COVID-19 pandemic plunges working world into crisis: ILO

GENEVA (Reuters) – Global leaders called for a comprehensive approach to counter the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, which International Labor Organization chief Guy Ryder said on Wednesday had plunged the world of work into “unprecedented crisis”.

“Let’s be clear: it’s not a choice between health or jobs and the economy. They are interlinked: we will either win on all fronts or fail on all fronts,” United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told an ILO summit that will be addressed by dozens of heads of state and government via recorded messages.

World Health Organization head Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told the summit the world had a special duty to protect the millions of healthcare workers at the front line of the crisis and suffering increasing cases of infection and death.

“Together we have a duty to protect those who protect us,” he said.

The outlook for the global labor market in the second half of 2020 is “highly uncertain” and the forecast recovery will not be enough for employment to return to pre-pandemic levels this year, the ILO said last week.

The U.N. agency said the fall in global working hours was “significantly worse than previously estimated” in the first half of the year.

(Reporting by Emma Farge and Michael Shields; Editing by Andrew Heavens)

Lantern-waving Hong Kong protesters take to hills, as leader pledges housing reform

By Jessie Pang and Lukas Job

HONG KONG (Reuters) – Hong Kong pro-democracy protesters took to the hills to form flashlight-carrying human chains on Friday, using the colorful Mid-Autumn Festival as a backdrop to the latest in more than three months of sometimes violent unrest.

The peaceful protests, on a day when families traditionally gather to gaze at the moon and eat mooncakes while children swing colorful lanterns from the end of sticks, came after Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam promised to focus on housing and jobs to try to end the turmoil.

Lam, who said she caused “unforgivable havoc” by igniting the crisis and would quit if she had the choice, said in a Facebook post her government would increase the supply of housing in the Chinese-ruled city.

“Housing and people’s livelihoods are the main priorities,” Lam said. “The government will add to housing supply measures which will be continuously put in place and not missed.”

Hong Kong has some of the world’s most expensive real estate and many young people say the city’s housing policy is unfair, benefiting the rich while forcing the less well-off to live with their parents or rent “shoe box” apartments at exorbitant prices.

Sun Hung Kai Properties, which reported its earnings on Thursday, said the current unrest was a wake-up call to both the government and private companies to build more housing.

Financial Secretary Paul Chan told reporters a new vacancy tax aims to push developers to launch completed apartments on to the market as soon as possible.

As darkness fell on Friday night, protesters armed with flashlights, mobile phones and lanterns gathered at Victoria Peak and Lion Rock.

They lined the path running along the north face of the Peak, looking across the harbor to Lion Rock in the distance, with mainland China beyond.

Protesters gathered in their hundreds across the territory, singing and chanting, in contrast to the violence of many previous weekends when police have responded with tear gas, rubber bullets and water cannon.

“Today, there’s not many here because we have an event in every district, and because this area is not a residential area, it’s a working area full of offices,” said protester Jason Liu in the Admiralty district of government offices and hotels.

The spark for the protests was a now-withdrawn extradition bill and concerns that Beijing is eroding civil liberties, but many young protesters are also angry at sky-high living costs and a lack of job prospects.

The demonstrations started in June in response to a bill that would have allowed people to be sent to mainland China for trial in Communist Party-controlled courts, but have broadened into calls for greater democracy.

The former British colony returned to China in 1997 under a “one country, two systems” formula that guarantees freedoms not enjoyed on the mainland – including a much-cherished independent legal system.

At lunch on Friday, hundreds of pro-Beijing supporters packed into a shopping mall waving China flags and singing the Chinese national anthem.

Sit-ins at shopping malls are also planned over the weekend.

Activists also plan to gather outside the British consulate on Sunday to demand that China honors the Sino-British Joint Declaration that was signed in 1984, laying out Hong Kong’s post-1997 future.

China says Hong Kong is now its internal affair. It denies meddling in Hong Kong and has accused the United States, Britain and others of fomenting the unrest.

Britain says it has a legal responsibility to ensure China abides by its obligations under the Joint Declaration.

Hong Kong is facing its first recession in a decade as a result of the unrest. A surge in migration applications suggests more locals are making plans to leave.

China has called on its biggest state firms to take a more active role in Hong Kong, including stepping up investment and asserting more control over companies.

Multiple Hong Kong events and conferences have been canceled and the number of visitors plunged 40 percent in August. The city’s premier women’s tennis event scheduled for October has been postponed.

Organizers also called off the Royal Shakespeare Company’s “Matilda the Musical”, due to run from Sept. 20 to Oct. 20.

