Sure, there’s plenty to give Americans pause as this year passes and a new one begins. But there are plenty of positive developments and promising innovations that could improve our everyday lives in the not-too-distance future. Here are 10 forecasts that appeared in the pages of The Kiplinger Letter in 2016. See if they don’t improve your outlook.
Happy New Year!
Advancements in Battling the Big C
Some big news on the cancer-fighting front: New drugs are offering promising therapies that slow the progression of some types of the disease, prolonging lives without many of the nasty side effects of treatments that use chemotherapy and radiation.
Behind the advances: Immunotherapy drugs that use a body’s immune system to battle the disease. The drugs inhibit a protein that keeps the body from attacking cancer cells.
Two drugs will help some melanoma patients: Opdivo, from Bristol-Myers-Squibb, and Keytruda, from Merck. They’ve been OK’d for lung cancer, too.
But that’s just the beginning for the drugs. Use against other cancers is in the pipeline. Keytruda is in late-stage clinical trials for treatment of cancers of the bladder, breast, rectum, esophagus, stomach, head and neck, and for multiple myeloma. Opdivo is being considered for 20 types of cancers. Other trials involve atezolizumab, from Roche, and durvalumab, from AstraZeneca. OKs are pending.
Gender Equality — Yes!
The gap in earnings for men and women? It will continue to narrow in coming years as more women move into the sciences and tech jobs, where salaries tend to be higher, as social norms continue to change, and as women outpace men in finishing college and earning graduate degrees.
But it won’t close entirely for many years. Overt pay discrimination is on the wane for the most part, because of government intervention and social pressures brought to bear on employers. Progress will now come from sociological trends.
By 2020, the earnings gap will be about 1: Women will be paid 84A cents for every dollar paid to men. By 2025, the difference will narrow by two pennies. That compares with 19A cents in 2015, and vastly improved from the 36A cents difference between the sexes in 1980. The calculations are based on median earnings.
For workers with similar education and jobs, the earnings gap essentially disappears. This is especially true for millennials who are college graduates holding professional jobs. But the earnings gap between women and men in this group may start to widen when more of the women have children and stay at home for a while to care for them. Higher up the corporate ladder, the gap among executives should narrow as younger men and women are promoted to replace executives who are older.
A New Work Perk for College Grads
A growing number of firms plan to help pay down their workers’ student debt as a way to attract and retain talent. Only 3% of firms now offer the benefit, but it’s gaining popularity as student debt rises and young workers expect the help.
Student debt burdens have exploded, with 70% of college grads averaging $35,000 in debt and advanced degree recipients holding between $75,000 and $150,000.
Employers can tailor student loan repayment programs to suit their needs. To retain workers, firms can make contributions that grow alongside years of service. To lure new grads, they can offer student loan repayment in lieu of a signing bonus. Some firms will offer higher loan repayments for hard-to-fill technical and other slots. Services that help employers set up programs include EdAssist, SoFi and Gradifi.
More Good Jobs at Good Wages
There’s lots of fretting about jobs these days, but, for skilled workers, the future is bright. In fact, employers find it hard to fill many jobs in fields that require sophisticated technical skills along with an ability to communicate effectively while leading and influencing teams of colleagues.
Successful implementation of technology requires a slew of experts in well-compensated positions, ranging from big data and cybersecurity specialists to software and mobile app developers. Also computer network administrators, systems engineers, programmers of all stripes and wireless network engineers.
Greater use of digitized video for marketing and more is opening up jobs in motion graphics and customer experience design, marketing automation and other specialties that didn’t exist a few years ago. Recent college grads and others that specialize in such fields are often seeing multiple offers from top-notch firms. Among other tech careers that will see huge growth in the years ahead: Commercial drone pilots. Smart-home-systems installers and repair workers. Satellite data analysts. Coders for virtual reality systems and quantum computers.
Meanwhile, scores of health care jobs are going unfilled, and many of them are at the high end of the spectrum: Directors of surgery and emergency operations. CEOs and COOs of hospitals. Physicians who specialize in geriatrics. Dentists. Medical laboratory technologists and occupational therapists. Chief nursing officers plus nurses of all types, especially nurses trained to work in specialty areas.
Fewer Car Crashes?
Carmakers have high hopes for new wireless tech that prevents accidents. In 1999, the industry got the rights to some airwaves for vehicle-to-vehicle signals, but plans went nowhere for years. Finally, General Motors will equip a car in 2017, and testing of the tech is revving up, so other vehicles won’t be far behind. Tech giants such as Cisco and Qualcomm are working on the engineering details.
The wireless safety systems could be federally mandated by 2020 or so to reduce crashes by having cars “talk” and automatically avoid one another. And though car companies will have to share the airwaves with all sorts of Wi-Fi users, they’ll be able to operate separately from smartphones and other Wi-Fi traffic.
The Magic of 5G
Blazing-fast wireless service is on the way: 5G, or fifth-generation wireless technology. It will revolutionize the mobile internet industry.
Web speeds will be 10 to 100 times as fast, enabling HD movie downloads in under five seconds, with lag times of less than a thousandth of a second and ultra-low-power sensors that last for years.
Expect full-fledged service by 2020 or so. Major trials will get under way next year, with AT&T and Verizon leading the early parade. Hundreds of billions of dollars will be spent yearly to update wireless infrastructures and services.
The U.S. is poised to lead in 5G adoption in the wake of rules from federal telecom regulators that unleashed huge swaths of untapped airwaves.
Among the many business uses of 5G:
Distant remote operation of excavators or bulldozers with virtual reality goggles and joysticks.
Real-time mechanical diagnostics for plants, electric grids and vehicles with state-of-the-art sensors to track moisture, vibration, heat in pipes, etc.
Remote health care with no-delay connections for intricate surgery and rehab that involves remotely moving a patient’s limb fitted in an exoskeleton.
Driverless car routing to prevent crashes and reduce traffic congestion, plus signals from pedestrians’ smartphones to stop cars from hitting them. Superfast business internet with speeds in the gigabits-per-second range, unleashing virtual reality training and holographic video conferencing on the go.
Emergency response feeds of live video and sensor data from police cars, ambulances and drones so that doctors can prepare to treat incoming patients.
High-Speed Internet for Everybody
Satellites will soon be bringing speedier Web service to users in rural areas. In a few years, Calif.-based satellite operator ViaSat aims to offer faster Internet to folks in remote locations where physical connects are scarce. It won’t be cheap, but it will work just about anywhere, with speeds of 100 megabits persecond or more. The company also aims to market its service to airlines, the maritime industry, the military and other users that operate in far-flung places.
Another Chance for Struggling Homeowners
The feds are readying more help for folks struggling to refinance a mortgage. A program started during the recession to let homeowners with less than 20% equity in their homes refinance into a new loan will be extended through September of next year. And in October 2017, regulators will roll out a new refinancing program for borrowers with slim equity. Unlike the current program, the new option will be open to applicants whose loans were originated after May 31, 2009, making more homeowners eligible.
Better Weather Forecasts
Sorry, not better weather necessarily. Just better forecasts.
Uncle Sam will get better at predicting foul weather, this fall, when the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration launches a new weather satellite to scan the Earth faster than current satellites and snap sharper storm images. And a supercomputer upgrade last January is also helping NOAA make better forecasts.
Food From Drones
Internet giants Google and Amazon are getting into the grocery business, joining a growing number of grocers and other firms selling goods online and testing delivery services. They won’t make much money, especially at first, and that’s fine with them. They want to get a foot in the door early so they can dominate food delivery when grocery drop-offs by aerial drones and driverless cars become commonplace.