The title of this article is rather stark but so is the reality that will be facing many American workers as the economy prematurely and imprudently reopens. In fact in many cases it will be worse than the title states. Let’s explore.
To date the only time President Trump has invoked the Defense Production Act (and then only sort of) was to allow the meat processing plants to defy state or local orders with regard to operation and staying open (or in rare cases reopening). In the process he gave the companies immunity from liability. In other words the company can order their workers to work in unsafe conditions and cannot be held legally liable for the consequences of that action. This is an industry that doesn’t exactly have a sterling health and safety record and Trump just gave them a get out of jail free card.
Many Republican governors and state legislators are acting to deny unemployment benefits to any worker who cites safety and the coronavirus as a reason for not returning to work. The Trump administration is moving behind the scenes to weaken regulations on nursing homes and assisted living facilities; (another industry with a less than sterling health and safety history.)
By and large the workers in these industries are not highly paid in the first place. Their owners are among the “free market conservatives” who complain about the social safety net programs simply because they don’t like paying taxes (who does?). In reality much of the cost of the social safety net programs in America is really corporate welfare. How many low paid workers are SNAP and/or Medicaid recipients?
Now let’s turn to the issue of unemployment which is now at Great Depression levels. The lunacy of our employer based health insurance system (dating back to World War II) has never been more starkly illustrated than during this pandemic. Most Americans get their health insurance via their job. When you lose your job you simultaneously lose that health insurance. So now you are broke, exposed to a potential fatal disease and don’t have health insurance. In full disclosure in many cases there is the option of COBRA which, for a limited time, allows you to buy into your employer’s plan at a rate of slightly more than 100% of cost. Since you don’t have any income and have no idea of when you will just how viable is that option?
Enhanced/expanded unemployment benefits under the CARES Act expire July 31st. According to their latest rhetoric Trump and the Republicans have no plans to extend the program. At the rate we are going is it actually prudent to project that the first wave of the coronavirus pandemic in America will be over by then and the economy back to normal with full employment? I am one of the many who is on record expecting a second wave this fall. The only amendment I might make to that prediction is that there is an ever increasing possibility that we will go right into a second wave without a “quiet period” this summer. That is one of the many prices of a premature reopening. Even if there is a “quiet period” consumer demand will not just return to normal at the “flip of a switch”.
Only slightly hidden in this is Republican racism/xenophobia. Many of the lowest paid workers are non-Caucasian or as the Chief Justice of the Wisconsin Supreme Court thinks of them – those people, not regular people. (She is far from alone in that thinking.)
The reality is that in too many cases people are faced not only with a choice between working and dying but they may kill loved one(s) in the process. Most Americans are somewhat willing to risk their lives for their families but they certainly don’t want to risk their family’s lives for them. Isn’t America great under Trump?
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