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Many Americans Still Lack Household Internet Access

Source: Pew Research Center

Forty-three percent of people with a household income of $30,000 or less do not have internet access at home, whereas ninety-three percent of households earning $100,000 or more have internet access, according to a Pew Research Center survey.

This digital divide is persistent in the United States, creating a barrier to digital information, education and products and services for lower-income Americans. Early this year, 27% of lower-income adults had access to a smartphone but did not have broadband internet at home — a 12% increase in eight years. Meanwhile, only 6% of households earning $100,000 or more were categorized in this group.

COVID-19 exposed disparities in online access in the U.S. as daily activities, like work and school, were abruptly moved online. Families with lower incomes faced a greater challenge to make the transition since they rely more heavily on mobile devices and often lack reliable high-speed internet. As remote work and education become more permanent, new technologies, like 5G, will need to be accessible to everyone “through early investments and targeted deployments” to prevent future economic and academic gaps.

The Pandemic Is Weakening the Stigma Around Mental Health

The prevalence of anxiety and depression has doubled in some countries during the pandemic, according to a report from the OECD. “Risk factors generally associated with poor mental health — financial insecurity, unemployment, fear” have heightened since COVID-19 hit, the report says, while beneficial factors, including social connection, “fell dramatically.”

The study notes that “differences in the openness of populations to discussing their mental state also hampers cross-country comparability,” referring to the stigma around mental health. Mental health is stigmatized through negative judgements, discrimination or dismissiveness toward those with trauma, depression, etc., which becomes a barrier to getting help, according to NAMI. But the spike in mental health issues has also led to a growing willingness to recognize and talk about such issues — chipping away at the stigma

Most countries have increased mental health resources during the pandemic. But, the OECD says we need a systemic-level response that includes assured mental health services and employers who actively support and contribute to the mental health of their employees.

Inflation Numbers Grow Among Lasting Pandemic Effects

For many countries, inflation rates hit year-long highs. According to the U.S. National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), the country’s core CPI — an index that accounts for the volatility of energy and food prices — increased 4.58% from October 2021, a year-high. Similarly, departments from the U.K. and China report a year-over-year increase. China’s NBS reported a 1.5% increase for October while the U.K.’s Office for National Statistics reported a 4.2% increase.

For the United Kingdom, inflation is a symptom of rising energy costs as a result of Europe’s gas crisis, statisticians say. Transport is the second-largest contributor to inflation, followed by restaurants and hotels and education. Similarly for China, the rise in inflation is due to a rising cost of energy, as well as a vegetable shortage caused by heavy rainfall.

Automated Trucking Companies Are Raising Larger Deals

While autonomous cars have yet to make a significant impact in consumers’ lives, investors see an opportunity in the automated trucking industry. According to CB Insights, companies have raised an average of $650 million for 2021. These companies cover everything from the actual self-driving truck technology and logistics surrounding fleet coordination.

Waymo, the self-driving subsidiary of Alphabet, the parent company of Google, is the most well-funded company, with a total of $5.7 billion raised throughout its lifetime. It recently announced a partnership with UPS in piloting self-driving trucks in Texas, alleviating supply chain issues caused by the labor shortage. 

Meanwhile, China-based Manbang Group focuses on freight matching — pairing cargo freight with drivers. It has raised a total of almost $3.7 billion. Previously, this was managed by brokers, but automation is increasingly taking the lead. Manbang uses its automation software to connect the 10 million verified truckers with 5 million cargo consignors on its platform. 

There may be other surprising beneficiaries to autonomous trucking, as increased efficiency and lower operating costs could lead to higher congestion in urban centers — making rail a more appealing option.

Financial Institutions Across 45 Countries Make the Net-Zero Pledge

During COP26, Glasgow Financial Alliance for Net Zero (GFANZ) announced that it now includes over 445 financial institutions in 45 countries. The alliance mobilizes more than $130 trillion in private capital. GFANZ was launched in April 2021 to accelerate decarbonization and limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, as indicated by the Paris Agreement.

Stopping climate change will require coordination across the financial system, and to achieve this goal, GFANZ brings together existing and new net-zero finance initiatives. Participating institutions are required to set science-based goals to reach net-zero emissions — including interim 2030 targets — and commit to transparent reporting in line with the criteria detailed by the United Nations Race to Zero

As more firms in the financial sector align their lending, investing, asset management and underwriting practices with net-zero targets, companies can expect to face increasing pressure to decarbonize and disclose their emissions and climate risks.

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