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Economics & Job Creation
“The Employment Situation — March 2021”

Life Sciences
“Green leafy vegetables essential for muscle strength”

Technology
“New method uses device cameras to measure pulse, breathing rate and could help telehealth”

Healthcare
“COVID-19 antibody tests, even rapid finger pricks, are effective, new study finds”

The Industrials
“As more are vaccinated, it makes economic sense to gradually open the economy, study finds”

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HCS has created the Prosperity at Work proposition which focuses on creating prosperous relationships between companies and their employees (associates). HCS assists companies in improving bottom line profitability by efficiently planning, organizing and implementing optimized, practical and value-added business solutions.


Economics & Job Creation
“The Employment Situation — March 2021”

THE EMPLOYMENT SITUATION — MARCH 2021

Total nonfarm payroll employment rose by 916,000 in March, and the unemployment rate edged down to 6.0 percent, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today. These improvements in the labor market reflect the continued resumption of economic activity that had been curtailed due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Job growth was widespread in March, led by gains in leisure and hospitality, public and private education, and construction.

This news release presents statistics from two monthly surveys. The household survey measures labor force status, including unemployment, by demographic characteristics. The establishment survey measures nonfarm employment, hours, and earnings by industry. For more information about the concepts and statistical methodology used in these two surveys, see the Technical Note.

Household Survey Data

The unemployment rate edged down to 6.0 percent in March. The rate is down considerably
rom its recent high in April 2020 but is 2.5 percentage points higher than its pre- pandemic level in February 2020. The number of unemployed persons, at 9.7 million, continued to trend down in March but is 4.0 million higher than in February 2020. (See table A-1. See the box note at the end of this news release for more information about how the household survey and its measures were affected by the coronavirus pandemic.)

Among the major worker groups, the unemployment rate for Asians rose to 6.0 percent in March, following a decline in the previous month. The jobless rate for Hispanics edged down to 7.9 percent over the month, while the rates for adult men (5.8 percent), adult women (5.7 percent), teenagers (13.0 percent), Whites (5.4 percent), and Blacks (9.6 percent) changed little. (See tables A-1, A-2, and A-3.)

Among the unemployed, the number of persons on temporary layoff declined by 203,000 in March to 2.0 million. This measure is down considerably from the recent high of 18.0 million in April 2020 but is 1.3 million higher than in February 2020. The number of permanent job losers, at 3.4 million, was little changed in March but is 2.1 million higher than February 2020. (See table A-11.)

The number of long-term unemployed (those jobless for 27 weeks or more), at 4.2 million, changed little over the month but is up by 3.1 million since February 2020. In March, these long-term unemployed accounted for 43.4 percent of the total unemployed. The number of persons jobless 5 to 14 weeks declined by 313,000 to 1.9 million. The number of persons jobless less than 5 weeks, at 2.2 million, was essentially unchanged over the month. (See table A-12.)

The labor force participation rate changed little at 61.5 percent in March. This measure is 1.8 percentage points lower than in February 2020. The employment-population ratio, at 57.8 percent, was up by 0.2 percentage point over the month but is 3.3 percentage points lower than in February 2020. (See table A-1.)

The number of persons employed part time for economic reasons, at 5.8 million, changed little in March but is 1.4 million higher than in February 2020. These individuals, who would have preferred full-time employment, were working part time because their hours had been reduced or they were unable to find full-time jobs. (See table A-8.)

The number of persons not in the labor force who currently want a job was about unchanged at 6.9 million in March but is up by 1.8 million since February 2020. These individuals were not counted as unemployed because they were not actively looking for work during the last 4 weeks or were unavailable to take a job. (See table A-1.)

Among those not in the labor force who currently want a job, the number of persons marginally attached to the labor force, at 1.9 million, was essentially unchanged in March but is up by 416,000 since February 2020. These individuals wanted and were available for work and had looked for a job sometime in the prior 12 months but had not looked for work in the 4 weeks preceding the survey. The number of discouraged workers, a
subset of the marginally attached who believed that no jobs were available for them, was 523,000 in March, essentially unchanged from the previous month. (See Summary table A.)

Household Survey Supplemental Data

In March, 21.0 percent of employed persons teleworked because of the coronavirus pandemic, down from 22.7 percent in the prior month. These data refer to employed persons who teleworked or worked at home for pay at some point in the last 4 weeks specifically because of the pandemic.

