Companies that allow consumers to complete a purchase after the point of sale are often unregulated and can lead users into deeper debt.
There’s a long history of paying for things in installments: There’s the way old commercials advertise, there are rent-to-own products, or shoppers can put purchases on a payment layaway plan.
But recently, more options have popped up that give consumers the items right away and takes away the threat of repossession.
Companies like Afterpay, Klarna and Affirm have become a more frequent resource for people looking to buy things using a stretched-out payment plan. They have increasingly been showing up as payment options on websites of major retailers, including Target, Bed Bath & Beyond and Amazon.
It’s a huge business. A report from the California Department of Financial Protection and Innovation found that 91% of consumer loans taken out in the state in 2020 were from buy now, pay later lenders.
But unlike leasing a car or taking out a new credit card, there isn’t much regulation of this space because of how new it is. Buyers get both the instant gratification of getting their purchase right away, and it doesn’t necessarily affect their credit score.
“A significant portion of people take out multiple buy now, pay later purchases,” said Nadine Chabrier, litigation policy counsel at the Center for Responsible Lending. “There’s no consideration of the ability to repay, and there’s no specific date on which a person can count on their final pay later coming out of their account. So, people tend to take on multiple purchases and get overwhelmed.”
Chabrier is concerned that the short-term nature of these loans has helped buy now, pay later providers avoid existing rules.
“Some of the things that we’ve advocated for is to regulate buy now, pay later like a credit card,” Chabrier said. “There are really important protections there for consumers that you have under credit cards that you don’t have when you take out a financial planner.”
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These types of services often have a younger, more diverse user base. A Morning Consult poll conducted earlier this year found that Gen Z, as well as Black and Hispanic Americans, were more likely to use a buy now, pay later service than the average American.
Elyse Hicks, from the consumer advocacy group Americans for Financial Reform, says that lines up with other trends in economic inequality.
“On a basic level, BIPOC communities have less, so they’re more inclined to use products like Buy Now, Pay Later, Klarna, in order to get the things that they need or want because it puts those bite-sized pieces or bite-sized installments, something that they feel like they can handle, in front of them,” Hicks said.
The same Morning Consult poll found that one in five borrowers using buy now, pay later missed a payment in January, the month they took the survey.
It can spiral into some big fees for consumers.
In August, after President Biden announced his intent to forgive $10,000 or more for Americans with student loan debt, one Twitter user’s question about whether President Biden would forgive AfterPay debts too went viral.
For now, consumers like Grace Oppy, who is an Afterpay user currently in debt, and the millions of others who use these services are at the mercy of the companies. Affirm, for example, does pitch consumers on the fact that it has no late fees, but it does note that it would charge up to 36% APR depending on your credit, which is higher than even the highest APR on most credit cards.
But in the moment, the seemingly great deals can be really tempting.
“It started with a lot of strategy,” Oppy said. “I was like, ‘If I just do this, then I will be glam and perfect. I will definitely get my promotion.’ And now… I have $90 earrings. So really, it’s a slippery slope in my mind. My dopamine receptors are just, boom, firing away when I use it.”
The advocates Newsy talked to said that dopamine hit Oppy feels — a rush of satisfaction — is exactly what makes it so tempting to use these services when shopping.
“It just feeds on millennials and Gen Z, of how we like to get things very instantly,” Hicks said. “We all know we want something, that we can get it at a discounted price and get it to our doorsteps very quickly. It hits that dopamine, and we’re onto something else. So, it kind of it puts you in a cycle, and kind of like a debt trap, as well.”
Influencers on social media are pitching buy now, pay later as a life hack for those who want something and don’t want to worry about the cost today.
“You have people who you admire, who look like they have great lives, who then have this clothing item or this product, and it’s just aspirational,” Chabrier said. “It’s understandable for people to aspire to a particular lifestyle or feeling, and that’s what I think this type of marketing plays on.”
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It’s not lost on consumers either.
“They make it seem so frivolous… like a fun app,” Oppy said. “They’re partnering with influencers. It’s really nefarious, and it’s subtle. But, making these people that we all try to base our lives on advertise this pretty predatory lending practice that’s so unregulated: sneaky. And they got me. They got me there.”
But regulation and standards could be on the way soon. Many buy now, pay later loans aren’t reported, meaning that while there’s no guarantee your credit score takes a hit if you miss payments, you also might not be building credit that can help you get other loans or credit cards in the future.
Equifax, Experian and TransUnion — the three largest credit bureaus —announced plans this year to incorporate buy now, pay later loans into their files, but implementation of that is still to be determined.
Meanwhile, state and federal regulatory authorities are looking at how to account for buy now, pay later services.
A group of 21 state attorneys general wrote a letter calling for federal officials to set standards on this. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau announced during last year’s holiday season that they had started a review of the buy now, pay later industry, with an eye toward federal regulations protecting consumers from debt and ensuring companies tell consumers what fees they could incur.
Advocates are hoping rules will lift the burden from consumers and make the companies themselves have to give more information up front. But until then, they say to make sure to read the fine print.
“Please look at all of your products or your apps,” Hicks said. “See how much you currently owe these buy now, pay later companies, and just be aware of your spending habits. It’s so easy to get out of control with this, but just be aware until regulation comes.”
Gaps in sex ed in the U.S. can leave students in the dark, while other countries have programs that positively affect student health and knowledge.
Across the nation, students have vastly different experiences learning about a somewhat taboo but super important health topic: sexual health education, or sex ed.
