I’ve conducted an admittedly unscientific study into the correlation between festively decorating the outside of one’s home for the holidays, sending seasonal greeting cards and predicting the upcoming job market. My thesis is that when the majority of people set up holiday displays, such as lights, wreaths, ornaments, figures on the lawn and send physical and email cards, the job market in the following year will good. Conversely, the absence of displays and fewer cards does not bode well for the new year’s job market. I contend that there could be a strong correlation between decorating your home and how you feel about the economy, your personal financial situation, the safety of your job and views of the future concerning these issues. If you feel confident in your job, the stock market, value of your home and feel that the future will be bright, you are more likely to go out and buy things and decorate for the holidays—if you don’t, you won’t.
Driving around my quaint suburban home in Westfield, New Jersey (roughly an hour outside of Manhattan), my kids pointed out that they noticed less colorful decorations adorning the homes compared to years past. Once they brought it up, during our excursions to the supermarket, malls and local stores (yes, life is kinda dull in the suburbs), we paid attention to the houses and we’re left with the belief that there are significantly less decorations than previous years. Also, our kitchen cabinets lacked the dozens of cards that we usually receive and display by now. The same holds true in my office. We received a few holiday email cards and maybe two physical cards. Polling people in the company, the reports from New York City, Lincoln, Nebraska, Westchester, New York and Los Angeles, California confirm what I’ve seen here in New Jersey.
Here’s my theory: it takes time, effort, money and enthusiasm to decorate the outside of your home. First, you have to go down into the basement or up to the dirty, cold attic to find where you left the decorations from last year. Opening the dusty boxes, you notice that the ornaments looks a little frayed and dingy. The lights are in a tangled mess. After spending a half hour trying to untangle them, cursing and getting angrier by the minute, you plug them in for a test and see that about half of the lights aren’t working and a quarter of them are sadly dimly blinking on and off.
You now need the energy and drive to gather up the family to go to Target or your go-to store to shop for new decorations. This calls for rounding up the family ( which is like herding cats), agreeing on the store, battling traffic and willing to deal with crowds (albeit, less than pre-Amazon days). After debating the lights and the tackiness of certain lawn displays, you arrive at a consensus and drive back home to start working on the house. Of course, you will be brave and reckless by taking out the 20-foot ladder and dangling precariously trying to hang lights on the edge of the roof. As you teeter on the ladder and your life flashes before your eyes, you consider which is worse: the pain of falling off and breaking your legs, your kids enjoying the hilarity of you falling off the ladder or your wife irritatingly saying, “I told you that was a really bad idea.”
When it comes to holiday cards, of course, you can’t find the list you made last year and promised to keep in an easily accessible place. Now you have to start compiling it all over again. Do you send a card to your sister-in-law who divorced your brother? How about the niece and nephew that didn’t send a gift for your daughter’s graduation? What about the relatives you never see nor care about, but always send cards out of habit?
These are just some of the things that are swirling around making these decisions. In light of the time and effort it takes to do these things, you have to be optimistic and in good cheer to overlook all the hurdles. It’s pretty obvious that many of us do not possess an abundance of good spirits this year. December—so far—has been the worst December for stocks since the Great Depression, which happened 80 years ago. While the government data reports that unemployment is at an all-time low, we read that Verizon, GM and other companies are laying off tens of thousands of employees. Anecdotally, we all know of middle-aged people that were let go and haven’t been able to find suitable jobs after months of searching. The bickering between Democrats and Republicans has become cartoonish, except this is reality and we are concerned that our so-called political leaders are of questionable intelligence, character and morals—and this applies to all political facets. The mass media frightens us about Russian interference, the adverse ramifications of a trade war with China, wildfires in California, the opioid epidemic, the rise of suicide, school shootings, the shocking realization about sexual assaults by high-profile people, tech and social media companies selling our data and spying on us and the brutal murder and dismemberment of a Washington Post writer—allegedly authorized by our good ally, the Saudi prince. North Korea continues to be a persistent nuclear threat, America is still fighting wars in the Middle East 17 years after September 11th, Europe is in chaos including the drama over Brexit, the Yellow Jackets protests in Paris and unrest in other parts of the continent over immigration policies. I could continue, but it will only serve to depress us all.
With this in mind, you can understand why people can’t or won’t summon up the energy and drive to festively adorn their homes. Energy is sapped by the avalanche of negativity. There is a current lack of enthusiasm about the future.
I believe this will translate into a difficult job market in the beginning of 2019. Corporations need to be confident in the future to hire. At the beginning of 2018, companies were positive that that tax breaks, a new administration that favors business and a rollback of regulations would be positive for business. As a result, company executives hired more people pushing unemployment to the lowest level in 60 years, started new initiatives and bought back their own stock. Unfortunately, this enthusiasm seems to be waning. Companies will enter 2019 with trepidation and cautiousness. CEOs and executives will worry about the stock market, having too many people on the payroll if things soften and curtail new initiatives until they feel that circumstances are improving.
It would be logical to conclude that they will also hold off hiring and even start laying off people to be conservative—in case things get worse.
Sadly, I don’t want to be the Grinch, but the home decorations seem like a light on where the economy is going and it’s not too bright. Don’t worry; these things ebb and flow very quickly. Just as the stock market quickly ran up and dropped, the reverse can happen again. The business mood is fickle and can change once subjected to some good news. Political parties may find ways to work together, like agreeing to a massive infrastructure program will put thousands to work and improve our highways, bridges, tunnels and trains. We could figure out a compromise to the trade war, work things out with Russia, pull our soldiers out of never-ending wars and things might start looking so bright that next year all the homes will be lit.