This week’s headline quotes Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti from a press call for the Global Mayors COVID-19 Recovery Task Force, a group of dozens of leaders of major cities pursuing a “green and just recovery” from the pandemic. (Grist "The world’s mayors want a pandemic recovery that takes cars off the streets")
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The New York Times "Millions have lost health insurance in pandemic-driven recession"
Three new reports show the effects of the pandemic’s economic fallout on access to health insurance – a new study by consumer advocacy group Families USA finds that the coronavirus pandemic stripped an estimated 5.4 million American workers of their health insurance between February and May; the Kaiser Family Foundation estimated that 27 million Americans have lost coverage in the pandemic when taking into account family members of the insured; and the Urban Institute and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation projected that by the end of 2020, 10.1 million people will no longer have employer-sponsored health insurance or coverage that was tied to a job they lost because of the pandemic.
The Hechinger Report "Amid pandemic, graduate student workers are winning long-sought contracts"
Before the coronavirus pandemic, graduate student worker contract and collective bargaining negotiations had been dragging on for years at the few universities that would entertain them, but in the last few months, graduate workers have won surprising victories as universities acknowledge the need for their labor in what promises to be a tumultuous fall. See also Eater "They tried to start a union during a pandemic, but they were fired. What’s next?"
Grist "The world’s mayors want a pandemic recovery that takes cars off the streets"
The Global Mayors COVID-19 Recovery Task Force, a group of dozens of leaders of major cities, announced a proposal for a “green and just recovery” from the pandemic, calling for substantial investments in affordable housing and public transportation, the permanent banning of cars from many city streets, the end of public investment in and subsidies for fossil fuels, and an embrace of the “15-minute city” paradigm – the task force was formed by C40 Cities, a network of more than 90 of the world’s major cities committed to tackling climate change.
Wired "The world is noisy. These groups want to restore the quiet"
New organizations like Quiet Parks International and a growing coalition of environmental organizations, scientists, and grassroots activists are trying to protect and restore quiet places, starting with national parks, by documenting where quiet has been lost and certifying those places that are actively preserving quiet environments.
CNBC "Amazon is rolling out grocery carts that let shoppers skip checkout lines, bag their groceries and walk out"
Amazon’s new Dash Carts track items as shoppers add them, then automatically charge customers when they remove the grocery bags, allowing them to skip the checkout line – the carts will roll out at Amazon's new Los Angeles-area grocery store, which is slated to open this year, and will require that customers have an Amazon account and a smartphone with which to scan a QR code that signs them into the cart and loads Alexa shopping lists.
Algorithms, Artificial Intelligence, and Learning Machines
Mashable "Google's AI starts answering Verizon support calls"
Verizon announced that it has started piloting Google's Cloud Contact Center Artificial Intelligence in a bid to deliver "a more natural and streamlined digital experience" for callers to its support center – Google's Contact Center AI is built around an end-to-end development suite called Dialogflow that allows a company to create conversational interfaces, including chatbots and interactive voice response (IVR) systems, which effectively remove the need for a real person on the phone until the system has figured out who they should talk to in order to resolve their problem as quickly as possible.
MIT Technology Review "OpenAI’s fiction-spewing AI is learning to generate images"
Research lab OpenAI, whose GPT-2 AI system had demonstrated an ability to write convincing passages of English, has shared progress on an iGPT system with the potential for image generation – while the development supports OpenAI’s ultimate ambition to achieve more generalizable machine intelligence, it also presents a concerning new way to create deepfake images.
Books and Media
The Christian Science Monitor "Paging through pandemic: Reading gets a COVID lift"
During the pandemic, e-book sales have risen and reader interest has surged in specific categories of books, with cooking and lifestyle titles as well as juvenile fiction seeing an increase as people seek comfort – for new and emerging authors, there is worry that their chances to connect with readers have been lost to canceled tours and readings.
