WELCOME BACK TO THE FIRST MONTH OF SPRING
Welcome back to a new edition of The Weekender… where the labor market is cooling as fewer jobs are posted by recruiting companies. Also, the attempt to figure out the truth about the origin of COVID-19 may have big implications on public health and both global and domestic politics. Plus, Microsoft adds Bing to their computers in an effort to roll out artificial intelligence (AI). There’s a lot to discuss and even more to learn below in the latest edition of The Weekender.
P.S. From his many musical talents to his expertise in public affairs and message development, Strategic Elements’ Senior Communications Associate Kyle Jones breaks it down in our newest edition of Getting Personal.
The Labor Market Turns Down the Heat
Private-sector readings show a slowing demand in the labor market despite government reports of job openings. Recruit Holdings Co., parent company to U.S. job listing sites Indeed and ZipRecruiter, showed a decline in the number of job postings late last year, indicating the number of available jobs may be lower than the U.S. Department of Labor last reported. While measures between recruiting-company and government figures typically move in the same direction over time, company figures on available jobs are timelier. The Labor Department recently reported 11 million jobs were available in December, 57% above pre-COVID 2020 levels. However, Recruit Holdings showed its job postings in December were 26% above pre-COVID levels and fell further in January and February. These numbers could signal a decrease in openings and a slowdown in hiring when the Labor Department releases its report for January jobs and February payrolls next week. Openings rose in December, and hiring surged in January as restaurants, hospitals, nursing homes, and childcare centers staffed up. Technology job listings returned to pre-COVID levels last month after being almost 90% above that target in May 2022. On the other hand, postings in retail and travel were 25% above pre-COVID levels in February, and government job postings are 54% above those levels. There is a surge in job seekers with not enough jobs to go around. Job-recruiting firms are preparing for a softer hiring environment for the rest of the year. Job-recruiting sites may look slim now, but the right job is likely out there (if you know where to look). Read more at US News.
The Origin Story of COVID-19 Still Remains Questionable
The U.S. Department of Energy issued a new report which concludes with “low confidence” that the COVID-19 virus could have escaped from a lab in Wuhan, China. The report is not definitive, and scientists have evidence to support the idea of COVID-19 originating from wildlife, however, this new report adds fuel to the debate over the virus’ true origin. The Energy Department now joins the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in saying the virus may have spread from a Chinese lab leak. The Energy Department’s recent conclusion comes from new intelligence and is significant because the agency has considerable scientific expertise and oversees the network of U.S. national laboratories. The National Intelligence Council and four U.S. agencies still conclude the virus came through an infected animal, though a senior U.S. intelligence official confirmed that the intelligence community had conducted the update in light of new intelligence, further study of academic literature, and consultation with experts outside the government. The pandemic’s origin has been debated among academics, intelligence experts, and lawmakers. China’s government rejected the assessment and accused the agency of engaging in a political smear. Online speculation about the origins has soared from the report. Neither the Energy Department nor the National Intelligence Council have discussed details of their assessments, leaving the actual source of the COVID-19 virus still up for debate. Read more at NPR.
Ask ̶M̶e̶ AI Anything
As artificial intelligence (AI) becomes increasingly popular, more software companies are incorporating it into their platforms. Microsoft Corp. added its recently upgraded Bing search engine to its Windows computer software, aiming to share AI with hundreds of millions of users. The Windows 11 update shows how the Redmond, Washington-based software maker, is moving ahead on AI despite recent scrutiny of its technology. Microsoft’s operating system will include the new Bing in desktop computers’ search box, which helps half a billion monthly users navigate their files and the internet. The company unveiled its AI-powered chatbot for Bing to compete with search leader Google, moving faster with ChatGPT-like software for search. Google has previously outpaced Microsoft in search and browser technology but has taken note of Microsoft’s challenge. On Monday, Google unveiled a chatbot of its own called Bard. Google also plans to add AI features to its search engine that synthesizes material for complex queries. The ascent of ChatGPT, a chatbot from Microsoft-backed OpenAI, has been one of the biggest challenges to Google. Google relies on a version of its new chatbot LaMDA that requires less computing power to serve more users and improve with their feedback. Microsoft aims to get ahead of its longtime rival and potentially claim vast returns from tools that speed up content creation, automating tasks, if not jobs themselves. The chatbot can help users refine queries more easily and give more relevant results. Whether Google, Microsoft, or anyone else’s AI, it is clear the technology is on the march toward the mainstream. Better keep Sarah Conner’s number on speed dial… Read more at Tech Radar.
