Maybe it’s wishful thinking to declare the pandemic over in the U.S., and presumptuous to conclude what lessons we’ve learned from it. So consider this list a first draft.

1. Workers are always essential.

We couldn’t have survived without millions of warehouse, delivery, grocery and hospital workers literally risking their lives. Yet most of these workers are paid squat. Amazon touts its $15 minimum wage, but it totals only about $30,000 a year. Most essential workers still don’t have health insurance or paid leave. Many of their employers (including Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk, to take but two examples) didn’t give them the personal protective equipment they needed.

Lesson: Essential workers deserve far better.

2. Health care is a basic right.

You know how you got your vaccine without paying a dime? That’s how all health care could be. Yet too many Americans who contracted COVID-19 got walloped with humongous hospital bills. By mid-2020, about 3.3 million people had lost employer-sponsored coverage, and the number of uninsured increased by 1.9 million. Research by the Urban Institute found that people with chronic disease, Black Americans and low-income children were most likely to have delayed or forgone care during the pandemic.

Lesson: America must insure everyone.

3. Conspiracy theories can be deadly.

Last June, about 1 in 4 Americans believed the pandemic was “definitely” or “probably” created intentionally, according to a Pew Research Center survey. Other conspiracy theories have caused some people to avoid wearing masks or getting vaccinated, causing unnecessary illness or death.

Lesson: An informed public is essential. Some of the responsibility falls on all of us. Some of it falls on Facebook, Twitter and other platforms that allowed such misinformation to flourish.

4. The stock market isn’t the economy.

The stock market rose throughout the pandemic, lifting the wealth of the richest 1 percent, who own half of all stock owned by Americans. Meanwhile, from March 2020 to February 2021, 80 million in the U.S. lost their jobs. Between June and November 2020, nearly 8 million Americans fell into poverty. Black and Latino adults were more than twice as likely as white adults to report not having enough to eat — 16 percent each for Black and Latino adults, compared with 6 percent of white adults.

Lesson: Stop using the stock market as a measure of economic well-being. Look instead at the percentage of Americans who are working, and their median pay.

5. Wages are too low to get by on.

Most Americans live paycheck to paycheck. So once the pandemic hit, many didn’t have any savings to fall back on. Conservative lawmakers complain that the extra $300-a-week unemployment benefit Congress enacted in March discourages people from working. What’s really discouraging them is lack of childcare and lousy wages.

Lesson: Raise the minimum wage, strengthen labor unions, provide universal childcare and push companies to share profits with their workers.

6. Remote work is now baked into the economy.

The percentage of workers punching in from home hit a high of 70 percent in April 2020. A majority continue to work remotely. Some 40 percent want to continue working from home.

Two lessons: Companies will have to adjust. And much commercial real estate will remain vacant. Why not convert it into affordable housing?

7. Billionaires aren’t the answer.

The combined wealth of America’s 657 billionaires grew by $1.3 trillion (or 44.6 percent) during the pandemic. Jeff Bezos, with $183.9 billion, became the richest man in the U.S. and the world. Larry Page, cofounder of Google, added $11.8 billion to his $94.3 billion fortune, and Sergey Brin, Google’s other cofounder, added $11.4 billion. Yet billionaires’ taxes are lower than ever. Wealthy Americans today pay one-sixth the rate of taxes their counterparts paid in 1953.

Lesson: To afford everything the nation needs, raise taxes at the top.

8. Government can be the solution.

Ronald Reagan’s famous quip — “Government is not the solution to our problem, government is the problem” — can now officially be retired. Donald Trump’s “Operation Warp Speed” succeeded in readying vaccines faster than most experts thought possible, and Biden got it into more arms more quickly than any vaccination program in history.

Furthermore, the $900 billion in aid Congress passed in late December prevented millions from losing unemployment benefits and helped sustain the recovery when it was faltering. The $1.9 trillion that Democrats pushed through Congress in March will help the U.S. achieve something it failed to achieve after the 2008-2009 recession: a robust recovery.

Lesson: Government must play an active role solving other fundamental problems — ending poverty, reducing inequality, battling climate change and fighting systemic racism.

Robert Reich, former U.S. Secretary of Labor, is professor of public policy at the University of California at Berkeley.

(6) comments


1. The more you pay unskilled labor, the more you need to pay skilled labor. Let's face it. Some jobs are meant to be entry level jobs not careers paying a salary with which one can raise a family. The larger the unskilled labor pool is, the lower the cost of that labor will be (and that pool is lrger than it should be due to illegal immigration).

2. While it may be appropriate that some level of health care is a basic right, why aren't you talking about food and shelter being basic rights? Those are more basic needs than health care. So why not set up a food insurance policy that everyone pays into and a shelter insurance that everyone pays into and then watch those costs go up because insurance will pay for it instead of paying for those needs out of pocket? People have the responsibility to try to live within their means and not be a burden to others. Don't start a family if you can't afford it and you'll actually be helping the planet by not growing your emissions and worsening climate change and other adverse environmental impacts.

3. An informed public is necessary along with an educated public that is capable of identifying B.S. We need to walk back all the crazy cable news channels (on both ends of the spectrum). We need objective news with facts and not endless commentary by people one should care less about spouting opinions the general population should care less about (yes, I'm even making a good argument for ignoring my opinion).

4. Of course the wealth of those who save and invest is going to go up more than those who chose to spend to satisfy immediate wants at the cost of future needs. I wonder, of those who reported not having enough to eat, how many of them produced children that they can't afford to feed? How many of them waste their money on things that they want but are not needed (i.e., smart phones)

5. Wages are too low to bet by on only if one makes poor life decisions. If one wants a family one needs to plan on how one is going to pay for the family and the plan shouldn't be to get a no skilled minimum wage entry level job.

6. Finally a decent idea, but the writer doesn't even discuss the best benefits ...the environmental benefits of teleworking and the quality of life benefits from a reduced/eliminated commute.

7. Billionaires are not the answer. Yes that's correct but for a different reason. We need realistic cost estimates for government programs. We need the government to stop venturing into areas that are not essential government services and need them to fully fund infrastructure before expanding any other service.

8. Government can be the solution but it can also be part of the problem. look no further than climate change problems caused by increasing human population and yet the government at all levels promote policies and even tax people in order to push for population growth which i counter productive when trying to solve the climate change problem and other environmental problems, housing cost problems, etc.


[thumbup][thumbup][thumbup][thumbup] md1756. Good counterpoint to the socialist liberal Reich.


China is relaxing their strict birth control requirements. Their population is aging and their working age population is diminishing. They are worried about their future.


[thumbup][thumbup][thumbup] All good points MD1756.


Item 3 is spot on!!! Don't believe everything you hear/see/read. Don't form an opinion until you read a credible but opposing view.


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