The standard that optometrists use to define good eyesight is 20/20 vision, and that may be the best lens through which we should view the year that has just passed.

On top of everything else, 2020 was the year when a lot of things came into clear focus. Income inequality had been climbing steadily for decades, but the coronavirus pandemic and the recession it caused showed how it is truly a matter of life and death.

2020 will go down in history as the year of a global pandemic, which will have killed more than 350,000 Americans by 12:01 Friday morning. 

It’s also the year in which an estimated 15 million Americans, Black, Hispanic, Asian, Native and white, took to the streets in cities and towns to protest racial injustice and white supremacy.

And it will be remembered for an election that produced a divided government for a divided nation.

We should also remember 2020 as a year when what had been fuzzy concepts for many of us came into sharp focus. Witnessing homeless encampments and long lines at food pantries while the stock market surged, this was a year in which inequality could not be denied.

The pandemic affected the lives of virtually everyone in some way, but it did not affect us all in the same way. About a third of the labor force was able to take their work home, getting through the year without exposing themselves to coronavirus or missing a paycheck. 

But millions of others, who did not have jobs that could be done remotely, were either out of work or forced to put themselves at risk to make a living. These frontline employees were some of the lowest-paid service workers even before the pandemic struck, and their lives took on more than their fair share of disruption.

The inequality could be seen in more than just paychecks. Spikes in hunger and poverty rates are directly connected to the pandemic’s disproportionate effect on low-wage workers. These jobs were disproportionately held by non-white women, which is why some observers are calling the resulting economic upheaval a “she-cession.Coronavirus infections and deaths were disproportionately felt by communities of color. It’s true even in Maine, where Black people make up 1.7 percent of the population but represent nearly 7 percent of COVID cases.

We can’t address the problems that we can’t see. Racial and economic inequality were not invented in 2020, but the events of the pandemic have brought them into undeniable focus. It’s not just a question of the unemployment rate. Our systems for providing access to health care, education, nutrition and housing are grossly unfair, and were before the pandemic made its mark. 

Something else that came into focus this year is the extent to which we depend on each other. A disease that was most dangerous for the old and frail had the ability to pull down our entire economy. A simple precaution, like the use of face coverings, can head off a catastrophe if enough people are willing to take part. 

The year 2020 is behind us. It’s up to us to bring our 2020 vision into 2021.


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