Predictions: Focusing the Crystal Ball on 2020

The year 2020 is creeping closer. But if you’re projecting economic forecasts and demographics for eight years from now, it seems like a lifetime away.

Neverthless, the fearless prognosticators at Kiplinger (the authors of weekly management decision-making letters and various other publications and products) consistently weigh in on future conditions. These are a few of their recent insights, in separate reports:

  • Don’t be shocked if inflation doubles, from 2% this year to 4% or a bit more by 2020. Higher interest rates will mean pricier mortages, about 8% compared to 4% now for a 30-year fixed rate loan. The homeownership rate will settle around 66%, higher than now but shy of the peak of 69% in 2006.
  • By 2020, health care will account for nearly one in nine U.S. jobs, adding more than 4 million jobs in the decade. Home health aides will be the fastest growth segment, but there will also be rising demand for registered nurses, physicians and surgeons.
  • Consumer spending in Africa will double by 2020 with the overall economy growing by 5% a year. Joining South Africa as growth hot spots will be Algeria, Egypt, Morocco, Nigeria and Kenya. Others to watch: Ghana, Tunisia and Botswana (with plenty of minerals and a stable government).
  • Staying global and extending the time out five more years (to 2025) will result in more megacities. Projected to have 20 million people within its borders by that time (no city today has reached that level) are Mexico City; Tokyo; Shanghai; Dhaka, Bangladesh; Sao Paulo, Brazil; and three Indian cities … Delhi, Mumbai and Kolkata. New York is listed as a possible ninth. Seven more Chinese cities will top 10 million each, according to the forecasters.

We might not remember to pull this or other predictions out eight years from now, but if we do I imagine the experts will be on target more than a few times.

Social Media Hot Spots for Job Seekers

The largest city in the United States has the highest volume of social media jobs. No surprise that New York is atop both lists (based on 2010 population figures and a recent report from OnwardSearch, an Internet marketing staffing company that used job postings as its basis for comparison).

Size isn’t always a determing factor when one views the rest of the list. The top 10 social media hot spots for jobs included the following (with their 2010 population ranks in parentheses):

  • 2. San Jose (10th in population)
  • 3. San Francisco (13th)
  • 5. Boston (23rd)
  • 6. Washington, D.C. (25th)
  • 7. Baltimore (22nd)
  • 9. Seattle (24th)

Rounding out the social media top 10: Los Angeles, 4; Chicago, 8; and Philadelphia, 10. Each are among the top five in population.

Go the opposite route and the largest cities not showing up on the social media top 20 are San Antonio (7th in population), Jacksonville (11th) and Indianapolis (12th). Making the biggest jumps (low population, top 20 in jobs) are Atlanta, Minneapolis and Miami.

What does all this prove? Not sure. There may have been a disconnect between city population totals and metro area job postings. Nevertheless, social media is here to stay (and the jobs are widespread).

Steak ‘n Shake to Shake Up Big Apple

Over 8 million New York City residents and its myriad visitors are getting a major awakening today — and it doesn’t involve New York Jets coach Rex Ryan verbally assaulting anyone. (Hooray!) Today, they’ll be privy to what Hoosiers have been enjoying for decades — the wonders of a Steak ‘n Shake steakburger.

Steak ‘n Shake®, one of the most beloved and longest established brands in the premium burger and milk shake segment of the restaurant industry, is introducing its first Steak ‘n Shake Signature® restaurant on January 12, in New York City, immediately next to the Ed Sullivan Theater in Times Square.

The new, contemporary Signature restaurant will be smaller in footprint than existing Steak ‘n Shake formats, and will feature a counter-service-only model with a simple menu, primarily serving popular core items such as Steakburgers(TM) and milk shakes.

In addition, the opening of the New York City location will debut "The Signature Steakburger(TM)" – a 6 ounce 100 percent USDA certified Organic Steakburger. The Signature Steakburger is made of only the top grade of the finest cuts of meat including ribeye and New York strip, devoid of preservatives, hormones, and antibiotics.

The restaurant also will feature thin ‘n crispy fries that are fresh, hand-cut daily in the restaurant, and created from the finest russet potatoes. The innovative concept will also feature beer and fine wine.

"Steak ‘n Shake Signature prepares 21st Century fare delivering only the finest in quality burgers, fries, and shakes," said Sardar Biglari, Chairman and CEO of Steak ‘n Shake. "The ambiance is unmatched. The architecture was designed for Signature to appear sleek, modern, exotic, inviting and suitable for everyone’s enjoyment."

