everyone has stories to tell,” he said. “And I was never good at school.”Mr. Herrera Johnson, who is Mexican American and whose mother is from Seattle, spent most of his life in Cabo San Lucas, in Baja California, until he moved back to the United States shortly after turning 18.Though entry-level roles aboard don’t require college credentials, new regulations have made at least briefly attending a vocational maritime academy a necessity for those who want to rise quickly up the crew ladder. Because he is interested in becoming a captain by his late 20s, he began a two-year program at the nearby Pacific Maritime Institute in March, and he earns course credits for work at Centerline between classes.Noah Herrera Johnson, left, preparing to throw a line to Andrew Nelson, right, as the Millennium Falcon docked in Seattle.Mr. Herrera Johnson, right, joined the Falcon crew as a cadet deckhand, an entry-level role.He got his “first tug” in May: an escapade from New Orleans through the Panama Canal to San Francisco, patched with some bad weather. “Two months, two long months — it was fun,” he said. “We had a few things going on. We lost steering a few times. But it was cool.”In short, the industry needs far more Noahs. Many Centerline employees have informally become part-time recruiters — handing out cards, encouraging seemingly capable young men who may be between jobs, undecided about college or disillusioned with the standard 9-to-5 existence to consider being a mariner instead.“When I’m trying to get friends or family members to come into the business,” Mr. Harvey said, “I make sure to remind them: Don’t think of this as a job, think of it as a lifestyle.”Internet connections aboard are common these days, and there is plenty of downtime for movies, TV, reading, cooking and joking around with sea mates. (On slow days, captains will sometimes do doughnuts in the water like victorious racecar drivers, turning the whole vessel into a Tilt-a-Whirl ride for the crew: sea legs required.)Of course, those leisurely moments punctuate days and nights of heaving lines, tying knots, making repairs, executing multiple refueling jobs and helping to navigate the tugboat: rain or shine, heat or heavy seas.It’s “an adventurous life,” Mr. Harvey said, one that he and others acknowledge has its pros and cons. Mariners in this sector — whether they are entry-level deckhands, midtier mates and engineers, or crew-leading tankermen and captains — are usually on duty at sea in tight quarters and bunk beds for a month or more.On the bright side, however, because of an “equal time” policy, full-time crew members are given roughly just as much time off for the same annual pay.“When I go home, you know, I’m taking essentially 35 days off,” said Capt. Ryan Buckhalter, 48, who’s been a mariner for 20 years. For many, it’s a refreshing work-life balance, he said: None of the nettlesome emails or nagging office politics in between shifts often faced by the average modern office worker trying to get ahead.Still, Captain Buckhalter, who has a wife and a young daughter, echoed other crew members when he admitted that the setup could also be “tough at times” for families, including his own.Capt. Ryan Buckhalter piloted the Millennium Falcon on Elliott Bay.A checklist in the wheelhouse of the tugboat.Crew members say they value knowing that their work, unlike more abstract service jobs, is essential to world trade. And average starting salaries for deckhand jobs are $55,000 a year (or about $26 an hour) and as high as $75,000 in places like the San Francisco area, with higher living costs.The company also offers low-cost health, vision and dental care for employees, and a 401(k) plan with a company match. So the chief executive, Matt Godden, said in an interview that he didn’t feel that wages or benefits were a central reason that his company and competitors with similar offerings had struggled to hire.“Right now a lot of companies are really hurting,” Captain Buckhalter said. “You kind of got a little gap here with the younger generation not really showing up.”If the labor market, like any other, operates by supply and demand, managers within the maritime industry say the supply side of the nation’s education and training system is also at fault: It has given priority to the digital over the physical economy, putting what are often called “the jobs of the future” over those society still needs.Mr. Harvey adds that his industry is also grappling with increased Coast Guard licensing requirements for skilled roles, like boat engineers or tankermen, who lead the loading and discharging of oil barges. The regulations help ensure physical and environmental safety standards, Mr. Harvey said, but reduce the already limited pool of adequately credentialed candidates.Women remain a rare sight aboard. Some captains make the case that this stems from hesitance toward a life of bunking and sharing a bathroom with a crop of guys at sea — a self-reinforcing dynamic that company officials say they are working to alleviate.“We actually do have women that work on the vessels!” said Kimberly Cartagena, the senior manager for marketing and public relations at Centerline. “Definitely not as much as men, but we do have a handful.”Several economists and industry analysts suggested in interviews that another way for companies like Centerline to add crew members would be to expand their digital presence and do social media outreach. Mr. Godden, Centerline’s chief executive, said he remained wary.“If you did something very simple, like you set up a TikTok account, and you sent somebody out every day to create varied little snippets, and you get viral videos of strong men pulling lines and big waves and big pieces of machinery,” Mr. Godden said, then a company would risk introducing an inefficient churn of young recruits who would “like the idea of being on a boat” but not be a fan of the unsexy “calluses” that come with the job.Crew members say they value knowing their work is essential to world trade. But in the long term, he said, there is reason for optimism. He pointed to the recent establishment of the Maritime High School, which opened a year ago just south of the Seattle-Tacoma airport with its first ninth-grade class.