Police on Tuesday set up an “anti-violence hotline” on which people could call in giving intelligence on planned unrest.

On Friday they announced it had been shut down because of “different opinions”.

(Reporting by Twinnie Siu, Clare Jim, Noah Sin, Marius Zaharia, Poppy McPherson, Lukas Job, Amr Abdallah and Farah Master; Writing by Nick Macfie; Editing by Giles Elgood and Alex Richardson)

U.S. weekly jobless claims fall; labor market strong

FILE PHOTO: People wait in line to attend TechFair LA, a technology job fair, in Los Angeles, California, U.S., January 26, 2017. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson

By Lucia Mutikani

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The number of Americans filing applications for unemployment benefits unexpectedly fell last week, suggesting the labor market remains strong even as the economy is slowing.

The jobless claims report from the Labor Department on Thursday, however, does not fully account for the impact of the recent escalation in the bitter trade war between the United States and China, which has led to an inversion of the U.S. Treasury yield curve and raised the risk of a recession.

Worries about the trade war’s impact on the U.S. economic expansion, the longest on record, prompted the Federal Reserve to cut interest rates last week for the first time since 2008. Financial markets have fully priced in another rate cut next month.

Expectations for a 50-basis-point cut at the Fed’s Sept. 17-18 policy meeting have also risen.

“Initial claims have been sending a reasonably upbeat message about conditions in the labor market,” said Daniel Silver, an economist at JPMorgan in New York. “Today’s report likely doesn’t contain much information about the period since the recent escalations in trade tensions.”

Initial claims for state unemployment benefits declined 8,000 to a seasonally adjusted 209,000 for the week ended Aug. 3, the Labor Department said. Economists polled by Reuters had forecast claims would be unchanged at 215,000 in the latest week.

“The message of the unemployment claims data into early August is that layoff activity remained subdued and the labor market is still tight,” said John Ryding, chief economist at RDQ Economics in New York. “Though equity market volatility and low bond yields are driving pessimism about the economic outlook … we would have to see initial claims sustain a rise to the 250,000 level to become concerned about recession.”

U.S. stocks were trading higher as unexpectedly better Chinese data and a steadying of the yuan provided some comfort to investors rattled by the rise in U.S.-China trade tensions. Prices of U.S. Treasuries fell while the dollar <.DXY> was slightly stronger against a basket of currencies.

INVENTORY ACCUMULATION SLOWING Last week’s drop in claims pushed them to the lower end of their 193,000-244,000 range for this year. The four-week moving average of initial claims, considered a better measure of labor market trends as it irons out week-to-week volatility, edged up 250 to 212,250 last week.

While hiring has slowed, the pace of job gains remains well above the roughly 100,000 needed per month to keep up with growth in the working-age population.

Nonfarm payrolls increased by 164,000 jobs in July, down from 193,000 in June. Job growth over the last three months averaged 140,000 per month, the lowest in nearly two years, compared to 223,000 in 2018. The moderation in employment growth partly reflects a shortage of workers.

“While net employment growth depends on gross hiring as well as the pace of layoffs, and the trend in payrolls gains may have moderated a bit, major weakening in employment growth is invariably associated with an uptrend in claims,” said Jim O’Sullivan, chief U.S. economist at High Frequency Economics in White Plains, New York.

The economy grew at a 2.1% annualized rate in the second quarter, slowing from the first quarter’s brisk 3.1% pace. Growth is seen below a 2.0% rate in the July-September quarter.

Slower economic growth was also underscored by a separate report from the Commerce Department on Thursday showing wholesale inventories unchanged in June instead of rising 0.2% as estimated last month.

The component of wholesale inventories that goes into the calculation of gross domestic product edged up 0.1% in June.

While inventories increased further in the second quarter, the pace of accumulation was slower than early in the year. Some of that slowdown reflects a surge in consumer spending in the second quarter.

Businesses are also carefully managing stock levels as the economy’s outlook continues to darken amid the escalation in trade tensions between the United States and China, which has roiled financial markets.

Inventories subtracted 0.86 percentage point from GDP growth in the second quarter.

Sales at wholesalers dropped 0.3% in June after falling 0.6% in May. At June’s sales pace it would take wholesalers 1.36 months to clear shelves, unchanged from May.

