When will things get back to normal? Everyone is asking.
The good old days will be back.
The coronavirus worried city officials. Tens of thousands of New Yorkers were sleeping “head-to-toe in dormitory-style shelters” for homeless people that were “vectors for widespread COVID-19 infection.” So New York’s mayor invited some of the homeless to move out of shelters and off the streets into some of the city’s 100,000 vacant hotel rooms at city expense. New Orleans, Los Angeles and San Francisco have followed suit.
Do not worry! Tourism will resume, hotels will full up and those rooms will be needed for capitalism’s winner class. The homeless will resume their rightful place on the streets and/or crowded into squalid shelters. With an average life expectancy of 50, they will die bereft and alone, their bodies unclaimed before being dumped into mass graves. No more fear that their vulnerability to virus imperils us, no more there-but-for-the-grace-of-God sympathy, no recognition of coexistence. It will be as it was in February 2020.
COVID-19 replaced the post-9/11 pantheon of heroic workers—cops, firefighters and soldiers—with employees who earn far less while taking much bigger risks. Now we thank workers in hospitals and nursing homes, those who prepare food, deliver mail and drive trucks “for their service.” Grocers are offering hazardous duty pay.
Not for long.
After it’s deemed safe, furloughed bank analysts and efficiency experts will return to their climate-controlled corporate suites to resume their job: maximizing the short-term returns of equity investors. They will pore over Excel spreadsheets displaying payroll records, draw the capitalist conclusion and issue their usual recommendations that salaries be reduced, hours lengthened and benefits curtailed in service of company bottom lines. With the hazard of coronavirus gone, the extra $2 an hour will vanish as well. Those who care for the infirm and make our dinners will return to their previous state of diminished socioeconomic status, a role reinforced by orders to wear ugly frocks adorned by ID badges. No longer heroes, zeroes once more to be ground up by the gears of the machine—certainly no thank-yous or scheduled shouts of gratitude from open windows.
Desperate to avoid a Soviet-style economic collapse, politicians of both parties graced the unemployed with an extra $600 a week for a national average total weekly jobless benefit of $947. That’s roughly the same as the national median income.
Here too, we will return to normal.
Once the ruling elites have determined that the danger of collapse and with it the loss of their real estate and securities assets has passed, they will order their pet Congressmen to allow expanded unemployment benefits to lapse. Those who are out of work will again try to make do with $347 a week, taxable. When they fail, which is inevitable, the jobless will be slammed with months of back rent and mortgages, plus interest and late fees, plus all the other bills that had been deferred yet unforgiven by landlords, telecoms and other owner-class types during the COVID-19 lockdown. Homelessness and poverty will skyrocket.
Fear not. Factories will go back to cranking out Yobama action figures, mint-flavored condoms and Mercedes SUVs that retail for $220,000 while getting 12 miles a gallon. Choked highways will slow to a crawl. Skylines will plunge back under a sea of haze.
No one will check on grandma or grandpa.
There won’t be any need.
(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, is the author of the biography “Bernie.” You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)