“I think their first class is looking to graduate a hundred people, and then they got goals of getting up to 300, 400 graduates a year,” Mr. Godden said. He has been meeting with the school’s leaders this fall and is convinced they will help create the next pipeline in the profession.“Yes, labor shortages may increase or decrease depending upon how the market works — but I always have this sense that there’s always going to be this sort of built-in group of folks who cannot — just cannot — stand seeing themselves sitting at a desk for 30, 40, 50 years,” he said. “It’s this hands-on business almost like, you know, when you’re a kid and you’re playing with trucks or toys, and then you get to do it in the life-size version.” More

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    America’s Safety Net for Workers Hurt by Globalization Is Falling Apart

    A 60-year-old program that provides retraining to workers whose jobs are eliminated because of foreign competition has expired, leaving many at risk.WASHINGTON — In September, the lighting factory in Logan, Ohio, where Jeff Ogg has clocked in nearly every day for the last 37 years, will shut its doors, driven out of business by a shift from fluorescent lighting toward LED technology that is often made cheaply in China.At 57, Mr. Ogg is not yet ready to retire. But when he applied to a national retraining program that helps workers who have lost their jobs to foreign competition, he was dismayed to see his application rejected. A follow-up request for reconsideration was immediately denied.The program that Mr. Ogg looked to for help, known as Trade Adjustment Assistance, has for the past 60 years been America’s main antidote to the pressures that globalization has unleashed on its workers. More than five million workers have participated in the program.But a lack of congressional funding has put the program in jeopardy: Trade assistance was officially terminated on July 1, though it continues to temporarily serve current enrollees. Unless Congress approves new money for the $700 million program, it will cease to exist entirely.Established in 1962, trade assistance was intended to help workers whose factory and other jobs were increasingly moving overseas as companies chased cheap labor outside the United States. It provides services like subsidies for retraining, job search assistance, health coverage tax credits and allowances for relocation.But the benefits have been gradually scaled back given a lack of funding, including limiting who qualifies for assistance. A year ago, the program was restricted to workers who make goods, even though jobs in services have also undergone a wave of offshoring as companies set up call centers and accounting departments overseas. In addition, only those whose jobs shifted to countries that have a free-trade agreement with the United States — like Canada and Mexico, but not China — were eligible for assistance.On July 1, the program stopped reviewing new applications and appeals from workers whose applications have been rejected, and it will be phased out.While often criticized as inefficient and bureaucratic, the program has been the country’s primary answer to trade competition for decades. Its disappearance may leave thousands of workers without critical support as they seek new jobs. In 2021, the Department of Labor certified 801 petitions for trade adjustment assistance from various workplaces, covering an estimated 107,454 American workers.The decision over whether to reauthorize the program has become a casualty of an intense fight in Congress over what to include in a sprawling bill aimed at making America more competitive with China. The centerpiece of the legislation is $52 billion in funding for semiconductor manufacturing in the United States, but lawmakers have been clashing over whether to include other provisions related to trade, such as funding for worker retraining.House Democrats had proposed including other trade provisions as well, including measures to increase scrutiny on investments that might send American technology overseas and eliminate tariff exemptions for small-value goods imported from China.The State of Jobs in the United StatesJob gains continue to maintain their impressive run, easing worries of an economic slowdown but complicating efforts to fight inflation.June Jobs Report: U.S. employers added 372,000 jobs and the unemployment rate remained steady at 3.6 percent ​​in the sixth month of 2022.Care Worker Shortages: A lack of child care and elder care options is forcing some women to limit their hours or has sidelined them altogether, hurting their career prospects.Downsides of a Hot Market: Students are forgoing degrees in favor of the attractive positions offered by employers desperate to hire. That could come back to haunt them.Slowing Down: Economists and policymakers are beginning to argue that what the economy needs right now is less hiring and less wage growth. Here’s why.On Tuesday, the Senate voted to advance a smaller legislative package that includes funding for the chips industry and broader research and development, but lacks funding for Trade Adjustment Assistance or other trade-related measures. The chips legislation will still require further approval in both the House and Senate.Supporters of Trade Adjustment Assistance say that they will not stop pushing for its reauthorization, and that funding for the program could still be included in other legislation.Senator Sherrod Brown, Democrat from Ohio, blamed Republican lawmakers for “holding T.A.A. hostage” and said he would continue fighting to reauthorize the program.