(Reporting by Lucia Mutikani; Editing by Paul Simao)

U.S. weekly unemployment claims rise; imported inflation weak

FILE PHOTO: People wait in line to attend TechFair LA, a technology job fair, in Los Angeles, California, U.S., January 26, 2017. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson/File Photo

By Lucia Mutikani

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The number of Americans filing applications for unemployment benefits unexpectedly rose last week, which could add to concerns that the labor market was losing steam after job growth slowed sharply in May.

Other data on Thursday showed import prices fell by the most in five months in May amid a broad decline in the cost of goods, the latest indication of muted inflation pressures. Signs of a slowing labor market and tepid inflation strengthen the case for the Federal Reserve to cut interest rates this year.

U.S. central bank policymakers are scheduled to meet on June 18-19 against the backdrop of rising trade tensions. Financial markets have priced in at least two rate cuts by the end of 2019. A rate cut is not expected next Wednesday.

Initial claims for state unemployment benefits rose 3,000 to a seasonally adjusted 222,000 for the week ended June 8, the Labor Department said on Thursday. Economists polled by Reuters had forecast claims decreasing to 216,000 in the latest week.

While layoffs remain relatively low, the third straight weekly increase in claims suggests some softening in labor market conditions. The four-week moving average of claims, considered a better measure of labor market trends as it irons out week-to-week volatility, rose 2,500 to 217,750 last week.

The economy created only 75,000 jobs in May, with annual wages increasing at their slowest pace in eight months, the government reported last week. U.S. financial markets were little moved by the claims data.

The slowdown in hiring, which occurred before a recent escalation in trade tensions between the United States and China, raised fears of a sharp deceleration in economic growth. The claims data is being closely monitored for signs of any fallout from the trade war.

President Donald Trump in early May imposed additional tariffs of up to 25% on $200 billion of Chinese goods, prompting retaliation by Beijing. Trump on Monday threatened more duties on Chinese imports if no deal was reached when he meets Chinese President Xi Jinping at a G20 summit later this month in Japan.

A tariff on all goods from Mexico to force authorities in that country to stop immigrants from Central America from crossing the border into the United States was narrowly averted after the two nations struck an agreement late on Friday.

ECONOMY SLOWING

Data so far have suggested a sharp slowdown in U.S. economic growth in the second quarter after a temporary boost from exports and an accumulation of inventory early in the year. In addition to the sharp moderation in hiring last month, manufacturing production, exports and home sales dropped in April, while consumer spending cooled.

The Atlanta Fed is forecasting gross domestic product increasing at a 1.4% annualized rate in the April-June quarter. The economy grew at a 3.1% pace in the first quarter.

In another report on Thursday, the Labor Department said import prices dropped 0.3% last month, the biggest decline since last December, after edging up 0.1% in April.

Economists had forecast import prices slipping 0.2% in May. In the 12 months through May, import prices fell 1.5% after decreasing 0.3% in April. The report came on the heels of data on Wednesday showing consumer prices remained tame in May.

Import prices exclude duties. In May, prices for imported fuels and lubricants declined 1.0% after rising 1.7% percent in the prior month. Imported food prices dropped 0.8% last month after surging 2.7% in April.

Excluding fuels and food, import prices slipped 0.2% in May after falling 0.3% in the prior month. So-called core import prices decreased 1.5% in the 12 months through May. Though the dollar has weakened a bit this year, its gains last year against the currencies of the United States’ main trading partners continue to depress core import prices.

The cost of imported capital goods declined 0.1% last month. Prices for imported consumer goods excluding automobiles was unchanged. The cost of goods imported from China edged down 0.1% last month after falling 0.2% in April. Prices fell 1.4% in the 12 months through May, the largest drop since February 2017.

The report also showed export prices fell 0.2% in May, with prices for both agricultural and nonagricultural products dropping. Export prices nudged up 0.1% in April. They fell 0.7% on a year-on-year basis in May after gaining 0.2% in April. Soybean prices tumbled 20.6% year-on-year.

(Reporting By Lucia Mutikani; Editing by Andrea Ricci)

Fed policymakers promise response if U.S. economy slows

FILE PHOTO: Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell poses for photos with Fed Governor Lael Brainard (L) at the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, in Chicago, Illinois, U.S., June 4, 2019. REUTERS/Ann Saphir

By Howard Schneider and Ann Saphir

CHICAGO (Reuters) – Signs that the economy is losing momentum hung over a Federal Reserve summit for a second straight day as policymakers hinted they would be ready to cut interest rates if the U.S. trade war threatens a decade-long expansion.

Investors added to bets that the Fed would have to lower borrowing costs multiple times by year-end on Wednesday after a report by a payrolls processor showed private employers added 27,000 jobs in May, well below economists’ expectations and the smallest monthly gain in more than nine years.

