Markets did nothing on Monday as investors awaited both a post-close speech from Federal Reserve chair Janet Yellen and the start of first quarter earnings season, which comes later this week.
During her speech on Monday, Yellen’s most notable commentary was that the Fed has shifted from needing to goose the economy forward to working to sustain the current pace of growth.
Looking ahead to Tuesday, the latest survey on small business optimism from the National Federation of Independent Business will be released in the morning.
Along with consumer confidence, the NFIB’s measure of small business bullishness since Donald Trump’s presidential election win has been among the most positive economic indicators.
Elsewhere on the economic calendar, we’ll get one of the Fed chair Yellen’s favorite economic indicators, the job openings and labor turnover survey from the BLS, also known as the JOLTS report.
Most of the headlines on Monday revolved around the dust-up aboard a United Airlines (UAL) flight which resulted in a passenger being forcibly removed from the plane.
Video of the incident went viral, and United CEO Oscar Munoz said in a statement, “This is an upsetting event to all of us here at United. I apologize for having to re-accommodate these customers. Our team is moving with a sense of urgency to work with the authorities and conduct our own detailed review of what happened. We are also reaching out to this passenger to talk directly to him and further address and resolve this situation.”
United is a business, but at the surface this seems to only be tangentially a business story. As many will note shares of United rose about 1% on Monday, and while a customer being dragged off a plane on video is certainly embarrassing for the company, it’s unclear — outside of a lawsuit — what the cost would really be, business-wise.
But following the news on Monday, Helaine Olen, author and columnist at Slate, had a few great observations about the incident, consumer culture, and the inequality we all know is permeating American culture today.
“Make no mistake,” Olen said, “the decline of customer service is part of the political anger out there.”
“Everything from retail to travel…is dividing up into intense luxury and bargain basement, with less and less in between. As the process continues, the upper middle class is suddenly finding themselves getting the shaft. And they don’t expect it.”
And while some may say that seizing on a viral internet moment to make a point about the current political climate is a bit crass or misplaced, I think Olen’s speaking to something we all know is true.
Everything is unequal and this inequality is climbing further and further up the income stack. Flying is already something that for many Americans is prohibitively expensive as most domestic flights are $300 or more. Checked bags cost more. Booze is extra. Legroom is dwindling.
Writing about the United incident on Monday, Yahoo Finance’s Ethan Wolff-Mann noted that in the airline’s contract of carriage, the process for clearing an overbooked flight is laid out.
First, the airline asks for volunteers. But then, “The priority of all other confirmed passengers may be determined based on a passenger’s fare class, itinerary, status of frequent flyer program membership, and the time in which the passenger presents him/herself for check-in without advanced seat assignment.”
This says, basically, that if you are flying first class, have a complicated trip, an expensive ticket, are enrolled in a frequent flyer program, or showed up early, you will be treated better if it comes to drawing names to make room on a flight.
And so there is a whole ranking of passengers on the plane that goes way beyond first class and coach class. The plane, in other words, is even more unequal than we know it is after walking through first class to take our seats. Given the costs of flying domestically, it all sort of seems unfair to begin with — and that’s before we start asking people to give up their seats.
Which brings us back to Olen’s point that it is the upper-middle class which feels screwed. A $300 ticket for a domestic flight is, again, a state of affairs that prevents people who aren’t upper-middle class from viewing flight as a regular option for travel.
And while being upper-middle class means that, economically speaking, things are necessarily going well for you and yours, no one likes to know there are things right in front of them — literally in the front of fuselage — that they cannot afford. Humans care more about what they can’t have than about what they do.
So much time and energy has been spent thinking and writing about how disgruntled, poor white voters powered Donald Trump to victory. This is the “economic anxiety” meme that made Trump a force. But a more sober look at the election and it’s clear Trump’s win was signed, sealed, and delivered in the suburbs.
The angry flyer in coach is why Trump won.
Myles Udland is a writer at Yahoo Finance. Follow him on Twitter @MylesUdland
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