In just the past week, more than six million American workers applied for unemployment benefits as the United States entered another month of social distancing and quarantine in response to the coronavirus pandemic. Numbers released today by the Bureau of Labor Statistics show that the economy hemorrhaged more than 700,000 jobs in the month of March. The St. Louis Fed recently predicted that unemployment might hit 32 percent, greater than at the height of the Great Depression. These figures are dire.
Social distancing and other measures taken by President Trump are necessary to slow the spread and “flatten the curve.”
But how long until the impact of these measures is outweighed by the human costs of another recession? We’re not talking about the stock market here, we’re talking about the long-term health, well-being and livelihoods of millions of working Americans and their families. We are in the midst of two dire crises, that of the virus itself, as well as the long-term damage to our way of life.
To be absolutely clear, we should heed the advice of health experts such as NIAID Director Fauci. My organization, FreedomWorks, voluntarily decided to begin tele-work long before the government told us we needed to. Taking this crisis seriously is our civic duty — if we can help prevent crowding our hospitals by staying at home, then that is the right thing to do. Opening up the economy too early will quite obviously prolong the pandemic, which in turn will put more Americans at risk both medically and financially.
But we also must begin a frank discussion of how best to get the American economy up and running again — as soon as it is responsible to do so. We owe it to the millions of Americans who have been laid-off or may well be in the coming weeks. The economic curve needs flattening too, or we risk a long-term recession or, God forbid, a depression.
Recessions, and especially depressions, have wide and far-ranging impacts not only economically, but on individuals’ physical and psychiatric health. Economic downturns cause people to put-off medical procedures because they cannot afford them. Hospitals have already cancelled many non-essential and elective procedures to increase capacity for COVID-19 patients, but a recession risks further prolong such circumstances.
Economic downturns also see a spike in suicide rates as people lose their jobs and businesses, leaving families and loved ones broken and in financial ruin. These are avoidable deaths that have traumatic and long-term repercussions. Rates of drug and alcohol abuse increase as well, contributing to a whole host of other societal problems that could have far more lasting implications than the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
Ignore the bad-faith claims that any effort to re-open the economy is merely a reckless gamble to fill the pockets of Wall Street and the elite. Such rhetoric is not only divisive, it’s out of touch. Americans don’t go to work everyday with the overarching goal of increasing US GDP or adding value to the Dow and Nasdaq, they go to work to feed their families and put their kids through school.
The question is how do we fight both crises at the same time? This is not a time for rash action, but for a serious prospective discussion about getting the American economy back on track without unnecessarily prolonging the coronavirus pandemic.
FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb’s recent proposal is a good start towards mapping a path out of the woods. His is a sober assessment of when we can aim to return to work, while also ensuring that we meet specific criteria to advance to each of the proposal’s three phases.
Gottlieb’s approach takes into account both medical and economic advice, both of which are sorely needed if we are to avert disaster, whether as a result of the virus itself or the ensuing recession.
As we sit in our homes, we need to get serious about planning for re-opening our economy. This means constant assessments of where both the pandemic and the economy are headed. These crises are linked, and we need to start treating them that way.
Noah Wall is the Vice President of Advocacy at FreedomWorks