By Tony Hooker
“Fine,” she said as the smile drained from her eyes.
When picking up my carry out order from the El Rancho Grande, I mistakenly responded by rote when the young lady ringing me up asked me how I had been. “Asi’ asi’,” I answered in my terrible Spanish. “Y tu’?”
Of course, she isn’t fine. Truth be told, she probably hasn’t been “fine” since February. You see, the pandemic and its subsequent closure orders have more than likely devastated her income. I heard anecdotally that another local server had lost 90 percent of his wages because of his bar and restaurant having to close for in house dining.
And it’s not just here in the river city. Statewide, there were 25,488 food and drink establishments in Illinois in 2018. These businesses employed 588,700 people as of 2019. That’s almost 5 percent of the population of our state, facing income uncertainty. There are programs to help ease the burden, of course, but their implementation, especially on a national scale, has been far from perfect. And it’s not just food service. Unemployment numbers have fortunately begun to rebound a bit since the early stages of Covid 19, thankfully, but they’re still twice as high as they were a year ago. Small business owners of all types everywhere face the prospect of permanently closing the companies that many of them spent their whole adult life building. Devastating doesn’t even begin to describe how that must feel.
It’s not just small business owners who are feeling the effects. According to a study by the Boston University school of Public Health, published in the JAMA network journal in September “depression symptom prevalence was more than 3-fold higher during the COVID-19 pandemic than before.” The study also noted that lower income respondents were more likely to express feelings of depression than their more well to do peers. Here in Illinois, Cook County is experiencing an unfortunate growth trend in African American suicides, as well. In 2019, there were 66 black deaths attributed to suicide. By July, there had already been 57, with many deaths still awaiting a cause of death ruling. Of course, there is no known direct causal link between the increase in deaths and the pandemic, but it’s not too large a logical leap to make the connection.
Schools everywhere are feeling the effects of the pandemic, as well. Area school administrators have noted that academic performance has fallen behind this year, as opposed to pre-pandemic levels, and it’s pretty safe to assume that online delivery has to have played a role in that decline. Here in Hookerville, my academic high achiever is struggling mightily to stay motivated with her Parkland coursework, and the EIU contingent has reported a similar malaise in Chucktown, as well. A lack of extracurricular activities has to have added to the onerous feeling of going to school in 2020. To many youngsters, the appeal of football in the fall makes attendance tolerable. Last year, over 38,000 athletes suited up for Illinois high schools, so it’s not an insignificant number. I’m not in any way trying to minimize the pandemic. According to the IDPH, there’s been one person under the age of 20 who has passed due to COVID-19, so the question is, are we unfairly punishing our children, our servers, and our small business owners to protect those who are more vulnerable? The true price these folks are paying during this pandemic isn’t known, and probably won’t be for years, but it’s a real hidden cost of the mitigation attempts we’re undertaking.
For those who don’t have a horse in the high school sports race, or for those whose livelihood hasn’t been directly affected yet, it can be easy to pass judgement on those who have resisted the latest efforts at containment. It’s important to remember that there are two sides to this story, and to think that there is a one size fits all solution is folly. Stay safe, and Carpe Diem, friends.
(The views and opinions expressed in the submitted columns are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of The Journal.)