In March, 11.4 million persons reported that they had been unable to work because their employer closed or lost business due to the pandemic–that is, they did not work at all or worked fewer hours at some point in the last 4 weeks due to the pandemic. This measure is down from 13.3 million in the previous month. Among those who reported in March that they were unable to work because of pandemic-related closures or lost business, 10.2 percent received at least some pay from their employer for the hours not worked, little changed from the previous month.

Among those not in the labor force in March, 3.7 million persons were prevented from looking for work due to the pandemic. This measure is down from 4.2 million the month before. (To be counted as unemployed, by definition, individuals must be either actively looking for work or on temporary layoff.)

These supplemental data come from questions added to the household survey beginning in May 2020 to help gauge the effects of the pandemic on the labor market. The data are not seasonally adjusted. Tables with estimates from the supplemental questions for all months are available online at www.bls.gov/cps/effects-of-the-coronavirus-covid-19 pandemic.htm.

Establishment Survey Data

Total nonfarm payroll employment increased by 916,000 in March but is down by 8.4 million, or 5.5 percent, from its pre-pandemic peak in February 2020. Job growth in March was widespread, with the largest gains occurring in leisure and hospitality, public and private education, and construction. (See table B-1. See the box note at the end of this news release for more information about how the establishment survey and its measures were
affected by the coronavirus pandemic.)

In March, employment in leisure and hospitality increased by 280,000, as pandemic-related restrictions eased in many parts of the country. Nearly two-thirds of the increase was in food services and drinking places (+176,000). Job gains also occurred in arts, entertainment, and recreation (+64,000) and in accommodation (+40,000). Employment in leisure and hospitality is down by 3.1 million, or 18.5 percent, since February 2020.

In March, employment increased in both public and private education, reflecting the continued resumption of in-person learning and other school-related activities in many parts of the country. Employment rose by 76,000 in local government education, by 50,000 in state government education, and by 64,000 in private education. Employment is down from February 2020 in local government education (-594,000), state government education
(-270,000), and private education (-310,000).

Construction added 110,000 jobs in March, following job losses in the previous month (-56,000) that were likely weather-related. Employment growth in the industry was widespread in March, with gains of 65,000 in specialty trade contractors, 27,000 in heavy and civil engineering construction, and 18,000 in construction of buildings. Employment in construction is 182,000 below its February 2020 level.

Employment in professional and business services rose by 66,000 over the month but is down by 685,000 since February 2020. In March, employment in administrative and support services continued to trend up (+37,000), although employment in its temporary help services component was essentially unchanged. Employment also continued on an upward
trend in management and technical consulting services (+8,000) and in computer systems design and related services (+6,000).

Manufacturing employment rose by 53,000 in March, with job gains occurring in both durable goods (+30,000) and nondurable goods (+23,000). Employment in manufacturing is down by 515,000 since February 2020.

Transportation and warehousing added 48,000 jobs in March. Employment increased in couriers and messengers (+17,000), transit and ground passenger transportation (+13,000), support activities for transportation (+6,000), and air transportation (+6,000). Since February 2020, employment in couriers and messengers is up by 206,000 (or 23.3 percent), while employment is down by 112,000 (or 22.8 percent) in transit and ground passenger transportation and by 104,000 (or 20.1 percent) in air transportation.

Employment in the other services industry increased by 42,000 over the month, reflecting job gains in personal and laundry services (+19,000) and in repair and maintenance (+18,000). Employment in other services is down by 396,000 since February 2020.

Social assistance added 25,000 jobs in March, mostly in individual and family services (+20,000). Employment in social assistance is 306,000 lower than in February 2020.

Employment in wholesale trade increased by 24,000 in March, with job gains in both durable goods (+14,000) and nondurable goods (+10,000). Employment in wholesale trade is 234,000 lower than in February 2020.

Retail trade added 23,000 jobs in March. Job growth in clothing and clothing accessories stores (+16,000), motor vehicle and parts dealers (+13,000), and furniture and home furnishing stores (+6,000) was partially offset by losses in building material and garden supply stores (-9,000) and general merchandise stores (-7,000). Employment in retail trade is 381,000 below its February 2020 level.

Employment in mining rose by 21,000 in March, largely in support activities for mining (+19,000). Mining employment is down by 130,000 since a peak in January 2019.

Financial activities added 16,000 jobs in March. Job gains in insurance carriers and related activities (+11,000) and real estate (+10,000) more than offset losses in credit intermediation and related activities (-7,000). Financial activities has 87,000 fewer jobs than in February 2020.

Employment in health care and information changed little in March.

