As Instagram would have it, people the world over have used pandemic quarantine to get ripped or learn to paint or bake sourdough. Alas, I have done none of these. Instead, the new pandemic habit I’ve picked up is a lot less fun—and probably a lot less healthy. Reader, I can’t stop checking my bank account.
There is no rational reason for this. Nothing about the activity in my bank account is new, exciting, or terrifying enough to warrant my visit frequency. I’m employed, an enormous privilege in these uncertain times. I know exactly when my paycheck will show up and exactly when my rent is due. My bills are on autopay. I have not suddenly come into money from a secret inheritance (though wouldn’t that be nice).
The truth is, watching numbers in my bank account move exactly as I expect them to is the weird adult self-soothing that’s getting me through this it-might-not-end-for-another-year pandemic life. It feels like the one economic reality that I have some control over, as I’ve helplessly watched the financial stability of millions of Americans, including family and friends, deteriorate in real time.
The scale of that deterioration is enormous. We’re eight-ish months into the pandemic, and the federal government has given (some) people $1,200. The lifeline that was the $600 weekly unemployment boost expired three months ago. At least 12.6 million people are still unemployed and another 4.6 million furloughed. Many households’ savings are dwindling or gone. Nearly 20 percent of adults say they don’t have enough food. Millions of renters are existing beneath roofs on borrowed time, insulated from eviction until the end of 2020 by a CDC moratorium, but what comes after is a giant question mark. The COVID economic recovery that Trump keeps boasting about is mostly benefiting the ultrawealthy.
Making matters worse, there doesn’t seem to be relief coming anytime soon. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell adjourned the Senate last week after confirming a new Supreme Court justice but before lawmakers could pass a new COVID relief package. Just a few days later, Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the Democrats’ lead negotiator on a relief package, sent Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, the Republicans’ lead negotiator, a letter laying out the many, many areas where they still need to find agreement.
It all feels like a gut punch. And right now, regardless of who becomes president, I don’t know how we come back from this. There is also part of me that thinks we were only just here, on the creaky merry-go-round that is Uncertain Financial Times in America™.
Some days it feels like most have us have actually been here our entire lives. I’m the child of immigrants, the daughter of a working-class single mom, and a millennial who graduated from college in 2009, straight into the Great Recession. On graduation day, almost none of my friends had jobs, while some had six-figure student loan debt. Our commencement speaker, political commentator Fareed Zakaria, gave a speech in which he told us that despite global financial concerns, he was, and I quote, “not at all pessimistic.”
Now we know just how much there was to be pessimistic about: years of lingering financial struggle that sowed fear, dismay, and a desire to blow up existing structures that arguably helped give us Donald Trump.
I wonder what unforeseen financial and political chaos still awaits us as a result of this terrible economic moment. Looking back at the years since the last recession, at my family and friends who feel like they’ve only just recovered, I can’t fathom the problems we don’t know about yet, nor can I fathom doing the last decade of post-2008 rebuilding all over again. So for now, I guess I’ll just channel my anxiety into the tab on my browser that takes me to my bank account. To be honest, I don’t know where else to look. —Hannah Levintova