On Saturday Nov. 7, 2020, the Associated Press called the election for Joe Biden. He became the official president-elect when the Electoral College's vote was certified by Congress on Jan. 7, 2021, and he was sworn in as the 46th President of the United States on Jan. 20, 2021.
On Jan 5, 2021, Georgians went to the polls to vote in the two runoff elections for their state's U.S. Senators. The election was of special importance because it determined who would gain control of the Senate. Both Democratic candidates, Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock won their races, handing control of the U.S. Senate to the Democratic party. The Democratic party controls the Presidency and both houses of Congress.
Meanwhile, the COVID-19 pandemic that was so key in shaping the 2020 election continues to spread with record-breaking speed.
With the COVID-19 crisis shaking the U.S. economy to its core, the role of government in the economy is front and center once again. Exactly how much responsibility the U.S. government has to help Americans hurt by the pandemic, and whom to prioritize, has been a huge bone of contention in creating the first three stimulus and relief packages.
Congressional Republicans have largely pushed for more aid for businesses, believing that shoring them up will help people by broadly strengthening the economy and protecting jobs. Congressional Democrats have pushed for more individual aid, such as increased unemployment benefits, to ensure that families can afford day-to-day necessities and so that consumer spending stays strong.
After the third stimulus package, Democrats have pushed for a larger fourth stimulus package, while Republicans have pushed for a much smaller one.
The issue of presidential leadership and influence on the Senate is doubly important, as the Senate has remained deadlocked on the issue of a fourth stimulus package. Except for supplements to existing legislation, it has not passed a new stimulus package since March 2020.
Another major economic issue at play is the role and purpose of the Federal Reserve. The Federal Reserve has introduced a large number of new monetary stimulus measures to try and prevent the COVID-19 crisis from causing a liquidity crisis. Former secretary of the Treasury Stephen Mnuchin has refused to authorize the extension of five of the Federal Reserve's lending programs past Dec. 31, 2020. This means that if President Biden wants to continue the programs there will be a delay due to the need to fully restart them.
President Biden has also nominated former Fed Chair Janet Yellen to be his pick for Treasury secretary.
In addition, there is one empty space on the Federal Reserve Board. Former president Trump attempted to appoint his nominee, Judy Shelton, to fill it before Biden took office. Shelton believes in returning to the gold standard and, before her current hearings, opposed the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC). Both of these positions are far outside the bounds of conventional monetary policy.
Student loan debt is one of the most critical issues facing U.S. voters. Around 45 million people are carrying a total of $1.54 trillion in student loan debt. Student borrowers are graduating from college with a whopping $30,000 in debt, on average, which presents a major obstacle to starting their post-graduate life on sound financial footing.
This debt overhang has major implications for the housing market, upon which much of the U.S. economy is based, and is a major reason for lower rates of homeownership among millennials.
Presidential candidates including Senators Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders presented plans for wiping out student loan debt entirely. While they failed to gain their party's nomination, that doesn't mean this is the last we'll hear about student loan forgiveness.
President Biden has been vague on what he plans to do regarding student-loan forgiveness, but said that canceling student-loan debt does "figure in [his] plan." He also mentioned legislation proposed by Democrats in the House of Representatives that would immediately forgive $10,000 in student-loan debt as part of a COVID-19 relief bill.
Total student debt owed by Americans.
This is already one of the most hotly debated topics in American politics and around the world. Since the U.S. pulled out of the Paris Climate Accord, Democratic candidates released their own climate-change policy proposals throughout the campaign. The Biden-Harris administration proposed a $1.7 trillion green energy plan over the next four years, and pledged to rejoin the Paris Accord as soon as they take office.
The U.S.-China trade war has dominated headlines since President Trump took office. In his first two years as president, the Trump Administration pulled out of several trade deals, introduced a new trade deal with Canada and Mexico, and levied hundreds of billions of dollars in tariffs on Chinese companies.
While 2020 started with trade tensions cooling off as former president Trump was working to finalize the USMCA trade pact and seemed to have set in place Phase 1 of his China trade deal, things have since heated back up.
Trump threatened to place tariffs on Mexico in the lead-up to the USMCA, but backed down after a public outcry. And after it was finalized, he briefly levied tariffs on Canadian aluminum but backed down when the Canadians threatened retaliatory tariffs.
So the North American trade situation seems to have largely cooled down. However, a Trump "Phase 2" to follow his "Phase 1" deal seems like a distant dream as trade relations with China have worsened significantly.
Trump demanded that Chinese firm Bytedance, owner of the app TikTok, sell its U.S. operations. He also banned the sale of electronics components to Chinese telecom firm Huawei, threatened to delist Chinese companies from U.S. stock exchanges, and banned U.S. investors from investing in companies that he claimed had too many ties to the Chinese military.
With the eviction moratorium and unemployment expansion provisions of the CARES Act having lapsed in late July, major factors preventing millions of families from losing their homes across the U.S. have disappeared.
According to Emily Benfer, the chair of the American Bar Association's Task Force Committee on Eviction, upward of 28 million people across the U.S. could have faced eviction by the end of September. Compare this to the 10 million people evicted throughout the 2008 foreclosure crisis and you get an idea of the size of the disaster that's facing the country.
