Sunday, April 19, 2020

The Pandemic's Effects Have Only Just Begun

I've been wondering over the past few years about how this new Gilded Age will end, and I think we have the beginnings of the answer. World War I, and a worldwide influenza epidemic you might have read about, ended the first one. Now it seems that another pandemic will end the current one. It is eminently possible that the economy bounces back quickly and by the fall we are well on our way to a full recovery, but my best guess it that this will not happen and that the economic carnage will be wide and deep.

The effects? 

First and foremost is the idea that most American workers are exposed. Without a job, most people don't have health insurance and most do not have much savings, either for a rainy day or for retirement. Hourly workers are especially vulnerable and those who work for technology-and-app-driven businesses have found that they are expendable. Members of minority groups have not only felt more economic pain than whites, they are also being exposed to Covid-19, and dying, at higher rates. The government did pass huge stimulus bills, but $1,200 isn't going to pay too many bills and many small businesses were shut out by the lack of money and the big banks that controlled who received loans.

My sense is that this will have a profound effect on people's thinking and votes. The United States does not have nearly the safety net that other countries have, and much of that is based on an ideology that says that if you have government programs, then people will not work. This is simply not true. Consider the debate over the stimulus plan. Democrats wanted to increase the amount of money that people could get for unemployment, while Republicans balked because they thought that giving more money would decrease their incentive to work. But there is no work. People need immediate help. And most people would rather work. Ultimately the Democratic version of the bill passed.

The same is true of health insurance. The work-based system we have now has also been exposed as inadequate and unequal. And the Republicans have no plan to fix it. In fact, the administration is backing a suit that will soon be in front of the Supreme Court to declare the Affordable Care Act unconstitutional. What we need is health insurance that is both affordable and portable. A robust public option with low deductibles would fit the bill. Lowering the eligibility age for Medicare to 50 or 55 would also help. If we can pay trillions over the course of a few months to bail out airlines, cruise companies and banks, we can find money to finally give all Americans decent health insurance.

The most shocking aspect of this pandemic, though, has been what it's uncovered about children in American society. Millions of children do not have access to health care because of their parent's job, but now it's no longer possible to ignore the fact that millions do not have access to equal educational programs. They do not have technology in their homes or from their school districts that allows them to learn online. They rely on schools to provide them with a healthy breakfast and/or lunch, and even that is under assault by an administration that wants to relax school nutrition standards. They do not have reliable, fast Internet connections. They live in cities, suburbs, exurbs and rural areas that do not have the money to keep schools open in a pandemic or an economic crisis. And we expect to compete with the rest of the world on standardized tests and economic productivity?

And now we evidently have an administration that is urging on those who would put our health at risk and undermine the safe and orderly reopening that is critical to our country.

This is what the Democrats have to remind the American people about every day for the rest of this campaign. They have to make it personal and immediate and tell people that a rising stock market helps the wealthy, but the rest of the economy is a result of treating workers respectfully and as valued members of their organizations. Health care. Affordable child care. Livable wages. That's the message that will win.

For more, go to or Twitter @rigrundfest