SWC’s Fast Five

COVID-19 vaccine passports get traction while the seasonal flu vanishes, the patchwork U.S. recovery stymies stimulus calculations as productivity takes a plunge not seen in nearly 40 years and, the case for a ninth public holiday – Super Bowl Monday.

So, here’s this week’s Fast Five:

1 A new term has entered the travel vocabulary: vaccine passport

This documentation proving you have been vaccinated against COVID-19 has lots of challenges, including creating a document or app that is accepted around the world, that protects privacy and is accessible to people regardless of their wealth or access to smartphones.

2 How much stimulus to fix the U.S. economy? It’s complicated.

Putting a price on what more is needed isn’t straightforward given uncertainty as to when immunization will return the economy to normal, how fast businesses will rehire or invest and how company and consumer preferences have changed. A silent player in the fracas is the patchwork nature of the recovery itself. It’s moving along briskly in some parts of the country, for some people and in some industries. It’s lagging badly in others.

3 Q4 2020 U.S. productivity falls by highest amount since 1981

Productivity, the amount of work per hour of output, has experienced major swings since the pandemic hit early last year. It is a key factor in boosting living standards because more efficiency allows employers to pay workers more without increasing inflation. It’s bad now but productivity has lagged since the 2008 financial crisis and economists are not sure why.

4 The flu goes silent as the COVID-19 pandemic flourishes

This time last year, close to 100 times as many flu cases had been identified in U.S. tests sent to the CDC. It is a welcome respite but the flu’s absence also is unsettling. Without flu cases to study, researchers have been starved of data crucial for developing vaccines and forecasting the next flu outbreak.

5 Super Bowl Monday – a case for making it the ninth public holiday

Having more public holidays means more four-day work weeks. Microsoft experimented with a four-day work week and found that productivity jumped 40 percent. Using this metric, we get an additional 3.2 days of additional work a year, purely by giving people the current eight federal holiday days off. If we bump that to nine, we’ll end up with almost an extra day of work.