There are many similarities and also many differences between the current recession and the Great Recession of 2008. Two of the core similarities — and the ones that define a housing bubble — are that prices are accelerating faster than purchasing power, and that there are changes in consumer values. While legislation and shifting values have addressed some of the issues that contributed to the Great Recession, most notably subprime lending, ultimately the crisis was a relatively natural economic response to the events that triggered it and followed a normal boom-bust-rebound cycle. The 2020 recession is somewhat of a reflection of this, though the specifics differ. The economy was already headed towards a natural downturn in the cycle, but the process was sped up by the COVID pandemic.
That’s where the similarities end, though. While nearly everything is ultimately tied to the economy in some way, it’s the pandemic, more so than economic conditions, that prompted valuation changes. Preference for larger homes and home entertainment, rather than homes closer to work and out-of-home entertainment, will probably continue as long as work-from-home remains a common practice, which will likely last a while. It’s true that people are leaving large cities and moving to cheaper areas, but this is more so out of necessity than desire. Peoples’ tastes have actually become more expensive, even if their wallet isn’t any larger. An economic downturn wouldn’t prompt this behavior. The only reason this isn’t currently sustainable is that the market hasn’t recovered yet. Once it does, probably around 2024-2025, it’s likely that the bubble will slowly deflate rather than explode.
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The second quarter of this year was thought to be a potential turning point in our recovery, as fewer and fewer people were missing payments. This includes rent payments, mortgage payments, and even student loan payments, though the frequency of missed student loan payments is still alarmingly high at 44.8%. Renters received assistance both from government entities and also from their landlords, and the government provided mortgage assistance as well. However, students with loans haven’t been given much help, and there’s been another recent surge of COVID-19 cases due to the delta variant. Some regions that had previously eliminated mask mandates are now requiring them again. The economy won’t recover until the job market stabilizes, which is made much more difficult by health concerns.
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When discussing economic sectors, nonprofits are often lumped in with for-profit businesses, or simply ignored. But ignoring them doesn’t paint a full picture, and they aren’t impacted by economic crises in the same way as businesses. In fact, depending on the type of nonprofit, they aren’t affected the same way among each other, either. One may expect nonprofits to struggle more than businesses that are able to utilize profits as an emergency fund. During this pandemic, that was true for arts and culture based nonprofits, but the opposite was true of basic needs nonprofits.
During an economic and health crisis, food services, support programs, and health education programs are in high demand. Nonprofits focused on these types of projects flourished. Food Finders, which partners with nonprofits to provide food to those in need, acquired 400 new volunteers in 2020 and supplied 6 million more pounds of food than the prior year. Charitable donations in the US are way up, with an estimated 4.1% increase.
The arts, on the other hand, took an enormous nosedive. International City Theatre had a great year in 2019, but 2020 was shocking. Revenue went down a whopping 90% in 2020. The majority of their revenue is one-time subscriptions and ticket sales. No one is going to purchase a subscription while under lockdown, and even though they tried implementing virtual programs, they weren’t in high demand. Fortunately, smaller arts nonprofits weren’t hit as hard, since they have lower overhead costs.
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On May 13th, the CDC dropped the recommendation of wearing a mask for fully vaccinated persons. However, the CDC guidelines are only recommendations, not law. Federal, state, and local laws still apply. California law still has a mask requirement, so even fully vaccinated people should still be wearing masks inside businesses. The state has opted to wait until June 15th to remove this requirement.
Not everyone in California is vaccinated yet, particularly in underserved communities. The hope is that the four week period will help ensure more people are vaccinated, as well as give businesses time to readjust to the new regulations. Vaccination progress will be monitored. Current trends are good, so if they continue as they have been, vaccinated people should be able to keep their masks off after June 15th. Of course, the virus doesn’t care about laws — it may still be there after that date, so if you want to stay safe, nothing is preventing you from continuing to wear your mask until you feel comfortable.
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The lockdowns from the pandemic negatively affected several industries. With most flights being cancelled, you’d expect the aerospace industry to have suffered quite a bit. In reality, their employment numbers rose 6% during the shutdowns. How? They adapted, beginning to focus more on space technology and even on pandemic relief engineering.
Several aerospace companies aided the coronavirus relief effort by designing and manufacturing ventilators, face helmets, and face shields. These include Virgin Orbit, Virgin Galactic, and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Some focused more on the booming space industry. All in all, aerospace lost 1400 jobs but gained 3000.
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According to a recent survey from finance magazine Kiplinger and wealth management organization Personal Capital, over 40% of those saving for retirement are less confident in their savings now. The pandemic triggered a significant economic recession with the highest number of job losses since the Great Depression, reducing the ability to save and in many cases, forcing people to withdraw from savings.
