Views: Mitigating COVID-19’s catastrophic impact on retirement readiness

As the coronavirus has placed many financial worries onto families, it has also placed a sense of worries for those that are planning for their retirement. Read this blog post to learn more.


It’s bad enough that more than 50 million Americans have filed claims for unemployment benefits since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown. But in addition to the disruption, financial hardship, and uncertainty that unemployed Americans (and their families) are experiencing right now, this crisis also threatens their financial security during retirement.

As I have written many times before in this column, defined contribution plan participants will seriously diminish their retirement savings if they prematurely cash out all or part of their 401(k) savings account balances. According to our research, a hypothetical 30-year-old who cashes out a 401(k) account with $5,000 today would forfeit up to $52,000 in earnings they would have accrued by age 65, if we assume the account would have grown by 7% per year. In addition, the Employee Benefit Research Institute (EBRI) estimates that the average American worker will change employers 9.9 times over a 45-year period. With at least 33% and as many as 47% of plan participants cashing out their retirement savings following a job change, according to the Savings Preservation Working Group, that means workers switching jobs could cash out as many as four times over a working career, devastating their ability to fund a secure retirement.

Even before COVID-19 and “social distancing” became part of the national lexicon, cash-outs posed a huge problemto Americans’ retirement prospects. At the beginning of this year, EBRI estimated that the U.S. retirement system loses $92 billion in savings annually due to 401(k) cash-outs by plan participants after they change jobs.

These alarming trends were uncovered long prior to the pandemic and lockdown. Since the start of the COVID-19 outbreak, theCoronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act stimulus has temporarily eased limits, penalties, and taxes on early withdrawals from retirement savings accounts made by December 31, 2020. While the CARES Act measures are clearly well-intentioned, participants who take advantage of these provisions risk creating a long-term problem while resolving short-term liquidity needs.

Heightening the temptation to make 401(k) withdrawals is the recent expiration of another CARES Act provision—the extra $600 weekly payments to Americans who lost their jobs due to the COVID-19 pandemic. These additional federal unemployment benefits expired at the end of July, and as of this writing no deal to extend them has been reached in Congress. For Americans who had been relying on this benefit, or continue to experience financial hardship and stress about paying expenses, it is understandable that 401(k) savings could look like an attractive source of emergency liquidity.

However, given the long-term damage that cash-outs inflict on retirement outcomes, plan sponsors and recordkeepers should take this opportunity, as fiduciaries, to educate their current and terminated participants about the importance of tapping into their 401(k) savings only as an absolute last resort.

Institutionalizing portability can help

The lack of a seamless process for transporting 401(k) assets from job to job causes many participants to view cashing out as the most convenient option. And without an easy way to locate the mailing addresses of lost and missing terminated participants, sponsors and recordkeepers are unable to ensure holders of small accounts receive notifications about the status of their plan benefits.

Fortunately for participants, sponsors, and recordkeepers, technology solutions enabling the institutionalization of plan-to-plan asset portability have been live for three years. These innovations include auto portability, the routine, standardized, and automated movement of a retirement plan participant’s 401(k) savings account from their former employer’s plan to an active account in their current employer’s plan.

Auto portability is powered by “locate” technology and a “match” algorithm, which work together to find lost and missing participants, and initiate the process of moving assets into active accounts in their current-employer plans.

By adopting auto portability, sponsors and recordkeepers can not only discourage participants from cashing out, but also eliminate the need for automatic cash-outs. And these advantages come at a time when the hard-earned savings of tens of millions of Americans are at risk of being removed from the U.S. retirement system.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, EBRI estimated that if all plan participants had access to auto portability, up to $1.5 trillion in savings, measured in today’s dollars, would be preserved in our country’s retirement system over a 40-year period. Now more than ever, the institutionalization of portability by sponsors and recordkeepers is essential for helping Americans achieve financial security in retirement.

SOURCE: Williams, S. (31 August 2020) "Mitigating COVID-19’s catastrophic impact on retirement readiness" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.employeebenefitadviser.com/opinion/how-to-mitigate-covid-19s-potentially-catastrophic-impact-on-retirement-readiness


Actions on Payroll Taxes and Unemployment Benefits Promise Relief, Raise Questions

Due to the amount of job losses caused by the coronavirus, President Trump has signed a series of executive orders to provide financial relief. Read this blog post to learn more.


