Though at least this past Friday, it had seemed the United States was on the way to getting out of the coronavirus pandemic. Now it doesn’t look that way at all. I’m not basing that on a bad outcome, on one or two pessimistic predictions, or even on general disappointment about jobs, the economy, or our progress in daily life. Here I have eight different articles with varying things worth worrying about.
Whether we label it a second wave or not, the word, over three months after the Covid-19 turned the nation upside down, that “U.S. Sets Record for Daily New Cases as Virus Surges in South and West” (The New York Times, June 25th) is seriously bad news. Although states in the Northeast are far below their infection peaks, those in the South and West, especially Florida, Texas, Oklahoma, Arizona, and South Carolina, are doing the worst. As a result, New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut, the first two the most dangerous American places in March, are, in an indication of deficient federal action, requiring that Americans arriving from states with the highest rates quarantine themselves for 14 days.
On the economic front, we have settled in to a typical 1.5 million state unemployment claims per week, putting the lie to any idea that all job movement is now people returning to work. Ben Casselman and Tiffany Hsu’s “Continued Layoffs Signal an ‘Economic Scarring’,” from the June 18th New York Times, documented that we had 13 consecutive weeks with at least one million filings, up to 14 with The Washington Post’s June 25th Economy Alert that “another 1.48 million people filed for jobless claims last week.” Amazingly, there had not been more than a weekly 695,000 for the previous 37 years. As well, “Millions of Job Losses Are at Risk of Becoming Permanent,” per Olivia Rockeman and Jill Ward on June 14th in Yahoo Finance. That is because efficiency, the largest reason for the number of jobs to decrease long-term after automation and globalization, has jumped with companies’ discoveries that they can run remarkably well without workers laid off or furloughed. In March, almost all employees losing their income expected that, after the pandemic, they would be back on the job, but now we and they strongly suspect otherwise. It is true that many people are resuming their pre-coronavirus employment, but, overall, we are still in serious trouble.
Over the past four weeks there were three broader looks at how we are doing with Covid-19, and all were negative. Yascha Mounk’s The Atlantic “The Virus Will Win,” subtitled “Americans are pretending that the pandemic is over. It certainly is not” almost forecast attitude changes since then manifested in this past Wednesday’s 700-point Dow Jones drop. Since per one poll, the share of Republicans trusting “the information you hear about coronavirus from medical experts” went from “nearly nine out of 10” to “just about one in three” in two months, “it is now difficult to imagine that anybody could muster the political will to impose a full-scale lockdown for a second time,” especially in the states listed above, all of which Donald Trump won in 2016. Similar sentiments were expressed by Michelle Goldberg in the June 22nd Times “America is Too Broken to Fight the Coronavirus,” along with “Republican political dysfunction” making “a coherent campaign to fight the pandemic impossible,” and the statistic that after “slowly declining,” “the number of new cases” are “up a terrifying 22 percent over the past 14 days.”
More ambitious in scope if not longer is Annie Lowrey’s June 23rd Atlantic “The Second Great Depression.” She projected a recovery, instead of looking on a graph like a V or a U, resembling “a kind of flaccid check mark, its long tail sagging torpid into the future.” Given the steady and way-high unemployment claim numbers that may be most realistic, also with the Congressional Budget Office not only projecting an $8 trillion next-decade economic activity cut but expecting consumer spending to drop “$300 billion to $370 billion” each quarter through 2021 year-end. Now, per Lowrey, “economists expect that 42 percent of people recently let go will not return to their former employers,” and, with lower tax revenues, we will have “a budget crisis for state and local governments.” She also pointed out that “never getting the pandemic under control means never unleashing the economy.”
The good news is that Trump is, for the first time in years, a substantial reelection underdog. I say that not because of poll results, but from sportsbook.ag, an offshore betting facility located where it is legal to wager on elections, which, as of yesterday morning, had the Democratic candidate, presumably Joe Biden, as slightly better than a 3 to 2 favorite. This company cannot afford to be biased, as bettors would exploit that, so its lines are the most realistic actual probabilities. Yet it is still more than four months until November 3rd, and a lot more can and will happen.
Otherwise, we should root for a vaccine to be available by Christmas or sooner. But until then, we need to keep evaluating our choices – and to keep our expectations in line.