COVID and the Comfortable Class

Volunteers feeding the “food insecure” right here in Tampa

Well Florida has begun the process of “opening up” the economy this week; personal services like barber shops and hair salons have opened, restaurants are back in restricted capacity business and small businesses can reopen.  Social distancing required.

I called the place I get my haircut and the woman who trims my locks was back on the job.  I made an appointment for next Saturday.  Mask required.  No waiting inside.  Temperature check before entering.  Show up at the appointed time.  My daughter Pamela made an appointment right after mine.  I haven’t seen her in weeks; she came by several times to check up on the old man but we spoke though the window.

I happen to know that my “barber” cleans homes in her spare time.  I’m sure both of her sources of income dried up these last two months.  She will be one of the extremely lucky ones if she was able to file for Florida unemployment benefits.

Florida’s unemployment system is so dysfunctional that some jobless residents are threatening suicide and making bomb threats, call-takers working for the state’s claims office said this week.

The Sunshine State, one of the slowest to process unemployment applications, has only paid about one-third of all claims submitted since March 15, according to the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity’s latest numbers.

That’s partly because the state’s unemployment website can’t handle the growing number of claims and keeps crashing, leaving thousands of workers without any income during the coronavirus pandemic. But another cause of frustration is Florida’s unemployment “call center,” which is filled with unprepared, temporary workers who are spread across the country and are unable to provide basic information.

Between March 15 and May 10, the state has paid about $1.5 billion in unemployment assistance to some 650,000 residents. But more than 1.8 million claims have been filed in the same period and about 1 million have been processed, state officials said Monday.

The COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting lockdown orders across the country have forced more than 33 million Americans to file for unemployment benefits in the past two months, the U.S. Department of Labor said last week.  Millions are still waiting for a check.

An aerial photo of thousands of cars lined up at a food distribution center in San Antonio, Texas last month.  It appeared on the front page of  San Antonia Express-News, graphically illustratingthe pernicious poverty ravaging the city.

This virus has exposed the true class divide in America.  There is a desperate class evidenced by the millions sitting in their cars on a bread line in a parking lot waiting for a box of food to feed their kids.

And there is a comfortable class consisting of those who can work from home or not work at all.  There are those in wealthy school districts where few children depend on a school lunch for a meal and where virtually all of the kids have computer hardware and Wifi at home and those districts where just about every kid qualifies for free lunch and have no computers at home.

Then there are those in “essential” jobs, grocery store workers for example who notwithstanding the risks report to crowded grocery stores each day even though they didn’t sign up at low wages for a job with health risks for themselves and their families.  If they quit there is no unemployment benefit for them and no job available with the economy shut down.  They are of the class unable to quit at this time.

And of course the comfortable class doesn’t want them to quit.  I need my groceries.

I am one of those who hasn’t been affected much by the closing of the economy.  I live alone in a comfortable house in a small gated community.No one comes uninvited to my door.  I shop on odd days during the week at an early hour and the grocery still has everything I need save toilet paper.   Anything I can’t get locally I order on Amazon.

Money appears as if by magic in my accounts each month.  My biggest inconvenience was having to cancell a trip to Broward to see Marie and my grandson.  My daughters and their husbands have all been working, two from home for a few weeks and two continued in their usual jobs, with masks, distancing and constant hand washing.   All of us have avoided crowds.

None of us is at the ends of our rope; to chronically complain about not being able to go to our favorite Italian restaurant or get our nails done would strike me as little children stomping their feet.

Yet I can understand those who need to get back to work to feed their families and pay the rent.

In normal times, the New York–centric nature of the national news media strongly shapes—and skews—national coverage. That has been especially true during the current crisis. In a remarkable and unhappy confluence, New York City—the nation’s news capital—is also the epicenter of the pandemic. Of the more than 1.4 million cases nationwide, about 350,000 have occurred in New York State and 140,000 more in neighboring New Jersey. Of the more than 85,000 deaths nationwide, about a third have occurred in New York.

Thirty-four states, meanwhile, have had fewer than 1,000 deaths; 12 have had fewer than 100. California, with more than twice the population of New York, has had about one-tenth the number of deaths (though the number in Los Angeles has been rising). San Francisco—among the first cities to be hit—has had fewer than 40 deaths.

“Even within New York State, the impact has been starkly uneven, with New York City and its suburbs accounting for about 90 percent of all cases in the state and 95 percent of the deaths. About half of New York’s 62 counties have had five or fewer deaths. Regions like the Mohawk Valley, the Adirondacks, and the North Country (bordering Canada) look more like Iowa and Oklahoma than Queens or Long Island. Yet Governor Andrew Cuomo’s shutdown order has been applied uniformly throughout the state. ”

None of this should be taken to imply that the national press has neglected the economic cost of the virus. The New York Times, for one, has run countless stories on overwhelmed food pantries, people struggling to pay the rent, farmers forced to let their crops rot, and retailers worrying about losing their stores. On May 1, the paper offered a long report (by Jesse McKinley and Jane Gottlieb) about the spike in unemployment in upstate New York “as thousands of businesses, from florists to flooring, have shuttered,” forcing “paycheck-to-paycheck families” to visit food banks and farmers to pour “unwanted milk into the ground.”

