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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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    Women Could Fill Truck Driver Jobs. Companies Won’t Let Them.

    Three women filed a discrimination complaint against a trucking company over its same-sex training policy, which they say prevented them from being hired.The trucking industry has complained for years that there is a dire shortage of workers willing to drive big rigs. But some women say many trucking companies have made it effectively impossible for them to get those jobs.Trucking companies often refuse to hire women if the businesses do not have women available to train them. And because fewer than 5 percent of truck drivers in the United States are women, there are few female trainers to go around.The same-sex training policies are common across the industry, truckers and legal experts say, even though a federal judge ruled in 2014 that it was unlawful for a trucking company to require that female job candidates be paired only with female trainers.Ashli Streeter of Killeen, Texas, said she had borrowed $7,000 to attend a truck driving school and earn her commercial driving license in hopes of landing a job that would pay more than the warehouse work she had done. But she said Stevens Transport, a Dallas-based company, had told her that she couldn’t be hired because the business had no women to train her. Other trucking companies turned her down for the same reason.“I got licensed, and I clearly could drive,” Ms. Streeter said. “It was disheartening.”Ms. Streeter and two other women filed a complaint against Stevens Transport with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on Thursday, contending that the company’s same-sex training policy unfairly denied them driving jobs. The commission investigates allegations made against employers, and, if it determines a violation has occurred, it may bring its own lawsuit. The commission had brought the lawsuit that resulted in the 2014 federal court decision against similar policies at another trucking company, Prime.Critics of the industry said the persistence of same-sex training nearly a decade after that ruling, which did not set national legal precedent, was evidence that trucking companies had not done enough to hire women who could help solve their labor woes.“It’s frustrating to see that we have not evolved at all,” said Desiree Wood, a trucker who is the president and founder of Real Women in Trucking, a nonprofit.Ms. Wood’s group is joining the three women in their E.E.O.C. complaint against Stevens, which was filed by Peter Romer-Friedman, a labor lawyer in Washington, and the National Women’s Law Center.Companies that insist on using women to train female applicants generally do so because they want to avoid claims of sexual harassment. Trainers typically spend weeks alone with trainees on the road, where the two often have to sleep in the same cab.Critics of same-sex training acknowledge that sexual harassment is a problem, but they say trucking companies should address it with better vetting and anti-harassment programs. Employers could reduce the risk of harassment by paying for trainees to sleep in a hotel room, which some companies already do.Women made up 4.8 percent of the 1.37 million truck drivers in the United States in 2021, according to the most recent government statistics, up from 4 percent a decade earlier.Long-haul truck driving can be a demanding job. Drivers are away from home for days. Yet some women say they are attracted to it because it can pay around $50,000 a year, with experienced drivers making a lot more. Truck driving generally pays more than many other jobs that don’t require a college degree, including those in retail stores, warehouses or child care centers.Women made up 4.8 percent of truck drivers in 2021, according to the most recent government statistics.Mikayla Whitmore for The New York TimesThe infrastructure act of 2021 required the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration to set up an advisory board to support women pursuing trucking careers and identify practices that keep women out of the profession.Robin Hutcheson, the administrator of the agency, said requiring same-sex training would appear to be a barrier to entry. “If that is happening, that would be something that we would want to take a look at,” she said in an interview.Ms. Streeter, a mother of three, said she had applied to Stevens because it hired people straight out of trucking school. She told Stevens representatives that she was willing to be trained by a man, but to no avail.Bruce Dean, general counsel at Stevens, denied the allegations in the suit. “The fundamental premise in the charge — that Stevens Transport Inc. only allows women trainers to train women trainees — is false,” he said in a statement, adding that the company “has had a cross-gender training program, where both men and women trainers train female trainees, for decades.”Some legal experts said that, although same-sex training was ruled unlawful in only one federal court, trucking companies would struggle to defend such policies before other judges. Under federal employment discrimination law, employers can seek special legal exemptions to treat women differently from men, but courts have granted them very rarely.