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Top consumer and personal finance stories of 2021

Money puzzle With Pieces Missing-ga78583638_640Consumers are continuing to face tremendous challenges in this, the second year of the coronavirus pandemic. I could probably write an article on 10 ways the pandemic affected people financially. I just hope it will end soon instead of continuing to drag on and on.

These 10 happenings stand out to me as the top consumer and personal finance stories of 2021:

1. Assistance to consumers during the pandemic. A third stimulus check for many families, student loan payments delayed, advance child tax credit payments, rental assistance, and other government programs continued to help people in 2021 as the pandemic raged on.

2. The costs of goods and services. With inflation rising 6.8 percent from a year ago in November, consumers are being impacted by higher prices. Some economists, however, think inflation is near its peak, particularly with energy prices declining in recent weeks.

3. Supply chain problems. Supply chain issues that started as the pandemic began continued in 2021. At the beginning of the pandemic, manufacturers cut down on production because workers were ill or in quarantine and the expectation that demand would be down. Shipping companies, in response, cut their schedules. Instead of decreasing, consumer demand skyrocketed. Now, about anything that is produced or manufactured is in short supply. That includes computer chips, which are needed in making cars. Expect supply chain issues will continue well into 2022 and maybe longer.

4. Vaccines. The fast development of vaccines certainly improved pandemic health outcomes for most Americans. Unfortunately, disinformation led some people to skip being vaccinated and now hospitals are filling up again with the omicron variant surge.

5. Quitting jobs. More than 38 million workers quit their jobs during 2021. This suggests that the old way of working – from wages to flexibility to benefits – has to change for people to stay in their roles. 

6. Poor customer service. It’s everywhere. Online, over-the-phone, in stores, in medical settings. With people quitting their jobs due to the pandemic, new employees are scrambling to do their jobs. Consumers are frustrated. Companies need to work on improving customer service as the trend of decreased customer service is likely to carry on after the pandemic.

7. Savings. Most households are financially better off now than before the pandemic. However, the fading impact of pandemic aid means savings are dwindling.

8. Infrastructure law. The infrastructure law, which finally passed in 2021, will rebuild America’s roads, bridges, and rails, expand access to clean drinking water, provide high-speed internet, and tackle the climate crisis. Great infrastructure deficits have accrued because governments at all levels haven’t kept up with community needs.

9. Conscious consumerism. Consumers are becoming more thoughtful about what they purchase, where it comes from and how their buying habits affect the world around them. Conscious consumerism will likely continue to impact everything from small purchases such as cosmetics and clothing, to large ones, such as electric cars.

10. Climate change. From wildfires to hurricanes to floods, people faced many new and more severe weather emergencies this year. The Seattle area, where I live, even had a heat wave in June. While hundreds of thousands of people are struggling to recover, the cost of homeowners insurance is expected to go up due to the tremendous losses insurance companies incurred this year.

Let’s hope 2022 is a better year for everyone and the pandemic finally ends.

Comments

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azure

Inflation in food prices, rents, residential real property prices have been inflating for at least 2-3 years. Plane fares started increasing (not always uniformly) maybe 2-3 years ago, although it wasn't an across the board increase. I noticed because I took the same flight 4 times a year from 2017 to 2020, never during a holiday period & I could schedule on the "less expensive" days of the week. Even so, the RT fare price increased significantly. As did the nickel & diming for any service (checking a bag, seats in different locations, etc) by the airline as soon as a new CEO took over. When do you think a majority of Congress will finally defy the heavily subsidized airlines and pass a fare price transparency act? There have been several efforts to do so for how many years now?
The price of prescription drug prices, including "older" drugs like insulin have inflated greatly for at least 5 years. The price of a new Iphone has gone way up. However, the CPI doesn't weight the prices for some items properly as price increases actually affect many people. In addition, whoever choose how some costs are weighted seems to believe that everyone in the US has a very good employer paid for health insurance plan, and the employer hasn't been increasing employee premium contributions pretty much every year for how long? The CPI like, the calculation of the unemployment rate, has changed over the years, iirc, the definition of "unemployed" was redefined during, I think the Bush I administration think the Bush I administration, to exclude from the definition of "unemployed" people who were no longer looking for work or "discouraged job seekers." People who wanted to work but had been unable to find work for X period of time. Prior to the change those people had continued to be counted, which of course increased the official UE rate.