According to Sex Ed for Social Change, or SIECUS, 29 states and D.C. mandate sex ed as of July 2022. But 17 of those states require that abstinence be stressed, and only 11 of them require the curriculum to be medically accurate. Some states choose to leave discussions around healthy relationships, contraception and sexual orientation out of the conversation entirely.
“Due to the lack of guidance and policy implementation at the federal level, the United States has a patchwork of laws that vary, which determine what and if sex education is being taught,” said Michelle Slaybaugh, director of social impact and strategic communications at SIECUS. “When it comes to education, policy, decisions have largely been left to local control, So we’re talking very local at the school board level, not even the city or state level. It’s very, very local.”
Currently at the federal level, SIECUS is one group working to get the Real Education and Access for Healthy Youth Act passed. This legislation promotes comprehensive sex ed, which means giving young people the knowledge and skills they need to make healthy choices about their sexual lives, and the act makes sure access to this education is protected.
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In March, Congress passed the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2022, but funding for comprehensive sex ed programs is not included.
On the state level, according to the SIECUS mid-year report, the number of bills introduced this year aimed at restricting sex ed was almost equal to the number of bills introduced advancing sex ed. But more regressive bills were passed in states this legislative session than progressive ones.
“I think there is this big myth that if we teach young people about sex, that they’re going to go and have it,” Slaybaugh said. “The evidence does not show that. Additionally, I think it is very important for us to understand that age appropriate or developmentally appropriate sex education is key.”
A Georgetown University study shows that sex ed helps with a lot of things, like preventing unplanned pregnancy, maternal death, unsafe abortions and sexually transmitted diseases. But a survey from the Public Religion Institute found that nearly a quarter of millennials were not taught sex ed in middle or high school.
There is also a big gap in sex ed that’s inclusive and talks about LGBTQ+ identities. Less than 10% of LGBTQ+ students say their school’s sex ed is inclusive. When talking about gender identity and orientation, this is sometimes where curriculum can become “medically inaccurate.”
“Medically accurate sex education is vital to promoting long term health outcomes, and a part of that, which I think is really where we’re seeing the rub, is this idea of gender norms, gender stereotypes and orientation,” Slaybaugh said.
Florida in particular has become a bit of a hotspot when it comes to sex ed and what can or should be taught. New laws there, like what critics dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, limits discussion of sexuality and gender identity for some elementary students.
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Katie Lagrone, a correspondent at Newsy’s sister station in Tampa, Florida explains a confusing mix of standards on whether the new laws are altering old policies on sex ed.
“In Florida, while laws mandate health education include teen dating and disease control, we discovered there’s actually no statewide curriculum for sex education,” Lagrone said. “What and how students are taught about sexual and reproductive health is left to individual school boards who approve policies, principals who interpret them and instructors who ultimately drill it down for students. What’s more… we found about a one-third of Florida’s 67 school districts are teaching students, even high schoolers, abstinence only.”
Studies show abstinence-only instruction doesn’t prevent teens from having sex. In fact, a 2019 study by the CDC found by the 12th grade, more than half of Florida teens surveyed have already engaged in sexual intercourse, with some STD rates among teens in Florida being four times higher than the national average.
In some counties that have adopted this abstinence-only teaching method in Florida, teen birth rates are actually higher. One district spokesperson told Newsy these limits are because they “are respectful of parents rights.”
Elsewhere in the world, some countries have been recognized for comprehensive sex ed programs that help combat these issues, especially in Europe.
In the Netherlands, it’s required by law that all primary school students are taught sex ed. It starts as early as 4-years-old, but they’re not talking about the full birds and the bees at that age. They are simply covering the basics of healthy relationships.
In the U.S., some people argue that that is too young to be teaching sex ed, but three decades of research shows that sex ed can help prevent child abuse.
On average, teens in the Netherlands are also waiting longer to have sex when compared to Europe or the U.S. Researchers found that most young people in the Netherlands had “wanted and fun” first sexual experiences, while many American teens said they wished they waited longer to have sex for the first time.
The Netherlands has one of the lowest teen pregnancy rates in the world. Dutch teens are some of the most likely to use birth control pills, though part of that could be because contraception is easily accessible.
The Netherlands also works to educate parents on how to talk to their kids about sex to help get everyone on the same page.
In Denmark, for a long time, their sex ed program emphasized preventing unplanned pregnancy and promoting safe sex. In 2015, the country’s birth rate fell below the rate necessary to maintain population, and Danish officials went as far as actually encouraging people to have babies at a younger age. At the time, only point 5% of teen girls in Denmark had a baby. That rate was six times higher in the United States.
In recent years, the birth rate has started to rise again. While neither Denmark nor any country has a perfect system, they experienced some outcomes that other places could learn from.
This highlights good models for comprehensive sex ed, but there are also other countries, like the U.S., where it isn’t widely taught, there are inconsistencies or it’s not available at all. Experts stress the importance of making sure students have the information necessary to live healthy lives.
“We really need to push for something that is rooted in age-appropriate, medically-accurate and affirming content that is taught by trained educators to be able to deliver the most comprehensive and age-appropriate education around sexuality as possible,” Slaybaugh said.
Prenups can be a touchy subject, but the stigma is fading, with some experts saying it could be a smart move for anyone getting married.
Prenups, or pre-nuptial agreements, don’t always have the most positive connotation.
While they are legal agreements entered into by couples before marriage — often to keep finances separate despite being otherwise legally joined — they can be a touchy subject for couples starting to build a life together.