“They have sold out American manufacturing over and over by voting for trade deals and tax policy that send jobs overseas, and continue to block investments to empower workers who lose their jobs because of those bad trade deals,” Mr. Brown said in emailed remarks. “T.A.A. serves workers — like those in Logan, Ohio — who have their lives upended through no fault of their own.”The program and its benefits are already out of reach for Mr. Ogg and 50 others who work at the Logan plant, which manufactures the glass tubes in fluorescent lighting fixtures that were once ubiquitous in schools and offices. The plant tried to transition to making LED lights in recent years, but found those lights could be purchased more cheaply from abroad.“Our plant, our people, most of them have been there 25-plus years,” said Mr. Ogg, who is the president of the local United Steelworkers union. “You work in the same place that long, that’s all you know.”Mr. Ogg said he had no complaints about his career at the plant, where he estimates the average wage is between $25 and $30 an hour — enough for him to buy a home and raise three children. But he’s feeling unsure about what to do next. He previously worked as a mechanic, but said the type of machinery that he had worked on was no longer around.“A lot has changed,” Mr. Ogg added. “If you’ve been stuck in one place for 30-some years, you’re going to need some help to go to the next level.”Trade Adjustment Assistance was intended to do just that — help workers who need new skills to compete in a more globalized economy. The program offered income support to workers who lost their jobs and exhausted unemployment benefits while they retrained for other jobs. Those who are 50 and older and take on lower-paying jobs could qualify for a wage insurance program that temporarily boosted their take-home pay.Some academic research has found benefits for those who enrolled in the program. Workers gave up about $10,000 in income while training, but 10 years later they had about $50,000 higher cumulative earnings than those who did not retrain, according to research from 2018 by Benjamin G. Hyman, an economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.Still, those relative gains decayed over time, Mr. Hyman’s research shows. After 10 years the incomes of those who received assistance and those who did not were the same — perhaps because the jobs that workers in T.A.A. trained for had also become obsolete as a result of automation and trade competition. Yet Mr. Hyman concluded that earnings returns from the program “may be larger and more effective than previously thought.”The United Steelworkers Local 1999 in Indianapolis, which fought to save manufacturing jobs from companies like Rexnord, which moved its operations to Mexico in 2017.Alyssa Schukar for The New York TimesThe program fell victim to concerns over its expense and efficiency, as well as what was left out of the broader package of trade legislation. In the past, the funding for the program was coupled with something called Trade Promotion Authority, which streamlined the process for congressional approval of U.S. trade agreements.The combination of Trade Promotion Authority and Trade Adjustment Assistance was a political formula that worked for decades, said Edward Alden, a senior fellow at the Council on Fore­­­ign Relations. Presidents promised businesses more access to foreign markets, and they made commitments to providing labor unions and their supporters with compensation if jobs were lost in the process.But American views on trade have turned more negative in recent years, as China began dominating global industries and as income inequality widened. Democrats have grown so disillusioned with the effects of global trade and split over its benefits that the Biden administration has declined to push for new pacts.Before writing any new trade deals, Mr. Biden said he would first focus on boosting American competitiveness, including by investing in infrastructure, clean energy, and research and development. And when Trade Promotion Authority expired last year, Biden administration officials did not lobby Congress to reauthorize it.Some Republicans are balking at reapproving trade adjustment assistance when the president shows little intention to open up new overseas business opportunities through trade agreements.“America’s on the sidelines right now on trade, and President Biden’s moratorium on new trade agreements seems firm,” Representative Kevin Brady, Republican of Texas, told reporters late last month. “There would have to be a much stronger ironclad commitment to resuming American leadership in trade to even begin this discussion on extending T.A.A.”“We’re open to creative ideas here, but if we don’t have a serious, significant trade agenda that opens up markets for American workers, T.A.A. doesn’t make much sense,” Mr. Brady added.Mr. Biden’s plans to boost American competitiveness have only been partly fulfilled. While Congress approved billions of dollars for new infrastructure investments, other aspects of the president’s domestic agenda, including funding for the energy transition, have crumbled. Lawmakers have struggled to amass the support even for legislation in favor of expanded funding for the semiconductor industry, which is widely seen as key to American industry and national security.With so many other legislative goals at stake, the termination of a decades-old solution to the economic trade-offs of free trade has garnered little attention.“The old consensus on trade is gone,” said Mr. Alden of the Council on Foreign Relations. “And we don’t have a new one.”Catie Edmondson More

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    Truck Drivers’ On-the-Job Training Can Be Costly if They Quit

