I live in a community that is pulling back on reopening due to a sudden spike in Covid-19 cases. It is a blow to what little consumer and business confidence was starting to build. It leads me to wonder: is our economic glass half empty or half full? My vote? Half empty. My pessimistic view comes from what I see as a combination of negative forces and lack of leadership at so many levels to address them.
One of the “half empty” forces that frightens me the most is the display of ‘personal responsibility’ causing many communities to force business closures and restrict the economy. I keep reading and hearing people say that wearing a mask is their personal choice and responsibility, ignoring the collective impact that acting as safely as possible can provide. I suspect a survey of these maskless freedom fighters would show that they also believe that climate change is not up to them to fight - it’s someone else's issue to deal with - until it's not, of course. The actions of the few who are not wearing masks are forcing health and elected leaders to put the brakes on opening the economy as direct links to their behavior are recorded through positive cases spiking throughout the country.
The other half empty force is the reality of our economic disparities in this country. Almost 40% of the working households in America are below the ALICE threshold which sets a household survival budget based on regional costs. This means that these families, many of whom are being directly impacted by the health or economic impacts of Covid-19, have little resources to pull from to weather this storm. The CARES Act provided some relief but not to all and it is time restricted. The economic situation that we are now in is expected to last at least until 2022 (the CBO saying 2029) and the consequences will take generations to recover from unless something changes. Our estimates for three client communities have shown that over 30% of small businesses may fail.
As I attempt optimism, I think about the following. The commitment that I am seeing from people all over the country to challenge the status quo of racism and the systems that have perpetuated the economic, social, environmental disparities experienced by Black people gives me hope.
The collective actions that are defining this movement may finally be the needed power shift. Too many leaders in our country have pursued a free market economic pathway at any cost. The consolidation of wealth that has occurred in this country limits the economic potential of us all. It has created an environment where the majority of our communities are left in despair. America can and must do better. Greatness should always be an aspiration and with better leadership we may be able to get a little closer. Lately, as I exercise my free speech as an ally at times, as a protester at others, I am energized to see the leadership of young people. The American experience needs new leaders and while we may only be half full in that regard it is impressive to see the bravery and passion that our youngest generations are exhibiting.
As I reflect today with millions of people out of work and about to be evicted from their homes, businesses failures occurring at record levels and decisive rhetoric at all levels, they may be the fresh source to fill the glass.