As the “curve” begins to flatten across the country, lawmakers on both state and federal levels are facing a second puzzle: when and how to reopen the American economy.
While some argue that those pushing to reopen businesses and stressing the importance of the economy are cold and heartless, caring more for the stock market than Americans, such critics fail to recognize, much less admit, the human casualties of a closed economy as well.
Yes, when businesses begin to open back up, they must be done in a thoughtful and controlled manner, balancing the health risks with the economic benefits.
Yes, there will probably be an increase in COVID-19 infections once these businesses reopen.
But let’s not forget those who are currently suffering economic hardship at the moment. The millions of Americans who have lost their jobs or been furloughed. The Americans who don’t know how they’ll pay for basic necessities in the near future much less find employment in the uncertain future. Finally, what about all the small businesses that are struggling to stay afloat? Politico reports that the small business rescue fund has now been depleted and U.S. lawmakers still haven’t broken the stalemate on how to allocate more money.
John Phelan, an economist at the Center of the American Experiment writes:
Some sections of the population have felt these impacts more acutely. Female-dominated jobs in leisure and hospitality and personal services have had the highest levels of unemployment insurance applicants, and in the last week of March women made up 54% of unemployment insurance applicants. And, between March 16th and April 7th, roughly 19.0 percent of people of color in the state’s labor force applied for unemployment, compared to 9.5 percent of white workers.
Phelan is making an important point. Because women dominate the jobs in leisure and hospitality, they are at particular risk during this economic shutdown. For now, all they can do is wait at home, try to collect unemployment insurance, and hope that soon they will be able to return to their jobs and livelihoods.
Fighting to help such individuals is not cold, it’s a realistic assessment of the situation at hand. What good is protecting their health from a highly-contagious but not extremely deadly virus if they have been deprived of the means to get the basic necessities of life? Not only are people short on funds but in the economic fallout from this pandemic, even ABC News admits that it’s reasonable to expect a spike in suicides.
The longer these measures stay in place the higher the economic cost will be. For a rapid restart of our economy we need, not only the virus under control, but an economy ready to restart.
We can see this battle to reopen already unfolding. President Trump recognizes the danger that the economic downturn is posing to Americans so he pushes to reopen businesses as soon as possible. At the same time, some governors are buckling down on lockdown measures, such as Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer who issued a new executive order with draconian measures to protect people’s health and safety.
Heaven forbid someone endanger themselves by buying gardening supplies and endeavor to keep sane and find safe and healthy activities during this extensive lockdown.
While state governors and other policymakers are doing their best to adapt to a rapidly changing pandemic landscape, they need to remember that the choice to reopen businesses is not a black and while issue.
It’s not a clear choice between protecting Americans and putting them unnecessarily at risk. Business is vital for the lives of all Americans and without it, Americans will continue to suffer, regardless of their physical health.