Warren Buffet’s Persevering Optimism: A Mainstay for Hathaway
On Saturday, February 25, 92-year-old billionaire investor Warren Buffett doubled down on his confidence in the U.S. economy and the success of his company, Berkshire Hathaway Inc., in his annual letter to investors. He encouraged investors to remain steadfast in looking at the big picture of the future of the U.S. economy rather than the immediate impacts of inflation and generally dampened stock prices. In the letter, he wrote, “I have yet to see a time when it made sense to make a long-term bet against America.” Buffett called last year a “good year” for Berkshire Hathaway as the company withstood a shaky supply chain, high inflation, and consistently rising inflation rates. Despite his positive outlook, Berkshire Hathaway posted a $22.8 billion annual net loss in 2022 (after an $89.8 billion gain in 2021). Buffett insists that Berkshire has exceeded expectations and the performance of similar companies. His advice to remain calm is likely to be well-received by investors, as someone who bought into the company in 1965 would have seen their shares’ value grow 3,787,464% by 2022. For context, Berkshire Hathaway owns businesses across industries, including Geico, Dairy Queen, Fruit of the Loom, and Duracell, employing over 382,000 people. Buffet’s letter was released after his company repurchased $7.9 billion of its own stock portfolio, a move succeeding U.S. President Joe Biden signing a 1% tax on corporate stock buybacks. While President Biden hopes to raise the corporate buyback tax to 4% by the end of his term, it appears unlikely to happen with a Republican-controlled House of Representatives. Read more at Reuters.
States Caught Between a Rock and a Hard Place Amid Inflation: Lower State Taxes or Keep Budget Surplus for Public Services?
Inflation continues to hurt American families at the pump, in grocery stores, and in their energy bills, just to name a few. While price tags show no sign of dropping, several U.S. states are looking into a new option to support their citizens: tax breaks. New Jersey, Virginia, and Mississippi intend to lean on tax relief to ease the pain brought by rising inflation. However, some economists warn a possible recession may foil their intended goals. New Jersey, raking in more cash than expected from pandemic relief and higher tax collection than anticipated, is experiencing a surplus of state funds with no intended destination. The plan is a $2 billion rebate program for renters and homeowners in the Garden State. Serious consideration of leveraging a state tax reduction is a bipartisan issue. Republican Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves is a proponent of outright removing the state’s income tax, effectively removing a third of the state’s budget while helping it compete with other southern states like Texas and Florida, which have no state income tax. Democratic Massachusetts Governor Maura Healy announced she is pushing a rebate program paired with trimming the state’s estate and capital gains taxes. Economists say making long-term decisions based on a tumultuous few years and considerable federal aid is complicated – particularly with the seemingly perpetual state of fear of recession. While citizens will certainly benefit from keeping more cash in their pockets, state government budgets face unending pressure to fund schools, law enforcement, Medicaid, public transportation, infrastructure projects, and a laundry list of competing priorities. Read more at The Wall Street Journal.
A Murmur of American Bipartisanship in the Face of China’s Assertion of Power
While bipartisanship appears all but dead in Washington D.C., there is one issue area where the two parties agree: confronting China. Lawmakers from both parties sat down to have a frank conversation during Tuesday evening’s hearing in the new House Select Committee on the Strategic Competition between the United States and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP)—a lengthy name with an even more complex problem to solve. Members are working together to determine how the United States ought to counteract the growing global influence of the CCP. If necessity is the mother of innovation, then imminence shares the same relationship with bipartisanship as tensions between the U.S. and the CCP is expected to emerge as the central geopolitical struggle of the 21st century. Over the past few Congresses, most hearings fell victim to partisan word-slinging at some point, the new committee shined a light of hope for our democracy. Republicans and Democrats engaged in a serious, contemplative, and collaborative discussion to face the China issue head-on, together. In his opening remarks, Committee Chairman Mike Gallagher (R-WI) said: “The most fundamental freedoms are at stake.” The panel’s top Democrat, Representative Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-IL), set the tone, saying, “We must practice bipartisanship and avoid anti-Chinese or Asian stereotyping at all costs. We must recognize the CCP wants us to be fractious, partisan and prejudiced. In fact, the CCP hopes for it.” While it is still too early to tell what will result from this committee’s hearing, one thing is certain: the rest of Congress should be taking notes on how to approach difficult topics in a bipartisan manner. Read more at Yahoo News.
- 20.4 ft.: The height Swedish athlete Armand Duplantis cleared in pole vaulting last weekend, setting a new world record.
- 1.8 million: The gallons of contaminated waste that have been removed from the toxic train derailment site in East Palestine, Ohio.
- 2 million: The number of Cosori air fryers recalled because of a possible fire risk. The agency said it has received 205 incident reports of the air fryers “catching fire, burning, melting, overheating and smoking.”
- 2,995: The number of days a California man visited Disneyland, setting a world record. He started visiting the theme park in Anaheim in 2012 and has since visited the park daily for eight years, three months, and 13 days.
- 800: The number of companies that hired 3,800 children in violation of labor laws. The Labor Department is launching its own investigation into companies, suppliers, and factories that may be benefiting from child exploitation.
- 27%: The percentage of debt racked up for millennials from 2019 to late 2022, which is a bigger increase than any other age cohort and the highest rate of debt accumulation for Americans in their thirties since the 2008 financial crisis.
- 60: The number of migrants who died when their boat crashed against rocks on the southern coast of Italy in lousy weather. The boat set sail from Turkey and was carrying at least 150 people from countries including Afghanistan, Somalia, Pakistan, and Iran.
- 21: The number of days a horse survived before being rescued from under a collapsed building in the Turkish city of Adiyaman after a major earthquake hit the region on February 9. The “miracle horse” was pulled from the rubble alive, surviving 21 days without food or water.
Lunar or later: With more lunar missions than ever on the horizon, the European Space Agency wants to give the moon its own time zone. https://t.co/HFgk2MHgDE
— AP Oddities (@AP_Oddities) February 28, 2023