During their youth America’s elderly watched their parents cope with the Great Depression and its aftermath. They vividly remember the poorhouses, breadlines, suicides and social pathologies, rampant unemployment and financial turmoil of that era. The Social Security checks they now receive originated because of the national scandal of old-age poverty in the 1930’s.
Today’s elderly who grew up intimately aware of what their parents endured do not want the precautions now in place to protect them from the coronavirus to possibly trigger similarly dire economic circumstances. They don’t want to burden their grandchildren and great-grandchildren. These seniors worked too hard to watch the country they helped build experience the tragic social consequences, including the destitution of the elderly poor, that their parents knew a lifetime ago.
And yet, each day that grim possibility seems less remote as America’s virtual shutdown of business, travel, education, and civic life continues without an end in sight. While the sensible and necessary public health measures instituted nationwide were justified at the time they were instituted, it appears there was not sufficient attention given to the economic and social consequences that inevitably would ensue if the economy were to enter a downward spiral because of them. That is particularly true of the sweeping steps many governors have taken that have the unintended consequence of devastating household incomes or job opportunities.
Most of us do not know any among our family and friends who has the virus or died from it, but we can instantly identify loved ones who already are paying a steep price, or soon will, for the sudden collapse in commerce. Sadly, as with any marketplace meltdown, the poor, particularly the elderly poor and disabled, will bear the brunt of the suffering.
Fortunately, momentum is building for a recalibration of strategy that strikes a reasonable balancing of national interests. This new approach protects the elderly, disabled and those with chronic illness, while simultaneously performing CPR on the national economy to avert a humanitarian crisis. To some, the mere thought of changing course and softening public health restrictions triggers panic. To others, anything less than a full return to work by America a week from now prompts a similar response.
America can’t afford a “panic-demic.” Blue states can’t spar with red states, and the presidential candidates can’t politicize the important questions of what precautions and recovery steps are necessary. National unity is needed so that a calm, reasonable, good-faith examination of all of the health and welfare factors can occur. Common-sense public health measures can and should remain in effect as the great majority of people get back to work while their jobs are still there.
Under this re-balancing of interests, the preservation of life and the minimalization of suffering would continue as primary goals, recognizing that loss of life, both from the coronavirus and a possible global recession, is inevitable and must be mitigated to the fullest extent possible. This re-balancing of interests would also recognize that elders in America have as large a stake in a healthy economy as they do in a coronavirus-free world.
It would be tragic irony if our elderly survive this outbreak of deadly influenza only to find themselves facing another grave peril – a world where their savings have virtually vanished, their fixed-incomes have lost buying power, and their children and grandchildren cannot support them because of their own financial predicaments.
A pandemic doesn’t have to become a panic-demic. Cool heads must prevail while strategies are adjusted to reflect current realities. Our senior citizens want bright futures for their progeny and country they love. They will be asked to sacrifice much in the months ahead for the good of the country. The members of the “greatest generation” and their children have done this before, and they will bravely do this again.