“Basically, what the law says is that a company needs to be able to walk and chew gum at the same time,” said Deborah Brake, a professor at the University of Pittsburgh who specializes in employment and gender law. “They need to be able to give women equal employment opportunities and prevent and remedy sexual harassment.”Ms. Streeter said she had made meager earnings from infrequent truck driving gigs while hoping to get a position at Stevens. Later this month, she will become a driver in the trucking fleet of a large retailer.Kim Howard, one of the other women who filed the E.E.O.C. complaint against Stevens, said she was attracted to truck driving by the prospect of a steady wage after working for decades as an actor in New York.“It was very much a blow,” she said of being rejected because of the training policy. “I honestly don’t know how I financially made it through.”Ms. Howard, who is now employed at another trucking company, said she had worked briefly at a company where she was trained by two men who treated her well. “It’s quite possible for a woman to be trained by a man, and a man to be a professional about what the job is,” she said.Other female drivers said they had been mistreated by male trainers who could be relentlessly dismissive and sometimes refused to teach them important skills, like reversing a truck with a large trailer attached.Rowan Kannard, a truck driver from Wisconsin who is not involved in the complaint against Stevens, said a male trainer had spent little time training her on a run to California in 2019.At a truck stop where she felt unsafe, Ms. Kannard said, the trainer demanded that she leave the cab — and then locked her out. She asked to stop the training and was flown back to Wisconsin. Yet she said she did not believe that same-sex training for women was necessary. “Some of these men that are training, they should probably go through a course.”Desiree Wood, the president of Real Women in Trucking, says the trucking industry has not evolved to hire and train more women.Mikayla Whitmore for The New York TimesMs. Wood, of Real Women in Trucking, said trucking companies’ training policies were misguided for another reason — there is no guarantee that a woman will treat another woman better than a male trainer. She said a female trainer had once hurled racist abuse at her and told her to drive dangerously.“I’m Mexican — she hated Mexicans and wanted to tell me all about it the whole time I was on the truck,” Ms. Wood said, “She screamed at me to speed in zones where it was not safe.”Still, some women support same-sex training policies.Ellen Voie, who founded the nonprofit Women in Trucking, said truck driving should be treated differently from other professions because trainers and trainees spent so much time together in close quarters.“I do not know of any other mode of transportation that confines men and women in an area that has sleeping quarters,” Ms. Voie said.Lawyers for Prime, the company that lost the E.E.O.C. suit in 2014 challenging its same-sex training policy, called Ms. Voie as an expert witness to defend the practice. In her testimony, she contended that women who were passed over by companies that didn’t have female trainers available could have found work at other trucking companies. She still believes that.But Ms. Voie added that trucking companies also needed to do more to improve training for women, including placing cameras in cabs to monitor bad behavior and paying for hotel rooms so trainers and trainees can sleep separately.Steve Rush, who recently sold his New Jersey trucking company, stopped using sleeper cabs over a decade ago, sending drivers to hotels. He said fewer of his drivers quit compared with the rest of the industry, as a result.“What woman in her right mind wants to go out and learn how to drive a truck and have to jump into the sleeper that some guy’s just crawled out of,” he said.Ben Casselman More

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    Ex-Prisoners Face Headwinds as Job Seekers, Even as Openings Abound

