Is Poverty a Greater Threat than COVID?

There are no solutions. There are only trade-offs.

Thomas Sowell

The Coronavirus is scary. Across the United States, nearly 30,000 have lost their lives due to this disease. In Missouri, we’re closing in on 200.

As scary as the Coronavirus might seem, is it the greatest threat to our existence?

Each day we live, we run the risk of dying. As simple and obvious as the statement may seem, I find many have forgotten this. The reason is likely a good one. Our nation’s wealth and prosperity gave us the chance to innovate and create a health system that is one of the best in the world. For most of us, living to old age is our most significant risk.

What are the other potential risks that we face in 2020?

In 2017, the CDC reports that we lost 647,457 loved ones due to heart disease. We lost another 599,108 to cancer, 169,936 to accidents, and 146,383 to stroke.

Some of the initial estimates would have put deaths from COVID-19 at 240,000, making it a significant contributor this year, but newer models continue to decrease its potential impact. 

We can all agree that the Coronavirus is not the most significant threat we face.

Is there another threat that looms on the horizon?

At the moment, we’ve shut down our economy in response to COVID-19. 

For those of us blessed to have the opportunity to work from home, we’ve staked out our location at the kitchen table, have become accustomed to regular interruptions by our children, and quickly learned the settings in Zoom with the hopes of not being Zoombombed. We wonder why it’s challenging to find a roll of toilet paper and we wake up a little earlier to schedule our grocery pick-up when the store opens the next day’s times.

Some of us aren’t as lucky. Some of us haven’t worked since March and are wondering how we’re going to pay the rent this month, keep the electricity on, or worse, from where our next meal might come.

True, Congress passed a relief package that may help some. Checks are coming to most of us but might take up to twenty weeks to arrive. Small businesses were able to apply for welfare to maintain their payroll, and unemployment was increased and extended during the pandemic, but even those “loans” have already been exhausted.

Overall, this may help some, but it may also be too little and too late for many.

Is the economic impact a reasonable trade-off, given COVID-19 isn’t our greatest threat or does this trade-off increase the likelihood of deaths by other causes?

An article in RealClearPolitics delves into this issue, citing that joblessness increases alcohol and drug dependence, overdoses, and suicides. During the Great Depression, the US saw a 22.8% increase in suicides, the most significant increase in our history. Betsy McCaughey further estimates 77,000 are likely to die from suicide and drug overdoses, due to the layoffs.

US jobless claims have eclipsed 20 million. The WSJ also shares that our current mass layoff dwarfs any other since World War II.

In 2011, Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health found that poverty contributes to our death rate. They surmised that in 2000, 4.5% of US deaths were linkable to poverty.

Some are calling for our economy to reopen in Missouri. Carl Bearden of United for Missouri went as far as to call on the Governor to force local governments to rescind their stay-at-home orders.

Opponents of this idea call supporters heartless, purchased by corporations, and that they care nothing for others but only profits.

Unfortunately, it would seem the opponents remain very narrow-sighted in their assessment of our risks.

Their position might be the correct one if the Coronavirus was the only threat we faced. But it isn’t. There exist more significant risks, including poverty.

Some of us believe we should look for a balanced approach, allowing our economy to continue to run and stave off the threat of poverty. We should allow individuals and businesses the opportunity to innovate and adapt to our current environment.

Some of us believe we can stay safe, protect the most vulnerable, all while keeping Missouri open for business.

Americans have seen many challenges, and we have continued to endure. We’re resourceful, and our ingenuity will carry us through our current challenge if we allow it.

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