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Americans’ Net Worth Increases at Record Pace

The vast majority of Americans are better off now than they were before the pandemic, but that wealth is distributed unevenly, writes financial economist D. Brian Blank.

Americans overall saw record gains in their personal finances, which increased by over $18 trillion in 2021, thanks in large part to government aid during the pandemic. Billionaires saw the greatest increase in their wealth, driven largely by gains in their stock holdings and businesses. The richest 1% saw their wealth increase by $6.7 trillion in 2021, while just $1.5 trillion went to the bottom 50% of Americans.

But the bottom half of Americans saw their wealth grow at the fastest pace, jumping by 64% in 2021 — the biggest calendar-year growth of any group since 1988. These changes were mostly due to gains in real estate assets, which increased in value faster than mortgage debts during the pandemic. Overall, this gain hasn’t changed the U.S. wealth gap: The bottom half of Americans owned 5.5% of the country’s assets before 2020, and at the end of 2021, they owned 5.9%. 

The increase in Americans’ net worth also hasn’t erased the racial wealth gap. Most of these income gains went to white Americans, whose net worth rose by $14.5 trillion. Black Americans gained $1.3 trillion, and Hispanic Americans gained $683 billion.

Russian Invasion Hurts Trade with Europe and Asia

Russia’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine will particularly affect the economies of neighboring countries in Eastern Europe and Central Asia, a new analysis by Statista shows. Both regions are more heavily dependent on Russia for trade in terms of GDP than other partners, like China (which imported $57 billion in Russian goods in 2020) or the U.K. ($24.5 billion in imports).

Belarus is the country most dependent on Russian exports, with nearly half of its imports coming from Russia (49.6%) — nearly 50% of its GDP. Armenia is a distant second, with Russian trade equivalent to 17% of its GDP. Neither Belarus nor Armenia voted in support of the March U.N. resolution to condemn Russia for its invasion of Ukraine.

Sudan, which imports Russian weapons, wheat, seed oils and oil, is the only country with a significant share of GDP impacted that is not from Eastern Europe or Central Asia.

The crisis in Ukraine is estimated to set back economic recovery from the pandemic, potentially causing a recession in Europe. Ukraine’s economy is forecast to contract by 35% as a result of its attacks, while Russia’s could decline by 8.5%.

US Concerns Over Conflict in Ukraine Grow

More than half of Americans (59%) are concerned that Russia will invade other countries besides Ukraine, according to a recent survey by the Pew Research Center. Going into its third month, the crisis in Ukraine has led to an exodus of millions of Ukrainian refugees, accusations of war crimes by Russian troops, and disruption of trade and supply chains.

Over half of Americans (57%) also believe that the conflict will continue for a long time, while 55% believe that Russia will defeat or take over Ukraine. Half of Americans (50%) say they are extremely or very concerned that U.S. or NATO involvement would lead to a war between the U.S. and Russia. 

In late April, President Biden proposed military and economic aid to Ukraine. Fewer Americans now say the U.S. isn’t doing enough to support Ukraine than they did in March, with 31% saying the country isn’t doing enough — down from 42%. 

U.S. Jet Fuel Prices Rise Above $5/Gallon

American airlines are paying over $5/gallon for jet fuel as of April 2022, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation and the Energy Information Administration. U.S. carriers reported the average cost of fuel rose in March 2022 by over 64% since the same time last year. Prices have continued to rise as the conflict in Ukraine and sanctions against Russia push energy prices higher.

Fuel prices remained relatively consistent over the summer months of 2021, until a double-digit increase hit in October. The U.S. administration said it is keeping a close eye on prices that could threaten air travel recovery. High jet fuel prices around the world are being passed on to the consumer, slowing the potential recovery from the air travel slump during the pandemic.

Fuel is the second-highest cost for airlines after labor, and airlines typically offset fuel costs with higher fares. Despite higher fares and staffing shortages, demand for travel is surging, and airlines are preparing for another surge in the summer.

China’s COVID Shutdowns Disrupt Supply Chains

Source: Bloomberg

Global supply chains are experiencing disruptions for the second year in a row, due to a new wave of COVID-19 sweeping through China, reports Bloomberg. China’s zero-COVID policy restrictions have caused shipping, air freight, and trucking delays, setting back supply chains already reeling from the pandemic and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Experts estimate that the ripple effects from the lockdowns and bottlenecks will extend throughout the year. Global trade started to rebound last year after its slump in 2020, but the conflict in Ukraine and now backlogs in China will lower trade volume and raise prices. China accounts for 12% of global trade.

Currently, it takes 111 days for cargo for goods to travel from Asia to the U.S., more than double the time it took in 2019. It takes even longer, 118 days, for goods to reach Europe from Asia, according to freight-forwarding company Flexport Inc.

In response, companies are considering shifting their supply chains out of Asia—79% of CEOs are planning to or have already moved part of their manufacturing from China to the U.S.

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