    Wayne Orr didn’t yet know that his foot was broken as he made his way back from Texas to his home in South Carolina, but he did know that he couldn’t continue pressing the pedals on the tractor-trailer he had been driving.A new driver only a few months past his training period, he had to sit out for six weeks without pay. Then, when his foot finally healed, he discovered that his company, CRST Expedited, had fired him. Frustrated and needing a paycheck, he found a new job driving for Schneider International, but was once again stymied: CRST threatened to sue Schneider for hiring him, he said.“I called CRST and they told me that they would not take me back and that I had to pay them $6,500 or I could never drive for another company, either,” Mr. Orr, 59, said.He had signed a contract to work for CRST for 10 months in exchange for a two-week training course. If he didn’t last 10 months, the contract required him to pay the company $6,500 for that training.Each year, thousands of aspiring truck drivers sign up for training with some of the nation’s biggest freight haulers. But the training programs often fail to deliver the compensation and working conditions they promise. And drivers who quit early can be pursued by debt collectors and blacklisted by other companies in the industry, making it difficult for them to find a new job.At least 18 companies, employing tens of thousands of drivers, run programs aimed at qualifying trainees for a commercial driver’s license, or C.D.L. Typically, to get free training, the new hires must drive for the company for six months to about two years, usually starting at a reduced wage.The companies “sign them into this indentured servitude contract where they basically have to drive and be a profit source for the company,” said Michael Young, a lawyer in Utah representing a former trainee in a lawsuit against C.R. England, a privately held trucking company that employs about 4,800 drivers.With e-commerce leading Americans to expect quick delivery, trucking companies face pressure to haul more and do it faster. The American Trucking Associations, a trade association, has warned of a vast truck driver shortage. But researchers and drivers’ representatives maintain that the high turnover occurs because too many large companies fail to make their jobs attractive enough. The industry has been plagued with class-action lawsuits about working conditions and wages, leading to hundreds of millions of dollars in settlements.Nine in 10 drivers leave their jobs within a year at large carriers like CRST and C.R. England, according to the trucking trade group. The companies need a constant flow of new recruits to keep revenue up, and without locking them into a contract, they risk losing their newly trained drivers to competitors offering a higher wage.“We think paying for C.D.L. school is a great benefit we can offer but not one that we can afford to do if folks do not come work with our team or ultimately pay us back,” said TJ England, chief legal officer of C.R. England. “If people just want to go to a different company, that’s where we try to protect our investment.”On the Road With America’s Truck DriversThe Cost of Quitting: Thousands of aspiring truckers sign up for training each year. But if they quit early, they may be pursued by debt collectors.Trucker Shortages: The real reason there aren’t enough drivers? It is a job full of stress, physical deprivation and loneliness.Supply Chain Issues: A wave of trucker retirements combined with those quitting for less stressful jobs is exacerbating shipping delays.‘We’re Throwaway People’: Trucking is no longer the road to the middle class that it once was. In 2017, we asked drivers why they do it.CRST, an Iowa-based company, would not answer specific questions for this article but said in an emailed statement that its training program “has brought thousands of drivers into the industry who may not otherwise have been able to obtain a commercial driver’s license.” As for Mr. Orr’s account, a spokeswoman would say only that it omitted key facts.The New York Times and The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit news organization, interviewed more than 30 current and former truckers with direct knowledge of company training programs, including 15 who had gone through them. Almost all 15 left before their contracts were up, despite intending to stick it out. One was given only four days at home in the four months he drove for CRST, just a quarter of what he said was promised in his contract, according to a complaint filed with the Iowa attorney general’s office.Others described weeks of unpaid time spent waiting for trainers. Many said they were never told that they would sit for hours, unpaid, while they waited for their trucks to be loaded and unloaded, or even for days to get a new assignment. Many drivers said they were told by the companies that they would make more than they did. Since drivers are paid by the mile, the time spent waiting cut significantly into their paychecks.In job advertisements and in their pitches to recruits, companies promise earnings of up to $70,000 in the first year and even higher salaries in the future. But the median annual wage for all truck drivers, regardless of experience, was $47,000 in May 2020, according to the most recent data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Only the top 10 percent of earners were making above $69,500.Wayne Orr attended CRST’s training program in 2019. “That training program is like a money mill to them,” he said. Sean Rayford for The New York TimesStill, many are attracted to trucking despite its sometimes punishing demands, seeing it as a possible on-ramp to the middle class. New drivers can train at independent schools, which can be expensive, or community colleges, which may take more time. Company training programs are a popular option for those eager for a paycheck right away.Many