The world is forever changed with the advent of this pandemic. The casualties may include traditional forms of greetings such as handshakes and hugging as more people embrace the new standard of “social distancing.”
Possibly, large public events will become rare occurrences. Fewer people will shop at retail locations or attend movie theaters, as the rush toward online shopping and entertainment will be accelerated. Popular modes of travel such as cruise ships may find fewer customers in the future as the many coronavirus worries may disturb American life for many years to come.
Already, massive changes have impacted our economy, inflicting financial damage to almost all Americans and businesses of every size. At the end of February, the United States had the best economy in the world, adding 273,000 jobs with rising wages and an extremely low unemployment rate of only 3.5 percent. The Trump economy was booming, the stock market was hitting record highs and the American public was confident about the future of the economy. My, how times have changed.
Since that idyllic period, worries about the coronavirus have exploded and the nation’s economy has been essentially shut down, except for certain critical areas. All indicators have moved to negative territory. For example, the stock market is down about 30 percent from its February all-time high.
On Friday, the March jobs report was released, and it was brutal. Amazingly, it is only a small taste of what will be coming in the months ahead. The U.S. Department of Labor reported that the unemployment rate increased to 4.4 percent and 701,000 jobs were lost. This was the first report in 113 months to show a loss of jobs in the country.
Not surprisingly, the leisure and hospitality industries were hit the hardest with a loss of 459,000 jobs. Almost all job sectors, including manufacturing and retail, were negatively impacted by the nation’s response to the spread of the coronavirus.
Unfortunately, the worst is yet to come as some analysts expect an economic decline of 34 percent annually in the second quarter. There could be a loss of 20 million jobs by the end of April, with the unemployment rate soaring to 15 percent. This would erase all the job gains over the previous decade.
According to economists at the Federal Reserve’s St. Louis district, the unemployment rate will eventually reach over 30 percent, eclipsing the record 24.9% unemployment rate in 1933, during the Great Depression.
Surely, the coronavirus is deadly. Some estimates show that between 100,000 and 240,000 Americans will die as a result of the disease. However, our nation has faced similar pandemics in the past and the response has been far less draconian.
In 1957, the “Asian” flu swept across the world killing 1.1 million people, including 116,000 Americans. In 1968, the “Hong Kong” flu killed 1 million people worldwide, including approximately 100,000 Americans. In 2009-2010, the “Swine” flu infected over 60 million Americans and approximately 12,500 were killed.
During none of these previous pandemics did the nation shut down the economy or take drastic steps of social distancing. The sports leagues were not canceled, businesses remained open and Americans continued with their daily routines. Sadly, thousands of people died during these pandemics, but the country allowed businesses to continue operations. Thus, the country did not suffer from related social costs that will be associated with our response to the coronavirus.
Certainly, national guidelines and “stay at home” orders will lessen the number of coronavirus victims, but evidence will likely show an increase in domestic violence cases and suicides. As Americans lose their jobs and see their savings shrink, the strain on mental health will be severe. Those already suffering from mental illness will be heavily impacted and there will be more people in acute need of medication to cope with the disaster.
It does not help to have the mainstream news outlets and social media spending each hour of the day promoting fears about the coronavirus. It seems the focus of the reporting is to literally scare the living daylights out of Americans by constantly harping on the number of infected and dead people. This type of fearmongering increases ratings and serves to focus on negative statistics that can be used against their number one enemy, President Donald Trump.
While the president tries to emphasize positive news, the media keep their focus on the depressing stories because they know Trump is vulnerable with a stalled economy. If the president’s poll numbers decrease, the media accomplish one of their cherished goals.
Because of the damage it inflicts, it would be wise for Americans to avoid becoming saturated in the “doom and gloom” coronavirus news. Instead, they should spend plenty of time each day exercising, communicating with friends and family and trying to focus on worthwhile endeavors such as learning a new skill.
While individual Americans need to avoid feelings of depression, our country must avoid falling into another Great Depression. If the national guidelines continue past the end of April, the impact will be incredibly severe and may be irreparable.
The president should declare that on May Day, at least parts of the nation will be reopened for business. This may not be what the health experts recommend, but it is what the economy demands to ensure the future viability of our nation.
Jeff Crouere is a native New Orleanian and his award-winning program, “Ringside Politics,” airs locally at 7:30 p.m. Fridays and at 10:00 p.m. Sundays on PBS affiliate WLAE-TV, Channel 32, and from 7-11 a.m. weekdays on WGSO 990-AM & www.Wgso.com. He is a political columnist, the author of America's Last Chance and provides regular commentaries on the Jeff Crouere YouTube channel and on www.JeffCrouere.com. For more information, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org