"Overall, more than 22 million people have filed for initial (unemployment) benefits in the span of just four weeks, accounting for about one of every seven workers in the economy, and nearly wiping out the 22.4 million jobs created in the 11-year recovery that followed the last recession in 2009." Source, The Hill. That was last week. As of this week, more than 26 million individuals in the U.S. have now filed for unemployment aid.
If it is, as they say, the fool who builds his house upon the sand, what is the implication when we realize more than 11 years worth of our nation’s job creation can be wiped out and nullified in just four weeks, and overtaken in five weeks? Estimates report our region has lost over 12,000 jobs. In a working population of around 110,000 that’s a huge hit. And those taking the brunt of the job loss are the most economically vulnerable, with a majority of workers affected being employed in low-income jobs with salaries under $40,000 per year.
I wish I could say that this situation we find ourselves in is a surprise, that no one saw this dystopia coming. But that would be a misrepresentation of the truth. Many people have seen this coming. Dystopia was just delivered at the hand of a different threat than anticipated. The majority of those who find themselves out of work and in line battling an inadequate, ironically automated system for unemployment benefits are the same workers who are the most vulnerable to losing their jobs to automation and technological disruption. The “non-essentials,” as they’ve come to be known.
That’s a hell of a label to give to those working the same jobs the talking-heads praised our politicians for creating during election season. We clap when we hear that our economic developers have brought “x” amount of new jobs to our region — never stopping to inspect the “essential-ness” of those jobs. Maybe it’s time we take a microscope over what we deem to be progress.
Listen, capitalism is efficient. Almost brutally so. And bats? Well, turns out they act with even less regard for our well-being than the markets. We were headed for the same cliff we just went over - mass unemployment and worker displacement for the “non-essentials” — we just didn’t anticipate the suddenness of it all. Perhaps we should be grateful it happened so suddenly. We need sudden. Sudden gets attention. Sudden is what it takes to gets our politicians to finally agree and act in unison. Sudden has the power to break the infatuation with “me” by demanding a concerted action from the transcendent “us.” At least temporarily.
We are witnessing mass unemployment in an economy that is operating eerily stable, seemingly without regard for the more than 26 million Americans who have just been displaced. But we were going to run into this issue eventually. We’ve been in a lose-lose situation for awhile. We were already going to have to cut off the arm to save the body, whether we realized it or not. We just weren’t expecting Civil War-style; taking a shot of whiskey and then being held down while someone goes at us with a hacksaw. We were expecting anesthesia. But we were losing the limb regardless. Over time we were on track to find ourselves jobless, dependent on someone’s welfare for income, and operating under a new social contract. Only we would have eased into it more naturally, without being made aware. But instead we got the hacksaw.
We Americans have short attention spans. We may monitor our children’s screen time but we only manage to glance away from our smart devices to look around if we hear a loud boom. Well, BOOM! Let’s hope that this pandemic can at least hold our collective attention long enough to address these issues and put in place an actionable plan for the future. If we continue to kick the can down the road — which is our go-to move, more predictable than Kobe’s fadeaway — the hourglass will expire and we’ll find ourselves in a much more insidious situation. One we were all complicit in creating. One we can’t blame on a bat. What then? For starters, we would have lost the first arm in vain. As a follow up, we’ll need to start looking for that bottle of whiskey again.
Miles Crawford is the CEO of GoYe Employment Services in Fort Smith. He can be reached at email@example.com.