Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Walking On Thin Edges

There was a post I shared on Facebook the other day, how we're all in the same storm, but not in the same boat. About that.

Recently I had an interesting discussion with a stranger on FB. She seemed unable to imagine how people could be in financial trouble due to COVID-19 job loss. At one point she even said maybe this situation "would teach people not to spend-spend-spend.”

I tried to explain that millions of people live paycheck to paycheck without much cash reserve. Some folks are even starting to skip the mortgage or rent. Fine, she said, they can skip a couple months now and pay it all back later. No, I said, that just means they’ll be permanently two or three months behind. She then got a little testy, demanding to know what people were doing with their government stimulus checks. After all, a family of four has $3,400 coming.

Yes, I said, they do. IF they have direct deposit set up, if the IRS got the child payments right, if they didn't used H&R Block or TurboTax, and if they haven't owed taxes for the last couple years. Otherwise, they are still waiting on a mailed paper check. But if they did get their money, great, problem solved. Now what do they do NEXT month?

At that point my little friend went silent. Which brings me to my point. The guys protesting with flags, guns and disdain for social distancing may be jackasses. But they are symptoms of a growing problem that no amount of encouraging TV commercials and inspirational Facebook memes can banish.

Of course this virus is real. The CDC estimated the 2018-2019 flu season accounted for @ 61,000 American deaths. COVID-19 is catching up, with @ 49,000 deaths in the US alone.

But the fact is, people are scared. Not only of the virus, but also of going broke and losing their ability to survive. We’re out of work, more of us keep going out of work, and the goalposts for when we might go back to work keep moving. End of April, middle of May, maybe June? Some voices say we could be locked down until November or maybe next year. Lives aren’t worth rushing to reopen the economy.

As I tried to illustrate in a previous post, “the economy” is not a bunch of rich CEOs. It’s us. It's regular people who have bills and debts and no income, and are powerless to do a damn thing about it. State unemployment systems are overloaded, underfunded, understaffed and often weeks behind.

Many people are more financially secure, but what about them, too? Businesses still have leases, loans and overhead. A $349 billion small business loan package, cautioned from the beginning as unwieldy and problematical, ran out of money in two weeks. How many businesses - and jobs - will disappear?

How many Americans can we put out of work and tell them they can’t come back … indefinitely? Is government assistance really going to catch and support us all? For how long?

During the Great Depression we had job programs to give people some paychecks and pride. Workers now are told to stay home and do nothing. You and I may be fine with that, but it's a special hell to a lot of folks, who feel like they’re forbidden to do anything to stave off impending shipwreck. All they can do is watch the water rise.

Not everyone sitting out this virus is okay. For many, their jobs are gone, their money is dwindling, and with it goes their means to survive and support their families. They see the distant storm, but they worry about the looming icebergs of financial ruin even more.

We’re all in the same storm. But please remember, many sit in sinking boats.

Peace, love and unicorns and don't forget to wash your hands.

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