March 24, 2023
🕶️ Happy Friday! Smart Brevity™ count: 1,369 words ... 5 minutes. Edited by Noah Bressner.
1 big thing: Where COVID hit hardest
Some of the highest adjusted COVID death rates were in D.C., Arizona and New Mexico, Axios' Tina Reed writes from an analysis published by The Lancet.
- The study found as much as a four-fold variation in COVID infection and death rates among states.
Why it matters: The paper is among the first deep dives to explore the social and economic factors at play during the pandemic.
"What is clear from our study is that COVID-19 exploited and compounded existing local racial inequities, health disparities, and partisan politics," said co-lead author Thomas J. Bollyky, director of the Council on Foreign Relations' Global Health Program.
🧮 By the numbers: States with higher poverty, lower education rates, less access to quality health care and lower levels of interpersonal trust saw disproportionately higher rates of COVID infections and deaths.
- When adjusting the data to account for age and comorbidities, Arizona saw the highest COVID death rate (581 deaths per 100,000 people) in the nation. D.C. (526 per 100,000) and New Mexico (521 per 100,000) were the second and third worst.
The better news: Hawaii had the lowest adjusted COVID death rate with 147 COVID deaths per 100,000 people. It was followed by New Hampshire (215 per 100,000) and Maine (281 per 100,000).
🔎 Between the lines: The analysis found no association between the political affiliation of the state governor and death rates. But one key predictor of infections and total COVID deaths was the share of people who voted for President Trump in the 2020 presidential election.
- Vaccination rate had a strong association with the state-by-state variation in COVID death rates.
Researchers considered the benefits of protective measures (mandates) vs. consequences like lost employment and drops in test scores.
- "Our study suggests that the policy mandates and protective behaviors adopted in this pandemic were effective in reducing SARS-CoV-2 infections but might have been associated with employment and educational trade-offs," the authors wrote.
2. How "too big to fail" became a good thing
Once upon a time, "too big to fail" was shorthand to villainize big banks.
- These days, it's a way to say "your money is safe," Axios Markets co-author Emily Peck writes.
Why it matters: The shift in meaning raises the possibility that more banks will become too big to fail (TBTF) — through regulation or consolidation.
The backstory: The term TBTF was all over the place in the years after the '08 financial crisis — a way to slam both financial institutions for excessive risk-taking that nearly cratered the economy, and the regulators who bailed them out with taxpayer money.
State of play: The number of banks in the U.S. has been falling steadily since the 1980s, and crises tend to accelerate that process, says Aaron Klein, a senior fellow at Brookings.
- Since the collapse of Silicon Valley Bank and Signature Bank, depositors have pulled money out of regional banks, i.e., the ones small enough to fail. They put their money into the big banks, viewed as safe.
- "As things started getting scarier ... it became clear that the only place you're totally safe is the too-big-to-fail banks," Scott Orn, COO of Kruze Consulting, an accounting firm that changed banks in the past few weeks, told The New York Times.
The Dodd-Frank regulations are part of the reason that TBTF is viewed differently now, says Michael Madowitz, director of macroeconomic policy at the Washington Center for Equitable Growth, a progressive think tank.
- Dodd-Frank's regulations have given the biggest banks the patina of positive branding in recent weeks — a "stamp of approval," he says.
🔎 The intrigue: Not only do bank customers now seem to like TBTF, smaller banks want the designation — or at least some version of it that indicates how important they are.
3. 🏛️ Bottom line on TikTok
TikTok isn't going away any time soon, nor is it likely to have a new owner.
- But a lot of lawyers will be kept very busy, Axios' Dan Primack and Sara Fischer report.
🧠 TikTok's future in the U.S. is most likely to be determined by courts rather than by politicians.
- Congress gave the social media company no quarter during yesterday's four-hour grilling of CEO Shou Zi Chew, who hewed to congeniality in the face of being called a liar.
State of play: TikTok, short of shutting down or praying for the political storm to pass, is likely to have to fight U.S. government ban efforts in court.
- Back when former President Trump tried to ban TikTok, the company sued and won.
- President Biden may have a stronger case this time — backstopped by a new law Congress is on the verge of passing. But the final venue remains the same.
Read more later this morning in Axios Pro Rata. Sign up here.
4. 📷 1,000 words: Eiffel paint job
Workers install scaffolding yesterday to paint the Eiffel Tower ahead of the 2024 Summer Olympics in Paris.
- In 130 years (opened 1889), the Eiffel Tower has been repainted 19 times, or on average every 7 years.
Go deeper: It takes 60 tons of paint.
5. Pay soars for lowest-wage workers
Pay rose at historically fast rates for low-wage workers in the U.S. between 2019 and 2022, even after adjusting for inflation, Axios Markets co-author Emily Peck writes from an Economic Policy Institute analysis out yesterday.
- Why it matters: The tight labor market and disruptions from the pandemic gave workers at the lowest end of the pay scale unprecedented amounts of leverage over employers.
🧠 What's happening: The mass layoffs of 2020, combined with ample relief money from the government, put workers in a better position — with time away from work and resources to fall back on — to find new jobs.
🥊 Reality check: These workers still aren't making much money. In 2022, the 10th percentile hourly wage, i.e. the workers at the bottom, was $12.57.
- And those at the very, very top saw enormous gains. Wages for the top 1% and 0.1% rose 16.1% and 29.2% between 2019 and 2021, according to EPI.
6. 🇨🇳 Watch this space: South China Sea
Today is the second straight day of a standoff between the two superpowers amid growing tensions in the South China Sea, Reuters reports.
- China's defense ministry said it had to drive away the U.S. Navy destroyer USS Milius after it entered its territorial waters in the South China Sea near the Paracel Islands.
- "We sternly demand the U.S. to immediately stop such provocative acts, otherwise it will bear the serious consequences of unforeseen incidents," the statement said.
The U.S. Navy said the ship was asserting its navigational rights: "Unlawful and sweeping maritime claims in the South China Sea pose a serious threat to the freedom of the seas."
- U.S. forces operate daily in the South China Sea, the Navy said.
👀 What we're watching: The Philippines says 42 vessels crewed by Chinese maritime militia personnel were seen last weekend in the vicinity of the Philippine-administered Thitu (Pag-asa) island in the Spratly Islands.
7. Camaro going out of production
The Chevy Camaro, for decades the dream car of many teenage American males, is going out of production
- GM said the last of the current generation of the brawny muscle car will come off the assembly line in Lansing, Mich., in January, AP reports.
- The Camaro was first introduced in 1966 — two years after Ford's wildly popular Mustang.
🧮 By the numbers: Sales have been tailing off. When the current generation Camaro came out in 2016, Chevrolet sold 72,705 of them. By the end of 2021, that number fell almost 70% to 21,893. It rebounded a bit last year to 24,652.
🔋 What's next: GM says another generation may be in the works. It would almost certainly be electric: GM has plans to sell only electric passenger vehicles worldwide by 2035.
8. 🏀 1 hoop thing: Brady buys into WNBA
Tom Brady, newly retired after seven Super Bowl wins, announced yesterday that he acquired a minority ownership stake in the WNBA's Las Vegas Aces.
- The Aces won the WNBA championship last season and are the favorite to repeat.
🏓 It's not the first time Brady has bought into a sports team. He picked up a stake in a Major League Pickleball team last year.
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