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What Social Trends Told Us About the American Economy in 2021 – The New York Times

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If 2020 was the year that made Zoom a verb and imbued the phrase “online dating” with new meaning, 2021 was its annoying younger sibling. Things were not quite as novel and scary as the darkest early days of the pandemic and initial state and local lockdowns, but the year found new and creative ways to be bad.

Shutdowns weren’t nearly as widespread, but continued waves of coronavirus infection caused factories to shutter and people to retrench from economic life. This was a year in which the Duke of Hastings replaced the Tiger King as a national obsession, vaccine cards became a passport to semi-normal life, and the internet lost its hive mind over America’s cream cheese shortage.

Social trends like those can tell us a lot about the economy we’re living in. To wrap up 2021, we ran down what some of the big cultural moments and movements taught us about the labor market, economic growth and the outlook for 2022.

Sadly, it wasn’t just the schmear that ran out this year. Many, many things came up short in 2021. For a while, people tried to blame the fact that they couldn’t get hold of a couch or a used car on a ship stuck in the Suez Canal, but society eventually came around to the reality that we’ve all been buying so much stuff that we have collectively broken the supply chain.

Government stimulus checks and savings amassed over long months at home have been fueling strong consumer spending, and the virus has shifted spending patterns away from services like restaurant meals and plane tickets and toward goods. Container ships, ports and factories couldn’t keep up with the unusual boom, especially as new virus waves spurred occasional shutdowns.

Product shortages have raised prices, helping to push inflation up to the fastest pace in nearly 40 years. The big question is whether high inflation will continue in 2022. As the Omicron variant threatens to throw more kinks into global supply lines, economic policymakers worry that it will persist.

About 1.5 million “idlers” and counting have joined a community on the site Reddit dedicated to “those who want to end work, are curious about ending work, want to get the most out of a work-free life.” If you were looking for a perfect expression of pandemic populist angst, that might be it: It’s replete with stories of bad bosses, workday abuses and both planned and spontaneous quits.

Redditors weren’t alone in getting excited about leaving jobs this year. Americans quit their jobs at record rates, in what was labeled “The Great Resignation” or the “Big Quit.” Myriad essays and articles have tried to assess why people are throwing in the towel, but most agree that it has something to do with burnout after long months of exposure to public health risk or endless online hours during the pandemic.

Some have suggested that a collective life-or-death experience has caused people to reassess their options, while others have suggested that the same government-padded savings that are allowing people to spend so much are giving them the wherewithal to be pickier about where they work and how much they are paid.

This may also have been the year that “OK, Boomer” ceded the floor to “You OK, Boomer?”

A recent Federal Reserve survey of business contacts found that several “noted that baby boomers were leaving jobs and selling businesses to retire early — a trend that was due (1957 marked the peak year for births among baby boomers; those babies turn 65 next year) but has accelerated because of pandemic burnout.”

That shows up in the data. People over the age of 45 have been slower to return to the job market since the start of the pandemic. That group includes members of Generation X, which ranges in age from 41 to 56, and baby boomers, who are roughly 57 to 75. It’s not clear if the apparent rush toward early retirement is going to stick: People may go back once the health scare of the pandemic is behind us, or if stocks return to less buoyant valuations, reducing the value of retirement portfolios.

What happens next with the middle-age-and-up work force will be pivotal to the future of the labor market. If older workers stay out, America’s labor force participation rate — and the pool of workers available to employers — may remain depressed compared with levels that prevailed before the pandemic. That will be bad news for employers, who are increasingly desperate to hire.

Don’t shed all of your tears for the baby boomers, because millennials also had a tough time in 2021. They divided the year between reminding the internet that they are graying, keeping Botox boutiques in business, and feeling aghast as Generation Z, their successors, accused them of being old. A generation that made the poorly informed decision to recycle the low-rise trend also had the gall to claim that side parts make people look aged and skinny jeans are out.

Whether their elders are ready for it or not, the reality is that Gen Z, the group born from 1997 to 2012, began to enter adulthood and the labor market in full force during the pandemic. It is a comparatively small generation, but its members could shake things up. They are fully digital natives and have different attitudes toward, and expectations of, work life from those of their older counterparts.

If office workers ever actually meet their new colleagues, things could get interesting.

Speaking of the office, this year put the initials “R.T.O.” firmly into the professional lexicon. Return-to-office planning was repeatedly upended by rolling waves of infection, but that didn’t stop cries of outrage. Many professionals began to question the utility of high heels and slacks — known derisively as “hard pants” — as opposed to their far more beloved and couch-friendly “soft pant” alternative.

Whether the future of work-wear will involve more elastic waistbands remains an open question, but it is increasingly clear that America is unlikely to return to many of its old workday habits. Surveys of workers suggest that many did not miss the office, and employers are increasingly turning to hybrid work models and location flexibility, in part to avoid fueling further resignations.

Borders closed, and opened, and closed again or included restrictions as waves of coronavirus tore across the world map this year. The same uncertainties facing national governments kept many travelers at or near home — international travel remains sharply depressed. Global tourism remained 76 percent below prepandemic levels through the third quarter, based on data from the World Tourism Organization.

