Offices remain eerily empty. Airlines have canceled thousands of flights. Subways and buses are running less often. Schools sometimes call off entire days of class. Consumers waste time waiting in store lines. Annual inflation has reached its highest level in three decades.
Does this sound like a healthy economy to you?
But I think the answer to this supposed paradox is that it’s not really a paradox: Americans think the economy is in rough shape because the economy is in rough shape.
Sure, some major statistics look good, and they reflect true economic strengths, including the state of families’ finances. But the economy is more than a household balance sheet; it is the combined experience of working, shopping and interacting in society. Americans evidently understand the distinction: In an Associated Press poll, 64 percent describe their personal finances as good — and only 35 percent describe the national economy as good.
There are plenty of reasons. Many services don’t function as well as they used to, largely because of supply-chain problems and labor shortages. Rising prices are cutting into paychecks, especially for working-class households. People spend less time socializing. The unending nature of the pandemic — the masks, Covid tests, Zoom meetings and anxiety-producing runny noses — is wearying.
While some of these disruptions are minor inconveniences, others are causing serious troubles. The increase in social isolation has harmed both physical and mental health. Americans’ blood pressure has risen. Fatal drug overdoses have soared, with a growing toll among Black Americans. A report this week from the surgeon general found that depression, anxiety, impulsive behavior and attempted suicides had all risen among children and adolescents.
“It would be a tragedy if we beat back one public health crisis only to allow another to grow in its place,” Dr. Vivek Murthy, the surgeon general, wrote.
Schools are a particular source of frustration. Last year, the closure of in-person school caused large learning losses. This year, teachers have the near-impossible task of trying to help students make up for lost time, which has left many teachers feeling burned out.
And school operations are still not back to normal. Students are sometimes forbidden to sit or talk with one another during lunch — or to eat indoors. Masks make communication harder, especially for students with learning disabilities. Positive Covid tests or worker shortages can cause schools to close temporarily.
After Jennifer Reesman’s local school in Maryland closed for a day recently, she told NPR, “Our community can no longer count on the public schools.”
Red and blue
As is often the case in our politically polarized era, the situation differs in red and blue America.
In Republican-leaning communities, the biggest Covid problem remains a widespread refusal to take the pandemic seriously. About 40 percent of Republican adults have not received a vaccine shot, according to the most recent Kaiser Family Foundation poll. As a result, the Covid death rate is far higher in heavily Republican counties than in Democratic ones.
Red America’s Covid denialism doesn’t seem to be abating, either. Fox News continues to spread disinformation, as Margaret Sullivan of The Washington Post has noted. Many Republican politicians spend more time complaining about mask and vaccine mandates than trying to persuade conservatives to get a potentially lifesaving shot.
Blue America, by contrast, has taken Covid seriously. Fewer than 10 percent of Democratic voters have not received a vaccine shot. Political liberals also tend to be comfortable wearing masks to reduce the spread of the Covid virus.
Yet many Democrats, both voters and politicians, have been almost blasé about the costs of Covid precautions — the isolation, unhappiness, health damage, lost learning, inflation, public-transit disruptions and more. Democrats have sometimes focused on minimizing the spread of Covid, regardless of the downsides: Closing schools, for example, almost certainly harms children more than it protects them, given the minuscule rate of severe childhood Covid, even lower than that of severe childhood flu.
Consider this recent data from Gallup on the relative happiness and anxiety of Democratic and Republican voters:
There are few easy solutions here because trade-offs are unavoidable.
Although Covid presents relatively few risks to children and vaccinated adults under 50, it presents more to older people and some with specific immunodeficiencies. The current Covid surge has led to a modest rise in hospitalizations and deaths among the vaccinated and a much sharper rise among the unvaccinated. This surge justifies an increase in masking, testing and some other measures.
But it’s worth remembering that the point of those measures is to maximize people’s health and well-being. And maximizing health and well-being is not the same thing as minimizing Covid.
If that sounds strange, remember that society would cease to function if it tried to minimize every medical risk. Schools and offices don’t close each winter because of the flu. Families travel in cars even though crashes harm vastly more children than Covid does. People jog, play sports and ride bicycles even though thousands end up in emergency rooms.
The economic and social costs of our Covid precautions are real. In some cases, those precautions are clearly worth it — and in other cases they’re not. Figuring out how to control the virus while addressing the other Covid-induced crises is one of the great challenges of the pandemic’s next phase.
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‘Sex and the City’ reboots
The fandom of “Sex and the City,” a show that ended 17 years ago, never really died. Instagram accounts breathlessly document the characters’ outfits, and the show still inspires people to move to New York City (or at least fantasize about it).
The new version follows Carrie, Miranda and Charlotte, now in their 50s, though Kim Cattrall’s Samantha — the source of much of the original show’s sex — didn’t return. The show also features four new actors, and the cast is a contrast to the original show’s overwhelming whiteness.
The spinoff has undergone other changes: Sarah Jessica Parker’s voice-over is mostly scrapped. Structurally, story arcs linger across episodes. Michael Patrick King, the showrunner of “And Just Like That,” recalled that when the show first aired, episodes tied up neatly because audiences might not have viewed them sequentially. “Streaming is like, untie the bow,” he said.
The reviews are mixed. “There’s a bit of an Unfrozen 1990s Caveperson vibe to it all,” James Poniewozik writes in The Times. The show “may offer die-hard fans the closure that the movies didn’t — if it doesn’t bum them out.” — Sanam Yar, a Morning writer
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