But that stigma seems to be fading away. A new report from The Harris Poll said that this year, 15% of U.S. adults surveyed signed a prenup, which is up from just 3% in 2010. It also found that 35% of unmarried people say they’re likely to sign a prenup in the future.
In the Americas, prenups go back to 17th century Canada, when French colonist men married women who came to the country with financial assistance from King Louis XIV. These women were so highly sought after that they were able to convince their husbands to sign prenups. This came at a time when men outnumbered women, so women had a leg up. Eventually that gender ratio evened out, and prenups went away.
They got popular again in the U.S. much later. A 1970 Florida case Posner v Posner ruled that prenups should be a standard practice.
One big possible factor in their usage today is the fact that millennials now have more debt than previous generations. One survey found that nearly three quarters of millennials have over $100,000 in debt on average, not including mortgages.
The most common debt is credit card debt followed by student loans. There’s also medical debt and personal loans.
Prenups can protect your partner from taking on your debt in the case of death of divorce. In some states, your spouse can be held accountable for all of your debt acquired during the marriage.
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Kelly Chang Rickert is a family law attorney in California who specializes in prenups, and she sees debt come up in divorce cases all the time.
“It’s not unusual for me to have a divorce where one side has a Neiman Marcus card and charged up $70,000, and the other side… they are responsible for half the debt because it was acquired during the marriage,” Chang Rickert said.
But the breakdown of who’s responsible for what differs from state to state. For instance, some states are community property states, meaning unless you sign a prenup, everything acquired during the marriage must be split 50/50. That’s how things work in Arizona, California, Idaho, Louisiana, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, Washington and Wisconsin.
In other states, laws differ. There can be different rules around what makes prenups enforceable. For example, in Connecticut there’s a specific window of time between when the prenup is presented and when the marriage happens for it to hold up. So, it’s important to see what a state requires beforehand.
Another reason more people could be getting prenups is because they’re getting married later in life and have more assets to protect coming into the marriage. According to Pew, in 2019 the average age a man first got married was 30, and for women it was 28. That’s three years later for both men and women compared to 2003 and four years later than 1987.
“These days, a lot of people work for themselves,” Chang Rickert said. “If you’re a social media influencer or you’re an artist or you’re a writer, a lot of people make money off their creative efforts. So if they have a business coming into the marriage, a lot of them don’t want to share that in case it doesn’t work out.”
This leads to the question of how finances are split. This determines what a prenup could look like. In the 70s and 80s, it was common practice to put all your money into shared accounts with your spouse. But over the past several years, the number of married couples who keep some of their finances separate has risen.
Experts say if couples have a joint account for things they share, they can opt to keep everything else separate, and in the case of divorce, they’ll only have to worry about dividing the joint account. But it’s important to note that separate accounts won’t stay separate unless a prenup is signed stating that.
“Even if you don’t have a prenup, you kind of do: It’s called the law,” Chang Rickert said. “So if you don’t have a prenup, you’re just going by what your state law says. California says community property, so your debt is my debt. That’s what the state law says. So if you don’t like that, then you should craft your own.”
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Rickert Chang recommends getting a prenup ideally a year before your wedding. She also points out a few pros of prenups. For one, the stereotypical scenario we see in movies where a rich guy asks his fiancé to sign a prenup — it could actually be a good thing.
“If you were smart about it, and the guy’s like, ‘I want you to sign a prenup saying I don’t want community,’ then what you could do is you can negotiate it,” Chang Rickert said. “You could be like, ‘Fine, I won’t touch your stuff, but in lieu of that, I would like 50,000 a year or 1,000, 100,000 a year,’ and that way you can negotiate, and you can actually get money by agreeing to sign a prenup.”
There’s also certain professions where it’s strongly encouraged to protect the other person.
“Definitely lawyers or doctors, I think you should always get prenup,” Chang Rickert said. “Not just only because it’s my business — I don’t want you taking half of it, but also it’s a business that I can get sued on. So, I would like to protect you from any lawsuits that I might get.”
As prenups have become more common, more people have dug into this topic on social media platforms like TikTok. Chang Rickert has an account of her own where she educates people on prenups to help break down myths and stigmas, including that they aren’t just for rich people and not just in case of divorce.
Now, there aren’t necessarily more divorces now. CDC data shows that divorces declined between 2000 and 2020.
However in the case of a divorce, not signing a prenup could really pile on to the cost of divorce, which can already be pretty high, costing between $15,000 to $20,000 on average.
The Mantle baseball card dates from 1952 and is widely regarded as one of just a handful of the baseball legend in near-perfect condition.
A mint condition Mickey Mantle baseball card sold for $12.6 million Sunday, blasting into the record books as the most ever paid for sports memorabilia in a market that has grown exponentially more lucrative in recent years.
The rare Mantle card eclipsed the record just posted a few months ago — $9.3 million for the jersey worn by Diego Maradona when he scored the contentious “Hand of God” goal in soccer’s 1986 World Cup.
It easily surpassed the $7.25 million for a century-old Honus Wagner baseball card recently sold in a private sale.
And just last month, the heavyweight boxing belt reclaimed by Muhammad Ali during 1974’s “Rumble in the Jungle” sold for nearly $6.2 million.
All are part of a booming market for sports collectibles.
Prices have risen not just for the rarest items, but also for pieces that might have been collecting dust in garages and attics. Many of those items make it onto consumer auction sites like eBay, while others are put up for bidding by auction houses.
