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In expressing a desire on Tuesday to open up the American economy by Easter, President Trump has been accused of putting the needs of the stock market ahead of Americans suffering from COVID-19. But the criticism is unfair and unhelpful, and it fails to recognize just how serious our economic situation is for millions of Americans.
The effects of job loss, wage loss, and bankruptcy — from a financial, social, and health perspective — are real and long-lasting. Limiting damage from the coronavirus pandemic means not only fighting the spread of the virus but fighting to get Americans back to work as quickly as possible.
Unemployment data from this past week paints a sobering picture of our economic reality. More than 3 million Americans filed first-time claims for unemployment last week, shattering the previous record of new, weekly jobless claims more than four times over. And the true extent of job loss is undoubtedly higher, as this number doesn't count those independent contractors and gig workers who currently cannot file for unemployment benefits.
The loss of jobs doesn't merely reflect lost paychecks and the risk of unpaid bills and mortgages. Study after study has evidenced the scarring effects that unemployment can have on human well-being, especially when it persists over the long-term. These include not only diminished future employment prospects, but also lower psychological well-being, social withdrawal, and family disruption that negatively impacts children as well.
The effects of a shuttered economy run far deeper than Wall Street, and much wider than people's bank accounts.
Unlike many of the journalists and pundits criticizing the president, tens of millions of Americans don't enjoy the luxury of working at home. It's not merely inconvenient for them to be bound to their living rooms; it’s economically devastating to be separated from the tools, equipment, workspaces, and technology that they need to serve customers, earn a living, and feel like they're contributing in a moment of need.
When the president says he would love to open up the economy by Easter, he is articulating a deep, praiseworthy, and widespread desire felt by ordinary Americans. To ignore that—or not see it at all — is to be woefully and dangerously out of touch with how most Americans live their lives outside of coastal media bubbles.
The moderators of public discourse in journalism, the media, and public office should be encouraging a conversation that brings evidence-based science and evidence-based economics together, not a shame-based quarrel that pits them against each other.
At the end of the day, Easter may not be the right time to loosen many of the restrictions our economy is under. That's a question that has to be determined by looking at the right data, assessing options, and balancing health and financial needs. But the key is to recognize that both sets of needs are real, both are serious, and both merit attention and open debate.
The road through and beyond coronavirus is going to be long. The only way we can persevere as a nation is by honestly recognizing and wisely addressing the full set of challenges Americans are facing. That means charting a path that keeps Americans safe and gets them back on the job.