On Aug. 8, President Donald Trump signed a series of executive orders and memorandums intended to provide financial relief to employees and those who have lost their jobs due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

These declarations included a Memorandum on Deferring Payroll Tax Obligations in Light of the Ongoing COVID-19 Disaster, which directed the Treasury Department to defer collection of the employee portion of Social Security FICA taxes—part of required payroll tax withholding—from Sept. 1 through the end of 2020. The deferred taxes may have to be subsequently repaid unless Congress enacts legislation stating otherwise.

Trump cited his authority to postpone certain tax deadlines by reason of a presidentially declared disaster. Democrats, however, are expected to challenge that claim in court. Nevertheless, it is prudent for employers and payroll managers to stay aware of developments and prepare to move quickly if the directive and upcoming guidance are not blocked or superseded by enactment of a comprehensive relief bill.

Payroll tax relief, as outlined in the president's directive, would require employers to take steps to ensure compliance, including working with their payroll administrators to adjust their systems by Sept. 1. Employers would also need to explain to employees that while their take-home pay may go up in the short term, they may be required to repay these deferred taxes at a future date.

Details on employer requirements, however, would depend on Treasury Department guidance, expected to be issued shortly.

The other presidential actions authorized a weekly supplemental federal unemployment benefit of up to $400, reduced from the $600 weekly supplement that expired July 31; continued student loan payment relief; and called for measures to prevent residential evictions and foreclosures resulting from financial hardships due to COVID-19.

 

Reduced Unemployment Insurance Supplement

Republicans in Congress argued that the initial $600 federal supplemental payment disincentivized recipients from seeking jobs, since many were collecting more money unemployed than employed. Some wanted the program reduced to $200 per week, while Democrats argued the program should be renewed at the original $600 per week.

Questions were raised about funding for the $400 unemployment insurance boost, which would pull from FEMA's Disaster Relief Fund to pay for a portion of the supplemental benefits while asking states to fund the remainder. Because states may not use the unemployment program to pay benefits unless they are authorized by Congress, they may have to set up a new system to pay their portion of the supplement.

Unemployment experts were also unsure about how funds will be distributed, who will qualify for benefits and how long the benefits will last, pending regulatory guidance.

FICA Taxes

Social Security and Medicare payroll taxes are collected together as the Federal Insurance Contributions Act (FICA) tax. FICA tax rates are statutorily set and are not adjusted for inflation.

Social Security is financed by a 12.4 percent payroll tax on wages up to employees' taxable earnings cap—$137,700 for 2020—with half (6.2 percent) paid by workers and the other half paid by employers. There is no earnings cap on the Medicare portion of FICA, for which employers and employees separately pay a 1.45 percent wage tax.

The COVID-19-related payroll tax relief only applies to the Social Security portion of FICA.

The Payroll Tax Directive

Section 2302 of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, enacted in March and implemented through IRS Notice 2020-22 and a series of IRS FAQs, allows eligible employers to defer the deposit and payment of the employer's share of Social Security FICA taxes for the period beginning March 27, 2020, through Dec. 31, 2020. The deferral also applies to 50 percent of the equivalent taxes incurred by self-employed persons. The deferred payments must subsequently be paid to the Treasury Department, with half due by Dec. 31, 2021, and the other half by Dec. 31, 2022.

The CARES Act provision and related guidance did not apply to employees' share of the Social Security tax.

Under the new presidential directive:

  • The secretary of the treasury is authorized to defer the withholding, deposit and payment to the Treasury of employees' portion of Social Security payroll taxes on applicable wages or compensation paid from Sept. 1, 2020, through Dec. 31, 2020. This provision does not apply to the Medicare portion of FICA taxes.
  • The deferral is to be made available to employees whose earnings during any biweekly pay period is generally less than $4,000, calculated on a pretax basis, which would cover salaried employees earning $104,000 or less per year.
  • Social Security taxes for these employees will be deferred without any penalties, interest, additional amount or addition to the tax.
  • The secretary of the treasury is directed to issue guidance to implement the president's memorandum and to explore avenues, including legislation, to eliminate the obligation to pay the taxes deferred under the implementation of the memorandum.

