Yuki Noguchi

Yuki Noguchi is a correspondent on the Business Desk based out of NPR's headquarters in Washington, DC. Since joining NPR in 2008, she's covered a range of business and economic news, with a special focus on the workplace — anything that affects how and why we work. In recent years she has covered the rise of the contract workforce, the #MeToo movement, the Great Recession, and the subprime housing crisis. In 2011, she covered the earthquake and tsunami in her parents' native Japan. Her coverage of the impact of opioids on workers and their families won a 2019 Gracie Award and received First Place and Best In Show in the radio category from the National Headliner Awards. She also loves featuring offbeat topics, and has eaten insects in service of journalism.

Yuki started her career as a reporter, then an editor, for The Washington Post. She reported on stories mostly about business and technology.

Yuki grew up in St. Louis, inflicts her cooking on her two boys, and has a degree in history from Yale.

A record 3.3 million people filed for initial unemployment benefits last week, with millions more anticipated in coming weeks. All this has put a huge strain on state employment agencies, so experts say persistence is key to getting those benefits.

Normally, eligible workers can apply for such benefits through their state offices online, by phone, or in person. But now, some websites are crashing, call-in lines are busy, and — obviously — offices are closed to the public.

These are anxious times for people like Melvin Rodrigue, who lived through Hurricane Katrina. It destroyed his home and shut down his famed Galatoire's restaurant in the French Quarter of New Orleans.

This is far worse, he says.

"I think Katrina is going to prove to be a cakewalk compared to this," Rodrigue says. Insurance paid for his losses then. This time, it won't.

Like so many other parents around the country, I was transitioning to full-time remote work last week while preparing to support my family through a crisis.

That's when my 10-year-old son, Kenzo, came home with a large, Ziploc bag full of school supplies.

It included an iPad with various apps to enable him to attend class virtually, where his teacher will take attendance at 8 a.m. Tiny icons representing his teacher and classmates will appear in the corner of the screen. She can address the class, hear students respond and track their assignments.

The handshake, a staple of business meetings, is under siege. The coronavirus is reshaping social and workplace norms, so keeping one's distance is now the polite thing to do.

Mike Sandifer, a Realtor based in Bethesda, Md., is practicing this new, emerging etiquette. He typically offers an "elbow bump," nudging people gently with his arm. But Sandifer has to fight the deeply ingrained instinct to extend his hand.

Early one morning last week, Cindy Ruiz joined the ranks of newly remote workers, now millions strong. The financial data firm where Ruiz works in sales closed its office after reports of coronavirus cases near San Mateo, Calif.

For many, the widespread embrace of remote work is a welcome change they've always wanted. They're reacting on social media the way kids celebrate snow days: No commutes! Flexible schedule! Home-cooked lunch!

Mike Bowen's been a very busy man.

He's executive vice president of Texas-based Prestige Ameritech, one of the few manufacturers of respirators and surgical face masks still making them in the United States.

"I've got requests for maybe a billion and a half masks, if you add it up," he says. That's right — 1.5 billion.

Since the coronavirus started spreading in January, Bowen says he's gotten at least 100 calls and emails a day.

"Normally, I don't get any," he says.

Updated at 6:52 p.m. ET

The U.S. health care system is trying to be ready for possible outbreaks of the new coronavirus, after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned communities this week to prepare for the kind of spread now being seen in Iran, Italy, South Korea and other areas outside the virus' epicenter in China.

Companies around the world are embracing what might seem like a radical idea: a four-day workweek.

The concept is gaining ground in places as varied as New Zealand and Russia, and it's making inroads among some American companies. Employers are seeing surprising benefits, including higher sales and profits.

Updated at 9:51 a.m. ET

The Diamond Princess cruise ship has become a symbol of a global health nightmare. To date, 175 cases of the coronavirus — the infectious disease the World Health Organization is now calling COVID-19 — have been confirmed aboard the ship.

A few months ago, a skirmish broke out on the factory floor of a clothing maker in Portland, Ore. It had received an order to make T-shirts for the Trump presidential campaign — but some people refused to work on the project.

The conscientious objectors were allowed to opt out, says Darcey McAllister, who handles human resources for her small- and medium-size business clients.

"But then those same people were harassing the people who were actually working on the project," she says. "'And so the manager called me and was like, 'What do I do?' "

The most powerful way to get people to save for retirement in recent decades has been through benefits offered at their job. But a lot of people — about half the American workforce — don't get that from their employers.

"Over 50 million workers right now don't have access to any retirement plan at all," says David Certner, legislative counsel for AARP.

Small employers are the biggest segment lacking coverage, he says. That's because many small businesses lack the time and money to set such programs up, he says.

The experience of raising money last year bewildered Elizabeth Giorgi at first. Almost always, she pitched her startup company, Soona, to an all-male audience of investors.

"People would assume that my male colleague was the founder and not me," she says. "I would occasionally have people ask me about whether or not I have children or if I was planning on having children anytime soon."

