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Private Tutors, Pop-Up Schools or Nothing at All: How Employers Are Helping Parents



ImageLilly and Dylan Taylor attend remote school at their mother’s empty office in Portland, Ore. Her company, Kinesis, hired a teacher, Katie Peters, right, to help employees’ children learn while their parents work from home. 
Credit…Leah Nash for The New York Times

Parents who are doing several jobs at once during the pandemic — employee, teacher and full-time child care provider — need help. But whether they get it largely depends on where they work.

Some of the country’s biggest companies, including Microsoft, Facebook and Google, have offered paid time off and subsidized child care. Other companies have gotten creative, hosting online camps or hiring teachers and turning their empty offices into remote schools for employees’ children.

Yet more than three-quarters of working parents say their employers have not provided additional time off or money for child care, according to a survey of 1,081 parents by Morning Consult for The New York Times. Workers who are highly educated and high-earning are significantly more likely to receive time off, the ability to work flexible hours or subsidized child care or tutoring.

The United States has long treated child care as something that families should figure out on their own: It is alone among rich countries with no federal requirement to provide paid leave, and is far behind many other advanced nations in subsidizing child care for working parents. But the pandemic has highlighted how dependent the American economy is on child care. Without it, parents can’t work.

“Especially in the U.S., where we’re really lacking leadership right now, employees are looking more and more to workplaces to bridge the gaps in support that parents have traditionally cobbled together on their own,” said Erin L. Thomas, vice president for diversity and talent acquisition at Upwork, which connects freelancers and businesses.

During the coronavirus pandemic, Congress authorized 12 weeks of partial paid leave for parents whose children’s schools or child care centers were closed. But at least half of workers were ineligible, and the crisis has lasted much longer than the leave covered.

Many companies can’t afford to offer extra benefits. Those who can say it’s the humane thing to do for employees — and an investment that will pay off.

“These employees are doing really important work, they’re generating a ton of value to the customers, and it’s probably worth a considerable amount to have them on the job and doing the best they can,” said Shawn Busse, chief executive of Kinesis, a marketing and strategy firm in Portland, Ore. Kinesis has hired a teacher to oversee online school for employees’ children.

Employers are having to rethink caregiving benefits for the pandemic, because the circumstances are so different from what workers typically need.

What the Biggest Companies Are Doing

Time off and subsidized child care at the 12 largest companies by market capitalization (as of Aug. 27)

Note: In some cases, the paid leave applies to other Covid-related needs too, such as elder care or illness.

Flexibility is the most common benefit employers are providing, according to surveys. Eighty-six percent of 1,087 human resource professionals surveyed by the Society of Human Resource Management said they were offering flexible hours. Half of working parents in the survey by Morning Consult for The Times said their employers were letting them shift their hours.

Less than 10 percent of employers are offering subsidies to pay for child care. Yet money for babysitters or teachers may be more valuable for parents than flexibility or even time off. Although a parent might ordinarily need a finite period at home for something like the birth of a baby, now children need long-term care or daily in-person help with online school. And while the costs to employers of providing flexible hours are minimal, the costs to workers can be high. For many parents, it’s unsustainable to continue working during nighttime or predawn hours or to take pay cuts as part of a reduced schedule. Financial benefits for parents also help nonparent colleagues who have been picking up slack, employers say, by enabling parents to get back to work full time.

“Something that stood out in our internal research is parents really want to keep working,” said Ms. Thomas, who has a Ph.D. in social psychology and focuses on diversity in corporate culture. “I was expecting to hear more, ‘I need a break or to tap out.’ Instead, they are basically saying, ‘How can I hack human biology to serve in three different jobs and never have to sleep?’”

Some companies are trying to address that. Walmart, Procter & Gamble and John Hancock, for example, have offered online camps and classes to keep children engaged. John Hancock’s camp included science projects, story time with the chief executive and pen pal buddies (3,000 children of employees participated).

“That was real help,” said Erica Noble, a senior director for communications at Procter & Gamble. “Because flexibility helps, but at the end of the day, I have a 5-year-old and an 8-year-old and they need something to do during the day.”

Last spring, Kinesis, the Portland company, donated laptops for online learning and allowed flexible schedules. When it became apparent that schools wouldn’t open this fall, executives realized that wasn’t enough. The company hired a teacher for online school in its empty office space for the five school-aged children of its 13 employees, so their parents could work from home without distractions. If child care centers close again, it plans to do the same for employees with younger children, probably by renting a house and hiring a preschool teacher.

