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.

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.

In the central Idaho community of Arco, where Lost Rivers Medical Center is located, the elk and bear outnumber the human population of a thousand. The view from the hospital is flat grassland surrounded by mountain ranges that make for formidable driving in wintertime.

"We're actually considered a frontier area, which I didn't even know was a census designation until I moved there," says Brad Huerta, CEO of the hospital. "I didn't think there's anything more rural than rural."

CEOs have become increasingly outspoken on a variety of political issues — from race relations to LGBTQ rights to higher age restrictions on gun and tobacco sales.

The latest example of this corporate activism came this week, when the leaders of more than 180 businesses — including MAC Cosmetics, electronic payments company Square and clothing-maker Eileen Fisher — signed a letter opposing restrictive abortion laws enacted recently in several states.

As they have with so many other industries, apps are shaking up the weight loss business, including big-name companies like Nutrisystem and Weight Watchers. And it's basically because more consumers feel the way Jessica Holloway-Haytcher does.

A couple years ago, she tried diet shakes and supplements. She hated them. She also hired a former NFL player turned personal trainer — but his schedule never matched hers.

She spent $600 a month for programs that weren't sustainable. She says she couldn't keep up with the "astronomical" costs.

In New Hampshire, there's no requirement that employers offer paid leave to workers who are caring for newborns or taking care of elderly parents.

Wendy Chase campaigned last fall for a seat in the state House promising to change that — and won.

"This is my first term, and I'm not a politician. I'm just a mom on a mission," she says.

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.

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

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.

The attorneys general of 41 U.S. states said Tuesday that they're banding together to investigate the makers and distributors of powerful opioid painkillers that have, over the past decade, led to a spike in opiate addictions and overdose deaths.

Jonathan Guffey has chiseled youthful looks and, at 32, does not have the haggard bearing of someone who has spent more than half his life hooked on opioids. That stint with the drug started at 15 and ended — he says for good — 22 months ago. He has a job working with his family in construction, but his work history is pockmarked by addiction.

"I've worked in a couple of factories for a short amount of time, probably just long enough to get the first check to get high off of," Guffey says.

Driving down the main commercial artery in Muncie, Ind., it seems the job market is doing well. The local unemployment rate stands at 3.8 percent, and there are hiring signs posted outside the McDonald's, a pizza joint and at stop lights.

Around 2007 — the last time the market was so tight — job applicants came streaming through the offices of Express Employment Professionals, a staffing agency that screens and places about 120 workers a month, mostly at the local manufacturing firms.

The list of perks Dan Teran's company offers sounds pretty dreamy.

Anyone working 120 hours a month gets employer-sponsored medical, dental and vision insurance. His company, Managed by Q, also offers a matching 401(k) retirement program, paid time off, a stock option program for all employees, and 12 weeks of paid parental leave.

Those are highly unusual perks, considering most are part-time workers who work only when they're available. Also, Teran's company does janitorial, building maintenance and temporary secretarial work, where such benefits are almost unheard of.

Nearly three-quarters of private sector workers receive paid sick days from their employers, though there is no federal mandate requiring it. In recent years, dozens of states, cities and counties have passed their own ordinances, which typically require employers to provide between three and seven paid sick days a year.

More than 4 in 10 working Americans say their job affects their overall health, with stress being cited most often as having a negative impact.

That's according to a new survey about the workplace and health from NPR, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

While it may not sound so surprising that work affects health, when we looked more closely, we found one group was particularly affected by stress on the job: the disabled.

A handful of companies are offering parental benefits that go way beyond just paid leave, to include things like surrogacy reimbursement, egg freezing or breast milk shipping for traveling mothers.

As competition for talent heats up, companies see it as a relatively cheap way to recruit, retain and motivate their employee base.

As the population of people diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder keeps growing, so does the number of people with that diagnosis who aren't finding employment.

Though many young adults on the spectrum are considered high functioning, recent research shows 40 percent don't find work — a higher jobless rate than people with other developmental disabilities experience.

Hey! Wake up! Need another cup of coffee?

Join the club. Apparently about a third of Americans are sleep-deprived. And their employers are probably paying for it, in the form of mistakes, productivity loss, accidents and increased health insurance costs.

