The coronavirus pandemic has had a very unequal financial impact on people. Those who have been laid off, or been forced to close their businesses altogether, because of COVID-19 shutdown orders have been devastated. Many white-collar workers who can do their jobs remotely, on the other hand, are looking back on 2020 as a year where their financial situations surprisingly improved. They didn’t spend as much on discretionary items such as travel, dining out, and trips to the corner tavern, paid off some or all of their credit card bills, and saw their 401(k) accounts enjoy a solid year in the stock market.
Another area of unequal impact is on housing and real estate prices. House prices are up nationally, and the biggest increases are concentrated in the heartland — in the Midwest, the states of the Great Plains, and the Southwest and Mountain West. Cities like Cleveland, Cincinnati, Indianapolis, Boise, and Kansas City have seen 10 percent jumps in house prices over the last year. And the rate of increase in house prices in those markets seems to be escalating.
Analysts attribute the jump to people fleeing the crowded coasts for middle America, where living is a bit less concentrated and house prices are a lot more reasonable. You’re going to get a lot more housing bang for your buck away from the coastal cities. And with remote work becoming the “new normal” for many people — a trend that isn’t likely to change even when vaccines become widespread — people are seeing new possibilities and opportunities in living in flyover country. Salaries are going to go a lot farther in establishing a really nice lifestyle in a place like Kansas City than they would in, say, San Francisco.
The American economy is a huge, sprawling, complicated thing, and expert predictions about it are often dead wrong. One thing is clear, however: unequal economic impacts aren’t good for our society, or sustainable long term. It’s interesting that some people have seen their financial situations improve, and that big-picture demographic changes seem to be underway, but we can’t forget those people who have been directly harmed by shutdown orders. The vaccine rollout, and the lifting of restrictions on bars, restaurants, sporting events, and live music performances, can’t happen soon enough.