33% of respondents took a distribution or loan from their retirement account. 58% of loans through the CARES Act borrowed between $50,000 and the maximum allowed of $100,000, and 33% of those who withdrew money took out $75,000 or more. A third of respondents also said they plan to work longer and delay their retirement, and some were forced to do the opposite and retire early without the ability to find work at their age. This could pose an issue, since retirees are quite reliant on Social Security. 20% of retirees use Social Security for at least 90% of their income, and 50% use it for over half their income.
The survey also only included people with at least $50,000 in their retirement savings. The problems may be worse for those without much savings, which could be a large segment of the population. In 2019, almost half of those in the US between the ages of 32 and 61 have no retirement savings at all. The majority of those with savings had less than $21,000. And remember that this was pre-pandemic — the recession only would have exacerbated this issue.
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During the lockdowns, businesses had an excuse to try out work-from-home models and see how well it works. Is it better than office spaces? Worse? Just different? Offices and and work-from-home models both have their advantages and disadvantages, and the experience will be different for different people. By surveying employees who had a chance to work from home, some companies are rethinking whether they want an office space at all. Those who are keeping their offices are also learning what they can do to make the office a better place to work.
The main advantage of office space has frequently been assumed to be that workers are more productive without the distractions of home. While this is true for some people, especially those with young kids, by and large productivity has actually been higher using a work-from-home model. Some of this can be attributed to employees specifically focusing on work because they don’t want to appear unproductive, but for the company, this achieves the same result.
According to employees at advertising and marketing firm R/GA, the purpose of the office was not productivity. It’s human connection and collaboration. Two of the biggest disadvantages they saw while working from home is that they missed seeing their coworkers and weren’t able to coordinate with them efficiently. Many of them wanted to keep working from home, but still be able to access the office a few days a week to meet with coworkers. R/GA saw that as a pointer for how they could change the office experience to prioritize it being a collaborative space. Individual desks and cubicles serve little purpose here — what’s needed is more informal meeting rooms. There are larger conference rooms, but those don’t allow for smaller teams to work together without interruptions from other groups coming and going.
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There’ve been plenty of articles written about the ever-changing details of the eviction and foreclosure moratoriums. Less has been said about other forms of pandemic relief, such as federal rent relief stimulus. While the stimulus was passed already in December, there are still some things you may not know about it.
The federal pandemic relief bill includes $25 billion in rent relief, approximately $2.6 billion of which is going to California. We haven’t yet heard the details on how to apply for rent relief, except that there is an option to give your consent to your landlord to allow them to apply on your behalf, but there is information about who qualifies. One need not be a citizen of the US or have documents to qualify, though it’s possible that individual states and jurisdictions could limit this. The main qualification is that the pandemic have caused you risk of homelessness or housing instability. Qualifying households must make 80% of the area’s median income or less, and there must be at least one person in the household who qualifies for unemployment or has experienced financial hardship as a result of the pandemic.
A qualifying household can get a maximum of 15 months worth of relief, as determined by their need, usable for unpaid and future rent and utility payments. It’s possible that some of the money could be used for other purposes, however, because the money is intended to be primarily for rent and utilities, it will be paid to the landlords and utility companies. Only if the landlord refuses it will the tenant be paid directly.
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California’s housing market saw multiple shifts during 2020 as different sectors reacted differently and regulations changed with the times. When 2020 began, we already had high home prices and a construction deficit. The lockdowns of the pandemic propelled an economic recession that was already in the making, causing it to arrive faster than expected. Normally recessions cause a drop in prices, but the circumstances of this recession were forced, and therefore not necessarily subject to the same natural tendencies.
In the beginning of the lockdowns, real estate agents were not able to meet with clients or show property, causing the market to grind to a sudden halt. As the year progressed, regulations loosened somewhat, allowing showings under safe conditions. That prompted a spike in demand, as people who were itching to buy, especially with low mortgage rates, were finally able to start looking again. However, that did nothing to change available inventory. Inventory is low as a result of lack of construction, and what little construction there was being halted by lockdowns. In addition, most of the construction being done was for higher-end single-family residences, even as many prospective buyers were losing income due to the pandemic. With high demand and low inventory, prices simply continued to go up.
The market itself isn’t the only thing that changed, though. Prospective buyers are no longer looking for the same types of properties they wanted before 2020. If people are going to spend more time at home, they want the type of home that they’ll be happy living in. Move-in ready. Plenty of space. Home offices. Room versatility. It even extends to the outdoor amenities — houses with pools and outdoor living space are selling quickly, since people are able to be outside without leaving the confines of their property.