“It’s going away from saying, ‘This is your individual problem and your family’s problem’ to saying, ‘We see this as a business problem we need to address,’” said Anja Taylor, director of operations at Kinesis, who is sending her two children to the makeshift school.

Credit…Leah Nash for The New York Times

Representatives at the nation’s 12 biggest companies emphasized how much employees’ needs vary right now, and most said they encouraged employees to talk with their managers about the particular support they may need. They also emphasized that workers without young children are receiving benefits, too. In many cases in which the companies granted paid time off, it applied to any employee who needed it, including for elder care, illness or mental health.

In addition to time and money for child care, many companies are providing benefits like Covid-19 sick leave, home office supply stipends, elder care support, mental health coverage and parent support groups. Johnson & Johnson gave workers $400 for in-home exercise equipment. Walmart has given three cash bonuses to frontline workers in stores. Visa and Mastercard have promised no near-term layoffs related to the pandemic.

Caregiving benefits are another way the pandemic has highlighted disparities among workers.

One-quarter of parents say they or their partners’ employers are providing time off beyond what they traditionally offer, found the new survey by Morning Consult for The Times. Yet there is a major difference based on workers’ education and income: 29 percent of those with postgraduate degrees (but only 9 percent of people without college degrees) have paid time off.

Twenty-one percent of highly educated workers are receiving money for child care or education from their employer, and just 5 percent to 7 percent of less educated workers are.

Among the largest companies, some of those with a large share of hourly workers, like Walmart and Amazon, did not give any paid leave for caregiving during school closures. Home Depot gave most full-time hourly store workers two weeks of paid leave for any reason related to the pandemic, including child care. A spokeswoman said the company had spent $1.3 billion on benefits for hourly workers, mostly for paid time off.

The lack of support for working families was a strain on the American economy even before schools and child care services shuttered, and some experts say the pandemic could be the thing that pushes corporations to make long-term changes. Yet it’s unclear whether the new caregiving benefits will continue when the pandemic ends.

In the industry group survey of human resource professionals, about half said that while their companies would help with child care when people returned to their workplaces, the companies planned to return to their pre-pandemic policies once life returned to normal. Just one in 10 said their companies planned to keep their new child care policies indefinitely.


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The Trump campaign celebrated a growth record that Democrats downplayed.



The White House celebrated economic growth numbers for the third quarter released on Thursday, even as Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s presidential campaign sought to throw cold water on the report — the last major data release leading up to the Nov. 3 election — and warned that the economic recovery was losing steam.

The economy grew at a record pace last quarter, but the upswing was a partial bounce-back after an enormous decline and left the economy smaller than it was before the pandemic. The White House took no notice of those glum caveats.

“This record economic growth is absolute validation of President Trump’s policies, which create jobs and opportunities for Americans in every corner of the country,” Mr. Trump’s re-election campaign said in a statement, highlighting a rebound of 33.1 percent at an annualized rate. Mr. Trump heralded the data on Twitter, posting that he was “so glad” that the number had come out before Election Day.

The annualized rate that the White House emphasized extrapolates growth numbers as if the current pace held up for a year, and risks overstating big swings. Because the economy’s growth has been so volatile amid the pandemic, economists have urged focusing on quarterly numbers.

Those showed a 7.4 percent gain in the third quarter. That rebound, by far the biggest since reliable statistics began after World War II, still leaves the economy short of its pre-pandemic levels. The pace of recovery has also slowed, and now coronavirus cases are rising again across much of the United States, raising the prospect of further pullback.

“The recovery is stalling out, thanks to Trump’s refusal to have a serious plan to deal with Covid or to pass a new economic relief plan for workers, small businesses and communities,” Mr. Biden’s campaign said in a release ahead of Thursday’s report. The rebound was widely expected, and the campaign characterized it as “a partial return from a catastrophic hit.”

Economists have warned that the recovery could face serious roadblocks ahead. Temporary measures meant to shore up households and businesses — including unemployment insurance supplements and forgivable loans — have run dry. Swaths of the service sector remain shut down as the virus continues to spread, and job losses that were temporary are increasingly turning permanent.

“With coronavirus infections hitting a record high in recent days and any additional fiscal stimulus unlikely to arrive until, at the earliest, the start of next year, further progress will be much slower,” Paul Ashworth, chief United States economist at Capital Economics, wrote in a note following the report.


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Black and Hispanic workers, especially women, lag in the U.S. economic recovery.



The surge in economic output in the third quarter set a record, but the recovery isn’t reaching everyone.

