DBusiness Daily Update: U-M Survey: Consumer Confidence Up in December Pre-Omicron, and More

Our roundup of the latest news from metro Detroit and Michigan businesses as well as announcements from government agencies, including updates about the COVID-19 pandemic. To share a business or nonprofit story, please send us a message.
Masked woman shopping in the produce section of a grocery store
Prior to the spread of the COVID-19 Omicron variant, consumers were more optimistic in December. // Stock photo

Our roundup of the latest news from metro Detroit and Michigan businesses as well as announcements from government agencies, including updates about the COVID-19 pandemic. To share a business or nonprofit story, please send us a message.

U-M Survey: Consumer Confidence Up in December Pre-Omicron

Consumers were slightly more optimistic about economic conditions in the December, according to the University of Michigan Surveys of Consumers, but nearly all the data were collected prior to the rapid spread of Omicron in the U.S.

While it is likely that confidence will decline in the month ahead, it is simply too early to judge the eventual impact of Omicron on prices, incomes, and employment, says Richard Curtin, a University of Michigan economist and director of the surveys. The most positive change recorded in December was that the gain was entirely due to rising optimism among households in the bottom third of the income distribution.

Their renewed hopefulness was due to higher expected income gains during 2022, Curtin says. Those anticipated gains, however, may be vulnerable to the impact of the rapidly spreading Omicron variant on hours worked.

Moreover, inflation already has eroded living standards, with lower income households suffering the biggest relative setbacks. Declining inflation-adjusted incomes, lower savings balances, and potential post-holiday spending cutbacks are likely to slow the pace of growth in the overall economy in the first half of 2022, according to Curtin.

“The best news was the anticipated growth in incomes among households in the bottom third of the distribution,” he says. “It was due to a 5.9 percent boost in 2022 Social Security payments as well as higher expected income gains among the youngest workers.

“Unfortunately, the extremely regressive nature of inflation has also meant that even these gains will leave these households without inflation-adjusted income gains. Moreover, Omicron is likely to continue to put upward pressure on prices as well as weaken the pace of economic growth. The Fed must rebalance policies to both reduce inflationary pressures and to counter any overall weakness in the economy.”

Incomes among the bottom third were expected to rise by 2.8 percent in 2022, up from 1.8 percent last December, and the highest level since 2.9 percent was recorded in 1999. There have only been five surveys in the past half-century that income expectations among low-income households have exceeded the December level.

The announced increase in Social Security payments of 5.9 percent in 2022 was partly responsible for the gain as well as the expected wage increases among the youngest workers of 5 percent, Curtin says. Unfortunately, these gains will be offset by inflation.

When asked whether inflation or unemployment was the more serious problem facing the nation, three-quarters of all consumers picked inflation. Just 15 percent of all consumers anticipated that their household’s income would rise faster than inflation in the year-end survey. This was the lowest figure recorded in eight years.

Complaints that rising prices had lowered their living standards were voiced by 27 percent of households, the highest in nine years.

Workplace Challenges Likely to Continue in 2022

Emerging legal issues and anticipated trends impacting employers do not promise any near-term relief from the challenges employers faced in 2020 and 2021, according to Nemeth Law, a Detroit-based labor and employment law firm.

“The pandemic has put the traditional workplace under a microscope,” says Deborah Brouwer, co-managing partner of the firm. “Every work schedule, office opening or closing, vaccine policy, and hiring or firing method, is being explored, publicized, and emulated or tossed. Employers are desperate to find solutions that turn the myriad problems spawned by the pandemic into opportunities for improvement.”

Employees and employers want certainty, Brouwer says, but these are uncertain times.

Functioning well in an uncertain environment requires flexibility — and employers are focusing on five key areas in the employment space:

  • Keeping staff on board by offering as much flexibility as possible with onsite/hybrid/remote working arrangements and improving work-life balance in general.
  • Hiring new staff that will comply with the employer’s health and safety policies and procedures while understanding that many jobs simply cannot be done remotely.
  • Creating and enforcing health and safety policies that meet the employer’s specific and unique needs while remaining flexible enough to quickly change to comply with constantly evolving federal, state, and local requirements and recommendations (which includes efficiently and effectively managing requests for accommodation from employees unable to comply).
  • Balancing the demand for increased wages and bonuses with the financial realities of the company.
  • Managing stress among employees caused not only by the pandemic but by issues outside the workplace, such as school shootings, inflation, and political divisiveness.

In a December 2020 press release, Terry Bonnette, co-managing partner at Nemeth Law, who says he typically fields more than 50 calls a week from clients seeking counseling on a variety of employment topics, said, “… 2020 may be over, but all of the workplace challenges it created are not … it is hard for employers to keep track of all the moving pieces.” Bonnette says the quote still is applicable today.

“It’s a bit like the movie ‘Groundhog Day,” he says. “As the pandemic stretches on, the questions are all variations on a theme — almost all involving some sort of COVID-19 variable.”

Jim Harbaugh Michigan Wolverines Bobblehead Now Available

The National Bobblehead Hall of Fame and Museum has released an officially licensed, limited-edition bobblehead of University of Michigan football coach Jim Harbaugh for sale.

The release comes ahead of Michigan’s College Football Playoff Semifinal Game Friday evening against the University of Georgia. Harbaugh recently was named The Associated Press College Football Coach of the Year — the first Michigan coach to ever win the award — after leading the Wolverines to their first Big Ten Conference title in 17 years and the school’s first berth in the College Football Playoff.

The bobbleheads are $40 each plus $8 shipping and are available here.

Grand Rapids Film School Changes Name, Buys Building

Compass College of Cinematic Arts in Grand Rapids has changed its name to the Compass College of Film & Media as it begins its 25th year of operation.

The not-for-profit college also has a new slogan — “Mission in Motion” — and is expanding its operation.

Compass had been leasing space in the building with ArtPrize, but at the end of 2020 ArtPrize moved out and the college purchased the building and began using the entire facility.

“We looked at 27 buildings in the area, but we felt this building, with the 166-seat theater, tall ceilings and plenty of flex space, and highly visible area of the city is where God wanted us to be,” says Jay Greer, president of the faith-based college. “Soon after ArtPrize moved, we created a 2,500+ SF soundstage and green screen stage so our students could get the most professional experience possible.”

Compass has already started renovations to the theater space, with the purchase and installation of a new movie projector and acoustic treatments, with sound and video systems to follow.

“Video storytelling isn’t just for Hollywood anymore,” Greer says. “Our roots are based in traditional cinematic arts, but many of our graduates apply their degrees in marketing and advertising, corporate videos, streaming video programs, ministries, digital communications, and major brand companies.

“The media industry is growing 13 percent annually. Innovative storytelling is constantly evolving and so is the technology. Compass College of Film & Media continues to keep stride with the industry and offer the most hands-on college learning experience possible using technology and equipment that the professionals are using.”

For more information, visit here.