Maybe it’s wishful thinking to declare the pandemic over in the U.S., and presumptuous to conclude what lessons we’ve learned. So consider this a first draft.
1. Workers are always essential
We couldn’t have survived without millions of warehouse, delivery, grocery and hospital workers literally risking their lives. Yet most of these workers are paid squat. Amazon touts its $15 minimum wage but it totals only about $30,000 a year. Many essential workers don’t have health insurance or paid leave.
Lesson: Essential workers deserve far better.
2. Healthcare is a basic right
You know how you got your vaccine without paying a dime? That’s how all healthcare could be. Yet too many Americans who contracted Covid-19 got walloped with humongous hospital bills. People with chronic disease, Black Americans and low-income children were most likely to have delayed or foregone care during the pandemic.
Lesson: The U.S. must join the rest of the industrialized world and provide universal health coverage.
3. Conspiracy theories can be deadly
Last June, about one in four Americans believed the pandemic was “definitely” or “probably” created intentionally. Other conspiracy theories have caused some people to avoid wearing masks or getting vaccinated, resulting in unnecessary illness or death.
Lesson: An informed public is essential. Some of the responsibility falls on Facebook, Twitter and other platforms that allowed misinformation to flourish — and on the government for enabling them.
4. Wages are too low to get by on
Most Americans live paycheck to paycheck. So once the pandemic hit, many didn’t have any savings to fall back on. Conservative lawmakers complain that the extra $300 a week unemployment benefit Congress enacted in March discourages people from working. What’s really discouraging them is lack of childcare and lousy wages.
Lesson: Raise the minimum wage, provide universal childcare, strengthen labor unions and push companies to share profits with their workers.
5. Remote work is now baked into the economy
Two lessons: Companies will have to adjust. And much commercial real estate will remain vacant. Why not convert it into affordable housing?
6. It’s past time for a wealth tax.
The combined wealth of America’s 657 billionaires grew by $1.3 trillion – or 44.6% – during the pandemic. Yet billionaires’ taxes are lower than ever. Wealthy Americans today pay one-sixth the rate of taxes their counterparts paid in 1953.
Lesson: To afford everything the nation needs, raise taxes at the top.
7. Government can be the solution
Ronald Reagan’s famous quip – “Government is not the solution to our problem, government is the problem” – can now officially be retired. Trump’s “Operation Warp Speed” succeeded in readying vaccines faster than most experts thought possible. Biden got them into more arms more quickly than any vaccination program in history.
Furthermore, the $1.9 trillion Democrats pushed through in March will help the U.S. achieve something it failed to achieve after the 2008-09 recession: a robust recovery.
Lesson: The federal government did not just help beat the pandemic. It also did more to keep the nation afloat than in any previous recession. It must be prepared to do so again.