The extra $600 in weekly unemployment benefits expired — but gig workers and self-employed Americans still qualify for benefits


For the first time during the pandemic, weekly jobless claims dipped below 1 million, but there are likely many more Americans who qualify for unemployment benefits who didn’t apply.

When the $2 trillion CARES Act passed in March, self-employed, independent contractors, gig workers and other nontraditional workers became eligible for unemployment benefits. Even though the federally-funded $600 a week in enhanced unemployment benefits, which was also part of the CARES Act, expired on July 31, these types of workers can still collect state-level unemployment benefits through the end of the year.


‘There is definitely a chance that the loss of the $600 is changing claimant behavior’


— Michele Evermore, a senior policy analyst at the National Employment Law Project

This nuance may have been lost in translation when the $600 benefit expired, said Michele Evermore, a senior policy analyst at the National Employment Law Project, an advocacy organization focused on workers’ rights.

“There is definitely a chance that the loss of the $600 is changing claimant behavior,” she said, meaning that unemployed workers may have wrongly assumed that they would no longer be eligible for unemployment benefits after July 31. A total of 10 million Americans have already been approved for unemployment benefits who otherwise would have been ineligible if not for the CARES Act, Evermore said.

Unemployment benefits are based on how much money a worker earned while they were employed. For traditional salaried workers, that amount gets automatically reported to state workforce agencies. But self-employed and gig workers often lack the ability to provide an exact net earnings amount, Evermore said.

“But if they can prove that they worked and got income or were offered a job and that job offer was rescinded due to COVID-19,” she said, they can collect what amounts to half of the average weekly unemployment benefit in their state.


In all 50 states and Washington D.C., the minimum amount is over $100 a week

In many cases that will enable them to collect more in unemployment benefits than they would if they had a traditional job where their earnings were reported automatically, Evermore told MarketWatch.

At a minimum, gig workers, independent contractors and other self-employed workers can collect the equivalent of the average weekly benefit in their state. In all 50 states and Washington D.C., the minimum amount is over $100 a week, according to the Department of Labor. That’s especially important because it means these types of workers will be eligible for an additional $300 a week under President Donald Trump’s executive order. (Anyone who gets at least $100 in unemployment benefits from their state would qualify for the extra $300.)

However, it could be some time before these workers actually get those benefits. State governors have said that state workforce agencies are not properly equipped to quickly implement the changes Trump’s executive order calls for.

Evermore said she hopes that Congress will consider extending the period of time gig and self-employed workers can collect unemployment benefits, but she is “worried we will reach a deadlock on this in December like we are seeing now with the $600.”



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These WFH tech employees moved to another state and kept the same job


David Toole was thinking of returning to his hometown of Savannah, Ga., to raise his family and work. A pandemic — and the opportunity to have the move paid for — cinched it.

“COVID pushed us over the edge,” Tootle, 35, an account rep at Oracle Corp.
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, told MarketWatch, explaining his relocation to Savannah from Washington, D.C., in March. A program in Savannah in part helped finance the move. “I want to create more opportunities for Blacks in the community,” said Tootle, who is married with five kids. “And this is where I want to raise my kids.”

“COVID in a weird way represented an inflection point for us,” Alan Gilchrest, senior vice president of conversational AI at LivePerson, told MarketWatch. Gilchrest, his wife, and daughter moved to the family’s vacation home in Waikoloa Beach, Hawaii, from Bellevue, Wash., in March as COVID ravaged the Pacific Northwest.

Gilchrest, 49, starts his typical workday at 4 a.m. with a meeting and goes until 7 p.m. local time. (He fits in training time blocks during the day for “cathartic breaks.”) “What it means: My bed time is a lot earlier,” he said.

The view is equally grand from the desk of Liz Van Halsema, 29, who works at a lake house near Grand Rapids, Mich. She’s spent the past few months with family members there though her job at CHG Healthcare, based in Salt Lake City and where she once had an apartment. “I’m not sure where I will end up living, but I can work anywhere with the support of my company,” she said.

The trio’s exodus from tech strongholds to the hinterlands is becoming as commonplace during the pandemic as working from home. In fact, the two trends are linked: As Americans hunker down for the long haul at home, many are choosing to relocate while keeping their jobs. An American Community Survey found the fastest-growing commute was no commute, as work-from-home arrangements become more popular everywhere.

This recent phenomenon is borne in tech job listings by city from May to June by Dice, an online hub for technology professionals. The leaders were smaller cities such as Richmond, Va. (33% year-over-year growth), Arlington, Va. (28%), and Austin, Texas (16%). Established, larger tech hubs like New York (-32%) and San Francisco (-32%) experienced the steepest declines, although they still boasted 31,000 and 20,000 job listings, respectively.

