If America had a pause button, we could push it. But it doesn’t and we can’t, so we’re constrained to figure out some other way to deal with exceptional circumstances. And whether the coronavirus pandemic constitutes circumstances so exceptional as a health crisis may be subject to some debate, what is undebatable is that the Senate passed a $2.2 trillion stimulus bill by 96-0 (which will almost certainly pass the House and be signed into law) and there were 3.3 million new applications for unemployment.
Remember when the gig economy was the newest, coolest thing ever? Remember when being an independent contractor gave people the freedom to pursue their dreams in whichever way they chose? These choices might present a problem now that unemployment is the new black. The stimulus package says they might be eligible for federal relief, but saying so and being so aren’t the same, a point many people just can’t wrap their heads around when reading headlines that make them feel better.
They appear to regard mass unemployment as an unfortunate but unavoidable symptom of the coronavirus. “It’s nobody’s fault, certainly not in this country,” President Trump said Thursday. The federal government’s primary response is a bill that passed the Senate late Wednesday night that would provide larger cash payments to those who have lost their jobs.
But the sudden collapse of employment was not inevitable. It is instead a disastrous failure of public policy that has caused immediate harm to the lives of millions of Americans, and that is likely to leave a lasting mark on their future, on the economy and on our society.
You shut down a nation, an economy, and it’s almost as if there are consequences. The argument is that our lack of preparation caused this, or at least exacerbated the shutdown, but there is no basis beyond speculation that it could have been avoided even with better anticipation and action, and that once we found ourselves in the position of having to choose between potential pandemic and economic collapse, the latter was the better choice.
Preserving jobs is important because a job isn’t merely about the money. Compensated labor provides a sense of independence, identity and purpose; an unemployment check does not replace any of those things. People who lose jobs also lose their benefits — and in the United States, that includes their health insurance. And a substantial body of research on earlier economic downturns documents that people who lose jobs, even if they eventually find new ones, suffer lasting damage to their earnings potential, health and even the prospects of their children. The longer it takes to find a new job, the deeper the damage tends to be.
Apparently, no one on the New York Times editorial board every studied Maslow in college sociology class, because no one who’s starving gives a damn about their self-esteem. Then again, the Times editorial board can work from home while still getting direct deposit, which means they have their finger on the pulse of a nation.
But it’s almost as if nobody at the Times grasps that jobs aren’t free-floating things that exist in the ether independent of these other, evil things called employers. If businesses fail, then they can’t have employees, which means they don’t have jobs.
A record-setting jump in jobless claims is what you get when you instantly shut down much of the economy. Worse is ahead.
Good-bye to 113 straight months of job growth that boosted US headcounts by 22 million, bringing discouraged workers back into the job market and fueling wage hikes.
Cross your fingers we can get back to that soon. But millions are left wondering if they can make ends meet for the duration of the crisis. And if their jobs will return on the other side.
The Post, on the other hand, recognizes the need for employers in order for there to be jobs. But then, the Post glosses over the only two salient points, whether the stimulus bill will accomplish what it purports to do* and the unfortunate reality that employers have abused their employees en masse since the Great Recession, taking advantage of their need to eat on a regular basis to maintain a sub-sustenance workforce until they can be replaced by robots and autonomous over-the-road trucks.
Here we are, in the midst of what is clearly a national crisis one way or the other, and instead of pulling together to overcome it, we’re at each others throats over who can seize the upper hand and win.
To work, our economy must be symbiotic, where employers need employees, and both need people who spend money and buy whatever they’re selling, and for businesses to sell whatever people want to buy. It hasn’t been that way in a while now, with each side trying to win at the expense of the other. Employers too often pay less than what a human being needs to survive because they can. And employees forget how paychecks end up in their bank accounts.
Everyone ignores the fact that goods and services aren’t a human right, but the product of someone willing to put some skin in the game and provide them. There are no elves in the back of Santa’s workshop cranking out iPhones.
For all the cheap talk, we need each other to survive. Instead, we’re at each other’s throats to see who gets over on the other, as if one side winning will somehow make this turn out better in the end. You can’t be an employee without employers. You can’t be an employer without employees. We won’t survive without both. There is no pause button.
*There are many things in the stimulus bill of dubious relevance to the extant emergency. But if you’re unemployed at the moment and lack sufficient savings to tide you over, as are a great many people who worked for subsistence wages, what do you plan to do to eat until your check (or direct deposit, for those pedants who just can’t tolerate anything less than absolute precision about secondary details) arrives? But the Kennedy Center will gets its slice of the pie, unencumbered by any requirement that it continue to pay its employees.