The U.S. economy will mark 10 years of expansion in July, the longest on record. Strong job gains have been a key feature. But rising trade tensions between the United States and China have led to tit-for-tat tariffs, put a chill on U.S. businesses’ spending and exacerbated a manufacturing slowdown.

Current and threatened U.S.-China tariffs could slash global economic output by 0.5% in 2020, the International Monetary Fund warned on Wednesday as world finance leaders prepare to meet in Japan this weekend.

“We’ll be prepared to adjust policy to sustain the expansion,” Fed Governor Lael Brainard said in an interview with Yahoo Finance on the sidelines of the Fed’s Chicago summit. “The U.S. economy, generally, is in the midst of a very lengthy expansion, the U.S. consumer remains confident, but trade policy is definitely a downside risk.”

Brainard’s remarks follow a pledge on Tuesday by Fed Chairman Jerome Powell to react “as appropriate” to trade-war fallout. Other Fed officials struck a similarly cautious tone.

Since the Fed’s last rate-setting meeting, Trump slapped new 25% tariffs on $200 billion of Chinese imports and threatened new import taxes on Mexican goods unless immigration slows. Until recently officials had been largely signaling that they would keep rates at their 2.25-2.50% target range.

The trade war added urgency to what was intended to be a strategy session at the Chicago Fed focused on how the central bank can shore up its policies. Officials worry that economies risk getting stuck in a self-fulfilling cycle of low rates and low inflation that will make it harder to rebound from recessions and require increasingly forceful intervention.

To combat those risks, Fed officials are considering whether they want to temporarily welcome inflation a bit above their 2%-a-year target – and keep rates lower for longer – in the hopes that such a strategy will make attaining the central bank’s goals for maximum employment and price stability more likely.

Policymakers are also revisiting exactly what maximum employment means and whether they are doing a good enough job in how they speak to the public. No changes are expected until next year.

(Reporting by Howard Schneider and Ann Saphir; Writing and additional reporting by Trevor Hunnicutt; Editing by Andrea Ricci)

Exclusive: Amazon rolls out machines that pack orders and replace jobs

FILE PHOTO: A 6-axis robotic arm picks up sorting containers at the Amazon fulfillment center in Baltimore, Maryland, U.S., April 30, 2019. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne/File Photo

By Jeffrey Dastin

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) – Amazon.com Inc is rolling out machines to automate a job held by thousands of its workers: boxing up customer orders.

The company started adding technology to a handful of warehouses in recent years, which scans goods coming down a conveyor belt and envelopes them seconds later in boxes custom-built for each item, two people who worked on the project told Reuters.

Amazon has considered installing two machines at dozens more warehouses, removing at least 24 roles at each one, these people said. These facilities typically employ more than 2,000 people.

That would amount to more than 1,300 cuts across 55 U.S. fulfillment centers for standard-sized inventory. Amazon would expect to recover the costs in under two years, at $1 million per machine plus operational expenses, they said.

The plan, previously unreported, shows how Amazon is pushing to reduce labor and boost profits as automation of the most common warehouse task &ndash; picking up an item &ndash; is still beyond its reach. The changes are not finalized because vetting technology before a major deployment can take a long time.

Amazon is famous for its drive to automate as many parts of its business as possible, whether pricing goods or transporting items in its warehouses. But the company is in a precarious position as it considers replacing jobs that have won it subsidies and public goodwill.

“We are piloting this new technology with the goal of increasing safety, speeding up delivery times and adding efficiency across our network,” an Amazon spokeswoman said in a statement. “We expect the efficiency savings will be re-invested in new services for customers, where new jobs will continue to be created.”

Amazon last month downplayed its automation efforts to press visiting its Baltimore fulfillment center, saying a fully robotic future was far off. Its employee base has grown to become one of the largest in the United States, as the company opened new warehouses and raised wages to attract staff in a tight labor market.

A key to its goal of a leaner workforce is attrition, one of the sources said. Rather than lay off workers, the person said, the world’s largest online retailer will one day refrain from refilling packing roles. Those have high turnover because boxing multiple orders per minute over 10 hours is taxing work. At the same time, employees that stay with the company can be trained to take up more technical roles.

The new machines, known as the CartonWrap from Italian firm CMC Srl, pack much faster than humans. They crank out 600 to 700 boxes per hour, or four to five times the rate of a human packer, the sources said. The machines require one person to load customer orders, another to stock cardboard and glue and a technician to fix jams on occasion.

