Tuesday, March 10, 2020

Being Furloughed at Home Is Not Like Retirement

For those furloughed from work or school because of COVID-19, no, this is not what retirement feels like.

Classes have bern cancelled, business travel, especially to trade shows, has been drastically cut back or eliminated, onsite staff meetings have been shifted to teleconferences, production lines have been shut down, sporting events have been played to empty arenas. The government has strongly recommended seniors avoid cruise ships.

All this and more disruptions of everyday life because of coronavirus fear. Tens of thousands die in the United States each year from the flu, yet people avoid annual vaccinations. Likewise, parents withhold inoculations intended to shield children from measles, whooping cough and diphtheria. It makes fear of a coronavirus pandemic rather extreme.

During my almost weekly visit to Costco Monday afternoon I was struck by several ironies. First, upon pushing my shopping cart inside the Port Chester, NY, unit, a staffer eagerly asked if I would like the handlebar wiped down with a disinfectant. Sure, said I, while noting that I had already been exposed to any lingering germs while pushing the cart inside. I was not offered a disinfectant for my hands.

I didn’t go to Costco to buy toilet paper. Good thing, because the recent run on toilet paper had cleaned out the stock, as it has in most stores. Did a panicky public hear something about the virus that I hadn’t? Did the virus affect one’s bowels even as it attacked the lungs?

For an answer I did what most people do these days. I consulted Google. Here’s another oddity: On the search line, after I typed in the word “why,” the immediate suggested query was “Why are people buying toilet paper?” 

The oddities continued: the first article was from CNN. It was written by Scottie Andrew. Anyone else think it peculiar that the writer’s first name conjures up a leading toilet paper brand? (https://amp.cnn.com/cnn/2020/03/09/health/toilet-paper-shortages-novel-coronavirus-trnd/index.html)

Seeing pictures of people the world over wearing surgical masks leads to one of three conclusions: There are a lot of sick people out there (sick as in crazy, yes; sick as in ill, nah); the human race really is composed of caring people who don’t want to infect the rest of us (nah, they’re wearing those masks to protect themselves which leads me to the third and most accurate assessment); there are a lot of dumb people out there who do not listen to health care experts who say masks, especially the most common type worn, are not intended or able to keep the wearer safe.

Shopping Costco is one of my favorite pastimes. I especially enjoy sampling all, well, almost all, of the freebies dispensed throughout the warehouse. But Costco has nixed giveaways as a health safety precaution. I have to believe it will diminish sales. I know I’ve brought home numerous items I’ve first-time tasted there (the  kosher ones only, of course).

But Costco’s bottom line was not on my mind as I walked the aisles. Rather, I pondered the fate of the men and women who have lost their jobs, at least temporarily, cooking up and dishing out bite-sized morsels.

The coronavirus has a far larger impact on low income families than on white collar households. The public is avoiding events with large concentrations of attendees. South by South West (SXSW) cancelled, for example. Think of all the workers in Austin—in restaurants, hotels, Uber and taxi drivers, plus other service industry mainstays—who will be adversely affected by the absence of nearly a half million visitors. The lost revenue in pay and tips will be devastating.

Retirement should be a time of relaxation, sans anxiety. Visits to museums, theaters, restaurants. Taking classes at nearby colleges and religious institutions. Seeing the grandkids for a few days. 

Instead, furloughed worker are worrying about the possibility of losing their jobs. With the average person having just about $10,000 in bank savings (much lower for hourly workers), prolonged time off the job will heighten anxiety about how rent/mortgage will be paid, how food and medicine will be bought, how car payments will be made, how credit card debt will be lowered … how long before life will be back to normal, if ever. 

Retirees usually have monthly Social Security checks and, if they’re lucky, some other income from pensions or retirement accounts. Furloughed workers might be eligible for unemployment compensation as it would be doubtful their employers would be generous enough to keep them on the payroll for an indefinite period.

Students usually exult upon receiving an unexpected day off from school, such as a snow day. But multiple, consecutive days at home become boring and counterproductive, not to mention a nuisance for parents to cope with. Teachers, meanwhile, may receive their full year’s pay, but what about school bus drivers? 

Having been retired for more than 10 years, I strongly suggest to those finding themselves at home instead of at work that they limit television viewing time, especially of cable news stations. Nonstop, repetitive reports about the coronavirus and Trump/Biden/Sanders will intensify your blood pressure, a condition that you don’t want once you eventually reach true retirement age.