I started tracking how much I spend on food (I rarely eat out) 5 or 6 years ago, so I noticed food price inflation sooner then I might've if I hadn't been. Even the USDA FINALLY overhauled its "Thrifty Food Plan" so that it bears some resemblance to my food cost reality --and I am able to grow a few greens, culinary herbs & berries in my backyard & save a bit that way. Some years I've helped a friend pick her apples & have made a gallon or so of apple butter, applesauce & dried some apples. I usually give some away. I made Meyer lemon marmalade every year for 3-4 years but haven't done so for a year or two because the price of (organic) Meyer lemons has increased so much.

I think the media's spotlighting inflation because there's a Dem president. Housing started getting tight, prices & rents increasing in my area (and the larger cities in the state) prior to the recession. It may have gotten worse (particularly in my area because it's a tourist area & many houses/condos have become short term (vacation) rentals. But it was getting worse in other non-tourist areas prior to the recession too. People were complaining of having to commute 50 miles each way (no decent mass transit of course) to work in this area prior to the recession. The number of homeless people, including teens & families has increased here just as it has in so many other parts of the US. Well, Clinton warned it would happen during his administration but a majority of Congress refused to act constructively to prevent what's happening now, has been for at least 7 or 8 years.
For whatever reason, inflation in rents, food, etc., is being spotlighted now. I do think it's at least partly media/politically driven. Biden's not making the systemic changes (getting rid of wealthy people's & corporate tax cuts would be systemic change) that are so much needed, but he's persuaded Congress to do a little short term wealth distribution and the corporate & wealthy elites don't approve--and they own most of the media now, except for smaller online operations like Pro Publica, Daily Beast and some others. It's not a conspiracy, it's obviously happening (consolidation in so many industries, monopolies or close to them mean price gouging and more frequent capture of those agencies that are supposed to regulate say, the airlines/Boeing, private pilots, the meat packing industry, the food industry. I think the domination of the media by fewer & fewer corporations/owners is one reason US has moved so far right or regressed (almost to the 1920's).
I listened to one of FDR's radio speeches, fireside speeches the other day, if he gave that speech today, he'd be called all sorts of nasty names. Maybe even a communist, for sure unamerican, leftist, whatever all the names are for people who say they think banks aren't great, that capitalism/corporate capitalism needs to be kept in check. Yet he was quoted as saying he'd saved capitalism in the US.

Rita

I think we need to have a lot more examination of inflation. I think some companies and corporations are taking advantage of price increases and think they can get away price gouging. Consumers can report cases of price gouging to the Attorney General's Office in their state.

Diane

When I read through this list (and I totally agree on every point!) I can't help but think of the crises my parents and those of past generations coped with. Were they anything like what we have to deal with?

Rita

My parents had to deal with the Great Depression and World War II. The depression really affected them. They were frugal and very careful with their money. My dad worked for the WPA, Works Progress Administration, as a time keeper. That was beneficial because, when we lost our apple ranch, he was able to get a job as a field manager for a large apple orchard.

I think each generation faces unique challenges. I remember being in college in the 1960s and learning about institutions. I thought institutions would change and we'd have a much better America. While we have moved forward in many areas, we have a huge movement to the right that's harming our country. The right is teaching people to hate government. It's unreal.

The pandemic is showing us that, no matter much we have, it can be taken away quickly by a sudden health issue. It's sobering. We just need to keep figuring out how to deal with the situation and hope and pray that it will end.

Carol Cassara

I had to sit with this a while. It paints a stark picture to me.

Rita

Yes, pandemic times are challenging.

Rebecca Forstadt Olkowski

I think people are financially better right now because they aren't spending money on travel, putting on large events like weddings, going out to eat at restaurants, etc. We are living more frugally even with online shopping. All great points mentioned above.

Meryl

I hadn't heard the term conscious consumer before, but like it. Great list!

Rita

I'm certainly living more frugally because I'm not traveling or eating out. I do hope to go to Madrid in June to my grandkids high school graduation.

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