Byrne: Good economic news
First, it was the public health experts whose projections were wrong about COVID-19. They predicted far more spread of the disease, and death from it, than we have actually experienced. They also predicted that those states which opened up before others would have a widespread breakout and a spike of hospitalization, and that hasn’t happened either.
Then, on Friday, the unemployment numbers for May were released by the Federal Bureau of Labor Statistics. Economists predicted that the report would show another 7 million people lost their jobs in May and that the unemployment rate approached 20%. But the actual numbers were that the U.S. saw the creation of 2.5 million new jobs and the unemployment rate, while still high, actually fell. The workforce participation rate also increased significantly.
Who benefited from the jobs gains? Lower paid workers in general saw the largest uptick, which is a good thing since they were the main victims of the shutdown. By industry, leisure and hospitality, construction, health care, and retail trade led the way. While 21 million Americans are unemployed, an unacceptably high number, we have turned the corner in a big way.
What caused this turnaround? It appears that there are two reasons for these numbers far exceeding the pessimistic projections of the experts.
First, as states started to relax extreme social distancing orders, businesses that had been closed altogether reopened and rehired laid-off workers. We have all seen the uptick. And states have been reopening gradually, with some not even starting until June, so there is reason to be optimistic about continuing improvement during the course of this summer.
Second, many small businesses didn’t receive their Paycheck Protection Program loan/grants until late April and only started to bring their workers back in May. As we hoped, the PPP provided these businesses with the cash flow “bridge” they needed as we waited for the nation to reopen. There is reason to believe that a significant number of these small businesses will be hiring more this summer.
The fact that extreme social distancing is easing is a good thing. We will debate later whether we went into the shutdown too hastily and too hard, but it’s clear that the reopening is working to bring our economy back quicker than the economists thought, and without the significant uptick in cases and hospitalization the public health experts feared.
That does not mean we are out of the woods with COVID-19. New cases and deaths continue, and while we are now allowed to do more than previously, we all must be careful as we go about our lives. If you are in one of the at-risk categories, or if you are sick, you should still stay home. All of us need to continue good hygiene and wear face masks while inside stores, offices, and other indoor areas not our homes. And we should distance ourselves from other people as we move around whether inside or outside.
The data released last week on the incidence of this disease in nursing homes does concern me. There is no more vulnerable group than nursing home residents, and unfortunately we have seen more than our share of nursing home cases and deaths here in southwest Alabama, particularly in Mobile. We will have to do more to protect them, and that includes, unfortunately, staying away from our loved ones who are in those homes.
The violence which accompanied many of the protests around the country also concerns me. That violence did impact some businesses which experienced property damage and looting. Some business owners and workers were injured as well. That violence would have been bad in normal times but coming at the same time many of these businesses were just starting to reopen made it particularly egregious. People have a First Amendment right to assemble and speak their minds, but they don’t have a right to commit violence or arson, or to loot.
And now some of the protesters want to do away with law enforcement altogether, which would endanger all of us and further impede economic recovery. These radical proposals cloud the debate over potential reforms in law enforcement.
The national news media does not want to talk about the good economic news or the improving numbers from the pandemic. Just see how quickly they pivoted from incessant news on the disease, and how they nearly ignored the May jobs data release, to breathlessly report every protest in the country. As we approach the election in November, they will play down positive news and emphasize bad news in their effort to defeat President Trump.
The recent improvements in our economy and in our experience with the disease are heartening and there is every reason to believe things will continue to improve. As the good news shows, Americans are far more resilient than the experts thought. Let’s all of us do our part to continue these positive trends and treat with great skepticism the negative predictions of the experts and the doom and gloom from the media. Yes, we have work to do to improve our country, but things are getting better as we Americans move forward with renewed hope and optimism.
U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne is a Republican from Fairhope.