Oct 11, 2018

Axios Future

By Bryan Walsh
Bryan Walsh

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Situational awareness: U.S. stocks sold off for a second straight day, with Nasdaq at one point entering "correction" territory. Oil prices fell as well, reports Axios' Courtenay Brown.

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1 big thing: The topology of $15 an hour
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Reproduced from Pew Research Center; Map: Axios Visuals

A $15 per hour minimum wage has become a national U.S. rallying cry from workers seeking middle-class security. But while double the current minimum, $15 has its own limitations — and risks uncontemplated social consequences.

  • A $15 wage may be enough to buy a small home in some parts of the U.S., and will increase the living standards of millions of Americans.
  • But what's apparent on the map above is that it is barely sufficient for a studio apartment in the big cities, and it could upset workers already earning $15 and more, writes Axios' Erica Pandey.

Driving the news: Over the last year, major cities like New York, Seattle and San Francisco have declared $15 an hour minimums, and major corporations like Amazon and Disney have followed suit.

  • These moves have made $15 the target across the country. But this creates new expectations that employers must also consider.

Take El Centro, a city close to the Mexican border in California, where the median wage is $14.76, per the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Because of El Centro's lower prices, the purchasing power of $15 there actually comes to about $16.80, according to a government formula that reconciles the geographic value of wages from city to city.

  • But nursing assistants in El Centro already are paid a median wage of $15.07 an hour.
  • Now, they will be earning the same as fast-food cooks.
  • So unless the wages of nurses and professionals like them go up as well, they could start their own outcry, says Michael Saltsman, managing director of the Employment Policies Institute, a fiscally conservative DC think tank.

What's happening: This scenario is playing out right now at Amazon. On Oct. 2, the company put in place a $15 an hour base wage for all employees. Senior warehouse workers who were already making $15 an hour were given a $1 an hour raise. But many protested that they would actually see a drop in total compensation because Amazon stopped issuing bonuses and stock awards, the Seattle Times reports.

  • Now, Amazon says it may resurrect some of the bonuses and stock awards.

Now consider the other side:

  • Silicon Valley, only about 550 miles north of El Centro, is the most expensive part of the country.
  • That same $15 is worth only around $11.80 there — and since the median hourly wage is already $27.66, the subject of the pay raise for most is moot, Saltsman says.
2. The rise of the young black voter
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Data: PRRI/The Atlantic 2018 Civic Engagement Survey; Chart: Naema Ahmed

Almost two-thirds of black Americans say they are "absolutely certain to vote," according to a new survey by The Atlantic and PRRI. And at higher numbers than white or Hispanic youths, black Americans say their close friends are voting, too.

Why it matters: Barack Obama triggered a surge of votes from black Americans in 2008 and 2012, giving him the edge in several states. President Trump could have a similar effect in the Nov. 6 mid-terms — although for the opposite reason, Axios' Stef Kight writes.

In other results from the survey:

  • 74% of young black Americans see Trump unfavorably.
  • 83% of registered black American voters would support a Democrat over a Republican.
  • But, "African Americans are less likely to say over the last two years they’ve become more civically engaged. They’re less likely to say they’ve considered running for office, and less likely than whites to say they’re likely to consider a career in government," Robert P. Jones, CEO of PRRI, told The Atlantic.

What to watch: Women across the board are more likely to be civically or politically engaged. More than a quarter of young women say they are more interested in political and civic activities than they were in 2016, compared with just 17% of young men.

3. The future of student debt

Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

One of the biggest weights on young Americans is student debt — accumulated in idealistic youth, when everything seemed possible, only to become a decades-long obstacle to an ordinary middle-class lifestyle in their working years.

Why it matters: About 45 million Americans owe a total of $1.5 trillion in student loan debt. As a result, a huge swath of Americans have been unable to buy homes or start families, Erica writes.

Now, with the worst worker shortage in a half-century, some U.S. companies are offering to pay off some of the debt as a lure to new employees.

Only about 4% of U.S. companies currently offer the perk, but the number is growing.

  • Fidelity Investments offers employees $10,000 over 5 years, paid out monthly, to pay down their student debt.
  • Hewlett-Packard contracts with Fidelity to help HP employees pay down their debt.
  • Gradifi, a consulting firm, has helped to launch student debt-repayment programs at Penguin Random House, fitness startup Peloton and other companies.
  • Aetna also offers employees $10,000 over 5 years, and $5,000 over 5 years to part-timers.
"Companies will have to find clever ways to fund this. It's going to be as mainstream as a 401(k) benefit."
— Ashwini Srikantiah, VP at Fidelity
4. Worthy of your time
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Note: The Atlantic storm season spans June 1 through Nov. 30. Storms do occur outside of that window, but not all of them are shown here; Data: National Oceanic And Atmospheric Administration; Chart: Chris Canipe/Axios

An impossibly perfect self-driving map is far away (Christopher Mims — WSJ)

Ancient Greece forecasted AI (Mark Bridge — The Times of London)

A historic storm called Michael (Chris Canipe — Axios)

Being an 18-year-old girl, around the world (NYT)

Chinese big data could boost civil liberties (Yasheng Huang — MIT Tech Review)

5. 1 domicile thing: Home-in-a-box

An Italian farmhouse from the late 1800s. Photo: Getty

New technologies have transformed everything from the way we order food to how we track our exercise, but moving into a new home remains a massive headache, Erica writes.

The big picture: Imagine a future where you send the floor plans of your empty new apartment or house to a company. Then, as soon as later that day, delivery trucks arrive with mattresses, sofas, pillows, bar stools and sheets.

  • Casper, an online mattress company, has already popularized bed-in-a-box, with mattresses and bed frames designed to travel and assemble easily. CEO Philip Krim says the model could easily be scaled to outfit a shopper's whole house.
  • Wayfair, the online furniture retailer, earlier this year launched an e-design service that links interior designers to customers over the web. After shoppers have huddled with designers to pick out the best pieces for their homes, everything arrives pronto.

What to watch: In any e-commerce play, Amazon is unignorable. The behemoth has already launched a private-label mattress brand, and those who watch the industry expect it to ramp up its furniture offerings soon. Amazon responded to an email from Axios with this link.

Bryan Walsh