We’re only a couple of weeks into social distancing and only a few weeks into taking this pandemic seriously. But I’m already tired of people putting a positive spin on this situation.
Knock it off with the optimism
Because yes, there are people out there talking about the “good” impact of the economy essentially shutting down. Here’s one tweet as an example:
Are you serious?!
I guess I was a little grumpy — or maybe just tired of hearing this sort of thing, because I responded thusly:
“I think you’re missing the part where people become new savers because they don’t have a choice. Not just because of the pandemic but because this shutdown & inevitable recession are going to throw so many people into debt (and danger of homelessness) that they have to change.
“And to be clear: I’m saying this is NOT a positive. Yes, good money habits are great but not when a) they’re forced on people (because then the habits chafe and don’t necessarily last), b) come with so much hardship and c) come with smugness from a lot of the PF blogosphere oh and d) when so many people may face bankruptcy from medical bills if they catch this very contagious virus and let’s not forget e) WHEN PEOPLE’S GODDAMN LIVES ARE AT STAKE.”
Look, I know some people are just trying to find the good in what is a very, very bad situation. And to be fair, these tweets are a helluva lot better than the asshats on Twitter who’ve been saying what essentially boils down to, “Well, I guess a lot of people right about now are realizing that if they’d spent less on wants they’d have that emergency fund they need so much right now.”
Wow, smug and unhelpful. Impressive combination.
A little empathy, maybe?
No one needs to hear “I told ya so” when they’re terrified about keeping a roof over their head and their kids fed, let alone when they’re also worried about potentially dying.
So perhaps I’m being overly harsh on the Twitter Pollyannas.
But to me even those people’s hot takes are glib and out of touch. Their insistence that some “good” can come out of this means that they’re glossing over how awful a time this is for a lot of people. They clearly aren’t putting themselves in the shoes of people whose finances were shattered by the pandemic-induced business shutdown.
At least, I choose to believe that they aren’t. Because while I’m not a big fan of people as a whole, I refuse to entertain the idea that so many folks are unfeeling enough that they could seriously contemplate what it must be like for these unemployed folks — truly consider the fear and worry and concern the newly unemployed people have for themselves and their families — and still try to put a positive spin on this situation.
Fuck enforced frugality
To that end, I tweeted the following thread:
“Already sick unto death of tweets crowing about how this pandemic/recession will least open people’s eyes about money and maybe change their spending/saving habits. I say this as someone who was raised to be frugal: FUCK ENFORCED FRUGALITY AND THE HORSE IT RODE IN ON!
“My mom grew up in a family that was frugal because they had to be. That was true of most people she knew. She struggled for a couple of years as a single mom sometimes with barely enough food for both of us. It’s an awful way to live: stressful and exhausting and scary.
“And even setting aside that so many Americans were living so financially tenuously due mostly to stagnant wages, untenable student loans and the ever-rising cost of living… even if people got here through carelessness, we should not be saying these platitudes. People are hurting. People may end up unable to pay for a place for their family to live. People may survive a harrowing medical trauma and have to then declare bankruptcy due to medical bills. NONE OF US SHOULD FIND ANY GOOD IN OTHER PEOPLE’S FEAR AND PAIN AND STRUGGLE! Full stop.”
A scary time
I truly don’t think there’s a single reason to celebrate any part of this pandemic’s financial ripples. As I said in the tweet, even if folks being affected are in trouble from financial carelessness — and I’m not convinced that’s the case for most of them — it’s frankly thoughtless and heartless to say that this will be a good lesson.
They’re hurting. They’re scared. There’s a chance that either they or someone they know will have to fight for his/her life (and might lose).
Plus, they may be facing homelessness. (Yes, some cities/states have issued eviction moratoriums, but not all of them.) And it’s great that most utility companies have pledged not to shut off service for failure to pay. But once this is all over, people will have to play catch-up on the backlog of rent and utility bills.
It could take them a year or more to get out of the red, let alone build up savings/an emergency fund. Even those who had some amount of financial backup may see it dip — or perhaps disappear altogether — and their credit card debt increase.
I think we can safely say that the days of only 35% of Americans having more credit card debt than savings are definitely behind us.
And unlike the 2008 crash, people have fewer options for jobs. At least in 2008, if you lost your job and couldn’t get a replacement in the same sector, you could probably get a minimum wage job. It might not necessarily have been enough to live on, but it was something to keep you housed, fed and at least somewhat current on basic bills.
Now, any minimum wage job that’s still available — most any job still available in general, in fact — requires extra exposure to a life-threatening virus. That hardly seems worth it. Not to mention that, with schools and daycare centers closed around the country, parents of younger kids can’t take work right now anyway.
The $600 weekly boost to unemployment will help,* but it won’t replace a lot of people’s full income. And many of them were barely making it as it was.
So even if the folks now in dire financial straits had been ones buying the newest iPhones while making the minimum payment on their credit card debt, buying nice clothing they didn’t necessarily need and eating out too much, I don’t think they deserve to experience this much fear and uncertainty just to learn a financial lesson.
And they really don’t deserve people being smug about it or trying to find something positive in their dire straits.
Are you sick of the positive spin yet, or do you think something good will come of this pandemic?
*Though frustratingly, a lot of minimum-wage or otherwise low-paying jobs (fast food, grocery stores, drugstores, gas stations, etc.) are considered essential services, so those workers can’t even access the extra money that would help them build some financial padding.