Welcome to a new edition of The Weekender… Census results reveal two things: America is becoming more diverse and getting old. Also—did the Biden administration just throw another log on the politically fueled COVID-19 fire with an announcement about vaccine boosters? And finally—Lake Mead’s water levels are low enough to cause dramatic federal action, and Americans are not building as many homes. Catch up on these news headlines and more in this edition of The Weekender. As always, thanks for joining us.
THE BIG FIVE
America is growing more diverse as it gets older.
The only thing that you could genuinely predict during 2020 was that, even with a global pandemic, Census takers would still be showing up at your door. The newly released 2020 Census data revealed on paper what most of us already knew: the United States is growing. However, our larger population is not sticking with the status quo – it’s shifting rapidly. Our nation is not only growing but becoming more diverse, and there is one key group to thank for that: America’s Hispanic population. Since 2010, the Hispanic population in the United States grew by 23 percent, bolstering significant population gains in the Western and Southern regions of the country. American population growth occurred primarily in metropolitan areas, with some of the most significant gains in states like Texas. America’s Hispanic population has more than doubled in the last 30 years, from 9 percent of the total population in 1990 to 18.7 percent in 2020. More than 200 counties across the United States experienced a population increase from 2010 to 2020 due to growth in the number of Hispanic Americans. While immigration accounts for a small portion of the growth, the most population growth came from natural circumstances. This fact is witnessed in the racial diversity of our youngest Americans—for the first time in 2019, more than half of our youth population identified as non-white. The Census highlighted another significant change within our country: We’re getting older. The number of Americans 18 and older has increased by more than 10 percent since 2010. The number of Americans under 18 decreased slightly, partly due to the reduced fertility and births we have witnessed since 2007.
Biden administration backs vaccine boosters while the rest of America wrestles with the politics of COVID-19.
After tracking COVID-19 data and learning that Delta variant is expected to worsen in the coming months and cause a potential reduction in initial vaccine efficacy, the White House announced that they are backing booster shots for Americans vaccinated with Pfizer and Moderna vaccines. While the boosters will not be available until mid-September at the earliest, this recommendation comes right in the middle of the politicized debate over one of the most contentious COVID-related subjects: how to get Americans back to work and to school safely. America is split on how to address this politicized stage of the pandemic. Some states, including New Mexico, are re-implementing statewide mask mandates, while others are running in the opposite direction, like Tennessee’s Republican Governor Bill Lee, who signed an executive order gutting any attempt from a school district to mandate masks for students. Nevertheless, a new Axios-Ipsos poll shows that most American adults support mask mandates despite arguments on social media—even if the results vary by party. Meanwhile, corporate America is getting used to vaccine mandates while professional athletes are also getting their shots. Fun fact: the Atlanta Falcons are believed to be the first team to be fully vaccinated in the National Football League. Some directives are coming down from the federal government—if a nursing home wants reimbursements from Medicaid and Medicare, staff must now be vaccinated. COVID-19 is practically guaranteed to be a heated topic when the 2022 elections roll around. The election cycle will inevitably have to face the fallout of the Delta variant. While no one knows what the impact of the variant will look like by November of 2022, early signals—such as reduced manufacturing activity, stock market reactions, and slower return-to-office plans—point to Americans being in for an even bumpier ride ahead.
Water shortages, wildfires, and tropical storms: the pain gets spread.
2020 taught us that most do not want to live through anything labeled ‘unprecedented’ ever again. Residents near Lake Mead, one of the largest artificial lakes in the world, are witnessing another example of something both unprecedented and unwanted. For the first time, a federal water shortage was declared for Lake Mead, triggering cuts that impact the tens of millions of residents in the Southwestern United States and Northern Mexico. The Bureau of Reclamation has announced that Lake Mead will be under a Tier 1 shortage. This designation will trigger cuts in the amount of water released along the lower Colorado River Basin—Arizona, Nevada, and Mexico—to maintain the water left in Lake Mead to continue power generation and supply water for the Upper Colorado River Basin. Water will be released into Lake Powell, at a historical low this year, feeding into Lake Mead. The water levels at the Hoover and Glen Canyon Dam reservoirs are the lowest since they were initially filled, and hydroelectric power generated has decreased 25 percent since 2000. Without cuts, local communities could be without both sufficient water and electricity. Thankfully, the necessary cuts have been met with a cooperative spirit from impacted states. Discussions regarding critical updates to drought contingency plans are in process, which will inevitably remain relevant for the foreseeable future.
