Friday, March 20, 2020

Coronavirus Devastates Jobs and the Economy, and Shakes Up About Everything Else

I almost titled this post “Only One Possible Topic This Week.” 

It’s been sudden.  I read three small local newspapers here in the Catskills and Poconos, and between their coming slowly in the mail, my wife seeing them first, and my putting them on the bottom of my stack below Times Herald-Record issues and the Sunday New York Times, I often don’t get to them until two weeks after their cover dates.  One I saw yesterday was from March 5th and had not a word about our now-dominating local, national, and world situation. 

I trust you know what’s happening.  I won’t try to recap it, since as well any details or status assessment I learned and sent along to you would be obsolete before I keyed it.  I offer, instead, some general observations.

First, the Coronavirus effect on jobs, which will get worse before it gets better, is truly devastating.  The only question now is whether we are in a depression or just a stiff recession.  When Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said we were, without government intervention, soon to reach 20% unemployment, he was not exaggerating.  This country contains 2.6 million waitpeople alone, almost none of whom can now do that for a living, and if you add to them others in food service, hotels, transportation (not just airlines), spectator sports, anything else connected with gatherings of people, and much more, that twenty percent seems too low.  As well, it’s hard to imagine our economy shrinking less than 10%. 

Second, while this is temporary, we have no idea when it will end.  Some may still be under the illusion that American life will be back to normal by month’s end.  It won’t, and a better question is whether, say, the Kentucky Derby will be able to stick to its new September date.  We all need to realize that we are running a marathon, not a sprint.

Third, we’ve seen other things related to this, but none quite the same.  It’s kind of like a long series of snow days or hurricane days but lasting vastly longer.  It’s reminiscent of the outpouring of patriotism we had after the 2001 terrorist attacks, with truck drivers and health care workers the heroes instead of first responders, but then we were only impeded from some travel.  It’s probably most akin to our national World War II effort, which lasted about four years and didn’t immediately end with victory, yet then we didn’t have to avoid the physical closeness which made those times more bearable. 

Fourth, because our current situation feels stultifying, isolating, and claustrophobic, we need to pay attention to our psychological and emotional health.  We need to take care of ourselves, be patient with ourselves, and give others some breaks as well. 

Fifth, we may already be on a de facto guaranteed income.  The first checks of $1,000 or more should arrive within two weeks.  Andrew Yang, the former presidential candidate known for his supporting a universal basic income, says these payments should continue monthly until “this crisis is over,” and politicians on both sides are, if not expressly agreeing, moving in that direction. 

Sixth, and for the first time in months, Donald Trump is not favored to win reelection.  The line, on which we can bet if we think it’s wrong, had him and Biden the same.  This line can change hourly, so check it for what’s probably the most objective assessment of 2020 outcomes available – it’s on the left-hand menu under Politics.

Seventh, we don’t know what will be permanently changed, but it may end up not being much at all.  People commonly thought the apparent national-character shifts from 9/11 would last, but they did not.  Two things which could remain are more knowledge of how well online gatherings and alternatives actually work and new efficiencies discovered by businesses.  In response to one article headline question, yes, we will get back to normal, though it may be pushing Christmas by then.  We can look forward to, as happened after the war, great pent-up demand for goods, services, travel, and in-person activities, which may finally be valued more highly than virtual ones.

For now, we need to physically avoid each other.  If you have any doubts about that, please read Jason S. Warner’s article here:  This may be the hardest year in our lives, but we can get through it.

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