CMC declined to comment.

Though Amazon has announced it intends to speed up shipping across its Prime loyalty program, this latest round of automation is not focused on speed. “It’s truly about efficiency and savings,” one of the people said.

Including other machines known as the “SmartPac,” which the company rolled out recently to mail items in patented envelopes, Amazon’s technology suite will be able to automate a majority of its human packers. Five rows of workers at a facility can turn into two, supplemented by two CMC machines and one SmartPac, the person said.

The company describes this as an effort to “re-purpose” workers, the person said.

It could not be learned where roles might disappear first and what incentives, if any, are tied to those specific jobs.

But the hiring deals that Amazon has with governments are often generous. For the 1,500 jobs Amazon announced last year in Alabama, for instance, the state promised the company $48.7 million over 10 years, its department of commerce said.

PICKING CHALLENGE

Amazon is not alone in testing CMC’s packing technology. JD.com Inc and Shutterfly Inc have used the machines as well, the companies said, as has Walmart Inc, according to a person familiar with its pilot.

Walmart started 3.5 years ago and has since installed the machines in several U.S. locations, the person said. The company declined to comment.

Interest in boxing technology sheds light on how the e-commerce behemoths are approaching one of the major problems in the logistics industry today: finding a robotic hand that can grasp diverse items without breaking them.

Amazon employs countless workers at each fulfillment center who do variations of this same task. Some stow inventory, while others pick customer orders and still others grab those orders, placing them in the right size box and taping them up.

Many venture-backed companies and university researchers are racing to automate this work. While advances in artificial intelligence are improving machines’ accuracy, there is still no guarantee that robotic hands can prevent a marmalade jar from slipping and breaking, or switch seamlessly from picking up an eraser to grabbing a vacuum cleaner.

Amazon has tested different vendors’ technology that it may one day use for picking, including from Soft Robotics, a Boston-area startup that drew inspiration from octopus tentacles to make grippers more versatile, one person familiar with Amazon’s experimentation said. Soft Robotics declined to comment on its work with Amazon but said it has handled a wide and ever-changing variety of products for multiple large retailers.

Believing that grasping technology is not ready for prime time, Amazon is automating around that problem when packing customer orders. Humans still place items on a conveyor, but machines then build boxes around them and take care of the sealing and labeling. This saves money not just by reducing labor but by reducing wasted packing materials as well.

These machines are not without flaws. CMC can only produce so many per year. They need a technician on site who can fix problems as they arise, a requirement Amazon would rather do without, the two sources said. The super-hot glue closing the boxes can pile up and halt a machine.

Still other types of automation, like the robotic grocery assembly system of Ocado Group PLC, are the focus of much industry interest.

But the boxing machines are already proving helpful to Amazon. The company has installed them in busy warehouses that are driving distance from Seattle, Frankfurt, Milan, Amsterdam, Manchester and elsewhere, the people said.

The machines have the potential to automate far more than 24 jobs per facility, one of the sources said. The company is also setting up nearly two dozen more U.S. fulfillment centers for small and non-specialty inventory, according to logistics consultancy MWPVL International, which could be ripe for the machines.

This is just a harbinger of automation to come.

“A ‘lights out’ warehouse is ultimately the goal,” one of the people said.

(Reporting By Jeffrey Dastin in San Francisco; additional reporting by Nandita Bose in Washington and Josh Horwitz in Shanghai; editing by Greg Mitchell and Edward Tobin)

U.S. job openings surge, point to tightening labor market

FILE PHOTO: Job seekers line up at TechFair in Los Angeles, California, U.S. March 8, 2018. REUTERS/Monica Almeida

By Lucia Mutikani

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. job openings rebounded sharply in March, while the pace of hiring was little changed, pointing to a growing worker shortage that could slow employment growth this year.

Despite the tightening labor market conditions, the report from the Labor Department on Tuesday also showed workers still reluctant to voluntarily quit their jobs in droves to seek opportunities elsewhere. The scarcity of workers poses a risk to the economy’s growth prospects. The economy will mark 10 years of expansion in July, the longest in history.

“The risks right now for the economic outlook going forward is there is actually a danger that companies will run out of the help they need to produce goods or sell their services,” said Chris Rupkey, chief economist at MUFG in New York.

“The U.S. economy has never faced a time when labor shortages might endanger or cut short a long economic expansion, but now it does.”

Job openings, a measure of labor demand, surged by 346,000 to a seasonally adjusted 7.5 million, the Labor Department’s monthly Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey, or JOLTS, showed. The job openings rate rose to 4.7 percent from 4.5 percent in February.

