After weeks spent mostly at home – how will life change when we are “back to work”?
Of course, no one can really know the full scope and impact of this pandemic. That is in the very definition of “impact”, we won’t know until it hits us. But there is a ton of speculation out there as to what will change permanently, or at least for some time, in our American way of life.
We were already used to shopping online. But now some of us are well versed in grocery shopping for delivery. Or pick up. Stores had been trying to push us to this for a few years now, even dedicating specific parking spaces for pick up customers. What once was thought by retailers as a way to capitalize on online shoppers’ desire for convenience has become a social distancing necessity.
How we “go” to the doctor may change a lot. For anyone who has had a check-up scheduled in the era of coronavirus you have probably already experienced “telemedicine”, where you and your doctor use a platform like Skype or Zoom and talk to each other. Once we are back to normal, no doubt many exams will be conducted in person again. But what is to stop doctors and clinics from continuing to schedule appointments, like follow-ups, online? If the bulk of the exam is the doctor checking in to see how you are feeling or responding to treatment, why not online? No drive time and sitting in waiting rooms for patients, no handwashing and bopping from room to room all day for doctors.
In the 2008 recession with so many people losing their homes to foreclosure, we stopped thinking about people who had a foreclosure as “derelict” and “not credit worthy”. We may, after this pandemic, never look at unemployment the same. With unemployment claims reaching Depression era levels possibly we may be able to shuck the societal guilt of being unemployed. It’s hard to feel alone when millions are in the same boat.
A return to serious thinking. With relative physical and financial security in the country it was easy to brush off serious, educated pundits when what they were selling we didn’t want to buy. Much easier to switch the channel to your favorite show or brand of punditry and imagine the “other guy” is wrong. But when the other guy is an invisible enemy that is only understood by educated experts, we might need to start taking seriously those educated people again. “Expert” may no longer be a dirty word anymore.
More employers will discover the benefits of allowing their employees to work from home. While there will always be jobs that must be done on site – garbage pick up, plumber, the cable guy – many jobs where folks get dressed up and drive for miles to sit at a desk, may turn into get up, get “dressed” and sit at your desk-at-home jobs. And an unexpected upside to the stay at home orders around the world has been an improvement in air pollution. Perhaps if fewer of us are loading the freeways five days a week the impact could be lasting.
As we have seen in this pandemic, some things are just too big for local governments to do alone. Even a state can be too weak to wield the power to get things done when what needs done should have been done yesterday and on a large scale. After decades, starting with the Regan era, of deriding “big government” we see now that there is a definite place in our society for the federal government. Our lives depend on it.
We may never look at debt the same. In normal times when you miss a mortgage payment, an appeal to your bank left you with the understanding that if you didn’t pay you are at risk for eviction, and that was “just the way it is”. But why is that the way it is? And does it have to be? As we have seen during this crisis things can change at the decision of the higher ups – including governments – as to when and how debt is frozen, deferred, or even forgiven. When politicians ask that student loan debt be forgiven so that young people can live the American dream instead of being tethered to their ever growing student loan debt for 30 years we now see there might be other possibilities. If we see the possibilities we may ask for them in the future.