Beyond the Obvious Upheaval, 2020 Was a Year of Huge Contrasts
It’s safe to say that most Americans were happy to close the book on 2020, with the possible exception of stock traders and investment bankers. The New Year will still present more than its share of unique challenges, particularly in the first half, until enough Americans are vaccinated for COVID-19 and begin to resume more normal lifestyles. Nonetheless, 2021 almost certainly will be an improvement over the horrific year we just experienced.
COVID-19 exacted a huge toll on American lives, livelihoods and the U.S. healthcare system. Nearly 350,000 lives were claimed by the virus in 2020, and the excess death rate in the eight months of April-November 2020 is estimated at 15%, according to the National Center for Health Statistics1 As the year ended, 14% of all U.S. hospital beds were occupied by COVID-19 patients, with many ICUs strained or overwhelmed by COVID patients. Worse yet, an estimated 150,000 more Americans may succumb to the virus by mid-February2.
The economic toll of COVID-19 has been devastating in another sense. In September, a consumer survey released by Pew Research Center indicated that 25% of respondents said they or someone in their household had experienced a job loss or furlough during the pandemic3. While a majority of furloughed workers have been recalled, continuing unemployment claims remain sky-high and there is wide agreement among economists that several million jobs lost during the pandemic will not be coming back. We’ve all seen video footage of long lines of cars, including many large SUVs, in various cities waiting to receive relief packages at food banks, a strange sight to behold that upends our idea of what food insecurity looks like these days.
1: Excess Deaths Associated with COVID-19, National Center for Health Statistics, CDC.gov
2: U.S. COVID Death Toll Projected to Surpass 500,000 Within One Month, Newsweek, January 4, 2021, cited projections from IHME at the University of Washington
3: Economic Fallout From COVID-19 Continues to Hit Lower Income Americans the Hardest, Pew Research Center, September 24, 2020