Because of its near-perfect condition and its legendary subject, the Mantle card was destined to be a top seller, said Chris Ivy, the director of sports auctions at Heritage Auctions, which ran the bidding.
Some saw collectibles as a hedge against inflation over the past couple years, he said, while others rekindled childhood passions.
Ivy said savvy investors saw inflation coming down the road — as it has. As a result, sports memorabilia became an alternative to traditional Wall Street investments or real estate — particularly among members of Generation X and older millennials.
“There’s only so much Netflix and ‘Tiger King’ people could watch (during the pandemic). So, you know, they were getting back into hobbies, and clearly sports collecting was a part of that,” said Ivy, who noted an uptick in calls among potential sellers.
Add to that interest from wealthy overseas collectors and you have a confluence of factors that made sports collectibles especially attractive, Ivy said.
“We’ve kind of started seeing some growth and some rise in the prices that led to some media coverage. And I think it all it all just kind of built upon itself,” he said. “I would say the beginning of the pandemic really added gasoline to that fire.”
Before the pandemic, the sports memorabilia market was estimated at more than $5.4 billion, according to a 2018 Forbes interview with David Yoken, the founder of Collectable.com.
By 2021, that market had grown to $26 billion, according to the research firm Market Decipher, which predicts the market will grow astronomically to $227 billion within a decade — partly fueled by the rise of so-called NFTs, or non-fungible tokens, which are digital collectibles with unique data-encrypted fingerprints.
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Sports cards have been especially in demand, as people spent more time at home and an opportunity arose to rummage through potential treasure troves of childhood memories, including old comic books and small stacks of bubble gum cards featuring marquee sports stars.
That lure of making money on something that might be sitting in one’s childhood basement has been irresistible, according to Stephen Fishler, founder of ComicConnect, who has watched the growing rise — and profitability — of collectibles being traded across auction houses.
“In a nutshell, the world of modern sports cards has been going bonkers,” he said.
The Mantle baseball card dates from 1952 and is widely regarded as one of just a handful of the baseball legend in near-perfect condition.
The auction netted a handsome profit for Anthony Giordano, a New Jersey waste management entrepreneur who bought it for $50,000 at a New York City show in 1991.
“As soon as it hit 10 million I just turned in. I couldn’t keep my eyes open anymore,” Giordano, 75, said Sunday morning. His sons monitored the auction for him. “They stayed up and called me this morning bright and early to tell me that it reached where it reached.”
The card was one of dozens of sports collectibles up for auction. In all, the items raked in some $28 million, according to Derek Grady, the executive vice president of sports auctions for Heritage Auctions.
“Sports collectibles are finally getting their due as an investment,” Grady said. “The best sports items are now starting to rival artwork, rare coins and rare artifacts as a great investment vehicle.”
The switch-hitting Mantle was a Triple Crown winner in 1956, a three-time American League MVP and a seven-time World Series champion. The Hall of Famer died in 1995.
“Some people might say it’s just a baseball card. Who cares? It’s just a Picasso. It’s just a Rembrandt to other people. It’s a thing of art for some people,” said John Holden, a professor in sports management law at Oklahoma State and amateur sports card collector.
Like pieces of art that have no intrinsic value, he said, when it comes to sports cards, the worth is in the eye of the beholder — or the pocketbook of the potential bidder.
“The value,” Holden said, “is whatever the market’s willing to support.”
The astrology industry business is booming with dedicated apps, social media accounts and business owners. But the industry isn’t new.
Astrology is more popular and more accessible than ever.
Nowadays, people joke about Mercury being in retrograde, and it’s a somewhat common thing for a person to be asked at any given time what their rising and sun signs. There are zodiac memes all over Twitter and Instagram accounts that post about different signs’ different personality traits.
The bottom line is: Astrology is making a comeback, and it’s making a lot of money.
One report from market research firm IBISWorld showed that Americans spent $2.2 billion a year on “mystical services.” This includes all things astrology, like palm and tarot card readings, astrology apps and more. Revenue for astrology apps grew to nearly $40 million in 2019 — a 64% increase from the year before.
The app CoStar raised $15 million from investors last April. The app provides personalized horoscopes and lets users connect with friends. It’s attracting millions of users without any real marketing.
Other apps seeing success are The Pattern, known for helping navigate relationships, and Sanctuary, where you can receive one-on-one monthly chats with an astrologer. These apps have been attracting more attention from investors, which wasn’t an area they’d typically put their money behind until recent years.
While the business of astrology is new, studying the stars to try to predict the future definitely isn’t.
The concept of astrology was born in second millennium BCE when Babylonians looked at the stars to predict things like weather — not quite the horoscopes we see today. Western astrology with the 12 zodiac signs emerged in the late second century BCE in the Mediterranean region. By the 18th century, the studies of astrology and astronomy were split, and astrology was put to the side. Then in the early 20th century, psychology astrology, which led to personality trait interpretations, was introduced.
So, astrology has always been around, but it’s experienced spikes in popularity. Last time this occurred was in the ’60s and ’70s during the New Age Movement. After that, horoscopes could be seen in the back of magazines, but astrology was somewhat in the background. With the popularity of the internet and social media, it’s really taken off and become even more accessible.
Kay Taylor, the president of the Organization of Professional Astrology, has been attending astrology conferences for years and says there was once a time when astrologists were worried about the future of their profession.
