The Looming Unemployment Benefits Cliff

A whopping 7.5 million Americans are set to lose unemployment benefits when the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation program expires on Sept. 6, which, ironically, is also Labor Day. The spread of the COVID-19 delta variant means the country’s economic recovery may now be tapering off, but one thing is for sure: With Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin saying he’s “done with extensions,” the financial support is living on borrowed time.

What should Americans expect when it ends? What about talks of an economic boom? What do economists say? Today’s Daily Dose delves into what happens when we drive off the “benefits cliff.”

post-pandemic boom?

unemployment

Reasons to Be Optimistic

As the number of vaccinated Americans rises and a return to pre-pandemic living appears within reach again, many analysts are predicting the economy will surge. A JPMorgan Chase survey published last month found that 80% of business leaders are expecting higher levels of revenue and sales growth for the remainder of 2021. That figure reflects the most optimism the survey has recorded in 11 years. In fact, the U.S. economy has already made a full recovery by some measures. In the second quarter of 2021, economic output surpassed pre-pandemic levels of quarterly growth. But that does not mean all is well. With a possible surge of COVID-19 infections on the horizon, the economy could take yet another hit.

But for Whom?

While post-pandemic economic trends show promise, the majority of the wealth generated over the past 18 months has gone, and for the foreseeable future will continue to flow, to a select group of people. America’s winner-take-all economy is looking healthy for 2021 and beyond. Apple, Microsoft and Google parent company Alphabet reported combined profits in excess of $50 billion during the pandemic. Meanwhile, gig workers and freelancers, a vast cohort of the workforce that doesn’t typically qualify for state unemployment assistance, will be hit particularly hard once the federal unemployment benefits program ends on Sept. 6. Already, widespread job losses in low-income areas have been a feature of the pandemic.

Some Regions Up, Some Down

The amount of money Americans get from their unemployment insurance benefits changes depending on where they live. These benefits temporarily replace a portion of a worker’s wages when they have been laid off and are looking for a new job. Each state has its own process for determining how much of someone’s income should be replaced by benefits, the total amount of money a person can receive and how long the benefits will last — commonly 26 weeks. In March, Forbes Advisor ranked the best and worst states for unemployment benefits, analyzing the average weekly benefits, the duration those benefits can be received and each state’s cost of living index. Among the 10 “best” states, four are in the Midwest; of the 10 “worst,” five are in the South.

the question of race

Print

The Race Reality

On average, Black workers face double the unemployment rate of white workers who share similar education levels. One reason is labor market discrimination against Black workers, as shown by studies such as the seminal 2003 work titled “Are Emily and Greg More Employable Than Lakisha and Jamal?” This field experiment proved that white-sounding names on identical résumés received 50% more callbacks from prospective employers than Black-sounding names. The findings also suggest that this bias contributes to longer periods of unemployment and an increased likelihood that Black workers will be forced to take lower-paying jobs. RAND Corp. economist Kathryn A. Edwards tells OZY that, according to research, since it is on average more challenging for Black workers to secure work, “Temporary benefits being cut off is more likely to disadvantage Black workers.”

Ways to Improve

How can the labor market be made more equitable for Black workers? One way would be to eliminate the differences among states’ unemployment insurance benefits. Edwards explains that this system is “more prone to unfairness and disparity” and exacerbates inequality “between Black and white workers.” For example, in the U.S., a quarter of Black workers live in three states (Texas, Florida and Georgia) and nearly 60% of the national Black labor force resides in the South. The example Edwards uses for an improved, standard system is that of Social Security, which is federally funded and unrelated to where people live or work. “Uniform benefits based solely on earnings and not location . . . would reduce some of that disparity,” she says.

What’s Next?

Although federal unemployment insurance benefits are set to expire on Labor Day, 26 states have already taken steps to ax them (of these, 11 are in the South). Alexa Tapia of the National Employment Law Project tells OZY that it’s been mainly states in the South (and some in the Midwest) that have opted to scratch the federal assistance. The result? Those states saw employment drop by approximately 0.9%. But for states that have kept them? Employment levels have risen by an average of 2.3%, according to research from Homebase. “It’s clear that unemployment insurance benefits allow workers to return to the right jobs . . . when they are able to,” Tapia says. “We really want to keep our foot on the gas, knowing that these benefits are working as intended.”

domestic bliss?

