June 16, 2021

Covering COVID-19 is a daily Poynter briefing of story ideas about the coronavirus and other timely topics for journalists, written by senior faculty Al Tompkins. Sign up here to have it delivered to your inbox every weekday morning.

So, your Reddit buddies told you to buy lumber futures, eh? Well, some tough love here. Lumber prices are dropping like a stack of two-by-sixes.

Last week, lumber prices saw their biggest drop ever, and the beat goes on this week. Lumber prices are nearly half what they were a year ago when sawmills and trucking companies shut down for a while.

This is very good news for homebuilders. Bank of America estimates the recent increase in lumber prices raised the cost of a new home by $34,000. You can see the trends for the last year and the last week:

(Chicago Board of Trade)

For the last two weeks, prices have dropped nearly every day, falling below $1,000 per 1,000 board feet for the first time in a year on Monday. Lumber futures for delivery in July were trading at $967 on Tuesday, compared to a peak of $1,670.50 in May 2021 and $422.80 in February 2020.

Lumber futures per 1,000 board feet for the last week (Chicago Board of Trade)

Bloomberg reports:

Still, while lumber prices may finally be pulling back from stratospheric highs, don’t look for a return to pre-pandemic levels any time soon, according to BMO Capital Markets.

“‘Nosebleed’ prices won’t last, but strong demand, a limited supply response and a rising cost curve all point to above-trend prices for at least the next 12-24 months,” BMO analyst Mark Wilde said in a note.

With strong U.S. home building expected to last for several years, lumber prices will likely remain above $500 per 1,000 board feet for the next five to eight years, said Scott Reaves, forest operations director at Domain Timber Advisor

“We’re at a new normal,” Reaves said in a phone interview. “We’re going to see this sustained level of housing demand and a new normal for a pricing floor in lumber.”

Is there really going to be a ‘Great Resignation Migration of 2021?’

Employers nationwide are bracing for what may be a pent-up year of resignations as people who stayed put in 2020 look for greener pastures after the pandemic. Forbes reports:

New data from workforce analytics company, Visier confirms that the impending “great resignation” is real and happening sooner than originally thought. In a recent analysis of anonymized, standardized workforce data of over nine million employee records from more than 4,000 companies, Visier found that resignation rates hit a significant spike from July to September — even during the pandemic. Trend data for 2021 shows that resignation rates have already begun to climb, signaling an even more pronounced increase this year than previous years, especially in the fields of tech and healthcare.

But there are doubters. The phrase “resignation migration” originated with Texas A&M University professor Anthony Klotz, who opined, “When there’s uncertainty, people tend to stay put, so there are pent-up resignations that didn’t happen over the past year.”

Employee surveys like the one conducted by insurance giant Prudential have found “one in three American workers would not want to work for an employer that required them to be onsite full time” and a fourth of workers said they might be on the move once the pandemic ends. But talk is cheap, and we will see if people really give up what they have for new jobs.

The real resignation rush may be among managers. Resignations among managers rose 12% in 2020, Visier says. And July through September are key months for resignations. People tend to settle in before autumn.

Uber and Lyft prices are rising

Ride-sharing services say a driver shortage is one factor behind their new higher rates. We see these occasional higher rates in what they call “surge pricing” which, as you probably know, happens when there is a spike in demand, like a sporting event or concert. But now the surge is more like a trend.

The New York Times reports:

Customers around the country say they have been startled by the price jumps. In some cases, they say, their Uber rides from airports cost as much as their plane tickets.

Uber and its top rival, Lyft, acknowledge that prices are up and wait times are longer, but they won’t provide specifics. A recent analysis by the research firm Rakuten Intelligence found that the cost of a ride was 37 percent higher in March than it was a year ago. In April, the cost was up 40 percent.

Los Angeles Magazine notes:

Wait times for a ride have shot up to 20, 30, 40 minutes, and fares have followed suit. It’s not unusual to find that a trip from downtown L.A. to LAX, which should normally range between $40 and $50, is suddenly $120 to $160.

