The Two Americas: How The Virus Has Created Another Duality

‘I’ ON CULTURE

For decades, there have been books written about two Americas. We’ve had divisions by rich and poor, by black and white, by liberal and conservative, by Democrat and Republican, and plenty other splits. But the COVID-19 pandemic has created a new duality.

We have people for whom it is an annoyance and people for whom it is a looming disaster. Here in Palm Beach County, we have plenty of the former. I am one of them. I am a government retiree with a nice pension, as is my wife, and we are of an age to have Social Security added to that. So, our income has been stable. Our expenses are even somewhat lower since we don’t drive around much and many of the stores we like were, and in some cases still are, closed. Yes, it is an annoyance that there are no new movies, and for a while there was a bit of concern about shortages of toilet paper, but life has gone on. And stable retirees have been OK.

Government employees have also done OK. Even when their places of work closed, they continued to receive paychecks. Work could be done from home in most cases or not at all in some cases. Schools were closed, but teachers could work online. That it didn’t always work well has generally been overlooked. Many children of the poor never got online at all, and many others were not able to function well working through computers. But most of the school staff has been paid.

So, some of us are not discontented. But there are many people who are unhappy. Not having a paycheck is not easy for much of the middle class. Families have seen their savings dry up. Yes, governments have helped by allowing non-payment of mortgage installments and rent. But there seems little doubt that this means that mortgages will go on for a longer period of time. And no one seems to know what will happen with renters. People who own rental buildings are not getting money despite having expenses. Will renters have to catch up? And even more worrisome for apartment building owners, some people are talking about canceling all rents. Want to bet how many new buildings will go up then?

What makes this particularly tricky is that there are places where needs collide. I hear people in my senior community comment forcefully that schools should “of course not re-open” and then hear others argue that their own children are facing the problem of how they can return to work if their children have to remain home all day, particularly for young ones. Parents who have, let’s say, one child of seven and one of nine can’t leave them alone with a computer going. So, they have to choose between having money for food and risking their children.

New York City has proposed handling this by opening day care centers for the kids where “professionals” will watch them… but not teach them. Aside from a lack of teachers, the risk is exactly the same as with a school. But a lot of kids will continue without a good education. In the end, many will have to find ways to have their children educated, and many understand that even if they financially sacrifice for their family by not going to work, their children will not get the quality education that their taxes are paying for.

And, of course, there are people who are going to work and have to deal with possible infection. Wearing a mask all day is unpleasant and uncomfortable. But these people work and take risks while others are allowed to stay home and collect their paychecks. It causes resentment because those providing service are not happy that others are often being paid more to not provide needed services for them.

It is a serious issue. I am not one of those people who believe that some groups want things bad as a way of affecting the coming election. But don’t we need to do something to solve this duality?

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