- 0.1%: The percentage retail sales dropped in October; the first decline since March
- 3.9%: The current unemployment rates
- $61.17: The average cost of Thanksgiving dinner for ten people this year
- 77%: The percentage of Americans who prefer not to discuss politics on Thanksgiving
- 4.6 Million:The number of hunting licenses issued in Wisconsin; the most of any state
- 55.4 Million: The number of Americans expected to travel for Thanksgiving
This week, Senator Tim Scott became the latest to announce his withdrawal from the Republican Primary for the White House. With less than two months until the Iowa caucuses, the South Carolina Senator noted he felt voters were saying “Not now, Tim.” The junior senator from the Palmetto State did not endorse another candidate and said he has no intentions of pursuing a vice presidency. Scott’s departure from the race comes weeks after former Vice President Mike Pence concluded his White House campaign.
Other low-polling candidates still cling to hope. North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum this week vowed to stay in the race through the New Hampshire primary despite stagnated polls and a failure to qualify for the third GOP debate. An October NBC News poll showed Burgum at 3% among Iowa caucus-goers. Former Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson is also sticking it out and polling around 1%. His gubernatorial predecessor Sarah Sanders this week endorsed former President Donald Trump, meanwhile, Hutchinson filed to appear on the Arkansas primary presidential ballot.
In 2016, several GOP candidates withdrew before the primary season began, but the broader exodus came in the spring after the early contests. Jeb Bush (an early frontrunner) withdrew in February, Ben Carson and Marco Rubio departed in March, and Ted Cruz and John Kasich exited the race in May. Back then, Presidential-Hopeful Trump’s bombastic personality excelled at breaking through the noise of a crowded GOP stage (ironically, he has yet to step foot onto a debate stage this year). Since he is once again the man to beat, those polling with low support may be helping him, rather than hurting him, by staying in the running. With history as our guide, it may be several months until the final roster is set for 2024, but you can count on the drumbeat for more candidates to drop out getting louder in the run-up to Iowa and New Hampshire.
Thanksgiving Feasts Costing Less This Year
The turkey, trimmings, tidings, and tryptophan are going to cost consumers 4.5% less this Thanksgiving season compared to last year, according to The American Farm Bureau Federation’s annual Thanksgiving survey. The total cost of a holiday meal, including turkeys, sweet potatoes, stuffing, rolls, peas, cranberries, and pumpkin pie ingredients, is cheaper nationwide. This is welcome news for grocery shoppers as 2023 marked another year of post-COVID price hikes.
While dinner will be slightly cheaper for consumers, the largest retailers expect a less-than-promising consumer spending turnaround for Black Friday. Target CEO Brian Cornell said the company is committed to its cautious outlook this holiday season. Likewise, FedEx CEO Raj Subramaniam said while the destocking window for retailers has ended, there has not been a big push to restock store shelves. It’s a period of uncertainty for not only retailers but the American consumers who have been facing stark inflation for the past several years.
Goodbye free returns?
Once upon a time, shoppers could return online purchases for free. For many, that meant purchasing multiple clothing sizes for at-home try-ons or buying risky gifts around the holidays. (Don’t like it? No problem – we’ll return it.) Last year, 17% of online purchases were returned – at the cost of retailers who spend about $33 per return on postage, packaging, and the depreciation of an item’s value.
Unfortunately for consumers, free-return days are dwindling. Charging fees for online returns is becoming a common practice for businesses, with about 40% of retailers already implementing these policies. Some companies, like Amazon, have implemented a $1 fee for some returns made at UPS stores; a charge small enough to avoid fuss from customers but enough to make a difference in their bottom line. Other companies are upping the ante, like T.J. Maxx charging $11.99 for online returns.
Although the idea of charging for online returns seems counterintuitive, it may yield benefits beyond economics. The change may encourage customers to rethink overconsumption and become more thoughtful before purchasing items. Additionally, experts suggest this may help companies meet environmental goals. Optoro, a company that works with retailers to resell returned and excess merchandise, released an impact report that assessed that returned inventory in the U.S. in 2022 created 9.5 billion pounds of landfill waste and 24 million metric tons of CO2 emissions.
“This Report Card Says Johnny’s a Genius!”
Just shy of 90% of American parents believe their child is meeting par for their grade level, but standardized testing paints a different picture. According to a new federal survey, half of all U.S. students started the year one grade level behind in at least one subject. The discrepancy lies in parents’ overreliance on report cards, which are the largest resource to measure and gauge their children’s academic performance. Unfortunately, post-COVID report cards do not tell the whole story of a student’s progress.
