Consumers 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.