    An estimated 60 percent of those leaving prison are unemployed a year later. But after a push for “second-chance hiring,” some programs show promise.The U.S. unemployment rate is hovering near lows unseen since the 1960s. A few months ago, there were roughly two job openings for every unemployed person in the country. Many standard economic models suggest that almost everyone who wants a job has a job.Yet the broad group of Americans with records of imprisonment or arrests — a population disproportionately male and Black — have remarkably high jobless rates. Over 60 percent of those leaving prison are unemployed a year later, seeking work but not finding it.That harsh reality has endured even as the social upheaval after the murder of George Floyd in 2020 gave a boost to a “second-chance hiring” movement in corporate America aimed at hiring candidates with criminal records. And the gap exists even as unemployment for minority groups overall is near record lows.Many states have “ban the box” laws barring initial job applications from asking if candidates have a criminal history. But a prison record can block progress after interviews or background checks — especially for convictions more serious than nonviolent drug offenses, which have undergone a more sympathetic public reappraisal in recent years.For economic policymakers, a persistent demand for labor paired with a persistent lack of work for many former prisoners presents an awkward conundrum: A wide swath of citizens have re-entered society — after a quadrupling of the U.S. incarceration rate over 40 years — but the nation’s economic engine is not sure what to with them.“These are people that are trying to compete in the legal labor market,” said Shawn D. Bushway, an economist and criminologist at the RAND Corporation, who estimates that 64 percent of unemployed men have been arrested and that 46 percent have been convicted. “You can’t say, ‘Well, these people are just lazy’ or ‘These people really don’t really want to work.’”In a research paper, Mr. Bushway and his co-authors found that when former prisoners do land a job, “they earn significantly less than their counterparts without criminal history records, making the middle class ever less reachable for unemployed men” in this cohort.One challenge is a longstanding presumption that people with criminal records are more likely to be difficult, untrustworthy or unreliable employees. DeAnna Hoskins, the president of JustLeadershipUSA, a nonprofit group focused on decreasing incarceration, said she challenged that concern as overblown. Moreover, she said, locking former prisoners out of the job market can foster “survival crime” by people looking to make ends meet.One way shown to stem recidivism — a relapse into criminal behavior — is deepening investments in prison education so former prisoners re-enter society with more demonstrable, valuable skills.According to a RAND analysis, incarcerated people who take part in education programs are 43 percent less likely than others to be incarcerated again, and for every dollar spent on prison education, the government saves $4 to $5 in reimprisonment costs.Last year, a chapter of the White House Council of Economic Advisers’ Economic Report of the President was dedicated, in part, to “substantial evidence of labor force discrimination against formerly incarcerated people.” The Biden administration announced that the Justice and Labor Departments would devote $145 million over two years to job training and re-entry services for federal prisoners.Mr. Bushway pointed to another approach: broader government-sponsored jobs programs for those leaving incarceration. Such programs existed more widely at the federal level before the tough-on-crime movement of the 1980s, providing incentives like wage subsidies for businesses hiring workers with criminal records.But Mr. Bushway and Ms. Hoskins said any consequential changes were likely to need support from and coordination with states and cities. Some small but ambitious efforts are underway.Training and CounselingJabarre Jarrett is a full-time web developer for Persevere, a nonprofit group, and hopes to build enough experience to land a more senior role in the private sector.Whitten Sabbatini for The New York TimesIn May 2016, Jabarre Jarrett of Ripley, Tenn., a small town about 15 miles east of the Mississippi River, got a call from his sister. She told Mr. Jarrett, then 27, that her boyfriend had assaulted her. Frustrated and angry, Mr. Jarrett drove to see her. A verbal altercation with the man, who was armed, turned physical, and Mr. Jarrett, also armed, fatally shot him.Mr. Jarrett pleaded guilty to a manslaughter charge and was given a 12-year sentence. Released in 2021 after his term was reduced for good conduct, he found that he was still paying for his crime, in a literal sense.Housing was hard to get. Mr. Jarrett owed child support. And despite a vibrant labor market, he struggled to piece together a living, finding employers hesitant to offer him full-time work that paid enough to cover his bills.