America must decide which spending to emphasize: federal or personal.
As the United States confronts unemployment levels not seen since the Great Depression, Congress and the Trump administration face a pivotal choice: Continue spending trillions trying to shore up businesses and workers, or bet that state reopenings will jump-start the U.S. economy.
At least 20 million people in America are unemployed, and a large share of the nation’s small businesses are shut and facing possible insolvency. Policy misjudgments in the coming weeks could turn the 18 million temporary layoffs recorded in April into permanent job losses that could plunge the United States into a deep and protracted recession unrivaled in recent history.
Yet the federal government is lurching away from the strategy that has thus far helped slow the spread of the coronavirus and sustain people and companies struggling during the economic shutdown.
Over the past two months, as consumers and workers retreated and state officials imposed limits on economic activity, President Trump and bipartisan coalitions in the House and Senate have approved $3 trillion in federal spending to help companies, workers and the unemployed. The Federal Reserve has taken extraordinary steps to keep the financial system functioning, buying up government-backed securities and embarking on plans to purchase corporate and municipal debt to keep credit flowing. Governors have embraced stay-at-home orders in an effort to slow the virus’s spread.
But as the virus threatens to haunt the nation and its economy longer than some officials had anticipated, Mr. Trump and many Republicans in Congress have grown weary of federal spending to support workers and businesses and have begun urging states to get back to what was considered normal.
Economists, including liberals and many conservatives, warn that ending efforts to aid businesses and workers without first enacting a new strategy could force the economy into a summer of partial recoveries, rising infection rates and insufficient support for struggling businesses and those out of work.
“We’re at the choose-your-own-adventure part of the book,” said Claudia Sahm, a former Federal Reserve economist who is now the director of macroeconomic policy at the Washington Center for Equitable Growth, a liberal think tank focused on inequality.
“It is unconscionable to wait for the economy to reopen,” she said. “For a lot of American workers, there will not be a job to go back to.”
A close look at two very different first-grade classes in two of America’s largest cities, Chicago and Philadelphia, shows how the crisis has laid bare the discrepancies between some private schools, which can provide luxury learning online, and many public schools, which are struggling to adjust.
The pandemic has made it clear that online education requires a mix of elements that not all schools can provide: enthusiastic leadership, teacher expertise and homes equipped with everything children need to learn effectively.
At Chicago Jewish Day School, Rachel Warach helps give her first-grade students four hours and 15 minutes of daily live instruction, including yoga, art and music. Students who need extra help can be assisted remotely with a tutor or a social worker. The school has sent home supplies, and parents have provided internet access, computers and quiet study areas.
At Spruance Elementary in Philadelphia, in one first-grade class, only about 11 of 26 students attend daily.
Dolores Morris, a first-grade teacher there, meets with her students each morning for just an hour. Despite being near retirement, she has thrown herself into learning the technology to teach remotely. Often, she exchanges messages with parents while interacting with her students via Google Classroom.
“I’m thanking God that I can at least see their faces,” she said.
The coronavirus and the Trump administration’s response to it have cost President Trump support from one of his most crucial constituencies: America’s seniors.
For years, Republicans and Mr. Trump have relied on older Americans, the United States’ largest voting bloc, to offset Democrats’ advantage with younger voters. But seniors are also the most vulnerable to the coronavirus, and the Trump campaign’s internal polls show his support among voters over age 65 softening to a concerning degree, people familiar with the numbers said.
A recent Morning Consult poll found that Mr. Trump’s approval rating on the handling of the coronavirus was lower with seniors than with any other group other than young voters. And Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., the presumptive Democratic nominee, in recent polls held a 10-point advantage among voters who are 65 and older. A poll commissioned by the campaign showed a similar double-digit gap.
As that has taken shape, the president has all but moved on from a focus on controlling the pandemic and is pushing his agenda to restore the country to a place that will lift his campaign. That has included making clear that despite the pandemic, he wants a traditional political convention in Charlotte, N.C., in late August, with thousands of sign-waving Republican delegates from out of state filling an arena.
And the debate is taking place as elements of the pandemic — including its U.S. death toll — have become heated campaign flash points as some voters turn scientific questions into political issues.
“It’s, ‘I don’t like what this implies; therefore I’m going to deny the evidence, and I’m going to question the models, and I’m going to question the motivations of the people who do it,”’ said Naomi Oreskes, a science historian at Harvard.
