A Secret to the Covid Rebound
And a word about Generation P...
Welcome back to my newsletter! After tackling law, politics and music in several editions, I want to turn to an important issue within the national rebound to the pandemic. If you have kids, it may be especially relevant… and you can always subscribe here to receive the entire newsletter:
By now, we know some basic facts about Covid in the U.S.
It’s dangerous. (Over 600,000 dead.)
It is most lethal for older people. (97% of deaths were people over 45).
It can be spread by anyone. (And the people least likely to die face different personal incentives.)
When the pandemic first hit, there was attention on some young people who flouted social distancing rules, and cited their low personal risk. This was captured by a Spring Breaker who proclaimed, “If I get corona, I get corona.”
That “narrative” took hold about young people, even though most followed the rules—most young people reported to always wearing a mask outside before the vaccine, for example.
Now we are eyeing a rebound from Covid, in daily life and the economy. It’s unequal across class—something we’ve covered on The Beat—and also across age groups. That’s important for many reasons.
While older people bore the brunt of the health risk, and thus had it worst, younger people face different adversities that may follow them for decades. Consider for people under 25:
Many lived through the pandemic alone, living without a partner or family.
Many faced mental health issues.
They lost their jobs during the pandemic at higher rates than other age group. Unemployment for workers between the ages of 16 and 24 went from 8.4% in the Spring of 2019 to a whopping 24.4% in the Spring of 2020.
Those who kept their jobs were most exposed to danger—young people comprise most of the in-person jobs in retail and hospitality, meaning our economy conscripted them into being more exposed—and more likely to spread the virus, (as other Americans stayed home).
The economic age gap is reinforced by class—data shows the richest Americans stayed home half the time since COVID hit, while the poorest stayed home about a third of the time, largely due to work obligations. (They don’t have much disposable income for going out.)
So the way our economy functions, the spread of the pandemic discriminated based on economic class.
As things rebound, the youngest generation is returning to an economy that was measurably tougher on them than their parents’ generation.
Fewer millennials are entering the middle class than past generations. Wages are stagnating. College costs over double its price from about 30 years ago. Debt is higher for younger people; their home ownership is lower.
Then, for people in their 30s, the pandemic is the second disruption after living through the 2008 financial crash, when about 15 percent of younger workers lost their jobs.
Take it all together, and we have the makings of what I call “Generation P.”
Young Americans, who follow most of the rules, coming of age amidst the pandemic and its aftermath—returning to an economy that is tougher now than generations ago.
That’s a key context for some policy choices ahead, including:
Managing or forgiving some student debt
Raising the minimum wage
Reforming health coverage in a fluid job market
This virus was a stress test of our government, our politics, our society, our collaboration, our collective empathy. We needed a majority to prize empathy and safety for a virus that primarily killed senior. That meant, if you weren’t a senior, you had to do things empathetically for other people.
Now, as we turn towards renewal in the years ahead, we also need empathy for a situation that is measurably harder in some ways on young people. They had less than in the bank to handle this, and who may take longer to rebound (compared to mid-career people with homes and savings).
That’s about us. Then there’s the system.
We are in this together, but democracy runs through traditional and sometimes sclerotic institutions. Consider:
The median American is 38 years old.
The median member of Congress is 60 years old.
Both branches of government are now run by seniors aged 70, 78 and 80. Out in the courts, half the justices on the Supreme Court are 66 or older.
This is about democratic representation. I am not trafficking in any hint of ageism. Some of my favorite people are a little bit older, like my parents!
But factually, we do live in a gerontocracy (a state governed by older people).
It’s worth listening to younger activists who bring that up as a reason why the trillions spent on Covid relief, there’s been no major investment on items above like the minimum wage and student debt relief. (If you’re broke or in debt, it’s hard to pay off student loans when you lost your job and are sheltering in place.)
So, we should listen to younger people. They may know more about what’s coming, and big picture, the next generation is often full of people with the ability to see anew. Experience is amazing, but it can also bring limits in what we are able to see.
A new generation can even inspire the rest of us… if we let them.
This is an excellent article.
Such an important essay. We as a society need Generation P. Limiting their economic viability has social justice ramifications and political fallout. I believe political term limits could inspire younger Americans for elected office. We need their insight desperately