Apr 30, 2020 - Economy & Business

The lost summer

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

In the beginning, we thought we would just miss out on a few weeks of spring. Now it’s becoming clear that a large chunk — if not all — of summer will also be lost to the coronavirus pandemic. 

The big picture: Even as some states take steps to open up their economies, huge parts of our lives will stay shuttered well through August and possibly beyond. That will have an enormous impact on families, education and businesses, not to mention our mental health that needs a summer break more than ever. 

Summer rituals like trips to the pool, baseball games, BBQs and vacations may be gone for another year. 

Education: The lost summer could turn into a lost year academically. What used to be a three-month summer learning loss without the continuity of instruction could turn into a five- or six-month summer learning loss, said Khan Academy CEO Sal Khan in an Axios virtual event this month.

  • "Based on the historical data, it looks like kids will not only not learn for those six months, but they’ll be forgetting for those six months — so they’ll probably lose an entire year," he said.
  • The data he cites comes from researchers with the Northwest Evaluation Association who predict that, for students who received limited or no instruction during the school closures from March through August, they may only retain about 70% of their reading progress compared to a normal year. In math, students may lose from half to a full year of academic growth.
  • Some school districts, such as in Marietta, Georgia, are launching virtual summer programs to reduce summer slide. Others are considering mandatory remedial programs.
  • Older students will miss out on rites of passage like graduation ceremonies, summer jobs and summer internships.

Businesses: Summer is a make-or-break period for many small businesses in tourist-reliant areas. Summer vacations are as vital to the hospitality industry as Black Friday is to retail.

  • "I think in the next 30 to 60 days, we're going to see a lot of small businesses fail and it's going to be tough," Sofia Dickens, founder of EQtainment, told Axios' Mike Allen last week.

Families: The strain on families on all levels will have a cumulative effect. Summer months are often times to take a breather, slow down, and get out of town. That won’t happen this year for most.

  • Many people won't be able to leave home, or may not feel comfortable doing so even when stay-at-home orders lift. And many parents will also feel pressure to keep kids engaged in brain-enhancing activities to reduce summer slide. 
  • Parents working outside the home may have three more months of cobbling together child care arrangements, and remote workers face more impossible juggling.
  • Stress and anxiety are also worsening for those out of work whose jobs will not immediately bounce back as some businesses partially reopen.

Work routines: Virtual work fatigue is setting in, and by September, our patience, routines and willpower will be frayed and weak. 

  • "There's a strong possibility that many of us will be burned out," said Cary Cooper, a professor of organizational psychology at Manchester Business School at the University of Manchester.
  • The potential is real for working couples, but also for anyone trying to maintain productivity while under stress about their health and worrying about their jobs in this economic environment, he said.

What to watch: Summer also brings some level of complacency risk when it comes to COVID-19.

  • If the virus has high seasonality, meaning it subsides with warmer weather, we may be lulled into a false sense of security.
  • Public health officials fear that could set us up for a second wave to roar back come fall, possibly leading to the loss of yet another season — or two.

Go deeper

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