As the COVID-19 crisis escalates, numerous states are moving to close public gathering spaces and businesses in order to limit the outbreak, and many hourly and low-wage Americans are suddenly stuck wondering how they will pay their rent.
This disaster has widened the existing gaps in our society, and is already letting those who were already struggling fall through the cracks – and there is a clear gap between those who will come out of this crisis with scratches and those who will be maimed.
With the pandemic unlikely to end in the next few weeks, the millions of Americans who are currently unemployed due to the crisis are going to be without any income for the foreseeable future.
Right now we need leadership that considers them, not just stock owners. Renters are also particularly vulnerable during this time as unemployment skyrockets. Even the most cynical person should agree that the last thing anyone should have to worry about during a health crisis is whether or not they’re going to be kicked out of their home.
Before this crisis started, many of those who are currently unemployed were already falling behind in an economy that favors tax cuts for wealthy individuals and corporations over raising depressed wages and funding safety net programs.
Previously, upwards of 40% of Americans couldn’t afford a $400 emergency expense, and 40% of Americans were one missed paycheck away from becoming homeless. Now, due to factors completely out of their control, many of these people face months without any guaranteed income and debt on a couple months of rent and utilities.
It is really unclear how much and how quickly the stimulus bill will help those in this kind of urgent need. Further, the economic fallout of this pandemic will not be wrapped up in the weeks after it ends. It’s very likely that when workers are able to return to the job market, we will be in the midst of a recession, or worse.
That’s why we need forward-thinking policy, targeted to our most vulnerable citizens, right now. While there are numerous moratoriums currently being issued by states and cities across the nation, none of them freeze payments completely.
They generally only delay evictions for coronavirus related financial problems, allowing tenants and homeowners to pay back their outstanding fees over the course of six months after the crisis ends.
But with 4 in 5 Americans currently working paycheck-to-paycheck, it’s unlikely that many will be able to find work after things settle down, let alone pay back the debt that they’ve taken on through no fault of their own. We are all going to hurt, but it’s those who work for a living that are going to suffer the most. Wealthy individuals like myself will be fine during this crisis.
Of course, money cannot shield me from the virus, but I have the ability to work from home to reduce my risk of receiving the disease while still receiving a paycheck. My finances will take a large hit, but I won’t have to worry about being evicted or not making my mortgage payments. I’m glad that our states and localities are working to find solutions in these uncertain times, but for these at-risk groups who will be devastated by this, it’s simply not enough.
We are the richest nation in the world and we can do so much more if we have the will to do so. In the immediate moment, we need to issue an indefinite, nationwide moratorium on evictions, mortgage payments, utilities, and foreclosures. Without it, I fear that many Americans will continue to live in turmoil long after we solve the current health crisis.
But it is also my sincere hope that one positive of this crisis will be a focus on the truly unnecessary inequities in our society, and serve to require changes in livable wages, reasonable health care, homelessness, and meaningful unemployment insurance.
We need to rethink the system that brought us here in the first place. It’s time our national government started protecting the millions of Americans who work for a living, rather than the select few who base their income off the market. This is way past time for change.
Frank Arthur is a Navy veteran and worked in the U.S. Justice Department. He currently is a real estate developer in California specializing in Transit-Oriented Development and Affordable Housing. He recently joined as a member of the Patriotic Millionaires.