The indefinite shutdown of the economy is a health crisis that is arguably more dangerous than COVID-19. With economists warning us that we are entering a “Greater Depression,” one only needs to look back at the chilling statistics from our closest frame of reference- It was reported that 40,000 men committed suicide in one year during the Great Depression. It’s unclear exactly how many people starved to death during that time, but even in a modern America with a healthy economy it’s estimated that malnutrition causes 678,000 deaths a year. With food shortages on the horizon as more and more processing plants close, the new dangerous reality of starvation for America’s poorest is not a hypothetical worry. It is imminent.
As we enter nearly a month of mandatory COVID-19 lockdowns across the country, much of America’s small businesses are closing down for good or are just on the brink. The 78% of Americans who lived paycheck to paycheck before the economic shutdown who are now out of work indefinitely are finding themselves without answers as to how they are going to pay next month’s rent, not to mention next months’ meals for themselves and their children.
One third of Americans did not pay rent in April. With some states having already extended their lockdowns into June, how can they possibly pay two more rent cycles? The stimulus check of $1,200 is laughable at best for much of the country living in areas where rent in even a studio apartment is double or triple that amount.
I’m not saying that we should not be worried about COVID-19. It is obviously a very real public health crisis. However, so is poverty. Thrusting millions of Americans into a state-caused poverty with the justification “it’s for your own good” simply can’t be the only solution. There absolutely must be a middle ground approach that allows Americans who need to feed their families the ability to do so. Refusing to address the economic shutdown as a health crisis is ignorant and destructive. It is very telling that the government officials who have a guaranteed check every week are comfortable telling people to “just wait it out”.
Low-risk Americans must be allowed to return to work if they choose. They can do so while wearing masks, engaging in as much social distancing as possible, and maintaining strict cleanliness at their place of work. I would argue there is far more danger in people standing in lines around the block of grocery stores than there would be in most workplaces.
Americans and the government must come to terms with the fact that the COVID-19 crisis is two-fold. The economic destruction should not be an afterthought, and it should be treated just as seriously. It’s not about “prioritizing money over people” as many would retort. The economy is tied to mortality just as much as the virus is. When people start dying from lack of work and food, will those deaths be just as pressing of a concern as COVID-19 deaths? Only time will tell.