Friday, January 1, 2021

American Changes for 2021-2022 – II

“It’s tough to make predictions, especially about the future” – Yogi Berra

Last week I looked at some of the many 2021 jobs-and-economy forecasts and semi-forecasts.  Now it is time for my views.

There are four general patterns of change and non-change.  The first could be called “pent-up demand,” either what happened after World War II with housing and previously unavailable consumer goods, which created tens of millions of civilian jobs, or simple resumption.  The second is “acquiescence,” or situations where people decide they preferred what they had to do during the pandemic, including innovations and efficiencies discovered, tested, and at least partially debugged over the past year.  Third is “as expected,” in which trends, whether interrupted or not, go back to either where they were or where they were headed before Covid-19.  Fourth is “new perspective,” when, on the edge of resuming an activity after a break, people decide they do not want to do it in the same way they did before, do not want to do it at all, or wish to start something new. 

To project how something will be different is to determine which pattern will apply.  Sometimes that seems easy, and otherwise we have to look at the strength of the factors involved – how much incentive people have to follow certain methods.  There will always be a great deal unknown, as anyone associated with commercial success of any kind of art can relate.  Yet we can still do better than chance.  Accordingly, I extend the following.

On working at home, the second and third patterns will operate.  Before March, there was a movement by large organizations to bring employees back into the office, with amenities designed to encourage longer hours there, but many workers discovered how much they liked not needing to commute.  (The nasty things, such as slanted toilets and self-serving messages on water-cooler cucumbers, though, will be nipped in the bud – a perfect application of the fourth pattern.)  Outcomes here will vary greatly by company, and after a year or two will resume being in effect an employee benefit.  Zoom calls, though, which nobody seems to like, will go away, replaced again by conference calls or in-person gatherings.

One thing teachers and school administrators have discovered is that remote learning for students below high school, to which the first pattern applies, does not work.  Its disadvantages, from students losing snow days to uncorrectable income and home-setting differences, have become known, with little on the other side.  Expect distance classes to end for junior high and below as soon as pandemic infection levels drop substantially, probably with the 2021-22 school year.  The same will pertain to wearing masks and practicing social distancing, for the same reasons.    

As for permanent changes to restaurants, we don’t see any, except for thinning of their numbers caused by many forced out of business.  The fourth pattern, in which many people notice how much less money they have spent on eating out, will apply, and demand, not helped by insufficiently worthwhile high-end takeout meals, will drop.  There will be new places, but fewer prospective entrepreneurs than before will feel motivated to start such ventures.  Other storefront businesses will do better, but indefinitely lower demand for space in the likes of New York City will force rents down.

Per the third pattern, I do not predict significant changes to labor laws.  What looked like a push to raise wages and provide benefits such as paid sick days to low-level customer-facing workers, such as grocery clerks and cashiers, seems to have petered out, with some seeing the stimulus payments and possible preferential vaccine treatment as close enough to fair compensation.  The cases against mandating broad-based pay increases are as strong as ever, and with a moderate president will continue to stop the passing of laws requiring the likes of $15 per hour for everyone.  The struggles between Uber, Lyft, Airbnb, and their resource providers will continue, with the companies getting the worst of them most of the time.

Will proof of vaccination become a credential needed for many 2021 activities?  Yes – and it will indicate a two-class society, not by race or income but by the choice of whether to get injected.  It will probably be required for travel to certain states and countries without quarantining, for entry to some restaurants, bars, or social clubs, and elsewhere.  I don’t know about large spectator events, as such numbers make fraudulent credentials hard to stop, and all it would take would be one case of some such liar superspreading the virus to make us all realize that, once again, a few people can ruin things for the rest of us.  By mid-2022, with these advantages and the taming of Trumpism, about 95% of Americans will have had one of many vaccines long since readily available.

Happy new year.  I hope 2021 is as good to all of us as I believe it will be.

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