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Workers are getting a really bad deal

This week's spate of data highlighted the difficulties Americans who have lost their jobs have had bouncing back from the coronavirus pandemic, and just how much those who have managed to keep their jobs have been working.

What's happening: The Labor Department reported Thursday that the productivity of American workers fell by a revised 4.2% annual rate in the fourth quarter, the largest decline in 39 years.


  • The productivity decline was due to an increase in output by 5.5% that was accompanied by a 10.1% increase in hours worked.
  • Unit labor costs and hourly compensation both increased, but largely because lower-wage workers have disproportionately been pushed out of the labor force, driving up the average.

What it means: Less people are working and those who are, are working more.

Between the lines: The increased work employees have done has been great for big companies, who have significantly cut back their workforce numbers over the past year.

  • Companies with more than 1,000 total employees cut more than 5,000 jobs in February and reduced their labor headcount by 4.7 million jobs since February 2020, according to ADP's private payrolls data.
  • Over the past three months, companies with 1,000-plus employees shed an average of 39,000 employees a month, while companies with 1–49 employees added an average of 26,500.

Why it matters: The pandemic has shifted the business landscape to one that strongly favors large companies over small ones, so we can likely expect more of this in the future.

The big picture: Big companies have been able to feast on record-low borrowing rates as the Fed's quantitative easing programs and implicit backstopping of the bond market have made it easy for just about any large company to raise money by issuing debt.

  • Small companies without capital market access have seen much the opposite, as banks have tightened lending standards and pandemic-hit businesses have struggled to survive with minimal support from government programs like the Paycheck Protection Program.

Why you'll hear about this again: The Fed and chair Jerome Powell say they are keeping interest rates low and maintaining incredibly easy monetary policy as part of the effort to tighten the labor market and help Americans get back to work.

  • But big companies have shown they aren't using the Fed's bounty to hire workers. They are hoarding money in cash reserves and investing in new technology designed to replace workers.

Of note: Thursday's initial jobless claims data showed that another 1.2 million Americans filed for first-time unemployment claims last week, and 18 million remained on unemployment insurance as of Feb. 13.

Czech Republic expels 18 Russian diplomats over 2014 depot explosion

Czech police on Saturday connected two Russian men suspected of carrying out a poisoning attack in Salisbury, England, with a deadly ammunition depot explosion southeast of the capital, Prague, per Reuters.

Driving the news: Czech officials announced Saturday they're expelling 18 Russian diplomats they accuse of being involved in the blast in Vrbetice, AP notes. Czech police said later they're searching for two men carrying several passports — including two named Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov.

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Indianapolis mass shooting suspect legally bought 2 guns, police say

The suspected gunman in this week's mass shooting at a FedEx facility in Indianapolis legally purchased two assault rifles believed to have been used in the attack, police said late Saturday.

Of note: The Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department's statement that Brandon Scott Hole, 19, bought the rifles last July and September comes a day after the FBI said in a statement to news outlets that a "shotgun was seized" from the suspect in March 2020 after his mother raised concerns about his mental health.

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U.S. and China agree to cooperate on climate action, but details remain to be negotiated

Despite an increasingly tense relationship, the U.S. and China agreed Saturday to work together to tackle global climate change, including by "raising ambition" for emissions cuts during the 2020s — a key goal of the Biden administration.

Why it matters: The joint communique released Saturday evening commits the world's two largest emitters of greenhouse gases to work together to keep the most ambitious temperature target contained in the Paris Climate Agreement viable by potentially taking additional emissions cuts prior to 2030.

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President Biden on Saturday sought to explain why he didn't immediately lift the Trump administration's historically low refugee cap.

Driving the news: Several Democrats accused Biden Friday of not fulfilling his pledge to raise the limit after it was announced he'd keep the cap. The White House said later it would be raised by May 15. Biden told reporters Saturday, "We're going to increase the number."

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Children of color in rural areas battle deep health care disparities

Living in the nation's poorest, most rural communities can be a death sentence for African American and Native American children.

Why it matters: Lack of health care and healthy food make Black and indigenous childrenin the nation’s most disadvantaged counties five times as likely to die as children in other areas of the country,the advocacy group Save the Children found after analyzing federal data.

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How telehealth can narrow racial disparities

Data: CDC; Chart: Danielle Alberti/Axios

Racial disparities have been a constant problem in maternal health care, from rising death rates to the threat of severe COVID-19 among pregnant women. But now experts are hopeful that telehealth can help narrow those disparities.

Why it matters: It's not a complete solution to the racial barriers women of color face. But some experts are optimistic that telehealth — long-distance health care through videoconferences and other technology — can help reduce those barriers by offering flexibility in appointments and better access to diverse providers.

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Capitol Hill's far right pushes Anglo-Saxon values, European architecture

Multiple far-right House Republicans have begun planning and promoting an America First Caucus aimed at pushing "uniquely Anglo-Saxon political traditions," Punchbowl News first reported.

The big picture: "The document was being circulated as the GOP is struggling to determine a clear direction as it prepares to try winning back control of the House and Senate in the 2022 elections," AP writes.

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Super Typhoon Surigae rapidly intensifies to a Cat. 5 near Philippines

Super Typhoon Surigae surged in intensity from a Category 1 storm on Friday to a beastly Category 5 monster on Saturday, with maximum sustained winds estimated at 180 mph with higher gusts.

Why it matters: This storm — known as Typhoon Bising in the Philippines — is just the latest of many tropical cyclones to undergo a process known as rapid intensification, a feat that studies show is becoming more common due to climate change.

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