Alumnus analyzes the economic impact of COVID-19
For more than a year, the world’s attention has been focused on the COVID-19 pandemic. From strict lockdowns to face-covering mandates, the virus has significantly impacted many aspects of society — including the economy.
As a senior economist at S&P Global, St. Olaf College graduate Satyam Panday ’02 has provided important insight and analysis about the economic effects of the pandemic. Panday’s work focuses on providing economic forecasting to rating analysts. Throughout the COVID-19 outbreak, he has been looking at the economy’s response to risks associated with the virus, as well as subsequent lockdowns and policy decisions. Some of these include the dislocation of income in the household sector and financial markets, unemployment benefits, and grants aiding the business sector.
“COVID was an exogenous shock. It was an unforeseen shock that came all of a sudden,” he says. “One can think of other times in history when we had pandemics, but it never really got to the point like this in the U.S. in the last 100 years. It has had an uneven impact, with the youngest worker seeing the biggest decline in employment, the lowest-earning occupations getting hit the hardest, and, not surprisingly, people-facing industries such as leisure, hospitality, and brick-and-mortar retail struggling to recover. At the end of the day, consumers are going to be cautious with high COVID-risk activities until they feel safe.”
Panday notes that when pandemics hit in the past, the economy was primarily goods-driven through manufacturing and agriculture. Today America is increasingly becoming a service-driven economy. Advancements in technology have produced a growing trend for businesses to shift toward remote settings, which is being further accelerated by the current COVID-19 environment.
“When you think of services, you think of technology, business, and professionals — the ones who have college education and mostly work behind their computers. Those kinds of jobs are ‘pandemic safe’ in the sense that they’re not people-facing occupations in a traditional sense; they are Zoom-facing jobs,” he says. “That has helped avoid a much larger unemployment rate and permanent layoffs in the economy. We had already seen signs of a developing trend of businesses moving towards working from home, so this pandemic accelerated those trends that were already in place.”
Satyam Panday ’02We had already seen signs of a developing trend of businesses moving towards working from home, so this pandemic accelerated those trends that were already in place.
While a remote setting has allowed many professionals to maintain financial stability, there are negative effects of this work environment as well, as Panday has experienced first-hand. “The office camaraderie, the colleagues you work with, you would eat lunch together, you have some sense of friendship, but now it’s become very transactional in the sense that you’re only emailing each other when you need each other,” he says. “That social aspect we had before is missing.”
Panday earned his undergraduate degree in mathematics at St. Olaf, and several years later went to the University of Massachusetts at Amherst for his MBA. While he never intended to be an economist as a profession, he was inspired by professors to change his focus from business management to macroeconomics and eventually earned his Ph.D. in international economics and finance at Brandeis University. With much of his work revolving around applied macroeconomics, Panday says his mathematical background is a great asset for the quantitative analysis necessary in his field.
Panday, who is originally from Nepal, credits much of his success to his time at St. Olaf. From meeting students of various backgrounds to working as a student consultant during Interim, Panday gained different perspectives on how to think about complex issues and collaborate with teams.
“The four years at St. Olaf was probably the best four years, and I don’t think I would have had a better time anywhere else I would have gone,” he says. “I made some really good friends that I’m still in touch with, and I met my wife at St. Olaf. A lot of my life is because of St. Olaf, whether it be in my family or in my career.”
St. Olaf’s liberal arts education gives students a generalized understanding of many areas of interest. This, says Panday, is a “risk diffuser” for pursuing careers that may not perfectly align with one’s undergraduate degree and gives individuals an opportunity to explore different life experiences.
“I graduated in 2002 — just after a recession — and it was not a good time to enter the job market regardless of what degree you were getting, but it gave me an opportunity to do something else outside of my major. That kind of experience has its own value,” he says. “I would not put too much stock in having to be correct about the major that you choose. I think there’s a lot more to life, and a lot more studying to do after your undergraduate degree, that will ultimately get you to wherever you end up in the future. You’ll be alright no matter what you do as long as you keep your honesty, curiosity, and do the best you can every day. If you do your best today, tomorrow will take care of itself on its own.”
Satyam Panday ’02The four years at St. Olaf was probably the best four years, and I don’t think I would have had a better time anywhere else I would have gone. I made some really good friends that I’m still in touch with, and I met my wife at St. Olaf. A lot of my life is because of St. Olaf, whether it be in my family or in my career.
Last fall, Panday led a walking tour of Wall Street for the St. Olaf Piper Center for Vocation and Career’s Connections Program — which brings current students into alumni workplaces around the country to form connections with the College’s Ole network and explore career possibilities created from a liberal arts education. Panday was awed by the students’ maturity and the insightful questions they prepared, which he says he expected from St. Olaf students. “Folks were more mature than what we used to be. They have a lot more information, and that’s good. Every generation, every new student should be smarter than we were,” he says, adding that he enjoyed showing students around New York and looking at places he otherwise may not have explored himself.
For the future, Panday is hoping to keep learning in his free time, whether reading about the cosmos or a new autobiography; he remains curious about the human experience and world. Professionally, he is working on new ways to incorporate human behavior into understandings of the complexities of the macroeconomy. This is one of the things Panday says he enjoys most about his career — exploring new channels of impact and how to quantify them. He hopes that current students are able to find such enjoyment in their future endeavors as well. “Learn from the past and focus on the present,” he says. “There’s so much learning to do in life; you’re just at the beginning of your career.”