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The increasing popularity of home offices has been mentioned ad nauseum, but how else have homeowners changed their behavior in the house as a result of the pandemic? The America At Home Study, a nationwide survey with about 4000 respondents, may have some answers.
One of the biggest answers should be obvious: Disinfecting more. In addition to this, though, homeowners are reorganizing to save space, particularly in their garages. Some are buying shelving for their garages, others are converting part of their garage into a home gym. Other rooms are also becoming multipurpose, and backyards are being used more frequently as entertainment spaces. Homeowners are also interested in updating their home technology. While interest in germ-resistant countertops and flooring has decreased between April and October, it’s still incredibly popular with 50% of respondents still showing interest.
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A moratorium is currently protecting many renters from evictions, but it’s going to end eventually, and many renters will still owe a backlog of payments. What’s more, the legal process for acquiring protection can be difficult to grasp for some renters. The bottom line is that renters are going to need help understanding their rights — as well as fighting for them in court. I’m sure most everyone is aware of their guaranteed legal right to an attorney if they cannot afford one, but not everyone realizes that only applies in criminal cases. People struggling with evictions don’t have that same guarantee.
Fortunately, the federal COVID-19 relief package has taken that into account. In addition to $25 billion in rental assistance and an extension of the eviction moratorium through January, the most recent package also includes $20 million in legal assistance for renters. The vast majority of landlords can already afford an attorney, so aid to renters is aimed at levelling the playing field. The prediction is that it will do more than that, though. An estimated 92% of renters in Baltimore, Maryland, would win their cases if they had legal counsel, yet only 1% do, compared to 96% of landlords.
This brings us to the next step in helping renters get back on their feet: extending the guarantee of legal counsel to renters facing eviction, which is what the aforementioned city of Baltimore has just decided to do. The city has been given four years to complete implementation of this new requirement. It’s even expected to save the city and state money in the long run by reducing costs elsewhere, such as homeless shelters and foster care. Baltimore was only the most recent city to try this, though. It was first accomplished by New York City in 2017, and similar laws exist in San Francisco, Philadelphia, and Newark, New Jersey.
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With the pandemic creating an employment nightmare, the unemployment rate has been a closely watched statistic. Employment is still below pre-pandemic levels, but has rebounded fairly well. That may be giving us false hope, though, since there are other jobs-related statistics to consider.
In a previous article (https://www.carlandarda.com/?p=1370) we looked at the difference between employment rate, measuring what percentage of those in the labor force have jobs, and labor force participation rate, measuring what percentage of people are able to hold jobs, whether they currently do or not. We already saw there that LFP dropped as a result of the pandemic, indirectly reducing the unemployment rate without actually creating jobs.
But there’s another statistic that sheds some light on what the pandemic has done to the jobs market. The long-term unemployment rate specifically measures what percentage of those looking for a job have been searching for 27 weeks or more. Before this recession, the LTU rate has been around 20%. This means that 80% of unemployed people were finding jobs, retiring, or giving up entirely within six months. This rate has been going up rapidly and was at 37% as of November 2020. Not only have more people given up or been forced into retirement, but more of those still searching for jobs aren’t able to find one quickly.
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Earlier this year, in April, NASA announced development of Ventilator Intervention Technology Accessible Locally (VITAL), a ventilator designed specifically with COVID-19 in mind. Existing ventilators have more general use cases, but are more expensive and more difficult to build. Currently, 28 manufacturers are licensed to build VITAL, with models variably either pneumatic or using compressed air. In August, one such manufacturer, Russer, has gained approval for its pneumatic model from Anvisa, which is Brazil’s equivalent of the FDA. Nonprofit research organization CIMATEC in Brazil helped develop the Brazilian model. Leone Andrade, the Director of CIMATEC, says that VITAL can also help boost Brazilian industry in addition to helping combat the pandemic.
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Here in California, the foreclosure moratorium is set to end in February. The federal government has now caught up with California, with the FHFA extending the federal moratorium through January 31, 2021. It was previously set to expire at the end of December. The FHFA will be keeping tabs on what’s happening and continue to provide extensions as needed.
More than 28 million homeowners in the US have an Enterprise-backed mortgage, so the hope is that this extension helps a lot of people. FHFA Director Mark Calabria wanted to make sure borrowers had peace of mind during the pandemic. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are expected to incur between $1.1 billion and $1.7 billion in additional expenses between now and January 31, in addition to the approximately $6 billion they’ve already incurred during the moratorium.
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Many businesses have been struggling during the pandemic, but the cannabis industry is not one of them. Cannabis businesses were deemed essential and therefore have been working throughout the stay-at-home orders. And their business has been booming. One need only look at California’s state tax revenues to see it, as those from cannabis businesses have doubled in Q3 2020 compared to Q3 2019, jumping from $171 million to $371 million. The president of the Long Beach Cannabis Association, Adam Hijazi, has witnessed multiple first-time buyers every single day.
