Thursday, April 30, 2020

COVID-19: Handouts

When I was a high school kid on a family trip, we were at a rest stop getting gas when a couple came up to our van and approached my Dad. I overheard them saying that they were out of money, and asked if we could spare them a few dollars. I don't know what my Dad said, but I remember they left without anything.

In my diary entry for that moment, I wrote "We could've [helped] but could we trust them?" Was I always this cynical? I grew up in a city so I have seen the homeless and the destitute up close. Perhaps at a rest stop with other tourists was the last place I expected to be reminded of those down and out.

I think about this in light of the news that 22 million people have filed for unemployment benefits over the past few weeks due to COVID-19. The graph is remarkable: a flat line representing decades of 'normal' unemployment (hundreds of thousands jobless), and then a massive spike: 22 million people suddenly jobless. I have this image of hundreds of people coming up to me, holding out their hand.

The United States is one of the richest countries in the world, yet there have always been people holding out their hands. And now COVID-19 makes it much more so. Do I trust their motives now? With normal economic life shut down, I rue the fact that our economy is based on competition. Even though I'm not losing, I certainly don't feel like I'm winning.

Graph from Vox.