Optimism is a powerful thing, but it has shown little effectiveness in confronting a pandemic and the resulting economic downturn.
Hoping for the best — while too many dismissed pleas to wear masks and avoid contact with those other than immediate family — has brought a resurgence of coronavirus infections here in Snohomish County, in Washington state and throughout the nation.
Currently, Snohomish County is failing to meet three of five benchmarks to remain in Phase 2 of the state’s Safe Start plan, let alone advancing to Phase 3. The county misses the mark on the rate for diagnosed Covid-19 cases, number of individuals tested and the percentage of those testing positive. After seeing a decline in the rate of daily infections from their peaks in late March and early April, those daily infection numbers in the county began rising again in mid-June.
Statewide, the increase in daily infections is even bleaker, far exceeding their spring peak of a rolling two-week average of about 362 daily cases on April 1 to more than 825 as of July 31.
Hopes in May and June that the spread of Covid-19 could be limited enough to entertain possibilities for more workers to return to offices and job sites, more businesses to open and for children to return to classrooms this fall have receded to what we saw during the Stay Home orders.
A coalition of local governments including Snohomish County, the City of Everett and the Port of Everett announced last week that they would continue to have their employees work from home. And the Snohomish Health District’s health officer, Dr. Chris Spitters, recommended that the county’s school districts not bring students back to class this fall and continue remote learning programs. Several, including the county’s largest districts, quickly announced plans to resume online-only education this fall.
The pandemic’s resurgence and the slow recognition that the public health crisis is far from over still seems to escape some in Washington, D.C., when it comes to responding to the increasingly desperate economic crises of unemployment and recession at local, state and national levels.
A four-month federal program of additional $600-a-week jobless benefits for some 30 million Americans — approved this spring by healthy majorities in Congress — expired on Friday when White House officials and lawmakers in the U.S. Senate couldn’t agree on a new economic relief package that would have extended the payments in addition to delivering other aid.
While an impasse exists between Senate Republicans who offered a $1 trillion spending package and House Democrats who passed a $3 trillion plan — in May — Senate Republicans were split even amongst themselves as to whether to adopt a proposed $200 a week for two months (and require states to develop a complex program of 70 percent of employee pay later) or offer any additional jobless aid at all, fearful that the aid is a disincentive for people to return to work.
Senators opposed to continuation of the additional jobless benefit misunderstand two key points about unemployment and how that additional aid is used during a tenacious recession.
First, people are unemployed because there are not enough jobs to which workers can return, not because they’re enjoying a life of leisure. (Nor can the unemployed continue to collect benefits if their former employer offers a return to work.)
Second, those unemployment benefits, in addition to keeping families fed, housed and able to make payments for utilities, transportation, medical care and more, also help support local economies and needed tax revenue for local and state governments.
Optimism for a quick economic recovery and regular employment is now hard to come by in Snohomish County. Even as the unemployment rate has improved from its shocking 20 percent level in April to 9.8 percent in June, last week’s news from Boeing, a major employer in the county and state, was a further blow to hopes for a quick recovery.
Already struggling to get its Renton-built 737-Max back in the air, downturns in commercial aviation caused by the pandemic have weighed on the aerospace giant’s projections for orders, forcing an end to the 747 program by 2022, a production slowdown of the Everett-based 777, a delay for the much anticipated 777X and the potential loss of the entirety of 787 line in Everett to Boeing’s South Carolina plant. Even before that announcement, Boeing in April said it would reduce its workforce by about 16,000 workers.
Ask an unemployed Boeing worker if $600 a week is a disincentive to work.
The $3 trillion plan advanced by the House is a huge sum, but who complains about the cost of water in the middle of fighting a house fire?
The House-adopted HEROES Act, in addition to continuing the $600 federal jobless benefit through January, would also allocate:
A second round of $1,200 economic impact payments to every American;
Nearly $1 trillion of assistance to state, local and tribal governments, in part to employ public employees including first responders, health care workers, teachers and others;
$175 billion to help renters and homeowners make monthly payments for housing and utilities;
$75 billion for coronavirus testing, tracing and treatment;
$10 billion in additional aid to small businesses and nonprofits through the Payroll Protection Program;
A 15 percent increase to the maximum benefit for the Supplemental Nutrition and Assistance Program; and
Resources to ensure safe and reliable elections, an accurate 2020 census and support for the U.S. Postal Service.
Congress has its job to do now; we have ours. Wear your masks when out in public and keep a safe distance from those who aren’t in your household.
When confronting a pandemic and a devastating recession that threatens the nation, wishful thinking and half-measures are not the means to the end.
Optimism — hope for better days ahead — is the reward for having done what is necessary to step up and confront the challenges presented to us.