June 19, 2023

Today's Topics

Hi! It's been 2 years since Juneteenth became the 11th federal holiday — and companies are starting to catch up, with 39% of employers marking the date as a paid holiday, up from just 9% in 2021. Today we’re exploring:

  • Pixar's plight: The animation studio isn't creating the magic like it used to.
  • China: Reversing falling birth rates is increasingly a top government priority.
  • Shipping strike: UPS workers are close to a landmark stoppage.

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The okayables

In 2017 The Atlantic caused a stir with “How Pixar Lost Its Way”, a piece calling time on the golden age of Pixar — the animation studio that almost single handedly relaunched the art of animated storytelling with compelling narratives for children and adults. In hindsight that call was probably right, though maybe a few years early, as the studio managed further box office success from sequels such as Toy Story 4 and Incredibles 2 followed up by solidly reviewed efforts during the pandemic, such as Soul and Luca.

But recent Pixar movies have struggled to recreate the magic of the original classics like Toy Story, Finding Nemo and Monsters, Inc. The studio's latest effort, Elemental, raked in just ~$30m at the box office last weekend, the second-lowest opening weekend debut in the history of Pixar. That follows on from the disappointing release of Lightyear — the origin story of one of the studio's most iconic characters — adding to the weight of evidence that Pixar's golden years are behind it.

Diagnosing Pixar's plight is difficult. It'd be easy to say things went wrong after Disney's acquisition of the company in 2006 — but the megahits didn't exactly stop overnight.

One factor is simply competition. Studios rushed to reproduce the Pixar magic... and eventually managed it. Disney's own animation studio got its act together with blockbusters like Frozen and Zootopia, while the recent success of Super Mario Bros. proves there's still plenty of life for the animated movie.


Last Thursday, Beijing’s government announced a major policy: that it would extend insurance coverage for IVF and other assisted reproduction treatments. China lost its crown as the world’s most populous nation back in April — according to the latest estimates from the UN — and the country’s leadership have since intensified their support for policies that encourage having children.

China’s controversial one-child policy, in place in various forms for more than 3 decades, was removed in 2015. Most people would have guessed at the time that the country’s birth rate would rise once the limit on children was lifted. The opposite happened. Birth rates in China collapsed year after year, reaching 6.77 babies born per 1,000 people in 2022  — the lowest level on record. The fact that local governments are willing to spend thousands of dollars on treatments to encourage having a family is evidence of just how seriously authorities are taking the situation.


A reductive point of view can make a strong case that a smaller population may be no bad thing; fewer people obviously consume fewer resources and require less infrastructure. But the pace of China’s population shrinkage is the concern — the country’s population is expected to halve by the end of this century. That means major imbalances in working-age populations. Underfunded pensions, empty houses,  and potentially higher retirement ages are just a few of the economic and social difficulties that the country may face.

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Shipping strike

On Friday, the Teamsters union, representing 340,000 UPS workers, voted overwhelmingly to strike if no agreement is reached with the company before the contracts expire at the end of July. That's a major deal, as a walkout at UPS could become the largest work stoppage in the US since the steelworkers strike in 1959, when ~500,000 workers walked out for nearly four months.

The union achieved a significant breakthrough last week when the company tentatively agreed to include air conditioning in vehicles, following incidents of UPS drivers suffering from heatstroke. However, the Teamsters see this as just the beginning — pushing for higher wages, more full-time work opportunities, the removal of surveillance cameras in delivery trucks, and improved working conditions.

Package deal

UPS plays a crucial role in the US delivery market, handling roughly 1-in-4 parcels shipped in the country, processing an astonishing 19 million parcels per day during the first quarter of this year. But in recent years it's faced increasing competition from tech giant Amazon.

Over the past decade, the tech behemoth has rapidly expanded its logistics division, going from a market share of less than 1% a decade ago to a substantial 23% in 2022, per data from Pitney Bowes. Currently, Amazon sits just 1% behind UPS, having surpassed FedEx in 2020.

More Data

• Fast-casual restaurant Cava’s IPO last week was such a hit that it now has a market cap close to $5bn, making it more valuable than Wendy's, Shake Shack or Papa Johns.

• Researchers in Sweden have found that an average supermarket customer's purchase goes from $14.96 to $23.31 when the store plays music.

Nikola, maker of electric trucks, is cutting 23% of its workforce as the company tries to preserve cash.

• A new species of dinosaur that dates back up to 145 million years has been discovered in the UK.


Juneteenth: a visual history.

• Explore the most popular movie combinations (updated for June).

• Our friends over at The Pudding have just created a CRUTCH Ranking, tallying each seasons’ champions based on injured and inactive opponents from each round.

Off the charts: Americans have generally moved less in recent decades than they did 50 years ago. But which states did Americans move to last year? [Answer below].

Answer here.

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