Jun 12, 2021 - Economy & Business

Why America's post-vaccine summer is off to a slow start

Illustration of a sad-looking inflatable unicorn pool tool with a mask
Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Americans are itching to put pandemic life behind them, but many of the necessary ingredients for a summer of carefree fun — everything from neighborhood pools to car rentals — still aren't fully available.

The big picture: Labor shortages, scrambled supply chains and simple logistics are all making it harder for a whole range of businesses to meet post-pandemic demand, and that’s making “hot vax summer” a little harder to pull off.

Where it stands: A little vacation after a year stuck at home seems like a simple enough indulgence, but the travel industry is still facing some significant hurdles.

  • Airlines: "It's not like pilots can just flip a switch. And they throw the keys at us and we come back to work, right?" Air Lines Pilot Association President Joe DePete said on the Axios Re:Cap podcast. "There's a lot involved in that. There are security aspects, there are training aspects, there are medical aspects."
  • Rental cars: Rental companies sold off most of their fleets during the pandemic due to a lack of demand. And now a global chip shortage is squeezing the supply of new cars, making it hard for rental agencies to restock as demand increases.
  • Not to mention, everything’s already booked: Hotels, campsites and Airbnb rentals are all hard to come by, especially in the most popular destinations.

Even staycations are subject to some of the same challenges.

  • Live entertainment: Many smaller venues didn't survive the pandemic, and mounting a stage production or a tour for a band is hard work. "Our industry can't just reopen on a week or two weeks notice, we need three to six months," said Dayna Frank, CEO of the historic First Avenue venue in Minneapolis on the Axios Re:Cap podcast last week.
  • Restaurants say they’re having a hard time filling open jobs, although the hospitality sector added more jobs than any other part of the economy last month — 292,000, about two-thirds of which were in "food and drinking places."
  • Pools in many parts of the country are having a hard time hiring lifeguards, and are either limiting their hours or keeping some locations closed as a result.

Yes, but: Post-pandemic job turnover also has many higher-stakes implications, including for child care and health care.

  • "Nurses and dental hygienists, they don't necessarily stay in the industry all that long ... I think we will also have some supply constraints potentially in that industry," said Martin Baily, an economist at the Brookings Institution.

The bottom line: "With people switching occupations, jobs being in different geographic places, and people needing to learn to work with technology in new ways — all of this is going to create a lot of churn and disruption in the near-term, meaning the next year or two or three," said Susan Lund, a leading partner for the McKinsey Global Institute.

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