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

As this decade winds down, we're looking back on some of the biggest stories from the past 10 years. Today, we're focusing on the opioid crisis.

(SOUNDBITE OF NEWS MONTAGE)

It has been five years, but the memory still haunts construction superintendent Michelle Brown.

A co-worker ended his workday by giving away his personal cache of hand tools to his colleagues. It was a generous but odd gesture; no one intending to return to work would do such a thing.

The man went home and killed himself. He was found shortly afterward by co-workers who belatedly realized the significance of his gifts.

"It's a huge sign, but we didn't know that then," Brown says. "We know it now."

Federal workers are on the cusp of getting 12 weeks of paid parental leave, thanks to a landmark proposal making its way through Congress.

The House on Wednesday passed the measure, which is slated for a Senate vote next week and is expected to become law.

"The idea that you could be at home for 12 weeks would be a real game changer, I think, for people — myself included," says Becky Williams, who works as an analyst at the U.S. State Department.

Updated at 10:30 a.m. ET

Former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker, the closest thing to a rock star economist this country has seen, died Monday at 92, NPR has confirmed. He reportedly had prostate cancer.

It has been more than three decades since Volcker stepped down from the Fed. And it's a safe bet that many younger Americans do not even know his name.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Sophie Vershbow has seen her share of "OK, boomer" memes in recent weeks. The phrase that's suddenly everywhere is meant to convey a fundamental disconnect between younger generations and baby boomers who cling to outdated, off-base ideas.

To Vershbow, a 30-year-old social media manager, the sentiment behind the memes is this: "I think it's a dismissive, 'OK, whatever you say.' "

There's a culture war playing out at Ernst & Young.

The accounting giant is often held up as a paragon of workplace culture. But it also faces a recent backlash over a training program that, among other things, coached some of its top female executives to wear flattering and "well-cut attire." The episode raises questions about whether — and how much — workplaces have changed after the #MeToo movement.

Dina Lee Almeida says that three years ago, the CEO of a TV distribution firm for which she produced shows grabbed her and propositioned her for sex. As he became more aggressive, she complained to the company's lawyer. Nothing happened. Later, she says, the CEO pressured her to sign what amounted to a confidentiality agreement.

"I absolutely refused; I would never, ever sign that," Almeida says.

After that, the West Palm Beach, Fla., company, Olympusat, terminated her contract.

It's a pivotal time for LGBTQ people in the workplace. Last week, the Supreme Court heard arguments in cases testing whether people in that community are protected by the country's workplace anti-discrimination laws.

A common vocabulary can be an essential ingredient to creating the kind of respect, diversity and inclusiveness that many employers say they aspire to create. Here are some steps that advocates, therapists and human resources experts say can help you be a good colleague.

Virtual reality — long touted as the next big thing in tech — hasn't taken off as a consumer product, but employers are embracing it as a more efficient and effective tool for on-the-job training.

Copyright 2019 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

NOEL KING, HOST:

WeWork co-founder Adam Neumann is quitting as CEO amid problems with the workspace sharing company's efforts to go public. The company's valuation, once estimated at $47 billion, reportedly has dropped to less than $20 billion and its initial public offering has been delayed.

Updated at 11:54 a.m. ET

The Labor Department is expanding the pool of workers eligible for overtime pay by about 1.3 million workers.

But many critics say the rules finalized Tuesday should have been rewritten to benefit more workers who routinely work more than 40 hours a week without additional pay.

It used to take at least nine months for a patient to schedule an initial appointment with a psychiatrist at Meridian Health Services in Indiana. Now, it takes days, thanks to a program that allows doctors to connect over the Internet with patients, reaching those even in remotest corners of the state.

That has also helped with recruitment. Over the last several years, Meridian's staff of psychiatric specialists, including nurse practitioners, tripled from four to 12.

Who should qualify for minimum wage protections, sick leave or any of the other benefits typically given employees?

California's state Legislature is reopening that high-stakes, decades-long debate, as it prepares to vote on a proposal that would give hundreds of thousands of contract workers, such as Uber and Lyft drivers, new benefits by legally reclassifying them as employees.

Yoel Alonso sat in a cell for 10 months before he ever met with a lawyer. His wife had to travel 1,000 miles to visit him at the remote Louisiana facility where he was detained.

Alonso is not imprisoned for committing a crime. In fact, he turned himself in to immigration officials last October, seeking asylum from Cuba. Since then, he has been detained in two rural facilities — first in Louisiana, and now in Adams County, Miss. — where he is faced with daunting legal hurdles. Chief among them: Alonso has met his lawyer only once in his nearly 11 months in federal custody.

Updated at 12:45 p.m. ET

The Department of Justice on Friday gave its approval for T-Mobile and Sprint to merge, in what has been a protracted fight for the companies to finalize their $26 billion deal. The merger still faces a review by a federal district court, and consumer advocates worry the industry consolidation will lead to higher rates.

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