Can Our Lives Be Better After the Pandemic?
A crisis can leave us better or worse off than we were before. As most of us long for things to return to the way they were before COVID-19, observers from various fields believe our lives may actually improve in some areas once the virus is controlled. Nonetheless, more than 4 million Americans have contracted the virus, and more than 150,000 had died as this article was finalized, leaving families and communities changed forever. Despite this tragedy, there are signs of good news in some sectors:
Work: Many employers have been pleasantly surprised by the productivity of employees working remotely, and over half of teleworkers prefer working at home.1 Companies that allow more employees to work from home permanently will need less office space, reducing overhead. Eliminating geographical limitations will widen their pool of qualified applicants. Other market sectors, such as restaurants and travel, may not rebound to pre-pandemic vitality — forcing furloughed or unemployed workers to find other jobs.
Business: As comfort with virtual meetings has grown, businesses will probably spend less on travel going forward. Recent supply chain disruptions have caused companies to consider bringing manufacturing closer to home and using better software-based management. Since machines don’t fall ill, businesses will employ more automation – hopefully, retraining employees for new positions providing e-commerce-related services or managing new machines or systems. Some businesses, such as meat packing plants or U.S. manufacturing/packaging plants have realized the vulnerability of their workplace to a pandemic. These businesses and their surrounding communities can innovate to strengthen health conditions in the workplace.
Technology: Technology use has exploded during the pandemic. Some governments, school districts and corporations are closing the digital divide by providing internet access to families who can’t afford it. This digital focus will undoubtedly persist and expand, with new tech hubs likely springing up around the country. Going forward, parents and caregivers should work to ensure that children have access to the technology used for instruction in their school systems. If not, they should reach out to their children’s principals or contact their school board for assistance.
Healthcare: Doctors now provide a wider range of services virtually, saving patients time and allowing caregivers to participate more easily. This innovation allows our increasingly urban and suburban healthcare systems to better serve rural or homebound patients. Better digital solutions could connect information systems, enabling electronic records to follow a patient throughout their care journey. Researchers are using artificial intelligence to discover possible treatments and vaccines for COVID, which may create a path for future solutions. And perhaps for the first time in our lifetime, Americans have seen their hospitals and medical centers overwhelmed by critical needs of patients. Patients dying alone, nursing homes forced to shut out patients’ families, and healthcare workers torn between their jobs and their commitment to their families will likely inform and reshape the way healthcare providers prepare for and manage contagious disease outbreaks in the future. The plight of the elderly cared for in nursing homes is already being revisited to assess how these important centers can better insure the safety of their residents.
Personal finance: Americans have learned to save better; CNBC recently reported the personal savings rate hit a historic 33 percent in April.2 Homeowners who refinanced will save for years to come. Before the pandemic, stocks were expensive. Lower prices could lead to higher future returns. Individuals who had perhaps given up on home ownership may now qualify for a starter home. At the same time, the pandemic threw successful career employees into the ranks of the unemployed, through no fault of their own. Personal savings were inadequate to meet all the financial needs of many families, and those relying on food banks and other community services tripled or quadrupled, at the very time those food banks had lost their agricultural and commercial donors.
No one can predict the future, but problems can prompt innovation, which leads to growth. The pandemic’s effects on the health and well-being of many segments of our population also made clear the lack of a real safety net for most families and how interdependent we are on one another.
We’ll continue to do our best to prepare you for potential challenges and to highlight opportunities. If you have questions or concerns about the economic environment or your personal financial situation, don’t hesitate reach out to Gwen or Sibyl by going to www.lifeplanfinancialadvisors.com to schedule a virtual meeting or phone call.