Economists have long warned that aggregate statistics like gross domestic product can obscure important differences beneath the surface. In the aftermath of the last recession, for example, G.D.P. returned to its previous level in early 2011, even as poverty rates remained high and the unemployment rate for Black Americans was above 15 percent.

Aggregate statistics could be even more misleading during the current crisis. The job losses in the initial months of the pandemic disproportionately struck low-wage service workers, many of them Black and Hispanic women. Service-sector jobs have been slow to return, while school closings are keeping many parents, especially mothers, from returning to work. Nearly half a million Hispanic women have left the labor force over the last three months.

“If we’re thinking that the economy is recovering completely and uniformly, that is simply not the case,” said Michelle Holder, an economist at John Jay College in New York. “This rebound is unevenly distributed along racial and gender lines.”

The G.D.P. report released Thursday doesn’t break down the data by race, sex or income. But other sources make the disparities clear. A pair of studies by researchers at the Urban Institute released this week found that Black and Hispanic adults were more likely to have lost jobs or income since March, and were twice as likely as white adults to experience food insecurity in September.

The financial impact of the pandemic hit many of the families that were least able to afford it, even as white-collar workers were largely spared, said Michael Karpman, an Urban Institute researcher and one of the studies’ authors.

“A lot of people who were already in a precarious position before the pandemic are now in worse shape, whereas people who were better off have generally been faring better financially,” he said.

Federal relief programs, such as expanded unemployment benefits, helped offset the damage for many families in the first months of the pandemic. But those programs have mostly ended, and talks to revive them have stalled in Washington. With virus cases surging in much of the country, Mr. Karpman warned, the economic toll could increase.

“There could be a lot more hardship coming up this winter if there’s not more relief from Congress, with the impact falling disproportionately on Black and Hispanic workers and their families,” he said.


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Ant Challenged Beijing and Prospered. Now It Toes the Line.



As Jack Ma of Alibaba helped turn China into the world’s biggest e-commerce market over the past two decades, he was also vowing to pull off a more audacious transformation.

“If the banks don’t change, we’ll change the banks,” he said in 2008, decrying how hard it was for small businesses in China to borrow from government-run lenders.

“The financial industry needs disrupters,” he told People’s Daily, the official Communist Party newspaper, a few years later. His goal, he said, was to make banks and other state-owned enterprises “feel unwell.”

The scope of Mr. Ma’s success is becoming clearer. The vehicle for his financial-technology ambitions, an Alibaba spinoff called Ant Group, is preparing for the largest initial public offering on record. Ant is set to raise $34 billion by selling its shares to the public in Hong Kong and Shanghai, according to stock exchange documents released on Monday. After the listing, Ant would be worth around $310 billion, much more than many global banks.

The company is going public not as a scrappy upstart, but as a leviathan deeply dependent on the good will of the government Mr. Ma once relished prodding.

More than 730 million people use Ant’s Alipay app every month to pay for lunch, invest their savings and shop on credit. Yet Alipay’s size and importance have made it an inevitable target for China’s regulators, which have already brought its business to heel in certain areas.

These days, Ant talks mostly about creating partnerships with big banks, not disrupting or supplanting them. Several government-owned funds and institutions are Ant shareholders and stand to profit handsomely from the public offering.

The question now is how much higher Ant can fly without provoking the Chinese authorities into clipping its wings further.

Excitable investors see Ant as a buzzy internet innovator. The risk is that it becomes more like a heavily regulated “financial digital utility,” said Fraser Howie, the co-author of “Red Capitalism: The Fragile Financial Foundation of China’s Extraordinary Rise.”

“Utility stocks, as far as I remember, were not the ones to be seen as the most exciting,” Mr. Howie said.

Ant declined to comment, citing the quiet period demanded by regulators before its share sale.

The company has played give-and-take with Beijing for years. As smartphone payments became ubiquitous in China, Ant found itself managing huge piles of money in Alipay users’ virtual wallets. The central bank made it park those funds in special accounts where they would earn minimal interest.

After people piled into an easy-to-use investment fund inside Alipay, the government forced the fund to shed risk and lower returns. Regulators curbed a plan to use Alipay data as the basis for a credit-scoring system akin to Americans’ FICO scores.

China’s Supreme Court this summer capped interest rates for consumer loans, though it was unclear how the ceiling would apply to Ant. The central bank is preparing a new virtual currency that could compete against Alipay and another digital wallet, the messaging app WeChat, as an everyday payment tool.