Josh Blackman, a constitutional law professor at the South Texas College of Law Houston, blogged that HR lawyers will have until Sept. 1 "to figure out the details." Because the policy terminates on Dec. 31, 2020, "President Trump, or President Biden, will be forced to decide whether to continue this program," he wrote.

A Controversial Move

"By providing this tax relief, American families will have more cash on hand during these critical next few months," according to a White House statement.

White House economic advisor Larry Kudlow said that "we will take any steps possible to forgive this deferral," so employees will not be required to pay back the amounts deferred through Dec. 31, The Hill reported. However, doing so would require new legislation by Congress.

Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden charged that Trump would try to make the cuts permanent if re-elected and said doing so would "undermine the entire financial footing of Social Security."

Prepare to Adjust Systems and Notify Employees

For now, HR payroll managers should:

  • Discuss with their payroll administrators steps to adjust their payroll systems to exclude employees' share of FICA Social Security taxes beginning Sept. 1, pending the issuance of Treasury guidance.
  • Prepare to notify employees that possibly less of their pay will be subject to payroll withholding, although the reduction in payroll taxes may have to be paid back in the future.
  • Expect questions from employees who may be confused about current and future paycheck adjustments.

Employers' Questions Await Guidance

The president's executive memorandum "leaves open a number of questions and issues, some of which will likely be addressed by guidance from Treasury," according to a legal alert by Adam Cohen, Mary Monahan and Robert Neis, partners at law firm Eversheds Sutherland in Washington, D.C. Issues to be addressed, they said, include:

  • Whether the deferral is voluntary on the part of employers, and whether an employer may deposit and pay employees' deferred taxes at any time prior to the applicable due date.
  • Whether employers will be required to withhold all of the deferred amounts from the first paycheck on or after January 2021, or if there be an extended time for collection and deposit? "A lump sum repayment could cause significant financial hardship for some employees, particularly if it is required right after the holiday season," Cohen, Monahan and Neis noted.
  • What to do with respect to employees who terminate employment before Jan. 1, 2021. "To the extent the employee portion of [Social Security payroll taxes] was deferred, an employer may want to withhold it from paychecks prior to termination of employment, unless there is guidance permitting the employee to pay the deferred portion on their federal income tax return or by other means," the attorneys explained. "For lower-paid employees, this may eliminate one or more paychecks at the end of their tenure. In some situations, the employer may end up bearing the cost of the taxes as a practical matter."
  • Whether an employer can use the deferral with respect to some groups of qualifying employees, but not others, where that may be desirable for payroll administration or other reasons.
  • How overtime pay or other variable pay, such as commissions and bonuses, should be taken into account in calculating the $4,000 threshold. "It appears that base pay or wages may be the proper metric in most cases, but further elaboration by Treasury is needed," Cohen, Monahan and Neis said.

A Wait and See Approach

Melissa Ostrower and Robert Perry, principals in the New York City office of law firm Jackson Lewis, "recommend that employers continue to monitor applicable guidance, but not make any changes to their payroll withholding processes at this time."

They added, "We realize that changes to payroll systems require lead time, but given the uncertainty surrounding how the deferral will be implemented and whether it actually will become effective, we think this is the most prudent course at this time."

SOURCE: Miller, S. (10 August 2020) "Actions on Payroll Taxes and Unemployment Benefits Promise Relief, Raise Questions" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/hr-topics/compensation/pages/actions-on-payroll-taxes-and-unemployment-benefits-promise-relief-raise-questions.aspx


Virus impact may extend to 57 million U.S. jobs

Did you know: the coronavirus pandemic has caused more than 26 million employees to file for unemployment. As the coronavirus continues to spread, many employees are still at a loss for jobs. Read this blog post to learn more.


The coronavirus pandemic will hurt 57 million U.S. workers, more than double the number of jobless claims so far, once furloughs and reduced hours and pay are included, according to McKinsey.

