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Protecting Our Future After Coronavirus

America’s young people have had a rough run of it lately. Millennials—many of whom are now in the prime of their careers—came of age in a time defined by 9/11, marked by war, and then they bore some of the hardest, longest-lasting economic impacts of the 2008 financial collapse. Now, like all of us, they’re staring down the barrel of another major economic crisis—the second in their young adult lives. 

Millennials have grown up navigating enormous disruption and change in our society.  And still—they stepped up, across the board, to serve our country, whether by joining the military, or becoming doctors and teachers and public servants, or by volunteering in their communities and with non-profits. 

Now, a new group of young people, Generation Z, is coming of age in a time of anxiety about school shootings, crushing debt, and a politics that seems unresponsive or broken beyond repair. Students from grade school to college are being denied months of important milestones and experiences. No spring semester, no championship competitions or year-end concerts, no graduations—not because of anything they did wrong, but because of the COVID-19 pandemic. And for those just entering adulthood or launching their careers, jobs, opportunities, and even dreams are being snatched away.  

None of us want to be cooped up in our homes just as the weather is turning nice, just as spring break travel plans are approaching, just as the campaign for the presidency is kicking into high gear. 

It is unfair—to all of us. 

And it is necessary—for all of us. 

Politicians, public health experts, and celebrities across the board have sent the urgent message to young people: Stay home. Don’t just do it for yourself. Do it for the older people in your life, for those with underlying or undiagnosed health conditions in your communities, whom you may inadvertently expose to the virus. Because we can transmit the virus to others before we feel the first signs of sickness, we all must behave as though we are already infected. 

That’s vitally important for the health and recovery of our society.  

But based on recent data from the Centers for Disease Control, it’s also clear that adults of all ages, including younger people, need to practice social distancing and self-isolating for their own personal protection. Of the cases in the U.S. thus far, almost 40 percent of COVID-19 infections that required hospitalization were among people aged 20-54.  

People under the age of 60 are not immune to coronavirus. Young people are not assured to only experience a mild case if you catch it. There are no guarantees that you will not die from it. Increasingly, we are hearing heart-rending stories of deaths from people in their 20s and 30s. 

That’s why we all have to follow the CDC guidelines to minimize the risk of our own exposure to the virus, and to slow its spread to others. Wash your hands. Stay at least six feet away from other people at all times. And yes, stay home. Do it for yourself. Do it for your family and neighbors. Do it to save the lives of those you’ve never met.  

And I have no doubt that all of us, including the younger generations, will step up and sacrifice a few weeks, or even months, of our normal lives in order to beat this virus. This is who we are. That’s the spirit that defines us. We see it in the millions of young people who are working every day to make their communities better. Serving others. Teaching kids to read. Feeding hungry families. Mowing the lawn or buying groceries for an elderly neighbor.

Americans are resilient. We are resourceful. And, we will stand united to face this crisis, just as we have done throughout our history. 

But here’s what we will not do—we will not allow this pandemic to rob our young people of the futures and the economic opportunities they have been working to build. 

These are twin crises. The public health crisis is hitting older people especially hard. The economic crisis will hit younger people. 

So we need to make sure that our economic recovery does not come at the expense of those who can least afford it or who are just getting started in life: Hard-working young people in service industries and retail that are being decimated by layoffs; all those who are hustling to make a living in the gig economy, and those who were already struggling to get by before this crisis, who are drowning in credit card debt or student loans, and who now are in even greater need of a lifeline.

The Senate seems to be near reaching agreement on a $2 trillion support bill that will provide critical relief for our people and some stability for our economy. Democrats did significant work to make sure that the bill includes critical help for working families. It can help keep workers on payroll. It offers significant additional support for unemployment insurance. And it will go a long way to provide a financial life-line for middle-income folks.   

Critically, it covers the people who too often get left out—the self-employed and gig workers, and folks who lost their jobs, even before this crisis hit. 

Implementing this bill is going to take a lot of work and meticulous oversight and coordination with state and local governments to make sure the money gets out quickly and into people’s pockets—and to keep a close watch on how corporations are using the taxpayer funds they receive.

This virus is already threatening economic impacts that could rival the Great Depression, and we are going to rely on the energy, the innovative spirit, and boundless capacity of our young people to help rebuild our economy when it’s over. We’re going to have to figure out how to get more help to folks who were left out of this bill. For example, I support forgiving at least $10,000 in student loan debt per person right now to provide meaningful relief. It’s the responsibility of all those in Congress to act now to ensure that our young people get a fair shot. 

Especially since we are counting on the millions of Americans, including so many young Americans, who are on the frontlines of fighting this virus and keeping our communities running.  The doctors and nurses. The delivery drivers and grocery store stockers. The first responders and the cleaning crews. They have been on the margins of our economy for far too long–not being paid enough, not having the benefits they deserve—and they are all answering the call to service at a moment of national need. 

This pandemic will steal months of our lives, we cannot let it steal their economic futures.

We won’t fix our economy, however, without restoring the public health, and that will require strong, decisive, science-driven leadership from the very top—something that Donald Trump seems incapable of providing. 

He downplayed the seriousness of this crisis for weeks and continues to delay the mobilization of national resources to deliver life-saving equipment to our doctors, nurses, and frontline workers. As a result, this virus will hit all of us harder than it otherwise might have, and it will take us longer to recover. Now, Trump is suggesting that he wants to get the country opened back up by Easter. 

We all want to get back to normal as soon as possible. But it would be catastrophic for our people and our economy if we sent people back to work, only to unleash a second spike in infections. That would be far more devastating in the long run than implementing a thought-out strategy, supported by science, to get America back to work. 

We will get through this crisis together. I know we will. The capacity of Americans, fueled by our young people, is boundless. We deserve to have leadership in the White House who will help spur our progress, empower the next generation of leaders to drive us forward, and seize our future of possibilities. Not someone fighting to drag us backward. 

Joe Biden is a Democratic candidate for president and the 47th vice president of the United States.