It’s a Tough Call

Bill Neinast

One tenth of our population is now unemployed.  With a population of over 300 million, 10% does not seem too significant.

Consider those numbers in proper perspective, however, and the picture changes dramatically.  Most of the population is not in the workforce.  Somewhere between 30 and 35% are considered to be in the workforce.  Two thirds of the population are children, retired, disabled, or otherwise not in the workforce.

That means about 100 million are in the working class.  So now the figures are that one third of the working class is on the unemployment rolls.

Those statistics are loud and clear here in the Austin area.  Saturday, the Central Food Bank loaded food boxes into 2,300 vehicles.   On Thursday, something over 1,500 families were served.

Friday afternoon, 20 odd vehicles were driving five miles an hour, side by side and in tandem  on I-35.  Anyone familiar with I-35 in the Austin area knows what kind of traffic jam that created.

The drivers, all of whom were arrested, were unemployed individuals trying to call attention to their plight.   They were unemployed and in fear of losing their homes or apartments because they could not pay their rents.

These are the forgotten victims of the current pandemic. Do they deserve more attention?  Is the price they are paying for protection from the Coronavirus too high?

COVID-19 is a terrible, deadly disease.  Some who test positive for the disease have relatively mild symptoms, some suffer terrible symptoms and a few die.  With no cure currently available, it is a disease to avoid at all costs.

Currently there are four distinct groups affected by the virus.  The smallest is made up of those who are suffering from the bug.  The next larger group is that of the doctors, nurses, hospital aides, and first responders who are putting in long, grueling hours caring for the patients.

The rest of the country is divided into two large groups.  One is the workforce.  The other is the balance of the country, the children, the retired, etc.

Unfortunately, most of—actually, nearly all of—the attention is focused on the first two small groups.  The hard working care givers putting in long hours on a daily basis to care for patients who can easily infect them certainly deserve  all the attettion and support we can give.  

Constantly giving the dead and dying reports, however,  seems to serve no purpose other than justify keeping businesses closed and people separated to slow the spread of the virus.

So what would happen if there were no attempts to slow the spread of this virus?  History may provide an answer.

A mere century ago, another deadly virus enveloped the world.  It became known as the Spanish Flu and 50 million people died worldwide.  675,000 of those were Americans, with nearly 200,000 of them dying in October 1918 alone.

As of the writing of this piece, 1,183,316 Americans have tested positive for the virus.  Of those, 49,857 have died.

Compare those numbers with the 33 million Americans who lost their jobs and income.  Some of those jobs will never be revived and others will be a long time in coming back.  How many suicides will this jobless pandemic produce?

How long will it take for the restaurant business to recover?  Will some eateries ever reopen?  Will the movie theater industry survive? When will tour boats leave port again?  How many airlines will survive?

So here’s the perspective.

This is a tough call.  

How many should be sacrificed to save a few?  How many families can be consigned to virtual poverty to save them and others from a very bad disease that kills the most vulnerable?

Is a vibrant economy preferable to shuttered businesses and vulnerable people having a few more years of life?

I do not know.  Do you?



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