San Francisco. Photo: Francesco Vaninetti/UIG/Getty Images

In Tuesday’s midterms, voters set out yet again to tackle major social and economic issues — flat wages, expensive housing, discrimination against released prisoners — that public officials and companies failed to resolve.

Why it matters: In part, the populism that is roiling nations around the world is a reaction to a feeling that the system has failed to respond to large social issues. In these cases, voters said markets and public officials fell short.

  • As we reported yesterday, a dozen cities and states — red and blue — have recently approved $15-an-hour minimum wages. Dozens more have approved lesser increases from the $7.25 federal minimum wage.
  • Now, in the midterms, two red states — Arkansas and Missouri — approved big minimum increases. Arkansas raised its minimum wage to $11 an hour from $8.50, and Missouri to $12 from $7.85.

The issue of rectifying skyrocketing housing costs appeared on ballots in eight states.

  • In San Francisco, voters overwhelmingly approved a tax on big business to fund permanent housing, emergency shelters and mental health services for the city's homeless people.
  • Economists said it would raise $250 million to $300 million.
  • The passage is a defeat for the city's big tech firms — accused of hugely exacerbating San Francisco's explosion of housing costs — who mostly opposed the tax or stayed quiet.

And voters in cities from Portland to Charlotte to Austin to Bellingham, Washington, voted to raise hundreds of millions of dollars via taxes or bonds to build new cheaper housing.

  • But Californians as a whole defeated a separate proposition to expand rent control. Opponents — who vastly outspent proponents — said the result would be to worsen the state's housing crisis because some property owners would take their homes off the market.

In Florida, voters decisively struck down a 150-year-old law that disenfranchised anyone convicted of a felony, even after completing their sentence.

The ballot initiative repeals an 1868 constitutional amendment that overwhelmingly affects black men. To the degree they vote, the ex-felons could have an enormous impact on elections, since they could become 9.2% of Florida's electorate.

  • What’s next: Iowa and Kentucky are the only remaining states that disenfranchise ex-felons.

Go deeper

Fauci: Coronavirus task force to examine aerosolized spread

A sneeze. Photo: Maartje van Caspel/Getty Images

The White House coronavirus task force will examine more closely just how much SARS-CoV-2 might be transmitted via aerosols, and not just from droplets, NIAID director Anthony Fauci said Wednesday at an online forum sponsored by Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

Why it matters: The longer the coronavirus can remain infectious in the air, the more likely it can infect people, particularly indoors — leading to the possible need to alter air filtration and circulation within buildings.

The next wave to hit Main Street

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

Call it the great retail wash. A wave of defaults, bankruptcies and evictions expected in cities across the U.S. is poised to remake the retail landscape across the country, but there may be some upside for consumers and small businesses.

Why it matters: Rather than an overnight descent into a collection of urban wastelands full of Starbucks, Amazon fulfillment centers, Chase bank branches and nothing else, the coronavirus pandemic and resulting retail apocalypse may just mean that, in major U.S. cities, less is more.

Coronavirus hotspots begin to improve

Data: The COVID Tracking Project, state health departments; Map: Andrew Witherspoon, Danielle Alberti, Sara Wise/Axios

Coronavirus infections are falling or holding steady in most of the country, including the hard-hit hotspots of Arizona, California and Florida.

The big picture: A decline in new infections is always good news, but don't be fooled: the U.S. still has a very long way to go to recover from this summer's surge.