large companies start classes weekly; keeping a constant flow of people is crucial. They deputize their drivers, offering referral bonuses for every new person brought on board, and employ recruiters to pursue anyone who has expressed interest. In a training manual filed as an exhibit to a lawsuit in 2021, CRST instructed recruiters: “Create urgency. Tell the applicant we have a ‘few’ spots open. Our school and orientation will fill up quickly.”At most company schools, trainees typically spend two to four weeks learning in a classroom and in parking lots. Many former trainees said that the instruction was insufficient and that they spent little time in trucks.Amy Jeschke attended C.R. England’s program in Indiana in 2019. She went out on the road only twice during her training, she said, and the rest of the time did maneuvers in a yard or memorized what to do on a pre-trip inspection.“Honestly, we weren’t doing anything for most of the time,” Ms. Jeschke, 46, said. “You’re lucky if you got in the truck once a day.”Joy Skamser, 44, who also attended C.R. England’s training program in 2019 and lives in Southern Illinois, said she felt unprepared to drive, despite earning her commercial driver’s license at the end of the training.“They do not teach you how to drive a truck, they just teach you how to pass the test, and that’s very dangerous,” she said.Mr. England said the company gave high-quality training to its students that includes time in the classroom, on the driving range and on the road, with skill assessments throughout. Students who fail the assessments are given additional practice, he said.Once they have earned the license, drivers haul actual loads for their new employers. For typically four to 12 weeks, they are accompanied by a trainer. They earn a set weekly rate, varying by company but often $500 to $800, according to company websites. Mr. England said his company’s pay was $560 a week in 2019 and about $784 today.Trainers may be barely trained themselves, often needing only six months’ experience, and they are allowed to sleep in the back while the new driver is alone in the cab, according to industry experts and many companies.Ms. Jeschke said she finished her training without being able to back up, a crucial skill for truckers. She said she once spent a week at a truck stop, unpaid, waiting for another driver because she didn’t yet have the expertise to pick up a load on her own.Frustrated with the working conditions and the low pay, she and Ms. Skamser left C.R. England before their contracts were up and went to work for another trucking company, Werner Enterprises, where they say they were more fully trained.“I do not have words for how bad it was,” Ms. Jeschke said. “They do not care about drivers, only the loads.”Ms. Skamser said a debt collection agency was pursuing her for $6,000 that C.R. England says she owes for her training.It’s reasonable for companies to want to recoup the cost of training an individual, said Stewart J. Schwab, a professor at Cornell Law School. Still, he noted, like noncompete clauses, these contracts can significantly restrict worker mobility and hinder competition. In 2021, Mr. Schwab worked on a proposed law about restrictive employment agreements, such as the ones trucking companies use, with the Uniform Law Commission, a nonpartisan organization that drafts laws for states.The proposed legislation calls for the repayment of the training cost to be prorated based on when an employee leaves and says it should not exceed the actual cost of the training.Many major trucking companies don’t prorate their charges, meaning a driver who leaves on Day 1 after training would owe the same amount as one let go the day before fulfilling the contract. And companies are generally not made to account for how much they spend on the actual training. In 2019, a judge found that CRST’s charging $6,500 for its training “when in fact the cost was thousands of dollars lower” was a “deceptive practice.”That finding came as part of a class-action lawsuit that Mr. Orr eventually joined. The suit, which contended that drivers were being overcharged for their training and paid less than minimum wage for their hours worked, was settled for $12.5 million in 2021.Companies can come after drivers for money — or send them to debt collection — regardless of the reasons they leave or are let go. They also can try to prevent drivers from taking other jobs, as CRST did with Mr. Orr, lawyers for the drivers say. Such actions effectively deny those who want to leave a company the opportunity to do so and pay off their debt.Drivers who leave trucking companies before their contracts are up can be pursued by those companies — or by debt collectors — to pay thousands for training.Sean Rayford for The New York TimesA lawsuit filed in 2017 on behalf of drivers contends that eight companies, including CRST and C.R. England, are conspiring to block drivers under contract from changing jobs. Some companies refuse to release drivers’ records to prospective employers or send letters threatening litigation to competitors who don’t abide by a no-poaching agreement, the complaint says.Mr. England described the allegations as meritless but acknowledged in an interview that his company had “sued or threatened to sue some of our competitors for unlawfully interfering with those contractual relationships.”He said his company’s competitors had “unfairly taken advantage” of the training C.R. England provides to its drivers.Worried about being blackballed wherever he went, Mr. Orr took out a loan — the lowest interest rate he could find was 14 percent — and paid CRST. Through the class-action lawsuit, he was reimbursed for about two-thirds of what he had paid.“That training program is like a money mill to them,” he said. “They pretty much sell you a lot of dreams.”This article was produced by The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, independent news organization focused on inequality and innovation in education. More