In March, average hourly earnings for all employees on private nonfarm payrolls fell by 4 cents to $29.96. Average hourly earnings for private-sector production and nonsupervisory employees, at $25.21, changed little (+2 cents). The large employment fluctuations over the past year–especially in industries with lower-paid workers– complicate the analysis of recent trends in average hourly earnings. (See tables B-3 and B-8.)

The average workweek for all employees on private nonfarm payrolls increased by 0.3 hour to 34.9 hours in March, following a decline of 0.4 hour in the prior month. In manufacturing, the workweek increased by 0.2 hour to 40.5 hours over the month, and overtime increased by 0.1 hour to 3.3 hours. The average workweek for production and nonsupervisory employees on private nonfarm payrolls rose by 0.3 hour to 34.3 hours.
(See tables B-2 and B-7.)

The change in total nonfarm payroll employment for January was revised up by 67,000, from +166,000 to +233,000, and the change for February was revised up by 89,000, from +379,000 to +468,000. With these revisions, employment in January and February combined was 156,000 higher than previously reported. (Monthly revisions result from additional reports
received from businesses and government agencies since the last published estimates and from the recalculation of seasonal factors.)


The Employment Situation for April is scheduled to be released on Friday, May 7, 2021,
at 8:30 a.m. (ET).

Employment Situation Summary (bls.gov)

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Life Sciences
“Green leafy vegetables essential for muscle strength”

Eating just one cup of leafy green vegetables every day could boost muscle function, according to new Edith Cowan University (ECU) research.

The study, published today in the Journal of Nutrition, found that people who consumed a nitrate-rich diet, predominantly from vegetables, had significantly better muscle function of their lower limbs.

Poor muscle function is linked to greater risk of falls and fractures and is considered a key indicator of general health and wellbeing.

Researchers examined data from 3,759 Australians taking part in Melbourne’s Baker Heart and Diabetes Institute AusDiab study over a 12-year period. They found those with the highest regular nitrate consumption had 11 per cent stronger lower limb strength than those with the lowest nitrate intake. Up to 4 per cent faster walking speeds were also recorded.

Lead researcher Dr Marc Sim from ECU’s Institute for Nutrition Research said the findings reveal important evidence for the role diet plays in overall health.

“Our study has shown that diets high in nitrate-rich vegetables may bolster your muscle strength independently of any physical activity,” he said.

“Nevertheless, to optimise muscle function we propose that a balanced diet rich in green leafy vegetables in combination with regular exercise, including weight training, is ideal.”

Muscle function is vital for maintaining good overall health, especially bone strength later in life.

“With around one in three Australians aged over 65 suffering a fall each year, it’s important to find ways of preventing these events and their potentially serious consequences,” said Dr Sim.

Go for green

While leafy greens may be some of our least favourite vegetables, they could be the most important, according to Dr Sim.

The research found nitrate-rich vegetables, such as lettuce, spinach, kale and even beetroot, provided the greatest health benefits.

“Less than one in ten Australians eat the recommended five to six serves of vegetables per day,” Dr Sim said.

“We should be eating a variety of vegetables every day, with at least one of those serves being leafy greens to gain a range of positive health benefits for the musculoskeletal and cardiovascular system.”

“It’s also better to eat nitrate-rich vegetables as part of a healthy diet rather than taking supplements. Green leafy vegetables provide a whole range of essential vitamins and minerals critical for health.”

Building knowledge

The study, a collaboration with Deakin University’s Institute of Physical Activity and Nutrition and the Baker Heart and Diabetes Institute, builds on Dr Sim’s previous research into nitrate and muscle function in older women.

It also adds to growing evidence linking vegetables with cardiovascular health, including a recent ECU study into cruciferous vegetables and blood vessel health.

Dr Sim said the next step of his research will be exploring strategies to increase leafy green vegetable consumption in the general population.

“We are currently recruiting for the MODEL Study, which examines how knowledge of disease can be used to prompt people in making long-term improvements to their diet and exercise,” said Dr Sim.

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Technology
“New method uses device cameras to measure pulse, breathing rate and could help telehealth”

Telehealth has become a critical way for doctors to still provide health care while minimizing in-person contact during COVID-19. But with phone or Zoom appointments, it’s harder for doctors to get important vital signs from a patient, such as their pulse or respiration rate, in real time.

A University of Washington-led team has developed a method that uses the camera on a person’s smartphone or computer to take their pulse and respiration signal from a real-time video of their face. The researchers presented this state-of-the-art system in December at the Neural Information Processing Systems conference.

