Let’s be clear on why the US economy is weakening (opinion)

On Monday, Goldman Sachs economists downgraded their projections for economic growth in 2021. (“The Delta variant is already weighing on Q3 growth,” wrote Goldman economist Ronnie Walker.)
August’s job growth was sluggish. The Delta variant continues to ravage the unvaccinated and sicken so many, with the country hitting the dark milestone of 40 million Covid cases. And about 1,500 Americans are dying every day — almost all of them not fully vaccinated.

The people who are refusing the vaccine and refusing to mask up aren’t just killing themselves and infecting their neighbors. They’re destroying the American economy.

Life in the United States had been looking up. Cases had plummeted in the summer as mass vaccinations began to take hold. President Joe Biden was being pressured to ship extra vaccine doses overseas so developing countries could keep their populations safe, too.

In the big cities hit hardest by Covid in 2020, people poured into the streets for a Hot Vax Summer. Restaurants and bars were packed. Unemployment payments meant a lot of people had a little more cash in their pockets and weren’t having to choose between their lives and their jobs. Many businesses were booming.

But now, summer is coming to an end — and so is the hot economy. Republican governors, spurred on by business owners who say they can’t find low-wage workers, slashed unemployment benefits. And even though this doesn’t seem to be pushing more potential low-wage workers into the labor force, some Democrats seem poised to do the same.

The stubborn refusal of so many Americans to get vaccinated and wear masks is likely to continue doing damage in the weeks and months ahead, as kids go back to school, the weather cools and more activities move inside. Cue still more economic devastation.

Take schooling. There is little more fundamentally human than wanting to protect your child, but right-wing propaganda and conservative polarization seems to have undermined even that very basic impulse. Several Republican-run states have gone as far as to ban mask mandates in schools, even as the Delta variant rages. Meanwhile, hospitalizations — hospitalizations — of children in America are soaring. Between August 20 and 26, an average of 330 children were admitted to hospitals every day with Covid-19, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Children now represent more than a quarter — or 26.8% — of weekly Covid-19 cases nationwide, according to data released Tuesday from the American Academy of Pediatrics.

“Keep your kids from getting a new and potentially deadly disease” should be argument enough for masking in schools — or at the very least, not preventing schools from requiring masking in areas with high Covid rates. But it’s been clear throughout this pandemic that far too many Americans don’t buy the argument that you have an obligation not to infect and potentially kill your family members and neighbors.

So let’s try another: Avoiding common-sense public health measures hurts the economy.

When schools shut down because of Covid outbreaks, the emergency child-care plan is often Mom. Women have already shouldered much of the economic burden of Covid. Another year of inconsistent schooling because of the unbroken cycle — reopen school, have an outbreak, close again and repeat — is going to push many more women out of the workforce. Note that in more than half of American households, women are the primary breadwinners — that is, they are the economy at home.

And many families, and especially mothers, are now making an impossible choice: Send a child to a school that doesn’t require masking, or vaccinating for adults, and risk your family’s health — but keep your job. Or give up your job to homeschool full-time and put your family on thin economic ice.

Every woman who drops out of the workforce is a hit to the economy. Every worker who decides they’d rather struggle financially than work for $7.25 an hour and risk Covid death or long-term disability is a hit to the economy. Every business that can’t keep its doors open because of the outbreak cycle, or the refusal of employees to risk their lives to wait tables or wash dishes, is a hit to the economy

The fault doesn’t lie with the people who are choosing life over potential illness. It lies with the people who are pouring gasoline on the current outbreak, and who are refusing to take commonsense steps to get Covid under control.

As businesses shutter, parents are forced out of work, Americans have fewer dollars to spend and fewer places to spend them, and life as we used to know drifts ever further out of our reach, let’s be clear about who is responsible: the anti-vaxxers, anti-maskers and their proponents in conservative media and in the Republican Party.