The pandemic has changed American life. I guess if you had to categorize where I am at this moment it would be cautiously optimistic, but not in the extreme short run. We are seeing the light at the end of the tunnel but we have at least a few months left of the need for extreme caution and behavior modification. There will be a new normal some of which will be good and some of which will not be. Let’s explore some examples and observations.
A few weeks ago I was facetiming with my youngest granddaughter – or as she calls herself my “Favorite youngest granddaughter”. She entered middle school this fall and made the honor roll. From conversations I know she is learning. (Long ago I realized that high grades and learning don’t always go hand in hand.) I asked her how she liked distance learning and she said she hated it. Here is a kid with a room of her own, access to high speed internet and a cousin who is tutoring her in her weak area but she still dislikes learning via computer despite her success at it. The reality is that many schoolchildren in America do not have her advantages. There will be a price to pay for remote learning. In my opinion it will be a lesser price than the ultimate one and fortunately some like my granddaughter will be fine.
All that said I have put together a listing of things that I feel will be part of the new normal we will achieve about late summer or early fall when it should be safe to sound the all clear. Here they are.
There will be more work from home jobs. Many companies have learned that it is not necessary to have everyone come into the office every day. That will make for a better work/life balance. It will make promotions and hiring more likely to hinge on performance and qualifications as opposed to personal relationships and old boy networks. It will reduce commutes and thereby pollution. I rate this change much more good than bad.
Wearing masks in public will become more commonplace in Europe and North America like it is in Asia. This will mean that if you have a cold or it is flu season you will be much more likely to wear a mask which will cut down on transmission and make us all healthier. It will make us more productive and companies more profitable because sick time is both a cost and drag on profits. I rate this change completely good.
It will take a bit of effort on the part of Americans less capable of critical thinking but it should result in accessible health care for all residents regardless of citizenship status. If any right wingers are monitoring me today they are blowing a gasket. It is simple. We all literally breathe the same air so the more of us who have access to health care the healthier we all will be. This will take legislation and I am not so naïve as to think it will come soon. However if public realization is followed by even a somewhat muted public outcry it will eventually happen. I certainly rate this as good!
Staying with health care for a moment if the pandemic and the related blow to the economy taught us anything it should be that our current system of linking health care to employment is not in the public interest. Millions of people lost their jobs and with them their health care. We have to decouple employment from health care. How are people who lose their jobs in a pandemic supposed to be even more prudent about their health when they can’t afford it? This change will also be great!
Holding a national election during a pandemic was challenging to say the least. Right wing mythology aside, America did an incredible job overcoming this challenge in 2020. (Sorry Mr. Trump, the election was not rigged.) For the most part we made it easier to vote with things like expanded absentee and early voting. We need to keep those in place and seriously try to institute automatic voter registration with an option to opt out if someone wants to. (While I’d like to make voting compulsory I realize that a very few have a desire not to that must be respected, i.e. religious beliefs.) Fewer restrictions while maintaining the security and integrity of elections makes for larger turnout and that is what democracy is all about. If you believe in American democracy this is a good change.
Before mid-March I had never heard of Zoom. Now all my meetings are held on it or similar platforms. I find it wonderful if slightly limiting. In several of my jobs I spent countless hours traveling to meetings that in my opinion were totally unproductive, (but that is another matter). It took me away from the part of my job that made money for me and my company. With virtual meetings the commute time is zero or close to it. Geography is basically irrelevant. Recently I was in a Zoom meeting while sitting in my townhouse in Wake Forest, North Carolina and one of the main participants was in her home in London, England. It’s a lot easier to “fight” a time zone difference than it is to afford trans-Atlantic travel. This is a good change.
Thus far I view the changes as positive. Unfortunately there will be some negatives. Here are a few challenges.
The fate of displaced workers is my biggest concern. Less commuting and reporting to the office will certainly cost some people their jobs. America doesn’t have a very good track record with taking care of workers displaced by marketplace disruptions/evolutions. We must do a much better job here! I could write volumes about this but not today. This is an opportunity to address unaddressed needs if we are only wise in our deployment of “excess” human resources.
The trend of increasing internet sales accelerated during the pandemic. Today too many internet jobs are low paying and in many cases the working conditions are not good. I’m a union guy at heart but whether we address the issue via unions or not it is not in the best interest of an economy whose demand is 70% consumer demand to have people in low paying jobs. The money we save on a purchase is often offset by the corporate welfare we pay for in the form of taxes to subsidize the labor costs of hugely profitable corporations. We can and must do better.
Related are delivery jobs too many of which are low paying. The USPS, FedEx and UPS offer their people decent compensation packages proving it can be done. Consumer pressure and tips will help in the interim.
Remote working and schooling make for fewer opportunities to socialize. We’ll have to find ways around that. Humans are basically social animals.
I’m a huge proponent of mask wearing. I’d rather have my glasses fog up (yes, that is frustrating) than be on a ventilator. However I have found that non-verbal communication is stifled. The other day I smiled at someone during an interaction only to realize that she couldn’t see my smile and the message it was intended to communicate. That is a challenge but it was much more important to keep both of us healthy.
I was a little long today and the other bad news is that I missed more points than I covered. Stay safe!
This article was written well ahead of publishing in order to accommodate my year end hiatus and is the property of tellthetruthonthem.com. Its content may not be used without citing the source. It may not be reproduced without the permission of Larry Marciniak.