My father was 18 months old in 1918 when his 32-year-old dad died from the Spanish Flu Pandemic. Grandfather William Horton’s untimely death left our family impoverished and set us up for hardship lasting through the Great Depression all the way through to World War II. My dad, with his brother and mom, Emma, faced a daunting postwar world without a provider, and without the comfort of a father and husband. All this combined to suppress the trajectory of our family’s future for two generations.
That’s the impact of a pandemic. They are life- and society-changing and raise challenges and obstacles we never could imagine – until they unexpectedly happen. Suddenly, our assumptions about life and “the rules of the game” are turned on their heads, and where we used to have answers, we now have mostly questions – and often empty, or emptier, pockets.
The U.S. has been tangled with COVID-19 stay-at-home orders and social distancing and masks and PPE paraphernalia for four months. California responded much more quickly than most states, and for a time it seemed we had the nasty bug tamped down. We were, and are, still doing better than many states on a per-capita basis. But cases and subsequent deaths have risen and our governor has tapped the brakes again on many of our personal service businesses and group congregating sites.
We’re increasingly hearing of new “hot spots” spiking up all over the country. Cities in many states are again closing down. You, me, our industry, and America is tired of it all and we want it to just go away. But if deaths actually skyrocket as scientists say could happen, government could again drop a far heavier hammer than we’ve seen thus far.
My grandfather died in October 1918. He was a “second-waver.” Far more deadly than the Spanish Flu’s initial slaughter from early 1918, the “second wave” hit in late summer and took down hundreds of thousands of Americans rapidly. Yet then came a third wave and, by the end, nearly 750,000 Americans died. And, through each of the four waves people thought it was over…
It appears with COVID-19 we don’t know what we don’t know. The Spanish Flu virus mutated, becoming more deadly. We still don’t know all the science behind COVID-19, and we don’t know how much longer it will be with us or how deadly it may become. We do know 2020 will be a year unlike any other, and each of us will be required to navigate many unknowns ahead. Further illness, recession, inflation, social disruption. In truth, anything could happen because we haven’t yet tamed the virus. Rather, right now we’re where scientists first warned we never wanted to go: Not having fully beaten the virus, only to have it come back infecting far more people, who in turn infect even more – and the whole thing takes on an exponential escalation far beyond our ability to manage.
Here we are, knocking on that door. And we hope to high heaven COVID-19 doesn’t mutate into something more deadly. So far, 135,000 have died. Many old and already ill, but many with decades yet to live. Untold numbers have suffered permanent lung and organ damage. We don’t know how many will discover lingering effects in the months or years to come. Our science has been slow and incomplete on this, often hampered by our own national government.
My grandmother’s family had to “tough it through” their own virus-impacted lives. For years, they were forced to adapt, improvise, do with less, make new plans, and gut it out until, finally, they immerged with sustainable, “normal” lives. Now it’s our turn.
“Resiliency” is the key word. Now is the time to prepare ourselves and our families for the financial, medical and societal challenges ahead.
A deep recession seems increasingly real. Unemployment hovers around 15%, far more than the highest point of the Great Recession. Lingering and further shutdowns of retail, service, and educational operations almost guarantees economic disruption and damage. Cash will be king. Make sure you have enough on hand to cover expenses for up to a year or more. For many, this isn’t attainable. Cut expenses, reduce debt and create as much “wiggle room” as you’re able – you will be happy you did should hard times linger on.
The government reported a budget deficit of $850 billion for June alone! All in, the 2020 deficit may top 4 TRILLION DOLLARS. Sober economists see great economic shifts in this, as our dollar is debased, asset inflation continues, and reduced quality of life expands for middle and lower classes.
And unemployment, work at home, social distancing, cancelled school classes, and masks – all combine to create feelings of detachment, discouragement and even depression. Understand this and actively work to stay socially connected in meaningful ways.
All this together spells, “HARD TIMES.”
It’s best to recognize things for what they are and stiffen ourselves emotionally and financially for potential challenges ahead.
And, if we’re lucky, after all our planning and preparations 2020 will yet end quietly; the virus will retreat, and maybe a vaccine will come along. That would be lovely.
Quite possible however, are potential second and third waves. They could come with a vengeance, truly alarming the public and politicians and resulting in outcomes we still only imagine.
Are you prepared for shock-change? Good advice is to build your resiliency now, get prepared now, and the worst that could happen if waves don’t come is that you’ve built a better financial picture for you and your family. On the other hand, you just may have also engineered your very survival in the face of a very wicked, yet unknown threat.
Gary Horton’s “Full Speed to Port!” has appeared in The Signal since 2006. The opinions expressed in his column do not necessarily reflect the opinions of The Signal or its editorial board.