Print

Renters in Need

Approximately 44 million households, roughly one-third of the U.S. population, rent their primary place of residence. This cohort tends to be less equipped to muscle through periods of joblessness without additional assistance. The link between having a job and being able to afford housing and its related costs is a close one. A March 2020 analysis from the Urban Institute showed that people who struggle to pay rent are more than twice as likely to be unemployed as those who never or rarely face that difficulty. Low-income renters, in particular, tend to work in the five most vulnerable industries which, according to a separate Urban Institute report, are the same sectors that faced the greatest number of layoffs in the past 18 months: accommodation and food service; construction; arts, entertainment and recreation; other service jobs including hairdressing, dry cleaning and repair work; and retail trade.

Rent Moratorium to the Rescue — for Now

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had issued an eviction moratorium in September that expired on July 31. Three days later, however, it issued a new 60-day eviction ban that ends Oct. 3 for qualified individuals. For people who cannot afford rent and are losing or have already lost their weekly $300 pandemic unemployment check, the moratorium “will coincide with the unemployment insurance benefits expiring around Labor Day and early September,” Tapia tells OZY. “Just as food stamp benefits are also being cut down again . . . we’re definitely going to see another devastating crisis,” she adds. The best option to avoid a crisis is for affected individuals to apply for rental assistance, although the administration of this program has been “plagued by delays,” according to the think tank Century Foundation.

Parental Leave During a Pandemic

The COVID-19 lockdowns affected most of the workforce, but they hit working mothers hardest. America’s working moms — who are also shouldering the majority of domestic duties — have experienced a greater share of job losses during the course of the pandemic than men. These women were already in charge of household duties — work some equate to a $178,000 annual salary — before COVID, but the added pressure of child care shortages on top of helping kids with virtual school is forcing 1 in 3 to consider leaving the workforce or downsizing their career, moves that could stunt their income permanently. Yale economics professor Ebonya Washington co-authored a 2018 paper, “The Mommy Effect,” which asserts that women miscalculate the difficulty of balancing work and raising a family when they make decisions about their education. Her theories related to the impact of employment on motherhood, ideas that are pertinent today: If the delta variant does take hold in the coming weeks and months, what will that mean for working moms?

Accidental Genius: 10 Surprising Inventions

Bulletproof fiber. Reusable glue. An insanely potent cleaning product. Athletic running shoes. The World Wide Web. Even the “little blue pill.” What do each of these everyday products have in common? Well, first off, they all exist today thanks to individual genius, but even more spectacular: They are all accidental finds.

In today’s Daily Dose, we take you through some of the most shocking, wonderful, serendipitous moments that changed the course of history and offer insight into the inspiring brains behind these products. We promise that when you’re done, you’ll never look at them the same way again.

gifts to the world

inventionsGifts

Athletic Running Shoes

In case you didn’t know, NASA deals with more than space. Much more. The technology used in everything from memory foam mattresses to portable computers to freeze-dried fruit is all the work of the agency’s stargazing scientists. But here’s one innovation that’s particularly surprising: Looking to build astronaut helmets that could better absorb shock, space engineers back in the 1970s came up with a revolutionary process to mold rubber. It involved inserting melted plastic into a mold and pumping compressed air into it, creating an air-filled bubble inside. The air absorbs vibrations while keeping the shape of the plastic. Great for space helmets and great for . . . running shoes. At least that’s what the late Frank Rudy, a NASA aerospace engineer at the time, thought. Nike loved Rudy’s idea so much it began fashioning shoes with the design. Judging by the company’s balance sheets decades later, you do too!

The World Wide Web

Ever despair at the sight of your messy desk? In the early 1990s, British physicist and computer scientist Tim Berners-Lee did and, without realizing it, came up with one of the greatest inventions in human history: the World Wide Web. Originally, Berners-Lee designed software to connect bits of information from the many files he was often working with, trying to imitate the connections our brains make. Then, he proceeded to use the same system to connect files from different computers and . . . eureka! “It would be akin to a carpenter building a little cabinet for himself and suddenly discovering he could store the entire world inside the thing,” says Arthur Molella of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History. Fast-forward three decades and Berners-Lee (who, incredibly, somehow never directly profited from his creation) says he is not done. His next mission? Fix the internet. He, and others like him, want to decentralize the web and clean it of fake news and toxicity. How? By taking power away from corporations. “There are people working in the lab trying to imagine how the Web could be different,” he told Vanity Fair, referring to his team’s work on a new platform, Solid.

