Years from now, when we look back at the coronavirus pandemic, it is very possible that the most damaging element we will identify is its catastrophic effect upon public education. The devastation will be social and economic, permanently degrading the skill base of the workforce and robbing a generation of children, especially low-income students, of any chance to enter the middle class. And the question we will have to ask is whether the tragedy was truly necessary.
Begin with the effect on the workforce brought about by eliminating the largest source of free childcare. With millions of children now required to learn remotely, their parents now have to stay home all day. A million married women left the workforce over the last month. Indeed, even as jobs have slowly recovered from the depths of spring, single people have accounted for more than 100 percent of all job gains. Joblessness and poverty leave trails of physical and emotional hardship for decades; the current recession is to a significant degree a crisis of unschooling.
The damage to the future workforce will be far worse. Students denied in-person education will suffer permanent learning loss that will degrade their skills for decades to come. One estimate by the OECD roughly pegs the long-term cost in foregone productivity to the United States at around $15 trillion. That number is obviously speculative, but it provides some sense of the economic scale of the calamity.
“An emphasis on adult employment“￼