Thomas Howard: The cracks in the system show in crisis


Well, the corona virus is here in Mississippi, and it doesn’t look like it’s going away any time soon. Reading up on reports put out by the various epidemiology think tanks over the weekend, the consensus seems to be about 18 months to roll out a working vaccine.

As of writing this column, there are 249 cases of Covid-19 in our state. Unemployment applications are through the roof and a press release sitting in my inbox from the American Hotel and Lodging Association projects more than 40,000 industry workers will lose their jobs.

Things don’t seem great.

Yet, the corona virus pandemic has had one positive effect. It has helped highlight the cracks in our social programs, the so called “safety nets.” Growing up, I imagined the social safety nets we have in America to be like those at the circus, a sprawling contraption so effective missing it is reserved for all but the most freak accidents.

It was a shock when, through my own experiences and those of friends and relatives, I learned our social programs are more like those coin games at fast food restaurants where landing a coin on the pad wins a free sandwich or burrito. When viewed from above, both the net and the pads seem impenetrable, a sure thing, but I’ve wasted enough change trying to win a soft shell taco I know looks can be deceiving.

Under the threat of Covid-19, the bright green pads that are our healthcare systems, unemployment benefits, job security, economic security, internet access, affordable childcare and more are missing people. Websites are crashing. Testing has only recently become widely available and still isn’t in some places. Congress can’t seem to agree whether it’s more important to give corporations a blank check or help their constituents put food on the table. The cracks in the system are showing.

But while Covid-19 is highlighting the weaknesses in our programs, it is also giving us the opportunity to fix them.

It may be we all have to huddle in our homes for the next year and a half until a working vaccine can be distributed. It may be 40,000 people lose their jobs. It may be the end of times some of my relatives are so fond of preaching about. I don’t think so.

Already we are seeing stories of people rising to the challenge. Doctors and nurses are working round the clock. Garbage men and city workers are ensuring our towns and cities stay clean and we have access to clean water. Teachers are filming their lessons, allowing students to continue to learn.

Americans are a rowdy bunch. We bicker about anything and everything and call each other the worst of names. But, from declaring independence to the attacks on September 11, Americans have not quit. When faced with a challenge to our way of life, we never fail to meet it head on.

Hurricane Katrina showed us the weaknesses in our levy systems. September 11 showed us holes in our national security. Now, Covid-19 is showing us the cracks in our social programs. On each occasion, neighbors rose up to help neighbors and communities came together to solve the immediate crisis. Then, once the dust settled our elected officials passed sweeping legislation to fix the weaknesses and close the holes, building a better, stronger America for future generations.

I don’t doubt we will do so again.


Thomas Howard is the managing editor of The Newton County Appeal. He can be reached at