Andrea Hsu | Michigan Radio
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Andrea Hsu

Andrea Hsu is NPR's labor and workplace correspondent.

Hsu first joined NPR in 2002 and spent nearly two decades as a producer for All Things Considered. Through interviews and in-depth series, she's covered topics ranging from America's opioid epidemic to emerging research at the intersection of music and the brain. She led the award-winning NPR team that happened to be in Sichuan Province, China, when a massive earthquake struck in 2008. In the coronavirus pandemic, she reported a series of stories on the pandemic's uneven toll on women, capturing the angst that women and especially mothers were experiencing across the country, alone. Hsu came to NPR via National Geographic, the BBC, and the long-shuttered Jumping Cow Coffee House.

For a while there, it seemed like things were finally heading back to normal. Now, not so much.

In the span of just a week, plans for a September return to the office have been pushed back. Mask mandates have made a comeback. And a growing number of employers, including the federal government, are laying down the line on vaccines.

If you have children under the age of 18, chances are good you'll be getting some cash from the federal government this week. In fact, check your bank account — the money might already be there.

The White House says $15 billion in payments have been sent out to the families of nearly 60 million children as part of the expanded child tax credit. Families will receive the funds by direct deposit or check. How much you get will depend on income and number of eligible children.

Time now for a quiz.

What do Amazon, Disney World and Dickie Jo's Burgers in Eugene, Ore., all have in common?

a. They employ low-wage workers.

b. They're in desperate need of workers this summer.

c. They're offering $1,000 sign-on bonuses.

d. All of the above.

If you answered d, you're right. (Sorry, we're not paying cash for correct answers!)

Jonathan Caballero made a startling discovery last year. At 27, his hair was thinning. The software developer realized that life was passing by too quickly as he was hunkered down at home in Hyattsville, Md.

There was so much to do, so many places to see. Caballero envisioned a life in which he might end a workday with a swim instead of a long drive home. So when his employer began calling people back to the office part time, he balked at the 45-minute commute. He started looking for a job with better remote work options and quickly landed multiple offers.

The Teamsters want to go after Amazon.

That was the message on opening day of the three-day, virtual convention of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters. Members from 500 Teamsters local unions are meeting to lay out priorities for the next five years. Delegates will vote Thursday on a resolution vowing support for Amazon workers across the country.

Studying the brains of fruit flies is not the kind of work that you can easily do from home. You need special microscopes and something called a fly-ball tracker, which neuroscientist Vivek Jayaraman likens to a treadmill. A very tiny treadmill.

"We position them on a little ball. The fly walks on the ball. It's in a virtual reality space," explains Jayaraman in his lab at the Janelia Research Campus, part of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.

Fifteen months into the pandemic, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration has issued a mandatory workplace safety rule aimed at protecting workers from COVID-19. But it only applies to health care settings, a setback for unions and worker safety advocates who had called for much broader requirements.

On a walk outside his office in downtown Washington, D.C., Greg Meyer stops to peer in through the glass windows of a fast-casual lunch spot called Leon. The exposed brick interior gives it a cozy coffeehouse vibe. But the lunch crowd is nowhere to be seen. The whole place is dark.

"The pandemic put them out of business," says Meyer, region head for Brookfield Properties, which owns almost all the buildings on this block and hundreds more around the country.

Updated June 4, 2021 at 1:43 PM ET

On the day in April 2020 that Valerie Mekki lost her job, she was scared to share the bad news with her children. So she hid in her room for 45 minutes.

"I just didn't want to face them," says Mekki, who worked in fashion merchandising for more than 18 years and was the sole provider of health insurance for her family. "I had the shame and the guilt."

But her teenagers surprised her with their optimism.

On the sidewalk outside Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams in Alexandria, Va., Rhea and Mark Woodcock wait for their turn to go inside for their weekly ice cream treat — a scoop of Texas Sheet Cake for her, a scoop of Gooey Butter Cake for him.

The Woodcocks are vaccinated, and they're also wearing masks, abiding by the MASKS MANDATORY signs plastered all over the doors.

It may only be weeks until a COVID-19 vaccine is approved for use in the U.S. Pfizer and its partner BioNTech asked the Food and Drug Administration to grant an emergency use authorization for their vaccine a week ago, and Moderna is expected to follow suit in coming days.

Just a few months into the coronavirus pandemic, Holly Smith had already made up her mind. She was not going to reopen her restaurant to diners until there was a vaccine. She just didn't think it was safe. When she shared the decision with her staff, they asked: Would the vaccine be mandatory?

Yes, she said. It would be.

Norah Perez's children had been going to day care since they were four months old. That came to an abrupt end this spring when the coronavirus hit and their day care closed.

Like many parents, Perez initially thought it might last a few weeks. Turns out, that was wishful thinking. Now, she could lose some of the money she set aside from her paycheck, pre-tax, to pay for day care. She has $2,200 stuck in what's called a dependent-care flexible spending account, money that is "use it or lose it" unless Congress or the IRS act.

When news broke that Florida voters had approved a ballot measure raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour, Terrence Wise celebrated from 1,000 miles away.

"If we can get it in the Deep South, you know, down there in Florida, it's bringing all workers closer to $15 an hour minimum wage on a national level," says Wise, a McDonald's worker in Kansas City, Mo., and a leading voice of the Fight for $15 movement.

Rachael Shannon gets nostalgic when she thinks of the life she lived in Germany until just a couple of years ago. While she and her husband worked, their children spent their days in child care, creating awesome crafts, building pillow forts and going on outings to farms where they'd dig up potatoes.

"It was like wow times 10," says Shannon, who worked for a U.S. government contractor.

Joyce Chen had big plans for this year. She was working on multiple research projects with an eye on the prize: a promotion to full professor at Ohio State University.

That's when the coronavirus pandemic hit. It put the brakes on four years of hard work as an associate professor. And now she wonders if her promotion will happen as she had hoped for next year.

When Major League Baseball announced on March 12 that it was suspending spring training due to the spread of the coronavirus, Richard Wang's first thought was, OK, this may be a very slow year.

Here's a stunning stat: Women are leaving the workforce at four times the rate as men.

The burden of parenting and running a household while also working a job during the pandemic has created a pressure cooker environment in many households, and women are bearing the brunt of it.

Lizz Jansen's first airline job was not one she thought would launch a career. She dreamed of becoming a photojournalist. Her parents, both airline workers, helped her get a job processing crew members' receipts for reimbursement.

"It was boring, but it was a job, and it was insurance, and I was 19 years old, and I needed something," she says. Jansen wound up spending 20 years at the company, a major airline.

Updated at 10:39 a.m. ET Friday

Youli Lee is proud of the years she worked for the U.S. government, prosecuting cybercrime in some of the world's darkest places. These days, she's the one hiding out — mostly from her three children, ages 8, 11, and 13.

"I just actually locked my door so that nobody could come here," she says, from her bedroom.

Since the pandemic started, 38.6 million Americans have filed for unemployment claims, according to new numbers announced Thursday.

That's more than one in five American workers using an unemployment insurance system first established decades ago to serve a very different population.