“The organizations began to teach and have conferences in the ’70s, but it was still kind of quiet,” Taylor said. “I would say that in the conferences in the early 2000, all of us who are more on the older side were looking around and saying, ‘Where are the young people? Like, who’s going to replace us? How can we find them?'” Now… the Northwest Conference, which is the Northwest Northwest Astrological Conference, is in Seattle every year. Last year sold out — 500 people registered, and over half of them were brand new to the Norwalk conference and had never been to a conference before. That’s very unusual.”
Recent years have also given rise to the celebrity astrologist — people like Chani Nicholas, who also has her own app and a popular book, and Aliza Kelly, who hosts a few different astrology shows and segments.
There’s also a smaller group of astrology entrepreneurs who started to see a huge boom in business during the pandemic. Astrologers are partnering with businesses and doing brand deals like working with lingerie companies to help customers find items based on their zodiac sign.
“In the past, there were certainly some astrologers who were financially successful,” Taylor said. “I mean, I have supported myself and my family as a single mother since the very beginning. So, it was possible to make a living, and many astrologers made a living, but most of us… we were operating out of the back bedroom of our house or doing readings at the kitchen table. Now if you study astrology enough that you are competent and you set up your website and your social media accounts — yeah, you can be very successful with astrology.”
A Pew poll shows that almost 30% of Americans believe in astrology. Just to note, this isn’t to say astrology is a science, and there’s no evidence that someone’s zodiac sign actually correlates to personality. But, it does inform real-life decisions.
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“There are many different kinds of astrologers and many different calibers, and not just everybody is a good astrologer,” Taylor said. “If I have a certain fear about this direction of astrology and becoming so popular and widespread is that bad astrology can do a lot of harm.”
A study from 1982 conducted by psychologist Graham Tyson showed that people often turn to astrology when they’re stressed, and people are pretty stressed today. According to the American Psychological Association since 2014, millennials have been the most stressed generation.
David Gross, an executive at a New York-based advertising agency, convened the troops over Zoom this month to deliver a message he and his fellow partners were eager to share: It was time to think about coming back to the office.
Mr. Gross, 40, wasn’t sure how employees, many in their 20s and early 30s, would take it. The initial response — dead silence — wasn’t encouraging. Then one young man signaled he had a question. “Is the policy mandatory?” he wanted to know.
Yes, it is mandatory, for three days a week, he was told.
Thus began a tricky conversation at Anchor Worldwide, Mr. Gross’s firm, that is being replicated this summer at businesses big and small across the country. While workers of all ages have become accustomed to dialing in and skipping the wearying commute, younger ones have grown especially attached to the new way of doing business.
And in many cases, the decision to return pits older managers who view working in the office as the natural order of things against younger employees who’ve come to see operating remotely as completely normal in the 16 months since the pandemic hit. Some new hires have never gone into their employers’ workplace at all.
banking and finance, are taking a harder line and insisting workers young and old return. The chief executives of Wall Street giants like Morgan Stanley, Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan Chase have signaled they expect employees to go back to their cubicles and offices in the months ahead.
Other companies, most notably those in technology and media, are being more flexible. As much as Mr. Gross wants people back at his ad agency, he is worried about retaining young talent at a time when churn is increasing, so he has been making clear there is room for accommodation.
“We’re in a really progressive industry, and some companies have gone fully remote,” he explained. “You have to frame it in terms of flexibility.”
In a recent survey by the Conference Board, 55 percent of millennials, defined as people born between 1981 and 1996, questioned the wisdom of returning to the office. Among members of Generation X, born between 1965 and 1980, 45 percent had doubts about going back, while only 36 percent of baby boomers, born between 1946 and 1964, felt that way.
most concerned about their health and psychological well-being,” said Rebecca L. Ray, executive vice president for human capital at the Conference Board. “Companies would be well served to be as flexible as possible.”
Matthew Yeager, 33, quit his job as a web developer at an insurance company in May after it told him he needed to return to the office as vaccination rates in his city, Columbus, Ohio, were rising. He limited his job hunting to opportunities that offered fully remote work and, in June, started at a hiring and human resources company based in New York.
“It was tough because I really liked my job and the people I worked with, but I didn’t want to lose that flexibility of being able to work remotely,” Mr. Yeager said. “The office has all these distractions that are removed when you’re working from home.”
Mr. Yeager said he would also like the option to work remotely in any positions he considered in the future. “More companies should give the opportunity for people to work and be productive in the best way that they can,” he said.
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Even as the age split has managers looking for ways to persuade younger hires to venture back, there are other divides. Many parents and other caregivers are concerned about leaving home when school plans are still up in the air, a consideration that has disproportionately affected women during the pandemic.
At the same time, more than a few older workers welcome the flexibility of working from home after years in a cubicle, even as some in their 20s yearn for the camaraderie of the office or the dynamism of an urban setting.
I get to exercise in the morning, have breakfast with my kids, and coach little league in the evenings. Instead of sitting in an office building I get to wear shorts, walk our dog, and have lunch in my own kitchen.” Chad, Evanston, Ill.
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“With the leverage that employees have, and the proof that they can work from home, it’s hard to put the toothpaste back in the tube,” he said.
Fearful of losing one more junior employee in what has become a tight job market, Mr. Singer has allowed a young colleague to work from home one day a week with an understanding that they would revisit the issue in the future.
doctrinaire view that folks need to be in the office.”
Amanda Diaz, 28, feels relieved she doesn’t have to go back to the office, at least for now. She works for the health insurance company Humana in San Juan, P.R., but has been getting the job done in her home in Trujillo Alto, which is about a 40-minute drive from the office.
Humana offers its employees the option to work from the office or their home, and Ms. Diaz said she would continue to work remotely as long as she had the option.
