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Will COVID Be A Defining Generational Moment

/ The Upper Cumberland's News Leader

The world’s reaction to COVID-19 could have a lasting impact on society, much like the effect of World War II or the great depression on previous generations.

Middle Tennessee State University Sociology Professor Ashleigh McKinzie said she sees many similarities with other major events that defined a generation. But McKinzie said unique economic problems may also be defining.

“A lot of Americans find themselves on the margins here in 2020,” McKinzie said. “To put it in the context of the pandemic, around 40 percent of folks are basically one paycheck away from poverty or foreclosure. So when we think of that particular aspect, that is what it brought to mind for me.”

When societies face disasters such as pandemics, McKinzie said existing social problems are amplified. Some economists believe unemployment numbers during the pandemic will spike somewhere in the 10 to 15 percent range.

“Blue-collar workers may have a difficult time recovering economically,” McKinzie said. “It will absolutely be a defining moment, and the loss will be very great for them.”

Although the unemployment numbers should go down quickly as the economy reopens, McKinzie said she is concerned about the private sector doing enough to help with recovery. She cited some of the programs the federal government enacted in response to the Great Depression.

“I worry that without a big macro response, which we have seen some of with the stimulus packages, I wonder how things are going to work with all the jobs that were lost,” McKinzie said. “My hope is that this can be an opportunity to start a conversation about putting people back to work in a way the Civilian Conservation Corps did to fix some of our failing roads and bridges and give people skills that will be translated into a good solid income like we did see for a couple of decades after the Second World War.”

Even after the direct threat of COVID-19 has passed, McKinzie said she believes it will take time for things to return to normal. She says normalcy typically returns as events fade from our collective memory.

“Research shows that it really affects a generation,” McKinzie said. “Students when I first started teaching, they all remembered 9/11 vividly, they all knew how things had changed in terms of security checks at airports, they knew about wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Now they just don’t.”

In addition to what returning to normal looks like for a society, McKinzie said the effects of disasters can affect individuals in different ways.

“We have to think about normal for whom? I’m thinking of this just as an example, but a blue-collar family due to the pandemic or perhaps experienced foreclosure, we can say they won’t have normality for a long time,” McKinzie said.

McKinzie said something she hopes to come out of the pandemic is a renewed sense of addressing societal problems.

“We have a lack of affordable housing crisis here in Nashville,” McKinzie said. “What does it say moving forward about the availability of safe and affordable housing? What does it say about healthcare? I think it’s an exciting opportunity to start a conversation about crossing the aisle a little bit and discussing some of these things we just can’t seem to have conversations about.


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