Accelerating the movement is fevered competition among America’s second- and third-tier cities for workers in Silicon Valley and other tech hubs. Nothing new about that — it’s been going on for years. But with COVID-19 still raging across the U.S., there’s a new twist to recruiting efforts that makes moving a more compelling offer. Some cities are offering money to move — from $15,000 in Topeka, Kan., to $10,000 in Tulsa, Okla., and $2,000 in Savannah — and inexpensive housing to scoop up remote workers dissatisfied with living in urban areas with no end in sight to the pandemic.

Ottawa is readying a recruitment program to lure tech workers to the Canadian capital. It isn’t offering financial incentives — just an affordable, “family friendly” region with access to plenty of tech companies and resources, according to Jamie Petten, president of Kanata North Business Association in Ottawa.

Meanwhile, exotic locations like Barbados and the bucolic setting of Burlington, Vt., offer tempting vistas and financial incentives to relocate.

“There is more interest now than in previous years. This incentive is a great way for technology workers to think about relocating to Savannah, especially those who are able to work remotely, given the current public health crisis,” Jennifer Bonnett, vice president of innovation and entrepreneurship at the Savannah Economic Development Authority, told MarketWatch.

So far, six people have moved, and they have submitted applications that should quality. In all, 70 have expressed interested in relocating from California, New York, Pennsylvania and Illinois, said Bonnett. The program is budgeted for up to 50 people to relocate this year.

The Greater Topeka Partnership is paying up to $15,000 for tech workers to move into a house, and $10,000 to an apartment, as it tries to lure a coveted workforce that is highly educated and well paid. It has filled roughly a third of the 60 slots it has available, spokesman Bob Ross told MarketWatch.

“It was time to move closer to my family,” Dan Mills, 42, a systems engineer for tech consultancy Premiere One, who bought a house in Topeka this year, told MarketWatch. “It was time for a change.”

Workers’ flight to less-populated areas comes as major employers such as Uber Technologies Inc.
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, Facebook Inc.
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, Google parent Alphabet Inc.
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and Atlassian Corp.
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announced employees are likely to work from home through at least mid-2021. “There’s currently no end in sight for when our teams here will be able to return to our offices,” Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said during a conference call with analysts following the company’s second-quarter earnings in July.

But he hastily added that their salaries would be commensurate with where they live. “That means if you live in a location where the cost of living is dramatically lower, or the cost of labor is lower, then salaries do tend to be somewhat lower in those places,” Zuckerberg said.

See also: Facebook employees may face pay cut if they move to cheaper areas to work from home

The freedom to work from home indefinitely, in turn, will “change the landscape in how people are working and living for the next decade,” Upwork Inc.
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CEO Hayden Brown told MarketWatch in a phone interview last week.

More than half of the American workforce currently works from home. Fifty-six percent of hiring managers say the shift has gone better than expected, and only one in 10 thinks things are worse, according to an Upwork survey released in June. This led 61.9% of hiring managers to say the workforce will increasingly go remote, more than doubling the growth rate of full-time remote workers over the next five years to 65% from 30%.

What a mass relocation will do to the workforce and employers is hard to predict, but it is likely to have lasting impact on the use of commercial real estate and how businesses operate, say academic experts.

One possible outcome is the creation of two types of workers: Those who work in offices with access to all available resources, and those at home without, Columbia University business professor Stephan Meier told MarketWatch. “It could hinder professional development for someone working in Kansas who is employed by a company in California,” he said.



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‘Cultural change must still happen insideoffices’: What Kamala Harris as VP nominee means for the glass ceiling — and the gender pay gap


Political strategists are gauging what will happen in the presidential race, now that presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden has tapped Kamala Harris as his vice-presidential running mate.

But Latesha Byrd is thinking about what it means for her own work helping women of color advance their careers — and she’s excited.

The Charlotte, N.C.-based career and talent development consultant often hears from clients who are hesitant to apply for more senior, executive roles “because they don’t want people to say, ‘Who does she thinks she is?’” The doubts are both internal and external, coming from peers and bosses, Byrd notes.

Don’t miss:Kamala Harris on student-loan forgiveness, Medicare, universal basic income, credit scores — and a tax on trading stocks

But here comes Harris, the 55-year-old Senator from California, who is the first Black woman and first person of Asian descent to run on a major presidential ticket. The former California Attorney General joined Biden after her own unsuccessful presidential run, even as some observers have misgivings because of Harris’ “ambition.”