Former president Trump ordered the Department of the Treasury, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, and the Federal Housing Financing Agency (FHFA), which oversees Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, to find ways to provide assistance to renters and homeowners to prevent eviction or foreclosure. However, these instructions do not suggest any specific methods or remedies, nor have they produced any concrete policies as of yet.
The problem was so great, and the remedies so scarce, that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) had to take the unprecedented step of using its authority to issue an eviction moratorium through Dec. 31, 2020, to stop the crowding and spread of COVID-19 that evictions would cause. Unless Congress steps up, or the CDC extends the moratorium, the tidal wave of evictions may just be postponed until the end of the year.
Considering that 31.5% of households in America pay more than 30% of their income on housing, the standard definition for affordability, housing was likely to be a significant issue during the election, even in the absence of the coming eviction crisis.
Among other things, Biden has proposed a refundable, advanceable (paid at time of usage) tax credit of up to $15,000 to help first-time homebuyers and fully funding the Section 8 voucher program so that the program can serve more than the 25% of eligible households it currently serves.
He also proposed reinstating the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule, which requires "communities receiving certain federal funding to proactively examine housing patterns and identify and address policies that have a discriminatory effect."
That rule is meant to redress the long-lasting impact of discriminatory practices such as redlining that excluded people of color from purchasing houses in many suburbs throughout the 20th century.
This last issue in particular has been taken up by President Trump, who has falsely claimed that this is a deliberate attempt by Joe Biden to "abolish" suburbs and eliminate single family zoning.
The U.S. spends far more per person than other countries on healthcare, while having lower life expectancy and higher rates of infant mortality than most other rich countries, so we're clearly not getting our money's worth.
However, no one can agree on what would fix our system. Former president Trump and Congressional Republicans proposed the American Health Care Act (AHCA) back in 2017, and while it failed to pass, it gives an idea of what the party's ideal solution for healthcare is.
On the other hand, Biden is looking to expand on the Affordable Care Act (ACA), passed when he was vice president.
After the election, the results of vaccine testing began emerging. On Nov. 9, 2020, Pfizer Inc. and BioNTech announced that their vaccine, which they are jointly developing, not only worked but was 90% effective. That effectiveness was significantly more than expected. Moderna followed up with early results from its trials that found its vaccine was roughly 95% effective, and could be stored at higher temperatures.
The struggle remains to manufacture and distribute the enormous number of these vaccines, both of which require some level of cold storage, across the nation and the world.
The average yearly cost of healthcare per person in 2018.
As the stock market is back to record highs while the U.S. economy is still deep in recession, the gap between the stock market and the rest of the economy is as wide, or wider, than ever.
As only about half of Americans own stocks, that gap also increases wealth and income inequality, also at near record levels.
With SEC chair Jay Clayton announcing that he is stepping down at the end of 2020, this gives President-elect Biden an opportunity to begin picking a replacement early.
Numerous policies could affect investing going forward, from how capital gains are taxed to who runs the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). Biden nominated Gary Gensler to take over.
One of, if not the largest pieces of legislation passed under former president Trump was the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. The legislation consisted of a large, permanent tax cut for corporations, and temporary cuts to individual taxes that will expire in 2025.
These cut individual taxes largely for higher-income Americans, but they also introduced at least some level of tax cuts across the board. Investors were a big winner of the tax cuts, as most of the corporate money repatriated under the law went to share repurchases and dividends rather than wage increases or investment, mirroring the effects of the repatriation holiday in 2004.
Biden has proposed a tax plan that would raise taxes for wealthy Americans and tax long-term capital gains at the same rate as normal income, going in the complete opposite direction from Trump's tax plan.
Under President Biden, it is likely that American tax policy could see a shift.
Former president Trump resisted releasing his tax returns to the public, breaking with presidential tradition dating back to the 1970's. The New York Times published information from his tax returns on Sept. 27, 2020, and said that more stories based on the data are upcoming.
With the five tech titans—Apple, Amazon, Facebook, Microsoft, and Alphabet—making over 20% of the S&P 500's market capitalization, the out-sized role that these companies have on our country is going to be an issue for President Biden. Former president Trump long railed against large tech companies for what he perceives as a bias against conservatives. These allegations have already had an effect as it was recently revealed that Facebook stopped enforcing its anti fake-news policies versus conservative outlets.
That's not to say that these tech giants haven't come under attack from the Democrats. Many Democratic Party politicians have attacked these companies for their sale of users' data and their use of corporate inversions to avoid paying taxes. In a rare example of bipartisanship, politicians from both sides of the aisle have accused many of these companies of being monopolies and proposed they be broken up like Standard Oil Trust of old. This idea has been reinforced by the current investigation by the FTC into all five of these companies into whether or not their acquisition strategies have been anti-competitive. Furthermore, on October 20, 2020, the Department of Justice (DOJ) filed an antitrust suit against Google over exclusivity deals that Google made with smartphone manufacturers.
While he has been vague in general, President Biden has made one specific statement with regard to big tech. He has said he wants to revoke Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. This provision stops internet platforms from being sued for what people post on their platforms. Biden argued that this allows companies like Facebook to casually profit from allowing the spread of dangerous misinformation with no repercussions.
Years are company fiscal years.