Domino Effect: 10 Surprising Disasters Caused by COVID-19

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Like it or not, we all are intertwined with a huge network of people and companies in the United States. The complexity and size of the American economy mean there are vast systems in our lives that can largely go unnoticed — until they can’t. The COVID-19 pandemic has been one reminder of this as people continue to discover that parts of their life they might not have imagined would be impacted have been — over and over again.

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Even if you’re someone who can work remotely, owns your own home and has plenty of money socked away in a savings account, you’re likely discovering that the coronavirus still found a way to make your life difficult. The indirect impacts of the virus are proving to be profound.

So what other falling dominoes can be attributed to COVID-19? Here’s a look at some of the many ways that coronavirus is impacting the economy — here and abroad — that you might not have realized.

Last updated: March 16, 2021

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1. Utility Shutoffs

Many Americans might not have recognized the amount they saved on utilities when they were out of the house and in the workplace — and how much higher the bills would be while doing their jobs from home or while stuck in the house because of the coronavirus. For millions of Americans, the higher utility bills could be coming at a time when they have less disposable income than they did at this time last year, making it tough to find the money to pay what they owe. And if that weren’t bad enough, record high temperatures in many places this summer left people dependent on their energy-consuming air conditioners to survive the stifling heat.

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What’s Happening

About 1 in 3 American households reported struggling to pay utility bills in 2015, long before things were made worse by the COVID-19 crisis, and NPR reports that a national survey conducted this May found that nearly 1 in 4 people had to reduce spending on other basic needs to afford their power bill. With unpaid bills piling up — and the moratoriums on power shutoffs beginning to expire — millions of Americans could be in danger of losing electricity on top of everything else in the coming months.

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2. Office Space

It’s possible that, in the near future, colleagues chatting at the water cooler will become a thing of the past. That’s because office space — long a cornerstone of American business — is suddenly having a day of reckoning. All estimates of how quickly companies eventually would transition toward remote work were smashed by the coronavirus. Now, companies that only had started to think about allowing employees to work from home — before the virus forced them to — are seeing how having staff based remotely translates into a drastically lower overhead.

Learn: Post-COVID Office Etiquette You Need To Know

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What’s Happening

Pinterest recently opted to make a permanent shift to remote work, and by doing so, it paid a nearly $90 million penalty to get out of its lease for 490,000 square feet of space in a swanky San Francisco office building. And it’s been joined by other major corporate players such as JPMorgan Chase, Ford, Twitter and, perhaps fittingly, outdoors recreation company REI. With a sharp drop in demand, plenty of people who own expensive downtown real estate likely are worrying about whether tenants will renew their leases — and if there are companies willing to replace them if they don’t.

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3. Business Districts

Of course, it’s not just the office space itself that’s impacted by employees no longer going in to work. There’s an entire economy that supports — and is supported by — office centers. The owners of hordes of fast-casual restaurants and coffee shops that chose locations based on proximity to offices and their workers have seen their customer base dwindle. Instead, those employees stay home, brew their own morning coffee and make a sandwich for lunch.

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What’s Happening

Starbucks already announced that a $2 billion drop in profits year over year as of July largely could be attributed to urban office space no longer being filled with workers. Xerox, likewise, saw revenue plunge by more than one-third as businesses scrambled to pause or cancel equipment purchases for now-vacant offices, though even that seems rosy compared to what happened to catering company Aramark. Revenues at Aramark, which provides food at offices, schools and stadiums, plunged 45%, the company said in its last quarterly report.

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4. City Budgets

In one more instance where a lack of commuters is hitting the economy, city budgets have taken a sharp hit. The rise of the American suburb over the past several decades left cities in a tough spot as they lost tax revenues when highly paid workers moved out of the cities. Now, even the sales taxes those suburbanites paid when they grabbed a coffee, shopped on their lunch hour or bought gas on their way home has dried up as office towers remain largely unoccupied month after month. And of course, this is coming at a time when the demand for city services is at an all-time high, as the neediest residents have been thrown into severe turmoil by the economic effects of the coronavirus.

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What’s Happening

A report from the National League of Cities revealed that some 90% of 485 American communities polled are anticipating next year’s financial situation will look even worse as their traditional sources of revenue continue to plunge. They also reported an expected drop in general fund revenues of an average of 13% in the 2021 fiscal year compared to 2020. That’s due to an average drop in sales tax earnings of 11% and a reduction of income taxes — hammered by unemployment — of 3.4%.

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5. Business Travel

Business travel is, well, a business unto itself. While many workers might make one or two trips a year to a major conference or an office in another region, that collectively adds up to a huge portion of the total travel industry. Business travel accounts for 60% to 70% of all airline revenue, with a corresponding impact on hotel chains and event planners serving those very same people traveling for business.


