Corporate Leaders Urged to Wade Into Debate Over Voting Laws: Live Updates

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Credit…Associated Press

Will Smith and the director Antoine Fuqua said on Monday that they were pulling their upcoming film production “Emancipation” out of Georgia because of the state’s new voting law, which has been denounced by activists as an effort to make voting harder for the state’s Black population.

The slavery-era drama, which is being produced and financed by Apple Studios, is the first major production to cite the law as a reason to leave the state, which offers generous tax incentives to Hollywood productions and has become a major hub for Marvel Studios, Netflix and other industry heavyweights.

“At this moment in time, the nation is coming to terms with its history and is attempting to eliminate vestiges of institutional racism to achieve true racial justice,” Mr. Smith and Mr. Fuqua said in a joint statement. “We cannot in good conscience provide economic support to a government that enacts regressive voting laws that are designed to restrict voter access. The new Georgia voting laws are reminiscent of voting impediments that were passed at the end of Reconstruction to prevent many Americans from voting. Regrettably, we feel compelled to move our film production work from Georgia to another state.”

In the film, set to begin production this summer, Mr. Smith was set to play the real-life enslaved man named Peter, who emancipated himself from a Southern plantation and joined the Union Army. His story became famous after photographs of his back, scarred by whippings, appeared in the pages of Harper’s Weekly.

Whether or not this move will prompt other studios to reconsider productions in Georgia is not clear. Stacey Abrams, along with Tyler Perry, who owns his own studio in Atlanta, and others have urged Hollywood not to uproot productions despite outrage over the new law.

Ken Frazier, the Merck chief executive, has called on corporate executives to publicly state their support for broader ballot access.Credit…Mike Cohen for The New York Times

More than 100 corporate leaders attended a Zoom meeting on Saturday afternoon to discuss what they should do, if anything, to shape the debate around restrictive voting laws under discussion across the United States.

On the call, which was organized by Jeffrey Sonnenfeld, a Yale professor who regularly gathers executives to discuss politics, several senior business leaders spoke forcefully about the need for companies to use their clout to oppose new state legislation that would make it harder to vote.

The call began with Ken Chenault, the former American Express chief, and Ken Frazier, the Merck chief executive, urging the executives to publicly state their support for broader ballot access, according to several people who attended the meeting. Earlier this month, the two gathered 70 fellow Black leaders to sign a letter last month calling on companies to fight bills that restrict voting rights, like the one that recently passed in Georgia.

Mr. Chenault and Mr. Frazier have prepared a new statement that broadly supports voting rights, and they are asking big companies to sign it this week.

Later on the call, several other chief executives shared their views on the wave of restrictive new voting laws being advanced by Republicans, according to the people who attended the meeting.

Chip Bergh, the chief executive of Levi’s, called the movement a threat to democracy, while Mia Mends, a Black executive at Sodexo who is based in Houston, spoke about restrictive voting legislation that was making its way through the Texas state legislature.

Toward the end of the call, Reid Hoffman, the LinkedIn co-founder, discussed the importance of having corporate leaders affirm that the last election was secure, and James Murdoch, the former chief executive of 21st Century Fox, talked about the importance of a healthy democracy.

The voting-rights debate is fraught for companies, putting them at the center of an increasingly heated partisan battle.

“C.E.O.s are grappling right now with what to do and how to respond,” said Daniella Ballou-Aares, chief executive of Leadership Now, who helped organize the call. “There is a lot of confusion.”

But beyond making statements, business leaders are at a loss over what they can do to influence the policy decisions made by Republican lawmakers who have embraced overhauling voting rights as a priority.

Companies like Delta Air Lines and Coca-Cola lobbied behind the scenes before the Georgia law was passed last month, and the companies say their efforts had a hand in removing some of the most restrictive provisions, such as eliminating Sunday voting.

But after Delta and Coca-Cola came out in opposition to the final law, and other corporations began sounding the alarm about the voting legislation being advanced in nearly every state, Republican leaders lashed out.

“My warning, if you will, to corporate America is to stay out of politics,” Senator Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky, said last week. “It’s not what you’re designed for. And don’t be intimidated by the left into taking up causes that put you right in the middle of America’s greatest political debates.”

Yet the business community appears to be emboldened, with more companies and business groups preparing to get involved.

Brad Karp, chairman of the law firm Paul Weiss, who attended the meeting on Saturday but did not speak at it, said he was organizing the legal community in an effort to support voting rights, and potentially challenge new laws.

“We plan to challenge any election law that would impose unnecessary barriers on the right to vote and the would disenfranchise underrepresented groups in our country,” Mr. Karp said.

So far, however, there is little indication that the growing outcry from big business is changing Republicans’ priorities, with legislation in Texas and other states still moving ahead.