Economics and the Workplace
The Verge "Amazon extends work-from-home policy for corporate employees to 2021" and Bloomberg "Apple pessimistic on full 2020 return to U.S. offices, pushes retail to work remote"
Amazon will extend its work-from-home policy through January of next year for its corporate workforce. Apple told staff in a memo that a full return to U.S. offices won’t occur before the end of the year and is pushing retail staff to work remotely as the virus forces the company to shut some of its stores again.
New York Magazine "This recession is a bigger housing crisis than 2008"
Between 2006 and 2014, around 10 million Americans lost their homes to the foreclosure crisis, but the current pandemic places upwards of 20 million U.S. renters in danger of eviction, according to Emily Benfer, chair of the American Bar Association’s Task Force Committee on Eviction – the impending flood of evictions is partially held off by a federal moratorium that covers one-fourth of all renters, but many renters are still losing their homes as fiscal aid has not reached everyone in need and the federal moratorium on evictions does not cover most renters. See also Bloomberg "A wave of evictions would be bad for everybody"
Associated Press "White House campaign urges jobless to ‘find something new’"
A new White House-backed ad campaign aims to encourage people who are unemployed or unhappy in their jobs or careers to go out and “find something new” – the ad campaign and companion website features ordinary people sharing their stories with links to training and other resources and emphasizes skills-based job and vocational training as an alternative to two- or four-year college degree programs.
The New York Times "New Yorkers look to suburbs and beyond. Other city dwellers may be next"
Housing prices in cities such as San Francisco, New York, and Los Angeles had already driven interest in more affordable suburbs, but now the pandemic has increased interest as people become wary of living in close quarters and see new opportunities to work from home. See also Curbed "All these stories about people fleeing cities are total nonsense"
CNET "Apple brings coding and app design to more Black universities and colleges"
Apple announced new education partnerships with 10 historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) as part of its Community Education Initiative – the schools will work with Apple to develop coding centers using Apple's Everyone Can Code and Everyone Can Create courses.
Fast Company "‘No college degree required’: Google expands certificate program for in-demand job skills"
Google announced an expansion of its Grow with Google Career Certificates skills certification program to help more people land high-paying tech jobs without a college degree – while the courses are not free, Google data suggests that an average student takes about three to six months to complete the existing IT support program and the fee to take instruction is $49 per month.
Restaurants, Retail, and Spaces
CNET "Walmart, CVS will require shoppers to wear masks, starting Monday"
Walmart and CVS announced plans to require customers to wear face coverings starting July 20 – Target will also require customers to wear masks starting August 1.
Retail Dive "Paper Source introduces subscription box, virtual craft classes"
Stationery and gift retailer Paper Source announced new virtual learning courses and subscription box services for children and adults, allowing customers to interact with instructors in activities ranging from watercolors to paper crafting – the company joins other brands and retailers like David's Bridal, Lowe's, Jared, Suitsupply, and Kendra Scott in offering virtual services for consumers.
Vox "College towns without college students have small businesses struggling"
Campus closures and the threat of limited returns in the fall have had a damaging effect on many local businesses in college areas – in recent years, small colleges have been thought of as mechanisms to save and develop local economies, but the pandemic has shown how intertwined small towns are with the fates of their colleges and campuses.
The New York Times "With department stores disappearing, malls could be next"
The pandemic has been devastating for the retail industry, including the prominent department store chains that anchor many malls – as those department stores close and take away customer foot traffic, additional tenants may abandon malls or seek reduced rents or lease adjustments. See also Bloomberg "The dying mall’s new lease on life: Apartments"
The Verge "Michelle Obama’s first podcast is a Spotify-exclusive"
Former first lady Michelle Obama will host Spotify’s newest exclusive podcast, The Michelle Obama Podcast, the first podcast to come out of Spotify’s deal with the Obamas’ Higher Ground Productions.
Engadget "Apple News adds audio stories and a daily podcast"
Apple announced new features for its Apple News and News+, including a greater focus on audio versions of some of the best feature and long-form stories on News+ and a new daily podcast called Apple News Today.