The Bigger They Are…
What I am about to discuss does not come out too often in the news. Either that, or I have not seen it reported, which could easily be the case. Right now reading the news seems to be like having a staring contest with the abyss. As Nietzsche said…
But the Covid-19 pandemic ironically affects developed nations more than developing nations.
Modernization in the 20th century led to the precipitous rise in life expectancy. Except in regards to recent calibrations, where economic stagnation and wage inequality has reversed the trend of life expectancy in the United States, it is not unheard of to reach the age of sixty, seventy, eighty, even ninety. With proper diet and exercise, with proper medical care, and if you have a lucky set of genes, the game is in your favor to become a centenarian.
But now we seem to be in a place where our older generations have taken the biggest hit with the coronavirus. Above you can see the deaths and their distribution (based on CDC data) up until June 27th. The escalation of deaths above 65 rise perilously so, age groups that are difficult to come by in impoverished African countries, where the average age is sometimes, like Niger, only 14.
Not only that, but in the postwar era the amount of children that veterans of the conflict had skyrocketed, giving us the Baby Boomer generation. Above, you can see the distribution of age groups by cohorts. While it looks as if the youth of the next generation have maintain a stable number or have increased only slightly, the older generations (25-64 and 65+) have ballooned. So when we speak of the coronavirus, we are speaking of a disease that seems tailor-made to have dominated our economies, specifically because we have been so good at getting people to arrive at those ages.
Teaching as Case Study
When we begin to look at the demographics for the workplace, it may be a good idea to take the knowledge we have of how the virus affects the older half and use that to our advantage. I’d like to use teaching as an example. There are over 3.1 million teachers in the United States, a huge number of employees. The reason has to do with human requirements: as any lecturer knows in a seminar class in college, it is very difficult to teach 100 students effectively, which is why they relegate those to higher education courses. The K-12 teachers are allowed significantly lower numbers in order to provide the attention they need. To do that, we need a lot of teachers.
But when we combine the demographic data of teachers with the sheer numbers, we start to hit some snags. Above you can see the numbers I pulled from the OECD from 2017 (the latest I could find) about how old teachers tend to be. For comparison, I pulled five other nations in developed countries: Canada, Finland, France, Germany, and the UK. Each country, down to the school district level, should be asking themselves what teachers specifically need to distance teach and what teachers can stay in the classroom and risk getting sick. Some countries, like the United Kingdom, seems to have teaching as a young person’s sport, and as a result they get a much easier time having a lower casualty rate in the classroom. Others, like Germany, are going to have a very difficult time keeping their teachers safe from hospitalization, as it seems many of their teachers fall into the danger zone (50 and older) for teacher ages. The United States is in between, and our strength in teachers aged 30 to 50 should provide a buffer for schools to work with.
But for how long? It’s becoming clear that certain amounts of cases require hospitalizations while others are “long termers,” meaning that they retain harsh symptoms for months. To imagine even one teacher out per school on any of these grounds for months would be disastrous, as the knock on effects would create significant gaps.
And it will be very difficult convincing substitute teachers to make 85 dollars a day in the classroom and subject themselves to the virus. Many substitutes also happen to be older, retired teachers looking to make an extra dollar here and there to cover certain needs. Do we really want to bring them back in the classroom?
Teacher shortages were already a problem in my home state of Texas, so much so that we were importing teachers into Dallas Independent School District from the Philippines! Our special education departments were running on empty before…what happens now?
Economy = Lives
This is not only the case for teaching, but with the baby boomer generation, combined with increasing life expectancy, and also a stagnating and disparate economy, the truth of the matter is that we rely on the older and they are dependent on us. A look at the chart above from OurWorldinData reports that older generations take up a larger portion of our economy as well. In March and early April, plenty of attention was given to the question in the United States of when to open up: opening up sooner could get the economy going, but could endanger American lives. Economists attempted to answer that question for us by suggesting it was a false dichotomy. Saving lives and saving the economy were the same thing. This chart above, and many more like it, help to explain why.
People are the economy. The economy’s sole purpose is in the productive well-being of all humankind. For some reason, we seem to be under the impression that the economy is the stock market, which is clearly not anywhere close to reality. It is not some self-perpetuating higher order system: we make it go. To have people die is to lose skills, expertise, time and energy. Our economy relies on intense skill and professionalization, which requires decades of school and research to push forward new science, new products, and new designs. To have people sick and debilitated means less people in the workforce, and more people out helping those recover getting sick as a result.
I think in light of higher numbers in the United States, where we have been trying to brute force the economy back into motion, we need to come back to the question of how to move on. There is no longer an economy before the coronavirus. Fair enough. We should be planning based on the hard facts, like age, and how to keep our most vulnerable safe.
Hopefully this provides some insight on just why European countries and the United States are going to continue to suffer from this virus. This is why Japan has been forced to take a hard stance on the virus, as their average age stands at almost 55, one of the highest in the world. It is because of our past successes that we now have the biggest wrestling match with the coronavirus from now on. Each economic organ of our nation must use that knowledge to provide services while keeping people safe.