“Texas is the next one up,” said one chief executive who attended the meeting but asked to remain anonymous. “Whether the business commitments will have a meaningful impact there, we’ll see.”

A QR code in a London cafe, for use with the British government’s contact tracing app.Credit…Neil Hall/EPA, via Shutterstock

An update to the contact tracing app used in England and Wales has been blocked from release by Apple and Google because of privacy concerns, renewing a feud between the British government and the two tech giants about how smartphones can be used to track Covid-19 cases.

In an attempt to trace possible infections, the update to the app would have allowed a person who tests positive for the virus to upload a list of restaurants, shops and other venues they recently visited, data that would be used by health officials for contact tracing. But collecting such location information violates the terms of service that Google and Apple forced governments to agree to in exchange for making contact tracing apps available on their app stores.

The dispute, first reported by the BBC, highlights the supernational role that Apple and Google have played responding to the virus. The companies, which control the software of nearly every smartphone in the world, have forced governments to design contact tracing apps to their privacy specifications, or risk not having the tracking apps made available to the public. The gatekeeper role has frustrated policymakers in Britain, France and elsewhere, who have argued those public health decisions are for governments, not private companies to make.

The release of the app update was to coincide with England’s relaxation of lockdown rules. On Monday, the country began loosening months of Covid-related restrictions, allowing nonessential shops to reopen, and pubs and restaurants to serve customers outdoors.

An older version of the contact tracing app continues to work, but the data is stored on a person’s device, rather than being kept in a centralized database.

To use the app, visitors to a store or restaurant take a photo of a poster with a QR code displayed in the business, and the software keeps a record of the visit in case someone at the same location later tests positive.

Apple and Google are blocking the update that would let people upload the history of the locations they have checked into directly to health authorities.

The Department of Health and Social Care said it is in discussions with Apple and Google to “provide beneficial updates to the app which protect the public.”

Apple and Google declined to comment.

“We’re not talking about how the caregiving crisis is impacting the learning loss for kids and how it’s disproportionately impacting girls and girls of color,” said Reshma Saujani, the founder of the nonprofit group Girls Who Code.Credit…Amr Alfiky/The New York Times

A year into the pandemic, there are signs that the American economy is stirring back to life, with a falling unemployment rate and a growing number of people back at work. Even mothers — who left their jobs in droves in the last year in large part because of increased caregiving duties — are slowly re-entering the work force.

But young Americans — particularly women between the ages of 16 and 24 — are living an altogether different reality, with higher rates of unemployment than older adults. And many thousands, possibly even millions, are postponing their education, which can delay their entry into the work force.

New research suggests that the number of “disconnected” young people — defined as those who are in neither school nor the work force — is growing. For young women, experts said, the caregiving crisis may be a major reason many have delayed their education or careers.

Last year, unemployment among young adults jumped to 27.4 percent in April from 7.8 percent in February. The rate was almost double the 14 percent overall unemployment rate in April and was the highest for that age group in the last two decades, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

At its peak in April, the unemployment rate for young women over all hit 30 percent — with a 22 percent rate for white women in that age group, 30 percent for Black women and 31 percent for Latina women.

Those numbers are starting to improve as many female-dominated industries that shed jobs at the start of the pandemic, like leisure, retail and education, are adding them back. But roughly 18 percent of the 1.9 million women who left the work force since last February — or about 360,000 — were 16 to 24, according to an analysis of seasonally unadjusted numbers by the National Women’s Law Center.

At the same time, the number of women who have dropped out of some form of education or plan to is on the rise. During the pandemic, more women than men consistently reported that they had canceled plans to take postsecondary classes or planned to take fewer classes, according to a series of surveys by the U.S. Census Bureau since last April.

“We’ve focused in particular on the digital divide and the impact of that on the learning loss for kids,” said Reshma Saujani, founder of the nonprofit group Girls Who Code. “But we’re not talking about how the caregiving crisis is impacting the learning loss for kids and how it’s disproportionately impacting girls and girls of color.”

All of this can have long-term knock-on effects. Even temporary unemployment or an education setback at a young age can drag down someone’s potential for earnings, job stability and even homeownership years down the line, according to a 2018 study by Measure of America that tracked disconnected youth over the course of 15 years.

Decorating a restaurant before its reopening on April 12.Credit…Andrew Testa for The New York Times

For the past year, the British economy has yo-yoed with the government’s pandemic restrictions. On Monday, as shops, outdoor dining, gyms and hairdressers reopened across England, the next bounce began.

The pandemic has left Britain with deep economic wounds that have shattered historical records: the worst recession in three centuries and record levels of government borrowing outside wartime.

Last March and April, there was an economic slump unlike anything ever seen before when schools, workplaces and businesses abruptly shut. Then a summertime boom, when restrictions eased and the government helped usher people out of their homes with a popular meal-discount initiative called “Eat Out to Help Out.”