The Paw-fect Inspiration

A dog inspired the creation of Velcro. No, really. Thanks to his Irish pointer, Swiss engineer George de Mestral came up with the idea in 1941. While walking in the mountains, his pooch became covered in burrs after an encounter with a particularly difficult bush. Slightly annoyed, de Mestral took the burrs to a lab and put them under a microscope. The irritating seeds held a fascinating secret. In order to hook themselves onto certain surfaces to help them disperse, they boast an intricate system of thousands of small hooks. Inspired by this natural phenomenon, he wondered if it could be replicated. It turns out it could. But not everyone was a fan of the invention at first. In fact, six fabric companies in Europe rejected de Mestral’s invention, saying it was too difficult to produce on a large scale. Eventually, he found a producer and received a patent for his invention in 1955. The now famous Velcro (a portmanteau of the words “velvet” and “crochet,” or “hook” in French) was born.

Post-it

Up there with pens and staplers as one of the most popular office products of all time, these sticky notes are also the result of a serendipitous moment. In 1968, Spencer Silver, an American chemist at the consumer goods and health care company 3M, was trying to formulate a super strong adhesive to hold plane parts together when he invented the first reusable glue. But it wasn’t until many years later that someone came up with an actual use for it. While attending church, Arthur Fry, a 3M engineer, struggled to bookmark a page on his Bible, but then an idea came to him. Some reusable glue and paper and his problem was solved. The company now produces an estimated 50 billion Post-it notes a year, worth around $1 billion. And although the patent expired in 1997, no one else is authorized to make sticky notes in that specific shade of yellow. But that’s not all — scientists at 3M recently reengineered Silver’s glue to create a new, waterproof sticky note that they promise will stay put even in freezing weather.

scientific mistakes

Bulletproof Fabric

The late Stephanie Kwolek never wanted to be a chemist. Instead, she dreamed of following in her mother’s footsteps and becoming a fashion designer. But when her mother told her she was too much of a perfectionist to work in the fashion world, she turned to the research lab instead. And thank God she did. Kwolek is the brains behind Kevlar, the ultrastrong material that makes bulletproof jackets, well, bulletproof. How does it work? Kevlar is made of very tightly woven molecules that can only be separated by a lot of energy, more than can even be generated by a bullet. But when Kwolek invented the lightweight, malleable and heat-resistant synthetic fabric in 1965, she was actually looking for a way to make car tires more fuel-efficient. Instead, she found that the super plastic became the poster child for protecting human bodies. The science pioneer also invented fabrics such as the flame-resistant thermoplastic used in firefighters’ suits and contributed to the development of spandex (thank you, madam!).

Artificial Sweetener

Working in a lab and forgetting to wash your hands is a no-no. That’s unless you are Constantin Fahlberg and the breach leads to one of the most revolutionary gastronomic discoveries in recent history: artificial sweeteners. The year was 1877 and the young Russian chemist had joined professor Ira Remsen at Johns Hopkins University to conduct experiments. One evening, when Fahlberg was having dinner at home, he realized all his food (and even his hands) tasted strangely sweet. At first, he had no idea why. Retracing his steps, Fahlberg tasted all the compounds he and Remsen had worked with in the lab that particular day and found that, when combined, the mixture of substances produced a flavor he described as “even sweeter than cane sugar.” How? Saccharin, a molecule, has a very particular shape that triggers sweet-taste receptors on our tongues, which, in turn, trick the brain into thinking it’s tasting sugar. This story, however, has a sour ending, with the two chemists falling out after Fahlberg filed a patent in 1886 naming himself as the sole brain behind saccharin.

Matches

If you’ve ever tried lighting a fire without a match, you’d definitely understand why John Walker became such a sensation upon inventing the first friction prototype in 1826. Luck had a lot to do with it. The British pharmacist had, in fact, been attempting to make a paste to be used in . . . guns. The eureka moment arrived when the wooden instrument he was using to mix the paste accidentally scraped against the floor and caught fire. The invention was a hit and Walker earned a place in history, although not as a businessman. He failed to patent his invention and copies of his matches quickly emerged, with hundreds of factories sprouting up in England alone. While the small sticks changed society, it isn’t an entirely happy story. The first matches were made with white phosphorus, a dangerous chemical that made many of the factory workers extremely sick, suffering from conditions akin to leprosy. Since then, a different mix of chemicals (including potassium chlorate, sulfur and glass powder) is used to make matches.

domestic accidents

DomesticAccidents

Cleaning Where?

