OPINION

The long-term effects of coronavirus will be far reaching

MASSIVE: Quite unlike anything we've ever faced before, the effects of the coronavirus pandemic will last a long time.
MASSIVE: Quite unlike anything we've ever faced before, the effects of the coronavirus pandemic will last a long time.

For most of us, economics is not the most soulful of subjects to discuss. As an arts graduate, it certainly doesn't make my blood pump or get the excitement bubbling.

But economics is tightly connected to employment and as such, to our lifestyles, our communities and our national wellbeing. So, I guess, it's important.

We've seen a fair bit of concern in the news about the economic fallout from COVID-19 on national and global levels.

With federal bailout costs running up a tab into the billions, it's obvious that we are concerned about what this will look like for years to come as we try to recover from this pandemic economically. But we've also seen many memes, comics/cartoons and social media posts about people outraged at how economics is discussed and how it is first and foremost a health crisis. While this is obviously not untrue, it is naive to consider only the health ramifications.

The government is in a difficult position as it tries to respond responsibly to the crisis across the health, economic, social, educational and cultural impacts of something that has never happened before. There is no playbook for this and we are all struggling to deal with this unprecedented situation. And yes, we need to think about the economics of it all. However, this economic fallout is not just something felt on a macro level - one shocking thing that has come out of this is just how many Australians are living paycheque to paycheque.

According to financial analysts at finder.com.au who published a report in July 2019, 46 per cent of Australians are in this situation, without any financial safety net.

The same report tells us only 36 per cent of Australians would be able to live off their savings for four months before they also found themselves in financial difficulty. Further, 16 per cent of Aussies - or two million of us - would not be able to survive for more than a week without a job.

Mean household debt has increased by 79 per cent since 2003-04 while the mean asset value has only increased by 51 per cent, gross income only by 38 per cent and 37 per cent of us are struggling to pay off our own debts generally speaking, notwithstanding this crisis. ME's report last year indicates that people with less money are more likely to seek to borrow money, leaving them vulnerable to repayment stress. Underemployment is a significant issue, trending up since the 1970s - from 2 per cent up to 8.6 per cent in February 2020.

As if that's not scary enough, according to the Melbourne Institute's Annual Household Income and Labour Dynamics (HILDA) report, our median household income has actually fallen by 0.76 per cent between 2009 and 2019. If you combine the already financially stressed households with the number of us living paycheque to paycheque, and the sudden loss of employment across uncertain an uniquely challenged labour and business markets, we must recognise that the economic fallout of the pandemic is as personal as it is global.

We can't overlook the economic impact of this period.

This individual economic crisis is witnessed through more than one million new applications to Centrelink, people applying for hardship for loan repayments, getting behind in rent, struggling to pay for groceries, keeping the lights on and paying for healthcare and prescriptions.

I've seen hundreds of posts from people in a panic because they've lost at least half of their household income, but are not eligible for Centrelink support because their partner's income is still too high.

There is confusion around how to apply and what to apply for, challenges in getting onto the MyGov website as it has regularly crashed under the burden of hundreds of thousands of new site visits, and lines around the block to get into Centrelink offices around the country.

There is no mistaking the fact that COVID-19 is a health crisis, a global pandemic. But the symptoms list includes widespread increased debt, loss of super, damaged credit ratings, lost savings, increased poverty, food accessibility challenges and, potentially, homelessness.

We can't overlook the economic impact of this period.

When we are faced with devastating images of healthcare providers breaking down and the harsh reality of coronavirus wards in hospitals, it's easy to find numbers on a page to be dry, unemotional and, by extension, an uncaring focus to have.

But if an arts graduate can appreciate the importance of economic considerations right now, I'm sure you can too.

Zoë Wundenberg is a careers consultant and un/employment advocateat impressability.com.au

This story The long-term effects of coronavirus will be far reaching first appeared on The Canberra Times.