Vacancies in the construction industry increased by 73,000 in March. There were 87,000 job openings in the transportation, warehousing and utilities sector, while real estate, rental and leasing companies had 57,000 unfilled position. Job openings in the federal government, however, decreased by 15,000 in March.

HIRING LAGGING

Hiring was little changed at 5.7 million in March. The hiring rate was steady at 3.8 percent. The lag in hiring suggests employers are experiencing difficulties finding qualified workers, a trend that implies a slowdown in job growth later this year.

There is growing anecdotal evidence of worker shortages, especially in the transportation, manufacturing and construction industries. The economy created 263,000 jobs in April, with the unemployment rate dropping two-tenths of a percentage point to 3.6 percent, the government reported last Friday.

Economists expect job growth to slow to about 150,000 per month this year, still well above the roughly 100,000 needed to keep pace with growth in the working age population.

In March, there were 0.83 job seekers for every job opening. Job openings exceeded the number of unemployed by 1.3 million. Vacancies have outpaced the unemployed for 13 straight months.

The number of workers voluntarily quitting their jobs was little changed at 3.4 million in March, keeping the quits rate at 2.3 percent for a 10th straight month.

The quits rate is viewed by policymakers and economists as a measure of job market confidence. The Federal Reserve last week kept interest rates unchanged and signaled little desire to adjust monetary policy anytime soon.

“You have to hand it to the business community. Despite being on the wrong side of the tight labor market, firms are managing to keep from a major bidding war for workers and are still not losing workers to competitors,” said Joel Naroff, chief economist at Naroff Economic Advisors in Holland, Pennsylvania.

Layoffs slipped in March, lowering the layoffs rate to 1.1 percent from 1.2 percent in the prior month. Layoffs fell in the government sector, but rose slightly in manufacturing and construction. The increase in manufacturing layoffs likely reflected redundancies in the automobile sector, which is experiencing slowing sales and an inventory overhang.

“Layoffs and discharges are extremely low, by historical standards, which reflects that employers need their workers and are prepared to make an effort to retain them,” said Julia Pollak, labor economist at employment marketplace ZipRecruiter.

(Reporting By Lucia Mutikani; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Andrea Ricci)

U.S. firms hire 275,000 workers in April, most nine months: ADP

People attend the Executive Branch Job Fair hosted by the Conservative Partnership Institute at the Dirksen Senate Office Building in Washington, U.S., June 15, 2018. REUTERS/Toya Sarno Jordan

(Reuters) – U.S. private employers added 275,000 jobs in April, well above economists’ expectations and the most since last July, supporting the view of a solid domestic labor market, a report by a payrolls processor showed on Wednesday.

April’s robust figure might be overstating the strength of the jobs sector due to technical factors, said Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s Analytics which jointly developed the employment report with ADP.

Job growth last month was likely in the 175,000 to 200,000 range, which is the current consensus range among economists, Zandi said on a conference call with reporters.

Economists surveyed by Reuters had forecast the ADP National Employment Report would show a gain of 180,000 jobs, with estimates ranging from 141,000 to 225,000.

Private payroll gains in the month earlier were revised up to 151,000 from an originally reported 129,000 increase.

While the overall labor market is “fine,” it is slowing, Zandi said.

The ADP figures come ahead of the U.S. Labor Department’s more comprehensive non-farm payrolls report at 8:30 a.m. (1230 GMT) on Friday, which includes both public and private-sector employment.

Economists polled by Reuters are looking for U.S. private payroll employment to have grown by 180,000 jobs in April, down from 182,000 the month before. Total non-farm employment is expected to have changed by 185,000.

The unemployment rate is forecast to stay steady at the 3.8 percent recorded a month earlier.

GRAPHIC: ADP vs. the U.S. Labor Department payrolls data – http://tmsnrt.rs/2eRF4KM

(Reporting by Richard Leong and Dan Burns; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama)

Finding the bright side in a graying U.S. workforce

By Mark Miller

CHICAGO (Reuters) – (The opinions expressed here are those of the author, a columnist for Reuters.)

U.S. Economists call it the “old-age dependency ratio” – a rough measure of the balance between people who work and retirees.

The ratio compares the number of people over age 65 – classified as old – with those aged 15 to 64 – and it is not headed in a healthy direction: by 2040, there will be 2.7 working-age Americans for each retiree, down from 4.8 in 2010.