“She was a jewel of a wife … with just one flaw,” read one of the many cringeworthy Lysol ads produced in early 1900s America. That’s right, the ultrapowerful disinfectant today at the forefront of the domestic fight against the COVID-19 virus was marketed as a female hygiene product. Up until the 1950s when the formula was finally changed, commercials advised the product as the best way to fix marital problems. But read between the lines and another entirely different message may be deduced: Historians say that “female hygiene” was actually a covert way of saying “contraception.” Frighteningly, Lysol was a popular form of birth control in the U.S. during the early 1900s, and an extremely dangerous one too, with several recorded deaths. To be clear, this disinfectant’s only place is in the cleaning cupboard.

Viagra

The popular blue pill is the result of pure chance and one very observant nurse. In the early 1990s, scientists looking to treat high blood pressure and angina began testing Sildenafil, a drug that works by increasing blood flow to targeted areas. When human trials began, one of the nurses noticed something strange. “They found a lot of the men were lying on their stomachs,” John LaMattina, head of research at Pfizer at the time, told STAT’s Signal podcast. “They were embarrassed [because] they were getting erections.” The good news was that the drug worked, just not in the places scientists were hoping. Instead, they had inadvertently found a treatment for a condition that affects one-third of adult men across the world. After going to market in 1998, Pfizer’s famous diamond-shaped product quickly rose to stardom, becoming an object of popular culture and an eye-watering moneymaker. Fun fact: Viagra’s main component is still used to treat some heart conditions affecting men and women.

Disposable Sanitary Pads

What do wounded soldiers from World War I and female periods have in common? Cellu-cotton. The product, invented by the American paper company Kimberly-Clark in 1914, was made out of wood pulp, making cellu-cotton many times more absorbent than regular cotton bandages. And much cheaper too. Legend has it that when the war ended and Kimberly-Clark company executives were looking for new clients for their products, a group of American nurses said they had been using the super absorbent cotton as sanitary pads. Believe it or not, this was a revolutionary concept at a time when menstruation was considered taboo and left women with few options. While the idea of single-use products is somewhat counterintuitive today (menstrual cups and all), in the early 1900s, they allowed women to carry on with their daily lives at any time of the month. But there was a catch: the price tag. At the equivalent of nearly $1 per pad, the convenience only applied to the rich.

The Future: It’s Electrifying!

Load shedding. That’s what large parts of the world call scheduled electricity cuts. In countries like South Africa it’s so routine, that the state power utility has launched an app to tell you when and for how long to expect to be in the dark — so you know whether to cook dinner early! South Africa, like much of the wider world, looks set to benefit from the global movement away from fossil fuels to clean sources of electrification.

In today’s Sunday Magazine, you’ll learn about one organization that’s doing exactly that. We also look at how solar is taking the rest of the world by storm, from the rise of electric cars in the U.S., to e-rickshaws in Bangladesh, to floating solar panel farms in Singapore and Japan’s ambitious plan to install solar panels on the roof of every home. This is certainly solar electricity’s moment in the sun.

a new solar system

Singapore Shine

Earlier this month, the Southeast Asian city-state of Singapore unveiled one of the world’s largest floating solar farms: 122,000 panels spanning an area the size of 45 soccer fields. The game-changing, government-run project could reduce annual carbon emissions by about 32 kilotons while quadrupling solar energy production by 2025. The project will produce enough power to run Singapore’s five water treatment plants. Pivoting from its oil-refining past, with Royal Dutch Shell recently halving capacity there, Singapore is looking to a greener future by positioning itself as a regional hub for carbon trading and sustainable development services.

Australia’s ‘Sun Tax’

It’s pretty bright Down Under and almost 3 million (out of 8.3 million) Australian households now boast solar panels, a number that’s expected to double over the next decade. By 2025, the new head of the Australian Energy Market Operator wants the electricity grids to be able to run on 100% renewable energy. But now some Australians say they’re being punished for doing good. Homes with solar panels whose owners export excess electricity onto the public grid could be taxed in an attempt to prevent electricity “traffic jams.” Authorities say it’s a fair move, but some environmentalists argue homeowners should be rewarded, not penalized, for the clean energy they provide.

South Africa’s Solar Shacks

In South Africa, huge numbers of people who live in informal settlements — shacks made from cardboard and tin and erected on any available land — are still living in the dark. One project, Energy 4 Wellbeing, is turning on the lights in the Qandu-Qandu informal settlement in Cape Town by providing solar minigrids. “There’s no running water, no electricity and it’s on a wetland. Most people are unemployed . . . it is dirt-poor,” Jiska de Groot, a clean energy expert at the University of Cape Town, tells OZY. De Groot’s team is now building solar towers and connecting them to the shacks. With three towers built so far, residents have lighting at night and can charge their phones, although refrigeration, which requires more energy, is still a problem. Having won last year’s Newton Prize for her work on urban energy transformations, de Groot and colleagues are now working on a new project on solar-powered fridges. The response from the community has been overwhelmingly positive, she says, especially because solar energy is safe. Previously, some shacks were illegally connected to the electricity grid, leading to fires and electrocutions.

