We all know the effects of the coronavirus on people, politics and society as a whole. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) continues to remind us through the news and advertisements on Twitter, Instagram and YouTube to stay home and stop the spread. We see the statistics of infection rates daily, and the coronavirus is the top conversation starter among friends, family and neighbors (from 6 feet away, of course).
By staying home, more people will recover and not spread the disease to others — a noble goal — but how long can we really stay at home? Some universities have suggested that they may not be in-person in the fall, and how many of those students will take a gap year rather than endure a semester of Zoom classes? How many businesses that rely on tourism and visitors will be forced to close, possibly forever?
The economic consequences of the coronavirus should not be overlooked — because we’ve gone nearly nowhere for two months, many people are not earning money. Sure, most well-known businesses don’t need to make huge profits right now, but they should remain in the black. Scream about the evilness of corporations all you want, but corporations are what keep everyday Americans employed. The profits of most businesses, especially smaller ones, go to buildings, taxes and employees, not into the pockets of the owners. Unlike what career politicians might believe, they simply don’t have extra cash lying around to pay non-working employees — Fordham’s lack of a nest egg is the biggest example in students’ minds right now. Even big companies such as J. Crew and Neiman Marcus have filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.
By refusing to let most people go to work, governments are destroying local economies. The stock market is improving, but its effects are not readily apparent in our own communities. Telework is useful only to an extent — the people who are able to work remotely often earn more than those who can’t, so the length of the economic shutdown will predominantly harm those who can’t afford for it to continue. The longer we stay at home, the harder it will be for the average person to regain footing and to afford food and housing.
Conservatives aren’t advocating for people to go back to work just for “precious money,” and we do, in fact, care about the health and safety of older people. We understand that the only way for everyone to survive this pandemic without losing their jobs (and therefore houses and food) is to open up — safely and slowly. Similarly, career politicians have never had to run businesses, and they haven’t been out of work for two months.
I’ve seen a Tweet saying that we’ve fallen to the bottom section of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and that we can’t open up the economy until those needs are met. But money isn’t in the top section of the hierarchy — we don’t barter for goods; we use money, and people can’t have money until they go back to work.
Postponing rent and other payments will only help for so long. Landlords and facilities workers aren’t made of money, and they’re people, too. The only solution is to open up as soon as it is safe because otherwise, even more people will face food insecurity and housing problems.
Government unemployment assistance is available to ease the burden, but states’ websites are notoriously dysfunctional. The federal government is offering $600 in pandemic unemployment compensation under the CARES Act on top of the states’ usual unemployment pay. For many states, including New York and my home state of Maryland, this may mean higher pay than what workers would be given at their jobs, possibly incentivizing people to not return to work, since they are being paid more to stay home through July 31. The average unemployed person could now receive around $1,000 per week, the equivalent of a $52,000 yearly salary.
However perfect it sounds to be paid more to not work, government assistance will run out, and we college students and young people will have to pay for it in taxes over the next few years of our lives. History has proven it: After the Great Depression, taxes for all income levels rose, and the same is likely to happen for us, though hopefully not so drastically.
By opening the economy and businesses sooner rather than later, we will save people from food insecurity and housing insecurity. This must be done with the utmost caution, but other countries that are opening back up have had success with not spreading the virus thus far. Denmark’s elementary schools opened on April 17, and they, along with many others, have not spread false information from the government or news organizations. We can have hope that we, too, will survive this with our homes, livelihoods and loved ones safe and sound.