Now the team is proposing a better system to measure these physiological signals. This system is less likely to be tripped up by different cameras, lighting conditions or facial features, such as skin color. The researchers will present these findings April 8 at the ACM Conference on Health, Interference, and Learning.

“Machine learning is pretty good at classifying images. If you give it a series of photos of cats and then tell it to find cats in other images, it can do it. But for machine learning to be helpful in remote health sensing, we need a system that can identify the region of interest in a video that holds the strongest source of physiological information — pulse, for example — and then measure that over time,” said lead author Xin Liu, a UW doctoral student in the Paul G. Allen School of Computer Science & Engineering.

“Every person is different,” Liu said. “So this system needs to be able to quickly adapt to each person’s unique physiological signature, and separate this from other variations, such as what they look like and what environment they are in.”

The team’s system is privacy preserving — it runs on the device instead of in the cloud — and uses machine learning to capture subtle changes in how light reflects off a person’s face, which is correlated with changing blood flow. Then it converts these changes into both pulse and respiration rate.

The first version of this system was trained with a dataset that contained both videos of people’s faces and “ground truth” information: each person’s pulse and respiration rate measured by standard instruments in the field. The system then used spatial and temporal information from the videos to calculate both vital signs. It outperformed similar machine learning systems on videos where subjects were moving and talking.

But while the system worked well on some datasets, it still struggled with others that contained different people, backgrounds and lighting. This is a common problem known as “overfitting,” the team said.

The researchers improved the system by having it produce a personalized machine learning model for each individual. Specifically, it helps look for important areas in a video frame that likely contain physiological features correlated with changing blood flow in a face under different contexts, such as different skin tones, lighting conditions and environments. From there, it can focus on that area and measure the pulse and respiration rate.

While this new system outperforms its predecessor when given more challenging datasets, especially for people with darker skin tones, there’s still more work to do, the team said.

“We acknowledge that there is still a trend toward inferior performance when the subject’s skin type is darker,” Liu said. “This is in part because light reflects differently off of darker skin, resulting in a weaker signal for the camera to pick up. Our team is actively developing new methods to solve this limitation.”

The researchers are also working on a variety of collaborations with doctors to see how this system performs in the clinic.

“Any ability to sense pulse or respiration rate remotely provides new opportunities for remote patient care and telemedicine. This could include self-care, follow-up care or triage, especially when someone doesn’t have convenient access to a clinic,” said senior author Shwetak Patel, a professor in both the Allen School and the electrical and computer engineering department. “It’s exciting to see academic communities working on new algorithmic approaches to address this with devices that people have in their homes.”

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Healthcare
“COVID-19 antibody tests, even rapid finger pricks, are effective, new study finds”

New findings from a Michigan Medicine study reveal that antibody testing is predictive of prior COVID-19 infection, and rapid screening methods — even from finger pricks — are effective testing tools.

Researchers analyzed antibody tests conducted on more than 500 subjects in patient care settings. They found that people who had COVID, including those with mild symptoms, produced antibodies.

“For a long time, people were very worried that people with mild COVID did not make immune responses,” says Charles Schuler, M.D., a clinical assistant professor of allergy and immunology at Michigan Medicine. “This should give people confidence that the tests that are available to them aren’t just random number generators. They’re actually giving them something useful.”

The findings also indicate that rapid screens can predict infection with nearly the same precision as antibody tests conducted in a lab. Schuler, who led the research team, says the results could prove very useful for providers.

“I was actually surprised at how well some of these tests did because it’s a very different experiment,” Schuler says. “[If you have] a patient at a clinic that does not have a lab on site, we can find out if you had COVID before and we can do it now and we can do it at low cost.”

The team examined lateral flow assays, which Schuler describes as modern litmus tests: A drop of blood or serum is placed on filter paper that changes color to indicate whether antibodies are present.

Researchers then compared three rapid screens taken by finger pricks or blood draws in point-of-care settings to serology tests assessed in a lab. They examined data from 512 patients, of which 104 had a history of COVID-19 and a positive PCR test.

Despite some false positives, two rapid tests agreed with positive lab results between 93 and 97 percent of the time. Both tests outperformed the third brand, which lost its FDA emergency use authorization during the trial.

“I think the FDA has done a nice job regulating bad tests out of the market,” Schuler says. “These are still accurate in a point-of-care setting…[so], you’ve got a test that can be taken to different parts of the world and can be done without the need for a higher-complexity lab setting.”

American vaccination is quickly ramping up — nearly 30 percent of the population received at least one dose as of March 30, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But in places where immunization lags, Schuler says these point-of-care antibody tests could help determine who is prioritized.

