Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. The U.S. economy is going through a unprecedented period after having been shut down by government decree. Whether you have a doctorate in economics or not, it is a guess how it will work out.
In the immortal words of former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, there are a lot of “known unknowns” out there.
Big questions are up in the air for workers. Will your company survive? What will the office even look like? Will you be replaced by artificial intelligence?
It’s just hard to know. There are raging debates among economists about how things will shake out. We’ve never had a post-war recession where the service sector was hammered. It has always been manufacturing sector that led to the ups and downs.
Clues will come in the economic data. But there are no magic bullets.
“Mankind for 5,000 years has been searching for three indicators that tell you how the economy is going to go south. They do not exist. Because what worked in the last downturn is never going to work in the next one,” said Rajeev Dhawan, director of the Economic Forecasting Center at the J. Mack Robinson College of Business at Georgia State University.
Here at MarketWatch, we’re going to keep track of these big questions and let you know how and when answers arise and what new “known unknowns” emerge.
Here are some of the fundamental questions facing the economy:
What will returning to the office even be like?
There’s a lot of chatter that workers might “time share” in offices, rotating a few days a week.
This will be bad news for restaurants, downtown sandwich shops and dry cleaners as people spend less time at work.
Jerry Nickelsburg, faculty director of the UCLA Anderson Forecast said he thinks there is a lot of “wishful thinking” going on about office work. He said there is no evidence that bosses won’t eventually want workers in the office every day.
“Maybe we wish we won’t be commuting every day, but there is no data that we won’t be commuting every day,” he said.
And the idea that companies will let their workers remotely from Grand Junction, Colorado or other scenic locals will probably be limited to older workers who are not climbing the company ladder, Nickelsburg said. And these remote workers won’t be in line for raises as companies won’t have to compete for their services, he added
Whether business travel stays weak is another unknown. Over the years, a lot of infrastructure and employment has grown up around consultants and executives who spend most of their working week on the road.
Where will the workforce live?
Sadly, living at the beach is seen as a remote possibility Living in downtown high rise apartments might lose some luster. There could be a shift to smaller cities near major urban areas.
“We just don’t know yet,” said Dhawan.