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    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

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    Biden's Infrastructure Plan: Scarcity of Skilled Workers Poses Challenge

    One estimate says the bill would add $1.4 trillion to the U.S. economy over eight years, but without enough workers, efforts to strengthen roads and public transit could be set back.WASHINGTON — The infrastructure bill that President Biden hopes to get through Congress is supposed to create jobs and spur projects for companies like Anchor Construction, which specializes in repairing aging bridges and roadways in the nation’s capital.But with baby boomers aging out of the work force and not enough young people to replace them, John M. Irvine, a senior vice president at Anchor, worries there will not be enough workers to hire for all those new projects.“I’d be surprised if there’s any firm out there saying they’re ready for this,” said Mr. Irvine, whose company is hiring about a dozen skilled laborers, pipe layers and concrete finishers. If the bill passes Congress, he said, the company will most likely have to double the amount it is hiring.“We will have to staff up,” Mr. Irvine said. “And no, there are not enough skilled workers to fill these jobs.”Mr. Biden has hailed the $1 trillion infrastructure bill as a way to create millions of jobs, but as the country faces a dire shortage of skilled workers, researchers and economists say companies may find it difficult to fill all of those positions.The bill could generate new jobs in industries critical to keeping the nation’s public works systems running, such as construction, transportation and energy. S&P Global Ratings estimated that the bill would lift productivity and economic growth, adding $1.4 trillion to the U.S. economy over eight years. But if there is not enough labor to keep up with the demand, efforts to strengthen the nation’s highways, bridges and public transit could be set back.“Do we have the work force ready right now to take care of this? Absolutely not,” said Beverly Scott, the vice chair of the President’s National Infrastructure Advisory Council..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-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;}A recent U.S. Chamber of Commerce survey found that 88 percent of commercial construction contractors reported moderate-to-high levels of difficulty finding skilled workers, and more than a third had to turn down work because of labor deficiencies. The industry could face a shortage of at least two million workers through 2025, according to an estimate from Construction Industry Resources, a data firm in Kentucky.The pandemic has compounded labor shortages, as sectors like construction see a boom in home projects with more people teleworking and moving to the suburbs. Contractors have also faced a scarcity of supplies as prices soared for products like lumber and steel.Job openings in construction have picked up at a rapid clip after the sector lost more than one million jobs at the beginning of the pandemic. According to an Associated Builders and Contractors analysis, construction job openings have increased by 12 percent from prepandemic levels. But the sector is still down about 232,000 jobs from February 2020, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.The issue underscores a perennial challenge for the skilled trades. Not enough young people are entering the sectors, a concern for companies as older workers retire from construction, carpentry and plumbing jobs. And although many skilled trade positions have competitive wages and lower educational barriers to entry, newer generations tend to see a four-year college degree as the default path to success.Infrastructure workers tend to be older than average, raising concerns about workers retiring and leaving behind difficult-to-fill positions. The median age of construction and building inspectors, for instance, is 53, compared with 42.5 for all workers nationwide. Only 10 percent of infrastructure workers are under 25, while 13 percent of all U.S. workers are in that age group, according to a Brookings Institution analysis.“The challenge is, how are we going to replace — not just grow, but replace — many of the workers who are retiring or leaving jobs?” said Joseph W. Kane, a fellow at the Brookings Institution. “​A lot of people, especially younger people, just aren’t even aware that these jobs exist.”Community colleges, which offer a variety of vocational training programs, have suffered steep declines in enrollment. A recent estimate from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center found that community colleges were the hardest hit among all colleges, with enrollment declining by 9.5 percent this spring. More than 65 percent of the total undergraduate enrollment losses this spring occurred at community colleges, according to the report.John M. Irvine, a senior vice president at Anchor Construction, worries there will not be enough workers to hire for new projects.Alyssa Schukar for The New York TimesNicholas Kadavy, a third-generation mason who owns Nebraska Masonry in Lincoln, Neb., has seen his workload triple since April. He said his company had already scheduled out work until June 2022.He wants to hire more skilled masons to finish the projects sooner, but he can’t find enough people to fill the dozen positions he has open, even though he is willing to pay up to $50 an hour — twice what he offered before the pandemic. He checks his email daily, waiting for more applications to come in.