OPINION

JUST PLAIN TALK: COVID changed us, economy, way of life — and still is

Buz Livingston
Buz Livingston

For the rest of my life, I'll always keep hand sanitizer around. Pre-COVID it was low-priority. It won't take a mask mandate to wear one when I'm on a plane, either. Half the time I flew, I ended up with the sniffles. Since musicians couldn't tour, live-streamed performances popped up. Livestreaming made me fully appreciate how talented people like Allison Moorer, James McMurtry, Mary Gauthier, and Todd Synder are. Yeah, it took COVID for me to dig Todd Synder. Pretty lame, I know.

The Wall Street Journal (June 26, 2021) explored several ways COVID changed industries and altered our economy likely forever. For example, to avoid in-person visits from nurses, life insurance companies increased the use of digital records. US life expectancy dropped one year in 2020. While the decline may not be permanent, the long-term impact COVID-19 has on life expectancy remains unknown. In addition, vaccination history has never been a big deal for life insurers, but that could change.

Last year saw more retail bankruptcies since The Great Recession of 2008-2009. While I'm a marginal technophobe, I've been an online shopper since the days of dial-up internet. You can dodge Amazon, sometimes. Retailers like Remington and Nike net more profit when selling directly to consumers. Look for companies with the clout to thumb their nose at Amazon to reach out directly to consumers. Conversely, Target announced a partnership with Levi Strauss to encourage the purchase of discretionary clothing along with essentials like toilet paper.

Thanks to a drop in enrollment coupled with a decline in room and board revenue, American colleges and universities saw income decline precipitously. Residential colleges aren't going extinct, but smaller, less well-funded ones face an uncertain future if tuition and enrollment pressures persist. The Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia warns revenue shortfalls could range from $70 billion to over $115 billion over the next five years. Like online shopping, I was an early adaptor to remote learning. The College for Financial Planning offered the CFP Education program online. Without it, I wouldn't have a job. However, informal, person-to-person learning can't be replicated as effectively via Zoom. Online higher education, though, is not going away. Every online student is one less student for a brick-and-mortar institution.

In addition to shopping and college, many companies have found remote work could be the new normal. Exurbs or vacation spots like South Walton have seen increased demand as people find they can work from any place with a secure internet connection.

Complain about big government all you like, but without the billions in government subsidies, the quick rollout of the COVID-19 vaccines would have been impossible. The drug industry has lobbied for more flexible regulation, and the success of COVID-19 vaccines could be a rallying cry.

We still have a long way to go, but things are getting better. Bring back the in-flight cocktails, pretty please.

You can't always get what you want, but Buz Livingston, CFP, can help you figure out what you need. For specific advice, visit livingstonfinancial.net or drop by 2050 West County Highway 30A, M1 Suite 230.