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Number of People Who Left Their Jobs Voluntarily by Month

Employers are still struggling to fill millions of open jobs — and to hold onto the workers they already have.

More than 4.4 million workers quit their jobs voluntarily in September, the Labor Department said Friday. That was up from 4.3 million in August and was the most in the two decades the government has been keeping track. Nearly a million workers quit their jobs in leisure and hospitality businesses alone, reflecting the steep competition for workers there as the industry rebuilds from last year’s pandemic-induced shutdowns.

There were 10.4 million job openings in the United States at the end of September, down slightly from August but still extraordinarily high by historical standards.

Actual hiring has been slower to rebound, however, and was essentially flat in September, as businesses struggled to attract candidates. There were roughly 75 unemployed workers for every 100 job openings in September, the lowest ratio on record. Separate data released last week by the Labor Department showed that job growth rebounded in October but that the labor force barely grew, suggesting that employers’ hiring challenges are continuing.

“You’re essentially seeing demand continuing to increase without an offsetting increase in talent,” Ryan Sutton, a district director for Robert Half International, a staffing firm. “Until some new talent comes in, until we get employees who are on the sidelines back into the market, it’s very likely this is going to continue.”

Credit…Jeenah Moon for The New York Times

Economists say a number of factors explain workers’ slow return. The pandemic is continuing to disrupt child care, making it hard for some parents to work; other workers are worried about contracting the virus or spreading it to high-risk family members. Many Americans have also built up their savings during the pandemic, allowing them to be choosier about jobs.

The labor crunch is giving workers the upper hand in negotiations. Wages have risen sharply in recent months, particularly in service jobs, although in other industries pay is lagging the pace of inflation.

The recent rise in the number of workers quitting suggests that many are taking advantage of their leverage to take better-paying jobs, or to look for them. At the same time, understaffing in many businesses may be putting stress on remaining workers, leading even more people to leave their jobs.

“We are seeing big pickups in quits in the industries that are having the hardest time hiring right now,” said Nick Bunker, director of economic research for the job site Indeed.

Kaylie Sweeting worked as a bartender in Short Hills, N.J., through most of the pandemic, despite concerns about interacting with unmasked customers and frustration about low wages. But when the restaurant pressured a colleague to come to work sick this summer, Ms. Sweeting quit.

“The job was absolutely no longer worth it,” she said. “I was hurt that a company that I gave my time to did not seem to prioritize me or my safety.”

So Ms. Sweeting, 23, and her partner, a cook, decided to take the money they had saved to buy a house and open their own restaurant instead. They recently signed a lease and are beginning renovations, with plans to open a vegan restaurant early next year. They are trying to apply the lessons they have learned as employees, promising good wages, paid time off and other basic benefits that restaurant jobs have often failed to provide.

“I genuinely love the industry,” Ms. Sweeting said. “I just don’t love the way it’s managed. I feel like the only way to change it is to implement the change yourself.”

Credit…Mario Tama/Getty Images

Americans have turned decidedly gloomy about their financial outlook, and inflation is the main cause of the anxiety, according to a survey released Friday.

The University of Michigan reported that its survey of consumer sentiment fell to its lowest level in a decade in early November. It attributed the decline to “the growing belief among consumers that no effective policies have yet been developed to reduce the damage from surging inflation.”

Hampered by supply chain disruptions and labor shortages in some industries, the economy has been straining under rising prices. The government this week reported the steepest inflation in 31 years, with a 6.2 percent increase in prices in October from a year earlier.

In the Michigan survey, “rising prices for homes, vehicles and durables were reported more frequently than any other time in more than half a century.” But inflation is hardly limited to big-ticket purchases — food items like meat are getting more expensive, driving up the cost of preparing Thanksgiving meals.

Many policymakers have assumed that higher inflation would be transitory, a result of the uneven reopening of the economy after widespread shutdowns because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Investors, too, have shrugged off the threat of inflation, even though it can erode the value of financial assets. Bond yields, which move higher in times of inflation, remain low by historical standards. And the stock market is near record highs, despite the uptick in prices lately.

But the Michigan survey is a sign that consumers are beginning to feel pinched. The survey reflected a downturn in assessments of both current conditions and economic prospects.

“Consumers are angry about inflation,” said Diane Swonk, chief economist at the accounting firm Grant Thornton in Chicago.

“Inflation will get worse before it gets better,” Ms. Swonk said. “It could moderate by the spring of 2022, and it does affect how people feel about the economy.”

But consumers in the United States continue to spend at robust levels, she said, and the odds look good for a robust holiday shopping season.

