The coronavirus lockdown is a luxury many Americans can’t afford
This month there has been a distinct dissonance in the national atmosphere — even more so than usual, which is saying something. It went from resigned despair to collective rage and protests. Protests which, for the most part, are not unreasonable.
I’m not talking about those carrying nooses, swastikas and guns — especially assault rifles. The group in Texas who guarded an illegally opened bar while reportedly brandishing loaded AR-15 type weapons, and people who marched outside without masks to scream at healthcare workers, assaulting them with their airborne saliva, are terrorists who aim to threaten people into doing what they want. They seem to forget that living in a community means abiding by a set of rules and giving up certain things for the common good — and the “freedom” they’re screaming about is actually anarchy.
But there are also people like Texas salon owner Shelley Luther — who peacefully opened her hair salon in Dallas despite a stay-at-home order in a state with 34,000 cases of COVID-19 and 946 deaths. She was sentenced to seven days in jail and a $7,000 fine but the judge told her he would commute her sentence if she admitted her actions were selfish — to which she replied (while wearing a face mask): “I have to disagree with you, sir, when you say that I am selfish because feeding my kids is not selfish. I have hair stylists that are going hungry because they’d rather feed their kids… So sir, if you think the law is more important than kids being fed, then please go ahead with your decision. But I’m not going to shut the salon.”
Luther later told local television station ABC13: “’I can’t afford to not stay open, and my stylists can’t afford to stop working anymore. We’re about to lose everything and haven’t gotten any help, so I had to make a decision.” Luther was jailed although the state’s attorney general and governor called for her release, which came two days later. AG Ken Paxton said: “I find it outrageous and out of touch that during this national pandemic, a judge, in a county that actually released hardened criminals for fear of contracting COVID-19, would jail a mother for operating her hair salon in an attempt to put food on her family’s table.”
The prolonged lockdown has caused massive fissures in our society — mainly between those who can afford to stay home and those who can’t.
Working-class and blue-collar people, many of whom live month to month, are destitute right now. Mortgages and rent are due (or will be very soon) and there are miles-long lines for food banks in several states.
As one friend, a wedding cake designer and baker who lives near me in New York City and has prioritized food over rent, told me, “In a month the bill for three months will come due and I haven’t worked in four months — how am I going to cobble together that money? I will be on the street.”
Meanwhile, a very wealthy man who is riding the lockdown out in his beachfront mansion in Georgia uttered this jaw-dropping nonsense while we discussed the financial repercussions of the pandemic: “I just never got myself into a situation where I would ever have to live week-to-week so I guess I just don’t know what that’s like.”
In a nation where the median annual salary was $56,516, many people don’t have the option of not getting themselves into “that situation.” While we are in the midst of a terrifying pandemic, starving without shelter is just as dangerous in the long run as COVID-19.
If we expect people to stay home to help society then society should be doing its part for them.
In March, Washington enacted the largest economic stimulus package in US history, with $2 trillion in coronavirus aid. This led to a $1,200 check for individual citizens — an amount that doesn’t begin to cover rent, food, health insurance, car payments and other monthly bills Americans have — while huge bailouts were issued to large companies (many of whom, like the cruise lines, avoid paying tax by registering ships in other countries). Meanwhile, New York state paid $69 million to electrical engineer Yaron Oren-Pines for ventilators that didn’t even show up, and is now trying to claw back that money. (Oren-Pines maintains that he acted in good faith to procure the medical equipment, and claims he is being victimized by a false media narrative.)
Meanwhile, this spring has become the season of scam artists, snake oil salesmen and hucksters out to make a quick buck that should have been earmarked for individuals.
Some of our allies have put their citizens first — and eradicated the middle man of corporations. The UK has committed to paying 80 percent of workers’ salaries, the Netherlands is funding 90 percent of salaries, Denmark is covering 70 to 90 percent of wages while South Korea is paying 70 percent. Meanwhile, Canada is giving its citizens $2,000 a month until the crisis ends.
US has approximately 150 million adults, so if we had done what Canada did and just given out $2,000 a month with that $2 trillion in aid, we would have spent the same and been better off.
Since COVID hit, 33 million Americans have sought unemployment. There needs to be a more comprehensive plan on the federal level, because leaving decisions up to the states has been disastrous as governors fight and claw for money and favors like a bunch of rabid children. The cash spigot to large corporations more concerned about their stock value than their workers must stop. And safety protocols need to be put into place so we can get back to work without putting our lives on the line. If people want to exercise their right to peacefully protest with masks on, so be it. Those who can afford to stay home or can work from home, should. But the system as it stands is not set up for national unity.
I am scared of COVID-19. But I am even more terrified about what is coming after the rage of millions tears this country apart. Because for many Americans, the lockdown is a luxury they can’t afford.
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