Jan 8, 2020

Axios Future

By Bryan Walsh
Bryan Walsh

Welcome back to Future, and Happy New Year!

Which topics and trends do you want to read about in 2020? Reply to this email or send me a note at erica@axios.com.

Mark your calendar: Axios' Alison Snyder will be moderating a conversation on the future of transportation at the British Embassy in D.C. on Tuesday, Jan. 14, at 6 pm ET. RSVP here to attend or check out the livestream.

I've got 1,087 words for you this evening — a 4-minute read. To start...

1 big thing: The year of the mall makeover

Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

In 2020, malls are trying to make a comeback — but with a twist.

Why it matters: Over the past few years, experts warned of a retail apocalypse and a massacre of malls that hasn't really happened — at least not the way they said it would.

  • While the retail bastions of the 20th century, like Sears and Macy's, are hurting, America's big malls and shopping centers are still alive and finding new ways to get people through the door.

Driving the news: In March, American Dream — a 3 million-square-foot mall in New Jersey 20 or so years in the making — will be fully open. At a time when malls are struggling to find tenants, American Dream has already leased 90% of its storefronts, per the newsletter Retail Brew.

  • It follows the high-profile opening of New York City's Hudson Yards mall last year.
  • And American Dream's developers are planning a second location in Miami.

What sets American Dream apart from the dying malls of the last century is that it's just 45% retail. The other 55% of the mall's square footage will be entertainment options — from a hockey rink to an amusement park.

That trend is strengthening across the country, says Todd Caruso, a senior managing director and retail expert at real estate company CBRE.

  • Mall and shopping center vacancies left behind by bankrupt "anchors" — the big department stores that were once the leading drivers of foot traffic — are being filled with gyms, movie theaters and even co-working spaces.
  • Between 2014 and 2018, traditional retail's leased square footage decreased 6.7%, the International Council of Shopping Centers tells Axios.
  • Meanwhile, non-retail tenants, like fitness, entertainment and services, have seen a 5.6% increase. The space leased by restaurants also increased 1.1%.
  • The bet is that people will drive to the mall for these experiences — and end up buying a few things while they're at it.

The big picture: As e-commerce keeps taking a larger share of retail, some of the most resilient main street and mall tenants have been gyms, tattoo parlors and nail salons, all of which offer services that can't move online.

  • These places create a halo effect that helps the stores around them. "There's cross-shopping," Caruso says of the benefits to both retail and non-retail tenants like boutiques and grocery stores.

Yes, but: The death of malls may be overstated, but e-commerce continues to hack away at physical retail.

  • Close to 10,000 major U.S. stores closed in 2019.
  • That's impacting jobs: 59 U.S. cities saw a year-over-year decline in the number of retail jobs in 2019, per Barbara Denham, a senior economist at Moody's Analytics.
  • A number of department stores saw disappointing holiday seasons. Macy's announced today that it's closing 29 of its stores due to the drop in holiday sales.

The bottom line: The mall comeback is uneven — it's still largely limited to cities and wealthy suburbs, experts say.

  • In lower-income, rural parts of the country, the retail apocalypse is indeed leaving residents with few retail options beyond convenience and dollar stores.
2. Raises for 7 million workers

Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

This month, 7 million American workers will see raises as minimum wage hikes in 21 states and 26 cities go into effect.

Why it matters: As we've reported, nearly half of U.S. workers are stuck in low-paying jobs with wages that haven't kept up with inflation. New laws raising the minimum wage are beginning to chip away at the crisis.

The momentum with which wages at the lower end of the spectrum are increasing is unprecedented, says Yannet Lathrop, author of a new report on wages from the National Employment Law Project. "For workers in the 20th percentile of earners, minimum wage hikes have really helped boost pay."

By the numbers: Lathrop has tracked wage laws between 2012, when the worker-led "Fight for $15" began and turned $15 into the new standard for minimum wage, and 2018.

  • In that time, 22 million workers have earned a total of $68 billion in raises.
  • Add to that this year's 7 million and 2019's 5 million workers affected by minimum wage increases.

But, but, but: In several cities — Washington, D.C., New York and San Francisco among them — where there are millions of low-wage workers in the service industry and beyond, even $15 an hour doesn't constitute a living wage. "You need to go even higher," Lathrop says.

Go deeper: The cost of living across the U.S., mapped

3. AI's 2020 health care hype

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Two new studies highlight artificial intelligence's potential to improve patient care, specifically by aiding or improving cancer detection, Axios' Caitlin Owens reports.

Why it matters: AI could create enormous benefits for patients and the doctors who treat them, but some experts warn the explosion of new health technology could put some patients in danger, as the LA Times and Kaiser Health News recently reported.

Driving the news: Brain surgeons are using AI and new imaging techniques to diagnose brain tumors just as accurately as human doctors, but much faster, according to a study published Monday in Nature Medicine.

  • Just last week, Google's health research unit said — in Nature — that it has developed artificial intelligence technology that can detect breast cancer at least as well as radiologists, WSJ reports.

Yes, but: "Many health industry experts fear AI-based products won’t be able to match the hype," Liz Szabo of Kaiser Health News writes.

  • "Many doctors and consumer advocates fear that the tech industry, which lives by the mantra 'fail fast and fix it later,' is putting patients at risk and that regulators aren’t doing enough to keep consumers safe," writes Szabo.
  • For example, a widely used algorithm was proven to discriminate against minorities, and many new AI products are untested and unproven.

Go deeper: Medical AI has a big data problem

4. Worthy of your time

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

Tech's 2020 fights (Scott Rosenberg — Axios)

America killed lunch (Sarah Holder — CityLab)

Hollywood's uneasy relationship with Big Tech (Adam Epstein — Quartz)

What's causing Australia's devastating fires? (Scott Johnson — Ars Technica)

AI that reflects American values (Michael Kratsios — Bloomberg Opinion)

5. 1 linguistic thing: The last Seke speakers

Muktinath, Mustang, Nepal. Photo: Frank Bienewald/LightRocket/Getty Images

There are just around 700 people in the world who can speak Seke, a dialect in five villages in the Himalayan district of Mustang in Nepal.

About 100 of them live between two apartment buildings in Flatbush, Brooklyn, the New York Times' Kimiko de Freytas-Tamura writes.

Why it matters: Seke is a solely spoken language, and linguists say it could disappear within a generation, per Freytas-Tamura. And as the world's rare languages go extinct, the idioms, stories and traditions associated with the people who spoke them disappear, too.

  • Rasmina Gurung, a 21-year-old New Yorker who speaks the language, has been working with the Endangered Language Alliance to put together a Seke-English dictionary.

Staggering stat: It's not surprising that one of the rarest tongues on Earth is spoken in New York City. There are 637 languages spoken across the city's five boroughs and New Jersey, according to the Endangered Language Alliance.

Bryan Walsh

Thanks for reading!