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Updated September 11, 2023

Will they or won't they (return to office)? + new perk: repaid loans

Will they or won't they (return to office)? + new perk: repaid loans

Will they or won't they (return to office)? + new perk: repaid loans

AJ Giannone, CFA

Adam Damko, CFA

The Piggy Bank


📈 Markets tumbled this week, giving back ⅓ to ½ of their prior week’s gains, as macro concerns about Europe and China took center stage.

💼Economic News

This past week, the Biden administration announced a new proposal that could help 3.6 million salaried workers secure overtime pay.

Overtime wages are common in hourly gigs. But salaried workers typically can’t earn overtime pay unless they make less than $35,600. President Biden wants to raise this threshold to $55,000, making it easier for more salaried workers to receive overtime pay.

This proposal has the potential to boost wages by $1.2 billion. However, it’s likely to face strong opposition from across the aisle. 

In other economic news, unemployment claims fell to 216,000, the lowest since February.

👀 What to Be on the Lookout for This Week

There are plenty of economic data to keep an eye on this week, including:

  • Monday: NFIB Small Business Index

  • Tuesday: August CPI, Core Consumer Prices, 30-year fixed-rate mortgage

  • Thursday: August PPI, retail spending

  • Friday: Consumer sentiment

On the other hand, it will be a slow week of earnings, but be on the lookout for reports from these companies:

  • Monday: Oracle

  • Tuesday: NanoXplore

  • Thursday: Adobe

  • Friday: Lennar

📰 In Other News

Three notable conflicts dominated last week’s news cycle.

Airbnb Battles NYC Ban: The first is between Airbnb and the city of New York, after the city effectively banned Airbnb rentals. 

Since its inception, Airbnb has operated with questionable tactics: launching their short-term rental platform in new cities first and asking questions later. At one point, NYC was home to 40,000 Airbnb rentals. But soon NYC Airbnbs could become a thing of the past.

As of September 5, Airbnb hosts must register with the city for rentals under 30 days. To qualify as a valid rental, hosts must live at the rental property during stays, and the number of guests is limited to just two per stay.

These new rules are part of an effort by NYC officials to curb housing shortages, and hopefully reduce rent prices as they hit record highs. As of August 28, the city had approved just 257 out of 3,250 Airbnb applications.

Strikes Sweep the Nation: The second major conflict isn’t a new one. But it is nearing a boiling point.

Things are getting heated in Hollywood. Warner Bros. Discovery just lowered its annual profit forecast in response to the dual writer/actor strike. Writers have been protesting for four months, with actors joining them in July. Studios offered a new deal to writers last month, which included better pay and transparency around streaming. But the Writers Guild wasn’t impressed.

For now, Warner is still riding on the success of Barbie. But, if a deal isn’t reached soon, major productions for the 2023-24 season could be delayed or canceled altogether.

Battle With the Big Three: Finally, in related news, the standoff between United Auto Workers and the Big Three automakers — General Motors, Ford, and Stellantis — is nearing a full-fledged strike after months of negotiations have fallen flat. 

The talks have been going so dismal that the UAW even filed a complaint to the National Labor Relations Board, accusing the automakers of failing to bargain in good faith. 

If a deal isn’t reached soon, 146,000 autoworkers across the country are set to walk off the job.

Reflects performance at market close 9/8/23


🏢 America’s Return-To-Office Tango

A Delicate Dance

Ever since the pandemic ended, many of America’s employers have been locked in a delicate dance with their employees: The Return-To-Office Tango. 

At first, most employers dangled incentives to lure employees back into office. In recent months, however, some employers have swapped carrots for sticks, announcing strict return-to-office mandates.  

Meta Platforms is one among the strict. The company now requires employees to spend three days in the office per week. Zoom — once the poster child of remote work — has also asked employees to come in twice a week. Google has gone even further, counting an employee’s attendance toward performance evaluations. Even President Biden has urged federal workers back to the office. 

To avoid getting the ax, employees have agreed to come back to the office. But few are clocking a full 8-hour workday at their cubicle. Instead, many white-collar workers are getting to the office late, leaving early, or, in some cases, both. 

Clocking Out Early

To find out how long workers are staying in the office, Basking, a workplace occupancy analytics firm, ran a few tests measuring employees’ connectivity to their office WiFi.  

Before the pandemic, 84% of employees spent a minimum of six hours in office. That figure fell to 50% after the pandemic. Employees might be dropping by the office, but they aren’t staying for all eight hours. 

