Monday, May 04, 2020

America Has NO Mechanism For Coping With Its Unemployment Crisis


NYTimes | Covid-19 has killed more Americans than died in the Vietnam War and led to unemployment numbers that are likely worse than those during the Great Depression. Implicit in Joe Biden’s campaign was a promise of a return to normalcy. That may have always been illusory, but now it’s been revealed as an impossibility.

As we approach this year’s election, we’re looking at an abyss. The question is what will fill it. Societal disaster can have horrific political consequences: Around the world, despots are using the pandemic as an excuse to grab ever more power. But the need to rebuild the country comes with opportunities.

At this point, even many Republicans acknowledge that the era of small government is over. (“Big-Government Conservatives Mount Takeover of G.O.P.,” said a recent Politico headline.) In such an environment, ambitious progressive ideas that once seemed implausible, at least in the short term, start to become more imaginable.

“I do think there’s an F.D.R. moment,” said Senator Edward Markey, Democrat of Massachusetts and co-author of the Green New Deal resolution, which calls for a huge new public works program to build environmentally sustainable infrastructure. “Like 1933 — which would be 2021 — we can see that it is now time to discuss universal child care, universal sick leave and a guaranteed income for everyone in our society.”

Unsurprisingly, mass unemployment — a particular catastrophe in a system in which most people’s health insurance is tied to their jobs — seems to have made Americans more supportive of New Deal-like policies. Figures from the left-leaning polling firm Data for Progress show that support for a Green New Deal has risen from 48 percent last May to 59 percent this spring. Backing for “Medicare for all” went from 47 percent in November to 53 percent in March, when coronavirus layoffs were just starting.

“I’ve had people in my district, Silicon Valley, tech professionals who’ve lost their jobs,” Representative Ro Khanna, Democrat of California, told me. “People who were doing well at small businesses who have either lost their jobs or faced extraordinary hardship, and suddenly they are now having to confront the difficulties of being uninsured. They’re having to confront the challenges of the private health system.” Khanna sees a much broader awareness “of how uncertain economic life can be,” he said, which creates a bigger coalition for progressive ideas to improve the social safety net.