Ant has learned ways of keeping the authorities on its side. Mr. Ma once boasted at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, about never taking money from the Chinese government. Today, funds associated with China’s social security system, its sovereign wealth fund, a state-owned life insurance company and the national postal carrier hold stakes in Ant. The I.P.O. is likely to increase the value of their holdings considerably.

“That’s how the state gets its payoff,” Mr. Howie said. With Ant, he said, “the line between state-owned enterprise and private enterprise is highly, highly blurred.”

China, in less than two generations, went from having a state-planned financial system to being at the global vanguard of internet finance, with trillions of dollars in transactions being made on mobile devices each year. Alipay had a lot to do with it.

Alibaba created the service in the early 2000s to hold payments for online purchases in escrow. Its broader usefulness quickly became clear in a country that mostly missed out on the credit card era. Features were added and users piled in. It became impossible for regulators and banks not to see the app as a threat.

ImageAnt Group’s headquarters in Hangzhou, China.
Credit…Alex Plavevski/EPA, via Shutterstock

A big test came when Ant began making an offer to Alipay users: Park your money in a section of the app called Yu’ebao, which means “leftover treasure,” and we will pay you more than the low rates fixed by the government at banks.

People could invest as much or as little as they wanted, making them feel like they were putting their pocket change to use. Yu’ebao was a hit, becoming one of the world’s largest money market funds.

The banks were terrified. One commentator for a state broadcaster called the fund a “vampire” and a “parasite.”

Still, “all the main regulators remained unanimous in saying that this was a positive thing for the Chinese financial system,” said Martin Chorzempa, a research fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington.

“If you can’t actually reform the banks,” Mr. Chorzempa said, “you can inject more competition.”

But then came worries about shadowy, unregulated corners of finance and the dangers they posed to the wider economy. Today, Chinese regulators are tightening supervision of financial holding companies, Ant included. Beijing has kept close watch on the financial instruments that small lenders create out of their consumer loans and sell to investors. Such securities help Ant fund some of its lending. But they also amplify the blowup if too many of those loans aren’t repaid.

“Those kinds of derivative products are something the government is really concerned about,” said Tian X. Hou, founder of the research firm TH Data Capital. Given Ant’s size, she said, “the government should be concerned.”

The broader worry for China is about growing levels of household debt. Beijing wants to cultivate a consumer economy, but excessive borrowing could eventually weigh on people’s spending power. The names of two of Alipay’s popular credit functions, Huabei and Jiebei, are jaunty invitations to spend and borrow.

Huang Ling, 22, started using Huabei when she was in high school. At the time, she didn’t qualify for a credit card. With Huabei’s help, she bought a drone, a scooter, a laptop and more.

The credit line made her feel rich. It also made her realize that if she actually wanted to be rich, she had to get busy.

“Living beyond my means forced me to work harder,” Ms. Huang said.

First, she opened a clothing shop in her hometown, Nanchang, in southeastern China. Then she started an advertising company in the inland metropolis of Chongqing. When the business needed cash, she borrowed from Jiebei.

Online shopping became a way to soothe daily anxieties, and Ms. Huang sometimes racked up thousands of dollars in Huabei bills, which only made her even more anxious. When the pandemic slammed her business, she started falling behind on her payments. That cast her into a deep depression.

Finally, early this month, with her parents’ help, she paid off her debts and closed her Huabei and Jiebei accounts. She felt “elated,” she said.

China’s recent troubles with freewheeling online loan platforms have put the government under pressure to protect ordinary borrowers.

Ant is helped by the fact that its business lines up with many of the Chinese leadership’s priorities: encouraging entrepreneurship and financial inclusion, and expanding the middle class. This year, the company helped the eastern city of Hangzhou, where it is based, set up an early version of the government’s app-based system for dictating coronavirus quarantines.

Such coziness is bound to raise hackles overseas. In Washington, Chinese tech companies that are seen as close to the government are radioactive.

In January 2017, Eric Jing, then Ant’s chief executive, said the company aimed to be serving two billion users worldwide within a decade. Shortly after, Ant announced that it was acquiring the money transfer company MoneyGram to increase its U.S. footprint. By the following January, the deal was dead, thwarted by data security concerns.

More recently, top officials in the Trump administration have discussed whether to place Ant Group on the so-called entity list, which prohibits foreign companies from purchasing American products. Officials from the State Department have suggested that an interagency committee, which also includes officials from the departments of defense, commerce and energy, review Ant for the potential entity listing, according to three people familiar with the matter.

Ant does not talk much anymore about expanding in the United States.

Ana Swanson contributed reporting.


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