WELCOME BACK TO BLACK HISTORY MONTH
Welcome back to a new edition of The Weekender… where we get into credit card rewards and the system behind them. Also, existing home sales have been falling in 2023, meaning perspective homebuyers can expect some relief on their purchase, if not their mortgage rate. Plus, a four-day workweek might become the new normal. There’s a lot to discuss and even more to learn below in the latest edition of The Weekender.
P.S. – Our team at Strategic Elements would like to recognize and honor the importance of Black History Month. We are proud to continue celebrating Black Americans’ achievements and their pivotal role in our nation’s history.
A Tale of Two Credit Cardholders: Some Reaped, Some Rewarded, All Redistributed
For anyone who saw a credit card commercial promising 10% cash back or free airline miles through the card’s reward programs and thought that it seemed too good to be true, you may have been ahead of the game. Credit card rewards programs are using enticing offers to attract consumers as companies compete with one another to gain business, but there is more than meets the eye. Despite seeming innocuous, a recent report by The Social Science Research Network studied how credit card reward systems worked, and, unsurprisingly, there are some skeletons in the revolving debt industry’s closet. The study found that regardless of income, “sophisticated individuals (those with financial literacy) profit from reward credit cards at the expense of naïve consumers.” Since reward mechanisms encourage cardholders to spend more, naïve consumers were left with higher unpaid balances. Paired with the trend of naïve cardholders following inefficient budget-balancing techniques leading to higher costs, those in-the-know were able to experience the benefits of credit card rewards at their counterpart’s expense. In effect, this leads to a bottom-up redistribution of wealth where one group is losing, and another is winning. The report estimates $15 billion is redistributed from less to more financially educated every year through credit card reward systems, widening existing gaps between the poor and the rich, and the high to the low minority demographics. As the Federal Reserve continues to hike interest rates, it becomes more expensive for consumers to take out credit cards, apply for loans, or pay mortgages. The combination of these two factors means those without formal financial awareness suffer twice: once from a credit card reward system encouraging them to increase their spending and again with an interest hike forcing them to pay a higher rate on their loans and mortgages. Read more at The Social Science Research Network.
The Bottom Dollar in a Bottomed-Out Home Market (As Long As It’s Not Borrowed)
2022 was a challenging year for Americans looking to buy a home as each month last year recorded a decline in builder confidence, perpetuating a low housing inventory for those willing to sign onto a mortgage. In 2023, this trend may shift as buyers secure more leverage. Existing-home sales have been falling tremendously to the tune of 37% year-over-year, something the United States has not seen since 2010, according to a National Association of Realtors (NAR) report. This decrease resulted in the country’s total housing inventory rising 15.3% from 850,000 to 980,000 units between January 2022 and last month. Although the inventory is nowhere near what buyers hope to see, Zillow reports that home values are 4.1% less expensive than the historic peak price point in July of 2022. NAR chief economist Lawrence Yun explained that “home sales are bottoming out. Homes sitting on the market for more than 60 days can be purchased for around 10% less than the original list price.” Situated behind this bottoming-out market, the Federal Reserve added fuel to the fire by aggressively raising the interest rates to fight 40-year high inflation, leading to mortgage rates being at the highest point in 20 years at 6.94% in late 2022. Rising rates from the Fed means cash buyers are the kings of the castle, as they can avoid paying steep interest rates on their mortgages while taking advantage of low prices. The cash buyer group, typically comprised of individual investors or second-home buyers, was responsible for 29% of all transactions in the past month. Experts say that while homebuyers can expect housing prices to fall 10% to 15% over the next 12 months, the fall in price may lead to harmful outcomes for the wealth and equity of the entire marketplace. Read more at USA Today.
Section 230: The Future of the Internet Hangs in the Balance
The U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments from 23-year-old California State University student Nohemi Gonzalez’s family during a case scrutinizing the scope of 1996’s Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. Section 230, a long-standing and divisive federal law, protects internet companies from legal liability for anything posted by their users. In the status quo, Section 230 insulates popular websites like Twitter, Facebook, and Reddit from facing charges regarding content posted by individual accounts. The law, in part intended to maintain freedom of speech in ‘virtual town squares,’ has once again come under fire as a lawsuit reaching the Supreme Court accused Google of providing “material support” to ISIS during the organization’s 2015 rampage in Paris, which resulted in the death of 130 people including student Nohemi Gonzalez. Officials with Google, set on keeping Section 230 in place, say the case threatens free speech by forcing platforms of all sizes to actively scour their site and remove anything that could be considered controversial. Supreme Court Justices worry about the potential consequences of restricting, limiting, or outright removing the precedent of internet companies’ immunity. Liberal Justice Elena Kegan and Conservative Justice Brett Kavanaugh indicated that Congress may be better suited to determine where the line should be drawn, given the Supreme Court’s admitted lack of expertise on the issue. Congress, though, may not be the knight in shining armor SCOTUS hopes for as Capitol Hill is split on the issue. Democrats claim misinformation and hate speech run rampant online as conservatives feel right-of-center voices are already being censored in digital spaces. As Justices hear arguments from both sides, they continue to struggle to decide where to draw the line between preserving immunity and removing Section 230. This case is a critical issue facing the digital age. Section 230, as it stands today, defines how the internet operates at nearly every level, including the global e-commerce marketplace. Any adjustments considered for reforming the law will likely spur a wide range of positive and negative impacts on how we engage with the world around us online. As difficult as this issue is from any angle, viewpoint, or political leaning, a SCOTUS ruling is due in June 2023. Read more at Reuters.
