That’s my prediction for Word of the Year in 2021.
“Calcification” was our word for 2020 and, per usual, we nailed it. Americans entrenched – in more literal ways than we could have imagined. Ideologies and tribes solidified.
Now, it’s bifurcation. Divergence. Dichotomy, if you’d rather. But I’m not talking about politics this time, though it’s correlated somewhat. I’m talking economics.
Because the bifurcation of winners and losers – among industries and consumers – right now is staggering.
The rich are getting richer. The poor, poorer.
“We know John, you already talked about this a few months ago.”
Yeah, I know I did. And I’m talking about it again. Because it’s super fucking important.
In fact, it’s the single most important thing you need to watch going into the new year. Not a vaccine. Not a new president. Bifurcation.
Everyone has been harping about “two Americas” since the election. But that’s about cable news ratings, about how many people you unfriend on Facebook. If you can tell me the election has made a material impact on your life – mental health aside – you’re the first.
I’m talking about real division – between the people who are going through financial hell because of the pandemic and the people who are better off because of it.
Better off? Yeah. I know you don’t want to admit it. You feel guilty.
Chances are, if you’ve kept your job since last March, you’re in a better position than you were before. You squirreled away all that money you didn’t spend on vacations, travel tournaments, dry cleaning, haircuts, and bar tabs. Your credit cards are paid off. Your SUV isn’t even depreciating as fast.
Don’t even get me started on the stock market. Money makes money. Period.
Then there’s the other end of the spectrum. People in service industries, musicians and artists, small business owners, dog walkers, fitness trainers, hotel workers, parking lot attendants.
People who were completely blindsided, at no fault of their own. Screwed. Royally.
I always ramble on about our Economic Sentiment Index, how it gives us a predictive read on consumers and markets. But it’s a blunt-force instrument. One line on a chart only shows us the average attitudes of Americans. It obscures the fact that there are really two lines, pointing in opposite directions.
You don’t market to the average consumer. Government policies aren’t designed for the average citizen. We need to look at everything through two lenses. Two crystal balls.
So that’s what we’re going to do in 2021. We’re not going to pretend the whole country is doing well just because holiday retail sales were decent, because people with more money spent more than the people with less who spent less.
Maybe you think you shouldn’t care if people who don’t buy your products don’t have money to buy your products. You’re wrong.
What have I told you? Everything affects everything.
And if you don’t pay attention to both Americas in 2021, it will catch up to you.
I guarantee it.
Here’s what we’re seeing:
In case you thought I was making this up, Americans are currently more worried about income inequality than any time since we began tracking it. A full 78% of U.S. adults this month said they are at least “somewhat concerned” about income inequality, up from just 64% in August. Forty-five percent of respondents are “very concerned” – up from 35% four years ago. The demographic cross-tabs are as sadly predictable as you’d expect. It’s going to get worse before it gets better.
Proving the point further, most Americans are still optimistic about their retirement future. That’s what a booming stock market will do for people who have money in the stock market. And, if you have the capacity to save right now.
As the weather gets colder, Americans are warming up to the idea of a COVID vaccine. Thirty-nine percent of adults now say they will get a vaccine as soon as it becomes available, up from 27% last month and only 17% in October. That’s a great trend, but we still have a long way to go. Thirteen percent of respondents say they’ll never get the vaccine and 9% will wait at least six months to see what happens. But even the people who are lining up for their shots aren’t without their safety concerns. It’s just worth the risk.
Consumers are psyched about HBO Max streaming first-run movies next year, but movie theaters shouldn’t be doomsday prepping. When Warner Bros. announced they would release their entire 2021 movie lineup to the HBO streaming service, industry pundits went berserk. Yeah, it’s a big deal – up to 23% of Americans say they will watch the new movies on the platform, which would be a watershed of subscriptions. But even with all of that, on top of widespread COVID fears, interest in seeing movies in the theater hasn’t waned an inch. The percentage of adults who prefer movies in theaters, versus at home, is steady as ever. And the number who say they miss seeing movies in theaters is up 4 percentage points since May. People are going to flood the theaters again, as soon as they can.
Parents are basically giving up on limiting their kids’ screen time during the pandemic. Aren’t we all giving up, though, really? I won’t even tell you what my iPhone says about my own usage every week – so to give my kids a hard time about it would be pinnacle hypocrisy. You can see in the chart below that parents are mailing it in. No judgment. We’re all just trying to get through this. The good news is that most families are also spending a lot more time together doing activities and such. Seems like an okay tradeoff.
In related news, slightly more parents prefer online-only schooling for their kids during the pandemic but it’s pretty evenly mixed. We did a deep dive into schooling this week – you can read all about it yourself if you’re curious.
We also did several other studies this week, including a few about holiday gifts and what Santa might (or might not) be dragging around in his bag of goodies:
- Only 65% of pet owners are planning to buy their pets any gifts for the holidays and, yes, I said “only.” Get your pet a damn gift.
- LEGOs are still huge and I can’t think of another toy brand with that kind of longevity;
- Nearly 1 in 5 Americans are now buying groceries without strolling through the aisles;
- The WNBA is commanding louder calls from fans for more TV coverage.
And last but most certainly not least, more people have watched live music performances on social media during COVID than I would have bet. Look, it’s not the same. Not even close. But it tells you how badly people want to stay connected to music. And it tells you what an absolute rager it’s going to be when things come back. I can’t effing wait.
And here are our most popular questions as the year draws – mercifully – to a close:
- Do you still have your wisdom teeth?
- Do you typically put a filter on your pictures before you post them to social media?
- Would your significant other / spouse say you are good at wrapping gifts?
- How often do you engage in stock market day trading?
- Does your family have a holiday dish that nobody actually likes to eat, but you still make it every year because it’s the tradition?
Answer Key: Yep; Nope; Definitely not; Never; I do all the cooking, so hell no.
Programming Note: I probably won’t write next week. And maybe the week after that. But I might. Who knows? Check your inbox.
Either way, I wish you and yours the happiest of holidays.