📈 Equity markets logged another strong week, finishing up 2.5%, which brought their monthly gain to an eye-popping 6.7%
In a blow to the 43 million Americans carrying federal student loan debt, the Supreme Court struck down President Biden’s plan to forgive up to $20,000 in student loans. The court voted 6-3 against the plan which, considering the Court’s conservative supermajority, was in line with what experts were predicting.
Now that this plan has been officially vetoed, borrowers must officially prepare for the restart of student loan payments. Student loan payments have been in forbearance since the early days of the pandemic, but are scheduled to resume in just three months on September 1st.
👀 What to Be on the Lookout for This Week
Due to the Fourth of July holiday, this week will be a little bit sparse in terms of earnings releases. However, be on the lookout for reports from Levi’s and Urban One.
Economic reports will still be released on a normal schedule. Keep an eye out for these economic reports this week:
The ISM manufacturing PMI
Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) minutes
ISM services PMI
JOLTS job openings
30-year fixed rate mortgage
The most important event to keep an eye on this week will be the minutes from the Federal Open Market Committee meeting. This will give investors more insight into the central bank committee’s stance on rate hikes moving forward. The majority of policymakers still expect at least two more rate hikes through the end of the year, despite the pause in June.
📰 In Other News
This past week featured several major news stories centered around consumer behavior.
👜 To start, Gen Z is showing a strong preference for functional crossbody bags over traditional handbags. From April 2022 to 2023, sales of handbags among Gen Z were down 2% while sales for fanny, waist, and chest packs soared 56%. However, for shoppers over the age of 35, sales of handbags still rose 7%, signaling that this is a demographic-specific trend.
🏡 In real estate news, the National Association of Realtors says today’s home sellers are receiving an average of three offers to buy their home, down from six just a year ago. Reports suggest this may be because homebuyers have shown a diminished preference for fixer-uppers, possibly due to the increase in the cost of borrowing money for mortgages and renovations.
🤖 Finally, a number of Big Tech companies faced accusations of malfeasance this week. OpenAI was sued for allegedly stealing user data to help train its AI algorithms. The ChatGPT owner is accused of scraping data at an “unprecedented scale.” Similarly, Google was accused of violating its own standards in YouTube ad placements. Through Alphabet’s Google Video Partners program, companies are able to pay a premium to place ads on other sites, which Google promises will meet certain levels of quality and engagement. However, new research suggests Google violated those standards 80% of the time.
🏢 Is the Office Economy Worth Saving?
The Employer / Employee Stalemate
Thousands of employers across the country are currently at a standstill with their employees. The hot topic at hand? Competing visions of “the future of work.”
For most employees, the ideal schedule by and large involves some form of remote or hybrid work. But employers appear much more split on the matter. Some companies have enforced rigid “return-to-office” mandates, while others are taking the opposite approach, fully embracing a remote workforce.
Even though the pandemic is officially in the rearview mirror, office occupancy rates are still sitting at just 50% of pre-pandemic levels. And they show no signs of budging anytime soon.
This societal shift has created issues for those companies heavily reliant on foot traffic from commuters. These include daycares, public transportation, toll roads, office lessors, and small businesses in city centers. All of these parties have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo. Employees, on the other hand, feel the responsibility to prop up the “office economy” shouldn’t fall to them.
All this raises the pressing question: where does the American workplace go from here?
Pros & Cons
To answer this question, companies, employees, and municipalities across the country must collectively weigh the pros and cons of remote work. In other words: Is the traditional office economy worth saving? Or is there a better way forward?
For workers, there is plenty of upside to a hybrid or remote workplace. Many respondents to a recent Wall Street Journal survey stated they actually feel more productive during a remote workday. This is mainly because they are able to restructure their workday around their lives, rather than structuring their lives around the workday. That means they can take advantage of breaks throughout the day, drop their kids at school, go to lunch with friends, or simply take some downtime to enjoy hobbies and refresh before getting back to work.