Record-breaking year for hackers and data breaches: can you truly protect yourself from cyberattacks?
Digital privacy has been a hot topic for years now. While we usually conjure images of Edward Snowden and the National Security Agency with this subject, 2021 has been a record-breaking year for digital invasion of another kind: hackers. T-Mobile confirmed a data breach where hackers are claiming responsibility for selling the information of more than 100 million people. While the company has not yet confessed how widespread the damage is, it prompts the question: If major companies are susceptible to data breaches of that scale, can any of us truly be protected from cyberattacks? This subject has produced strong opinions from Americans, who are now eyeing the digital world with some suspicion. In a survey from SecZetta, 88 percent of respondents agreed that organizations and governments must have better data security practices. Fifty-three percent of respondents do not believe that the U.S. government has the infrastructure to protect Americans from cyberattacks. This idea is so prevalent that it made it into the U.S. infrastructure bill – cybersecurity investments to help guard against attacks like the Colonial Pipeline debacle are woven into the $1 trillion proposal. Meanwhile, schools are also bracing for more cyberattacks. While databases of personal information already make schools a persuasive target for hackers, the pivot to remote learning also makes them vulnerable. Cyberattacks on schools exploded in 2020 to a recorded 408 and will likely continue to increase.
U.S. homebuilding fueled by COVID-19 set to slow down.
Housing demand grew during COVID-19, leading to a seller’s market. Newly built homes were also in demand, hitting 1.725 million units in March of 2021 – a record since June 2006. However, that surge has ground to a halt. Started housing projects dropped by 7 percent last month—a downturn that was greater than expected. One potential explanation for this change? There is less location flexibility as Americans head back to work. There was an excellent opportunity to move during the pandemic as Americans worked from home with no commute or obligation to a physical office. Seven million households moved to a different county in 2020 – half a million more households than in 2019. Another is the delays and cost increases due to supply chain issues brought on by the pandemic.
Joe Biden stands behind Afghanistan withdrawal plan as the Taliban takes over, Americans point fingers.
In an interview that has spread like wildfire across social media, President Joe Biden admitted that the collapse in Afghanistan “did unfold more quickly than we had anticipated.” However, the President is standing behind his withdrawal plan as the nation points fingers to try and figure out who is to blame. Republicans have been quick to condemn the White House, while Democrats on Capitol Hill are grappling with the fallout. Meanwhile, the situation in Afghanistan is grim. Taliban co-founder Abdul Ghani Baradar arrived back in Afghanistan for the first time in more than ten years to a country returning to Sharia law. The Taliban has claimed they will respect women’s rights within the “framework of Sharia law,” while Afghan women are left wondering what that means for them and what life looks like under a Taliban-controlled government. Moreover, the efforts to evacuate the more than 300,000 Afghans who aided the United States are underway as the Taliban has targeted individuals sympathetic to the United States. While Democrats on Capitol Hill eye the budget reconciliation process as a way to provide aid for Afghan refugee resettlement, many governors on both sides of the political aisle have announced that their states will gladly welcome any refugees fleeing the Taliban.
2,100: The number of people (as of Friday morning) that have lost their lives in the 7.2 magnitude earthquake that rocked Haiti last weekend. Heavy rain is expected to enter the region from Tropical Storm Grace, further complicating rescue efforts.
25%: The percentage increase the USDA is boosting food stamp benefits starting in October of this year, raising average monthly per-person benefits from $121 to $157.
689,000: The number of single-family homes under construction in July of this year – the highest number since July 2007.
44%: The number of workers who say they feel fatigued on the job, evidence that workplace burnout is on the rise. Employees’ mental health is quickly becoming a top concern for companies. Experts say that companies that confront mental health are poised to win the war for talent.
640: The number of panicked Afghans that rushed aboard the U.S. Air Force C-17, which safely evacuated them from Kabul on Sunday.
18.3: The results of New York’s general business conditions index in August, down from 43.0 in July, evidence of a sharp deceleration in manufacturing activity in the Big Apple. This decrease comes amid a spike in COVID-19 infections.
168 million: The number of Americans who are fully vaccinated and will be eligible for booster shots eight months after their second dose. Healthcare workers, nursing home residents, and other older Americans are set to be first in line.
22: The number of most-watched T.V. broadcasts this year that were sports games or competitions, 18 of which were football games. Super Bowl LV topped the list with 91.6 million viewers.
5: The number of months TSA extended the transportation mask mandate. Travelers will now have to wear masks on airplanes, trains, buses, and at airports through the new year.