Five-Day Workweeks are SO Last Season
If you need evidence for your boss to switch to shorter workweeks, here it is. A four-day workweek is gaining appeal across the U.K. after the largest trial in the world found that 92% of the 62 participating companies opted to keep the experiment going. The Autonomy trial covered 2,900 staff across different sectors, ranging from finance to digital manufacturing to local shops. The trial found that the staff’s well-being and work-life balance improved, productivity was maintained, revenue increased, and job retention and recruitment improved. After the success, one hundred more companies are considering or are already implementing the same approach. The positive results have garnered attention from other countries as well. Research from Robert Half, an employment agency, shows 93% of U.S. managers support a four-day workweek for their team, and 64% expect their company to transition to one within the next five years. An outdoor technology company, The Wanderlust Group, impulsively switched to a four-day workweek, but it worked out well in its favor. The company has seen a 136% year-over-year growth in gross merchandise volume processed in the second quarter and a 100% year-over-year increase in second-quarter reservations. Other companies with a four-day workweek include Elephant Ventures, Uncharted, Bolt, and plenty more. Watch out, five-day workweeks: four-day workweeks are coming for you. Read more at Reuters.
Recognizing Black History Month in the Workplace
As we celebrate Black History Month, let’s discuss ways businesses can positively recognize and honor its importance this month and every month. ADP’s Black/African American business resource group (BRG), Cultivate, has crafted four activities for organizations to implement:
Analyze the impact of Black art
Spotlight leaders and other success stories
Reach across multigenerational lines
Commit to (or strengthen) diversity, equity, and inclusion
By analyzing the impact of Black art, your company can identify works of art made by, influenced by, or featuring Black artists and discuss their impact on the community and other communities that have benefited. Partner with experts in HR, diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I), and history in your workplace, network, or community to provide meaningful analysis and context. To spotlight leaders and other success stories, ask entrepreneurs, business owners, CEOs, and other leaders to discuss their journeys, accomplishments, and educational and professional backgrounds. Present it as an opportunity and commitment to bettering your organization’s allyship. This event format can have the added effect of promoting Black-owned, Black-founded, and Black-led organizations. To reach across multigenerational lines, consider hosting an educational roundtable led by professionals from multiple generations within your organization and center the discussion around career journeys. Black History Month is a time to honor the history of the community, recognize progress, and learn about improvements that have yet to be discovered. By committing to (or strengthening) diversity, equity, and inclusion, help support workplace progress by ensuring Under-Represented Groups (URGs) know they belong, are represented in leadership and are paid equitably. At Strategic Elements, we honor and celebrate the contributions of Black Americans during Black History Month and recognize the importance of standing up for justice and equality for all. Read more at the World Economic Forum.
An Anniversary to Be Observed, but Not Celebrated
The official first anniversary of the Russian-Ukrainian war is today, and it has had massive global impacts. The war has killed thousands, forced millions to flee their homes, reduced cities to rubble, and fueled fears that it could create conflict between Russia and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). Many vital moments from the war have developed over this last year. Including regional authorities logging more than 65,000 Russian war crimes since Moscow invaded Ukraine, a deal to unblock grain supplies stuck in Ukraine’s Black Sea ports, and U.S. President Joe Biden’s surprise visit to Ukraine’s capital on Monday. After everything that’s occurred, signs of the war’s decline are nowhere to be found, and supply chain issues will continue to create consequences. Before the war, Ukraine’s top export was agricultural products, followed by manufacturing, with Russia’s being fuels and energy products. Global food and fertilizer supply chains are being impacted due to supply shortages and higher prices. The Russia-Ukraine conflict has fueled an increasing interest in reshoring as an alternative strategy to alleviate product shortages. Several leading organizations announced plans to build supply operations closer to their markets. These strategy shifts in supply chains will impact the transportation infrastructure within the United States and other countries. The additional demand for domestic supply will create opportunities and threats for different transportation modes. As the war continues, more threats will transpire around global order and cause further damage. Read more at University of Florida News.
- $63,356: The amount a first-generation unopened 2007 iPhone sold for in an online auction Sunday, more than 100 times its original cost.
- 46 million: The number of people expected to join Carnival down in Rio de Janeiro. The celebration lasted through Wednesday, February 22.
- 41,000: The number of hours of Capitol surveillance video access Speaker Kevin McCarthy is giving Fox News’ Tucker Carlson’s producers from the January 6 riot and preceding days.
- 6%: The percentage of the Great Lakes’ surface covered in ice as of February 15, compared to a historical average of 41%. This percentage is even lower than the record 7.8% recorded in 2012.
- $6: The amount of money Beijing said it will offer low-income residents as a monthly handout to offset inflation. The announcement sparked anger, with many saying 40 yuan (about $6) per month is not nearly enough to help people meet their basic needs.
- $120 million: The amount Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania earned at the box-office during its four-day opening weekend. It is one of the best showings ever for the Presidents’ Day holiday and by far the biggest start for Marvel’s low-key franchise.
- 145,000: The number of cans of infant formula recalled on Monday by Reckitt, a main formula manufacturer in the United States. The company is recalling two batches of Enfamil ProSobee Simply Plant-Based infant formula because of possible cross-contamination with Cronobacter sakazakii bacteria.
- $42,000: The amount the famous blue balloon dog sculpture by Jeff Koons was worth before being shattered by a woman tapping it at a VIP art event in Miami. The sculpture is covered by insurance and collectors might see a boost in value since the number of these rare blue dog balloon artworks has shrunk from 799 to 798.
Airlines delayed or canceled more than 4,200 U.S. flights by Thursday afternoon — up from about 2,000 in the morning — according to the tracking service FlightAware. https://t.co/E3HOhLNl2a
— CBS News (@CBSNews) February 23, 2023