A Washington Post article on Sunday described people in a posh suburb of Atlanta celebrating liberation from coronavirus lockdown. "I went to the antique mall yesterday on Highway 9 and it was just like — it was like freedom," said a woman getting a pedicure.
"Yeah, I'm going to do the laser and the filler," said a woman at a wine bar, looking forward to cosmetic dermatology. "When you start seeing where the cases are coming from and the demographics — I'm not worried," said a man lounging in a plaza.
Only one person was quoted expressing trepidation: a masked clerk in a shoe store. "I live an hour away and was driving in this morning, only me on the road, and I was thinking, 'Am I doing the right thing?'" she said.
Lately some commentators have suggested that the coronavirus lockdowns pit an affluent professional class comfortable staying home indefinitely against a working class more willing to take risks to do their jobs.
Writing in The Post, Fareed Zakaria tried to make sense of the partisan split over coronavirus restrictions, describing a "class divide" with pro-lockdown experts on one side and those who work with their hands on the other. On Fox News, Steve Hilton decried a "37 percent work from home elite" punishing "real people" trying to earn a living. In a column titled "Scenes From the Class Struggle in Lockdown," The Wall Street Journal's Peggy Noonan wrote: "Here's a generalization based on a lifetime of experience and observation. The working-class people who are pushing back have had harder lives than those now determining their fate."
The assumptions underlying this generalization, however, are not based on even a cursory look at actual data. In a recent Washington Post/Ipsos survey, 74 percent of respondents agreed that the "U.S. should keep trying to slow the spread of the coronavirus, even if that means keeping many businesses closed." Agreement was slightly higher — 79 percent — among respondents who'd been laid off or furloughed.
Researchers at the University of Chicago have been tracking the impact of coronavirus on a representative sample of American households. They've found thatwhen it comes to judging policies on the coronavirus, "politics is the overwhelming force dividing Americans," and that "how households have been economically impacted by the Covid crisis so far" plays only a minimal role.
Donald Trump and his allies have polarized the response to the coronavirus, turning defiance of public health directives into a mark of right-wing identity. Because a significant chunk of Trump's base is made up of whites without a college degree, there are naturally many such people among the lockdown protesters.
But it's a mistake to treat the growing ideological divide over when and how to reopen the country as a matter of class rather than partisanship. The push for a faster reopening, even in places where coronavirus cases are growing, has significant elite support. And many of those who face exposure as they're ordered back to work are rightly angry and terrified.
Because here's the thing about reopening: It's liberation to some, but compulsion to others. If your employer reopens but you don't feel safe going to work, you can't continue to collect unemployment benefits. In The Texas Tribune, a waitress in Odessa spoke of her fear when she was called back to work at a restaurant that hadn't put adequate social distancing measures in place. "It scared me, so I left," she said. "Then I had to remember that if I do quit, I would have to lose my unemployment."
Meatpacking workers have been sickened with coronavirus at wildly disproportionate rates, and all over the country there have been protests outside of meatpacking plants demanding that they be temporarily closed, sometimes by the workers' own children. Perhaps because those demonstrators have been unarmed, they've received far less coverage than those opposed to lockdown orders.
Indeed, across America there's been a surge in labor activism as people made to work in unsafe conditions stage strikes, walkouts and sickouts. "It sounds corny, but we're moving towards a worker rebellion," Ron Herrera, president of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, told The Los Angeles Times.
Meanwhile, financial elites are eager for everyone else to resume powering the economy. "'People Will Die. People Do Die.' Wall Street Has Had Enough of the Lockdown," was the headline on a recent Vanity Fair article. It cited a banker calling for "broad legal indemnification for employers against claims related to the virus" so that employees can't sue if their workplace exposes them to illness. Here we see the real coronavirus class divide.
In some ways I can relate to the exultant Georgians who've decided to deny the danger of coronavirus. I too hate life under lockdown and I yearn for some social distance from my children; every day I scan the news for information about whether schools will reopen in the fall. I'd love a pedicure, or a drink with a friend. And I know that plenty of people desperate to escape these grim new limits on our lives have far more urgent needs: to save a business or support their families.
But when it comes to the coronavirus, willingness to ignore public health authorities isn't a sign of flinty working-class realism. Often it's the ultimate mark of privilege.
New York Times, May 18, 2020
Voices4America Post Script. Most people want reopening decisions to be based on science and health. Not the Trumpers.
In France, Germany, UK, etc. furloughed workers get 80% of their pay. In America, workers survive on unemployment which they lose if they quit jobs they are forced to return to. We are forcing people back to work.
Supporting Trump's unsafe openings exposes a political divide, not a class war. Thank you, Michelle Goldberg.
This is the Deal Book from the New York Times, a summary of our situation daily - today's entry.
A level of pain that is hard to capture in words'
The Fed chairman, Jay Powell, and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin testified (virtually) before the Senate yesterday, and both described the economy in gloomy terms. But they differed about how to fix it, according to The Times's Alan Rappeport and Jeanna Smialek.
Mr. Powell pushed for robust policy action. The Fed chairman said the economic devastation was "hard to capture in words," and continued to hint that fiscal policy could do more. Struggling state and local government budgets could delay the recovery, he added, citing evidence from past recessions. Ultimately, better times require "a combination of getting the virus under control, development of therapeutics, development of a vaccine," he said. It's up to policymakers to bridge the gap until then.
Mr. Mnuchin called for a rapid reopening. "There is the risk of permanent damage" if states delay, the Treasury secretary said. Activity should pick up in the second half of the year as restrictions are lifted, he added. At the same time, he promised to put all of the $500 billion allocated to his agency to work in rescue programs, and said that "our intention is that we expect to take some losses." That appeared to answer criticism that the Treasury was being too timid by insisting that all stimulus funds be repaid.
Things will get worse before they get better, Mr. Powell and Mr. Mnuchin agreed. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office also published a bleak forecast yesterday: The unemployment rate will spike to around 16 percent next quarter, it said, and remain in double digits through early 2021. G.D.P. will drop sharply this quarter — 38 percent at an annual rate — before snapping back later in the year.
• Although quarter-to-quarter growth may look strong during the recovery, the overall size of the economy won't return to its pre-pandemic level until the third quarter of 2022, the C.B.O. estimates.
Now what? David Leonhardt, who writes our sister newsletter The Morning — which has a new look and is worth checking out if you don't get it already — argues today that there "seems to be a growing recognition in Congress — among members of both parties — that the execution of the stimulus program hasn't been the main problem. The design of the program has been."
• Many other countries have focused on paying workers' salaries to avoid mass layoffs, but America has a patchwork of programs.
• House Democrats are proposing paycheck subsidies for the next phase of stimulus, to skepticism from Senate Republicans — but the idea isn't dead, as David notes:
"Any bill is likely to be more diffuse and complex than the approach of other countries, and any paycheck subsidy is likely to be less ambitious. But the U.S. may soon be moving in the direction of those other countries."