“Think about all the time you spend getting ready and commuting to work,” she said. “Instead I’m using those two or so hours to prepare a healthy lunch, exercising or rest.”
Alexander Fleiss, 38, chief executive of the investment management firm Rebellion Research, said some employees had resisted going back into the office. He hopes peer pressure and the fear of missing out on a promotion for lack of face-to-face interactions entices people back.
“Those people might lose their jobs because of natural selection,” Mr. Fleiss said. He said he wouldn’t be surprised if workers began suing companies because they felt they had been laid off for refusing to go back to the office.
Mr. Fleiss also tries to persuade his staff members who are working on projects to come back by focusing on the benefits of face-to-face collaborations, but many employees would still rather stick to Zoom calls.
“If that’s what they want, that’s what they want,” he said. “You can’t force anyone to do anything these days. You can only urge.”
A few years ago, while on a work trip in Los Angeles, I hailed an Uber for a crosstown ride during rush hour. I knew it would be a long trip, and I steeled myself to fork over $60 or $70.
Instead, the app spit out a price that made my jaw drop: $16.
Experiences like these were common during the golden era of the Millennial Lifestyle Subsidy, which is what I like to call the period from roughly 2012 through early 2020, when many of the daily activities of big-city 20- and 30-somethings were being quietly underwritten by Silicon Valley venture capitalists.
For years, these subsidies allowed us to live Balenciaga lifestyles on Banana Republic budgets. Collectively, we took millions of cheap Uber and Lyft rides, shuttling ourselves around like bourgeois royalty while splitting the bill with those companies’ investors. We plunged MoviePass into bankruptcy by taking advantage of its $9.95-a-month, all-you-can-watch movie ticket deal, and took so many subsidized spin classes that ClassPass was forced to cancel its $99-a-month unlimited plan. We filled graveyards with the carcasses of food delivery start-ups — Maple, Sprig, SpoonRocket, Munchery — just by accepting their offers of underpriced gourmet meals.
tweeted, along with a screenshot of a receipt that showed he had spent nearly $250 on a ride to the airport.
“Airbnb got too much dip on they chip,” another Twitter user complained. “No one is gonna continue to pay $500 to stay in an apartment for two days when they can pay $300 for a hotel stay that has a pool, room service, free breakfast & cleaning everyday. Like get real lol.”
Some of these companies have been tightening their belts for years. But the pandemic seems to have emptied what was left of the bargain bin. The average Uber and Lyft ride costs 40 percent more than it did a year ago, according to Rakuten Intelligence, and food delivery apps like DoorDash and Grubhub have been steadily increasing their fees over the past year. The average daily rate of an Airbnb rental increased 35 percent in the first quarter of 2021, compared with the same quarter the year before, according to the company’s financial filings.
set up a $250 million “driver stimulus” fund — or doing away with them altogether.
I’ll confess that I gleefully took part in this subsidized economy for years. (My colleague Kara Swisher memorably called it “assisted living for millennials.”) I got my laundry delivered by Washio, my house cleaned by Homejoy and my car valet-parked by Luxe — all start-ups that promised cheap, revolutionary on-demand services but shut down after failing to turn a profit. I even bought a used car through a venture-backed start-up called Beepi, which offered white-glove service and mysteriously low prices, and which delivered the car to me wrapped in a giant bow, like you see in TV commercials. (Unsurprisingly, Beepi shut down in 2017, after burning through $150 million in venture capital.)
These subsidies don’t always end badly for investors. Some venture-backed companies, like Uber and DoorDash, have been able to grit it out until their I.P.O.s, making good on their promise that investors would eventually see a return on their money. Other companies have been acquired or been able to successfully raise their prices without scaring customers away.
Uber, which raised nearly $20 billion in venture capital before going public, may be the best-known example of an investor-subsidized service. During a stretch of 2015, the company was burning $1 million a week in driver and rider incentives in San Francisco alone, according to reporting by BuzzFeed News.
But the clearest example of a jarring pivot to profitability might be the electric scooter business.
Remember scooters? Before the pandemic, you couldn’t walk down the sidewalk of a major American city without seeing one. Part of the reason they took off so quickly is that they were ludicrously cheap. Bird, the largest scooter start-up, charged $1 to start a ride, and then 15 cents a minute. For short trips, renting a scooter was often cheaper than taking the bus.
But those fees didn’t represent anything close to the true cost of a Bird ride. The scooters broke frequently and needed constant replacing, and the company was shoveling money out the door just to keep its service going. As of 2019, Bird was losing $9.66 for every $10 it made on rides, according to a recent investor presentation. That is a shocking number, and the kind of sustained losses that are possible only for a Silicon Valley start-up with extremely patient investors. (Imagine a deli that charged $10 for a sandwich whose ingredients cost $19.66, and then imagine how long that deli would stay in business.)
Pandemic-related losses, coupled with the pressure to turn a profit, forced Bird to trim its sails. It raised its prices — a Bird now costs as much as $1 plus 42 cents a minute in some cities — built more durable scooters and revamped its fleet management system. During the second half of 2020, the company made $1.43 in profit for every $10 ride.
“DoorDash and Pizza Arbitrage,” about the time he realized that DoorDash was selling pizzas from his friend’s restaurant for $16 while paying the restaurant $24 per pizza, and proceeded to order dozens of pizzas from the restaurant while pocketing the $8 difference, stands as a classic of the genre.)