Beginning in the fall, a second wave of the pandemic stalled the recovery, though the economic impact wasn’t as severe as it had been last spring. Still, the government has spent about 344 billion pounds, or $471 billion, on its pandemic response. To pay for it, the government has borrowed a record sum and is planning the first increase in corporate taxes since 1974 to help rebalance its budget.

By the end of the year, the size of Britain’s economy will be back where it was at the end of 2019, the Bank of England predicts. “The economy is poised like a coiled spring,” Andy Haldane, the central bank’s chief economist said in February. “As its energies are released, the recovery should be one to remember after a year to forget.”

Even though a lot of retail spending has shifted online, reopening shop doors will make a huge difference to many businesses.

Daunt Books, a small chain of independent bookstores, was busy preparing to reopen for the past week, including offering a click-and-collect service in all of its stores. Throughout the lockdown, a skeleton crew “worked harder than they’ve ever worked before, just to keep a trickle” of revenue coming in from online and telephone orders, said Brett Wolstencroft, the bookseller’s manager.

“The worst moment for us was December,” Mr. Wolstencroft said, when shops were shut in large parts of the country beginning on Dec. 20. “Realizing you’re losing your last bit of Christmas is exceptionally tough.”

He says he is looking forward to having customers return to browse the shelves and talk to the sellers. “We’d sort of turned ourselves into a warehouse” during the lockdown, he said, “but that doesn’t work for a good bookshop.”

With the likes of pubs, hairdressers, cinemas and hotels shut for months on end, Brits have built up more than £180 billion in excess savings, according to government estimates. That money, once people can get out more, is expected to be the engine of this recovery — even though economists are debating how much of this windfall will end up in the tills of these businesses.

Monday is just one phase of the reopening. Pubs can serve customers only in outdoor seating areas, and less than half, about 15,000, have such facilities. Hotels will also remain closed for at least another month alongside indoor dining, museums and theaters. The next reopening phase is scheduled for May 17.

Over all, two-fifths of hospitality businesses have outside space, said Kate Nicholls, the chief executive of U.K. Hospitality, a trade group.

“Monday is a really positive start,” she said. “It helps us to get businesses gradually back open, get staff gradually back off furlough and build up toward the real reopening of hospitality that will be May 17.”

Part of Saudi Aramco’s giant Ras Tanura oil terminal. The company said it would raise $12.4 billion from selling a minority stake in its oil pipeline business.Credit…Ahmed Jadallah/Reuters

Saudi Aramco, the national oil company of Saudi Arabia, has reached a deal to raise $12.4 billion from the sale of a 49 percent stake in a pipeline-rights company.

The money will come from a consortium led by EIG Global Energy Partners, a Washington-based investor in pipelines and other energy infrastructure.

Under the arrangement announced on Friday, the investor group will buy 49 percent of a new company called Aramco Oil Pipelines, which will have the rights to 25 years of payments from Aramco for transporting oil through Saudi Arabia’s pipeline networks.

Aramco is under pressure from its main owner, the Saudi government, to generate cash to finance state operations as well as investments like new cities to diversify the economy away from oil.

The company has pledged to pay $75 billion in annual dividends, nearly all to the government, as well as other taxes.

Last year, the dividends came to well in excess of the company’s net income of $49 billion. Recently, Aramco was tapped by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the kingdom’s main policymaker, to lead a new domestic investment drive to build up the Saudi economy.

The pipeline sale “reinforces Aramco’s role as a catalyst for attracting significant foreign investment into the Kingdom,” Aramco said in a statement.

From Saudi Arabia’s perspective, the deal has the virtue of raising money up front without giving up control. Aramco will own a 51 percent majority share in the pipeline company and “retain full ownership and operational control” of the pipes the company said.

Aramco said Saudi Arabia would retain control over how much oil the company produces.

Abu Dhabi, Saudi Arabia’s oil-rich neighbor, has struck similar oil and gas deals with outside investors.

Jerome Powell, the Federal Reserve chair, said the economy was at an “inflection point.”Credit…Pool photo by Susan Walsh.

Global stocks drifted lower from recent highs on Monday ahead of a batch of first-quarter earnings reports.

The S&P 500 dipped 0.1 percent after reaching a record on Friday. The Stoxx Europe 600 also declined from a high reached on Friday, dropping 0.2 percent . The FTSE 100 in Britain was also down slightly.

Stocks have recently been propelled higher by expectations that the global economy will recover strongly from the pandemic this year. Much of the impetus is expected to come from the United States, where trillions of dollars are being spent on various economic recovery packages. On Sunday, Federal Reserve chair, Jerome H. Powell, said the economy was at an “inflection point” and on the cusp of growing more quickly.

