Expiring pandemic employment benefits, Labor Day travel issues, and another space race.

Welcome to a new edition of The Weekender… where pandemic unemployment benefits are expiring but may or may not affect the number of Americans returning to work. Plus—American billionaires continue to compete for the ultimate space crown, but this time, their extraterrestrial games are focused more on satellites than vanity space tourism. And finally—with Americans looking to Labor Day to enjoy a long weekend to celebrate the American worker, health experts are warning those still unvaccinated not to travel over the holiday. Discover the reason below and more in this week’s edition of The Weekender. We’re glad you could join us. 
 
P.S. In honor of Labor Day, we want to recognize all hard-working Americans who have helped build this great nation and show our appreciation for our workforce. Labor Day, which President Grover Cleveland made an official U.S. holiday in the late 1800s, may have been the unofficial recognition of the role of mental health in the workplace. For more on that, see The Big Five below. 
 
THE BIG FIVE

Pandemic-fueled mental health crisis addressed by many companies, frontline workers, and teenagers still struggling.  

The year 2020 was a challenge for workers, and the pandemic carrying over into 2021 has continued to impact the way we work. As employers navigate these tumultuous times, a gap in the ways companies support workers’ mental health has emerged, with some business owners responding by stepping up benefits (including big brands like Nike and Bumble) with additional paid time off being the go-to choice. Moreover, the mental health time-off perk is not limited to big companies with more traditional office hours. Southern fast-food chain Bojangles has also announced that the company will close for two days to provide staff with a ‘well-deserved break.’ While many private companies promote mental health as a priority to their employees, many frontline workers are still struggling, with essential government workers like teachers and police jumping through hoops to obtain mental health services. Moreover, the mental health crisis fueled by the pandemic extends far beyond the workforce. As kids return to school, a survey by Mental Health America revealed 54 percent of students ages 11 to 17 years had frequent suicidal thoughts or self-harmed in the two weeks before taking the survey. This data shows the highest percentage since 2014. With the number of Covid-19 cases continuing to spike, Americans may be experiencing more mental health days ahead. These are challenging times. If you or someone in your life needs help, there is no shame in seeking it. Call the National Suicide Prevention at (800) 273-8255 or chat with them on their website at suicidepreventionlifeline.org, which also has some great resources on where to get help locally and how to talk with a loved one to make sure they get the help they need. Read more in The New York Times. 

Will expiring pandemic benefits make a difference in the job market? 

While 24 states in our union have already done away with pandemic unemployment benefits, that number is about to increase to all 50 states. Pandemic unemployment benefits will expire this weekend in the 26 states still offering them. According to The Century Foundation, this cutoff will impact at least 7.5 million people across the country. Experts are uncertain of the next phase in pandemic funding for the unemployed, as the White House has signaled that it is not planning on reextending the benefits. Still, states have some leeway in how they put pandemic funds to use in supporting unemployed residents. Regardless of what funding remains available, there is one thing most experts agree on: An influx of people losing pandemic unemployment funds does not mean that our worker shortage is over. This prediction is based upon states that have already ended their pandemic unemployment benefits but have yet to see employment substantially grow. There are, of course, factors other than unemployment benefits that are impacting America’s efforts to get back to work—experts name health concerns and childcare as two factors that may be keeping Americans home, in addition to switching careers. It will take time to understand the full impacts the pandemic will have had on our workforce. Read more in The Wall Street Journal. 
 

Are you traveling over the Labor Day weekend? Expect a few road bumps.  

As Americans pack their bags to travel over the Labor Day weekend, the pandemic has thrown a couple of curveballs into travel plans. Unvaccinated Americans thinking about traveling over the holiday have been provided a piece of advice from the Centers for Disease Control: Traveling is not recommended. However, there is more to consider than vaccine status for those still looking to take to the roads and skies and get out of town. According to Gas Buddy, drivers will be paying the highest gas prices in seven years, estimated to be 90 cents higher than Labor Day 2020. Meanwhile, airlines are wrestling with handling surges and variants of COVID-19, with travelers weary of booking too early in advance. According to TripAdvisor, 70 percent of bookings for the first week of August through the platform were for trips occurring in the following three weeks. Moreover, we now have the impact of Hurricane Ida across the Gulf Region and now the Eastern Seaboard. With travel issues and consumer prices on the rise, it is safe to say: if you don’t need to be anywhere this Labor Day weekend, it might be best to hang close to home, fire up the grill, and soak in some college football, which with some new protocols is pushing forward. Read more in Fox News.