The more than 26 million people who have filed unemployment claims in the past five weeks provide only a partial picture of workforce dislocations, with tens of millions more facing additional risks, according to a report by economists including Susan Lund at the McKinsey Global Institute, the think tank arm of the consultancy.

The earliest wave of unemployment claims in mid-March disproportionately hit the food service, entertainment and hotel industries. The disruption has since moved into categories including retail, business services, manufacturing and non-essential health care.

There’s significant overlap between workers who are vulnerable because of the virus and those whose jobs were already at risk from automation, providing a challenge for the U.S. to train at-risk employees for more sustainable job opportunities.

Low-wage, part-time and minority workers are the most likely to be hurt by the pandemic, with 74% of at-risk jobs paying less than $40,000 a year, according to McKinsey’s analysis. But the number of full-time and white-collar positions being affected is rising, with 16% of vulnerable workers making more than $70,000 a year.

“It’s really the people who are generally lowest paid, less educated and least prepared to weather a spell of unemployment that are most at risk,” Lund said in a phone interview.

Education is the strongest demographic predictor of vulnerability, with people who don’t have bachelor’s degrees twice as likely to hold such jobs.

Companies can help by reducing hours and temporarily furloughing workers rather than firing them, McKinsey said. They also should offer greater flexibility to parents working from home and find ways to reconfigure office spaces to prevent a new virus outbreak. State workforce agencies can help provide training and education opportunities for the unemployed, McKinsey said.

SOURCE: Martin, E. (01 May 2020) "Virus impact may extend to 57 million U.S. jobs" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.employeebenefitadviser.com/articles/virus-impact-may-extend-to-57-million-u-s-jobs


Strategies for making layoffs a last resort during a crisis

Did you know: 6.6 million Americans have applied for unemployment due to the coronavirus pandemic. Many businesses are looking for other alternatives than automatically laying off their employees. Read this blog post to learn more.


In uncertain times business leaders can be faced with an impossible choice, keep every employee or keep their business afloat.

More than 6.6 million Americans have applied for unemployment, according to the Labor Department and there have been over 10 million jobless claims, as a result of the coronavirus pandemic keeping people in their homes and out of work. It is likely that businesses will make further cuts as the latest PwC survey suggests 44% of CFOs expect furloughs and 16% expect layoffs.

The unfortunate reality for many small businesses is that there typically isn’t an alternative to layoffs, but larger organizations have more options.

“There are several firms in the U.S. right now, including our own, that have publicly said layoffs are a last resort,” says Bhushan Sethi, PwC’s global people and organization leader. “What they are looking to do is be creative with the different levers you can pull around the workforce.”

Sethi in a recent interview shared ways in which employers can make layoffs a last resort in times of unpredictability.

How can businesses avoid layoffs during a crisis?

There’s looking at compressed work schedules, reducing costs in other areas, including real estate or business travel. There are other benefits employers may be offering that are not relevant like a car allowance or a travel allowance. Even before COVID-19 we’ve seen clients take a look at a compressed work schedule. Employers need to understand what it means if they offer a compressed work week, whether it is 40 hours across four days or in some areas it might mean one week on, one week off. So the compressed work weeks can take on different forms. Changing the pay would be next, and looking at the areas of your firm that have significant costs and looking at where value is created. What that could mean is changing the mix of pay at the executive level. Certain companies have come out and froze or capped executive pay or said executives won’t take bonuses. So there’s different levers on the compressed work schedules and on the pay models and then there are other kinds of cost control measures you can take.

How are employers designing benefits during this time?

In our CFO survey we saw that 56% of them were also looking at other benefits, specifically things like paid time off and sick leave. A number of them are saying “how do I design benefits around what my people want?” At PwC we said we’re going to give an emergency child care allowance to people who need it for $2,200. We’re seeing this shift around what you can offer your employees from a benefits perspective that might be very relevant to them. I’ve seen other clients say “well if there is a small piece of equipment that will help you with remote working like investing in a different shaped chair or something like that,” it seems trivial but it's really important to people’s experience right now.

How can employers reassure their remaining staff when they have to make staffing cuts?

