The Atlantic Daily: Our Weird Economic Moment, Explained

A high number of people are missing from the labor force. At the same time, Americans are spending more.

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Workers missing
Bettman / Getty; The Atlantic

Welcome to another very weird economic moment.

Right now, it’s as if we’re living through multiple timelines at once, my colleague Derek Thompson explains. “The pandemic thrust many people back into the homestead economy of the 1830s, while also re-creating the Depression-era economy of the 1930s and advancing into the virtual economy of the 2030s.”

“Big economic indicators point in conflicting directions,” Derek writes. Here are two:

1. Americans are spending at high rates.

“Especially in the past six months, the system has been rocked by explosive demand,” Amanda Mull writes. People don’t really need all that stuff—plus, the wild rise in spending puts pressure on already-strained supply chains.

2. A mysteriously high number of people aren’t looking for work.

Seven million people are missing from the labor market. “That’s akin to the entire labor force of Pennsylvania sitting on the sidelines,” Derek Thompson points out. It may be a sign that workers are staging “a kind of distributed protest against the status quo of work in America,” he writes.


The news in three sentences:

(1) An FDA advisory panel voted to recommend Pfizer-made COVID-19 vaccines for kids ages 5 to 11. (2) The January 6 committee has spoken with at least five former Trump staffers, CNN reports. (3) Texas Governor Greg Abbott signed a bill banning transgender girls from participating in public-school girls’ sports.

Today’s Atlantic-approved activity:

Now over everything the autumn light is thrown … Get cozy and read May Sarton’s “Poem in Autumn.”

A break from the news:

Let’s ponder the meaning of life.


Every weekday evening, our editors guide you through the biggest stories of the day, help you discover new ideas, and surprise you with moments of delight. Subscribe to get this delivered to your inbox.