There Is No Plan (For You)

Unemployment, evictions, business failure, a pandemic and health crises are all here at once. The federal government doesn’t care.

Hamilton Nolan

The Trump administration has decided to respond to the Covid-19 crisis by doing nothing for working people. (Photo by Jose Perez/Bauer-Griffin/GC Images)

Con­sid­er the astound­ing con­flu­ence of social and eco­nom­ic crises that are all bar­rel­ing towards the Amer­i­can peo­ple at this moment. 

Millions of people are about to experience the falling dominoes of economic disaster that will engulf their lives, destroy their wealth, and leave them with nothing.

In the midst of an enor­mous, unavoid­able increase in nation­al unem­ploy­ment, the $600 per week unem­ploy­ment ben­e­fit increase that has sus­tained mil­lions is set to run out at the end of this month, and is unlike­ly to be renewed at its cur­rent lev­el, if at all. Evic­tion mora­to­ri­ums are expir­ing, and more than 20 mil­lion Amer­i­cans could be in dan­ger of evic­tion in the next four months. Many small busi­ness­es, their resources exhaust­ed, are clos­ing for good, and bank­rupt­cies of large busi­ness­es are accel­er­at­ing. Mil­lions have already lost their employ­er-based health insur­ance, and mil­lions more will. At the same time that schools will be unable to reopen safe­ly, a huge por­tion of pri­vate child care facil­i­ties are going out of busi­ness. And city and state gov­ern­ments will face plum­met­ing tax rev­enue at the same time as they face a need for increased cri­sis spend­ing, leav­ing the future of mass tran­sit and oth­er pub­lic ser­vices in doubt. 

Mil­lions of peo­ple, through no fault of their own, are now fac­ing long-term unem­ploy­ment. They will, through no fault of their own, lose their health insur­ance dur­ing a pub­lic health emer­gency. Unable to pay rent, through no fault of their own, they will be evict­ed and put out on the streets. The busi­ness­es that employed them, which also pro­vid­ed the jobs to which they hoped to return, will, through no fault of their own, be forced to close per­ma­nent­ly. They will be unable to find child care, through no fault of their own, and that will pre­vent them from seek­ing out new income. The cities where they live will, through no fault of their own, be forced to slash the ser­vices that could have helped them dur­ing their time of need. They will be lost. 

This is the night­mar­ish future that we are all walk­ing towards. And it is, I’m afraid to say, com­ing very soon.

This was a choice. None of this had to hap­pen. There is one, and only one, enti­ty that has the capa­bil­i­ty of pre­vent­ing this hor­rif­ic chain reac­tion of social col­lapse: the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment. With the stroke of a pen, the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment can appro­pri­ate mon­ey to every­one to tide them through their unem­ploy­ment. It can stop evic­tions every­where. It can expand health insur­ance, stop busi­ness­es from going bank­rupt, bail out city and state gov­ern­ments so they are not forced to cut ser­vices, and take the pub­lic health steps nec­es­sary to push infec­tion rates low enough to make it pos­si­ble to reopen schools, and free par­ents to work for a living. 

All of these things are pos­si­ble for the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment. They have cho­sen not to do any of them. (Democ­rats passed the HEROES Act through the House in May which would pro­vide some mean­ing­ful relief, but Sen­ate Repub­li­cans have refused to take it up.) There­fore, mil­lions of peo­ple are about to expe­ri­ence the falling domi­noes of eco­nom­ic dis­as­ter that will engulf their lives, destroy their wealth, and leave them with noth­ing. It is impos­si­ble to avoid that out­come now. The only ques­tion is how bad it will get. And it is impor­tant to under­stand that this out­come has been cho­sen for us by the peo­ple who are run­ning the country. 

Hope is an impor­tant emo­tion, and one that’s nec­es­sary to car­ry us through hard times. But it can stand in the way of our abil­i­ty to ana­lyze sit­u­a­tions truthfully. 

Let’s be hon­est about our prospects right now. Does any­one real­ly believe that restau­rants, bars, sports, all forms of live enter­tain­ment, many retail estab­lish­ments, air­lines, hotels, trav­el, tourism, or com­mer­cial real estate — to name a few — are going to resume their base­line lev­el of busi­ness oper­a­tions at any time in the next 6 – 12 months? They will not. The states that tried that a month ago are now fac­ing the worst coro­n­avirus out­breaks in the entire world. A por­tion of the jobs in these indus­tries, and in the asso­ci­at­ed indus­tries that depend on them, are going to evap­o­rate. Fifty mil­lion unem­ploy­ment claims have been filed. Forty per­cent of peo­ple earn­ing less than $40,000 lost their jobs in March. Some mil­lions of peo­ple are, as we speak, see­ing their jobs dis­ap­pear for good. 

Despite the fact that this was entire­ly pre­dictable months ago, there has not been any seri­ous attempt to pre­vent it from hap­pen­ing. (A seri­ous attempt, as many intel­li­gent peo­ple point­ed out in March, would mean the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment giv­ing cit­i­zens enough mon­ey not to work and busi­ness­es enough mon­ey not to go bank­rupt for the amount of time that it took to take the pub­lic health steps nec­es­sary to resume a care­ful ver­sion of nor­mal life. Many oth­er devel­oped coun­tries did this, but we did not.) 

Not only have we failed to pre­vent this first-order eco­nom­ic cri­sis, but we are also fail­ing to even enable the exis­tence of a social safe­ty net to catch the peo­ple who are going to fall into the pit of eco­nom­ic despair. Our lead­ers just do not care. They know that peo­ple have lost jobs, and will not be able to find new ones, and will not be able to pay their rent. But the peo­ple occu­py­ing posi­tions of pow­er in the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment do not care enough to take the steps to save those cit­i­zens from the abyss. These facts do not move them.

Nobody can be blamed for the exis­tence of a pan­dem­ic. The fed­er­al gov­ern­ment can very much be blamed for what it has done in response to the pan­dem­ic. And blame it we must. We must blame, specif­i­cal­ly, the Repub­li­can Par­ty, which con­trols the White House and the Sen­ate. If you are not in the class of cit­i­zens wealthy enough to be Repub­li­can donors, you have seen a response to this nat­ur­al dis­as­ter that has been geared entire­ly towards the inter­ests of peo­ple who are not you. The hand­ful of good and use­ful mea­sures that were put in place at the begin­ning of the out­break are now run­ning out, and they will be replaced, if at all, with less­er and worse mea­sures, even as the scale of our calami­ty grows. The stock mar­ket, how­ev­er, has now recov­ered almost all of its losses. 

The plan has always been to save cap­i­tal and let the peo­ple die. Every­thing is going accord­ing to plan. 

Hamil­ton Nolan is a labor reporter for In These Times. He has spent the past decade writ­ing about labor and pol­i­tics for Gawk­er, Splin­ter, The Guardian, and else­where. You can reach him at Hamilton@​InTheseTimes.​com.

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