- The stimulus effect… Since the third stimmy landed in March (another $1.9T), the US economy has rebounded hard. Spending boomed thanks to extra $$$ for consumers, stocks rallied to new highs, and unemployment has fallen to near pre-pandemic levels. But as the economy revved up, supply issues abounded (#EverythingShortage) and prices soared. 2021 was all about stimulating spending; 2022 could be about cooling. The Fed plans to hike interest rates three times in the new year to tamp down inflation, which hit a 39-year high last month. Meanwhile, JP Morgan Chase believes 22 will bring a full global recovery.
- Meme mania… Investing gained unprecedented cultural relevance this year as Americans sat at home with extra cash and more ways than ever to participate in markets. In January, social-driven buying campaigns helped lead to rising prices of “meme stocks” like Gamestop , AMC and Nokia — and later meme-related cryptos like Dogecoin , Shiba, and short lived Squid coin, which turned out to be a scam. But meme mania is just one chapter in the rise of the retail investor: Retail investors accounted for an estimated 23 percent of all US equity trading this year, up double from 2019.
- Vaccination nation… December 2020: The US Covid vaccine rollout begins, starting with essential workers and high-risk groups. Since then, vax access has majorly expanded (even to kids). The first half of the rollout was all about “carrots” — think: free Krispy Kreme incentives. The second was “sticks”: Corporations like CVS, McDonalds , and Walmart mandated shots for some employees, while others required unvaccinated employees to pay more for health insurance. In November, President Biden announced vax mandates for all employers with 100 or more workers. Now 60 percent of Americans are fully vaxxed, and nearly a third have gotten a booster. But global Covid deaths this year surpassed 2020’s total toll by June, and now Omicron is spreading fast.
- Race to the metaverse… “That’s so meta” took on new meaning. In October, Facebook became “Meta” to double down on its vision for an internet you can be inside of — from VR gaming worlds to virtual offices and meta-malls. Tech titans like Microsoft, Roblex and Nvidia are also racing to claim their stake in the ’Verse, which could be the future of work, entertainment, and commerce. Mark Zuckerberg hopes that by 2030 his metaverse will reach 1B people. But it faces many hurdles to becoming (meta) reality.
- Trillion-dollar milestones… Tech giants got even giant-er as pandemic scrolly-tappy habits stuck. Apple is close to becoming earth’s first $3T company, only 16 months after hitting $2T. Microsoft passed $2T in June as the cloud boom continued, and in November Google briefly surpassed the double-trillion mark (thanks, YouTube bingeing). Even Teala momentarily joined the four-comma club. The uberwealthy also had a banner year: Billionaires grew $1.6T richer. In 2022, interest-rate hikes plus Biden-led tax increases could cut into gains for tech powerhouses and the deep-pocketed.
- Labor gains leverage… from strikes to $15 minimum wages. Power shifted to workers as companies scrambled to hire during the labor shortage. Covid fears, childcare needs, and extra unemployment benefits kept many home, while the pandemic changed priorities. Job openings soared as workers looked for better options. Corporate behemoths like Target and Walmart engaged in a battle of benefits, hiking wages and dangling perks such as free college tuition. As workers demanded better conditions, union popularity hit a 56-year high (even Starbs has one now). With a record 11M job openings on one side and a low 4.2% unemployment rate on the other, emboldened workers have negotiated 4.8 percent higher wages this year, on average.