That number from the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta points toward a shortfall of workers available to support an aging population, and it is cited often to justify doom-and-gloom warnings about economic growth, federal spending and the health of our social insurance programs.

But do not tell that to Chris Farrell. The senior economics contributor to “Marketplace,” American Public Media’s nationally syndicated public radio business and economic program is bullish on aging. Farrell is the author of a new book, “Purpose and a Paycheck: Finding Meaning, Money, and Happiness in the Second Half of Life,” that seeks to upend a range of myths about old age and dependency, replacing them with a new vision of contribution to society and purpose-driven living.

He argues the case with convincing economic analysis and on-the-ground reporting – interviewing dozens of older workers finding their way forward in the labor market, and profiling companies on the leading edge of change.

For starters, he notes that the dependency ratio itself is deeply flawed because it assumes everyone over age 64 has left the workforce – and increasingly, that is not the case. Participation in the labor force by older workers has been rising steadily in recent years. Farrell cites U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics figures showing that from 1995 to 2016, the share of men ages 65 to 69 in the labor force rose from 28 percent to 38 percent; for women, the figure jumped from 18 percent to 30 percent.

“I’m convinced there is a large segment of people out there who think we all just go from age 60 to 90 in one year, Farrell told me in an interview. And when you look at all the research coming out of Wall Street and many economists, their perspective is not that much different.”

RESHAPING THE ECONOMY

Farrell sees the aging of the U.S. population not as a problem, but a major opportunity to create a more inclusive society and vibrant economy. He argues that a more engaged older population will shape everyday life – everything from housing markets to public transportation, urban design and healthcare.

“We have this image of the way life unfolds – you go to school, work and raise children and then retire somewhere else,” he said. “Plenty of our institutions have reflected that. But as people work longer and stay in urban areas longer, the impact will be profound – just for one example, older people tend to want public transportation – and so do younger people.”

Farrell’s analysis of the labor market for older workers is especially provocative. The Great Recession ushered in a decade of high U.S. unemployment rates for millions who found themselves shut out of the job market by age discrimination. And age discrimination is alive and well.

For example, a recent analysis of data from the University of Michigan Health and Retirement Study by ProPublica and the Urban Institute found that 56 percent of older workers are laid off at least once or leave jobs under such financially damaging circumstances that it’s likely they were pushed out rather than choosing to go voluntarily. The report also found that just one in 10 of these workers earn as much as they did before their job losses.

Farrell acknowledges that discrimination remains a tough problem, but he argues we are at an inflection point where employers will be forced to accommodate older workers due to the overall tight labor market. “It’s not that employers have suddenly become enlightened, but they will have to look at older workers with a different eye and think about hiring differently,” he said. “Do they want to fulfill their missions and grow their businesses, or not?”

Farrell tells the stories of dozens of experienced workers and later-life entrepreneurs who are forging new paths in their sixties, seventies and beyond. He also digs up plenty of examples of companies that are rethinking their approaches to accommodating older workers.

A small Minnesota precision machine company facing a thin pipeline of skilled machinists has invested in new equipment to reduce the physical strain on older workers so they can stick around longer. A healthcare company in Virginia changed the way it calculates pension benefits to avoid penalizing workers who cut back to part-time hours close to retirement.

“I really believe we’ve crossed the Rubicon on this problem,” he said. “Older workers just will be looked at differently – we’ve crossed a line and can’t go back.”

(Reporting and writing by Mark Miller in Chicago; Editing by Matthew Lewis)

Venezuela children left behind as parents flee to find work abroad

Iris Olivo holds her grandson Andrew Miranda's hand at the slum of La Vega in Caracas, Venezuela November 16, 2018. REUTERS/Marco Bello

By Shaylim Castro

CARACAS (Reuters) – Yusneiker and Anthonella have been living with their grandmother since their father left Venezuela and its collapsing economy last year for Peru, to try and earn enough to feed them. Two years earlier, their mother fled for the Dominican Republic for the same reason.

Yusneiker, 12, and Anthonella, 8, are eating better thanks to hard currency remittances from their parents, according to their grandmother Aura Orozco, who is grateful for the dollars that offer a reprieve from Venezuela’s annual inflation of nearly 2 million percent.

Still, she said, they miss their parents.

When they fall sick, they clamor for their mother. Though Yusneiker has adapted, Anthonella’s grades have slipped. The dark-eyed, curly-haired girl has clammed up and often answers her grandmother by simply nodding or shaking her head.

“To this day, she will lay down and if you ask her ‘what is wrong?’ she will say ‘I miss my mommy,'” said Orozco, 48, in her home in the hillside Caracas slum of Cota 905.

