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.

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.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

In 2014, when Thea Lee was a top official with the AFL-CIO, she posed a provocative question at an economics conference about what America's trade objectives should be. Was the point to lower barriers and increase the level of trade, or was it to use American leverage to create good jobs and protect worker rights?

What should you do if you witness harassment, or worse, an assault?

That question came into sharp focus this week following an attack on a 65-year old Filipino immigrant outside an apartment building in Midtown Manhattan.

President Biden's push for a $15 federal minimum wage appears to be on hold for now.

As part of a marathon session of voting on amendments to Biden's $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package, the Senate late Thursday approved by voice vote a measure prohibiting an increase of the federal minimum wage during the global pandemic.

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.

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

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.

Zachary Austrew is still trying to come to terms with what it means to be the sole breadwinner in his household.

"We're not that family where I go to work, and she stays home and cleans the house, and I expect dinner when I return," he says. "That's not how we operate."

And yet, with two young children stuck at home and Austrew's project management job deemed essential, they more or less are — for now. This summer, his wife Ashley quit her full-time job in marketing and is now homeschooling the kids.

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.

The county government cafeteria in Northampton County, Pa., is a large, airy room with big windows and, for now, lunch tables separated by plexiglass.

But a few months from now, on Election Day, this is where the county plans to have a couple of dozen people processing what it expects could be 100,000 mail-in ballots, nearly triple what they handled in the June 2 primary and 15 times what they handled in November 2016.

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.

Call it a sign of the times.

Renewable energy has gotten so cheap that even oil giant Exxon Mobil, which reported $20.8 billion in earnings in 2018, is getting in on the savings.

A few years ago, Jason Carney came across a statistic that took him by surprise.

In its 2015 survey of jobs in the solar industry, the nonprofit Solar Foundation reported that 0.0% of solar workers in the state of Tennessee were black or African American.

That number caught Carney's eye because the Nashville native is African American — and was working there as a solar installer in 2015. In fact, he was starting to design a solar array for his own home in north Nashville. Clearly, there had been an undercount.

Updated at 3:22 p.m. ET

In northern Georgia, near the Tennessee line, the city of Dalton made its fame as the carpet capital of the world. These days, a more accurate title would be floor covering capital of the world. It has diversified into hardwood, tile, laminate and other materials.

In a windowless classroom at the John J. Moran medium-security prison in Cranston, R.I., three men sit around a table to share how and when they began using opioids.

For Josh, now 39, it was when he was just 13 years old. "I got grounded for a week in my house, so I grabbed a bundle of heroin and just sat inside and sniffed it all week."

"I started using heroin at 19," says Ray, now 23. "I was shooting it. It was with a group of friends that I was working with, doing roof work."

Facing tremendous need after Hurricane Harvey, Texas has made it easier for out-of-state health care providers to come and help.

As rains pounded Houston on Sunday, Dr. Karen Lu took to Twitter and conveyed both alarm and reassurance: "Roads around @MDAndersonNews impassable. Our on-site ride out team is caring for patients and we are all safe."

In southeastern Texas, about two dozen hospitals remained closed as of midafternoon Wednesday, and several Houston hospitals remain under threat of flooding from nearby reservoirs.

But things are looking up. Some hospitals that had been evacuated have reopened, and others are restoring services they had temporarily suspended. Many never closed at all.

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