The human toll of unemployment
COVID-19, aka Coronavirus, has captured our attention. Scary news stories often reference the Spanish Flu that killed 20-40 million a century ago and the bacterial Bubonic Plague that decimated Asia and Europe between 1347 and 1351. The numbers are frightening, and fear is a lousy state from which to make consequential decisions.
We are now hearing from officials and the media that, if/when Corona spreads in the US, cities may have to essentially shut down for unspecified periods to prevent transmission. This raises important economic and health questions because, if people stay home, then tens of millions will have no jobs or income. The restaurant industry alone employs over 15 million people and cannot operate without social spaces and people-to-people contact.
And unemployment, fear, and privation are also killers. Dr. Harvey Brenner conducted a recent study that demonstrated how lower employment rates lead to increases in mortality. In this context, prevention policies that create economic disruptions may prove similarly deadly. The key lesson is that responding to this global event will require a thoughtful, multidimensional strategy free from fear and fearmongering.