The next few weeks will tell whether the United States is a serious nation that’s committed to getting people back to work or whether it’s an imprudent country in the grip of social justice warriors and paralyzed by political correctness. The path that federal and state leaders choose to travel will reveal the answer.
The staggering unemployment data that shows 33 million jobless Americans may be, some economists insist, understated. Whether beleaguered workers live in large states like California or lesser populated states like Hawaii, the devastation is near-total. In California, initial unemployment claims for the eight weeks ending May 2 exceeded 4 million. Low-wage jobs are the hardest hit which deepens the income inequality divide. California’s unemployment rate is expected to reach 18 percent, well above the Great Recession’s 10 percent. The hardline shutdown dictums of Calif. Gov. Gavin Newsom helped catapult the state into a $54 billion deficit that will, if the status quo remains unchanged, quickly deepen.
And in Hawaii, on Maui, and on Kauai, part-time and full-time jobs declined 40 percent and 67 percent, 69 percent and 68 percent, and 56 percent and 52 percent, respectively. Hotel revenue per available room plunged to $13.25. At a Hawaii Economic Association meeting, a representative said, “Even after 9/11 when the planes stopped flying, people were stuck here so we still had guests.” For leisure industry-dependent Hawaii whose workers live in the highest-cost-of-living state, their financial hardship is off the charts.
Gov. David Ige was quick to shut Hawaii’s beaches, a decision that effectively pushed tourists off the island and ended potential visitors’ plans to travel from the mainland and Asia. Today’s best estimate is that Hawaii’s recovery, the HEA representative said, may be three to four years “if all the stars align.”
Here are other important statistics that must be considered as part of what the next COVID-19 measure might be – whether to continue the shut down or gradually open up. As of May 10, California reported 2,745 COVID-related deaths or 0.0068 percent of its 40 million population; Hawaii reported 17 coronavirus-related deaths, or 0.0011 percent of the state’s 1.5 million population.
Governors must seek the proper balance between public health & safety and employment. To extend stay-at-home orders guarantees more economic pain, and a steeper climb for the states to restore economic stability. For its part, the federal government has to do the obvious – extend President Donald Trump’s immigration-suspension Executive Order beyond its June 23 expiration date. The president also needs to end unnecessary guest worker programs that expand the labor pool, and make it tougher for furloughed or otherwise unemployed Americans to get back on the payroll. About 65 percent of Americans favor curbing immigration during the health crisis, according to a Washington Post-University of Maryland poll.
An honest media – a pipe dream – could play a vital role in restoring America’s confidence. Instead of stoking fears with endless reporting on the newest death totals, and dire proclamations about the alleged around-the-corner second coronavirus wave, journalists could focus on the ratio between cases diagnosed to patient recoveries. Johns Hopkins University of Medicine Coronavirus Resource Center shows that of the 1.4 million confirmed U.S. coronavirus cases, 84,000 have been fatal. The U.S. has 330 million residents. A breakdown of fatalities should include the victims’ ages, their underlying conditions and whether the deaths occurred in nursing homes.
Americans understand the White House’s message, hammered home during the last two months: social distancing, practicing responsible hygiene and wearing protective masks when necessary. Let Americans use their own good judgment. Those who want to return to their job sites should be allowed to work. Those who want to stay home can continue to self-quarantine. Allow small business owners to open their doors before their investments evaporate.
Progressive, lockdown-free Sweden and conservative South Dakota have more measured COVID-19 responses which have been, on the whole, effective. South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem criticized her fellow state leaders for using a “herd mentality approach” to the virus. In her news conference, Noem said exactly what’s bugging many rural Americans living under mandated stay-at-home rules: “South Dakota isn’t New York.”
Prolonged lockdowns, as some governors threaten, will do irreparable economic damage. The response to the virus must be consistent with existing conditions, and not an over-reaction where the cure is more painful than the disease.