COVID-19 and financial security

We all need to stop pretending there isn’t an emergency right around the corner.

Our lives have been turned upside down over the past seven or so weeks. Restaurants and stores have closed, 30 million Americans have lost their jobs, and our freedom of movement has been restricted. Several difficult issues are at play in this crisis. Financial security is my focus here.

There will be winners and losers in this financial crisis and it will affect the whole society. Those who will be the winners are the ones who are able to work from home. The losers are largely those involved in blue collar jobs where they work with their hands. It’s the divide that largely separates those who support President Trump’s re-election and those who support Democratic candidate Joe Biden.

According to an NPR report, some of the anti-COVID-19 restriction demonstrations, including those protesting in Olympia, Michigan, Colorado, and six other states were organized and funded by conservative groups associated with the Tea Party movement. Were these wealthy conservatives more concerned about the loss of jobs for the workers, or loss of profits for themselves? My guess is that profit trumps the financial security of unemployed workers.

Governor Jay Inslee has done an excellent job in this crisis. He has been calm, open, and rational. He’s making decisions based upon scientific data. Some of his opponents are concerned that he has been too slow in opening up the economy. They claim that his caution shows indecision and fear.

Why were so few Americans prepared for such a crisis? Why do so many live from paycheck to paycheck? Why haven’t more people put aside savings to prepare for just such an emergency?” Maybe it’s because their wages are too low. Data from Pew Research shows real incomes have not risen since 1964 for most Americans. In 1964, the average worker made $2.50/hour. Today, the equivalent buying power is $22.65.

Did we learn anything about our spending and savings habits from previous crises?

We had the Great Recession from 2007 to 2009, though the effects lingered far past that date. Did these same workers who are hurting now learn any lessons from that financial disaster more than a decade ago? Have we as a nation been like a person who drives his car but doesn’t carry a spare tire? Have some of us ignored preparing for the future? Are we spending too much and saving too little? Are our priorities out of whack?

Has having our daily $4.00 latte, or an expensive flat-screen TV, or the newest iPhone, and large credit card debt taken precedence over creating a rainy day fund? How we spend our money shows what we value. Now that the coronavirus has so deeply impacted us, the rate of savings has increased in the U.S. That’s good, but it’s like closing the door after the horses have already gotten out.

What about the big corporations who got enormous tax cuts beginning in December 2017? What did they do with all the money they got? Many of them used their surplus cash to buy back their own stocks to raise prices. Doing this benefited their stockholders. Now, these same companies are deeply in debt and looking for a government handout—again—because they didn’t set any of that money aside for another financial crisis. They were no more farsighted than some who are suffering from cash shortfalls today. Neither group learned from the Great Recession.

Financial security in times of crisis comes from planning ahead. There is the adage that all us should put on our refrigerators, read every day, then put into practice. It comes from Proverbs 27:12: “The prudent see danger and seek refuge, but the simple keep going and pay the penalty.” Let’s quit being simple and plan for the next crisis, which, like the COVID-19 pandemic, is waiting in the wings to catch us by surprise.

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