A messy end to 2021: Will 2022 be better or worse?

The Floyd County High School Lady Buffaloes closed out 2021 with a loss to the Staunton River Golden Eagles Wednesday night at the Knights River Classic holiday basketball tournament, losing 62-41. Virginia Tech fans weren’t happy either with its worst bowl game loss ever, 54-10, to Maryland at the Pinstripe Bowl at Yankee Stadium in New York City.

Those two games pretty much wrap up a tough year that ends at midnight Friday, an evening where the big question is “do I take a chance with COVID-19 and go out to an end-of-year bash?”

Most of us ended 2020 with hopes for a better year ahead, 12 months ago. For many, the outlook for the end of 2021 is not much better. New COVID cases have topped 30,000 in reports from the last three days. The Roanoke Valley reported more than 200 new cases, Montgomery-Radford more than 100.

Rural Floyd County topped 30 new cases in the past two days. One reason might be the reluctance of most county residents to be fully vaccinated. While data collected by the Virginia Department of Health shows 67.4% of the Commonwealth’s residents are “fully vaccinated,” the same data shows just 48.7% of the county have completed the full dose of shots and just 17.4% have received their “booster” shot.

Happy New Year? Not likely. Medical experts, the ones who look a the data and the science and not politics, predict an even sharper rise in cases as 2022 arrives.

We head into the New Year with inflation that has driven prices up by the highest rates since the early 1980s. A move by President Joe Biden to release some of the nation’s oil reserves has brought gas prices down. We paid less than $3 a gallon for regular ($2.96) at a Kroger station in Roanoke Wednesday afternoon, more than 10 cents a gallon less than what stations in Floyd County charge.

Recent job gains could disappear if the rising pandemic rates continue. Health care costs in America remain higher than many other nations, and legislation to help reduce them remains mired in the partisan deadlock in Congress.

“The pandemic could shape the world, much as World War iI and the Great Depression did,” David Leonhardt in The New York Times noted last summer:

It will be a new world, with a reshaped economy, much as war and depression reordered life for previous generations.

Thousands of stores and companies that were vulnerable before the virus arrived have disappeared. Dozens of colleges are shutting down, in the first wave of closures in the history of American higher education. People have also changed long-held patterns of behavior: Outdoor socializing is in, business trips are out.

And American politics — while still divided in many of the same ways it was before the virus — has entered a new era.

All of this, obviously, is conjecture. The future is unknowable. But the pandemic increasingly looks like one of the defining events of our time. The best-case scenarios are now out of reach, and the United States is suffering through a new virus surge that’s worse than in any other country.

Over at The Washington Post, Dana Milbank says the outlook for 2022 is a classic “good news/bad news” scenario:

The fly in the ointment is inflation estimated at 5.6 percent for the year — the highest in 40 years — which is suppressing disposable income.This causes real pain for consumers, particularly low-income Americans buying groceries and gas and anybody buying a car. But studies show that, among the lowest earners, wage gains outpaced inflation.Also, inflation is less than half what it was 40 years ago, and, unlike then, today’s bond yields signal investors don’t expect inflation to worsen. Forty years ago, stagnant growth combined with inflation to cause “stagflation.” Now the economy is roaring.

Yet a Gallup poll out last week found that “Americans’ confidence in the economy has dropped to where it was in April 2020, when nationwide shutdowns brought on by the covid-19 pandemic plunged the nation into a recession.”

The reason is clear. As The Post’s Philip Bump explained, Republicans in April 2020 were evenly split on whether the economy was in excellent/good condition or fair/poor. Now, despite dramatic improvements, 91 percent of Republicans say the economy is in fair/poor condition. (The Democratic shift, in the opposite direction, was smaller.)

This happened — surprise! — during Fox News’s hysterical coverage of inflation, gas prices and supply chain problems. It invoked inflation roughly twice as often as CNN and MSNBC. Now, as Bump reported, three-quarters of Republicans say prices are the most important measure of the economy’s health (only one-quarter did a year ago), eclipsing unemployment, personal finances and the stock market.

In post-truth America, the economy is just another target for fakery.

So, will 2022 be a good year or a bad one for us?

Hell, we don’t know. Strap in and get ready for the ride.

© 2004-2022 Blue Ridge Muse

© 2021 Blue Ridge Muse