“It’s a good case to look at where women of color are being told they are ‘too ambitious.’ ”


— Latesha Byrd, CEO of Byrd Career Consulting

So the next time Byrd hears a client with doubts about her own climb-up the corporate ladder, and she said it’s a common occurrence, she can point to Harris. “It’s a good case to look at where women of color are being told they are ‘too ambitious.’ ”

“Seeing someone that reminds me of me, that I see myself in, is definitely inspiring and motivating,” said Byrd, who also helps companies foster inclusion.

Harris is the third woman named as a vice-presidential candidate. Congresswoman Geraldine Ferraro ran as Walter Mondale’s vice presidential pick in 1984 when Mondale lost to Republican incumbent Ronald Reagan. Sarah Palin, then Alaska’s governor, unsuccessfully ran with Sen. John McCain in 2008 against Barack Obama, who tapped Biden as his vice president.

Hilary Clinton unsuccessfully ran against incumbent Donald Trump in 2016 and Shirley Chisholm, a Black congresswoman, unsuccessfully sought the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination in 1972.

Like Byrd, others see Harris and her predecessors as symbols in the fight for workplace gender equality. The ongoing question, they add, is how much real-life force symbols have to crack glass ceilings and equalize pay.

Stark divides

White women account for 30% of entry level jobs and women of color account for 18% of entry-level jobs, according to 2019 edition of an annual survey from McKinsey & Company and LeanIn.org. At the C-Suite level, white woman account for 18% and women of color account for 4%.

On average, women made 81 cents compared to every dollar a man made in 2018, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. (That’s up from 62 cents on the dollar in 1979, seven years after Chisholm’s presidential bid.)

However, the pay divide becomes stark along racial lines. Black women made 66 cents on the dollar in 2019, compared to white men, the left-leaning Economic Policy Institute noted on Wednesday.


‘Having someone like Kamala Harris there at the table, she brings an awareness of the whole set of issues and voices affect women and families.’


— Debbie Walsh, director of the Center for American Women and Politics in Rutgers University’s Eagleton Institute of Politics

And the current recession might only widen the pay gap in the near term, a new study suggests. Many woman worked in industries that have been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic’s economic fallout, they note, sectors like travel and hospitality.

The nod to Harris — not to mention a record 243 nominations for women to U.S. House seats this year — all signal growing public willingness for women in leadership roles, according to Debbie Walsh, director of the Center for American Women and Politics in Rutgers University’s Eagleton Institute of Politics.

If Biden is elected the next U.S. president and Democrats retain the House of Representatives and flip the Senate, Walsh said workplace law changes could come quick. “Having someone like Kamala Harris there at the table, she brings an awareness of the whole set of issues and voices affect women and families.”

“’Symbolic’ makes it sound like it’s not important,” Walsh added. But that’s not the case. “I don’t think you can underestimate the power of seeing a Black women, a south Asian woman, a woman of color in this slot, which we have never seen before.”

Voters typically make their decision based on who’s at the top of the ticket. But one twist is the open question whether Biden, now 77, would seek a second term if elected. That could position Harris for another presidential run.

There’s no doubting the importance of symbols and role models like Harris, said Serena Fong, vice president of strategic engagement at Catalyst, a non-profit organization that works with companies and CEOs to create inclusive workplaces for women.


An important change in culture must still happen inside offices and board rooms, far from the public stage, starting with companies’ hiring practices.

Symbols can only advance gender parity so far, Fong added. Take this example: Women of color are less likely than white women and men to get U.S. patent rights for their work, according to this report from the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.

Yet women of color have actually fuel much of the growth among women-owned businesses, the report added, making up roughly two-thirds of the overall growth.

One driving force in the patent gender gap is women’s under-representation in the patent-heavy science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) industries: While women make up nearly half the workforce, they hold approximately one quarter of STEM jobs, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce. Women entrepreneurs also receive lower levels of start-up capital than men.

Keeping that context in mind, an important cultural change must still happen inside offices and board rooms, far from the public stage, starting with companies’ hiring practices, the make-up in their talent pools, plus their own unconscious and conscious bias, she said.

Overhauls for more inclusion can even require scrutinizing the details, said Fong, right down to the wording on a job description.

“You have to go beyond visible, performative actions,” she said.



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Cisco looking more to software but road is slower, due to the pandemic


Cisco Systems Inc.’s earnings had a bright spot Wednesday, but the giant shadow of coronavirus blotted it out.

Cisco
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collected more revenue from software and services than hardware for the first time in its just-completed fiscal year, a milestone in the company’s transition from its legacy hardware business to a tech company suited for the new era. That transition means much less in the age of COVID-19, however, as the pandemic is accelerating the downfall of the biggest sales drivers for Cisco and putting even more pressure on the company’s newer assets.