Credit…Mike Blake/Reuters

Johnson & Johnson said on Friday that it would break itself into two publicly traded companies, in the latest instance of corporate giants shrinking themselves to please shareholders.

The 135-year-old company, which employs more than 136,000 people, announced that it planned to spin off its consumer-products division — home to Tylenol, Band-Aid, Neutrogena beauty products and more — into a separate business.

That would leave J.&J. with its pharmaceutical and medical devices division, which includes its coronavirus vaccine manufacturing and boasts faster-growing sales and higher margins.

Even as stand-alone businesses, the J.&J. companies will be enormous. The medical division is expected to report $77 billion in revenue this year. And the consumer operations — which trace their roots to the company’s founding in 1886 as a maker of surgical dressings — are predicted to bring in $15 billion in sales.

It is a route that others in the health care industry have followed. In 2014, Merck sold its consumer business to Bayer for $14.2 billion. And in 2019, Pfizer and GlaxoSmithKline agreed to merge their consumer divisions to focus on higher-growth pharmaceutical operations, with the companies planning to spin off that joint venture next year.

J.&J. said it planned to complete the separation, which is expected to be tax-free to its shareholders, in 18 to 24 months.

“Throughout our storied history, Johnson & Johnson has demonstrated that we can deliver results that benefit all our stakeholders, and we must continually be evolving our business to provide value today, tomorrow and in the decades ahead,” Alex Gorsky, the outgoing chief executive, said in a statement.

J.&J. had previously announced that Joaquin Duato would become chief executive in January, while Mr. Gorsky would continue as executive chairman.

The decision comes days after General Electric, another icon of corporate America, revealed a plan to break itself into three companies. And it was announced hours after Toshiba, a stalwart of Japanese industry, said it, too, would split itself into three.

Before, the corporate world believed that bigger was better, with diverse product offerings making for stronger and more predictable earnings. J.&.J. itself embarked on such deals, having bought consumer brands like Listerine from Pfizer for $16.6 billion over a decade ago.

But the leaders of diversified companies are increasingly feeling pressure to simplify their sometimes sprawling business empires, in hopes of sharpening their focus and lifting their stock prices. Activist hedge funds and others have argued over the past decade that conglomerates are too weighed down by bureaucracy, and that the promise of fast-growing divisions is often overshadowed by results from slower-growth ones.

The biggest technology companies, by contrast, have expanded into new businesses and been rewarded by investors, but they are also attracting increased regulatory scrutiny amid concern that their size harms competition.

J.&J. has grappled with thousands of legal claims that its talc-based products may have caused cancer. J.&J. discontinued sales of talc-based baby powder in North America last year, though it has said that it is safe. In October, a division that the company had created to manage those lawsuits filed for bankruptcy protection.

The company’s share price rose about 1.4 percent in early trading on Friday.

Credit…Desiree Rios for The New York Times

Single mothers — those who have never married — have made up a growing share of home buyers over the past three decades. But the pandemic threatens to dampen that progress, experts said.

Women have borne the brunt of the job losses over the last year and a half, while also shouldering most of the child-care responsibilities, Tara Siegel Bernard reports for The New York Times. At the same time, the housing market has grown highly competitive: Prices of single-family homes rose nearly 20 percent in August, the latest data available, from a year earlier, according to S&P CoreLogic Case-Shiller’s National Home Price Index.

The pandemic, combined with the challenging market landscape, has eroded women’s confidence about their likelihood of becoming homeowners: Nearly 60 percent of single female heads of households who rent — those who never married, those who are separated or divorced, and widows — said they could not afford to buy and didn’t know if they ever would, according to a September study by Freddie Mac, the government-backed mortgage giant.

Single women accounted for 19 percent of home buyers from July 2020 through June 2021, up from 18 percent in the preceding year, according to an analysis from the National Association of Realtors released on Thursday. The slight increase is above prepandemic rates, but may partly be a result of the decline in the number of Americans getting married, said Jessica Lautz, vice president of demographics and behavioral insights at the Realtors group.

“Women have a lot of headwinds right now,” she said. “We know they are buying on a lower income even as prices have increased and inventory has decreased.”

Single women buying their first home, for example, had a median household income of $58,300 in 2020, compared with $69,300 for their male counterparts, the association found. Single women tend to be older when they buy, and spend less on their homes: The median age of first-time single female buyers was 34, compared with 31 for men, and women spent about 14 percent less.