“One night somebody from my past called me, man, and they offered me an opportunity to get back in the game,” he said — with options like “running scams, selling drugs, you name it.”One reason he resisted, Mr. Jarrett said, was his decision a few weeks earlier to sign up for a program called Persevere, out of curiosity.Persevere, a nonprofit group funded by federal grants, private donations and state partnerships, focuses on halting recidivism in part through technical job training, offering software development courses to those recently freed from prison and those within three years of release. It pairs that effort with “wraparound services” — including mentorship, transportation, temporary housing and access to basic necessities — to address financial and mental health needs.For Mr. Jarrett, that network helped solidify a life change. When he got off the phone call with the old friend, he called a mental health counselor at Persevere.“I said, ‘Man, is this real?’” he recalled. “I told him, ‘I got child support, I just lost another job, and somebody offered me an opportunity to make money right now, and I want to turn it down so bad, but I don’t have no hope.’” The counselor talked him through the moment and discussed less risky ways to get through the next months.In September, after his yearlong training period, Mr. Jarrett became a full-time web developer for Persevere itself, making about $55,000 a year — a stroke of luck, he said, until he builds enough experience for a more senior role at a private-sector employer.Persevere is relatively small (active in six states) and rare in its design. Yet its program claims extraordinary success compared with conventional approaches.By many measures, over 60 percent of formerly incarcerated people are arrested or convicted again. Executives at Persevere report recidivism in the single digits among participants who complete its program, with 93 percent placed in jobs and a 85 percent retention rate, defined as still working a year later.“We’re working with regular people who made a very big mistake, so anything that I can do to help them live a fruitful, peaceful, good life is what I want to do,” said Julie Landers, a program manager at Persevere in the Atlanta area.If neither employers nor governments “roll the dice” on the millions sentenced for serious crimes, Ms. Landers argued, “we’re going to get what we’ve always gotten” — cycles of poverty and criminality — “and that’s the definition of insanity.”Pushing for ChangeDant’e Cottingham works full time for EX-incarcerated People Organizing, lobbying local businesses in Wisconsin to warm up to second-chance hiring.Akilah Townsend for The New York TimesDant’e Cottingham got a life sentence at 17 for first-degree intentional homicide in the killing of another man and served 27 years. While in prison, he completed a paralegal program. As a job seeker afterward, he battled the stigma of a criminal record — an obstacle he is trying to help others overcome.While working at a couple of minimum-wage restaurant jobs in Wisconsin after his release last year, he volunteered as an organizer for EXPO — EX-incarcerated People Organizing — a nonprofit group, mainly funded by grants and donations, that aims to “restore formerly incarcerated people to full participation in the life of our communities.”Now he works full time for the group, meeting with local businesses to persuade them to take on people with criminal records. He also works for another group, Project WisHope, as a peer support specialist, using his experience to counsel currently and formerly incarcerated people.It can still feel like a minor victory “just getting somebody an interview,” Mr. Cottingham said, with only two or three companies typically showing preliminary interest in anyone with a serious record.“I run into some doors, but I keep talking, I keep trying, I keep setting up meetings to have the discussion,” he said. “It’s not easy, though.”Ed Hennings, who started a Milwaukee-based trucking company in 2016, sees things from two perspectives: as a formerly imprisoned person and as an employer.Mr. Hennings served 20 years in prison for reckless homicide in a confrontation he and his uncle had with another man. Even though he mostly hires formerly incarcerated men — at least 20 so far — he candidly tells some candidates that he has limited “wiggle room to decipher whether you changed or not.” Still, Mr. Hennings, 51, is quick to add that he has been frustrated by employers that use those circumstances as a blanket excuse.“I understand that it takes a little more work to try to decipher all of that, but I know from hiring people myself that you just have to be on your judgment game,” he said. “There are some people that come home that are just not ready to change — true enough — but there’s a large portion that are ready to change, given the opportunity.”In addition to greater educational opportunities before release, he thinks giving employers incentives like subsidies to do what they otherwise would not may be among the few solutions that stick, even though it is a tough political hurdle.“It’s hard for them not to look at you a certain way and still hard for them to get over that stigma,” Mr. Hennings said. “And that’s part of the conditioning and culture of American society.” More

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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