Biglari continued, "There are a lot of consumers who grew up with Steak ‘n Shake but now reside in New York City. We are reconnecting with them as well as introducing the brand to all burger aficionados who seek authenticity and distinction in quality and taste. Restaurant-goers today are discerning — they want to know about the source and preparation of the food. We always strive to give our patrons the best in quality — and at the lowest possible prices. The Signature concept is unmatched because every item we are going to serve New Yorkers will be the finest: from our 100% organic Signature Steakburger to fresh-cut fries, and hand-dipped milkshakes — we simply do not compromise on quality."

Union Balks, Schools Lose $60 Million

Teacher unions have a strong stake in maintaining the status quo. Not exactly a news flash, I know, but this report from the Education Action Group outlines how far they will go (or what they will give up) to prevent evaluations of their members based on performance.

Makes one shake his or her head — at the very minimum.

A year and a half.

That’s how long New York City’s teachers union, the United Federation of Teachers, had to agree to a new teacher evaluation system that would have allowed New York Public Schools to receive $60 million in federal aid.

The money was part of President Obama’s Race to the Top initiative, and would have gone to help 33 of the district’s lowest-achieving schools hire more teachers and instructional aides. 

In order to get the money, all UFT needed to do was approve a teacher evaluation system that contained some measurement of student learning. The evaluations would have been used to determine teacher tenure and future employment.

But UFT President Michael Mulgrew insisted that an outside arbitrator be used to decide cases involving teachers who received an unsatisfactory job review.

Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott said that would only add “a burdensome procedural layer designed to keep ineffective teachers in the classroom,” thus undermining the entire purpose of the reform.

When it was clear late last week that the union would not budge on its demands, New York’s Education Commissioner John King Jr. pulled the plug on the $60 million.

 “The failure to reach agreements on evaluations leaves thousands of students mired in the same education morass,” King told the New York Post. “Until the grown-ups in charge start acting that way, it won’t be a very happy new year for the students.”

Like all teacher unions, the UFT always insists that it has the best interests of children at heart. But not even $60 million earmarked for improving bad schools was enough to persuade the union to beef up teacher accountability standards, which means the students lose on both counts.  

“Actions speak louder than words” might be an old adage, but it certainly applies here.


A Little Fun in the Sun … or On the Strip?

Though children might shriek “Disneyland” when asked where they want to go on vacation, the “adult play land” of Las Vegas is the top choice for travelers in 2011, according to results from Travel Leaders’ 2011 Travel Trends Survey.

Vegas earned the top ranking once again, following a dominance from 2003-2009. But the children aren’t far off in their desire for Mickey and Minnie Mouse as Orlando narrowly missed first place by 0.36%, with travelers choosing the bright lights of Vegas over the magical world of Disney. Orlando edged out Las Vegas as the top destination spot for 2010.

The survey, which was conducted from November 3-30 and used actual booking data and responses from Travel Leaders owners and agents, determined the top ten domestic destinations for 2011. The list also includes (in descending order): an Alaskan cruise; Honolulu and Kahului (Maui) – tied for fourth place; New York City; Washington D.C.; a Hawaiian cruise; San Francisco; and Chicago and Phoenix – tied for tenth place. International vacation destinations included spots like Cancun, Rome, London, Jamaica, the Dominican Republic and several Mexican and Caribbean cruises.

Survey results also point to the fact that people are spending more on travel than they did last year, highlighting an optimistic outlook for 2011. The findings show that just over half of Travel Leaders clients will spend more this year on travel than they did in 2010, while about 38% will spend the same amount. That’s good news for the oft-struggling travel industry.

Let’s hear your top travel destinations for 2011: Will your children be successful at pestering you into taking them to Disneyland? Or, will what happens in Vegas, stay in Vegas?

A Tie Between Testing and Tenure

Education changes are underway in many places — possibly including New York City. Mayor Michael Bloomberg wants to use student test scores as one factor in teacher tenure decisions.

The fight with the teachers’ union is expected to be bitter. But Bloomberg makes an excellent point in the closing quote below, as reported by the New York Times:

The city already uses test scores in evaluating the system: to determine teacher and principal bonus pay, to assign the A through F letter grades that schools receive and to decide which schools are shut down for poor performance. The mayor is now putting even more weight behind those scores by using them to decide which teachers should stay and which should go.

The Bloomberg administration contends that it already has the power to use test scores in tenure decisions. But, he said that the Legislature should require all districts in the state to evaluate teachers and principals with “data-driven systems,” one of the factors Education Secretary Arne Duncan will use in deciding which states will receive Race to the Top grants.

