Feb 12, 2020

Axios Future

By Bryan Walsh
Bryan Walsh

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Send your tips and feedback by replying to this email or writing to me at erica@axios.com.

I have 1,072 words for you this evening — a 4-minute read. First up...

1 big thing: The aging future of work

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The tightening labor market is opening up new opportunities for an overlooked cohort of American workers: those over age 50.

Why it matters: Ageism has long persisted within American companies, and studies have shown that workers over 50 often get turned away from jobs even if they've got the right qualifications. But the tide may be turning.

The big picture: As societies age, the older population will become increasingly key to global economic growth, both as workers and as consumers.

  • "Nearly all of the employment growth in the G7 is coming from older workers," says Andrew Scott, an economist at London Business School.
  • In the U.S., people over 50 make up $8 trillion of consumer demand, according to AARP.

What's happening: The collision of demographic and employment trends is pushing firms to adapt. "There's a lot of discrimination to overcome, but with a tight labor market and fewer younger workers, it's beginning to change," Scott says.

  • Employment in the U.S. has risen by 22 million since 1998 — and workers over 55 account for 90% of that surge, Quartz reports.
  • The growth is occurring at the high-skill and low-skill ends of the spectrum, Scott says.
  • For example, last year, McDonald's announced a partnership with AARP to hire 250,000 older workers.

Yes, but: While well-paid professionals may enjoy working later in life, many people at the lower end of the spectrum remain in the workforce because they cannot afford to retire, says Scott.

  • And the picture is not entirely rosy. Many older Americans perceive that they lost their jobs due to ageism, and more are taking legal action.
  • In the last year, top firms like Citibank, IBM and IKEA have fielded age-related lawsuits, per Forbes.

The bottom line: "We've ignored how aging is changing," Scott says. "People are aging better than in the past, on average, and that's a fantastic opportunity."

  • But "a lot of American businesses have not adjusted themselves to how to take advantage of this as opposed to looking at it as a negative," Carl Van Horn, a professor of public policy at Rutgers University, tells Axios.

Go deeper: When automation and aging collide

2. Cities vs. e-scooters

Zooming down D.C.'s K street on an electric scooter. Photo: Salwan Georges/The Washington Post via Getty Images

Cities are driving electric scooters out, either by explicitly ordering them off the streets or regulating them into extinction.

Why it matters: The rise of dockless electric bikes and scooters has brought on a slew of issues for cities, from crowded curbs to deadly accidents. But they offer a clean, convenient way to get around, and eliminating them entirely isn't the right solution, experts say.

Where it stands: In many cities, new laws, including complex data-sharing requirements and fees, are pushing scooters out. In others, they're altogether banned, CityLab's Laura Bliss writes.

  • Washington, D.C. recently decided to oust four out of the eight scooter companies operating in the city.
  • Three scooter companies have left San Diego after being "strangled by city regulations," reports the San Diego Union-Tribune.
  • Lyft has pulled its scooters out of a number of cities, including San Antonio, Nashville, Atlanta, Phoenix, Dallas and Columbus, per the San Antonio Express-News.

The big picture: Cities are struggling to manage the electric bikes and scooters because "we've developed governance that is pro-car," says Richard Florida, an urbanist at the University of Toronto. "This is a product of cities that are not prepared for the revolution in mobility."

What to watch: "The wrong approach to regulation can become an e-scooter-killer," David Zipper, a fellow at Harvard's Taubman Center for State and Local Government, writes in CityLab.

  • One problem, Zipper notes, is that larger, denser cities are implementing the same regulations as smaller or more scattered towns.
  • For example, a bigger city will have greater demand for scooters and can sustain multiple companies vying for the market. But it may only be worth it for a scooter company to operate in a smaller city if local officials keep competitors out.

Go deeper: The side effects of the transportation revolution

3. Instagram fuels sales of hard seltzer

Seltzer is taking up real estate in the beer section. Photo: Timothy A. Clary/AFP via Getty Images

Last year was a "breakthrough year" for hard seltzers like White Claw and Truly, per research from Bank of America, and sales should bubble over in 2020 — judging from beverage chatter on Insta, Axios managing editor Jennifer A. Kingson writes.

Why it matters: Boozy soft drinks are taking market share from traditional beer, fueled by health and wellness trends (low-cal, low-carb) and the fact that they fall somewhere between wine, spirits and beer, the bank says.

Driving the news: The volume of conversations on Instagram about hard seltzer in January was six times greater than last January — and 35% higher than in June, when warm weather makes us thirstier, according to BofA's "hard seltzer sentiment tracker."

  • BofA calls it "a beverage for all seasons" and notes that "activities like 'snowboarding' and 'electronic music' are increasing their share of hard seltzer conversations at a faster rate than health and wellness-related terms."
  • Brand loyalty is strongest at White Claw and Bon & Viv, but White Claw and Truly held 80% market share at year-end.

Beverage giants are pouring into the market: Bud Light Seltzer, which was advertised during the Super Bowl, made it into 14.3% of January Insta mentions.

  • Constellation Brands, AB InBev and Molson Coors are expected to introduce hard seltzers this year and "spend collectively ~$100 million in support," BofA research says.

The bottom line: Beer has seen sales drop as spiked seltzers have seen them rise, and Instagram posts are as a leading indicator of the consumption.

Go deeper: Big Beer faces a risky future

4. Worthy of your time

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

Big Tech braces for sprawling FTC acquisitions review (Dan Primack — Axios)

What scientists can learn from alien hunters (Sarah Scoles — Wired)

Smallest U.S. firms struggle to find workers (Ruth Simon — WSJ)

Americans are tired of living alone (Justin Fox — Bloomberg)

The countries splurging on pets (The Economist)

5. 1 dispatch from the Diamond Princess

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Last week, I wrote about how the coronavirus outbreak is threatening China's grand plans for itself.

In response, a Future reader who's quarantined aboard the Diamond Princess cruise ship wrote to me about his experiences onboard. Below are excerpts of his dispatch on Day 7 of a 14-day quarantine (printed with permission). Both he and his wife are healthy!

"We arrived back into port this morning around 8 a.m. 
We spent the evening hours of yesterday at sea replenishing fresh water reserves and offloaded 65 more passengers over the 2 prior days. 
Shortly after docking today the Captain made an announcement another 38 passengers have tested positive for CV. They will be offloaded today. 
As of this morning we received some more medications, but not all. 
The biggest downside is in the ineptness of the ship to be able to get us badly needed medications they promised 4 days ago.
This should be a testament to the current market leaders that emergency protocols need to be established quickly to address events in the future, otherwise the inability to get even simple medications could equally end in injury and/or death situations equalling whatever a pandemic would do."
Bryan Walsh

Thanks for reading!