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Don Morrison’s Take On Pandemic

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What a strange moment this is. Pandemic deaths are hitting new highs, hospital intensive-care units are reaching capacity and the Christmas surge is still to come.
Mercifully, vaccines – and salvation – are on the way. But that means people may start letting their guard down. We know what happens then.
The economy is regaining its equilibrium, with growth up 33% in the most recent quarter and the unemployment rate still high but down to half its April peak of 14%.
But some people are more equilibrated than others. Americans who can work from home or have college degrees are doing fine, having gained back nearly all the jobs they lost earlier this year. Also blessed are those with second homes. Not only have these citizens largely escaped the virus, but property values in their rustic bolt-holes have risen as a result of the urban-to-rural exodus.
Assets in general are having a good pandemic. Anybody with a nice stock portfolio or tax-deferred retirement account, like an IRA or a 401k, is probably better off than before the bodies started piling up. The Dow-Jones, Nasdaq, S&P 500 and Russell 2000 indexes have hit all-time highs in recent weeks. It’s a great time to be rich.
Alas, almost everybody else is scared, suffering and slipping behind. Welcome to the K-shaped recovery, where the rich soar like an eagle on takeoff, and the poor drift into the lower right-hand corner of oblivion.
Things fall apart, the center cannot hold. Congress struggles to adopt a relief bill that’s too little and too late. The president sits around fuming about the election and plotting a coup. His replacement can’t really do much presidenting until Jan. 20. This isn’t the America we had in mind. That one gets things done, takes care of its people. Fortunately, we are those people. So maybe it’s time those of us who have done at least moderately well this year started helping those who haven’t. Don’t think of it as survivor guilt, but rather as the duty that luck pays to adversity.
Every major religion – Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism – compels us to charity. So, oddly enough, does the IRS. Charitable donations have long been tax deductible. But this year limits on the amount you can deduct have been lifted. And if, instead of itemizing, you choose to take the $12,400 standard deduction ($24,800 for a couple filing jointly), you can still claim an extra $300 in charity donations this year. Act now: the offer expires Dec. 31.
It shouldn’t be hard to find needy recipients: food pantries, homeless shelters, health care and legal aid organizations. Also those cultural and educational institutions that enrich our communities in so many ways. They’re having a terrible year, and some may not survive.
I like to give local, but some national non-profits do good work too. Google “best charities” and click on the lists from Consumer Reports, Good Housekeeping, GoFundMe, Charity Watch or Charity Navigator. Look for organizations that spend the lowest percentage of their funds on overhead, the highest on programs.
Charity is a poor substitute for the things a decent, democratic government should be doing for its less fortunate citizens. Nearly all other developed countries manage this, but somehow we can’t. Fixing that deficiency won’t be easy. We’ll soon have a new president, a pillar of empathy, but Congress will still be full of hard-hearted skinflints.
Indeed, some Americans think we are not in this Covid thing together, that government has no business “rewarding” victims of adversity. Such favors should be reserved for businesses and the hard-working rich. The rest of us should take responsibility for our behavior, whether or not that has much to do with our plight.
Oh, and there’s the budget deficit. It’s currently at 16% of gross domestic product, highest since World War II, mostly because of the pandemic, increased military spending and the Trump tax cuts.
The deficit has gone largely unremarked for the past four years, but Republicans will likely rediscover it after Jan. 20. As a result, the chances that a new president will be able to expand health care coverage, lighten the student-loan burden or provide financial relief to pandemic-hit states and localities appear slim.
Of course, less than a year ago, chances also appeared slim that a virus with a funny name would sneak onto our shores and wreck the lives of millions. We didn’t see it coming, but we don’t have to remain helpless victims of nature’s caprice. We can seize control of our destiny, restore some semblance of fairness in an unfair world. One charitable contribution at a time. Give now.
Donald Morrison is an Eagle columnist and co-chairman of the advisory board.

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