Wildfires, inflation, and net neutrality: Oh my!

Welcome to a new edition of The Weekender… where we are taking a look at the soaring consumer prices and what the Federal Reserve is (or is not) doing about it. Plus—the West is heating up with wildfires ripping through hundreds of thousands of acres, impacting communities’ water supply and air quality. Also—almost every single worker polled said they were considering quitting or changing their jobs… but employers are not buying it. Learn more about what experts call “the great resignation” and more in this week’s The Weekender. Thanks for joining us. We’re glad you’re here.
 
THE BIG FIVE

Consumer prices in the U.S. see the biggest spike since 2008.

Accelerating at the fastest pace in 13 years, U.S. inflation and consumer prices soared in June, with prices driving up for vehicles, flights, and hotels. According to the Labor Department, last month’s consumer-price index rose 5.4 percent since last year, with prices for vehicles jumping more than 10 percent compared to May. According to experts, the main reason for the June inflation was booming demand as the recovery from the pandemic continues to gain speed, outpacing businesses’ ability to keep up. The inflation is expected to normalize, explaining the Federal Reserve’s view that what Americans are experiencing is transitory. However, it is unclear when the prices will flatten and return to some kind of normalcy, which could be a challenge for the Biden administration in getting Congress to approve additional spending over the coming years. Even some Democrats, including Senator Joe Machin (D-WV), have expressed concern about inflation, which may hurt Democrats’ push to unite behind the $3.5 trillion budget plan that includes spending for President Joe Biden’s sweeping social and infrastructure plan. Lawmakers still need to hold separate votes on the plan’s details, with negotiations happening over the next several weeks. Read more in Bloomberg.

Wildfires, droughts, and heatwaves: Weather issues impacting the west.

Americans are feeling the heat as a wave of extreme drought hits the West. According to data released by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), June was the Earth’s fifth-warmest month on record. Additionally, land surface temperatures were the hottest they have been since tracking first started 142 years ago. About 72 percent of the region is considered to be in a “severe” drought, while more than a quarter are considered to be in the worst category of “exceptional” drought. Moreover, large wildfires—which have been primarily blamed in recent years on human activity—have already burned 200,000 more acres so far this year than last year alone. Climate experts are warning that the area is stuck in a cycle of extreme weather and will be until climate change is addressed, and it’s having a significant effect on disadvantaged communities’ water supplies and air quality. Read more in The Guardian
 

The battle for net neutrality: Equality on the internet.

Net neutrality is back in the news again—this time, proposed rules related to how the internet is accessed and utilized through Internet Service Providers (ISPs) are being pitched by proponents as a gateway to more competition. In an executive order, President Joe Biden urged the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to restore net neutrality rules set in place by former President Barack Obama. President Biden also wants the FCC to require broadband companies to provide transparency on pricing, helping to promote equality and competition. While the Trump administration took a hands-off approach to the telecom industry, repealing the rules, President Biden views a lack of competition as a large factor perpetuating the digital divide—the inequality between those with reliable internet access and those without it. The White House’s support for net neutrality comes as President Biden pushes his infrastructure plan, which includes $65 billion that President Biden says will provide all Americans with broadband access over eight years. Prepare for a major fight on this issue between ISPs, network equipment manufacturers, free-market allies, and major tech companies, app developers, and consumer advocates. Note: the last time Congress passed internet regulatory legislation was with the Telecommunications Act of 1996, which defined broadband internet as 200Kbps – yes, that is a “K,” not an M or a G. Remember this?  Read more in the Wall Street Journal. 

Healthcare spending is on track to reach pre-pandemic levels.
While many industries are still recovering from the impacts of Covid-19, the healthcare industry did not lose any momentum, and spending and utilization are on a trajectory toward pre-pandemic levels. Experts are closely watching the medical loss ratios (MLRs), or the percentage of premiums paid by health insurers, which provides insight into Americans’ medical needs and health. With the slowing of the pandemic, more people are returning to their doctors and hospitals, scheduling procedures, and receiving medical care. Experts expect MLRs to be lower for insurers this year, with more money paid to hospitals, nursing facilities, pharmaceutical companies, and medical device makers, which will likely result in an increase in technology, consultants, and vendors. With more people vaccinated and potentially needing fewer hospitalizations, health insurers are expected to report considerable earnings. This trend may be affected regionally by spikes in Covid-19 variants or other events and is closely watched by experts in the healthcare industry. Read more in Axios. 