But it’s hard to fault these investors for wanting their companies to turn a profit. And, at a broader level, it’s probably good to find more efficient uses for capital than giving discounts to affluent urbanites.
Back in 2018, I wrote that the entire economy was starting to resemble MoviePass, the subscription service whose irresistible, deeply unprofitable offer of daily movie tickets for a flat $9.95 subscription fee paved the way for its decline. Companies like MoviePass, I thought, were trying to defy the laws of gravity with business models that assumed that if they achieved enormous scale, they’d be able to flip a switch and start making money at some point down the line. (This philosophy, which was more or less invented by Amazon, is now known in tech circles as “blitzscaling.”)
There is still plenty of irrationality in the market, and some start-ups still burn huge piles of money in search of growth. But as these companies mature, they seem to be discovering the benefits of financial discipline. Uber lost only $108 million in the first quarter of 2021 — a change partly attributable to the sale of its autonomous driving unit, and a vast improvement, believe it or not, over the same quarter last year, when it lost $3 billion. Both Uber and Lyft have pledged to become profitable on an adjusted basis this year. Lime, Bird’s main electric scooter competitor, turned its first quarterly profit last year, and Bird — which recently filed to go public through a SPAC at a $2.3 billion valuation — has projected better economics in the years ahead.
Profits are good for investors, of course. And while it’s painful to pay subsidy-free prices for our extravagances, there’s also a certain justice to it. Hiring a private driver to shuttle you across Los Angeles during rush hour should cost more than $16, if everyone in that transaction is being fairly compensated. Getting someone to clean your house, do your laundry or deliver your dinner should be a luxury, if there’s no exploitation involved. The fact that some high-end services are no longer easily affordable by the merely semi-affluent may seem like a worrying development, but maybe it’s a sign of progress.
The music should be pumping and the burgers and jerk chicken wings flying out of the kitchen this holiday weekend at the Rambler Kitchen and Tap in the North Center neighborhood of Chicago.
To wash it down, patrons might go with a mixed drink or one of the 20 craft beers the bar sells. But many will order a hard seltzer. The Rambler expects to sell close to 500 cans in flavors like peach, pineapple and grapefruit pomelo.
“We’ll sell a lot of buckets of White Claw and Truly seltzers,” said Sam Stone, a co-owner of the Rambler. “It’s going to be a big summer for hard seltzer.”
The Memorial Day weekend kicks off what many hope will be a more normal summer, when kids start counting down the number of days left in school, people head back to the beach and grills heat up for backyard parties that went poof last year because of the pandemic. And for the hard seltzer industry, it’s the start of a dizzying period when dozens of old and new competitors vie to be the boozy, bubbly drink of the season.
ad campaign with the British pop singer Dua Lipa. This spring, the hip-hop star Travis Scott released Cacti, a seltzer made with blue agave syrup, in a partnership with Anheuser-Busch. It quickly sold out in many locations.
“People were lining up outside of the stores to buy Cacti and share pictures of themselves with their carts full of Cacti,” said Marcel Marcondes, the chief marketing officer for Anheuser-Busch.
Also this spring, Topo Chico Hard Seltzer was released. A partnership between Coca-Cola and Molson Coors Beverage, it hit shelves in 16 markets across the country, chasing the cult following of Topo Chico’s seltzer water in the South.
“I feel like I can walk into a party saying, ‘Oh, yeah, I brought the Topo Chico,’” said Dane Cardiel, 32, who works in business development for a podcast company and lives in Esopus, N.Y., about 60 miles south of Albany.
Today in Business
How flavored bubbly water with alcohol became a national phenomenon is partly due to social media videos that went viral and clever marketing that sold hard seltzers as a “healthier” alcohol choice.
White Claw’s slim cans prominently state that the drinks contain only 100 calories, are gluten free and have only two grams each of carbohydrates and sugar. The brand is owned by the Canadian billionaire Anthony von Mandl, who created Mike’s Hard Lemonade.
“The health and wellness element is front and center in terms of the visual marketing,” said Vivien Azer, an analyst at the Cowen investment firm. “Every brand’s packaging features its relatively low carb and sugar data.”
On top of that, the alcohol content in most hard seltzers, about 5 percent, or the same as 12 ounces of a typical beer, is less than a glass of wine or a mixed drink. That makes it easier for people to sip at a party or while watching a game without getting intoxicated or winding up with the belly-full-of-beer feeling.
“It’s a nice drink for an afternoon on the patio,” said Shelley Majeres, the general manager of Blake Street Tavern in downtown Denver. “You can drink four or five of them in an afternoon and not have a big hangover or get really drunk.”
Blake Street, an 18,000-square-foot sports bar, started selling hard seltzers two years ago. Today, they make up about 20 percent of its can and bottle sales.
The industry has also neatly sidestepped the gender issue that plagued earlier, lighter alcoholic alternatives like Zima, which became popular with women but struggled to be adopted by men.
“I’ve got just as many men as women drinking it,” said Nick Zeto, the owner of Boston Beer Garden in Naples, Fla. “And it started with the millennials, but now I have people in their 40s, 50s and 60s ordering it.”
That kind of broad appeal is attractive to beer, wine and spirits companies.
“We view ourselves as the challenger brand,” said Michelle St. Jacques, the chief marketing officer of Molson Coors, which has been making beer since the late 1700s but hopes to end this year with 10 percent of the hard seltzer market.
Last spring, the company released Vizzy, a hard seltzer that contains vitamin C. Top Chico came this spring. “We feel like we’re making great progress in seltzer by not trying to bring me-too products, but rather products and brands that have a clear difference,” Ms. St. Jacques said.