“My biggest struggle is finding guys that want to work,” Mr. Kadavy said.Even when he does hear from applicants, Mr. Kadavy said, he is unable to hire many of them because they are not qualified enough. He was already seeing a shortage of skilled masons before the pandemic, he said, and he worries that the craft is “dying” because newer generations are not pursuing the field.The nation’s public transit systems would receive $39 billion under the infrastructure bill, allowing agencies to expand service and upgrade decades-old infrastructure. But transit agencies are dealing with worker shortages of their own, facing a dearth of bus drivers, subway operators and maintenance technicians.Metro Transit in Minneapolis is trying to hire about 100 bus drivers by the end of the year, said Brian Funk, the agency’s acting chief operating officer. The agency had originally aimed to hire 70 workers by the end of June, but it met only about half of that goal.Although he is optimistic that the agency will be able to fill those remaining positions after ramping up efforts to promote the openings, he said he was still wary about some workers choosing to leave.“We know that every day that goes by, there’s the potential that somebody else is looking at either retirement or another job,” Mr. Funk said.Some are optimistic that policymakers will be able to scale up work force development programs to keep up with the demand the infrastructure bill would create. Projects could take several months to get started, economists said, giving the country time to train workers who are not yet qualified.“These problems are not insurmountable,” said Nicole Smith, the chief economist at the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce. “Not having a sufficiently trained work force is something that can be addressed.”But others are worried that the bill does not do enough to draw more people into infrastructure fields, especially historically underrepresented groups like women and people of color. Although Mr. Biden originally proposed a $100 billion investment in work force development, that funding was left out in the latest version of the bipartisan infrastructure bill. The funding would have invested in job training for formerly incarcerated people and created millions of registered apprenticeships, among other things.Last week, the National Skills Coalition and more than 500 other organizations sent a letter to congressional leadership calling on it to include the funding in a separate reconciliation bill.“President Biden promised that economic recovery was going to be predicated on equity,” said Andy Van Kleunen, the chief executive of the National Skills Coalition. “Work force training has to be part of that answer.” More

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    Should the Feds Guarantee You a Job?

    #masthead-section-label, #masthead-bar-one { display: none }The Jobs CrisisCurrent Unemployment RateWhen the Checks Run OutThe Economy in 9 ChartsThe First 6 MonthsAdvertisementContinue reading the main storySupported byContinue reading the main storyShould the Feds Guarantee You a Job?Not long ago, the question was rarely asked. Now, politicians and economists of various stripes are willing to consider it.Credit…Tom HaugomatFeb. 18, 2021, 5:00 a.m. ETWhat should the president do about jobs?For 30 years, Democratic administrations have approached the question by focusing on the overall economy and trusting that a vibrant labor market would follow. But there is a growing feeling among Democrats — along with many mainstream economists — that the market alone cannot give workers a square deal.So after a health crisis that has destroyed millions of jobs, a summer of urban protest that drew attention to the deprivation of Black communities, and another presidential election that exposed deep economic and social divides, some policymakers are reconsidering a policy tool not deployed since the Great Depression: to have the federal government provide jobs directly to anyone who wants one.On the surface, the politics seem as stuck as ever. Senator Cory Booker, the New Jersey Democrat, introduced bills in 2018 and 2019 to set up pilot programs in 15 cities and regions that would offer training and a guaranteed job to all who sought one, at federal expense. Both efforts failed.And after progressive Democrats in Congress proposed a federal jobs program as part of their Green New Deal in 2019, Representative Liz Cheney of Wyoming, the No. 3 House Republican, asked, “Are you willing to give the government and some faceless bureaucrats who sit in Washington, D.C., the authority to make those choices for your life?”But when it comes to government intervention in the economy, the political parameters have shifted. A system that balked at passing a $1 trillion stimulus after the financial crisis of 2008 had no problem passing a $2.2 trillion rescue last March, and $900 billion more in December. President Biden is pushing to supplement that with a $1.9 trillion package.“The bounds of policy discourse widened quite a bit as a consequence of the pandemic,” said Michael R. Strain, an economist at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank.On the left, there is a sense of opportunity to experiment with the unorthodox. “A job guarantee per se may not be necessary or politically feasible,” said Lawrence Katz, a Harvard professor who was the Labor Department’s chief economist in the Clinton administration. “But I would love to see more experimentation.”And Americans seem willing to consider the idea. In November, the Carnegie Corporation commissioned a Gallup survey on attitudes about government intervention to provide work opportunities to people who lost their jobs during the Covid-19 pandemic. It found that 93 percent of respondents thought this was a good idea, including 87 percent of Republicans.Even when the pollsters put a hypothetical price tag on the effort— $200 billion or more — almost nine out of 10 respondents said the benefits outweighed the cost. And hefty majorities — of Democrats and Republicans — also preferred government jobs to more generous unemployment benefits.The question is, would the Biden administration embrace a policy not deployed since the New Deal?