Land of the Rising Sun

Japan already leads the world in solar capacity per square meter. Now, in order to meet its ambitious 2030 emissions target (reducing its 2013 rate of carbon output by 46%), the roof of every building could be fitted with solar panels. The country, which is about the size of California, plans to have 108 gigawatts of solar capacity online within a decade. How? Half of all federal government and municipal buildings will be fitted with solar panels, while many office buildings and most farms will be required to have solar capacity. But that’s not all: The nation’s trade ministry also says every house and apartment built after 2040 must have at least one solar panel, with countries such as South Korea set to do similarly.

It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia

Even as manufacturing in this city and across the Rust Belt collapsed over the past several decades, the U.S. found itself the largest importer of lithium-ion batteries, the power source for electric vehicles. President Joe Biden has set the target of achieving a carbon-free electricity sector by 2035, but doing so would require a solar energy workforce four times its current size — some 231,000 people. If Biden’s American Jobs Plan is passed, it could create a million jobs in renewable energies. The U.S. president has also proposed investing $174 billion to take on China in the electric vehicle (EV) market. That investment would help U.S.-based auto manufacturers to produce the vehicles, establish tax incentives for car buyers and build a national network of EV chargers. The plan also proposes electrifying 20% of school buses and the federal fleet, including U.S. Postal Service vehicles.

recharge your batteries

Costly Charge

While lithium-ion technology is a step forward compared to the lead-acid batteries of the past, complaints have persisted around the batteries’ durability, transportation difficulties and prohibitive cost. Although prices have fallen by 98% over the past three decades, the batteries are still a major factor contributing to higher prices of EVs. Why? The cathodes in lithium-ion batteries require metals such as nickel, lithium, cobalt and manganese to store maximum amounts of energy. Not only are these metals expensive to mine, they are environmentally costly and ethically questionable. Congolese cobalt mines linked to some EV companies have been exposed for using child labor.

Green and Clean

New developments in the world of lithium mining aim to solve some of these issues. Currently, lithium is extracted largely through hard rock mining and from underground reservoirs, processes that can result in serious negative environmental impacts such as contaminated waterways and soil. But that could change very soon. Recently in Germany, California and England, high-grade lithium deposits have been found in geothermal waters. Extracting lithium from these waters is projected to use less water and land and emit less carbon. Could green lithium be the future of battery tech?

Energizing Future

Solid-state lithium batteries could become an important, nay revolutionary, successor to the liquid-based lithium equivalents used to power vehicles today. Rather than depending on the latter’s toxic, often highly flammable liquid electrolyte, solid-state batteries employ a solid electrolyte, which eliminates the need for a cooling element. It also optimizes energy-storing capabilities and battery life. These futuristic batteries could potentially bring down manufacturing costs, making electric vehicles cheaper for customers. Several manufacturers are chasing this holy grail of battery tech — researchers at Cuberg in Silicon Valley, Saft R&D and Harvard University are all working on designing and developing solid-state batteries.

China Concerns

So who’s dominating the battery industry? China makes the most lithium-ion batteries in the world, with 93 factories compared to four in the U.S. China also manufactures the most solar panels, contributing 80% of the global supply in 2019. Furthermore, the country has one of the largest solar farms in the world, located in Qinghai province. “But buying Chinese solar panels to reduce emissions is like using gas to put out a fire,” writes Henry Wu, a researcher at the Center for a New American Security think tank. Why? Because to make the raw materials needed to produce the panels, China uses coal-powered electricity. But that’s not even the biggest problem — there are human rights issues too. Last month, the U.S. blocked some Chinese manufacturers of the raw material polysilicon, used in building solar panels, due to allegations the companies were using forced labor. Wu suggests the U.S. should look at changing its supply chains to European producers to avoid reliance on China and to expand its domestic supply of renewables.

mustang sally goes electric

No Greased Lightning!

Now, as concerns over fossil fuel use and climate change take center stage globally, car manufacturers have decided that electric vehicles are the future. Classic American motor brand Ford, for instance, plans to roll out the F-150 Lightning pickup truck next year. And ol’ Mustang Sally’s gone electric too: Ford’s Mustang Mach-E was named this year’s North American Utility Vehicle of the Year, bringing its iconic design into the carbon-free age. It can be charged super fast and has an extended range battery so you can go the extra mile.

