U.S. job growth slows sharply in sign of hiring struggles

“the economic rebound has been so fast that many businesses, particularly in the hard-hit hospitality sector — which includes restaurants, bars and hotels — have been caught flat-footed and unable to fill all their job openings. Some unemployed people have also been reluctant to look for work because they fear catching the virus.

Others have entered new occupations rather than return to their old jobs. And many women, especially working mothers, have had to leave the workforce to care for children.

Most of the hiring so far represents a bounce-back after tens of millions of positions were lost when the pandemic flattened the economy 14 months ago. The economy remains more than 8 million jobs short of its pre-pandemic level.

The Biden administration’s $1.9 trillion rescue package, approved in early March, has helped maintain Americans’ incomes and purchasing power, much more so than in previous recessions. The economy expanded at a vigorous 6.4% annual rate in the first three months of the year. That pace could accelerate to as high as 13% in the April-June quarter, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta.

One government report last week showed that wages and benefits rose at a solid pace in the first quarter, suggesting that some companies are having to pay more to attract and keep employees. In fact, the number of open jobs is now significantly above pre-pandemic levels, though the size of the labor force — the number of Americans either working or looking for work — is still smaller by about 4 million people.

In addition, the recovery remains sharply uneven: Most college-educated and white collar employees have been able to work from home over the past year. Many have not only built up savings but have also expanded their wealth as a result of rising home values and a record-setting stock market.

By contrast, job cuts have fallen heavily on low-wage workers, racial minorities and people without college educations. In addition, many women, especially working mothers, have had to leave the workforce to care for children.”

A major battle over free speech on social media is playing out in India during the pandemic

“As the coronavirus pandemic rages in India, claiming thousands of lives, many Indians are turning to social media to demand that the government handle the public health crisis better. And now, the government is silencing these critics in its latest threat to the future of free speech on the internet in the world’s second-most populous country.

In recent weeks, the Indian government has requested that companies like Twitter take down content that it says contains misinformation about the Covid-19 pandemic. But critics say that India’s political leadership under Prime Minister Narendra Modi is using the premise of misinformation to overreach and suppress criticism of the administration’s handling of the pandemic.”

“under the Modi administration of the past several years, the country has expanded its internet regulation laws, giving it more power to censor and surveil its citizens online. The government has several levers to pressure US-based tech companies into compliance: It could arrest Facebook and Twitter staff in India if their employers don’t follow orders. Even further, India could yank Twitter or Facebook off the local internet in India entirely, as it recently did with TikTok and several major Chinese apps in June. And the government resorted to effectively shutting down the internet in Kashmir in February 2020 when it wanted to quiet political dissent in the region.”

“Facebook confirmed that it temporarily blocked posts with a #ResignModi hashtag in India, but it later said it was a mistake because of content associated with the hashtag that violated its policies. Facebook has since restored access to the hashtag.

Facebook declined to comment on how many or what takedown requests it has received from the Indian government in recent weeks. A source familiar with the company said Facebook only took down a small portion of the total requests it received.”

“Recode reviewed the more than 50 tweets that Twitter blocked or deleted at the request of the Indian government in recent weeks. While some could be considered misleading — including one viral image showing devastation in India supposedly related to the pandemic which Indian fact-checker AltNews reported to be outdated — it wasn’t clear what was misleading about several other posts, which appeared to be straightforward news and political commentary.”

Birx rightly said most US Covid-19 deaths were preventable. But she won’t acknowledge her complicity.

““I look at it this way: The first time, we have an excuse. There were about 100,000 deaths that came from that original surge,” Birx told CNN chief medical correspondent Sanjay Gupta. “All of the rest of them, in my mind, could have been mitigated or decreased substantially.”

In sum, Birx suggested that thousands of American deaths were all but unavoidable as a result of the initial surge of the coronavirus in February and March of last year. But she said better adherence to public health guidelines — including mask-wearing and social distancing — could’ve saved the lives of many of the 450,000 people (and counting) in the US who have died since then.”

“While Birx’s suggestion that as many as 100,000 deaths were too difficult to prevent is arguable — a better-prepared federal government could have limited spread and saved lives by building out a testing infrastructure much more quickly than the one overseen by Trump”

3 reasons most public masking is still important — even if you’re vaccinated

“We know the vaccines authorized in the US are extremely effective and safe — but not perfect — at preventing Covid-19 illness. Newer data suggests they are also very good (though also not perfect) at keeping people from getting infected, thus likely drastically reducing the chances they could spread it to others.

Even with the small risks of these “breakthrough infections,” there are much more pressing reasons to keep masking in public — especially indoors in places like gyms, stores, and airports — and, according to the new CDC guidance, in most outdoor gatherings as well. Masking remains one of the least intrusive interventions we can take to keep putting the brakes on Covid-19 spread.

From variant wild cards to protecting unvaccinated kids, the reasons we should keep masking in crowded public spaces at least into the summer are strong. We talked to experts to better understand them and to get a glimpse of when we might finally be able to leave our masks at home.”

“The majority of people in the US are still susceptible to infection from Covid-19. “There are folks around us who will not or cannot get the vaccine, and we have to keep thinking, as a community, of ways to protect them, too,””

“a subset of people — roughly 3 percent in the US — have compromised immune systems that might do a poor job of mounting a robust response to the vaccine, leaving them vulnerable to infection even after getting shots.

There are also some people who aren’t able to wear masks to protect themselves in public. This includes some adults and children with disabilities or rare health conditions, as well as babies and toddlers”

“Although the vaccines authorized for use in the US appear to be very effective against the variants that are circulating, it is possible future strains will be better at evading vaccine protection (as the B.1.351 variant, first detected in South Africa, is against the AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine). Vaccine companies are working to keep pace with variants, testing their vaccines against them and formulating potential boosters. But, says Guthrie, “it may be a bit of a game of whack-a-mole as new variants come up.””

