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The pain will be with us for a long time



Published: 6/21/2020 3:00:15 PM

This column will discuss some ways in which health and unemployment problems caused by the coronavirus will be with us for a long time.

Health

There are consequences to the pandemic that go beyond the infection and death statistics.

The Washington Post reported that, “researchers are raising alarms that the novel coronavirus and the Covid-19 disease it causes will also leave in its wake a potentially large population with post-viral problems that could be lifelong and, in some cases, disabling.”

Mental Health is also a growing problem. The Washington Post also reported that lockdowns are taking a toll on young people’s mental health and that “everyone should be alarmed.” The Census Bureau reports that a third of Americans now show signs of clinical anxiety or depression amid the coronavirus pandemic.

A study for the American Academy of Family Physicians predicted that as many as 150,000 Americans might die from “deaths of despair” — deaths related to drugs, alcohol, and suicide — attributable to the COVID crisis.

Health care professionals themselves are facing an enormous health crisis. As of June 8, at least 592 health care workers have died from the virus. Survey results released by the Icahn School of Medicine revealed that one quarter of those in its residency program have considered suicide.

Worried that the coronavirus might leave a whole generation of health care workers with post-traumatic stress disorder, many hospitals and ambulance companies have brought in grief counselors via Zoom and started weekly mediation sessions, prayer circles and other support services.

My layman’s understanding is that increasing numbers of people will have long-lasting health problems the longer the COVID crisis continues.

Unemployment

The Bureau of Labor Statistic has several different measures for the unemployment rate. This column uses a broad measure that includes the underemployed, the marginally attached, and discouraged workers in the unemployment rate.

On that basis, about 1 in 4 Americans are currently unemployed.

Whatever recovery there will be is likely to be slow. The Federal Reserve Bank has warned that the path back to steady growth and employment is “extraordinarily uncertain.”

According to the New York Times, another wallop may be in the offing because “the economy is experiencing an epic collapse of demand.”

Those who have lost jobs may never get them back. There are at least two reasons.

First, their former employer may no longer exist. For example, the Massachusetts Restaurant Association says that the coronavirus shutdown could lead to 20% of state restaurants never reopening.

Second, currently viable firms may not hire as many employees as in the past. It takes time to reestablish supply chains and attract customers or clients. Also, regulations for reopening impose new costs. These include social and work place distancing. The need to constantly disinfect is understandable but potentially expensive.

There are risks of lawsuits if an employee gets sick and attributes the illness to the job site. Increased operating costs to protect employees and the prospect of lower revenue induce employers to hire fewer people.

Those who are unemployed or will become unemployed in the future will experience long-term consequences. The Federal Reserve Bank of Boston has published an analysis of the impact of unemployment on people even after they returned to the workforce.

Here are two conclusions: “The earnings of displaced workers do not catch up to those of their non-displaced counterparts for nearly 20 years. Unemployment spells also negatively impact future home ownership.”

For those who are unemployed for six months or longer, the future can be even bleaker. The Bureau of Labor Statistics issued a report in July 2016, “An Analysis of Long-Term Unemployment.” Among its findings were this: The longer a person is out of work the less likely they are to be hired in the future.

Large scale layoffs are still on the horizon. For example, Amtrac Chevron and IBM have announced that large scale layoffs are pending but not yet carried out. In the higher education sector, even Stanford University, with a $27 billion endowment, expects layoffs will be “unavoidable,” according to President Marc Tessier-Lavigne.

Employment in the K-12 sector is also in peril. Michael Griffith at the Learning Policy Institute estimates that, “… schools could be forced to shed more than 300,000 teaching positions — almost 10% of the national K-12 teacher force.”

Many state and local governments are in a similar situation. “Mass layoffs begin in cities and states amid coronavirus fallout, threatening education, sanitation, health and safety,” said a headline in the Washington Post.

In my opinion, even downward slopping infection/death rate curves or less horrendous unemployment reports don’t end the continued suffering of millions of Americans. Long-term health impairment grows with the number of the infected and traumatized.

Unemployment, whether past, current or future, has adverse consequences for years to come. Even when we reach some kind of new normal, the long-term consequences of this crisis will still be with us.

Richard Fein’s purpose in writing his columns is to promote civil discourse on topics of public interest. Richard holds a Master of Arts degree in Political Science and an MBA in Economics. He can be reached at columnist@gazettenet.com.



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