This is a rush transcript and may contain errors. It will be updated.
As the US finally begins to respond in full with measures to stop the spread of COVID-19, there is a heated discussion going on among the rich and powerful about opening businesses in weeks rather than months, to save the economy, even if that means sacrificing some people. Donald Trump tweeted about how when trying to stop the coronavirus, he said, “We cannot let the cure the worse than the problem itself.” Scott McMillan, a 56 year old lawyer in Mesa, California near San Diego responded in more detail tweeting, “The fundamental problem is whether we’re going to tank the entire economy to save 2.5% of the population is one, generally expensive to maintain, and two, not productive.”
If you aren’t clear, Trump was saying that letting the economy stall to preserve people’s health and safety was a worst cure than having people die from a virus that could be slowed and controlled by just having people not go to work.
McMillan agreed, arguing that the 2.5 percent of the population are old people who costs too much to take care of and they don’t do anything to earn their keep anyway. They weren’t the only one saying it either. Glenn Beck said he’d rather die than kill the country, telling older Americans to get back to work as he identified that he is in the danger zone himself at 56 years old.
Dan Patrick, Texas’ Republican Lieutenant Governor, suggested that he and other grandparents would be willing to risk their health and even their lives in order for the United States to get back to work amid the coronavirus pandemic. He said, “Those of us who are 70-plus, we’ll take care of ourselves, but don’t sacrifice the country.”
New York times columnist Thomas Friedman made a similar argument in an op-ed piece, writing that “Either we let many of us get the coronavirus, recover, and get back to work while doing our utmost to protect those most vulnerable to being killed by it, or we shut down for months to try to save everyone everywhere from the virus no matter their risk profile and kill many people by other means,” I don’t even know what that means, “Kill our economy and maybe kill our future.”
Yes, he did write more about pushing for mandatory and expanded testing and targeted quarantines protecting vulnerable populations. But, we know this is not going to happen in this capitalist market-first country in which the president has been slow to take control of businesses to manufacturer desperately needed medical supplies under the Defense Production Act. Let’s be clear on what’s being said here. These people are arguing that we should sacrifice older people by making them go back to work to save the economy for their future generations. First, it’s obscene that people are equating the economy of this country with the country itself, but that obscenity is at the very root of the problem with American exceptionalism. This ideology that this country is exceptional because of the wealth that was generated over its existence, and the power that was welded over the world because of it.
Well, what isn’t talked about in this ideology is how that wealth was and is generated, and on whose backs. And that is the particular obscenity in these comments about letting older people die to save the economy. You see, none of these people saying that we should let old people die so the kids can have a stable economy will actually be sending their old parents off to work at McDonald’s. All these folks are wealthy. They have access to untold reserves of money, have access to the best health insurance, and they themselves don’t have to work if they don’t want to. So I know their elderly parents don’t have to work, but elderly black and Latinx, people working at McDonald’s, and Burger King, and Walmart, and in fields picking our produce right now, they’re being sacrificed already.
Not only are black and Latinx people more likely to work jobs that do not enable them to work from home like food service, construction, and health care. But according to the Bureau of labor Statistics, the number of older black people in the workforce is growing. The labor force share of black people aged 55 and older was larger in 2016, and is projected to be larger in 2026 than that of the 16 to 24 year old group. And why is that? Why are more elderly black people working? Because of poverty. Among racial and ethnic groups, African Americans have the highest poverty rate at 27.4% followed only by Latinx people at 26.6%, and whites, a distant 9.9%. 45.8% of young black children under the age of six live in poverty compared to only 14.5% of white children. And poverty affects the elderly who have to deal with increasing medical issues.
Black people are more likely than whites to suffer medical conditions that lead to more severe health problems, and higher health care, and insurance costs as they grow older. Their health problems are exacerbated by financial troubles that include lower savings, lower home ownership rates, and lower Social Security income than whites. And that stems from black people just having lower income than white people in this country.
In a country where black and Latinx people in general are overrepresented in occupations that are lower paid, not low skilled as they are often called, and also have less access to quality health care, paid sick leave, and affordable childcare, most of the black and brown working class all ready, literally, cannot afford to stay home from work or else they do not eat. So it should be easy to see that as more older black and Latinx people have to be in the workforce, they are literally having to decide if they should protect their health and stay home as there are more vulnerable to COVID-19 should they become infected, or should they go to work because they need to buy food, medicine, and pay their rent, and mortgage. And no, it’s not that no older white people have to make this decision. The issue is that there is a higher percentage of older black and Latinx people who experienced this, even though black people are only 13% of the population.
So let’s be very clear on this. When rich people talk about sacrificing a population that they claim is expensive to maintain, and is unproductive in order to save future generations any context in this country, they are not talking about their parents and grandparents. These people aren’t going to pull their grandparents out of their comfortable retirement and send them to work as a greeter at Walmart, or a teller at a bank to keep the economy, which is their real country, going. No, they’re talking about ours. Our black, and Latinx, and poor white, and poor Asian, and other immigrant community parents and grandparents who are already being sacrificed at altar of their God of money. The high priests of capitalism already don’t share the bounty with the workers. No, they keep all that for themselves.
This is Jacqueline Luqman with The Real News Network in Washington, DC.