Moreover, office occupancy in America’s largest cities has still not recovered since the pandemic. Currently, occupancy rates are stalled at around 50% of pre-pandemic levels.

The New Normal?

Despite employers’ best efforts, Americans are reluctant to return to the 40-hour in-office 9-to-5 anytime soon. 

From 2019 to 2021, the number of people who work from home tripled to 28 million. According to a recent survey, 93% of white-collar workers value the ability to set their own hours.  

For most of these workers, a flexible work schedule outweighs all other perks. From dropping kids off at school, hitting the gym in the afternoon or skipping rush hour traffic, nothing can replace the advantages of an adjustable work schedule. 

Society is starting to adjust to the shift toward flexible hours. For example, peak commute times aren’t as crowded, and congestion has lowered. Happy hours are starting earlier, and golf courses are busier during the week. 

More people golfing on a Wednesday might be seen as a sign of plummeting productivity. But, according to the numbers, this is hardly the case. 

The data shows overall labor productivity increasing since 2020. The rate reached 3.7% in the second quarter of 2023, the fastest pace of growth so far. At the same time, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, hybrid workers are clocking in even more time now than before the pandemic. Most hybrid employees are open to working around-the-clock and on weekends, leading to the overall increase. 

Flexible, partially remote work is becoming the new normal. Now, employers must ask, is this new normal really all that bad?

🎓 The Newest Workplace Perk: Student Loan Repayment

A Persistent Issue

Over the years, employees have gotten accustomed to job perks like a 401(k) match, healthcare, and vacation days. Workers at bigger companies are also probably used to perks like in-office snacks or paid-for company events. Some employers, however, are now starting to offer a new type of perk that might be more valuable than all of those combined: student loan repayment. Student loans have been in forbearance since the early days of the pandemic. For some borrowers, this likely means that student loan payments have slipped off their monthly budgets. But payments are now set to restart on October 1, which means many young employees will have to get used to sending a few hundred bucks a month back to their loan provider.For some employees, however, their employer might be able to help them shoulder this burden.

Booming Benefit

The number of companies offering student loan assistance as a perk have popped in the past few years. According to the job search company, Handshake, the number of job listings containing keywords related to student loan repayment — education debt, student debt, or similar terms — have more than doubled since 2019.  

Roughly 3% of active full-time job listings contained keywords related to offering student loan repayment. While the percentage may seem relatively small, it represents around 4,000 jobs across 2,500 different employers — and is growing quickly. 

For young employees saddled with debt, this perk will surely prove popular. As of this writing, over 7 million people aged 24 or younger owe a collective $103.8 billion in student loan debt. That amounts to around $15,000 per person.  

College education isn’t getting cheaper. The next generations of college graduates will likely find themselves with similar debt levels, if not higher.

Paying Down Debt 

Those in the job hunt who are saddled with student loan debt may be interested in exploring companies offering student loan repayment. Working for one of these companies could save them thousands of dollars over the years. 

Companies that currently offer student loan repayment as an employee perk include Aetna, Abbott, Chegg, Estée Lauder, Fidelity, Alphabet, NVIDIA, and Raytheon. 

The number of industries offering student loan repayment are particularly pronounced across the healthcare, nonprofit, and government, law, and politics industries. 

From a budgetary perspective, the perk has the potential to save hundreds per month. Ultimately, its value depends on each individual’s student loan debt levels and the nature of the employer’s repayment plan. But, for some, student loan repayment could be as valuable as healthcare, a 401(k) match, or even a good old paycheck. 


The island of Anguilla is expected to earn up to $30 million in domain registration fees this year. This is because the small island owns the “.ai” domain ending, commonly used by artificial intelligence companies. 

Four million fewer teens enrolled in college in 2022 compared to 2012. For upcoming generations, the high cost of tuition and remote classes do not justify the cost. 

Less than 50% of deskless workers feel their employer is adequately addressing diversity, equity, and inclusion issues. On the flip side, 70% of executives believe their companies are addressing these workplace issues. 

The Department of Health and Human Services asked the DEA to reschedule marijuana. The drug could be reclassified from Schedule I to Schedule III, joining ketamine, steroids, and testosterone. 

Starting next year, 529 investors will have more flexibility to roll leftover money into Roth IRAs. These new rule changes will give 529 account beneficiaries a way to jump-start their retirement savings.

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