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.

Kelly O'Brien graduated from college six years ago with a political science degree and $28,000 in student loan debt.

"It was stressful, because coming out and having to have a payment of about $217 a month, it just seemed like a lot of money to pay back when you don't really know where you were going to be working, how much you're going to be making," she says.

So when O'Brien got a job at Fidelity Investments a year and a half ago, she was happy to learn she would be eligible to have the company contribute to her student loan payments.

A couple of years ago, Aleta Dignard-Fung got dumped by her boyfriend.

"It was a pretty bad breakup," says the 20-year-old graphic design student, who lives in Las Vegas.

Only later did she remember that he still had the password to her streaming music account.

"Part of getting over someone is being able to listen to your jams in the shower and maybe cry or something like that," says Dignard-Fung, who at the time was into Justin Bieber. "I'd just blast my music in the shower, and then it'd change and it'd start playing Bulgarian folk music because he's Bulgarian."

Student loan debt in the United States has more than doubled over the past decade to about $1.5 trillion, and the Federal Reserve now estimates that it is cutting into millennials' ability to buy homes.

Homeownership rates for people ages 24 to 32 dropped nearly 9 percentage points between 2005 and 2014 — effectively driving down homeownership rates overall. In January, the Fed estimated 20 percent of that decline is attributable to student loan debt.

Even in a normal year, taxes can be complicated and stressful — for taxpayers and IRS workers alike. But this year is shaping up to be worse than usual.

The IRS starts processing returns on Monday, implementing big changes in tax law while having to run on half the staff because of the ongoing government shutdown.

People often confuse Brittany Sears with Britney Spears. But Sears is no multimillionaire pop star. In fact, money is tight for Sears, a federal correctional officer in Safford, Ariz.

The partial shutdown of the federal government is causing some financial problems for furloughed workers who can't refinance their mortgages or buy homes because lenders can't verify their income. But unpaid federal employees aren't the only ones running into problems.

Libby Anderson, for example, got her final divorce decree on Tuesday. She'd hoped that would mean her ex-husband would finally move out of their Des Moines, Iowa, home, where they've been living separate lives under one roof for eight months.

New York City is testing a new model of workforce training for the future.

In October, the city partnered with the Freelancers Union to open the Freelancers Hub in Brooklyn. It's a kind of communal co-working space that offers classes, tax and legal advice — all at no cost — to the city's growing population of freelance workers.

Its goal: To equip this population with the skills they need, something many experts argue traditional education isn't doing.

U.S. executives have long known the risks of traveling to China with cellphones and laptops. Theft of intellectual property and cyberattacks underlie trade tensions between the two countries.

But executives are more skittish than usual these days.

"Certainly Canadian and American business executives are a bit spooked about traveling to China right now," says Amy Celico of business advisory firm Albright Stonebridge Group.

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Since the #MeToo movement began, myriad business leaders — from media and tech to finance — have resigned amid allegations of sexual harassment, leaving bad morale and problem workplace cultures in their wake.

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An era of a new kind of CEO activism appears to be in full swing. Think of Nike CEO Mark Parker's decision to feature ads with Colin Kaepernick, the NFL quarterback turned racial justice activist. Or Dick's Sporting Goods CEO Ed Stack, who in February pulled assault-style weapons from store shelves and raised the minimum age to buy guns to 21.

Corporate leaders, who historically stayed silent on policy, are increasingly speaking out. Their statements are directed at consumers, but employees are also responding and it is affecting morale and company culture to recruitment.

Working on your own can have its rewards, such as being able to set your own hours. But being self-employed also brings with it the headache of handling taxes — something a traditional employer normally does.

"It's just excruciatingly difficult to manage our finances," says P. Kim Bui, who has been a freelance consultant off and on for two years.

In addition to the Web design and social media work she's hired to do, she must also manage all her own office functions, from accounting to payroll.

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How much besides the title is really changing in the North American Free Trade Agreement?

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Once approved, this will be a new dawn for the American auto industry and for the American auto worker.

The attorney general of New York has reached an agreement with WeWork to eliminate or modify noncompete clauses from most of its employment contracts, which restricted workers' ability to find new jobs.

Noncompete agreements generally have been standard for executives and in high-tech, where companies are trying to protect intellectual property or trade secrets from being transferred to rivals.