Of course, it’s entirely possible that this growth is despite the pandemic and not because of it. It’s only been three years since recreational cannabis was legalized. There’s still plenty of room for the industry to grow, and more businesses are opening each year. The legal cannabis business is so fresh that the illicit market still accounts for a large portion of cannabis sales. The Long Beach Economic Development and Finance Committee is even considering making starting a legal cannabis business easier to encourage this highly profitable new market.
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Many would-be homeowners in the Millennial and Gen Z generations are going to need to wait. Despite the fact that some who wished to buy are instead renting, apartment vacancies are on the rise as 27.7 million have moved back in with parents or other relatives, if they ever left home at all. The good news is that this number is dropping, but only the luckiest of them will be able to snatch an opportunity in the coming months amid heavy competition.
11% of renters were excited to make the transition to homeownership in the beginning of 2020, but the COVID-19 pandemic and the recession squashed those dreams for many of them. Those who experienced income loss as a result of the pandemic are twice as likely to have trouble with paying bills, rent, or mortgage, or need to withdraw savings or retirement or borrow from friends or family. That isn’t the whole of the problem, though: California has been lacking affordable housing for decades as a result of mere population growth, an issue that was only accelerated by the recession and lockdowns, which have slowed or halted construction.
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The number of COVID-19 cases spiked dramatically in November, spurring LA County to increase safeguarding measures, effective tomorrow, November 20th. The number of customers at any time can be no more than 50% maximum outdoor capacity at outdoor restaurants, breweries, wineries, cardrooms, outdoor mini-golf, go-karts, and batting cages. This number is 25% at businesses permitted to operate indoors, such as retail stores, offices, and personal care services. In addition, restaurants, breweries, wineries, bars, and all other non-essential retail establishments must close from 10:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m. At personal care service locations, both staff and customers must wear a mask at all times, disallowing services that would require the mask to be removed, and these establishments cannot serve food or drinks. The maximum number of people at outdoor gatherings is 15, with a limit of 3 households. LA County has also established potential future guidelines that will be implemented if the number of cases or hospitalizations increases beyond certain levels.
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Throughout the US, COVID-19 is threatening to put a damper on people’s Thanksgiving celebrations. Families don’t want to break tradition, but many will have to settle for smaller gatherings of only close family members. With fewer people, the normal Thanksgiving fare will surely create plenty of leftovers, even with the tradition of stuffing yourself to overfull. Luckily, businesses are ready for it, so you don’t have to buy a 25 pound turkey.
Some companies are offering measly four-pound turkeys — wouldn’t cut it during your traditional festivities with all your distant relatives, but perfect for a family of six. Restaurants are preparing full meals, available for takeout, serving four to six people. Others are banking on people bucking the trend and buying prime rib, pork, sausage, ground beef, or even lobster. Vegan restaurants are also making necessary preparations. One thing is for sure, though: grocers and restaurants are definitely not going to be losing money. They’re actually expecting far more sales, since there will be a greater number of smaller celebrations.
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In a previous post (found here: https://www.beachchatter.com/2020/10/29/post-covid-real-estate-predictions/) we made some predictions about which trends during the pandemic may be permanent and which may be temporary. In that article, we predicted that the drop in urban desirability as a result of being able to work from home would be temporary, and though people would be moving South, others would eventually take their place in urban industry centers. Investors seem to be willing to bet on remote work, though. We do see people moving away from industrial centers such as San Francisco to cheaper areas like Sacramento, at the same time that commercial investors are putting money into Sacramento. The consensus appears to be that even though job centers will recover slightly after the pandemic is over, there are enough businesses embracing remote work that putting money into cheaper areas now before their popularity skyrockets is a worthwhile investment, and expensive urban areas aren’t a solid investment anymore.
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Joseph G. Allen is an Assistant Professor of Public Health at Harvard and Director of their Healthy Buildings program. The New York Times has worked with him as well as several other professors to explain the process behind masks, to demonstrate that they do indeed work. In essence, particles get bounced around inside the fibers and trapped there. Interestingly, in the case of most masks, which are generally made of tightly woven cotton, the particles least likely to get trapped are medium size particles, as they’re big enough to be less influenced by surrounding air molecules yet small enough to not randomly make contact with the fibers as often. Large particles are most likely to get trapped, followed by small particles. Coronavirus particles are small and often get carried inside large particles, so they are in the two categories more likely to be caught by the fibers.
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NY Times has created an infographic demonstrating the process. You can find that here: https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/10/30/science/wear-mask-covid-particles-ul.html