What’s Happening

Per The Wall Street Journal, business travel is down 97% from 2019, amounting to some $2 trillion worth of corporate travel that won’t take place in 2020. And that’s not going to bounce back completely, with estimates of 15% of that business being lost permanently. Meanwhile, American Airlines announced that it will suspend service to 15 cities in October — a move that means nearly 20,000 workers will be furloughed on Oct. 1.

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6. Vaccines

Life-saving vaccines long have been on the front lines when it comes to fighting the spread of infectious disease, helping turn a range of conditions from being routinely fatal to almost nonexistent. That makes it a cruel irony amid the pandemic. While the best medical and scientific minds in the U.S. and around the world are working diligently to find a COVID-19 vaccine, millions are missing their chance to get access to the vaccines that have saved lives for decades.

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What’s Happening

Data points to some 80 million infants in 68 countries not getting routine vaccinations as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Parents have faced a series of difficult decisions, especially in countries where the efforts to beat back the coronavirus have been less effective. Traveling to clinics is frequently impossible due to COVID-19 restrictions, and it can present a risk of a family member contracting the disease. And in some countries, vaccination programs have been put on hold during the pandemic. All told, that has millions of people opting to avoid or delay getting their young children immunized against old enemies such as polio and measles.

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7. Education

The ongoing nature of a child’s education is something plenty of people might fail to appreciate, but simply skipping learning because it isn’t safe to keep schools open isn’t exactly the best option. The curriculum that’s missed has to be made up, and that could prove more difficult for those kids relegated to remote learning environments. What’s more, teachers are scrambling to figure out in real time how to address the shortfalls in the educational experience created by schools operating remotely.

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What’s Happening

As schools attempt to find the right balance for a new school year — depending on the COVID-19 risks in their area — the impact could be one that takes years for today’s students to recover from in terms of learning. Education expert Paul T. von Hippel wrote for the site Education Next that previous experiences with teacher strikes showed that the impact on test scores appeared to ripple out across time. And even remote learning could be inadequate in ways experts are still beginning to understand in some of the most important subjects.

“When students learn science, they need new experiences, in places such as laboratories or field trips, and collective sensemaking — working with teachers and other students to understand those new experiences,” said Dr. Andy Anderson, a retired professor of science education at Michigan State University. “Right now we don’t know how to support either those new experiences or collective sensemaking when students are separated at home.”

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8. Mental Health

Mental health issues are among the most misunderstood, with countless Americans suffering from issues like depression without necessarily realizing it or having real avenues to access care. And with so much additional stress piling on during a year that seems to have a new disaster looming for America with each week, many are grappling with simply keeping their mood balanced and not spiraling into despair on a near-daily basis. All this has mental health experts fearing a rise in suicides and other major consequences of life in the days of COVID-19.

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What’s Happening

Parents, especially, can be in serious danger of allowing being overworked and overstressed to beat them down. The American Psychological Association found, unsurprisingly, that parents caring for children 18 or younger were significantly more stressed than nonparents during the pandemic. And in Canada, another study found that rates of depression and anxiety had more than doubled among women who were pregnant or had a newborn at home.

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9. Wealth Inequality

Some people might be watching and wondering why the stock market is booming while their bank accounts have gone bust. One explanation could be that America’s wealthy — largely able to avoid the worst of the pandemic — are flooding money into top tech stocks during a time when interest rates are offering low returns on other assets. As hard hit as most of America has been by the financial effects of the coronavirus, its billionaires — and particularly its billionaires whose wealth is tied to companies in industries that have been boosted by the pandemic — are not feeling it. In fact, as often has been the case in history, this major crisis appears to be disproportionately hitting America’s neediest while potentially boosting its richest.

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What’s Happening

From mid-March to mid-June, the combined wealth of America’s 614 billionaires increased by more than a half-trillion dollars, ABC News reported. Jeff Bezos and Mark Zuckerberg alone added a combined $76 billion to their wealth as Amazon and Facebook, respectively, saw stock in their companies rise as they thrived in the coronavirus-stricken United States. And, even as America is experiencing an awakening in regard to racial inequality, the pandemic has hit the Black and Latino communities hard — communities in which people are much more likely to contract the virus and to be unemployed because of it.


10. Evictions

Most of America’s renters simply don’t have the savings to cover a month’s rent — let alone six or seven — without income coming in. As such, the massive surge in unemployment associated with the pandemic likely would have translated to millions of Americans being unable to pay rent and potentially facing eviction during the worst possible time. A federal moratorium on evictions helped, and some local governments have stepped in to ensure such protections will be extended. Still, that simply delays the inevitable as the rent will come due someday soon.

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What’s Happening

While a presidential executive order temporarily prevented disaster after the original order against evictions expired, many experts warn that it’s just kicking the can down the road. Some estimates have nearly 1 in 3 renters at risk of eviction by the end of September — and paying the rent has been made all the more difficult by the expiration of the additional $600 a month in federal unemployment benefits at the end of July. And for nearly 50,000 Americans, the nightmare is already a reality as local laws in their areas have allowed them to get thrown out of their homes despite the pandemic.

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