Job losses have encompassed the entire economy, affecting every major industry. Areas like leisure and hospitality had the biggest losses in April, but even health care shed more than a million jobs. Low-wage workers, including many women and members of racial and ethnic minorities, have been hit especially hard.
“It’s literally off the charts,” said Michelle Meyer, the head of U.S. economics at Bank of America. “What would typically take months or quarters to play out in a recession happened in a matter of weeks this time.”
Hoping to stem some of the economic fallout, three mostly rural California counties have allowed some businesses to reopen in violation of Gov. Gavin Newsom’s reopening guidelines. The governor’s Office of Emergency Services warned the counties in letters on Thursday that they risked forgoing disaster funding if they continued to flout his rules, or if there was a rise of cases in their counties because of “hasty and careless actions.”
Jehane Noujaim and Karim Amer know about putting themselves at risk for their work. While shooting thousands of hours of footage for “The Square,” a 2013 documentary on the popular uprising in Cairo, they were often in the middle of the action in Tahrir Square, where the military shot protesters and dispersed crowds with tear gas.
Now, amid the coronavirus pandemic, conditions are arguably more difficult, they said.
“At the height of the revolution, things got pretty chaotic and our office was raided,” Mr. Amer said. “That was a visible threat. You knew when the army was coming for you. This is not like anything we’ve seen before.”
Still, Ms. Noujaim and Mr. Amer have managed to keep going at a time when Hollywood has closed down film and television productions. And they are not alone, with nonfiction programming like Netflix’s “Tiger King,” ESPN’s “The Last Dance,” Apple TV Plus’s “Beastie Boys Story” drawing large audiences.
“We doc filmmakers are an adaptable bunch,” said R.J. Cutler, the director of the 2009 documentary “The September Issue” and an upcoming Showtime film on John Belushi. “We are going to do our best to not be slowed down.”
Cooped up and concerned about the post-coronavirus future, renters and owners are making moves to leave New York City this spring, not for short-term stays in weekend houses, as was common when the pandemic first arrived, but more permanently in the suburbs.
While some of the fresh transplants are accelerating plans that had been simmering on the back burner, others are doing what once seemed unthinkable, opting for a split-level on a cul-de-sac after decades of apartment living. Others seem to have acquired a taste for country life after sheltering with parents in places with big lawns or in log cabins.
But there’s also a sense that in today’s era of social distancing, one-person-at-a-time elevator rides to get home and looping routes to avoid passers-by on sidewalks has fundamentally changed the reality of living in a city.
“It’s not the same feeling being in New York anymore,” said Matthew Silpe, 51, a 30-year Manhattan resident who is considering breaking the lease on his three-bedroom rental on the Upper East Side. “The balance of nature in the city has become so different.”
To hop onto the train, any train, earbuds intact, alone in the crowd on the way somewhere else. To walk out of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, exhausted as if from a march. The sweet potato fries and a beer at Tubby Hook Tavern in Inwood; the coffee-cart guy on West 40th Street who remembers that you take it black.
Sunday Mass and the bakery after. Seeing old friends in the synagogue. Play dates. The High Line. Hugs.
Ask New Yorkers what they miss most, nearly two months into isolation. To hear their answers is to witness a version of the city built from the ground up, a place refracted through a lens of loss, where the best parts are huge and the annoyances all but invisible. The cheap seats in the outfield, the shouting to be heard at happy hour. Meeting cousins with a soccer ball in Brooklyn Bridge Park. The din of the theater as you scan the Playbill before the lights go down.
“I miss my gym equipment,” said Barbara James of Brooklyn.
“The lamb over rice from the food cart by my office, at Seventh and 49th,” said Chris Meredith of East Harlem.
“Just everything,” sighed a police officer sitting behind the wheel of his vehicle in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, last week. “I miss everything.”
At least 25,600 residents and workers have died from the coronavirus at nursing homes and other long-term care facilities for older adults in the United States, according to a New York Times database.
While just about 10 percent of the country’s cases have occurred in long-term care facilities, deaths related to Covid-19 in these facilities account for a third of the country’s pandemic fatalities.
In the absence of comprehensive data from some states and the federal government, The Times has been assembling its own database of coronavirus cases and deaths at long-term care facilities for older adults.
Reporting was contributed by Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs, Annie Karni, Maggie Haberman, Dana Goldstein, Matthew Rosenberg, Jim Rutenberg, Jim Tankersley, Nicole Sperling, Trip Gabriel, C.J. Hughes, Morgan Campbell, Michael Wilson, Karen Yourish, K.K. Rebecca Lai, Danielle Ivory and Mitch Smith.