On the third anniversary of the pandemic’s earliest days, we’re taking a look at how some of the original response measures have become permanent - in these cases, they changed life for the better.
With nobody wanting to use (or, even, allowed to use) public transport, cities around the globe installed new bike lanes and closed streets to traffic to give pedestrians and cyclists extra room. The changes were often wildly popular, and in many places they stuck. Cities from Bogota to Paris have converted their Covid-era car-free streets and bike lanes into permanent infrastructure. It’s been great for local economies as well as mobility - today, business is booming on car-free streets.
It started with Europe, which had just announced a one trillion euro European Green Deal to turn many aspects of the continent’s economy green. Rather than let the pandemic derail the plan, the EU accelerated it, seizing the transformational moment to pivot even harder toward sustainability. “We can repeat what we did before and throw a lot of money to the old economy, or we can be smart and combine this with the necessity to move to a green economy,” said one European Commission official. Since then, largely thanks to Vladimir Putin, the green transition has accelerated harder and faster than anyone could have predicted.
Before March 2020, WFH was a rare anomaly reserved for sick days and treacherous weather. Today, it’s a daily reality for millions. The sudden shift to remote work had enormous ripple effects, not least of which was our changed perception of what work should be: a more flexible, sustainable pursuit that we have control over, rather than the other way around. Since Covid, many employees have come to expect more from their jobs - more days off, in the form of four-day work weeks; more options for where to live; even more opportunities to make the world a better place.
The pandemic contributed to two big improvements in the lives of working Americans on both ends of the wage spectrum. The first part happened fast: pandemic-era stimulus checks gave workers the financial wherewithal to quit poorly paying jobs, assess their options, and go somewhere else that pays better. The second happened more gradually: the unemployment rate, after a decade of trending downward, is finally low enough that employers are being forced to raise wages and offer other benefits to attract workers. On the other end of the spectrum, wages for high earners are static. However, the flexibility of the new era of remote work has led to a positive impact on marriage rates and family planning.
Pre-Covid, online events were reserved for the technologically savvy. Today, we’re all early adopters: watching online live performances, attending virtual conferences, taking yoga classes via Zoom - suddenly, a world of choices and opportunities can be found on our screens.
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