Last week I discussed the current economic climate that has spawned as a result of the coronavirus pandemic and how, moving forward, policy makers should start to consider the values of a social democratic model to alleviate the damage that has been done. This week we will look at the current situation more in depth to truly get a picture as to why this model in particular is important for this crisis. As a quick overview of the situation, the virus has caused an economic shutdown that has left many without work, hospitals in parts of the country are being overloaded, the educational system in many poor areas is struggling to adapt and the economic inequalities that had already existed are continuing to grow. The need for an economic safety net is now more apparent than ever. The United States continues to stall on a relief bill which has brought to light the jarring inefficiency of our current system.
It is these issues that, in the coming few years, should cause many Americans to rethink the economic system we use. The situation as it stands is one where slightly over half of all Americans are living paycheck to paycheck, which in a bear economy means that many will not be able to afford basic necessities. This is where the benefits of a social democracy come into play. The safety net that this system affords to people would be crucial towards ensuring that their economic security is not jeopardized in the coming years, as the effects of this economic recession are felt worldwide. A good way to summarize the situation is to look at the different responses from both European countries and the United States.
There has been much debate since the pandemic started on the responses by both the United States government and the governments of Europe. While the discussion of economic recovery is still in the air, it is very clear whose population has been left more vulnerable in the midst of this crisis. The vast majority of Americans that have lost their jobs since March have yet to find new ones, and many have had to move back home, with a recent Pew Research survey stating that the number is as high as 52% for young people ages 18–29 living at home with their parents. Now, many might draw the conclusion that this was the result of campuses closing, and while this was true for roughly 23% of those surveyed, around 18% said this was a result of job loss. This is the first time since the Great Depression that a majority of young adults living in the United States are at home living with their families. The situation in America has been dire, and the response rather lackluster. This contrasts with the European response, which has been in essence a freeze on the economy. This was supported by their governments issuing massive economic relief efforts to keep businesses afloat and workers employed. This could potentially allow things to shift back to normal much faster as the damage has been contained.
One of the most prominent benefits of the social democratic system is universal healthcare. This has been a policy that many Americans have pushed to have passed for decades with little to no results. Meanwhile, in Europe the story has been very different with universal healthcare being seen as a right. There are many benefits to this system, such as cheaper cost to the individual, as well as standardizing the level of care citizens receive and ensuring that no one is refused healthcare on the basis that they lack insurance. This is a huge deal as roughly 27.5 million Americans were without health insurance as of 2018. This number has no doubt increased since then with the loss of many jobs also precipitating the loss of many people’s health insurance. A pandemic is by all means one of the last situations for many to go without healthcare, and this has undoubtedly added to the difficulties in trying to contain it.
Education has proven to be a most complicated conundrum for many states across the union. In wealthier areas with smaller populations, it has been an effort of raising the funds to help transition to online learning and socially distanced in person classes. They use this to buy laptops, tablets, screens, more desks and more supplies in general to facilitate this transition smoothly — a large contrast to schools from more poor districts which cannot afford to keep up with the change. These schools can find themselves overcrowded on a regular year, and now they have to accommodate the same number of students while also social distancing. This has led to many of these districts struggling to keep their students up-to-date with their education as they are desperately lacking in funds for both equipment in the school and for at-home learning. Another issue is that, in these same areas, many of these students did not have the same devices that wealthier districts have. A kid in the suburbs is likely to have a computer or tablet around the house, whereas the same cannot be said for poorer areas where parents are struggling just for daily necessities.
In both of these instances, we see stark contrasts between the wealthy and the poor as to how they can cope with the fallout of coronavirus. This is why socially democratic ideas will be vital in the future. The major danger that exists is that of a K-shaped recovery in which wealthier classes are able to recover while the more destitute parts of the country fall to the wayside. This kind of imbalance is harmful to both the economic security of millions, as well as threatening to the security of our democracy. Programs that are designed to support people in need are precisely what will help put the country back on the path to a more even recovery.
Ethan Shaw is a fourth-year criminal justice major. ES939828@wcupa.edu