“We tried to set the bar at a federal job guarantee,” said Darrick Hamilton, an economics professor at the New School for Social Research. He was among advisers to Senator Bernie Sanders who worked with Mr. Biden’s representatives before the November election to devise an economic strategy the Democratic Party could unite behind. “It was the cornerstone of what we brought in.”On paper, at least, a job guarantee would drastically moderate recessions, as the government mopped up workers displaced by an economic downturn. But unlike President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s programs to provide jobs to millions displaced by the Great Depression, the idea now is not just to address joblessness, but to improve jobs even in good times.If the federal government offered jobs at $15 an hour plus health insurance, it would force private employers who wanted to hang on to their work force to pay at least as much. A federal job guarantee “sets minimum standards for work,” Dr. Hamilton said.The president does not seem ready to go all the way. “We suspected we weren’t going to get there,” Dr. Hamilton said.Mr. Biden’s recovery plan includes efforts to train a cohort of new public health workers, and to fund the hiring of 100,000 full-time workers by public health departments. His commitment to expand access to child care and elder care comes paired with a promise to create good, well-paid jobs in caregiving occupations. And he has pledged — in ways not yet translated into programs — to foster the creation of 10 million quality jobs in clean energy.“There are a number of proposals to pair programs for people to be at work with the needs of the nation,” said Heather Boushey, a member of Mr. Biden’s Council of Economic Advisers.And yet the idea of a broad job guarantee is still an innovation too far. For starters, it would be expensive.Dr. Hamilton and William A. Darity Jr. of Duke University, who favor a federal job guarantee, published a 2018 study in which they sought to estimate the cost. Based on 2016 employment figures, and assuming an average cost per job of $55,820, including benefits, they found it would cost $654 billion to $2.1 trillion a year, which would be offset to some extent by higher economic output and tax revenue, and savings on other assistance programs like food stamps and unemployment insurance.And the prospect of a large-scale government intervention in the labor market raises thorny questions.First, there’s determining the work the government could offer to fulfill a job guarantee. Health care and infrastructure projects require workers with particular skills, as do high-quality elder care and child care. Jobs, say, in park maintenance or as teaching aides could encroach on what local governments already do.What’s more, the availability of federal jobs would drastically change the labor equation for low-wage employers like McDonald’s or Walmart. Dr. Strain argues that a universal federal guarantee of a job that paid $15 an hour plus health benefits would “destroy the labor market.”Some wealthy countries have job guarantees for young adults. Since 2013, the European Union has had a program to ensure that everyone under 25 gets training or a job. But those programs are built on subsidizing private employment, not offering government jobs.Many European countries have also subsidized private payrolls during the pandemic, allowing employers to cut hours instead of laying off workers.The United States has a limited wage-subsidy program, the Work Opportunity Tax Credit, passed in 1996. It extends a credit of up to $9,600 for employers who hire workers from certain categories, like food-stamp recipients, veterans or felons.Developing countries have tried job guarantees, which the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development said in 2018 “go beyond the provision of income and, by providing a job, help individuals to (re)connect with the labor market, build self-esteem, as well as develop skills and competencies.” But in more advanced economies, the report added, “past experience with public-sector programs has shown that they have negligible effects on the post-program outcomes of participants.”A 2017 overview of research on the effectiveness of labor market policies — by David Card of the University of California, Berkeley; Jochen Kluve of Humboldt University in Berlin; and Andrea Weber at Vienna University — concluded that programs that improve workers’ skills do best, while “public-sector employment subsidies tend to have small or even negative average impacts” for workers. For one, private employers seem not to value the experience workers gain on the government’s payroll.Another economist, David Neumark of the University of California, Irvine, is skeptical that new policies are needed to ensure a decent living for workers. Programs like the earned-income tax credit, which supplements the earnings of low-wage workers, just need to be made more generous, he said.“I’m not sure we are missing the tools,” he said. “Rather, we have been too stingy with the tools we have.”Dr. Neumark notes that the idea of government intervention to help working Americans is gaining traction even on the political right. “Republicans are at least talking more about the fact that they need to deliver some goods for low-income people,” he said. “Maybe there is space to agree on some stuff.”While opposed to a broad guarantee, Dr. Strain of the American Enterprise Institute sees room for new efforts. “If the question is ‘Do we need more aggressive labor market policies to increase opportunities for people?’ the answer is yes,” he said. “I think of it more as a moral imperative than from an economic perspective.”Jack Begg More