Rep. Trey Hollingsworth, R-9th District, argued in a radio interview Wednesday that the economic relief provided by reopening the American economy is worth the risk of the further spread of COVID-19. President Donald Trump often refers to this theory as not letting the “cure be worse than the disease.”
Hollingsworth was right. He realizes that while lossening quarantine restrictions is not an easy decision, the economic fallout of a closed American economy will be catastrophic, and legislators at all levels need to base policy decisions off both science and economic affect.
Many have criticized Hollingsworth for supposedly putting a price on human lives, accusing those that dare believe that Americans need to go back to work of prioritizing profits over people. Those allegations are false. In fact, the opposite is true. The more compassionate approach now would be to allow people to regain their livelihoods, their financial security and the dignity of their work.
A fundamental misconception many seem to have is that the economy is the investment banker’s stock portfolio or the hedge fund manager’s 401(k). This couldn’t be further from the truth. The economy is every American’s wages, salaries and financial independence.
When the economy tanks, it isn’t the rich who have to worry. It’s the single mother who works as a waitress that just got laid off and can’t feed her children. It’s the small business owner who has been barely getting by, but now is going to lose his business of 20 years. It’s the college student still paying off student loans who can barely make ends meet. These are the victims of an economy in ruin, not the wealthy.
Naturally, some of us have not been hit hard by stay-at-home orders. Governors, scientists, news pundits and public health officials all still have their jobs and are getting paid. Most of the perspectives we hear come from people who are doing alright financially regardless of how long this crisis continues.
But more than 22 million Americans have lost their jobs since the pandemic began, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. These workers are not getting paychecks, and their bills won’t be paid until their livelihoods are restored.
Some say the government needs to provide for Americans’ financial security during this aberrant time, but a government check cannot replace an employee’s salary. Stimulus checks are a bandage that can keep people afloat for a couple weeks. The wound won’t heal until people are getting compensated for their work regularly and at the standard of living they are used to.
It is also important to remember that lives are being risked anytime the economy opens before a vaccine is found. While we can slow the spread, we can’t stop it before having a vaccine, which might not happen until late next year. Whether we ease restrictions in one week or three months, the virus could still spread as soon as people go back to work. If this is true, there is no reason to continue to artificially impose this hardship.
The increase in mental health issues resulting from extended quarantine is another problem. People are isolated, experiencing uncertainty and being stripped of purpose and meaning with no end in sight. These factors will almost certainly lead to an uptick in mental health issues, self-harm and possibly even suicidal ideation.
My grandmother is 92 years old. A close friend of mine is immunocompromised. I love and care about these people, and I don’t want to see anyone die. Every life is precious, and measures still need to be taken to ensure the safety of those most at risk. This means keeping older and immunocompromised Americans in quarantine.
But a family friend of ours is watching his small restaurant of almost 20 years wither away before his eyes. He’ll lose everything he’s worked for if this continues for another month. People are losing their houses, their cars, their lives. Government can’t kill COVID-19, but it can prevent people’s lives from being decimated.
I have supported stringent social distancing measures so far, and we are seeing a significantly lower death toll in all areas of the country as a result. But this mitigation has come at a heavy cost, and it is time to restore the economic health of the country.
The most economically vulnerable desperately need stay-at-home orders lifted, and a reopening of the economy — as Hollingsworth has suggested — is the lesser of two evils. We cannot continue this lockdown indefinitely.
Brett Abbott (he/him) is a freshman studying finance and is the press secretary for College Republicans at IU. He plans to pursue a career in business or politics.