I missed New York.

We took the girls for Spring Break, two years after canceling the same trip. We even saw The Cursed Child, as originally planned. As a family of Harry Potter dorks, we loved it. 

Of course, I did a little bit of work while we were there – I can’t ever fully shut off. And it’s just too convenient when so many of your business contacts are in one dense place.   

I used to go at least once or twice a month in the before times. I could never live there – I’m a country mouse at heart – but I can definitely immerse myself for a few days at a time.  

Twenty-seven months after my last junket, it felt the same. 

But not entirely. 

I’m guessing things were at 70% capacity. We got same-day dinner reservations, which would’ve been unheard of 3 years ago. There were noticeably fewer throngs of foreign tourists. Sadly, a few of my favorite spots closed. 

Everything felt a little… grungier. The pervasiveness of weed was astounding. Stores, trucks, and “independent contractors” were on almost every block. The smell was everywhere. Noelle joked that it was refreshing to catch an occasional whiff of cigarette smoke to break up the monotonous fragrance of “pee and weed.”

We filled out a veritable bingo card while traversing the island. We saw a guy shooting heroin in the Garment District, a half block from another sorry soul OD-ing on the sidewalk. We crossed the street in Chelsea to avoid a fight that broke out in the middle of Broadway. 

There was even a subway shooting in Brooklyn, followed by a manhunt that ended in the East Village. Every phone in earshot blew up with emergency alerts as the saga unfolded.

Looking at consumer data all day long, it’s easy to be seduced by the waning COVID concerns, bolstered bank accounts, rising wages, and booming housing market. Yeah, inflation and gas prices are hurting people, but spending hasn’t waned.

This trip reminded us that so many people, businesses, and neighborhoods still have a long recovery ahead of them. A place like Pittsburgh is largely sheltered from the extreme ups and downs. But Manhattan will always be ground zero – the heartbeat of America – whether the rest of the country wants to admit it or not. And that heart is still healing. 

New York will get back to 100%. I have no doubt. 

And I’ll be going back often to do my part.

Here’s what we’re seeing:

Consumer confidence bounced a little. After its third consecutive drop a couple weeks ago, I surmised that our Economic Sentiment Index may have hit bottom – and if our latest reading is any indication, I may have been right. The ESI jumped almost a full point over the past two weeks, its largest jump since last October. Four of our five primary indicators improved, the lone laggard being the housing market, on account of rising interest rates. The job market continues to flourish and even gas prices improved enough to make a difference. The numbers aren’t great, by any means, but up is always better than down. 

People are feeling the crunch of rising food prices. The strong consumer spending numbers this month mask the fact that people are just paying more for less. Sixty-nine percent of Americans say they have actively chosen not to buy something at the grocery store because it costs much more than usual. The same phenomenon is happening to a lesser degree at restaurants. People are especially noticing the higher price of perishables, which will unfortunately drive more spending on packaged and/or less healthy food options. Inflation is bad for public health, in case you didn’t know that. 

The rise in charitable activities is one of the silver linings of the COVID era. Donating and volunteering saw a notable increase during the pandemic, as many Americans enjoyed healthier household bank accounts, not to mention all the extra time on their hands. A record 49% of U.S. adults say they do volunteer work, up from 44% before COVID came along. Remote workers are the most likely – by a lot – to volunteer. Health and human service non-profits have seen the biggest boost in donations, while 29% of Americans have donated to one or more Ukraine-related causes. Even the percentage of people who opt to make donations at the checkout register nearly doubled over the past year. And yes, crypto donations are becoming more popular. Keep it up, folks. 

Walmart+ isn’t making a dent in Amazon’s business. Almost two years since Walmart’s Prime knockoff launched, fewer than one in ten Americans are members, with 12% saying they signed up but later quit. For contrast, Amazon Prime counts almost two-thirds of U.S. adults as members. In fact, 56% of Walmart+ members are also Prime members. It’s obviously a move Walmart had to make to be competitive… it’s just not much of a competition at the moment. 

Americans are planning to gather for Easter, eat ham. Nearly half of the 80+% of U.S. adults who observe Easter plan to celebrate with friends and family beyond their household this year. Thirty-one percent (like us) plan to stick with just their immediate family. Ham is the most popular item on the menu – by almost 3:1 compared to its next competitors (chicken and beef), with just 10% of people planning to eat fish. On the candy front, Reese’s Peanut Butter Eggs reign supreme in the Easter basket, with jelly beans a distant second. Nine percent of people prefer Peeps, which is 9% too many. 

More from the CivicScientists this week:

Our top new questions this week:

Answer Key: Meh; Host; It ends?; A ton, it’s my job; Lots; A familiar place. 

Hoping you’re well.


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