Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, a devastating economic recession has come along for the ride. As of writing this, 22 million Americans have filed for unemployment. The United States has not reached this level of economic decline and layoffs since the Great Depression. There were so many filings in New York and New Jersey, for example, that both states’ online systems crashed. According to JP Morgan Chase, it is predicted the “unemployment rate will hit 20 percent and the economy will shrink by 40 percent in the second quarter, which runs from April through June.” Unemployment to this magnitude has resulted in lines of cars stretching over a mile long as people wait to visit food banks (Heather).
This economic devastation stemmed from federal and state policies to slow the spread of the coronavirus across the nation. The primary goal was to limit the number of current cases and allow states to ramp up their ability to treat growing caseloads. The majority of states, including California, have enacted policies that have closed all non-essential businesses including movie theaters, malls, gyms, and even non-urgent medical care. These businesses typically run on tight margins with limited reserves, and as such, the immediate loss of revenue has necessitated the immediate cut of employees. There is also the trickle-down effect to consider. These businesses are no longer advertising or paying their vendors for supplies they no longer need. Many businesses will not be able to weather the storm, will not be able to pay rent, or maintain even their basic operation and be forced out of business.
Federal and state governments alike have been working to enact solutions for the millions of financially impacted Americans. The first stimulus package with a price tag of $2 trillion, includes enhanced unemployment benefits, access to forgivable small business loans (Payroll Protection Program) to be used primarily for payroll, and up to $1,200 checks for individuals who earn less than $100,000 and $500 for dependent children under 17. To put the $2 trillion stimulus in perspective, President Trump’s entire 2021 budget proposal was $4.829 trillion, and on top of that, Congress is working on additional packages with additional funding requirements (“President’s”).
Notably, the promise of forgivable Payroll Protection Program loans have likely saved many layoffs. However, with the first wave of funding already expended, employers may lose hope with this short term solution, and layoffs could further flood unemployment claims.
Even with an increase in stimulus relief, the surge of Californians losing their jobs has overwhelmed the Employment Development Department, leaving many unable to file for unemployment by phone. In response, the state has expanded its call hours, but even more problems are coming to light because of this economic devastation. Such damage has exposed how state benefits “have not kept up with inflation” and the reality that due to limited reserve funds, California may need to “borrow billions of dollars from the federal government to pay out claims” (“Unemployed”).
Quite obviously, this economic shutdown is not sustainable. Given the devastation of just the last five weeks, governments and their citizens need to look toward a way forward. We must figure out how to reopen our economy and reclaim our social lives. We must balance health care with economic care. I don’t believe the solution is an indefinite shutdown, nor returning to “business as usual.” The world has changed and there is no going back. We must figure out how to safely re-enter the world and minimize risk, especially to our elderly and high-risk citizens.
On Monday, April 13, California Governor Gavin Newsom announced a pact with Washington and Oregon to work together to reopen the states’ economies while still monitoring and controlling the spread of COVID-19. He said, “We will be driven by facts. We will be driven by evidence. We will be driven by science. We will be driven by our public health advisers, and we will be driven by the collaborative spirit that defines the best of us at this incredibly important moment” (Kcra). These words are all the more encouraging as we, as a society, unite together to find a way to overcome this pandemic and transition back to everyday life, doing so with the public’s best interests and safety at heart.
Heather Long, Andrew Van Dam. “America Is in a Depression. The Challenge Now Is to Make It Short-Lived.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 9 Apr. 2020, www.washingtonpost.com/business/2020/04/09/66-million-americans-filed-unemployed-last-week-bringing-pandemic-total-over-17-million/.
Kcra. “COVID-19 Update: California Announces Reopening Pact with Western States.” KCRA, KCRA, 13 Apr. 2020, www.kcra.com/article/gov-newsom-coronavirus-update-april-13/32130091?fbclid=IwAR3VESSM9YfYJr7ovFTxG-JcM89RLvdI5rm1XPlDSugaEyZywp5468iVAJw.
“President’s Budget.” The White House, The United States Government, www.whitehouse.gov/omb/budget/.
“Unemployed Californians to Get an Extra $600 in Weekly Benefits Starting Sunday amid Coronavirus Crisis.” Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles Times, 9 Apr. 2020, http://www.latimes.com/california/story/2020-04-09/california-unemployment-benefits-payments-coronavirus-stimulus.