It’s still an opportunity for firms to start planning beyond just today’s business. You’ve got to project out maybe 12 months and say what will my revenue and my profitability be, based on some assumptions being made around the business. The more you can get employers to actually think about kind of financial impact then you can walk it back and say okay, I‘ve got to ask about the costs I need to manage and how can I be creative by not just looking at payroll and salary and benefits, but how can I think about other levers I can pull? Can I offer sabbaticals to people? Can I do compressed schedules? Can there be job sharing in certain key rolls? Looking at all the different levers around it is going to be important because then you may actually get to a decision that is more beneficial for your employees, for society, and your business because you won’t be in the process of having to lay off a significant amount of people and cause reputational damage to the business.

SOURCE; Shiavo, A. (13 April 2020) "Strategies for making layoffs a last resort during a crisis" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.employeebenefitadviser.com/news/strategies-for-making-layoffs-a-last-resort-during-a-crisis


Gig workers win right to unemployment benefits

While many employees are fighting to keep their jobs during the coronavirus pandemic, gig workers are fighting for their rights to unemployment benefits. Read this blog post to learn more.


New York Postmates food delivery drivers and potentially thousands of other gig workers can receive unemployment benefits at a time of historic job losses, following a ruling by the state’s highest court that they are company employees.

The New York Court of Appeals said Thursday that Postmates “could not operate” without its couriers, rejecting the company’s argument that it simply operates a platform connecting drivers to customers.

“Today’s decision is a huge victory for thousands of gig workers across New York,” said New York Attorney General Letitia James. “The courts have solidified what we all have known for a while: delivery drivers are employees and are entitled to the same unemployment benefits other employees can obtain.”

Postmates and other platform companies like Uber and Lyft have long claimed their workers are self-employed entrepreneurs rather than employees entitled to minimum wage, overtime, unemployment and other protections. They have vigorously contested lawsuits and legislation seeking to reclassify their workers.

The coronavirus pandemic has put unprecedented pressure on gig-economy workers. The stay-at-home orders now in force in much of the nation have sidelined vast numbers of them while others have kept driving despite the risk of spreading or catching the contagion.

The ruling on Thursday reverses a lower court decision finding Postmates wasn’t the employer of delivery driver Luis Vega, who was kicked off the platform. An administrative board had previously found that Vega was eligible for unemployment insurance benefits as a Postmates employee.

“While couriers decide when to log into the Postmates’ app and accept delivery jobs, the company controls the assignment of deliveries by determining which couriers have access to possible delivery jobs,” the court said.

“The Court of Appeals has confirmed what we have said all along: app-based employers have been misclassifying workers and denying them their rights for no other reason than their own bottom-line,” Mario Cilento, president of the New York State AFL-CIO, said in a statement. “The harm caused by this injustice has never been clearer than during this pandemic.”

San Francisco-based Postmates said that, while it disagreed with the decision, it was in favor of modernizing worker classifications and was willing to work with New York to achieve that.

“We fully support designing a responsible framework that allows New Yorkers to choose if, when, where, and for how long they work, while also providing them access to the benefits and services they deserve,” the company said.

SOURCE: Bloomberg News. (27 March 2020) "Gig workers win right to unemployment benefits" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/articles/gig-workers-win-right-to-unemployment-benefits


Recruiting in the Tight(est) of Labor Markets

Are you struggling to attract top talent? Recruiters are left searching for ways to recruit top talent in a seemingly shrinking talent pool. Read on for tips on recruiting in the tightest of labor markets.


The Job Market in 2019 is drastically different than the one we all became accustomed to for so many years. The unemployment rate is two percent for college graduates, and an even tighter market in the growth areas of Digital Strategy and Data.  The result is more and more companies going after a seemingly shrinking talent pool of available candidates. What is a Recruiter to do?

Develop a Relationship

Enter into the mindset that everyone is a (passive) candidate, not just anyone that responds to your job post on Indeed or Linkedin. I find that the right passive candidate is very responsive to the inquiry along the lines of “you have an exceptional background, would you have 10/15 minutes for an informational call so we could learn more about you and tell you our story?” This accomplishes two things: the potential candidate’s defenses come down so they can’t say they are not in the market, and it develops a consultative relationship between organization and candidate. Now you can start to develop a robust candidate bench!

