‘We’re All in This Together’

By: 
Al Jacobs

On Monday, March 9, during an evening’s briefing on the White House’s Corona Task Force by President Trump and Vice President Pence, they emphasized to the nation that the efforts under way were “not just a ‘whole government’ approach,” but rather that it’s a “whole of America’s approach.” Pence emphasized that “together we’ll get through the coronavirus.” It seemed clear from their comments that the national emphasis would be that we’re all in this together. Since that date the phrase most commonly thrown about in connection with the COVID-19 pandemic is exactly that: “We’re all in this together.”

In passing, you might be interested to know where this phrase first gained its prominence. Although it probably predates the 1990s, it became somewhat well-known from the Red Green Show, a Canadian television comedy that aired on various channels from 1991 until the series finale on April 7, 2006. This show was essentially a cross between a sitcom and a sketch comedy series.

More recently, it became released in 2005 as a collection of short stories and a novella by author Owen King. It since gained prominence from a song and dance routine from the soundtrack to the 2006 television film from High School Musical, as well as a 2017 album by Walter Trout titled “We’re All in This Together.” But with its constant repetition in connection with our current crisis, it may well be identified forever with Donald Trump and this coronavirus pandemic. And how does the phrase reflect on the circumstances existing today, in the midst of a worldwide cataclysm? Let’s take a closer look at some of the events we’re now experiencing.

To analyze the pandemic as it’s currently devastating our country requires that we view some of the numbers to see if we’re really all in it together. Depending upon who is describing the devastation, and where it’s occurring, we’re either in the midst of the worst catastrophe which ever befell the universe, or we’re experiencing a mild unpleasantness in an otherwise delightful springtime. If the site reported on is the City of New York, you may learn from Wikipedia of the 18,694 confirmed cases of COVID-19, resulting in 9,385 deaths – with many more anticipated.

As an aside, if instead your source of information is the National Vital Statistics System of the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC), you’ll learn that as of April 10, the actual number of COVID-19 deaths totaled 1,956. Although the deaths from all causes, which were 14,535, included fatalities from both pneumonia and influenza, perhaps they might be included as coronavirus deaths.

The truly unanswered – and probably unasked – question, of course, is whether a person suffering from either of these two somewhat related ailments, and who might or might not otherwise succumb to them, should automatically be categorized as due to COVID-19. It depends, as you’d expect, upon whether the reporting entity desires to report a high number or a low number.

Now, to determine whether we’re all in this together, we’ll compare the City of New York, with its residents totaling 18,804,000, to the area in which I live: Orange County, population 3,175,692. As New York’s citizens are six times more numerous than those of my county, we’d expect their number of COVID-19 deaths to be six times greater than ours. Thus, if Wikipedia is correct, Orange County will experience 1,564 deaths; if the CDC is more accurate, our death count would be only 326.

According to data correlated by both the CDC and the World Health Organization, since the counting began on the week ending 2/1/20 until 4/10/20, the death toll in Orange County, California, totals 17. You might also be encouraged to learn that on 4/10/20 the State of California’s number of deaths from the COVID-19 virus logged in at only 535. Our population is approximately 39,510,000 – double that of New York City. At this moment you may be beginning to wonder whether we’re really all in this together.

Let’s now view togetherness in a somewhat different manner, by looking more closely at the individuals who populate our nation and the conditions under which they live. If there’s a single factor separating all of mankind since our distant ancestors first populated this earth, it’s the things some persons possess that others want, but lack. In the beginning they were simple tools, animals, or weapons. Later they became coveted fabrics, jewelry, structures, and parcels of land. Now, many millennia later, they are stocks, bonds, mortgages and attractive bank balances.

Those of you with an ample supply will possibly find life to be smooth and agreeable; the vast majority of our fellow citizens, who never manage to acquire enough assets to quite make it to the end of the week, quite likely do not find life to be smooth and agreeable. Under virtually every circumstance, these two groups never voluntarily share anything. So, let’s take a closer look at them as the pandemic rages.

Kevin Coval, a Chicago poet, went to buy eggs at Tia Nam, a small Vietnamese grocery in Uptown. To avoid the virus, Chicagoans are keeping their distance, while interacting in new ways while seeing each other in a different light. As many in the city and the region struggle to survive financially, they no longer recognize distinctions of class or race or religion. This all comes during a season sacred to three major religions, with Passover, Easter Sunday, and Ramadan all less than two weeks away.

Said Cardinal Blase Cupich, spiritual leader of Chicago’s Catholics. “What people are learning at this time is how connected we are. We’re connected by this virus. Social distancing is telling us how related we are to one another. We are nourished by that.” He might then have added: We’re all in this together – but he didn’t.”

The most recent statistic I’ve seen is that 48 million U.S. citizens live in poverty. I also recall a Federal Reserve survey which reports 40 percent of American adults are unable to cover a $400 emergency with cash, savings or a credit-card charge, which they might quickly pay off. Lastly, I’m also informed that 17 percent of adults in this country are unable to fully pay off their current month’s bills.

My pressing question is: How will we Americans fare during this coronavirus pandemic? And of equal importance, will we all share equally in the misfortune we’re now experiencing?

With the realization that millions of the persons are living below the poverty line, together with tens of millions only one paycheck away from it, how will they survive when forced out of their jobs and consigned to lock downs in their homes?

Consider the restaurant employees, clothing store clerks, and others whose mode of employment is officially considered unessential; how will they pay their rent or service their home mortgage payments? Is the phrase “We’re all in it together” really the case, when the plight of these unfortunates are compared with those of government employees whose full salaries continue to flow? Are those ex-employees who jobs became suspended and now hunker down, possibly penniless, in their homes for an indeterminate period, really identical with those retirees whose monthly social security payments – as well as their investment incomes – continue to flow?

With equal justification, we may ask whether the tenants whose rental payments are merely deferred by government edict, will actually be in it together with the landlord whose rental incomes will likewise merely be deferred. The same will be as true for mortgage borrowers as compared with mortgage lenders.

As for incomes, this is equally true with the employer vs. the employee – and for the wealth of the plutocrats vs. the poverty of the indigents. As their togetherness never existed before the virus appeared, why should it be so now or afterward?

A final word: With a reality that cannot be denied, the prosperous among us never in all of history consented to any form of equality or togetherness with those whose lives were thoroughly devoid of any semblance of prosperity. Accordingly, there’s an unavoidable conclusion we must come to concerning this pandemic. Although collectively we all hope to outwit the virus, if there’s one thing we’re not, it is “…all in this together.”

Al Jacobs, a professional investor for nearly a half-century, issues weekly financial articles in which he shares his financial knowledge and experience. Al can be contacted at al@abjacobs.com

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