The mayor also said the state should allow teacher layoffs based on performance rather than seniority, as they are now.

“The only thing worse than having to lay off teachers would be laying off great teachers instead of failing teachers,” Mr. Bloomberg said. “With a transparent new evaluation system, principals would have the ability to make layoffs based on merit — but only if the State Legislature gives us the authority to do it.”

New York City Schools See Benefits of Making Kids Earn Promotion

The Foundry blog of the Heritage Foundation has an interesting post about the gains New York City schools have made by not allowing undeserving students to move forward. They write:

New evidence shows that ending social promotion – the practice of allowing students to advance a grade level without having mastered the content of their current grade – is having a positive result in student testing. A new study released on October 15th by the RAND corp. shows how New York City seventh graders who were held back as fifth graders have made academic gains.

The study, which looks at the effectiveness of the New York City Department of Education’s 2003 grade promotion policy, finds that fifth-graders who were held back due to low testing scores in math and language arts tested better as seventh-graders than did their peers who also tested low but advanced to grade six anyway. The policy, which put an end to social promotion for fifth-graders in 2003-04, has since been expanded to include grades five through eight.

Students in the Big Apple aren’t the only benefactors of the new policy. New York City Schools’ Chancellor Joel Klein takes notice of the success Florida has also had by ending social promotion. Klein writes about the similarities that exist between the policies Florida has implemented and those New York City is trying to implement in Education Next:

“Like Florida’s schools, New York City’s serve a high-needs population. But we are not allowing demographics to define our outcomes. Since 2002, our students have made steady progress. Today, far more students are meeting and exceeding standards in math and reading. We’ve substantially narrowed the racial and ethnic achievement gap, our students are catching up to students in the rest of the state, and our graduation rate is the highest it has been in decades.”

Bloomberg Takes on Gridlock in NYC: Well, He Has Ambition…

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has tackled some tough issues during his tenure, but now he’s seriously considering taking on the city’s traffic problem, according to Newsweek. If you’ve ever been to the Big Apple, you’ll realize this task is about as easy as riding in a subway car with 150 people in July — and not coming out with your suit smelling like onions.

What’s interesting is that his solution is not to build more roads, but rather, shut some of them down:

In general terms, traffic is caused by too much demand (from vehicles) meeting too little supply (roads). One solution is to increase supply by building more roads. But that’s expensive, and demand from drivers tends to quickly overwhelm the new supply; today engineers acknowledge that building new roads usually makes traffic worse. Instead, economists have suggested reducing demand by raising the costs of driving in congested areas. The best-known example is the "congestion pricing" plan London implemented in 2003. Drivers now pay about $11 a day to drive in the central city. According to one study, the program has reduced traffic by 16 percent.

In 2007 Bloomberg proposed a congestion-pricing plan for New York, but last year state legislators rejected it as an elitist move. In response, Bloomberg began tinkering with the city’s roads in ways that required no legislative blessing. He banned vehicles from Park Avenue for three Saturdays in August 2008. He closed two lanes of traffic on Broadway below 42nd Street. "Bloomberg is taking the position that as long as it’s within the two curbs, it’s [city] property and he can decide how to use it," says Sam Schwartz, the city’s former traffic commissioner.

These pilot projects fit in with a larger counterintuitive theory that’s gaining traction with urban-planning wonks: that closing roads can reduce congestion. During the 1990s, a British transit engineer named Stephen Atkins read about how San Francisco congestion decreased, rather than increased, after an earthquake knocked out a key freeway. He observed the same phenomenon in other cities that closed roads, too. "In a lot of places, the traffic was not just displaced—a lot of it disappeared," he says. In a 1998 study he commissioned, researchers studied 60 cases of road reductions and found that when roads were closed, drivers took steps to avoid the area. In economic terms, closing roads raises the perceived costs of the trip (because drivers anticipate hassles), reducing demand.

Hat tip to Chamber staffer Tony Spataro for the article.

A New Kind of Street Sense?

A chance to learn from New York City? Not an everyday occurence, but one that might be worth pursuing in this case.

The subject is streets and how to best make use of them. The commissioner of transportation in NYC has taken the following approach:

What is the purpose of city streets, particularly those in a busy, dense place  such as New York? What if quality of life were improved by making streets serve as places for walking or hanging out and for fast, efficient mass transit? What if funneling more cars were the last priority, rather than the first?

What has taken place falls under the headings of innovative and creative. No, it may not work everywhere. Yes, it is something worth a closer look. has the story.