Post-lockdown summer: Americans out for fun and with money to spend | US news

After more than 15 months in varying degrees of lockdown, the US is finally ready to reopen this summer – and the signs are that plenty of people are beginning to emerge into the light, with their wallets loaded and their hearts seeking song, dance and travel.

Sixty-three percent of US adults have now received at least one vaccine dose, and as life returns to “normal”, hotels and concerts are selling out, rental cars and rental homes are booked up, and visits to museums and events are soaring.

The rebound is happening so fast it’s being compared to the Roaring 20s, when people came out from the gloom of a devastating flu pandemic and a global war to foxtrot and make merry. But there is a catch.

Prices of some goods are soaring as shortages of lumber, chicken and other products meet higher demand, stoking fears of inflation. A key inflation indicator – the personal consumption expenditures index – rose to 3.1% in April from a year earlier as price pressures built.

And as restaurants and bars welcome back revelers, many are struggling to hire staff to cope with the demand.

So far, however, rising prices have not dampened people’s enthusiasm for events and trips.

In Tennessee, tickets for the Bonnaroo music festival sold out in record time, as did the Electric Daisy and Rolling Loud festivals, held in Las Vegas and Miami, respectively, as musicians and artists return to touring after more than a year of staying home. The 100,000 tickets for the Astroworld festival in Houston sold out in 30 minutes, its organizer said.

“Fans are buying tickets and events are selling out faster than ever,” Michael Rapino, chief executive of the Live Nation ticket company, said this month. “We’re just seeing demand beyond any other historic moment.”

The surge is not limited to music. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, in New York, doubled its number of visitors over the last weekend in May, and the city’s famous Comedy Cellar venue added a sixth show after selling out its first five.

Visitors walk on a busy sidewalk in Bar Harbor, Maine, last month as Governor Janet Mills eliminated most outdoor distancing requirements imposed during the pandemic.
Visitors walk on a busy sidewalk in Bar Harbor, Maine, last month as Governor Janet Mills eliminated most outdoor distancing requirements imposed during the pandemic. Photograph: Robert F Bukaty/AP

Away from the big cities, the Busch Gardens amusement park in Williamsburg, Virginia, said it had sold more tickets than the same period in 2019, despite some Covid restrictions. Tourists are also returning to the Maine coast, according to locals, although they face high prices for the famed New England lobster roll – due to increasing demand.

Hotels have seen a boom in bookings as people begin venturing out to events, and so have reservations of homes through sites like AirBnB and Vrbo, which reported its best-ever start to a year. According to Vrbo guests are booking longer stays than usual, reducing the number of vacant properties and leaving some disappointed – a situation people booking rental cars are also likely to face.

The demand for vehicles has led the price of rentals to increase by 30% compared with 2019, CBS News reported, with rates in popular vacation destinations like Hawaii and Florida up 50%. The price spike has been matched by a rise in airfares as Americans seek to holiday away from home, which could dampen Americans’ hopes for a rebound summer.

The US’s post-pandemic boom is not without other problems. Many companies are experiencing difficulties hiring staff. Restaurants and bars, in particular, are struggling to hire people as summer gets into full swing, and radio adverts from companies pleading for people to apply for work have become a regular sound – and a strange one to those who lived through the recession that followed the 2008 crash.

Some businesses have taken even more drastic measures. Last month Uber announced it would pay a $1,000 “sign-up bonus” for new drivers, with big cities struggling to meet the fresh demand for cabs home from days or nights out on the town.

Uber isn’t alone. Amazon, which has been heavily criticized for its work environment during the pandemic, is offering a $1,000 bonus to new employees in some states, as it aims to hire 75,000 new workers, while a McDonald’s in Tampa, Florida, is offering people $50 just to turn up for an interview, a ruse that proved largely unsuccessful.

“You’ve got a lot of people with a lot of money, and they’re out there shopping,” Blake Casper, the disappointed owner of the McDonald’s franchise, told Business Insider.

“And then, on the flip side, we’re scrambling for help.”

It’s not just the big companies who are struggling to attract workers. The US Chamber of Commerce found that in March, the most recent month which had available data, there were 8.1m vacant job openings in the US, a record high.

People sit at tables in a nearly full restaurant in the Brooklyn borough of New York.
People sit at tables in a nearly full restaurant in the Brooklyn borough of New York. Photograph: Justin Lane/EPA

According to the chamber’s survey of local business organizations a “lack of available workers” is seen as the main thing holding back the economy. More than 83% of businesses said it was harder to find workers than five years ago.

The leisure and tourism industry – expected to be the main lure for fun-seeking and money-wielding Americans this summer – has been hardest hit, which could hinder America’s bid to bounce back.

“All across the country there are examples of restaurants who are no longer providing lunch service, or are closing one to two days a week that they would normally be open because they don’t have the staff,” said Neal Bradley, chief policy officer at the chamber of commerce.

Bradley said there was no “one single cause” for the lack of workers. The factors include the temporary visas that some migrant workers – and by extension businesses – rely on being blocked under the pandemic, the struggle some people have faced to find childcare, and higher levels of government employment benefits meaning people are less desperate to find work.

And the threat of a resurgence of Covid remains. This week, Anthony Fauci, the top infectious diseases expert in the US, told the Guardian that it was dangerous “to declare victory prematurely”, with more than a third of eligible Americans yet to receive a single dose.

Joe Biden has set a goal of 70% of adults having received at least one shot by Independence Day, on 4 July, a holiday known for fireworks, barbecues, occasional rowdiness and big gatherings. Whether that target is reached or not, it seems certain that people are preparing to celebrate the summer to the max.

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