I am writing this at home because I can.
I will guess that many of you are reading it at home because you can, too. The effects of tail events are not perfectly distributed, the burdens not equally shared.
Since some of you are also probably reading this during an NYSE-instituted circuit-breaker timeout, it is entirely reasonable to wonder where we are in the market’s digestion of the coronavirus. What seems clearer is that we are still in the early innings of the disease as a public health and household economic issue. Maybe summer heat or a miraculous change in US policy give us some relief from the more dire potential public health outcomes. Maybe they don’t. Either way, many of the economic outcomes have already been crystallized. Why?
Because among corporate, community and non-profit leaders, everybody knows that everybody knows that they will be forgiven for a couple bad quarters, but not for letting the coronavirus run amok on their watch.
Amazon, Google, Facebook and Microsoft have heavily pushed work-from-home policies, especially in Washington State. Each has also placed restrictions on employee travel. So, too, have Apple, Chevron, JP Morgan Chase, Morgan Stanley, Bank of America, P&G, Intel, Wells Fargo and hundreds of other US companies.
Conferences are canceled. SXSX in Austin. Adobe Summit. F8. I/O. IBM Think. Dell World. WWDC’s coming. Nearly all others of size through mid-summer probably will be, too.
If you must make a decision today, defecting from this consensus and continuing with a large-scale event is an expression of pure risk. There is practically no upside and significant public, political downside to pressing on. There is practically no public cost (i.e. excluding event sunk costs) at this stage to cancelation.
To you, anyway. To those organizations.
But there are costs.
There are costs to the roughly 15 million Americans who work in service jobs in leisure and hospitality – restaurants, hotels and bars.
There are costs to the roughly 15 million Americans who work in retail sales.
There are costs to the roughly 15 million American single-parent households who are raising children who would typically be in schools every day for the next 2-3 months.
In a pandemic event like Covid-19, these costs are not linear. They interact. They make each other worse for the people affected.
There will be families who rely on schools during the day to permit them to work, who also work in service jobs in public places which expose them unduly to the risk of infection, who also have poor health insurance options. These are families who would struggle financially to grapple with any one of these problems. Millions of them may soon have to deal with all of them at once: kids unexpectedly at home, reduced hours or eliminated jobs in retail sales and hospitality after weeks of below historic levels of compensation, and in the very worst cases, a significant illness themselves.
Even if Coronavirus the Disease falters its advance as we all hope that it will, Coronavirus the Economic Event is already here. It is a life and food security event for many Americans, and the time to act is now.
What can full-hearted Americans do?
- Take care of service vendors: If we own or run a business where we can do so ethically, we can find a way to keep paying the people and businesses we have worked with and may not be able to soon because of social distancing. Do we cater a weekly lunch from a local restaurant for the team? Do we regularly visit a local bar for drinks on Thursdays? Then we can take care of the people who have taken care of us. As long as it’s possible for us to do so – and in most places in America, it is – go there and tip generously.
- Let friends and neighbors know NOW how you’re ready to serve: We have elderly neighbors who in some regions will soon be discouraged from – or may just be personally frightened about – going out, even just to the store. We have neighbors who are single parents or households with two working parents who don’t have any idea what they’d do if schools or daycare centers they rely on were closed for any period of time. We can talk to these people now. We can decide what we can do to help and commit to it. Yes, including watching children for friends and neighbors.
- Give to local organizations who support these needs: Coronavirus the Disease doesn’t care who we are. Coronavirus the Economic Event, on the other hand, does. Its burdens will fall unevenly on the millions of families with children who rely on retail and hospitality sources of income. Some will very likely have basic material needs – food and shelter. Find the organizations who provide these things. Support them generously.
Today my family will be supporting the Bridgeport Rescue Mission, a wonderful group in our own backyard. They provide those who need it with three hot meals every day of every year. They provide short-term emergency housing and other resources. They’re a godsend for people in need. Ben’s family are supporting Filling in the Blanks, a Norwalk-based charity that is dedicated to bridging the weekend meal gap for Connecticut children in low income families, a gap that could grow substantially in the coming months.
And that’s another thing you can do: If there is an organization in your area which provides these services that you would like us to feature here, first give. Then send us information about it at firstname.lastname@example.org, or post it in the comments below. We’ll continue updating it.
Ben has been working to deliver a Clear Eyes perspective on the coronavirus for weeks now. We hope you’ll join us in showing how Full Hearts can help, too.
Places that can help
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New York City: