In the last few days we’ve begun hearing from the likes of Glenn Beck and the Lt. Governor of Texas opining that older Americans, grandparents, would be willing to go to work to save the economy for their children and grandchildren, even if it meant they would catch coronavirus and die. You would think, listening to them, that they were being “selfless” in the face of what they perceive might be the potential end of America as generations have known it.
They are NOT being selfless, they are being selfish, stupid (to quote my 90-year-old mother-in-law), and dangerous.
If older Americans started going out in droves, gathering in groups of more than ten, working and sweating and spreading the virus, before social distancing has had a chance to reduce the spike in numbers, these grandparents will be killing health care workers, bus drivers, clerks in supermarkets, and possibly their own children and grandchildren. They would not be martyrs, they would be killers.
Yes, our economy is taking a massive hit. My 61-year-old husband and I (60) own a small business, selling books, toys, and gifts on a cute street in San Mateo, California. We have very little income and are sitting on tens of thousands of dollars in inventory, some of which we have to pay for in the next 30 days, plus rent, plus quarterly sales tax, plus our own property tax, our mortgage, and we’re scared that we won’t be able to do it all. Still, we went out last week and helped Second Harvest Food Bank give boxes of food to folks who are in much more dire circumstances than ours. We only did so, however, after we were assured that the work would allow us to be socially distanced. While I worried about catching the virus, I was more worried about spreading it and was really glad that the volunteer coordinators had great control over how we worked together.
Yes, it will take a long time for our economy to recover from this screeching halt, but let’s not forget that in the years leading up to this crisis, American businesses have seen record revenues. The stock market saw record gains. Prior to the giant tax cut Congress gave to corporations, they were sitting on literally trillions of dollars of money offshore, which they then brought onshore and used to do massive stock buybacks. The biggest and richest corporations are still sitting on trillions of dollars in cash and can weather this storm while still employing people. The wealthiest one percent of Americans are also sitting on trillions of dollars in wealth, which they can generously use to help us all get through this time. Major foundations across the country are already setting aside billions of dollars to help.
A little creativity and nimbleness can also go a long way. CVS, recognizing that thousands of its customers have been laid off, announced that they could hire up to 50,000 people nationwide, starting today. Lucky Supermarkets (Vons, Safeway, etc…) have similarly announced massive hiring. Target, Walmart, Walgreens, and other chains that provide our daily critical needs can also take on many of the people temporarily displaced by this shutdown. Restaurants shuttered by the crisis can prepare meals on wheels so that seniors and other shut-ins can eat great food with Uber and Lyft drivers making all the deliveries. Millions of people sidelined by this virus can help their neighbors, and in doing so, many can get paid a living wage at the same time. We can do all this without endangering people’s lives and with the knowledge that once things settle down we can rebuild all that we had before, and perhaps, build it with a little more equity for all.
So, to all the grandparents sitting out there, the only sacrifice I want you to make is to only see your children and grandchildren via Facetime or Zoom for a few weeks. Stay home. Let people know if you need food, medicine, crossword puzzles, or anything else. My husband and I brought white bread, meatballs, and pub cheese to our neighbors yesterday and we’re dropping off jigsaw puzzles for other neighbors today. Just ask for what you need and people will go get it for you and leave it on your porch.
Finally, if you really want to make a longer-term change that will make America better for your grandchildren, the next time you see some idiot telling you to do something stupid, take note of who it is and what channel he or she is on and switch to another source of information. We need you. We love you. We’re watching and learning from you. Don’t let us down.
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