During the pandemic, grade point averages and test scores jumped as school districts eased grading policies to account for the chaos, routine rework, and difficulties students faced. Now that students have returned to in-class education, some leniency may linger. This would artificially create stronger report cards for students and excuse parents for harboring doubts about academic growth. Parents, seeing the good grades, are not choosing to provide supplemental education, like summer school or tutoring.
Providing parents with more comprehensive and informed report cards, paired with a return to pre-COVID grading metrics, may enable parents to make a more educated decision about their children’s academic performance.
The Great Health Deception
It’s no secret that the United States has a healthy eating problem. As the convenience of prepackaged food wins over healthier options, about 58% of the calories U.S. adults and children consume daily come from ultra-processed foods. The number is higher (67%) and climbing for children. While consumers are enticed by the “cheap, tasty, and convenient” nature of ultra-processed foods, nutritionists consider their mass appeal to be a significant problem for Americans.
Unsurprisingly, ultra-processed foods (food items containing ingredients you wouldn’t find in a home kitchen) are generally worse for you than unprocessed or minimally processed foods like fruits, vegetables, and plain meat. But the problem isn’t exclusively what is in the food; it’s how our brains interact with it. In nature, most foods are either high in carbohydrates, like fruit, or high in fat and protein, like meat. We are biologically drawn toward foods that contain these essential building blocks. Processed foods are created to contain high quantities of fat, carbs and sugar, sending an incredibly potent boost to the reward system in our brains, and increasing their addictive nature.
The difference is clear when a diet consisting of ultra-processed food is compared to a diet composed of natural foods. Individuals on the former ended up consuming 500 more calories per day and gained two pounds in two weeks. The test group on the natural diet lost two pounds within the same time frame. Those eating ultra-processed foods consumed more to attain the same level of satisfaction, gained more weight, and retained fewer nutrients.
The solution: buy food with fewer ingredients, avoid ingredients you don’t recognize, mix fresh vegetables in your daily routine, and stay away from anything you wouldn’t be able to make at home.
Combat by Congress
The nascent Republican House Speaker Mike Johnson overcame his first hurdle as the newest gavel-wielder. He led his chamber to approve a short-term funding measure to avoid a government shutdown – with support from Democrats and complaints from his own party. The vote, passing by a 336-95 margin, was opposed by two Democrats and 93 Republicans. The legislation passed the Senate as both Senate Majority Leader Schumer and Minority Leader McConnell agreed that the bill was the right path to avoid a government shutdown. President Biden signed the bill into law earlier today. The House vote sends a strong message of bipartisan legislating on the part of Rep. Johnson, even if it left disgruntled party members in its wake.
While the (very) short-term funding bill was passed to avert a shutdown, don’t mistake that for a fresh wave of bipartisan placidity. Republicans and Democrats in Washington are as acrimonious as ever. Look no further than near Octagon spectacle this week between Senator Mullin of Oklahoma, a former MMA fighter, and Teamsters General President Sean O’Brien nearly breaking into a fistfight during a HELP Committee hearing, which was quelled by Senator Bernie Sanders.
The infighting among House Republicans is not particularly new, but Republican Rep. Tim Burchett of Tennesse piled on this week when he told press that former House Speaker Kevin McCarthy elbowed him in the back following his vote to remove him from his speaker position (though McCarthy denied any such thing).
Democrats have seen the heat rise in their caucus as well. This week largely Democratic protestors blocked the exits at the DNC while the Party’s congressional leaders met inside as a protest for more to be done to intervene on behalf of Palestinians in Gaza. The protest saw dozens injured in a clash with police.
Hopefully, Thanksgiving break can help lower the temperature on both sides of the aisle.
Two Superpowers Meet on Friendly Terms
President Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping met outside San Francisco on Wednesday where other Asian leaders gathered for an annual summit. The meeting was productive, according to both parties, and formal agreements on several issues were reached. President Xi agreed to help curb the production of illicit fentanyl that has taken the lives of over 250,000 Americans since 2018. Biden and Xi also agreed to resume military-to-military communications, allowing Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin to speak to his Chinese counterpart once the position is filled. There will also be increased communication between additional levels of the U.S. and Chinese military. Finally, President Xi committed to sending new pandas to the U.S. after the three at the Smithsonian National Zoo were recalled to China earlier this month.
In the private negotiations, Biden encouraged Xi to leverage China’s superpower status to calm the aggressions in Ukraine and Palestine. He particularly asked Xi to pressure Iran not to inflame the conflict between Israel and Hamas, and to withhold military support from Russia. President Xi did not commit to either of these requests, but reportedly took them into consideration.
The two discussed the most sensitive topic in U.S.-China relations, Taiwan, with clear heads. Biden reaffirmed that while he stands by the U.S. “One China” policy, which states Taiwan is a part of Chinese territory, he reiterated that America would ensure Taiwan is armed as a deterrent to Chinese aggression on the island.
See you next week!