Tell Your Story

Today’s Candidate, especially those in the millennial generation, aren’t motivated solely by salary, but by the type of work they are doing. Is it innovative, is the workplace diverse (and is that reflected in the organization’s leadership), what is the organization’s standing in their industry and what is their social impact in the community? How is the organization viewed on Glassdoor and other workplace review websites? Develop a strategic plan bringing out the value of your organization, with an emphasis on your employees, and have a vision for your future. It’s mandatory in 2019 that a corporation has to be storytellers, using Video and Social Media, and that story has to be a compelling message to bring in the right candidates. Today’s workplace culture is not a “Grind it out” until retirement, it’s one focused on doing great work and being personally fulfilled.

Employee Growth

Identify multiple successful employee ambassadors throughout your organization that a candidate can speak with before going forward. Think of these conversations as positive interactions of transparency, more fact-finding for both parties and less “selling” the organization, the most sought after candidate pool is also the most sales-resistant. These ambassadors can also help report back to hiring managers their own honest feedback of the candidate and how they would fit into your unique culture. Finally, have clear examples of employee growth throughout the organization, and not always through title. It could be a successful cross-departmental project that an employee led, or skills acquired that made them the SME in the organization. Genuine accomplishment and fulfillment will always resonate more than financial metrics to your key candidate. EQ should be just as valued as IQ in finding the right hire!


Economy recovering, but not accelerating

BY PAUL WISEMAN

WASHINGTON (AP) — The U.S. economy's recovery looks enduring. It's just not very strong.

Hiring, housing, consumer spending and manufacturing all appear to be improving, yet remain less than healthy. Economists surveyed by The Associated Press expect growth to pick up this year, though not enough to lower unemployment much.

A clearer picture of the nation's economic health will emerge Friday, when the government reveals how many jobs employers added in April.

"The outlook is for continued moderate growth," John Williams, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, said in a speech Thursday. "Nonetheless, we have nearly 4½ million fewer jobs today than five years ago, and the unemployment rate remains very high at 8.2 percent."

The 32 economists polled by the AP late last month are confident the economy has entered a "virtuous cycle" in which more hiring boosts consumer spending, which leads to further hiring and spending. They expect unemployment to drop from 8.2 percent in March to below 8 percent by Election Day.

But they still think the rate won't reach a historically normal level below 6 percent until 2015 or later. And they predict hiring will slow the rest of this year from a relatively brisk December-February pace.

The government's economic data have been sending mixed signals about the health of the recovery from the Great Recession. Here's a look at the economy's vital signs:

— JOBS

The job market is gradually improving, though not as fast as it had been. From December through February, employers added a strong 246,000 jobs a month. That figure sank to a weak 120,000 in March. The April jobs report could clarify whether March was a one-month dud — or evidence of a more lasting slowdown in job creation like the one that occurred in mid-2011.

The economists in the AP survey foresee average job growth of 177,000 a month from April through June and 189,000 for the next six months. The economy needs to generate about 125,000 jobs a month just to keep up with population growth.

On Thursday, the government said the number of people who applied for unemployment benefits last week fell by a sharper-than-expected 27,000 to a seasonally adjusted 365,000. That pointed to fewer layoffs and a brighter outlook for hiring.

Further cause for hope came in a government report Thursday on worker productivity: It fell from January through March by the most in a year. Declining productivity could be a positive sign for jobseekers. It may signal that companies are struggling to squeeze more from their workforces and must hire to keep up with customer orders.

— HOUSING

The housing market has been a dead weight on the economy. The single-family home market, in particular, is still struggling. House prices dropped for six straight months through February, according to the Standard & Poor's/Case-Shiller home-price index. And Americans bought fewer previously owned homes in March.

The economists polled by the AP worry that the lingering effects of the housing bust are slowing the economy's expansion. They say growth can't accelerate until national home prices finally hit bottom.

Still, spending on home construction and renovations rose from January through March by the most in nearly two years. And housing investment, led by apartment construction, is expected to contribute to economic growth this year for the first time since 2005.