A Lightbulb Moment

The idea of electric vehicles has been around for some time. The invention of the alternating current motor in the late 19th century even saw some claim to have conceived of a car that ran on “cosmic rays” — though that story is disputed. The real game-changer in making mass-manufactured electric vehicles a reality is the lithium-ion battery. Without them, we wouldn’t even have modern devices such as smartphones. The battery, invented by Nobel Prize-winning chemist Stanley Whittingham in the 1970s, has decades later proved revolutionary for the electric vehicle world: It boasts a greater energy output and weighs less than its lead-acid counterpart. Since the 1970s, Whittingham’s invention has been refined by numerous other scientists who have made versions of the battery that are safer and more practical.

E-rickshaws

If you’ve ever visited Southeast Asian capitals such as Bangkok or Jakarta, you’ll have been struck — though hopefully only figuratively — by the huge number of tuk-tuks, motorbikes and rickshaws plowing through the streets. As ever more people in the region move to urban areas and a growing middle class enjoys greater purchasing power for privately owned vehicles, governments are finding that they need to reimagine urban transport systems in order to meet emissions targets. Thailand is one country looking to position itself as an electric vehicle hub, with electric ferries recently launched on Bangkok’s aquatic thoroughfare, the Chao Phraya River. Meanwhile, a team of designers and experts from the Asian Development Bank have helped roll out e-rickshaws, or pedicabs, in Dhaka, Bangladesh, in a bid to establish a sustainable source of transport.

BuddhaPedalPower_inforce copyj

Formula E Racing

One of the biggest gripes with electric motors centered for years on power. No longer: Though the Formula E motorsport was seen as counterintuitive and even a lesser form of entertainment by petrolheads when it first held races in 2014, as the electric car market revs up, it’s only natural that the racing world has started to follow suit. Technological advances mean batteries can power cars for longer race periods, which in turn leads to a more thrilling sporting spectacle. Formula 1, the marquee international motorsports competition, has itself put forward an ambitious plan to become more sustainable via a net-zero racing emissions impact by 2030.

what’s next for charger installations?

From the Sun’s Rays to Your Car Engine

Still, a battery is a battery, meaning someday, whether in your neighborhood or out on the open road, it will run out and need to be recharged. But here’s a cool, clean solution: Solar power could become the cheapest and most eco-friendly way to charge an electric vehicle, even at home. While you’ll need to add extra solar panels to your residential system (experts estimate on average eight to 14 solar panels are needed to power an EV), the cost benefit of charging from home far outweighs the initial outlay. Alternatively, using electricity from the grid to charge your EV can be twice as expensive as going the solar route. Not to mention, it’s worse for the environment.

Kansai Electric's Mega Solar Power Station Tour

From the Sun’s Rays to Your Car Engine

Still, a battery is a battery, meaning someday, whether in your neighborhood or out on the open road, it will run out and need to be recharged. But here’s a cool, clean solution: Solar power could become the cheapest and most eco-friendly way to charge an electric vehicle, even at home. While you’ll need to add extra solar panels to your residential system (experts estimate on average eight to 14 solar panels are needed to power an EV), the convenience of charging from home could eventually outweigh the initial outlay. Using electricity from the grid to charge your EV, over time, can be more expensive than going the solar route. Not to mention, it’s worse for the environment.

On the Road

EVs may be the future of ground transportation, but for people living in rural areas — as one in five Americans do — the choice isn’t yet so clear-cut. For the most part, charging stations are concentrated in urban areas and along interstate routes, and while today there are more than 100,000 across the country, six years ago there were just 16,000. Huge changes, however, are in the works: President Biden’s proposed $2 trillion infrastructure plan includes building a nationwide network of EV charging stations that will number at least 500,000 by 2030.

Soaring Demand

But will that suffice? California Gov. Gavin Newsom is set to ban the sale of new gasoline-powered cars by 2035. As a result, the California Energy Commission reports the Golden State will need 1.2 million EV charging stations by 2030 to support the expected surge in electric car ownership. And California isn’t the only one set to implement major change. Electric automaker Rivian is planning to install chargers in all 56 of Tennessee’s state parks and in rural areas of Colorado, while other manufacturers are set to open charging stations to electric vehicles of all stripes.

