CHN’s COVID-19 Watch: Tracking Hardship, March 4, 2022
March 4, 2022
The how-our-economy-survived-the-pandemic edition. As we prepare to mark two full years of COVID-19, it is perhaps instrumental to look at how far we have come and why things did not turn out much worse – the tremendous cost and loss of life notwithstanding.
The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities has released an important analysis demonstrating how much worse the damage to our economy and to people in need would have been had the federal government not aggressively responded when the pandemic surfaced. CBPP’s report, Robust COVID Relief Achieved Historic Gains Against Poverty and Hardship, Bolstered Economy, noted that when COVID-19 began rapidly spreading across the U.S. in March 2020, the economy quickly shed more than 20 million jobs. Congress enacted five relief bills in 2020 alone, providing an estimated $3.3 trillion of relief. In 2021, Congress passed the American Rescue Plan, adding another $1.8 trillion of relief.
“This robust policy response helped make the COVID-19 recession the shortest on record and helped fuel an economic recovery that has brought the unemployment rate, which peaked at 14.8 percent in April 2020, down to 4.0 percent,” the report notes. “Various data indicate that in 2021, relief measures reduced poverty, helped people access health coverage, and reduced hardships like inability to afford food or meet other basic needs.”
The CBPP analysis compares the current response to that of the 2007-2009 Great Recession. Two years after the Great Recession began, after federal actions criticized by economists as too modest, unemployment was still 9.9 percent and food insecurity remained one-third above its pre-recession level. The report also found that the government’s robust response to the pandemic had a particular, positive impact on Black and Latino communities, hit hard by COVID-19’s health and economic impact. “The COVID relief effort teaches important lessons,” CBPP concludes. “It shows that a rapid, robust, and broad-based response can greatly speed recovery, reduce suffering, and mitigate disparities.”
Meanwhile, on the pandemic front, the national outlook continues to improve rapidly, with new COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations, and deaths all in decline. Daily case reports have fallen more than 90 percent from their January peak. For the first time in more than a month, the country is averaging fewer than 2,000 newly deaths a day. Still, experts warn that new variants could emerge – right now, for instance, a new Omicron variant, BA.2, is circulating around the globe. We know it is 30 to 40 percent more infectious than the original Omicron variant; we don’t yet know how bad it will be.
On the home front, there is much for Congress to work on. With the rise in inflation, Congress should extend rental assistance and increase funding for housing vouchers. It should extend health care premium subsidies and rein in the cost of prescription drugs. It should make child care more affordable, and pass national paid leave. It should increase nutrition assistance – hunger in America is again on the rise. It should extend the monthly Child Tax Credit and the expansions for workers without children in the Earned Income Tax Credit – that additional income would do a great deal to protect families from rising prices. Most pressing right now is passage of a full-year appropriations bill in the Senate that reflects the robust approach Speaker Nancy Pelosi and House Democrats have adopted.