But there are still concerns about the uneven nature of the recovery within countries and between them. For example, parts of Europe and South America are still struggling to contain outbreaks of the coronavirus and the vaccine rollout is slower than in the United States and Britain.

  • Oil futures rose. Futures of West Texas Intermediate, the U.S. crude benchmark, rose 2 percent to $60.49 a barrel.

  • Yields on 10-year U.S. Treasury notes were little changed at 1.66 percent.

  • Retail sales in the eurozone rose more than economists forecast, data published Monday shows. Sales jumped 3 percent in February from the previous month, compared with predictions of a 1.7 percent increase.

  • In England, nonessential retail stores opened on Monday for the first time in more than three months. Shares in JD Sports, a clothing retailer, rose in the morning and hit a record high. But by midmorning shares were down alongside several other large British brands, including Marks & Spencer and Next. Foot traffic in shopping locations across Britain was three times greater than last week, according to data from Springboard.

The deadline to file a 2020 individual federal return and pay any tax owed has been extended to May 17. But some deadlines remain April 15, Ann Carrns reports for The New York Times. So it’s a good idea to double-check deadlines.

Most, but not all, states are following the extended federal deadlines, and a few have adopted even more generous extensions.

But the Internal Revenue Service has not postponed the deadline for making first-quarter 2021 estimated tax payments. This year, the first estimated tax deadline remains April 15. Some members of Congress are pushing for the I.R.S. to reconcile the deadlines, but it’s unclear whether that will happen, with April 15 less than a week away.

Most states have retained their usual deadlines for first-quarter estimated taxes. One exception is Maryland, which moved both its filing deadline and the deadline for first- and second-quarter estimated tax payments to July 15.

During the pandemic, Amazon workers around the country have joined groups and staged walkouts to amplify their concerns about safety and pay.Credit…Elaine Cromie for The New York Times

Even as unionization elections, like the lopsided vote against a union at Amazon’s warehouse in Bessemer, Ala., have often proven futile, labor has enjoyed some success over the years with an alternative model — what sociologist of labor calls the “air war plus ground war.”

The idea is to combine workplace actions like walkouts (the ground war) with pressure on company executives through public relations campaigns that highlight labor conditions and enlist the support of public figures (the air war). The Service Employees International Union used the strategy to organize janitors beginning in the 1980s, and to win gains for fast-food workers in the past few years, including wage increases across the industry, Noam Scheiber reports for The New York Times.

“There are almost never any elections,” said Ruth Milkman, a sociologist of labor at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. “It’s all about putting pressure on decision makers at the top.”

Labor leaders and progressive activists and politicians said they intended to escalate both the ground war and the air war against Amazon after the failed union election, though some skeptics within the labor movement are likely to resist spending more revenue, which is in the billions of dollars a year but declining.

Stuart Appelbaum, the president of the retail workers union, said in an interview that elections should remain an important part of labor’s Amazon strategy. “I think we opened the door,” he said. “If you want to build real power, you have to do it with a majority of workers.”

But other leaders said elections should be de-emphasized. Jesse Case, secretary-treasurer of a Teamsters local in Iowa, said the Teamsters were trying to organize Amazon workers in Iowa so they could take actions like labor stoppages and enlist members of the community — for example, by turning them out for rallies.

Unfair housing, zoning and lending policies have prevented generations of Black families from gathering assets.Credit…Alyssa Schukar for The New York Times

President Biden’s sweeping pandemic relief bill and his multitrillion-dollar initiatives to rebuild infrastructure and increase wages for health care workers are intended to help ease the economic disadvantages facing racial minorities.

Yet academic experts and some policymakers say still more will be needed to repair a yawning racial wealth gap, in which Black households have a mere 12 cents for every dollar that a typical white household holds.

The disparity results in something of a rigged game for Black Americans, in which they start out behind in economic terms at birth and fall further behind during their lives, Patricia Cohen writes in The New York Times. Black graduates, for example, have to take out bigger loans to cover college costs, compelling them to start out in more debt — on average $25,000 more — than their white counterparts.

The persistence of the problem affects the entire economy: A study by McKinsey & Company found that consumption and investment lost because of the gap cost the U.S. economy $1 trillion to $1.5 trillion over 10 years.

It also has deep historical roots. African-Americans were left out of the Homestead Act, which distributed land to citizens in the 19th century, and largely excluded from federal mortgage loan support programs in the 20th century.

As a result, the gap is unlikely to shrink substantially without policies that specifically address it, such as government-funded accounts that provide children with assets at birth. Several states have experimented with these programs on a small scale.

“We have very clear evidence that if we create an account of birth for everyone and provide a little more resources to people at the bottom, then all these babies accumulate assets,” said Michael Sherraden, founding director of the Center for Social Development at Washington University in St. Louis, which is running an experimental program in Oklahoma. “Kids of color accumulate assets as fast as white kids.”

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