Another expression of American restlessness? Their simmering desire to move. More than 4 in 10 (41%) said last month that they would take a pay cut to move to a more affordable locale. Again, younger generations are leading the way (Gen Z: 51% and millennials: 47% versus 32% of Gen X and 27% of boomers)—not surprising, for many of the same reasons as above: They are less likely to have put down roots and so are better positioned to reconsider their priorities. Of course the rise of remote work is also empowering this impulse: In many cases jobs no longer have geographic ties but can instead be done anywhere. Why suffer through bitter and expensive northeastern winters, for example, if you can do the same job somewhere warmer and sunnier?
Americans are anxious
Inflation is rising and Americans know it. More than half (55%) self-described as very concerned about escalating prices in November, and little has occurred to allay those fears: The measure hit a 40-year high in December, for example, “increasing household expenses [and] eating into wage gains,” as the Associated Press reported.
Household expenses are key: Americans worry most about being able to afford staples including groceries (84%), gasoline (83%) and home energy (78%). Once again, there’s a clear age division: Generation Xers (61%) and baby boomers (68%) are sharply more likely to worry about inflation than Gen Zers (28%) and Millennials (44%). In this, age reflects experience: The older cohorts can remember the last time inflation was a problem in this country, in the late 1970s and early 1980s. But even majorities of the younger generations (58% in both cases) would prefer a slower-growth, low-inflation scenario over one where a hot economy drives up prices.
Americans are overwhelmed
Two-thirds of parents in this country say that managing childcare decisions is an “overwhelming” experience (68 percent of men agreed, no doubt prompting the 64 percent of women who said the same to roll their eyes that the guys are only just figuring this out). That figure rises to 71 percent among working parents specifically. This has a ripple effect. As Yahoo!Finance’s Rick Newman points out: “Economists think childcare burdens are playing an outsized role in disrupting the labor market as the economy recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic. ... Since women are more likely to take care of kids, childcare difficulties could be one big reason female employment is lagging.”
Childcare problems have been a drumbeat throughout the pandemic, but the omicron variant’s wildfire spread has only brought those issues into starker relief. “COVID-19 cases among US children are increasing exponentially, far exceeding the peak of past waves of the pandemic,” the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Children’s Hospital Association reported recently, noting that nearly 11% of the 8.5 million cases of COVID in children came in the previous two weeks. Having kids back in school is suddenly cold comfort—but what’s a parent to do?
Taken together, this forecasts ongoing uncertainty and apprehension at least to start 2022. What does this mean for advertisers? The key takeaway is continuing to respect consumers for where they are mentally and physically. They want to engage in the world— travel, move, quit their jobs, change—but uncertainty and inflation are making them hesitant and worried. So don’t push them too hard.
The optimistic view is that one twist this pandemic will take eventually has to be positive. After all, 2020 has to end at some point.
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