Aside from Emily, it seems that relatively few of us are making it to Paris these days. That’s bad news for travel-dependent industries, and one of the reasons that spending patterns are struggling to shift back toward services and away from furniture, exercise equipment and toys. That has kept inflation high across much of the world.

Even when we did shift our consumption dollars back to experiences, those were often much changed by the pandemic.

A case in point: Many restaurants have moved to Q.R. codes instead of physical menus. Some of this is for sanitation, but companies are also turning to small doses of automation as a way to cut down on labor as employees are scarce. That has the potential to improve productivity. (The data so far on whether it’s working are mixed.) If companies do become more efficient, it could lay the groundwork for sustainably higher wages: The server who is now juggling twice as many tables as diners order from their phones can take home a fatter paycheck without chipping away at the restaurant’s profits.

But it remains to be seen whether workers will win out as companies streamline their operations to meet the moment. So far, corporate profits have been soaring to record highs, but wage gains are not quite keeping up with inflation. Things are changing fast, so how that story develops will be a trend to watch in 2022.

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Canadian dollar rises as selloff in U.S. bonds ebbs

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The Canadian dollar strengthened against the greenback on Thursday as U.S. bond yields stabilized and Ontario, Canada’s most populous province, said it would soon ease restrictions to curb the spread of the Omicron coronavirus variant.

The loonie was trading 0.3% higher at 1.2472 to the greenback, or 80.18 U.S. cents, after trading in a range of 1.2454 to 1.2516.

Among G10 currencies, only the Australian dollar notched a bigger gain. Both Canada and Australia are major producers of commodities.

“Interest rate differentials are tilting against the (U.S.)dollar, lifting the appeal of currencies leveraged to rest-of-world growth,” said Karl Schamotta, chief market strategist at Corpay.

U.S. Treasury yields have pulled back from 2-year highs as data showed that the number of Americans filing new claims for unemployment benefits unexpectedly rose last week.

Ontario has blunted transmission of the Omicron variant and it will gradually ease restrictions on businesses from end-January, Premier Doug Ford said.

Despite the prospect of slower economic growth due to restrictions, investors have raised bets that the Bank of Canada will hike interest rates on Jan. 26. It would be the first hike since October 2018.

Data from payroll services provider ADP showed that Canada added 19,200 jobs in December, the fifth straight month of gains

Canadian retail sales data, due on Friday, could offer more clues on the strength of the domestic economy.

The price of oil, one of Canada’s major exports, settled 0.1% lower at $86.90 a barrel as U.S. crude inventories rose for the first time in eight weeks and investors took profits after a recent rally.

Canadian government bond yields were mixed across a flatter curve. The 10-year eased 2.4 basis points to 1.857%, after touching on Wednesday its highest intraday level since March 2019 at 1.905%.

 

(Reporting by Fergal Smith; Editing by Jonathan Oatis and Sandra Maler)

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Toronto market hits 2-week low as rate hike angst weighs

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Canada’s main stock index on Thursday fell to its lowest level in more than two weeks as worries about the inflation outlook and prospects for higher interest rates weighed on investor sentiment.

The Toronto Stock Exchange’s S&P/TSX composite index ended down 146.98 points, or 0.7%, at 21,058.18, its lowest closing level since Jan. 5.

“The non-stop inflation headlines, talk about interest rates have scared the market,” said Barry Schwartz, a portfolio manager at Baskin Financial Services.

Data on Wednesday showed that Canadian inflation climbed in December to a 30-year high.

Investors have raised bets on the Bank of Canada hiking interest rates at a policy announcement next week and are also concerned the Federal Reserve could become aggressive in controlling inflation.

The TSX gained 22% in 2021, its best yearly performance since 2009, supported by massive stimulus, vaccine rollouts and hopes of global economic recovery.

“The markets are deciding that the last few years people have made way too much money and it is time to give some of that back,” Schwartz said.

Broad-based gains included a 2.2% decline for consumer discretionary shares, while the basic materials group, which includes precious and base metals miners and fertilizer companies, ended 1.8% lower.

Energy was down 0.7% as an uptick in U.S. crude inventories arrested the recent move higher in oil prices. U.S. crude oil futures settled 0.1% lower at $86.90 a barrel.

Heavily weighted financials fell 0.4%.

Among 11 major sectors, utilities was the only one to end higher, gaining 0.2%.

 

(Reporting by Fergal Smith; Additional reporting by Amal S in Bengaluru; editing by Jonathan Oatis)

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Economy

Any sanctions on Russia would not widely impact global, U.S. economy -White House – National Post

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WASHINGTON — Any sanctions imposed on Russia over its aggression toward Ukraine would not particularly expose the U.S. economy, although the Biden administration is focused on any possible impact on oil, White House National Economic Council Director Brian Deese said on Thursday.

“The actions that we have ready and that we are working closely with our allies to deploy would impose very significant costs across time on the Russian economy, and it would do so in a way that mitigates the impact on the global economy and the American economy,” he told CNN. (Reporting by Susan Heavey Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)

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