The warm winter may also have led more people to buy earlier in the year, essentially stealing sales from March. Reduced prices, record-low mortgage rates, higher rents and the improving job market appear to be emboldening would-be buyers. Many seem to have concluded that prices won't drop much further, if at all.

And builders are laying plans to construct more homes in 2012 than at any other point in the past 3½ years.

— CONSUMERS

Americans have proved surprisingly willing to spend in the face of a wobbly economy. In the first three months of the year, consumer spending grew at an annual pace of 2.9 percent, the fastest in more than a year.

Some economists doubt that consumers can keep it up. They probably can't afford to. Americans' after-tax income in the first three months rose just 0.6 percent from a year earlier. That was the skimpiest pay increase in two years. People spent more, in part, because they saved less. Economists worry that people won't keep spending more unless their income grows.

On Thursday, big retailers including Costco, Macy's and Target, reported that sales last month came in below expectations.

— CORPORATE PROFITS

U.S. companies earned more money than analysts expected from January through March. They're beating Wall Street estimates at the best rate in more than a decade. Improved earnings have propelled the Dow Jones industrial average up nearly 4 percent since April 10.

U.S. corporations excluding banks and other financial firms are sitting on more than $2.2 trillion in cash, up from $1.7 trillion in 2009. That surplus means they can afford to expand and hire whenever they're confident enough.

— MANUFACTURING

Manufacturing has provided much of the fuel for the U.S. recovery since the recession ended roughly three years ago. American manufacturing expanded last month at the fastest pace in 10 months. New orders rose to the highest level in a year, a signal of more production in coming months. Export orders also rose, despite worries that weaker economies in Europe and China could hold back U.S. exports.

And the busier factories are hiring. Manufacturers added 120,000 jobs a month through March this year, their fastest three-month pace since 1997.

But the economists surveyed by the AP think manufacturers will fill jobs more slowly the rest of the year. If so, that could weaken overall job growth.

 


US hiring slows sharply

Employers only added 115,000 in April

BY CHRISTOPHER S. RUGABER

WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. employers pulled back on hiring in April for the second straight month, evidence of an economy still growing only sluggishly. The unemployment rate dipped, but only because more people gave up looking for work.

The Labor Department said Friday that the economy added just 115,000 jobs in April. That's below March's upwardly revised 154,000 jobs and far fewer than the pace earlier this year.

The unemployment rate dropped to 8.1 percent last month from 8.2 percent in March. It has fallen a full percentage point since August to a three-year low. But last month's decline was not due to job growth. The government only counts people as unemployed if they are actively looking for work.

In April, the percentage of adults working or looking for work fell to the lowest level in more than 30 years. Many have become discouraged about their prospects. More than 5 million Americans have been unemployed for six months or longer, an astonishingly high number almost three years into a recovery.

Stock futures dipped after the report was released.

Employers added an average of 252,000 jobs per month from December through February, a burst of hiring that raised hopes the economy would accelerate. But job gains have averaged only 135,000 in the two months since then. That's below last year's pace of 164,000 per month.

Weak job gains pose a threat to President Barack Obama's reelection. He is likely to face voters this fall with the highest unemployment rate of any president since World War II.

Some economists attribute the weak gains partly to mild winter, which led some companies to accelerate hiring in January and February. That may have weakened hiring in March and April.

"Over the next couple of months we would expect the monthly gains to settle back into a 150,000 to 200,000 range," Paul Ashworth, an economist at Capital Economics, wrote in a note to clients.

But others are concerned that this reflects a genuine slowdown.

"One month can be weather related, two months of weaker than expected job growth is dangerously close to a trend," Dan Greenhaus, an analyst at BTIG, an institutional brokerage firm.

The slowdown could heighten fears that high gas prices and sluggish income growth are weighing on the broader economy.

Economists noted that the job gains are consistent with the 2.2 percent annual growth in the first three months of the year. Faster growth will be needed to accelerate hiring.

The economy must create at least 125,000 jobs a month just to keep pace with population growth. It generally takes twice that number on a consistent basis to rapidly lower the unemployment rate.