In coming weeks, the White House is expected to finalize key new rules on overtime pay that could benefit an estimated 6 million lower-paid salaried workers. Workers' advocates say it's a long-awaited change. Most employer groups vocally oppose the new rules, because they might have to raise their minimum salaries, pay overtime — or limit their workers' hours.

Much of the debate has pitted workers against employers.

Three decades ago, the treatment Michele Zumwalt received for severe headaches involved a shot of the opioid Demerol. Very quickly, Zumwalt says, she would get headaches if she didn't get her shot. Then she began having seizures, and her doctor considered stopping the medication.

"I didn't know I was addicted, but I just knew that it was like you were going to ask me to live in a world without oxygen," she says. "It was that scary."

Sheena Calliham is all too aware of statistics showing that millennials have less job security and more student debt than their parents.

"Student loan debt is a primary financial stressor and concern for my generation," she says, "and we've also faced a challenging job market."

Scotts Miracle-Gro makes products for the care and health of lawns. The Marysville, Ohio, company says it wants to nurture its 8,000 employees the same way.

"It's very much of a family culture here," says Jim King, a spokesman for the Scotts company, which offers discounted prescriptions, annual health screenings and some free medical care.

In states where it's legal, the company refuses to hire people who smoke.

"We've been screening for tobacco use for about a decade," King says. "We no longer employ tobacco users."

The horrifying crash last week of the Germanwings flight operated by Lufthansa has put a spotlight on what the airline knew — and what it should, or could have done — about its pilot's mental health.

Lufthansa could face unlimited liability, after the pilot allegedly brought the plane down deliberately. Here in the U.S., employment experts say monitoring employees' mental health status raises a thicket of complicated issues.

In his State of the Union speech earlier this week, President Obama pitched a plan to boost what he called "middle-class economics." He asked Congress to help him make community college free, cut taxes for the middle class — and also do this:

"Send me a bill that gives every worker in America the opportunity to earn seven days of paid sick leave," Obama said. "It's the right thing to do."

Reynolds American, the country's second-largest cigarette-maker, is changing its policy on smoking in the office. Until now, Reynolds employees have been able to light up at their desks, but come January, workers will have to either go outside or use specially equipped smoking rooms.

"We allowed smoking of cigarettes, cigars, pipes, traditional tobacco products throughout our facilities," says David Howard, a spokesman for Reynolds American. He says it's not as though his co-workers chain-smoke at work.

A car accident crushed Brandon Coats' upper spine when he was 16, leaving him unable to walk. His muscles still spasm, disrupting sleep and causing pain.

"If I'm out in public it's embarrassing," Coats says. "It's always uncomfortable. If I smoke marijuana, it almost completely alleviates it" — more, he says, than other prescriptions.

Coats smokes at night, and says he was never high when answering customer calls at Dish Network. "I was really good at my job," he says.

Robin Koval is making a career of her changed tobacco habit.

"I'm a child of a smoker — my father was a heavy smoker," Koval says. "Really typical to the way the story goes, I started smoking when I was 15."

Now she is president and CEO of Legacy, a foundation devoted to preventing tobacco use.

It's summer. It's sweaty. And sometimes that means people are trailing some pungent body odors that their colleagues can't help but smell. But how do you tactfully inform co-workers that they stink and need to address it? As Cath Ludeman-Hall will tell you, it isn't easy.

She was just out of college and a newbie at a staffing firm when she was asked to gently talk to an older worker in a retail warehouse after his colleagues complained that he stank.

Employers say obesity is a top health concern for their workers. But health is a sensitive and personal issue. Some employees say these wellness initiatives can go too far.

The workplace has become a more understanding place for pregnant women or new moms these days. Many companies now have lactation rooms and offer more liberal maternity and paternity leave policies than in years past.

But for some women, pregnancy can still be a career liability.

Heather Myers was fresh out of high school and working at a Wal-Mart in Salina, Kan., in 2006 when she found out she was pregnant. She kept a water bottle with her on the sales floor, as her doctor recommended. Then, her supervisor intervened.

E-cigarettes aren't yet federally regulated as tobacco products, but many cities and some states are already moving to include the devices in their smoking bans. Such bans are raising a debate about whether e-cigarettes should be permitted to be used in smoke-free workplaces.

Gary Nolan was a two-pack-a-day cigarette smoker until he switched to e-cigs. Now Nolan, who hosts a libertarian talk show based in Columbia, Mo., freely puffs — or vapes, as it's come to be called — at work.

Pages