The Long Term Social Effects of the Pandemic

With the number of new coronavirus cases in the U.S.now increasing, we are reminded that the pandemic is not yet over and that each of us needs to continue to act in a responsible manner by practicing social distancing and wearing masks in some situations.

The longer the pandemic continues, the more profound will be its lasting effects on American society.  The social science scholar, Nicholas Christakis, has taken a stab at delineating many of these social effects.  For example:

  • A vaccine won’t give us an early exit. A vaccine may not be widely available before the U.S. achieves herd immunity, which will likely occur no later than 2022.
  • Providing medical care over the internet is now not just permissible but even widely encouraged. Telemedicine has achieved a big advance in the last few months.
  • Many restaurants have now reopened but often at only 50% capacity. Of the 15 million people previously employed in restaurants as waiters, cooks, etc., half of them have lost their jobs.
  • Many other small retail firms have gone out of business, often replaced by the growth of giants like Amazon, Walmart and Target. More people will continue to work from home which means a much lesser need for office space.

  • Cramped-in apartment dwellers may want more living space prompting them to move to less dense urban areas. This will have a major effect on the real estate industry.
  • Working conditions will change. Before the pandemic less than half of shift workers had access to paid sick leave.  But a contagious disease makes it clear why this is a bad idea. Many companies, from Apple to pizza delivery businesses, are now providing paid sick leave to hourly workers for the first time.

  • Covid-19 may drive up wages in the U.S. The pandemic has emphasized the country’s dependence on all sorts of low-wage workers.  This will likely lead to better pay in the future.  In part this could take the form of more paid sick and family leave as well as more flexible work schedules and child-care subsidies.

Conclusion.  As the pandemic eventually subsides, life will return to a “new” normal, with major changes in employment and living conditions.   On the whole, these changes will reflect improvements in the quality of life in the U.S., especially for lower-income workers.

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