Overnight Finance

On The Money — Layoff rate hit record low in December

AP/Ted Shaffrey

Happy Tuesday and welcome to On The Money, your nightly guide to everything affecting your bills, bank account and bottom line. Subscribe here: thehill.com/newsletter-signup

Today’s Big Deal: Demand for workers remained strong in December…until omicron showed up, at least. We’ll also look at movement on a Russia sanctions bill and more omicron-related shipping issues for a major carrier. 

But first, a first step toward COVID-19 vaccines for the youngest children.  

For The Hill, we’re Sylvan Lane, Aris Folley and Karl Evers-Hillstrom.  Reach us at slane@thehill.com or @SylvanLane, afolley@thehill.com or @ArisFolley and kevers@thehill.com or @KarlMEvers

Let’s get to it. 

Layoffs, hires, separations fell in December

Job openings rose slightly and the layoff rate fell to a record low in December before the emergence of the COVID-19 omicron variant rattled the U.S. economy, according to data released Tuesday by the Labor Department. 

The background: Businesses have struggled for months to hire and retain enough workers to meet consumer demand with millions of Americans who left the labor force in 2020 yet to return. While the record-breaking COVID-19 surge caused by omicron slowed the economy in January, it appeared to have a limited impact on December labor force turnover. 

  • Employers had 10.9 million available jobs posted in December, according to the Labor Department’s Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey (JOLTS), up from roughly 10.8 million in November.  
  • The percentage of U.S. employees who were fired or laid off fell to a record low of 0.8 percent.  
  • The percentage of U.S. employees who voluntarily left their jobs in December, also known as the quits rate, stayed even at a record high of 2.9 percent. Labor market experts use the quits rate as a gauge of how confident Americans are in their ability to get a new job with better compensation or career opportunities.  

“Today’s report suggests that the latest wave of the pandemic brought on by the omicron variant didn’t fully hit the labor market in December. Demand for workers, as measured by job openings, remained robust and layoffs hit a new all time low,” wrote Nick Bunker, research director at Indeed Hiring Lab, in a Tuesday analysis. 

Sylvan has more here

COVID CANCELLATIONS

FedEx suspends domestic express freight services as omicron hits employees 

FedEx said on Tuesday it has paused its domestic express freight services as a result of staff shortages related to COVID-19.  

The company announced that it has suspended its economy domestic FedEx express freight, which includes two-day freight and three-day freight services, because of a surge in infections fueled by the highly contagious omicron variant.  

  • This isn’t the first time the omicron variant has caused staffing issues for FedEx and other carriers, including the Postal Service. 
  • Other industries are affected as well. Walgreens and CVS closed some stores last month because their workers tested positive for COVID-19. 
  • Omicron has also hit schools, with one in four district leaders and principals reporting severe staffing shortages, according to Education Secretary Miguel Cardona. 

The Hill’s Monique Beals has more here

STRICT SCRUTINY

Clyburn’s favorite for high court faces scrutiny over corporate work  

U.S. District Judge J. Michelle Childs, whose name has been among those floated as a potential replacement for Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer, is likely to face growing scrutiny from progressives over her background as a lawyer defending employers from workplace lawsuits.    

Childs’s ascent can partly be attributed to a powerful ally in Rep. James Clyburn (D-S.C.), the No. 3 Democrat in the House who has been lobbying Biden on her behalf for at least a year and who this week has been touting her as a potential Supreme Court nominee that could attract some Republican votes.   

But her record could hold a number of red flags for progressives who have thus far cheered Biden’s first-year record of elevating former public defenders, civil rights lawyers and labor champions to the federal bench.   

  • Progressive activists cite her background as a management-side labor attorney in South Carolina, one of the most hostile states to labor unions. 
  • They see an urgent need to fill Breyer’s upcoming vacancy with a jurist with progressive bona fides as the six-justice conservative majority appears increasingly willing to dismantle business and environmental regulations and labor protections.  

The Hill’s Harper Neidig has more on the rift here

STRONG SUPPORT

Progressive poll finds broad support for China competitiveness bill  

A bill moving through Congress seeking to boost the domestic semiconductor industry and make the U.S. more competitive against China has broad support among likely voters, according to a new survey from a liberal polling firm. 

The Data for Progress poll, which was first obtained by The Hill, found that 73 percent of likely voters “somewhat” or “strongly” support the U.S. Innovation and Competition Act, a Senate-passed measure that would invest $52 billion in domestic semiconductor manufacturing.  

  • The bipartisan bill earned the support of 84 percent of Democrats, 71 percent of independents and 63 percent of Republicans, according to the poll. 
  • The new data comes as the White House calls on Congress to pass the legislation “as soon as possible.” 

House Democrats unveiled their own China competition bill last week. The House is expected to vote on the measure this week before eventually merging it with the Senate version so that it can get to President Biden’s desk. 

Read more from The Hill’s Morgan Chalfant here

Good to Know 

A bipartisan Senate group working on Russia sanctions legislation is attempting to resolve how to implement sanctions related to the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, which would carry gas from Russia to Germany, and the timing of when the sanctions would kick in.  

Lawmakers have discussed implementing sanctions on Russian firms that offer secure messaging systems, including SWIFT, the international system by which banks communicate, and providing additional security assistance and efforts to help Ukraine push back against Russian disinformation. 

Here’s what else we have our eye on: 

  • The leader of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus is urging fellow lawmakers to avoid relying on “fear of China” during debate on pending legislation to boost U.S. competitiveness and supply chains so as not to encourage xenophobia. 
  • New York Times: “The pandemic has supposedly given service workers leverage. But many still have unstable hours and incomes because employers like the flexibility.” 
  • Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) reintroduced legislation Tuesday that would carve out liability protections for online platforms that have child sexual abuse content. 
  • The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is opening up access to more than $2 billion in federal funds, with a goal of bolstering community resilience to disasters and the impacts of climate change, the agency announced on Monday. 

That’s it for today. Thanks for reading and check out The Hill’s Finance page for the latest news and coverage. We’ll see you Wednesday.

Tags Joe Biden Lindsey Graham Miguel Cardona Stephen Breyer
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