We have all asked ourselves these past days, “When, and how, will things go back to normal?” We miss our old routines, embracing our family and friends, seeing other people’s faces and the feeling of being safe and secure.
While it’s OK to miss these things and look forward to their return, the truth is that we are not going back. We are being changed by this time, and the challenge now is to get through it and to build a future that works for us and our families.
Before the pandemic, Americans were already being left behind: About 80% of Americans were living paycheck to paycheck, and about 40% couldn’t afford an unexpected $400 bill.
This was before we lost 36.5 million jobs and nearly half of us suffered reductions in income due to this crisis. The trends I ran for president on — the closing of our malls, the automation of our jobs, the need to put money into our hands — are all here faster than anyone could have imagined.
Let’s end winner-take-all economy
The core message of my campaign was our need to rewrite the rules of our economy to work for all of us — the “normal people” — the average Americans. We were already enmeshed in the biggest winner-take-all economy in the history of the world, with record inequality that was only getting worse.
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About half of the income gains in the United States are flowing to the top 1% of our population. Instead of gross domestic product and stock market prices, we should measure our progress through our health and life expectancy, our mental health and freedom from substance abuse, our children’s success rates and the ability to afford a decent life. Who cares about record GDP if your life expectancy is declining and you can’t pay for your child’s day care?
When I ran for president, many took my flagship proposal — universal basic income — as unrealistic. Today, it is common sense as our economy staggers under Great Depression-era unemployment levels and food lines extend for miles.
Few options are available for us to provide millions of Americans the means to buy groceries and keep a roof over their heads that does not involve putting money directly in our hands. The latest relief bill, passed by the House, is $3 trillion. That is enough to put $2,000 a month into the hands of every American for five months. That money would provide a floor for millions and flow back into our communities, preserving jobs at the local garage, nail salon and restaurant turned takeout place.
Many jobs won’t return
Economists estimate that 40% of the 36.5 million jobs that we have lost are gone for good. That’s 15 million jobs — more than 1.5 times the number that was lost in the Great Recession. We must do everything in our power to put resources into people’s hands, sustain jobs and give millions of Americans a path forward.
COVID-19 has not only taken away jobs, it also has revealed to us the true “essential,” vital occupations that keep our economy and society operating. My wife, Evelyn, and I have been confined at home with our two young children. Millions of us have become stay-at-home moms and dads during this crisis and have been forcibly reminded how difficult and important the work of caring for our children is. Universal basic income would give parents, caregivers and teachers a raise and begin to recognize the real work being done in our homes and schools every day.
This is a heartbreaking and challenging time for our country. We will never be the same, and we will struggle with the aftermath for years. Perhaps the only silver lining is that we have the chance to reimagine and build an economy that works for us and our families. Seemingly dramatic ideas are now within reach. Let’s take advantage of this opportunity to move forward. We can accelerate not only the problems, but also the solutions.
We cannot go backward, but we can move forward.
Andrew Yang sought the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination and is founder of Humanity Forward. Follow him on Twitter: @AndrewYang
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Andrew Yang: Rebuild economy after coronavirus to help all Americans