It’s time for us to begin the process of reopening the economy. Nearly 17 million Americans—or 11 percent of the U.S. labor force—have filed for unemployment benefits in the last three weeks. About 6.6 million people filed last week alone.
In less than a single month, the unemployment rate exploded to 13 percent, the worst since the Great Depression. For comparison, it took two whole years for 8.6 million Americans to lose their jobs during the Great Recession.
Think about that. Two years for 8.6 million lost jobs, versus three weeks for 16.8 million lost jobs. On the speedometer of our nation’s fiscal history, this economic devastation is traveling at warp speed.
While public health remains a top priority, there is a human cost to every single one of these unemployment claims. We know that people who cannot find work over prolonged periods of time are more likely to experience depression, substance, abuse, and domestic violence. We know that high unemployment and financial desperation lead to higher crime rates.
We know that domestic abuse and child neglect hotlines are seeing a sharp increase in calls for the month of April. We know that about 22 million children across the country rely on school for meals, and are now going without that essential nutrition at home.
We know that people are already missing rent and mortgage payments. One out of every three U.S. renters did not make their April rent payments on time. This should not be a surprise, considering about half of Americans live paycheck-to-paycheck.
We know that sidelining entire industries will eventually cause supply chains to crumble, leading to food and supply shortages. We know that as people become more desperate to make ends meet, they will begin engaging in the kind of behaviors of which they never thought themselves capable.
Public health depends on more than stocking up on gloves and masks. It depends on the overall well-being and sustainability of the society we live in. That is why the economy matters—it allows human beings to fulfill their hierarchy of needs and survive.
As important as the stock market is as a crucial allocator of precious capital, and as a barometer for the future, the present discussion of when and how to best reopen the economy expands beyond market indices, and don’t let the politicians in Washington or the media elite tell you otherwise. This is about finding a way to save millions of American lives by doing two things at the same time: minimizing the risk of contracting COVID-19, and letting people work to provide food and shelter for their families.
The U.S. has access to the finest economic, medical, and crisis management experts in the modern world. They should all have a voice in this discussion.
We need a plan that does not involve bread lines. We need a plan that does not involve the political elites—who have never struggled to make payroll—tossing Americans a pittance of $1200. We need a plan that acknowledges our duty to act as morally responsible members of civil society, while preventing a tumble into the depths of a pathological altruism.
The path to reopening the American economy will probably be a multistep process involving low-risk populations and COVID-19 survivors (who have immunity) returning to work sooner rather than later. It may involve employers (not the government) requiring temperature checks at the office entrance, and the required use of face masks. It should definitely involve the availability of rapid testing on a mass scale.
Experts will heavily debate on the appropriate timetable and protocols for relaxing social distancing guidelines. But the time to begin opening up America is now. For God’s sake, let’s get America back to work.
Noah Wall is the Vice President of Advocacy at FreedomWorks.