The present-day and near-future concerns are the omnipresent: viral risk, restrictive travel, continuing protests that sometimes morph into riots & looting, mass unemployment, explosive homelessness and the inevitable contentious presidential elections in November. Regardless of who wins the presidency the problems triggered by the pandemic will continue to terrorize the American citizenry well into a post-pandemic era.
Mass unemployment, paucity of savings and limited governmental support will put millions of Americans into a position usually typical for the citizenry of emerging countries, particularly food insecurity.
For evermore Americans the dilemma is the allocation and prioritization of limited income to purchase the critical essentials - food, housing, utilities and health. As short-term safety nets such as stimulus payments and suspension of eviction notices have or will expire soon with the arrival of fall and winter weather, the urgency is palpable.
According to Feeding America, the nation’s largest domestic hunger-relief organization, because of the pandemic 54 million Americans (including an estimated 18 million children) are food insecure, up from 35 million food insecure Americans in 2019 and 14.3 million food insecure Americans in 2018.
To provide you a perspective of the dilemma that millions more Americans will face in the coming months the following data provided by Feeding America entitled “Compromise and Coping Strategies”, make it clear that the survival choices are agonizing.
Category Choices Percent
Food v Utilities 69
Food v Transportation 67
Food v Medical 66
Food v Housing 57
Food v Education 31
Inexpensive, unhealthy food 79
Receive help from friends & family 53
Water down food or drinks 40
Sell or pawn personal property 35
Grow food in a garden 23
According to The Wall Street Journal article 28 September 2020 entitled “Grocers Watch Pandemic and Stockpile” since summertime large food companies are ratcheting up their production and inventory of food and non-food (sanitizers, cleaning items, toilet paper, paper towels) essentials in anticipation of increase demand. These inventories are now configured to last months instead of weeks.
The resiliency of logistics is the weak link whether it’s deliveries to food banks or distribution end points such as supermarkets and bodegas. Burgeoning inventories in storage facilities are meaningless if the product cannot be safely delivered uninterrupted in sufficient quantities to meet demand and the necessary security measures to distribution end points to serve the public.
Should an extreme event trigger panic buying such as viral surges compelling governments to lockdown once again, truckers may not want to risk transporting goods because of riots, roadblocks, and even assaults on the storage facilities or points of distribution themselves. If truckers are unable to fulfill the demand it would not be out of line for state governments to order the National Guard to assume the role of drivers and security.
As mass unemployment continues unabated evermore families will be vulnerable to be evicted from their homes as governmental housing protections expire. The following chart provided by The Aspen Institute entitled Up to 40 Million Americans Face Eviction in 2020 and provided by Statista, an online statistical firm, is a nationwide overview of housing vulnerability.
The following chart entitled Over 40% of US Renters Now At Risk of Eviction provided by Stout Risius Ross, a Chicago-based management firm, and presented by Statista, is a state-by-state breakdown of renters at risk of eviction.
Even if Americans are able to fulfill their food and housing needs they may run out of funds to pay for utilities which negates the former because there won’t be gas to cook the purchased food. Furthermore it negates the latter because there won’t be heat during the colder months exacerbating health issues because many Americans may have already forgone medications.
The unemployed have no health insurance and must pay out-of-pocket for the medications they require. After paying for food, housing and utilities to avoid homelessness, they may have nothing left to pay for their medications.
Then there’s the ever-growing obesity crisis in America and its related conditions such as hypertension, diabetes and other related illnesses and the need for medication. For this reason this group has considerably higher medical costs which they can’t afford. The following chart entitled Obesity Rates Continue to Trend Up in US provided by the CDC and presented by Statista underscore the ominously high vulnerability of this group to Covid-19.
The following chart entitled Where Obesity Places the Biggest Burden on Healthcare provided by the OECD and presented by Statista, indicates that America is # 1 globally by far. This means that further budget cuts in healthcare will put millions of additional obese Americans at risk.
Statistical data has shown a distinct correlation between obesity and a considerably higher risk of death from Covid-19 among the obese population. Present-day scientific data can only assume that this higher risk is a result of unhealthier bodies with underlying conditions such diabetes, hypertension and associated conditions as articulated in The New York Times articles published 29 September 2020 entitled “The Puzzle of Obesity and Covid-19”.
For this reason, according to the Wall Street Journal article 29 September 2020 entitled “Covid-19 Fuels Rise in Obesity Surgery” obese Americans with financial means and good health coverage are aggressively seeking to literally make themselves a smaller target from Covid-19.
Climate change has produced in once-in-a-century storms that are now regular occurrences with an intensity and ferocity which makes even the most powerful countries vulnerable to social order breakdowns.
These new powerful meteorological patterns are causing havoc globally and have inevitably targeted the agricultural industry. Overseas unprecedented swarms of locusts due to an exceptionally rainy season has devastated crops in East Africa. Domestically in California we’re witnessing historic and uncontrollable wildfires.
The problem is that these severe climate events are occurring simultaneously. In the past the global community combined resources and collaborated in a region-specific or country-specific crisis. Nowadays every country faces its own severe climate crisis and justifiably must concentrate all its resources domestically leaving the less economically fortunate countries to fend for themselves.
Secondly, the man-made crisis in the economy are longer lasting and deeper such as recessions, excessive debt, mass unemployment, food insecurity, social unrest, etc. all which compromise government spending for public health and safety.
Mother Nature and technology are powerful forces but the difference is that technology, regardless if it has an infinite amount of foresight, money and brainpower, has its limits as clearly demonstrated by the historic floods in China which have tested the structural limits of the recently constructed Three Gorges Dam.
No Exit Strategy
No country has articulated or formulated an exit strategy from this morass because of historic short-term thinking and problem-solving vs. long-term necessities. For this reason a return to a new socio-economic-political normalcy will take at least a decade to achieve.
[Originally published 30 September 2020]
Copyright 2021 Cerulean Council LLC
The Cerulean Council is a NYC-based think-tank that provides prescient, beyond-the-horizon, contrarian perspectives and risk assessments on geopolitical dynamics and global urban security.