The great resignation: Workers talk about quitting; employers aren’t buying it.

With some workers being called back to the office, many employees have voiced their desire to quit their job. In a recent survey, a stunning 95 percent of workers polled said they were considering leaving their jobs, citing burnout as the main reason. According to Labor Department data, a record 4 million people quit their jobs in April, the highest number in 20 years. Another survey finds that one in four workers plan to quit their job after the pandemic in what some are calling “the great resignation.” While C-suite leaders surveyed said they don’t think any of their workers will quit, almost every single worker polled said they are currently considering changing jobs. Moreover, it is happening while employers are working to hire and onboard new employees, keeping businesses a revolving door of workers and employers challenged to navigate the demands of workers that want not just more money but also a continuance of the flexibility many employees had during the pandemic. Read more in CBS News. 

INTERNATIONAL SPOTLIGHT

Thousands protest in Cuba, signaling big displays of anti-government. 
In some of the most extensive displays of antigovernment seen in years, thousands have taken to Cuba’s streets to voice grievances against the country’s shortages of food, power outages, and rising prices, calling for a change of government. Cuban authorities confirmed one person has died during demonstrations, and countless others were injured. The rare outpouring led Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel to acknowledge shortcomings in his government’s handling of shortages, urging Cubans not to resort to violence. Cuban officials say work is being done to improve the supply of medicines and electricity, and rules will be implemented, allowing small- and medium-sized enterprises to be created—a step once unthinkable under the communist government. Here in the U.S., both Democrats and Republicans have voiced support for the Cuban protests but are split on how to best approach the country’s humanitarian crisis. Simultaneously, Venezuelans are flocking to the U.S., and Haiti is still reeling from the assassination of its president, illustrating a much more volatile Caribbean than in the recent past. Read more in U.S. News. 

DATA POINTS

0: The state of gravity that billionaire Richard Branson floated in on Sunday as he live-streamed his trip to the edge of space. Along with other billionaires like Jeff Bezos, Branson has started the trend of “normal” people going to space, not just astronauts.

75: The number of years former President Jimmy Carter and First Lady Rosalynn Carter have been married. The couple is the longest-married presidential couple, and Jimmy Carter, 96, is the longest-lived president.

24: The number of Emmy nominations that the Disney+ Star Wars series The Mandalorian and Netflix’s historical drama The Crown both received. Many of the 73rd Emmy Award nominees come from the streaming platforms that helped kill time and lift moods during the pandemic.

3: The number of missed penalty kicks by the England National Team at the UEFA Euro Championship on Sunday. Bukayo Saka, Marcus Rashford, and Jadon Sancho’s missed PK attempts sparked a flood of racist comments towards the three black players and conversations on how the country handles racially motivated abuse.

0.9%: The percent increase of prices for goods and services in June, an uptick from May’s monthly change of 0.7%. The higher-than-expected reading will re-spark debates about whether inflation is indeed temporary.

40%: The number of college students and recent graduates who prefer in-person work. When asked what they would miss out on in a remote future, 74% of young people say the office community and 66% prefer in-person feedback from their managers.

19%: Japan’s vaccination rate after extending its state of emergency due to rising Covid-19 cases ahead of the Olympic Summer Games. Health experts fear without stronger protocols for testing, the Tokyo Olympics could become a superspreader event.

93,221: The number of deaths due to drug overdoses in 2020–the sharpest annual increase in the last three decades. Experts say this tragic number stems from the destabilizing effects of the Covid-19 pandemic.

14,220: The number of wildland firefighters responding to 67 major fires across the Western U.S. amidst its third heatwave of the summer. The recent fires have burned approximately 918,000 acres of land.

TWEET

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