We wade further and further into an almost dystopian society filled with civil unrest and longing for change against a bigoted police state. All this, while being governed by an icon to heretics, who is trying to fool his chauvinistic zealots into believing that the country is not being ravaged by a deadly disease and that the cry for equality is nothing more than a cry for chaos and destruction. In the same breath, he has unleashed his militarized hounds to terrorize peaceful protesters all in the name of “law and order.” I used to believe that, despite all the turmoil and trepidation, the systems we set in place would be accommodating to us as a society. Instead, I am once again reminded of the despondent truth, that our lives and well-being are inconsequential to the insatiable pursuit of wealth and power.
The pandemic has caused a standstill of society, a place where millions of Americans are unemployed and millions more are quarantined within their homes. Even though it feels like the needle on the record has stopped for many of us, the bills keep coming without missing a beat. In the beginning, the government helped keep the bills at bay with the introduction of a stimulus package. Now due to our power-hungry leader and incompetent Congress, that lifeline is starting to run out without much hope in sight. Due to this, tens of millions of Americans are in fear of the blood-curdling red eviction notice. In an effort to lull the masses, this September, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) brought forth eviction moratoriums to prevent renters from being evicted for the rest of the pandemic. However, their orders came without real financial backing from any legislative body. As Emily Benfer, a law professor at Wake Forest University pointed out, ”If it’s not coupled with rental assistance, it’s just pushing the issue down the line and it will snowball into a crisis that landlords and tenants will be recovering from for decades.”
The economic demand in our society is a looming cloud that is never too far away. It even persists in our educational system — as most students now are transitioning to online school, financially challenged families are once again at odds. These families and students are now starting to face a digital “homework gap” because of the necessities needed to even attend online school. Even if all schools were able to provide students in need with laptops, which is made even more difficult due to the budget cuts resulting in almost half the states spending less money on schools than they had in 2007, internet access would still be missing for many. Reliable internet in America is far from cheap. In the United States, internet on average costs roughly $65 per month, making it the sixth-highest cost for internet in the world. In the social climate we currently inhabit, I could argue that internet access is a necessity to function — or even survive. A study by Pew Research Center investigated the beginning of a digital “homework gap,” due to internet accessibility. They found that “about one-in-five teens ages 13 to 17 said they are often or sometimes unable to complete homework assignments because they do not have reliable access to a computer or internet connection.”
Sadly, this cloud of financial fear does not show mercy to those who have just left the world of academia and incurred student debt. Even before the pandemic, the student debt crisis was already ballooning to an unfathomable amount, with almost half of all borrowers not being able to pay down their previous quarter balances. In the fourth quarter of 2019 alone, the total of outstanding student loan debt increased by $10 billion, reaching $1.51 trillion. In this pandemic, if those who are in debt have no way of making their payments, as the interest rates alone will harshly exacerbate their debts. The upsurge in federal student loans will be stifled to a certain degree by the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solution (HEROES) Act until Sept. 2021, but for those who take out private loans, there seems to be no federal initiative to mitigate their impending debt. With the Congressional Budget Office anticipating that unemployment will exceed 9 percent by the end of 2021, it’s imperative for us to find a long term solution that is not tailored for the banks and private sector. We must implement freezes on mortgages so landlords aren’t forced to evict people and then slowly implement a new tax plan that will then implement a new health care plan for all, similar to the actions of many European countries that handled that pandemic comparatively well. It is especially important that we are aware of the pandemic’s influence on the health insurance industry, since in the following years “extra costs from lingering effects of COVID-19 could mean higher health insurance premiums in the United States.” According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, “some health plans have already raised 2021 premiums on comprehensive coverage by up to 8 percent due to COVID-19.” While other governments are covering these costs for their citizens, ours still leaves private enterprises to profit off of our suffering and ill health. Even those fortuitous enough to not be directly hit with the medical cost of COVID-19 will have to endure the heightened prices that private insurance companies will impose to alleviate costs or, more accurately, protect profits.
These are not problems that have magically sprouted up due to COVID-19. These are economic pitfalls that have been exposed by COVID-19. Driving our capitalistic economy to a standstill illuminated the exploitations of average consumers and how we are never that far from descending into economic ruin. We must evaluate if the systems that we have created as a community truly are for the betterment of the masses, or they are in place only to enrich the insatiable neo-aristocracy.
Akshay Kumar is a junior majoring in economics.