While grocery and liquor stores have made plenty of space available to the hard seltzer brands that people drink at home, the competition to get into restaurants and bars is fierce. Most want to offer only two or three brands to their customers.
“Oh, my god, I get presented with new hard seltzer whenever they can get my attention,” said Mr. Stone, who sells six brands at the Rambler. The crowd favorite, he said, is the vodka-based High Noon Sun Sips peach, made by E.&J. Gallo Winery. “Everybody, from the big brands to small, new ones, are getting into the hard seltzer game.”
When Allegra Brochin and her boyfriend adopted Sprinkles, a feisty white Maltese, last year, they set about finding pet care.
“I immediately started looking,” said Ms. Brochin, 23, who works as a communications coordinator for Michael Kors in New York.
She saw ads for Bond Vet pop up on her Instagram feed, and when she took in Sprinkles for her shots, she was won over by the look and feel of the clinic, “especially when it’s for a pet you care about and feel responsible for,” she said.
Ms. Brochin is not alone in her devotion to her pandemic pet. More than 12.6 million households adopted animals from March to December of last year, according to the American Pet Products Association, helping to propel an increase in visits and revenue to veterinary offices, as new owners took pets in for their first checkup.
pet care business is riding a growth spurt: Morgan Stanley projected that it would be a $275 billion industry in 2030, up from $100 billion in 2019, with vet care the fastest-growing segment over the next decade.
“Ten years ago, there was a baby boom,” Arash Danialifar, chief executive of GD Realty Group, a California company that has leased space to a veterinary start-up, said about the proliferation of shops selling children’s fashion. “Now it’s all about pets.”
Small Door Veterinary recently announced it had raised $20 million and planned to go from a single location to 25 by 2025. The firm operates on a membership model, with 24/7 telemedicine and waiting areas with arched, white oak-paneled alcoves that give owners and their pets an intimate place to chill before appointments. Designed by Alda Ly Architecture, the clinics are rented storefronts of 2,000 to 3,000 square feet and cost about $1 million to kit out, said Josh Guttman, Small Door’s co-founder and chief executive.
Bond Vet, another New York start-up, models itself on CityMD clinics; it recently raised $17 million and now has six offices, including its first suburban location, in Garden City on Long Island.
Modern Animal, has an office in a high-end shopping district in West Hollywood, with three more to come in the city by year’s end and a dozen clinics in California by 2022, said the company’s founder and chief executive, Steven Eidelman.
new pet owners during the pandemic. Seventy-six percent of millennials own pets, according to a recent survey, and they are spending generously on their charges.
Terravet Real Estate Solutions, founded in 2016, now owns more than 100 buildings in 30 states, many of them housing practices owned by consolidators. For instance, Terravet owns the building housing CountryChase Veterinary Hospital in Tampa, Fla., and the American Veterinary Group, which operates practices across the South, owns the business.
Hound Properties, founded two years ago, has been buying buildings with an investor-backed fund. And Vetley Capital, started this year, has a portfolio of 20 buildings in nine states, most of them on the small side, ranging from 2,500 to 4,000 square feet and costing around $1 million, said Zach Goldman, the company’s founder and president.
The price of real estate has risen, but the returns are generally modest. “It’s the ultimate slow and steady income,” said Tripp Stewart, co-founder and chief executive of Hound Properties, who is also a practicing vet.
Despite the interest, there are obstacles to opening pet hospitals. Zoning sometimes limits their locations. In Pasadena, Calif., GD Realty had to request a zoning change for Modern Animal.
Because such businesses revolve around animal doctors, who are in demand as veterinary companies expand, there are shortages of vets in some parts of the country, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association.
The improvements in vet facilities are thus aimed not only at pets and their owners, but also at the doctors themselves, who can choose where they want to work.
“It used to be that when you went to a vet, it was a family vet who worked out of a kitchen in an old house,” said Dr. Stewart. “Today, you’re not going to attract new young vets to an old house.”
Soaring prices and a shortage of available homes are starting to hold back the blazing U.S. housing market.
Sales of existing homes fell 2.7 percent in April, the National Association of Realtors said Friday. It was the third straight monthly decline after a surge in transactions earlier in the pandemic.
Mortgage rates have crept up since the start of the year, which has likely put a crimp in demand. But the main force holding back sales isn’t a lack of willing buyers. It is a lack of homes for them to buy — especially at prices they can afford.
The median sales price of an existing home was $341,600 in April, up 19.1 percent from a year earlier. Both the price and the increase were record highs. The number of homes on the market rose in April but was down 20.5 percent from a year ago and remained close to a record low.
gone for more than their asking price, up from about a quarter a year ago.
“Even if demand comes down, supply is the issue, and until we see more homes come on the market, that’s going to limit sales,” said Glenn Kelman, Redfin’s chief executive. “When you meet a new buyer you almost say, ‘Good luck.’”
The increase in remote work during the pandemic has led to an increase in demand for homes, particularly outside of city centers. That demand has remained as the economy has begun to reopen, even as millions of millennials are reaching the age when Americans have historically looked to buy homes. But the combination of high prices and limited inventories is making it especially hard for young people to get into the housing market.
“First-time buyers in particular are having trouble securing that first home for a multitude of reasons, including not enough affordable properties, competition with cash buyers and properties leaving the market at such a rapid pace,” Lawrence Yun, chief economist for the National Association of Realtors, said in a statement.