I decided to do some furniture shopping last weekend. It’s just time for a little updating and to change out some pieces. I went to a half dozen new and used furniture stores in my local area in Central Florida. What I got from store managers and owners was a real-world lesson in economics, even though I taught the subject as a high school educator from 2002-16.
I really had no idea millions of Americans have been buying so much furniture for their new or existing homes as of late. Couches. Dining room sets. Bedrooms sets. The works. Store personnel explained to me how demand far exceeds our economy’s ability to meet it. But why?
Simple. There has been so little else to spend money on in the past year. Forget most travel. Trips to Europe and Asia are out. Cruising has ceased to exist since the pandemic began in March 2020. Restaurants are just now starting to reopen in some states. Concerts and most sporting events have been nixed to fans. So, I guess it should not have been too surprising that people have taken to making home improvements and upgrades as their form of entertainment and enjoyment.
In a market economy and normal business environment, companies seek to cash in on the shortages and the higher prices caused by surging demand. But that cannot happen now. Supply disruptions due to the pandemic have meant that furniture, which is made mostly overseas (i.e., China), is just not getting to the U.S. North Carolina, where much furniture used to be made, is trying to produce more. But they are facing a strange challenge—hiring workers.
What? How can that be? We are told and see news stories of lots of people out of work. The federal government continues dishing out relief with a claim it is “doing good” by folks. But we apparently learned nothing from the perverse incentives of 2020. The last Covid relief bill that passed without a single GOP vote included $300 “top off” bonuses in addition to state unemployment amounts. Furniture personnel I spoke with told me flat out, “People don’t want to work. Business are trying to hire. Virtually no one applies for the openings.”
Numerous employees told me at the stores that some furniture orders are coming with 1-2 year wait times. Lucky for me, I found an establishment that is closing a location in this area in 5 weeks. Customers can buy whatever is left on the floor. I found a nice King size sleigh bed, one of only two in that size left. It was sort of a “take what’s here or go without.”
So let’s recap. People are demanding a product. Businesses who make the product want to hire and will pay good money to produce the product. Lots of people who are not working could fill the openings. But they are not doing so. In turn, shortages abound, thus driving up prices. Let’s hope this isn’t a prelude to socialism in Joe Biden’s America, where we will all have to learn to wait or just “live with what we have.” Last weekend felt so 1980s Soviet Union or Venezuelan to me. America’s conservatives must stand strong and not let that happen.
Jeff Szymanski works in political communications for AMAC, a senior benefits organization with 2.4 million members.
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