It’s time I start thinking about golf.

Don’t worry, this isn’t a golf riff. I play a fraction of what I did before our kids – our precious, wonderful, time-sucking kids – were born. And I have the inflated handicap to prove it. 

It’s just that once football season is over, the Masters promos and theme music play on TV, the snow melts, and my daydreams wander to golf. Why now? I don’t know. Even if I played as much as I used to, we’re still seven weeks from the season up north. But it creeps into my head like clockwork, right around the time Tara and I don’t celebrate Valentine’s Day. 

Some people turn their thoughts to baseball this time of year. They probably don’t live in Pittsburgh, where a competitive team is about as likely as a hole-in-one. On a Par 5. Besides, America’s former pastime can’t get its shit together with a labor agreement, even while its popularity is getting closer to curling than the NFL.

Tara and I have been glued to the Olympics every night, at least until we fall asleep before the best events start. The storylines have been tremendous – diversity coming to speed skating, middle-agers winning snowboard cross, the Russians facing zero consequences for doping their child athletes. All welcome distractions, but now they’re over.            

I do love the NHL. But the Penguins are so consistently good, I don’t get fully invested anymore until the playoffs start in May. Hopefully, I’ve posted a couple rounds by then. 

March Madness is fun, but I never played organized basketball or went to a big school, so I don’t have a meaningful rooting interest. And when our kids win the family bracket pool every year, while never watching a game in their lives, it’s hard to get psyched about it.

So, I think about golf. No, not while we’re on a Zoom meeting together. That’s probably when I’m checking my email. Golf drifts into my head when it’s quiet. 

I imagine the feel of a grooved 5-iron, bombing a driver downwind, opening a new sleeve of Pro V1s, the delusion that I might actually play more this year (I won’t). It helps me bide time, until the time changes.

Anyway, I lied. This was a golf riff. If I’d told you that, you would have just skipped ahead. But you didn’t.

Here’s what we’re seeing.

Consumer confidence still sucks. Our Economic Sentiment Index had its third decline in four readings since New Year’s. People are particularly wary of making major purchases, likely due to the persistent hum of inflation. Even confidence in the job market softened over the past two weeks, an ironic byproduct of more people going back to work and filling all those open jobs, which is a good thing. I’m optimistic things will improve as Omicron mercifully subsides and the weather gets warmer. Hope springs eternal. 

And yes, COVID concerns are dropping like a rock. People appear increasingly willing to emerge from pandemic hibernation, as comfort levels in dining out, shopping, and going to work have all returned to heights we haven’t seen since the fall. The biggest jump in enthusiasm is around travel, which should bode well for airlines and hotels as Spring Break nears. We’ve seen a lot of abrupt shifts across our database in the past two years, but few have been more dramatic than this one below.

One thing that may never rebound to its pre-pandemic heyday is the buffet – especially at the grocery store. This makes all kinds of intuitive sense. Lots of germaphobes were grossed out by buffets even before COVID. Multiply that by a lot. Only 1 in 4 Americans say they are “very comfortable” eating at a restaurant buffet right now and you can probably guess their political proclivities, which is a silver lining for restaurants in certain areas of the country. That number falls to 18% when asked about grocery store buffets, which is particularly bad when you think about the demographic profile of the typical household grocery shopper. Maybe comfort levels will bounce back one day… but it’s going to take a long time. 

Conversely, meal kit delivery services just keep growing in popularity. COVID taketh away and COVID giveth. Adoption of meal-kits-by-mail like Blue Apron climbed two points since Christmas, as more people stayed home to weather Omicron. These DIY TV dinners are particularly popular among Gen Zs and younger Millennials – and also seem to be eating away at fast casual restaurant occasions, more than other dining categories.

Security and environmental concerns could put a ceiling on crypto investing. The percentage of Americans who’ve invested in crypto reached new heights this month – a full 1 in 5 adults have now done it. The bad news (if you’re in the trade) is that the percentage who haven’t done crypto but intend to fell for the second month in a row. This is usually an ominous sign in our data – suggesting that the market is saturating among likely participants. This leveling off might be driven by growing concerns over security issues and the environmental impact of cryptocurrency. Crypto people are young and young people are tech savvy and environmentally conscious. That explains it. 

Inflation is impacting breakfast. I must be hungry this week – most of the studies I chose to highlight had something to do with food. Anyway, after rising steadily as people returned to the office, out-of-home breakfast eating has begun to fall slightly in recent months, explained by rising price sensitivity among the U.S. population. Also in this delicious study are data about the most popular breakfast meat (duh, it’s bacon), hot versus cold breakfast (hot, all the way), and a surprising decline in coffee drinking YoY. Enjoy reading about it over your coffee. Or juice. Or mimosa.

More awesomeness from the CivicScientists this week:

This week’s most popular questions:

Answer Key: 40%; Hell no; Lol. I share my entire life with 15,000 strangers every week; Cringey; Chess; Totally acceptable.

Hoping you’re well.


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