On November 18, New Zealand reported just three new coronavirus cases and no additional deaths. In comparison, on the same day the United States reported over 155 thousand new confirmed coronavirus cases and over 1,500 COVID-19 related deaths. For the past several weeks cases have skyrocketed in the USA, wait-times to get tested have increased and hospitals have begun to hit their capacities.
Frankly, the situation here is something out of a nightmare. According to Dr. Anthony Fauci, the president has not met with his COVID-19 taskforce in months and has instead chosen to take to Twitter to make unsubstantiated claims about voter fraud and throw tantrums about perceived mistreatment from Democrats.
The federal government’s lack of action has directly contributed to the spread of COVID-19. With no nationalized strategy from the federal government it is no surprise cases are growing and unrest is increasing amongst Americans and yet this is not even the biggest problem contributing to the spread of COVID-19. There is a hidden, much more secret super-spreader plaguing the American public and it comes in the form of social safety nets, or the lack thereof.
Socialized programs have always been a contentious issue in the United States. From birth, most Americans are taught that we must ‘pick ourselves up by our bootstraps’ and fend for ourselves. Americans are socially engineered to believe that social safety nets such as welfare and food stamps are for lazy people or people who do not want to work, both of which are untrue.
According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP), 87% of households that receive benefits with non-disabled, non-elderly adults and children work within a year of receiving benefits while 65% work during the month they received the benefits. Additionally, the CBPP asserts that for those receiving benefits who do work, they typically work at least half-time and are actually more likely to work full-time. This inherent American attitude against social safety nets has directly contributed to the spreading of COVID-19.
Had the federal government provided Americans with incentives to stay home and not just a one-time payment of $1,200, they would have been able to afford to lockdown thus mitigating the spread. The competent, compassionate leadership of New Zealand prime minister, Jacinda Ardern has resulted in the near abolishment of COVID in the country. On March 25, New Zealand instituted a nationwide lockdown and by May 13 all restrictions were lifted. In June the country’s unemployment rate was identical to the year before at just 4%.
In New Zealand, there are robust social safety net programs including universal health care and vast unemployment programs. In response to the pandemic, the New Zealand government instituted programs to help people during the lockdown including wage subsidies, tax delays to small businesses and freezes on residential rent increase for six months as well as making landlords unable to evict those who miss payments during the pandemic.
Many people might argue that New Zealand’s island status and smaller population size made it easier for COVID-19 to be controlled and while that could potentially be a contributing factor, it is easier to lockdown a country when citizens are not concerned about losing healthcare, their homes or starving in the middle of a pandemic.
An Urban Institute analysis of census data asserted that as of early September, nearly three million Americans have lost their job-based health insurance. An additional study from Avalere Health projects that nearly 12 million Americans could lose health insurance by the end of the year. How can workers be expected to stay home when job-loss will result in the stripping of their health insurance? How can workers be expected to quarantine for 14 days when there is no law requiring employers to pay sick leave?
The United States will not get control of this virus until we address income inequality. Social safety nets are not a sign of weakness. They are a sign of a compassionate, empathetic government that cares about the welfare of its citizens. Additionally, the United States is the only industrialized country in the world without universal healthcare.
The Declaration of Independence asserts, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” How can Americans pursue happiness when their right to healthcare is tied to employment? When will we stop being held hostage by our biases towards welfare and come together as a country to fight income inequality and this deadly pandemic? I can only hope it’s sooner rather than later.