““These variants — especially ones that have mutations that make them more transmissible — can pop up and then spread quite quickly,” Guthrie says. “If you combine that with a variant that could evade the current vaccines, you’re not going to get a lot of advance warning.” Which means a widespread outbreak, including some people who had already gotten their shots, could get going before we were able to contain it.

Masking can not only prevent a new variant from spreading but could also help prevent new variants from emerging, as the more people the virus infects, the greater the opportunity it has to mutate.”

“Even if we can’t drop our masks indoors for a little while longer, outdoors is a different story. The rates of public outdoor transmission of Covid-19 are incredibly low, and most known cases of outdoor infection spread have occurred from long conversations, yelling, or exercising together.”

What the pandemic taught us about America’s working class

“April, who works at a pet shop in Minneapolis, makes $11.75 an hour. She loves her job, and it pays better than the federal minimum wage, but not by much. She and her partner get by. They still don’t make enough money to afford a car, but they can manage rent, their phones, and internet, and support their 12-year-old daughter.

Her partner lost his job as a body piercer when the pandemic hit. He went on unemployment insurance for a while, and he and April finally found health insurance through a public assistance program. It was more consistent income than they’d seen in quite some time. “We were able to get a little bit of extra money into our accounts for once. We weren’t going paycheck to paycheck for a while. That was wonderful,” April said. “I think a ton of people were finally out of the poverty level with that money.” Her partner has now found a different job that allows him to work from home.

Life is more or less fine, but April said it would be better if they made more. “We would be able to have a house like a normal family,” she added.

April and her family’s situation is quite normal: In 2019, about 39 million people made less than $15 an hour. When the pandemic hit, that number actually fell — not because people were making more but because low-wage workers became unemployed.”

Why Johnson & Johnson shots were paused — and why that’s so confusing

“Both the Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended a pause in distributing the vaccine after six reported cases of cerebral venous sinus thrombosis (CVST). These clots block blood flowing out of the brain and can quickly turn deadly.

The complications were found in women between the ages of 18 and 48, and they arose between six and 13 days after receiving the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. “Of the clots seen in the United States, one case was fatal, and one patient is in critical condition,” said Peter Marks, the head of the FDA’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research, during a Tuesday press conference.”

“For regulators, the episode highlights the tricky challenge of balancing caution against an urgent need for a vaccine in a still-raging pandemic. And as they investigate the problem, they also have to try to maintain public confidence in the vaccination program. The pause helps show that regulators are taking potential problems seriously, but if they botch the messaging, that could make people less likely to get vaccinated.”

“there are several factors that made regulators pay close attention to the recent cases following vaccinations with the Johnson & Johnson shot. Marks explained that patients with these clots also had thrombocytopenia, a condition where platelets in the blood drop to very low levels, leading to bleeding and bruising. The combination of blood clots and low platelets means that patients cannot receive conventional blood clot therapies like heparin, a blood thinner. That’s why health officials want to wait to resume vaccinations with the Johnson & Johnson vaccine until they can investigate the concern and come up with new guidelines if necessary.

Another factor is that these cases occurred in younger women, who normally don’t face a high risk of these types of clots.”

“when vaccines make the jump from thousands of carefully screened trial participants to millions of people in the general population, rare problems — the one-in-a-million complications — start to emerge.”

“Regulators could, then, take a similar approach with the Johnson & Johnson shot to the one they used for allergies and the mRNA vaccines, adding a screening criterion for people at highest risk of these blood clots before they receive the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.”

How COVID-19 Ended Flu Season Before It Started

“Although the U.S. continues to struggle with COVID-19, it has apparently beaten the flu into submission. Since the end of September, the combined total of positive flu cases identified by both public health and clinical labs is fewer than 1,500. There are high schools with more people in them. The phenomenon is not only in the United States — worldwide, rates of influenza are nearly off-the-charts low. When you line multiple years up on the same graph, it can even look like there are no cases of flu this year. That’s how out of step we are with the norm.”

“This massive shift, experts told me, is likely tied to the precautions we’ve taken to avoid catching COVID-19: mask-wearing, social distancing, obsessive cleaning of surfaces (which doesn’t do much to prevent COVID-19 but probably is preventing flu) and even keeping kids out of the classroom. “The major vector for influenza is children,” said David Topham, co-director of the New York Influenza Center of Excellence in Rochester. If they don’t get to breathe on each other like normal, they also can’t transmit as much flu. And that trick still works, even if flu isn’t the reason we’re keeping them distanced.
Influenza hasn’t been our target with all these interventions, but we’ve certainly given it a good pummelling. And that’s because flu just isn’t as transmissible as COVID-19.”

“Our strategies are working on COVID-19, as well. Just not as dramatically, because it was more likely to spread to more people to begin with.”

“Significantly reduced international travel has probably played a role in that, Brammer said. Usually, our flu season follows that of the Southern Hemisphere. But if there wasn’t much of one there, and there wasn’t much travel to transport the virus — the flu has no way to travel.”

“scientists don’t know for certain what’s happening because the trouble with a really, really minuscule flu season is that it doesn’t leave you enough cases to make solid statistical inferences. We don’t know, for example, much about what happens when you get both the flu and COVID-19, because there haven’t been enough cases of it to do good research. We don’t really know how this bottleneck is affecting which strains of flu are circulating for the same reason. We don’t even know, for certain, that it is the masks and distancing that are squashing the flu because there are so few flu cases left to look at.”