While many of us would prefer to forget the pandemic years ever happened, COVID-19 and the choices we made (as a society and perhaps, personally) during that time continue to have lingering effects. Unprecedented is a word that gets tossed around a lot in reference to the pandemic and it’s true — there were so many decisions our government made (good and bad) that will continue to affect us for years to come.
We know that women were disproportionately affected by the pandemic; one estimate shared broadly estimates that two million women left the workforce as the strains of being caregivers and working full time became too much. Plus, the role women took on as caregivers also made us more vulnerable to contracting COVID — according to WHO, women accounted for 72% of all COVID cases among healthcare professionals in the U.S. Now, nearly four years later, many of us are asking: Did the United States do a good job of protecting us? And how are policies that were put in place, such as stimulus checks and extended unemployment, still affecting our wallets?
Bethany McLean co-author of: “The Big Fail: What the Pandemic Revealed About Who America Protects and Who It Leaves Behind” says, “I think the pandemic, just as it affected people with pre-existing conditions, revealed a lot of pre-existing conditions in America.” McLean says one of those pre-existing conditions was “our incredibly flawed health care system that left a lot of the most vulnerable people without access to care.” Another issue was our access to critical PPE for healthcare workers due to our reliance on global supply chains, which we saw crumble in the early months of the pandemic.
On a positive note, McLean points out the difference between the way America handled the pandemic in 2020 and the global financial crisis in 2007. “The government recognized the need for fiscal stimulus and not just monetary stimulus,” McLean says, “In other words, they didn’t just leave things up to the Federal Reserve to cut interest rates and boost asset prices hoping that it would have a trickle-down effect. This time we did put money into it.” McLean also points out that while median American wealth went up 37%, “the rich got a lot richer, and low-income Americans did not do so well. It, unfortunately, didn’t lead to any kind of structural change in our society.”
Bethany McLean’s biggest learning from studying the effects of the way America handled the pandemic is that we all need to protect ourselves financially. “Particularly among women, there is this sense about the world of finance and global economics that ‘I’m not going to understand it, and it’s not that interesting anyway.’ So many women say to themselves, ‘Let me just back off from it and find somebody to listen to and trust,’” McLean says, “And the reality is you can’t do that. One, it is really interesting! Two, it’s not that complicated. If you put your time into it and try to understand these big issues, you will get it.”
In Mailbag, we hear from a listener who has a question about the 2026 change on the estate tax exemption and someone who’s wondering if they should transfer their credit card balance to a zero-interest credit card. For our money tip of the week, why the “set it and forget it” method of paying your monthly credit card bill could be hurting you financially.
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