Yet liberal columnists, talking heads, and scholars often downplay, minimize, or ignore altogether the economic despair so many are feeling. They seem unable to identify or empathize with people who have been laid off, can’t pay their utility bills, and have had trouble reaching unemployment offices.

When anti-lockdown protests broke out around the country, there was a rush to dismiss and discredit them. “The Quiet Hand of Conservative Groups in the Anti-Lockdown Protests,” ran the headline atop a long piece in the Times. The protests, it reported, were being organized by “an informal coalition of influential conservative leaders and groups, some with close connections to the White House,” with key contributions from the Tea Party Patriots and FreedomWorks, a libertarian advocacy group.

“Among columnists, the protests have been dismissed as exclusively right-wing affairs by the Post’s Dana Milbank (“Trump’s Gun-Toting Supporters are Firing Blanks”), The New Yorker’s John Cassidy (“Fringe Protests Can’t Distract from Trump’s Failures”), and the Times’ Paul Krugman (“The Right Sends in the Quacks”) and Jamelle Bouie (“The Anti-Lockdown Protesters Have a Twisted Conception of Liberty”). ”

In my view re-open protesters fall into two distinct camps.  The first consists of small business owners and shopkeepers in relatively rural America facing financial ruin from a continuation of shut down orders.  The second, the more political fringe, see shut down orders as an infringement of liberty and are more extreme and strident in their right wing views.  Yet these latter strident voices are the only voices the MSM seems to hear.

“It is exasperating to watch Anderson Cooper, Wolf Blitzer, Jake Tapper, Chris Hayes, and the crew at Morning Joe—all participating via webcams from their comfortably upholstered apartments and country homes—snobbishly tut-tutting all those benighted souls who, facing bankruptcy, shrunken savings, and food insecurity, want to get back to work. Covid-19 seems to be widening the gulf between entitled white-collar professionals and blue-collar working people that emerged during the 2016 presidential campaign and that remains such a discouraging and self-defeating feature of the liberal establishment.”

Indeed it is.

Now we all realize that there was no way to stay shut down until there is a vaccine.  And there is no way our government is going to pass a minimum income floor for all of us and begin sending us money.   Many state governments have proven themselves incapable of sending our unemployment benefits  in a timely fashion sending millions to the food banks.  In effect the capitalist system is forcing workers to return to reopened businesses or face loss of their unemployment benefits. Yet I’m sure a vast majority of the unemployed and food/rent insecure are more than willing to take that risk.

As a member of the comfort class I will not deny them their choice.  Do I expect more deaths?  Sure.  The shut down remember was only instituted to ensure that hospitals were not totally overwhelmed.

This old guy with “underlying conditions” is at risk until a vaccine is available and I can get the shot.  Until then I will be careful and smart concerning protection of my own health.

I don’t expect my hair dresser to starve while I sit as a member of the comfort class.  She too is taking the risk to return to work.  While I have choices, she does not.  I will not be going to a restaurant or shopping mall anytime soon.

But I will get my hair cut at noon next Saturday.

.

About toritto

I was born during year four of the reign of Emperor Tiberius Claudius on the outskirts of the empire in Brooklyn. I married my high school sweetheart, the girl I took to the prom and we were together for forty years until her passing in 2004. We had four kids together and buried two together. I had a successful career in Corporate America (never got rich but made a living) and traveled the world. I am currently retired in the Tampa Bay metro area and live alone. One of my daughters is close by and one within a morning’s drive. They call their pops everyday. I try to write poetry (not very well), and about family. Occasionally I will try a historical piece relating to politics. :-)
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6 Responses to COVID and the Comfortable Class

  1. In the UK it’s a bit of a mish-mash here; we have 4 different countries each deciding their own exit strategies. Some streets on the borders fall into 2 different strategies. It would be easier if one rule fitted all.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. beetleypete says:

    As always from you, a very well-balanced overview. The full extent of poverty-line existence in the US is rarely discussed outside of blogs, and I feel sure many people in Europe would find it hard to imagine people queuing for food rather that starve, in modern day America.
    It reminds me a great deal of medieval serfdom. When the serfs starved, the rich didn’t concern themselves. There would always be more serfs.
    Best wishes, Pete.

    Liked by 1 person

    • toritto says:

      Thanks Pete. Too many of those who work full time are not paid a wage they can live on. With no savings to speak of they live week to week, paycheck to paycheck. Millions get no paid sick leave, so they have to come to work, sick or not. Comes a shutdown of their employer and they are out in the cold. Best regards from Florida

      Liked by 2 people

  3. Elizabeth says:

    Before all this hit, a news report said that 40% of Americans couldn’t get their hands on $400 if they needed it for an emergency. That says it all.

    Liked by 1 person

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