According to Ben Valdez, who’s driven for Uber and Lyft for six years, drivers have been steadily leaving the platforms as Uber and Lyft have consistently slashed pay rates. Where drivers were once making 60 cents a mile with Uber, “at LAX, they dropped it from 60 to 32 cents,” Valdez says. “And for San Diego, they dropped it to 34 cents a mile. The IRS estimates that the cost is 57 cents per mile [for drivers], so we’re getting paid below whatever the IRS says operating costs should be.”

Valdez, who is also a member of Rideshare Drivers United, explains that rates have gotten so bad that most drivers quit after a short time driving. “Turnover is anywhere between three months to about six months for people to realize, hey, this is not worth it,” Valdez continues. “That contributes to a constant influx of new drivers. Uber will put out these incentives for new drivers to come in and they’ll say, ‘We’ll guarantee that you’ll make X amount of money.’” The new drivers will run their course, then get cycled out.

Nevada banned surge pricing during the height of the pandemic. But recently, Gov. Steve Sisolak lifted that ban, which allows ride-share companies in Las Vegas and beyond to charge a higher than normal rate when they want to.

Will taxis come back after the pandemic?

Nicolae Hent sits for a portrait in his taxi outside a midtown Manhattan hotel, Friday, March 19, 2021, in New York. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

Partly because ride-sharing costs are rising, traditional cabs are making a comeback in some places. The New York Post reports:

According to the Taxi and Limousine Commission, there were 4,900 yellow cabs cruising the city in April. While that’s up slightly from 4,700 in March — it’s less than half the 11,400 cabs that were available in February 2020, before lockdowns.

Indeed, one Queens taxi dispatcher who asked not to be named said that about 50 percent of his company’s drivers are currently on the road, up from 15 percent or 20 percent when the pandemic first hit. He hopes to get back to full capacity by year’s end, but obstacles remain — particularly the $300-a-week federal sweetener to jobless benefits in New York.

KGO-TV in San Francisco says some former ride-share drivers are now food delivery drivers. Commuters may find that traditional taxis, which are price-regulated, may be less expensive than ride-sharing cars.

Navigating COVID-19 safety for children

Epidemiologist Katelyn Jetelina took all of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidance so far and distilled the advice about how to navigate the world that unvaccinated children are living in this summer.

(Your Local Epidemiologist)

What’s the deal with Eric Clapton?

Eric Clapton in December 2018. (Photo: KGC-138/STAR MAX/IPx)

Eric Clapton is in the headlines trashing COVID-19 vaccines just before he goes on an American tour.

Clapton has been publicly blaming the AstraZeneca vaccine for numbness in his hands, never mind that he says he had been having peripheral neuropathy problems before he even received the shot. He said as far back as 2016 that he was having hearing problems and problems with numbness in his hands. In 2013, he canceled concerts because of back pain.

And it is not that unusual. The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke says an estimated 20 million people in the United States have some form of peripheral neuropathy.

Clapton has made unfounded claims about how vaccines cause fertility problems, even while medical experts say there is no data to support such statements.

Clapton is also about to release a new deluxe anniversary edition of his music this summer, so maybe he figures there is no such thing as bad news, even if spreading vaccine rumors needlessly scares people.

The way we live now

The U.S. Census Bureau highlighted an interesting picture of American families that shows less than a fourth of young parents with children live with a spouse. In fact, almost as many young parents now live without a partner or spouse in the house.

(U.S. Census Bureau)

The data does not indicate these young parents and children are living alone. The Census Bureau says, “For example, about 57.4% of solo parents lived with one or both of their own parents, significantly higher than the overall share (38.3%) of young parents in 2018.”

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Al Tompkins is one of America's most requested broadcast journalism and multimedia teachers and coaches. After nearly 30 years working as a reporter, photojournalist, producer,…
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