Bill Schmick | The Retired Investor: How much are your children worth?

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In the weeks ahead, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention wants your children to go back to school. It says it is necessary because children need schooling from a social, emotional and behavioral health perspective. No one disputes that, so, why are American parents balking at the idea?

The short answer is that they are afraid for their kids. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to understand that kids in a classroom are "super spreaders" of virus. Just think of what happens during the flu season each fall and winter.

Despite assurances from the CDC that death rates among school-age children are much lower than among adults, they don't claim that no children will die if they go back in the classrooms. As such, parents are asked to play a percentage game: What are the chances that my child will be the unlucky one and die because I decided to send them back to school?

To make matters worse, the majority of Americans suspect that they are not getting the true story when it comes to accurate statistics in regard to COVID-19. Between various reporting procedures among the various states, hospitals and the federal government, everything from double counting to underreporting is occurring.

School representatives across the nation also argue that they are ill-prepared and do not have the money to make their classrooms safe for students in a few short weeks. Thanks to the nation's less-than-robust response to the crisis, neither the money nor the time to spend it is available for this school year.

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The question to ask is: Why is the government, along with the business community, demanding schools reopen now, despite the accelerating rate of virus cases nationwide?

The elephant in the room, which no one wants to address, concerns the labor force and the economy.

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As it stands, millions of working parents with children cannot both go back to work. One or another of the parents must stay home and mind the kids, since there is no child care (and probably won't be) until a vaccine is developed and administered nationwide. That means the economy, with roughly half the labor force stuck at home, won't be able to recover any time soon.

In addition, an ongoing, struggling economy will mean many companies will face bankruptcy, and those that survive will be forced to "right-size," which means cutting their labor force permanently. Some already are. That would further compound the economic situation and potentially push out any recovery to sometime next year, if then.

Schools, however, provide huge positive benefits for children and parents. Few families today can get by on one income, so, without reopening classrooms, the economic well-being of many families could be dire.

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Keeping schools closed would also unduly harm low-income and minority children and those living with disabilities. These students are less likely to have access to private instruction and care. In many cases, they are more likely to rely on school-supported resources like food programs, special education and after-school programs as well.

Today, there are no good options for these struggling parents. They must weigh in their own minds and hearts the risks and rewards for keeping their kids at home, or sending them back to school under these most trying of circumstances. It is a terrible tragedy, and one with no solution.

My heart goes out to all of you who must make this decision.

Bill Schmick is registered as an investment adviser representative of Onota Partners Inc. in the Berkshires. He can be reached at 413-347-2401, or e-mail him at billiams1948@gmail.com.


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