Saturday, May 16, 2020
Even in the midst of this unprecedented pandemic, when so many citizens are on “lock down”, the government recognized that some work was essential and must go on. But now as the economy sinks deeper into recession, what becomes of this essential work and, more importantly these essential workers? Is essential work still essential when demand for that work dries up or there is no money to pay those essential workers?
These are the broad categories of essential industries the government identified:
Law Enforcement, Public Safety and First Responders
Food and Agriculture
Transportation and Logistics
Critical Manufacturing (all the supplies and equipment required to produce and support essential goods and services).
Community based government operations and essential services
There are much longer lists of specific jobs under each of these industry categories. What really strikes me is that we have a lot of essential work to do all across this nation. These industries represent a huge chunk of our economy.
Funny thing though, the economy. Someone provides a product or service in exchange for money in order to purchase a product or service someone else is providing. They may purchase it directly or perhaps it comes as a result of the taxes they pay or someone else pays. But, sooner or later, someone pays for it. Even if the government prints more money and covers it by borrowing from some other country, someone pays for it…always. And when people (mostly all of those “non-essential” workers) cannot or will not work in order to provide certain products or services, either because of lock downs or just being afraid to go back to work or their employer cannot afford to pay them; the economy starts to break down. And when these same people cannot or will not purchase certain products or services, either because of lock downs or fear or because they don’t have enough money; the economy starts to break down even more.
As more people behave this way, the economic breakdown accelerates. It doesn’t take long before even some of the most essential workers lose their jobs. We’ve already seen layoffs and furloughs in the healthcare industry. A large portion of our “essential” energy industry is in the tank. Some transportation and logistics providers are laying off thousands of “essential workers” even as others are adding people, usually in lower paying jobs. State and local governments are going broke and will be forced to make cuts in “essential” services and “essential” workers. Fewer supplies and less equipment will be purchased and, as a result, many so-called critical manufacturers will be forced to eliminate “essential” workers. And so it goes.
We all agree there are essential jobs that must be done, even during a viral pandemic. But what about the so-called non-essential jobs? There are a lot of things the world can do without for some period of time…such as headhunters. But over time, even non-essential work adds value. All work that provides a product or service that people need, or even just want, is valuable… even if it’s not essential. And those “essential” workers ultimately need us non-essential workers to buy from and sell to.
We are now faced with tough questions. Is the risk worth the reward? What price are we willing to pay for safety? What level of risks are we prepared to accept for freedom and prosperity? Even if we come up with treatments for Covid-19, they won't be cures. And a vaccine will not provide universal protection. It will be a big step forward in reducing the risk, but it will not eliminate it. If, in fact, Covid-19 is more contagious and more deadly than the flu, once we go back to business as usual we could still see thousands of Covid-19 deaths annually, even within an immunized population,
Clearly, we can’t go back to “business as usual” today. But we do have to get back to some reasonable and sustainable level of business activity while managing the risks as best we can. Because from an economic perspective, all work is valuable and all workers should be valued….even those who are not “essential”.