By: Ted Dabrowski and John Klingner
Tony Duncan is just one of the millions of small business owners who will have to permanently close their doors if the shutdown continues much longer.
Duncan is the owner of Body Science, a fitness center in Kenilworth, Illinois. Just three months ago he invested his life savings and signed long-term leases to open his business. Today, he says, “If this were to go on for another six weeks, we’d be destroyed. There’s just no getting out of that.”
For weeks the number of COVID-19 diagnoses and deaths has dominated America’s collective mindshare. How could it not, as the death toll in the U.S. has just surpassed 10,000.
But now the country is starting to see a new set of frightening numbers. In just two weeks, 10 million Americans have filed for unemployment benefits as a result of the economic shutdown. And it will get much worse. The Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis estimates unemployment in the U.S. could quickly reach a high of 50 million workers. Managed improperly, the human toll from the shutdown could end up exceeding the toll of the virus itself. That’s particularly true if the economy remains shuttered for an extended period of time.
As testing ramps up and COVID-19 data becomes more robust, the federal government and states must urgently begin to address both the public health and economic crises simultaneously.
Duncan summed up the conclusion that many Americans are beginning to reach: “It’s unfair when people look at things so binary, and say, ‘Either you care about people’s health, or you don’t. Either you care about the country’s economy, or you don’t.’ It’s not binary, and for that reason there have to be intelligent strategies on both sides.”
Yes, the federal government has already passed $2 trillion in stimulus. But the package is only a financial band-aid that does little to stop the crumbling of the world’s most complex economic system. A shutdown that lasts too long will cause damage we can’t imagine, thwarting any hope for a quick recovery. And while it’s true that some stimulus money will go to displaced workers, that does nothing to address the physical, emotional and psychological health that’s inextricably linked with going to work each day.
Unfortunately, discussions about the impact of the shutdown are often shouted down with accusations of favoring “Wall Street over lives.” That’s just patently wrong and unfair.
Behind every unemployment number is an individual, a family and often, a business. Nearly one-third of the nation’s 165 million workers are part of small businesses or entrepreneurial ventures. Interwoven with economic decline are drug abuse, depression, domestic violence and deepening poverty that destroy families.
All that can’t be ignored.
Duncan employed eight people before the crisis hit. “What my team has been struggling to understand is, what are they supposed to do? We’re all dealing with the overwhelming economic impact of not being able to work.”
“You can’t have any wealth greater than physical health. But the amount of emotional, psychological and economic health that’s necessary involves going to work, it involves being a productive citizen, it involves seeing your actions keep you safe and in place for long-term survival.”
We must remain vigilant in fighting COVID-19 and ensure that our healthcare systems are fully prepared. But a rational balance must be struck between public health and the health of America’s economy, particularly as new case and testing data is revealed.
“If we can just find a plan that everybody can buy into – a realistic, comprehensive plan,” says Duncan, “success is getting back to where we were just a few weeks ago.”
Read more about the impact of the Coronavirus on Illinois:
- Illinois’ near-insolvent unemployment trust fund can’t handle surge in unemployment claims, will need to tap federal loans
- Illinois Finally Starts Collecting Key Coronavirus Hospitalization Info.
- Coronavirus impact may push Illinois state pension debt to over $300 billion
- Don’t Let States Rob COVID-19 Funds to Bail Out Pensions
- Bad Public Pension Bailout Ideas Now Surfacing
- State of Illinois provides first look at possible revenue impact from downturn
- Will Recession Revive Discussion of Municipal Bankruptcy and Bankruptcy-for-States?