Cisco reported that revenue dropped 9% in the fiscal fourth quarter to $12.2 billion, and predicted that sales would continue to decline at an equal or greater rate in the current period. In response, Cisco plans to cut $1 billion in costs, a supersized return to Cisco’s previous pattern of a large restructuring at the end of a fiscal year.

Chief Financial Officer Kelly Kramer revealed to MarketWatch in an interview Wednesday afternoon that Cisco’s cost cuts would start with a voluntary retirement offering, and mentioned research and development as an area that would be targeted while declining to provide a target for job cuts. Kramer also announced her voluntary retirement Wednesday, an unrelated move that will allow her to move on to more board seats (she currently has two) and investing.

Cisco’s revenue decline was led by its older networking products, with total product revenue down 13%, and declines across switching, routing, data center and wireless driven primarily by weakness in the commercial enterprise markets. Pockets of strength included the company’s more recent network and software-as-a-service offering, the Catalyst 9000, and double-digit growth in its WebEx video platform, which is seeing a surge of usage with many people working from home.

Cisco unveiled the Catalyst 9000 in 2017 as part of its strategy to become more of a software and service provider, with a subscription model that offers networking software that helps companies automate more of their IT departments. And if a company is looking at modernizing its network, with everyone working from home, they are often looking at the CAT 9000, Chief Executive Chuck Robbins said.

“Some of them are using this opportunity, with no one in their campus environments, to upgrade,” he told analysts on the company’s conference call.

The revenue from these service-focused deals is more lucrative for Cisco, Kramer told MarketWatch.

“You don’t recognize it for three years, but you are getting the revenue,” she said. “You get even more when they renew.”

But with the pandemic hurting many of its other product areas, especially its sales to large corporate customers, it’s going to be a longer, slower road to transition to even more software sales. One analyst said that he believed the company should become more aggressive in M&A to fill in the gaps, just a few days after Cisco closed its purchase of ThousandEyes. Robbins said the company will continue to be disciplined, but that it is open to ideas and has a list of potential acquisition targets that Cisco maintains on a regular basis.

Cisco indeed may have to speed up its moves to become more software- and services-focused, and could use the pandemic to score some deals. Fortunately, Kramer said she will stick around for the transition, but the restructuring may take up more focus before Cisco can start adding new entities.



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Yes, you may still be able to retire one day


COVID-19 pandemic has caused us to rethink many parts of daily existence, such as our health, jobs, where we live, our financial future, education, travel and the simple handshake. But according to data released Tuesday, many savers are still financially on the path to retirement.

The combination of a stronger market, pandemic-related stimulus opportunities and steady, disciplined investing in the second quarter, gave Fidelity Investments cause for optimism. The firm, which publishes its analyses on investors and employers’ retirement trends every quarter, found double-digit increases in 401(k) plans and individual retirement accounts.

Read: COVID-19’s next threat to your 401(k)

The firm also said 11% of employers reduced or eliminated their employer matches to retirement plans, and about a third of them said they will reinstate it within the next year (another half said they would do so as soon as financially possible). The average employer contribution in the second quarter of the year was $1,080 — something roughly three-quarters of workers received.

See: This is how much you need for retirement — and how COVID-19 will change that

Retirement savers haven’t stopped saving, Fidelity found. Nearly nine in 10 401(k) account holders (88%) were contributing to their accounts during the second quarter, which spanned April, May and June. Of those, 9% increased their contribution rates. Almost all (96%) of 403(b) account holders maintained or increased their contribution rates during the same months.

The average 401(k) balance in the second quarter was $104,400, up 14% from the first quarter but down 2% from the same time last year. The average 403(b) account balance was $91,100, a 17% increase from the last quarter and also 3% up from the year before. The average individual retirement account was $111,500, a 13% increase from the first quarter and just slightly more than the average $110,400 the same time last year.

Also see: Is Suze Orman right? Is a traditional IRA really the wrong way to invest for retirement?

Millennials continued to favor Roth IRA accounts, which are funded with after-tax dollars but can be withdrawn tax-free. This generation made up 23% more IRA accounts in the second quarter of 2020. Roth IRAs specifically had a 36% year-over-year growth (with a 50% increase in contributions).

Read: The Roth strategy we wish we’d built for early retirement

Not all retirement savers can be optimistic. The pandemic has put millions of Americans out of work, some of whom are close to retirement age and didn’t have enough to retire yet. The CARES Act, passed in March, allowed savers to withdraw more than usual from their retirement accounts, though financial advisers urge consumers to think carefully before doing so.



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