In the past few days, Americans have commemorated the Union soldiers who died fighting against separatist states in the American Civil War. The celebration is always held on the last Monday in May, and thus is also associated with the unofficial start of summer. This year’s commemoration was marked by the widespread easing of restrictions imposed during the coronavirus pandemic on gatherings and events. Many states have now stopped obligating the wearing of masks for most activities. This also led to an increase in the reservation of airline tickets and sports matches in open stadiums. The reopening of concert halls and theater performances has also begun, and the country is expected to approach normal conditions by the Independence Day anniversary on the fourth of next July.
Of course, this state of vitality will stop if other outbreaks of “Covid-19” disease appear or new strains of the virus are observed. But the hope is that enough people will receive the vaccines, helping to contain the effects. Americans are now beginning to spend the money they saved or earned from government relief programs. The expected growth rate of the economy in the second quarter of 2021 is estimated at 8.6%, which is a very high rate, which no one thought could be achieved at the beginning of the year. Some worry that the economy’s increased dynamism may cause a new wave of inflation, requiring the Federal Reserve to intervene to increase the exceptionally low interest rate since the 2008 recession.
It is clear that most people are eager to resume their usual activities, including work and leisure. They want to send their children to summer camps and visit relatives they have not seen in more than 15 months. Less clear, however, is how much of the workforce will return to low-wage jobs or those jobs that require daily commutes to offices. Some workers in low-paid jobs have found it better to rely on unemployment benefits for as long as possible because the difference between wages for low-paid jobs and benefits is small. To attract them back to work, companies must offer higher wages.
And people who spent the pandemic period working from home found that they produced the same amount of work when they moved to offices, and had to pay for transportation and incurred the hassle of traffic and travel every day. The US federal government has announced that it will be more flexible about remote work. Ultimately, the fallout from the pandemic will have major impacts on the way we work, including the use of office space. With the reduced demand for offices in cities and the presence of vacant spaces that can be converted into affordable housing apartments for those who have moved outside the cities due to the high cost of rent. The lower cost may lure some families back to urban residence and may make urban populations not divided into only two groups, the very rich and the very poor.
These and other trends indicate that the end of the pandemic does not mean a “return to normal.” After the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the United States has not returned to normal. Major changes have been made in the Department of National Security, including the creation of a new government agency, the Department of Homeland Security, a formidable bureaucracy with a quarter of a million employees. Among the effects was a major change in the rules for air travel, with the application of strict security rules that had not occurred to anyone before the attacks.
Since the outbreak of “Covid-19”, every country has had to re-evaluate the way it provides health care to its citizens. The United States does not have a national health care system, but from now on, pressure will grow for a more coherent, unified health system. A heated political debate is inevitable, but a return to the status quo is no longer acceptable to many Americans.
* Director of Strategic Programs at the National Interest Center.