March 18, 2021
As I sat at the redesigned drive-thru window at a local restaurant I was amazed as a semi-truck carrying six different types of vehicles stopped in the middle turn lane of the busy main street in the town where I live. The street serves as a main through fare going east for most of the small towns of central Arkansas. I watched as the driver got out, pulled out his ramps, and then proceeded to back each vehicle off the truck. The cars shot off (in reverse!) at about 40 miles an hour before reaching the used car lot 100 yards away. He then ran back up the street to get the next one. I was not sure if this was legal but assumed the reason for his hurry was because it was not. With the new drive-thru I rapidly got my order and hurried off before I saw if he got caught.
One aspect of the pandemic has been all the construction that has happened. There are new houses being built all over town where I live. Whole subdivisions have hurriedly gone up overnight. While the covid-19 pandemic plunged the US into a recession that left millions of Americans out of work and hungry, the housing market has boomed. Between September 2019 and September 2020, homeowners accumulated a collective $1 trillion in additional home equity. The exploding demand and historically low supply of housing has led buyers to desperately bid up the prices of available properties. This boom has been welcome news for the 65% of households that are owner-occupied. It is not so good for the growing number of Americans who are being shut out of the housing market.
New units are not the only construction boom that has happened. As people began to work from home the realized they needed more space. There is something about working at your computer while trying to make breakfast and tutor your 10-year-old that makes an extra room for an office seem attractive. That is also true when you realize not being able to go outside for recreation means you need redesign your existing space to meet your new requirements. In the “good ol days” we hurried to move, now we remodel. The same hurry is evident in business real estate. Economists project that more than 100,000 small businesses shut permanently in the first months of the pandemic. Data suggests at least 2% of small businesses are gone, and that rises as 3% of restaurant operators have gone out of business. Still, business construction is booming, and restaurants are remodeling to accommodate drive-thru pickup.
Thoughts: The greatest disparity emphasized by the pandemic has been economic inequality. This is true for corporations as well as people. The four largest corporations in America (all global) now control 21% of the GNP. The top 1% of earners in the US account for about 20% of the country’s total income annually. Meanwhile, the lowest-earning quarter of Americans account for just 3.7% of annual income. While some struggle to survive, others are in a hurry to make more. The rich seem to be winning. If economic insecurity is not a priority, we will all be left behind. Do the work. Change is coming and it starts with you.