The Twitch Renaissance

In the world of livestream gaming, there’s one platform that stands head and shoulders above the rest. Forget your Facebook Gaming, Caffeine or Owncast. Twitch is where it’s at. After initially gaining popularity with video game livestreamers, today it’s so much more — a place for painting tutorials, political sofa chats and even a space where preservers of at-risk languages get together by the millions.

Amid all this, Twitch is facing massive challenges: Cryptocurrency gambling is threatening to upend the platform, with “crypto casinos” paying the platform’s most popular users millions of dollars to livestream their slot playing antics. The undertones of toxic masculinity and chauvinism that have dominated the gaming world for decades still linger. Then there’s the controversy around bans by — and of — a range of actors.

With viewership skyrocketing over the past year and future growth expected to maintain a similar trajectory, today’s Daily Dose takes you on a journey through the weird and wonderful world of Twitch — who to watch, what to look for, and what to expect.

gamer girls

Safer Spaces

Twitch has gained an unfortunate reputation as a breeding ground for people perpetuating misogynistic or racist comments. But streamers such as Xocheergurlox, a New York City-based Call of Duty fan (who asked not to be identified by her real name), are actively fighting back against the toxicity. “I’ve curated my space to be safe for me and my community,” she tells OZY, “and that’s honestly one of my greatest accomplishments.” Thanks to her community, Cheer says she’s no longer worried about losing a chunk of her audience when she “raises money for bail funds, yells at people with a MAGA clan tag, or just ha[s] casual political conversations with chat.”

Pushing Boundaries

Last month, Twitch temporarily banned two top streamers for posting “sexually suggestive” content. Streamers Amouranth and Indiefoxx were censored for creating ASMR content from their beds, which the platform deemed as having broken its rules. Twitch is also having to contend with increasingly popular “hot tub streams” taking place under the platform’s Just Chatting category. It responded to the burgeoning trend by creating a standalone Pools, Hot Tubs, and Beaches category. But not everyone is convinced. “The way that women are viewed now on Twitch is sexual . . . it is what it is,” streamer Anderson tells OZY. “The trends that are going on like the hot tub stuff . . . I could care less. At the end of the day, it’s not my body, but I do know some people view that as detrimental.”

Tackling Hate

Alexis Anderson, a 24-year-old out and proud Black woman who goes by the username AlexisAyeee, says the hurtful commenters can be subdued. “We actually have people who are trolls and end up viewers or essentially learn the error in thinking the way they think,” the variety streamer tells OZY. Black women are severely underrepresented in the gaming and streaming communities. “[It’s] another reason why I started streaming,” Robin Meadows of North Carolina, a horror game streamer who goes by the name Ohitsrobinm, tells OZY. “I noticed all of them were mainly white women, [and] white men so [I decided] instead of complaining about it, I’ll just join.” Today, Meadows boasts over 12,000 followers and has built a surprisingly positive community within the horror gaming niche.

twitch around the world

Know When to Fold ’em

This is the story of how one streamer got Twitch banned — from an entire country. Partaking in online gambling through a foreign casino company is illegal in Slovakia, a central European country of 5.5 million people. So, when the Slovakia-based user behind the dDandis account began streaming poker games to his 35,000 Twitch followers last month, trouble with the authorities soon ensued. His actions resulted in all Slovak Twitch users losing access to the site. But the affair speaks to a bigger problem for the platform: About two-thirds of Twitch viewers are outside the U.S. and the company regularly finds itself at odds with its global audience due to what some streamers say are poorly defined rules and regulations.

Czech Me Out

As alluded to earlier, Twitch isn’t only for gamers. In 2018, it added a host of new categories, including one for artists. For streamers such as the Czech Republic-based Petra Zemánková that’s been a game-changer. “I’d seen a couple of artists from [other countries] start streaming and (I) have been really inspired to do the same,” she tells OZY. “So, one day I just decided to turn on the stream.” Today, thousands of viewers tune in to watch the 22-year-old draw.

Preserving Culture

New Zealand-based streamer Broxh uses Twitch as a vehicle to keep Maori traditions alive. Over 1.3 million people follow him, joining in to watch as he carves wood and plays video games. Such is the interest in his channel that Broxh makes a living from the platform — even after disabling an option to donate through his channel. His followers and New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern alike see him as a role model for showing youth how to make a living while helping to preserve Maori culture. His videos have even earned him a comparison to Bob Ross.