The most notable downside of this new normal is that remote workers show an overwhelming tendency toward loneliness. One pre-pandemic study showed full-time remote work tended to increase feelings of isolation by 67% when compared to in-office work. This complicates the matter, making it difficult to tell whether employees are truly thriving in a remote environment.
No More 9 to 5
For better or worse, the American workplace has evidently been in need of an overhaul for years.
In the past few decades, technology has advanced at a supersonic pace. Meanwhile, the traditional workplace, at which productivity was largely measured by archaic measures like screen and chair time, has lagged behind. Now, the American workplace is undoubtedly at a massive turning point. But which way will it turn?
Chances are, the ultimate outcome will fall somewhere in the middle. It seems too late now to see a full-fledged return to the 9 to 5 workday. But it also looks unlikely that 100% of companies will go 100% remote. Which way would you prefer it go? By making it known, you and the rest of the American workforce will, ultimately, determine the answer.
🌭 The Unappetizing Truth About Today’s Restaurant Experience
Both sit-down and fast-casual restaurants have had a rough past couple years. During the pandemic, they battled stay-at-home mandates, rocky supply chain issues, and ever-fluctuating prices. Granted, at the time, diners showed greater patience for restaurants that found themselves understaffed. After all, those were unprecedented circumstances, with rapidly changing norms. However, now that the pandemic is in the rearview, diners are finding themselves losing patience with poor service at restaurants.In May, 42% of consumers who dined out reported feeling frustrated with lack of staff and slower service. But, notably, if a restaurant was understaffed, diners didn’t blame the waiters for slow service — they blamed the management.
Serving Up Solutions
One of the main issues restaurants today struggle with is finding and retaining reliable talent. Hiring new employees can be time-consuming and resource-straining. For example, bringing on a new hostess involves interviewing, training, and the additional time of getting them fully up to speed and used to their new responsibilities. If the employee ends up quitting after just a few months on the job, all that time and effort has been for nothing.To compound this, restaurants have always been known for their particularly high turnover rate. But things have gotten especially bad in the past year. Recently, full-service restaurants have been operating with 7% fewer hourly employees than in 2019. For fast food restaurants, this percentage jumps to 10%.One restaurant group has addressed this issue by instituting a 20% service charge on all bills, which is then split evenly among the wait staff. On top of that, diners are still prompted to leave a tip. In some cases, this has helped increase the average wage for the staff, while also improving the stability of their paychecks.
“Professionalizing” the Job
Celebrity chef Rick Bayless had a few more ideas for restaurants to help attract and retain talented staff. Namely, to bring more “professionalization” to their operations.
Working at a restaurant has long been viewed as a gig best suited for those such as students or creatives looking to save money or support a lifestyle for a temporary period of time, as opposed to full-time work. However, Bayless suggests restaurants could work to reverse this image by going above and beyond to provide the sense that they are offering employment for the long term.
Professionalizing a restaurant would surely mean different things for different eateries. But a few examples of measures one might take include automating payment processes to get employees paid consistently, fostering a strong work culture, and setting clear and regular schedules.
Restaurants could soon be facing a mass exodus from diners if they can’t address the issue of slow service. Bringing more professionalization to the role could be just what’s needed to attract talented employees and reverse this issue for good.
President Biden announced a $42 billion initiative to bring internet to every US home by 2030. The funds have already been allotted by Congress through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.
In a recent survey, 77% of executives stated employee well-being has improved over recent months. But, contrasting this, only 33% of employees stated they actually feel that way.
Meta Platforms launched a new VR subscription service for $7.99 per month. Meta+ will give users access to two new games per month.
Independent workers now make up 36% of the workforce, up from 27% in 2016. Workers appear to feel the freedom and flexibility of working as a contractor outweighs the potential lack of benefits and job security.
Roughly 119,000 employees went on strike between January and May of this year. Meanwhile, two more major unions — automakers and UPS drivers — are entering contested contract negotiations, with half a million employees between them.