An employee at the Federal Housing Finance Agency says that she secretly recorded conversations with director Melvin Watt that bolster her harassment, retaliation and equal-pay claims against Watt and the agency

In 2015, Simone Grimes had been filling two jobs — hers and one she had been promoted to. But she never got the pay increase she had been promised. That decision, she was told, would require the director to sign off.

After working at a call center for two decades, Linda Bradley's job came to an end about a year and a half ago. Since her layoff, she has combed online job sites every day looking for work — without much luck.

Bradley, who is 45 and lives near Columbus, Ohio, began suspecting age discrimination after someone at her union mentioned how recruiters often target online ads at younger candidates. "I thought to myself, 'Oh, that's why I wasn't seeing some of the ads that my daughter has seen on her Facebook,' " she says.

A basic tenet of economics is that when demand for something goes up, so does its cost. So, many economists wonder why today's high demand for workers hasn't translated into bigger increases in pay.

Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell has called this a puzzle that defies a single or easy explanation. It isn't just, for example, that productivity has slowed, making it harder for businesses to justify paying more — though that is certainly a factor.

A federal appeals court handed workers in Birmingham, Ala., a significant win this week. The city is in a battle against state lawmakers over whether it has the right to raise its minimum wage.

The Birmingham workers and the Alabama legislature have been fighting in court since the city voted to increase its minimum wage to $10.10 an hour, from $7.25, in February 2016. That hike never took effect. The state legislature swiftly passed a law barring municipalities like Birmingham from setting their own minimum wage.

It's hard enough for employers to find workers to fill open jobs these days, but on top of it, many prospective hires are failing drug tests.

The Belden electric wire factory in Richmond, Ind., is taking a novel approach to both problems: It now offers drug treatment, paid for by the company, to job applicants who fail the drug screen. Those who complete treatment are also promised a job.

Seven national fast-food chains have agreed, under pressure, to eliminate a practice that limits their workers' ability to take jobs at other restaurants in the same chain, the Washington state attorney general announced Thursday.

Fast-food workers may be stuck in jobs for various reasons. In many cases, their employers prevent them from leaving to work for other restaurants within the same chain.

Now, 10 state attorneys general and the District of Columbia are taking on the issue with an investigation into eight national fast-food chains. At issue are "noncompete" clauses that limit where employees can work after they leave.

Updated 8:45 a.m. ET

The Labor Department on Friday reported another big month for job growth, with a larger than expected addition of 213,000 jobs for June.

The unemployment rate ticked up slightly to 4 percent as some people who had been on the sidelines moved back into the labor force.

The report underscores a familiar refrain: There are lots of jobs being created, but not enough people to fill them. That continues as employers consistently hire at robust rates and the unemployment rate keeps falling.

Updated at 4:41 p.m. ET

For years, various reports have indicated that the contract workforce is growing rapidly in the U.S.

On Thursday, the Labor Department poured a bucket of cold water on that notion. It released a report showing contract workers make up a slightly smaller share of the workforce than the last time the survey was done 13 years ago.

Fallen media mogul Harvey Weinstein's recent indictment on rape charges comes nearly eight months after allegations against him first surfaced. His case touched off a global #MeToo movement to speak out against workplace sexual harassment. And that, in turn, has created a deluge of complaints to human resources departments everywhere.

"It created this HR level of activity like nothing we've ever seen," says Johnny Taylor, CEO of the Society for Human Resource Management.

Updated at 8:18 p.m. ET

The Trump administration's latest move to impose tariffs on steel and aluminum imports from the U.S.'s biggest strategic and trade partners has touched off a barrage of criticism and retaliation.

Starbucks has an ambitious plan to try to address discrimination and unconscious bias by training nearly 175,000 of its workers one afternoon later this month.

Editor's note: Since this story was first posted, we have received word that Destini Johnson is regaining consciousness and is out of intensive care.

Last August, Destini Johnson practically danced out of jail, after landing there for two months on drug charges. She bubbled with excitement about her new freedom and returning home to her parents in Muncie, Ind. She even talked about plans to find a job.

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Facebook responded to intensifying criticism over its mishandling of user data Wednesday by announcing new features to its site that will give users more visibility and control over how their information is shared. The changes, rolling out in coming weeks, will also enable users to prevent the social network from sharing that information with advertisers and other third parties.

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