Some 3 million Venezuelans have migrated in three years, putting a growing strain on the country’s children as more parents are forced into the heart-wrenching decision to leave.

There is no official data on the phenomenon from the government of President Nicolas Maduro, which disputes the idea that there is an exodus, saying international aid agencies are inflating figures to give the administration a black eye. Despite this official skepticism, Maduro has touted a program to help migrants return.

Childhood hunger, decrepit schools and shortages of medicine and vaccinations already were problems amid the collapse of an economy once renowned for abundant oil wealth. With more parents migrating, experts interviewed by Reuters said growing problems facing Venezuelan children now include slumping school performance and malnutrition of newborns separated from would-be nursing mothers.

“These are lose-lose decisions for the parents – do I lose more by not being able to cover basic needs in the country, or by sacrificing the relationship with my child?” said Abel Saraiba, a psychologist with Caracas-based child advocacy group Cecodap.

Venezuelan migration, for years a middle-class phenomenon that involved air travel, is now dominated by working-class citizens who take long bus rides or walk along dangerous paths that are unsuitable for children.

Many also know they face challenging economic circumstances and want to be free to work all-day shifts to send more money home.

Cecodap said problems associated with children left behind by emigrating parents comprised its third most common request for help in 2018, up from fifth place in 2017.

Catholic organization Faith and Happiness, which runs schools in poor neighborhoods, said at least 5 percent of students had seen their parents emigrate as of the start of 2019.

MATERIAL BENEFITS

Children often gain material benefits from their parents’ migration, because sending hard currency to relatives provides greater access to food and medicine and even the occasional gift. Yusneiker’s grandmother was recently able to surprise him with a new pair of sneakers.

Parents say this is little consolation for breaking up a family.

“Even though my kids are older, it still hurts. I miss them so much,” said Omaira Martinez, who left her 17-year-old and 21-year-old children with their grandmother when she moved to Chile six months ago, where she now works washing dishes. “The first few months were hard. I cried a lot.”

Anthonella Peralta looks at photos sent by her mother Yusmarlys Orozco, who lives in Dominican Republic, on grandmother Aura's phone, in their home in the slum Cota 905 in Caracas, Venezuela December 18, 2018. REUTERS/Marco Bello

Anthonella Peralta looks at photos sent by her mother Yusmarlys Orozco, who lives in Dominican Republic, on grandmother Aura’s phone, in their home in the slum Cota 905 in Caracas, Venezuela December 18, 2018. REUTERS/Marco Bello

Venezuela’s Information Ministry, which handles media inquiries for the government, did not respond to a request for comment.

Maduro has warned migrants that they face xenophobia and exploitation in other countries, and has launched a repatriation effort called “Return to the Homeland” that he says has helped some 12,000 unhappy migrants return home.

Often parents are unable to return quickly despite having promised to do so.

When Angymar Jimenez, 27, left for Ecuador to work as a manicurist, she planned to be back in several months. Two years later, her two children Andrew, 5, and Ailin, 10, are still in the care of their grandmother, Iris Olivo.

“(Ailin) at first would say that her mom was coming to get her, she would say goodbye to her friends because she thought she was leaving,” said Olivo. “Eventually she realized that wasn’t happening.”

In extreme cases, migration of a nursing mother can lead to illness and malnutrition.

One-year-old Leanny Santander in the western Falcon state has been suffering from diarrhea and vomiting since her mother moved to Colombia in search of work and stopped breastfeeding her, said her grandmother, Nelida Santander.

Santander said doctors told her Leanny’s health problems, which now include bronchitis, resulted from the early end of breast-feeding.

“I prefer for my granddaughter to be here with me – if her mother took her over there it would be worse,” said Santander, 50. “Here she is sick, but at least I can attend to her.”

The decision to migrate is often made quickly, which means parents are likely to leave children with relatives without giving them custody, putting children in a legal limbo.

A 2018 survey on migration issues by pollster Datanalisis found that about half the households surveyed had not legally placed children in a guardian’s care. That complicates signing up for school, where the presence of both parents is legally required.

The situation puts further pressure on kids to grow up early, sometimes to comfort their own anguished parents.

“I speak to her every day,” said Yusneiker of his mother in the Dominican Republic. “I tell her I miss her, that she should not worry, and that I know she has not abandoned me.”

(Additional reporting by Mircely Guanipa in Punto Fijo; Editing by Alexandra Ulmer and David Gregorio)