If America learns nothing else from these dark times, here are seven lessons it should take from 2020:
1 Workers keep America going, not billionaires
American workers have been forced to put their lives on the line to provide essential services even as their employers failed to provide adequate protective gear, hazard pay, or notice of when Covid had infected their workplaces. Meanwhile, America’s 651 billionaires – whose net worth has grown by more than $1tn since the start of the pandemic – retreated to their mansions, yachts and estates.
Amazon’s chief executive, Jeff Bezos, sheltered in his 165,000-acre west Texas ranch while Amazon warehouse workers toiled in close proximity, often without adequate masks, gloves or sanitizers. The company offered but soon scrapped a $2 an hour hazard pay increase, even as Bezos’ wealth jumped by a staggering $70bn since March, putting his estimated net worth at roughly $186bn as the year came to an end.
2 Systemic racism is killing Black and Latino Americans
Black and Latino Americans account for almost 40% of coronavirus deaths so far, despite comprising less than a quarter of the population. As they’ve borne the brunt of this pandemic, they’ve been forced to fight for their humanity in another regard: taking to the streets to protest decades of unjust police killings, only to be met with more police violence.
Among Native American communities, the coronavirus figures are even more horrifying. The Navajo Nation has had a higher per-capita infection rate than any state but cannot adequately care for the sick, thanks to years of federal underfunding and neglect of its healthcare system.
Decades of segregated housing, pollution, lack of access to medical care, and poverty have left communities of color vulnerable to the worst of this virus, and the worst of America.
3 If we can afford to bail out corporations and Wall Street, we sure as hell can afford to help people
The Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, continues to insist the nation cannot “afford” $2,000 survival checks for every American. But the latest relief legislation doled out more than $220bn to powerful business interests that could have been used for struggling working families.
Another way of looking at it: the total cost of providing those $2,000 checks ($465bn) would be less than half the amount America’s 651 billionaires added to their wealth during the pandemic ($1tn).
4 Healthcare must be made a right
Even before this crisis struck, an estimated 28 million Americans lacked health insurance. An additional 15 million lost employer-provided coverage because they lost their jobs. Without insurance, a hospital stay to treat Covid-19 cost as much as $73,000. Remember this the next time you hear pundits saying Medicare for All is too radical.
5 Our social safety nets are woefully broken
No other advanced nation was as unprepared for the pandemic as was the US. Our unemployment insurance system is more than 80 years old, designed for a different America. We’re one of the few countries in the world that doesn’t provide all workers some form of paid sick leave.
Other industrialized nations kept unemployment rates low by guaranteeing paychecks. Americans who filed for unemployment benefits often got nothing, or received them weeks or months late. Under new legislation they get just $300 a week of extra benefits to tide them over.
6 The electoral college must be abolished
Joe Biden won 7m more votes than Trump. But his winning margin in Arizona, Georgia and Wisconsin totaled just 45,000. Had Trump won those three states, he would have gained 37 electoral votes, tying Biden in the electoral college. This would have pushed the election to the House of Representatives, with each state delegation getting one vote. Even though Democrats have a majority in the House, more state delegations have Republican majorities. Trump would have been re-elected.
The gap between the popular and electoral college vote continues to widen….