Axios What's Next

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Younger workers increasingly view mental health benefits as table stakes, Jennifer reports today, and companies on the talent hunt should set up their offerings accordingly.

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1 big thing: Youths drive mental health spending surge

Data: Fronstin, et al., 2022, "Use of Health Care Services for Mental Health Disorders and Spending Trends"; Chart: Axios Visuals

While older people represent the lion's share of overall health care costs, people under 25 are propelling a slow and steady rise in mental health and addiction spending, according to a report by the Employee Benefit Research Institute (EBRI), Jennifer A. Kingson reports.

Why it matters: Employers face an increasingly tough balancing act: They know robust mental health benefits are critical to attracting and retaining top talent but chafe at the rising expense of offering those benefits.

Driving the news: EBRI's seven-year survey of employer-sponsored health plans found that spending on mental health and addiction has been rising, from 6.8% of total costs in 2013 to 8.2% in 2020.

  • People under 25 are driving the trend: While they make up 36% of the population, they accounted for 42% of spending on mental health and substance abuse treatment in 2020, vs. only 20% of overall health care spending.
  • By contrast, people ages 55-64 accounted for 27% of overall health care spending but only 11% of mental health expenditures.

By the numbers: About 1 in 5 adults and 1 in 6 youths experience mental illness each year, and these rates have been rising, EBRI said.

  • More than 20 million Americans have a substance use problem.
  • In 2020, 18.5% of people under 65 with employment-based health coverage were diagnosed with a mental health disorder, up from 14.2% in 2013.
  • Also in 2020, 16% of covered employees used outpatient mental health services, up from 12% in 2013.

Children are emerging as the biggest mental health consumers: People under 18 are "far and away using mental health and substance abuse spending more," said Paul Fronstin, director of health benefits research at EBRI, a nonpartisan nonprofit organization.

Yes, but: The EBRI results don't include all the pandemic-related figures— the 2021 numbers won't be out until year-end, and the 2020 results don't fully reflect the groundswell of demand that emerged during lockdowns and layoffs.

  • A shortage of counselors and online treatment options may have artificially tamped down mental health spending — particularly early in the COVID-19 crisis.
  • "We're missing some things in the data because people couldn't get care," Fronstin tells Axios.

The big picture: Mental health has emerged emphatically as a top workplace concern, spurred by the expectations and demands of younger workers — who don't have the same hang-ups about stigma as their parents did.

  • The priority has caught many CEOs by surprise — and prompted them to reexamine their messaging and benefits packages.
  • So far, employers are "doubling down on mental health benefits, despite the cost," Fronstin said.
  • They know what's at stake: If they don't provide muscular treatment options, "it'll affect the health of the workforce and how productive they are," he added.

What they're saying: "The talent wars are driving executive thinking on mental health," said Phillip Schermer, founder and CEO of Project Healthy Minds, a new nonprofit that's developing a playbook for corporate America about employee emotional wellness.

  • "We have one of the tightest labor markets in our lifetime," he said. "One trend that has been loud and clear from employees is that mental health needs to be on the agenda for business."

Between the lines: Younger people aren't necessarily more anxious and depressed than older ones — they're just more comfortable seeking out help, Schermer said.

What's next: Oct. 10 is World Mental Health Day, which marks its 30th anniversary this year.

Read the rest.

2. Inmates get laptops for code school

Illustration of an open laptop with pages and a bookmark like a book
Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

A group teaching coding skills to incarcerated people is giving participants Chromebooks so they can keep learning outside of specialized prison classrooms, Axios' Ina Fried reports.

Why it matters: Incarcerated people often have limited access to technology and pay exorbitant rates for even basic communication tools, like phones.

Catch up quick: The nonprofit group, called The Last Mile, teaches web development skills to inmates, with the goal of helping them find work upon release.

  • Alumni hold jobs at companies including Slack, Square, Zoom and Dropbox.
  • Until recently, classes were limited to desktop computers under the direct supervision of The Last Mile staff, who teach over video chat.

How it works: Under the new initiative, each student is issued a Chromebook they can use to download videos, code samples and other materials during class time, which can then be taken back to their residential area.

  • Participants never have direct access to the internet and have no connectivity outside the classroom.

Read the rest.

3. Traffic deaths fall after pandemic spike

Traffic creeps along Virginia Highway 1.
Traffic creeps along Virginia Highway 1. Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

The number of U.S. traffic accident deaths fell during the second quarter of 2022 after seven consecutive quarters of year-over-year increases, federal safety regulators said Monday, Axios' Erin Doherty reports.

Why it matters: Motor vehicle traffic deaths surged during the pandemic. That trend may be cooling, but the overall numbers remain higher than their pre-pandemic levels.

What they're saying: "Traffic deaths appear to be declining for the first time since 2020, but they are still at high levels that call for urgent and sustained action," Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said in a statement.

  • "These deaths are preventable, not inevitable, and we should act accordingly."

The big picture: The Biden administration in January announced a National Roadway Safety Strategy in an attempt to reduce deaths, Axios' Joann Muller reports.

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4. 📸 In-flight Wi-Fi that actually works

A JSX Embraer ERJ-135LR airplane on the tarmac at Hollywood Burbank Airport (BUR) in Burbank, California, US, on Thursday, Aug. 11, 2022.
Photo: Kyle Grillot/Bloomberg via Getty Images

A pair of JSX jets sit on the tarmac at Hollywood Burbank Airport in Los Angeles County, California.

  • JSX, a startup airline offering "hop-on," point-to-point service, recently became the first air carrier to provide onboard Wi-Fi via SpaceX's Starlink satellite-based internet service.
  • During a recent media flight, attendees reported speeds over 100 mbps — plenty for web browsing, video chat or streaming movies, and far faster than what's typically available on commercial flights.
  • Frontier Airlines is also reportedly interested in offering Starlink service, while Royal Caribbean is making it available on its cruise ships.

5. Rockstar confirms GTA leak

Grand Theft Auto V (not the game that leaked).
Grand Theft Auto V (not the game that leaked). Screenshot: Rockstar Games

Grand Theft Auto maker Rockstar Games says recently leaked footage of the upcoming sixth version of its hugely popular game is legit, Axios' Stephen Totilo reports.

Driving the news: In an unprecedented leak, 90 videos of the still-in-development game were posted online, with the apparent leaker also threatening to release the source code.

  • Rockstar's preference for secrecy and surprise — combined with the risk of its game code being exposed — prompted some to worry that Rockstar would delay the game.
  • But Rockstar says its development plans are unchanged.
  • It also referred to the leak as "a network intrusion in which an unauthorized third party illegally accessed and downloaded confidential information from our systems."

Read the rest.

A hearty thanks to What's Next copy editor Amy Stern.

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