Homeownership is often viewed as a sign of financial stability, with good reason. READ THE ARTICLE →

Across the country, employers are struggling with how, when and even if they will bring employees back to the office. In conversations with leaders at companies in a broad variety of industries — the people charged with making the ultimate call — the consensus was that there was no consensus.

C.E.O.s are struggling to balance rapidly shifting expectations with their own impulse to have the final word on how their companies run. They are eager to appear responsive to employees who are relishing their newfound autonomy, but reluctant to give up too much control. And they are constantly changing policies in response to worker demands, re-examining aspects of their business that they might not have tinkered with otherwise.

David Gelles, The New York Times’s Corner Office columnist, talked to several C.E.O.s to learn how they’re thinking about working from the office at this point in the pandemic.

  • In early October, PwC announced that remote work was a permanent option. Workers had two weeks to decide what they would do. Those who decide to change cities or remain remote may have their assignments changed, but are not at risk of being let go. “I believe what we announced will be commonplace for the mass employers in a matter of months,” said Tim Ryan, the U.S. chairman of PwC.

  • “What employees are saying they want in their work environment going forward is going to be a lot more important than a bunch of senior executives at the top of an organization determining what that will be,” said Andi Owen, the chief executive of MillerKnoll, the maker of the Aeron chair and other office furniture, which has yet to bring all of its own white-collar workers back full time.

  • As Google prepares for more employees to come back to the office next year, it is planning a makeover of many of its office spaces. Sundar Pichai, the chief executive of Google and its parent company, Alphabet, said that Google, where some workers have returned on a voluntary basis but most are still working remotely, remained productive (and profitable), but that going so long with limited in-person interactions with colleagues was getting old. “We are working on some borrowed time, in terms of working on memories of the relationships you have and the connections you have,” Mr. Pichai said. “It’s taking a toll.”

  • A full third of workers said last fall that they were putting in more hours than they had been before the pandemic, according to Pew. This was especially the case for people who used to commute. For many, the hours spent driving or taking public transportation had simply been subsumed into the workday. “I think people are working harder,” said Ms. Owen of MillerKnoll. The blurring of the lines between the workday and the rest of life has contributed to a growing sense of disaffection in the labor force, and may help explain the mass resignations that are upending the job market.

C.E.O.s are eager for employees to return — and afraid of alienating those who have grown accustomed to working from home. READ THE FULL ARTICLE →

Credit…Kevin Moloney for The New York Times

There’s still time to take steps to make your living space more energy-efficient and hold down costs this winter, no matter what fuel you use to heat your home.

Start with your attic. Heat rises, so your house tends to lose warmth at the top. Just as wearing a hat in winter keeps you warm, repairing or adding insulation in your attic will help keep your house cozy, said Richard Trethewey, a heating and plumbing contractor and a regular on the home renovation show “This Old House.”

You can get a good idea of where insulation is needed with a simple visual inspection, he said. Reposition any insulation that has shifted. Pay attention to any gaps around pipes and ducts. You can also get relatively inexpensive thermal camera attachments for your cellphone, which can help pinpoint areas where heat is leaking, Mr. Trethewey said.

To get a full picture of your home’s heating profile, you can schedule a residential energy assessment, also called an energy audit. Some gaps may be obvious, such as light between an exterior door and its frame. That can be dealt with by applying weatherstripping to keep out drafts.

You can save money on your heating bill by turning down your thermostat when you are sleeping or away from home. A programmable thermostat can do it for you automatically. The Energy Department estimates you can save up to 10 percent a year on heating by lowering your thermostat by 7 to 10 degrees Fahrenheit from its normal setting for eight hours a day.

Our Your Money Adviser columnist, Ann Carrns, answers questions about winter heating, such as, When should I consider replacing my heating system? READ THE ARTICLE →

Elon Musk, the chief executive of Tesla, disclosed on Friday that he had sold nearly $700 million worth of Tesla shares. Mr. Musk’s trust sold 639,737 shares on Thursday, according to filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

The latest disclosure brings the total value of shares sold by Mr. Musk this week to about $5.7 billion. The sales come after Mr. Musk took to Twitter over the weekend to poll his followers on whether he should sell 10 percent of his stock, worth about $20 billion at the time. He said he would abide by whatever respondents chose; about 58 percent said to sell.

Tesla’s shares fell more than 3 percent on Friday. The stock had fallen sharply early in the week, after Mr. Musk’s Twitter poll.

About $1 billion of the share sales disclosed earlier in the week, however, were to cover tax obligations related to the exercise of stock options, the filings said. READ MORE ABOUT THE SALES →



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