Preserving Languages

It might seem counterintuitive that a video game platform has become an important pillar in efforts to safeguard disappearing languages, but it’s one of the many applications of Twitch. In 2019, an online petition linked to the hashtag #CatalanLoveTwitch, signed by both streamers and viewers, resulted in Catalan being added to the hundreds of languages already available on the platform. Other petitions are currently circulating in a bid to add Basque and Galician to the platform, regional languages that are particular to Spain.

political firebrands

twitch_lead

The New Campaign Trail

By the time the 2028 presidential election swings around, millennials and Gen Zers are projected to be the most pivotal of all the electorate voting blocs. They also make up a majority of Twitch’s user demographic, and that’s why left-leaning politicians such as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Bernie Sanders and Andrew Yang have been quick to itch the Twitch. Has it worked? “I would say that authenticity . . . and sincerity, are actually really valued in our politicians, even though this is kind of an irony-poisoned generation,” Pennsylvania-based streamer and activist Michael Breyer, known on Twitch as Central_Committee, tells OZY. “Ilhan Omar or Rashida Tlaib, who are . . . all in, fighting their guts out and [are] not media polished, not mediated through five different focus groups. They’re coming out there and reacting and being accessible.”

To the Left or to the Right?

But Twitch wasn’t always a lefty bastion. In the past, it’s been used by right-wing extremists to stream deadly attacks. The Republican Party has lagged in attempts to connect with young voters on Twitch, but Rep. Madison Cawthorn, a Republican from North Carolina, has been vocal about harnessing its potential power. Meanwhile, some extremists have been drawn to the platform due to its reputation as a money-making machine and as an alternative to apps such as Parler. The leader of far-right group Proud Boys, Enrique Tarrio, is believed to have operated a stream on Twitch that was quickly shut down after a newspaper drew attention to the account.

Political Influencers

Long before established politicians took to Twitch, a cadre of political influencers found stardom there, inhabiting the liminal space between punditry and reality TV stardom. Hasan Piker, one such commentator, has a global audience of over a million users. How’d he do it? In large part by live streaming his own coverage of the 2020 presidential election. Political influencers are drawn to Twitch so they can exist in the “gray area between journalism, and . . . an old op-ed,” says political influencer Breyer.

Collaborative Communities

Twitch’s interactive chat feature is key to helping streamers connect with their audiences — and to keeping political influencers honest. “[We have] a lot of people in a community together, which allows you to get to more consensus positions and objective truths,” political and news streamer Brad Wydra, who goes by TouringNews, tells OZY. “If I’m being fact-checked in real time, it’s going to be a lot harder to misreport and get incorrect information out.”

the future of twitch

twitch_inline_3

Art in Real Time

The boundless possibilities Twitch serves up has streamer and artist ProperArtist, aka Collin Reynolds of Nashville, Tennessee, very excited indeed. “Do you have any idea how cool that is for a young up-and-coming artist to be able to watch someone they look up to craft a work of art in real time and ask questions/get feedback?” he tells OZY. “The support among artists is unlike anywhere I’ve seen before.”

Gone Gambling

Missed playing the slot machines in your local casino? You could always turn to Twitch (just not in Slovakia). Be careful, however, of getting sucked in: Streamer xQc quit gambling on Twitch after admitting he had become “slightly, if not moderately” addicted. He was equally alarmed when learning that nearly 2,000 people who had watched his exploits then used a promo code from his channel to sign up for online gambling sites. Many viewers also used promo codes gleaned through big name Twitch streamer Matthew “Mizkif” Rinaudo, who is paid to stream his gambling. These deals often target the young and vulnerable who, unlike Rinaudo, don’t have millions of dollars to burn through.

Money, Money, Money

When the gig economy went kaput last year thanks to COVID-19, many talented gamers and others turned to platforms like Twitch to shore up their income. Twitch claims 91% of the video game streaming market and hosts about 2 million viewers per day, with serious streamers making about $10 per viewer. That means the elite often net up to $30,000 per month. Top streamers such as Ninja, who has an army of 16.8 million followers, make up to $20 million a month. Not bad for a side hustle. However, it’s not necessarily easy money. To profit big from Twitch, one needs affiliate status. “As a smaller streamer, you can’t survive,” says Wydra, who reports that Twitch takes about 50% of a streamer’s subscription proceeds. To earn more, he said he accepts donations through Paypal and Venmo.

Read more on OZY

Forward-thinking

With more than 1 billion people predicted to be participating in online gaming and esports by 2025, Twitch’s clout is set to explode. New categories ranging from art, food and drink to science and technology, sports and fitness, talk shows and podcasting, show that the platform has big plans. “I feel like we’re kind of already seeing it,” streamer Anderson tells OZY. “The future of Twitch isn’t going to be just gaming anymore.”