Average hourly wages rose a penny in April, to $23.38. They have increased 1.8 percent over the past year, trailing the rate of inflation.

Manufacturers, retailers, and hotels and restaurants all added workers. So did professional services such as engineering and information technology. Shipping and warehousing firms, construction companies, and governments cut jobs.

Hiring in February and March was revised up to show additional job gains of 53,000.

There have been other signs that hiring will improve.

The number of people seeking unemployment benefits fell last week by the most in a year, the government said Thursday. That drop wasn't reflected in the April employment report, which was compiled from a survey taken earlier in the month. But it could bode well for hiring in May.

And earlier this week, the Institute for Supply Management, a private trade group, said factory activity grew at the fastest pace in 10 months and a gauge of manufacturing employment showed that hiring jumped.

Still, service companies expanded in April at the slowest pace in four months, according to a separate ISM survey. And the group said hiring at those companies, which employ roughly 90 percent of the work force, slowed.

The economy expanded at a 2.2 percent annual rate in the January-March quarter, down from 3 percent growth in the fourth quarter. Economists polled by the Associated Press forecast the economy will grow 2.5 percent this year. In a healthy economy, that would be considered average. But faster growth is needed to spur greater job creation.

 


Supporting staff to become more resilient has to go beyond telling them to ‘pull themselves together’

By Stephen Bevan

There seems to be no end in sight to the gloomy economic outlook: growth stagnant, unemployment still growing, fear of job losses high and pressure on workers and families building. Business continuity – keeping on track when the firm is buffeted by external shocks – has become a major challenge.

'Resilience' is needed by individuals, organizations and indeed whole communities, if we are to meet these challenges.

There is a lot of press about resilience at the moment. People are invoking the spirit of the blitz, the old-fashioned 'stiff upper-lip' and the need to 'keep calm and carry on' in a period of national adversity. But there has to be more to resilience than stoicism. We need to think of what ordinary people in business can do - or be - to help them cope with adversity, setbacks and uncertainty. Doing so will allow them to do a good job.

Numerous theorists have attempted to define psychological resilience. All agree on one important thing: that it improves an individual's chances to compensate for the uncontrollable negative impact of pressure. The Latin origin of resilience, resilire, means to 'rebound' and our use of the term reflects this quality. For many, resilience is related to flexibility, being 'both the capacity to be bent without breaking and the capacity, once bent, to spring back', in the words of George Valliant, in The Wisdom of the Ego (Harvard University Press, 1993). Applied to the work environment, it is a preventive attribute that equips individuals or a team to anticipate stress and maintain mental wellbeing. One other characteristic of 'resilience' is the ability to build and sustain adaptive capacity. This is beneficial to future work situations: 'being resilient encapsulates the flexibility in adapting to and overcoming adversity, so that personal growth can occur' (Mary Gillespie, PhD thesis, Griffith University, 2007).

I have worried for some time that, by contrast, our use of the term 'stress' has moved beyond its original meaning and in some quarters become negatively associated with learned helplessness or else has been over-musicalized. It is true some are subject to intolerable pressures from a number of work and non-work sources that damage their mental wellbeing and may make them ill. Indeed, the latest forecasts from Age Concern suggest over 7 million people of working age in the UK will have a mental health condition by 2030. Despite this, I find it hard to accept that nothing more can be done to enhance a natural capacity for resilience and adaptability, which - though it resides in us all - can be difficult to deploy effectively in troubled times. Supporting people to become more resilient has to go beyond telling them to 'buck up' or 'pull themselves together'.

We know from research that the resilient tend to have a sense of humor and realistic optimism under stress. They are also better equipped to view problems as opportunities and to learn from mistakes or failures. We know less about whether resilient people or teams are more productive or innovative, whether resilience distinguishes great leaders from also-rans and whether it can (or should) be spotted early during induction. Crucially, we need to know more about how to sustain workforce resilience as a driver of both personal wellness and business continuity.

I am not convinced engagement alone will deliver high performance and smart productivity growth, without a concerted effort to understand, develop and exploit the latent capacity of UK workers to bounce back from adversity. We will need these qualities in spades when the recovery gathers momentum.