Experts suggest climate change is making hurricanes worse.
While the wrath of Hurricane Ida is quieting, it is evident that the recovery from the monster storm is just beginning. This storm was so strong that it did something the U.S. Geological Survey calls “extremely uncommon:” it caused a reverse flow in the Mississippi River, temporarily stopping one of the world’s longest and most powerful rivers from flowing. In Ida’s wake, Louisiana hospitals face an onslaught of patients dealing with storm complications even as they struggle to manage growing numbers of Covid-19 patients. In certain states, evacuees may not be able to return to their homes for weeks. The impact is not just being felt along the Gulf Coast; Hurricane Ida has caused flooding as far north as New York City, causing what New York Governor Kathy Hochul paints as “a very dire situation.” Centuries-old historic rowing houses on iconic Boathouse Row in Philadelphia are experiencing historic flooding. While any hurricane impact is problematic, a question begs to be asked: Are hurricanes getting worse over time? Some studies suggest that climate change is already increasing hurricane formation and will continue to get more severe over time. It may be time to sell that pandemic beach house you just bought. Read more in Axios

The latest fight among billionaires? Satellites.

American billionaires, including Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk, have set their gaze on the stars and become the faces of the market-based space race. These moguls may be competing over successful spaceship launches, but a minor fight has also been brewing: the race over infrastructure implementation for the small satellite internet business. As more and more companies like Apple look to satellites to bolster emergency communications abilities, which would allow users to send texts to first responders and report crashes in areas without cellular coverage, putting satellites into orbit may be a lucrative business. At least, that is what Bezos and Musk believe. The two billionaires have come to digital blows on this very subject, with Musk tweeting in reaction that “filing legal actions against SpaceX is actually his [Bezos’] full-time job.” According to Bloomberg, Apple has been working on satellite technology since 2017, which would free users from having to rely on cell networks. To give you a better understanding of the importance and capability of satellite communications, the U.S. military depends on systems of ultra-high frequency (“narrowband”) satellites for secure communications. Read more in Apple Insider.

INTERNATIONAL SPOTLIGHT

The China culture crackdown. The Chinese Communist Party is making a hard play to reign in video games, tech, and celebrities. 
China has been working hard to flex its muscles over the past weeks, limiting and controlling how and when its citizens take in popular cultural elements like celebrity social media feeds and video games. The country has moved to back leader Xi Jinping’s efforts to mute political dissent, social activism, and ideological diversity. Chinese celebrities on the country’s “misbehavior list” are seeing their online presence scrubbed—often overnight—and their film work removed from streaming platforms. The government is also working to limit children’s time online, announcing a new rule that would ban those in China under the age of 18 from playing more than three hours of online games. This ban comes from new regulations recently published by China’s National Press and Publication Administration, a broader crackdown by Beijing against its domestic tech giants like Tencent and Alibaba. As the most populated country in the world, China’s ban could set a precedent for other countries to control big tech companies, making it harder for Facebook and Google, for example, to stop regulations from popping up in other countries, including the United States. Moreover, China’s Communist Cultural Revolution has also had long-lasting effects on the Chinese people, with experts warning of the educational and generational impacts it has created. Just imagine how the three-hour-per-week video game limit would go over with American teenagers… Read more in CNN

DATA POINTS

 93%: The number of NFL players who are fully vaccinated for Covid-19. 

16 years: The anniversary of Hurricane Katrina’s devastating landfall as Hurricane Ida leaves 1 million+ people, including all of New Orleans, without power.

35%: The amount of Republicans who say that they trust national news organizations, compared to 70% in 2016. GOP trust in media started dropping when President Trump took office but has plummeted faster in the Biden era.

20: The number of national forests in California closing for two weeks due to dangerous wildfires, disrupting Labor Day plans for thousands of Californians.

46: The number of candidates listed on the ballot vying to replace Governor Gavin Newsom in the recall election scheduled for September 14th. Candidates include a mix of politicians, entertainers, and businesspeople, including Olympian and tv star Caitlyn Jenner.

$80 billion: The predicted cost of damages from Hurricane Ida on the southeastern United States. Hurricane Ida was the fifth-largest hurricane ever to make landfall in the U.S.

2.2: The number of years of life the average person is losing due to air pollution. The latest Air Quality Life Index shows that the burden of harmful air pollution is unevenly distributed, revealing global hotspots emerging in South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa.

7,267: The number of days U.S. troops occupied Afghanistan in what is known as America’s longest war, starting on October 7th, 2001, and ending with Army Major General Chris Donahue as the last soldier out of the country.

FEATURED TWEET

Credit: Milton Nkosi via @nkosi_milton 
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