“It’s important to vaccinate everyone,” he says. “But, if you can direct vaccines to people, in particular, who may be totally unprotected, something like this would be useful. I do think more data is needed to say that from a policy perspective.”

The study population is limited, raising some questions about how the data can be generalized. Almost 90 percent of test subjects are health care workers, many providing direct care for COVID-19 patients.

However, Schuler’s team will continue evaluating the subjects with a new focus. Some recent studies indicate antibodies may persist and offer protection for several months. Schuler hopes to make that answer more concrete.

“This is a down payment on, hopefully, a lot of great future data” he says. “While antibodies may or may not tell you how immunity happens, they might tell you about reinfection risk. That is the functional clinical significance that we need to know as soon as possible.”

Disclosures: The study was partially funded through two companies, Healgen Scientific and Access Bio Inc. Tests, which are normally sold, were provided at no cost by both companies, as well as Autobio Diagnostics Co. Ltd. Schuler, along with two other U-M physicians, received salary support from an institutional COVID-19 grant.

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The Industrials

“As more are vaccinated, it makes economic sense to gradually open the economy, study finds”

A University of New Mexico research team conducted a data analysis that has found that as a larger portion of the population gets vaccinated against COVID-19, it becomes economically advantageous to start relaxing social distancing measures and open businesses.

Francesco Sorrentino, associate professor of mechanical engineering, is lead author of “Data-driven Optimized Control of the COVID-19 Epidemics,” published March 22 in Scientific Reports.

Co-authors of the study are Afroza Shirin of the Department of Mechanical Engineering and the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, and Yen Ting Lin, a staff scientist of the Information Science Group in the Computer, Computational and Statistical Sciences Division at Los Alamos National Laboratory.

The study looked at data from four metropolitan statistical areas (MSAs) within the United States: Seattle, New York City, Los Angeles and Houston from January 21 to July 8, 2020. The four cities were chosen because they have had divergent trends with the virus (Seattle and New York City were early hotspots, while Los Angeles and Houston peaked in the summer).

Sorrentino said that while the findings perhaps may seem obvious, they are significant because the model is inferred and parametrized by regional new case reports and could potentially help guide policy decisions as more businesses, schools and other organizations ponder when and how to reopen during the pandemic.

“Our work is quantitative, so it can hopefully offer some evidence that shows the vaccines are going to allow us to loosen social distancing measures, including opening businesses,” he said. “It provides a measure of hope as we go forward and increase the percentage of citizens who are vaccinated.”

He points out that the study was looking at just the numbers, what he calls an “optimization problem,” to determine the economic cost of keeping many businesses closed or at reduced capacity. Sorrentino said the study defined economic impact by the extent that a city’s economy was closed — businesses like restaurants, gyms, salons and airports that would lose business without people’s physical presence. The study took into account both the costs associated with quarantining (which requires supervision costs as well as costs due to lowered productivity) as well as social distancing (which incurs costs only due to productivity).

“We did not look at this mainly from a public health standpoint. We were looking at the economic impact of the pandemic, which we attempted to minimize while in the presence of constraints relevant to the public health domain, such as suppressing the number of infected individuals below a threshold over the course of a few months” he said. “But our model shows that even before we achieve herd immunity, we can relax social distancing compared to the situation prior to immunization.”

Sorrentino said there are several other caveats to the study. For instance, the analysis took place before the virus variants were a factor in the United States, so that variable is not taken into account.

The analysis looked at Seattle, beginning on December 14, 2020, when the vaccine was first being administered. Even with this limited data, the effect of vaccinations was dramatic, impacting the so-called “optimal control solution.” The study computed these optimal solutions under many different conditions.

“While the optimal interventions would vary depending on a number of factors, we always saw that a gradual relaxation of social distancing was possible after roughly 10% of the population got vaccinated,” he said.

After just 20 days, the trend was becoming clear when comparing with the case in which the effects of vaccinations were not incorporated in the model.

“With even just a small percentage of the population being vaccinated, much less social distancing was optimal, so it can be assumed that the effect from increased vaccination efforts will be even more robust,” he said.

Sorrentino emphasizes also that everyone should continue to follow the current policy and health guidelines, and that the relaxing of social distancing should adhere to these guidelines and be gradual. And of course, that guidance may change, based on the rates of spread of the virus and the variants.

Sorrentino has conducted extensive research in the area of control theory and synchronization using mathematical models. Last year, he was awarded the National Institutes of Health Trailblazer Award from the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering for a research project that could improve the way drugs for diseases are timed and delivered to patients.

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