30 million Americans have filed for unemployment since March of this year, due to the coronavirus pandemic closing bars, restaurants, and most retail, halting travel, and leading to the cancellation of most film and television productions, concerts, festivals, and events. Well, unless you’ve been living under a rock, you probably know all that. What’s less clear is what the economy will look like once we’re past this pandemic – who will be able to return to work? What will that work look like? And who will be left behind? On this episode of Next Question, Katie Couric talks to economist, author, and professor Victor Tan Chen, and hears personal stories from listeners about how they’re dealing with their new normal.
Timing is everything, Victor says, in terms of responding to this crisis – though he points out that the Great Depression and Recession were financial crises, something economists had experience with. “But dealing with a pandemic, where the economy has to shut down in order to save itself later on, is a new phenomenon.” However, though Congress was quick to pass legislation to support families and small businesses, most states have been slow to actually pay out those benefits, and the access to small business support has been spotty, at best. Most American families can’t handle a $400 unexpected expense, let alone weeks without a paycheck; most “Main Street businesses” like bars and restaurants “don’t have the reserves to weather this storm.” So we may see Amazon and Walmart consolidating even more of that market share in the future, leaving very little room for a small business to thrive.
Another important factor is how we show up for each other at this time, he says. In 2008, as now, aid was quick to come at first, but then “a new narrative emerged” that framed the unemployed as “profligate and irresponsible,” creating a divisiveness that’s hard to overcome. But our greatest strength in this time is solidarity. “We can do better with a sense of community,” he says. “It depends on leadership, and people standing up and making sure their leaders do the right thing.” Many of the people calling in to tell Katie their experience with unemployment are trying to stay positive, too, like Amy Stewart: “I grew up hearing stories from my grandparents about what it was like to live through the Depression...one day this, too, will be in my rearview mirror, and I will sit around and tell our story to our grandkids in the past tense.” Listen to this episode to hear more about what the new, post-pandemic economy might look like on Next Question.
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