The U.S. unemployment rate jumped to 14.7 percent in April (which is 20.5 million people), the highest level since the Great Depression, as many businesses shut down or severely curtailed operations to limit the spread of the deadly coronavirus, reports the Washington Post, citing the data from the Department of Labor. Some analysts warn that it could take years to return to the 3.5-percent unemployment rate the nation recorded in February. Economists compare the effects of COVID-19 on the economy to the 2008 financial crisis and the Great Depression of the 1930s, even though some argue that it won't be as damaging and long-lasting. President Trump remains optimistic and confident — and he should — that the recovery will be quick and effective.
As the numerous states started to reopen in late April–early May, the left is not happy. The reaction in elite media quarters was horror and denunciation seasoned with angry promises of "suffering and death." Their general narrative is a crude juxtaposition of the economy and human lives. In this logical" either-or framework, you cannot have both — you either reopen the economy and save lives or continue the lockdown and lose the economy. The articles with headlines such as "Trump's choice: an economy or human lives" or statements such as those of N.Y. governor Andrew Cuomo — "What government does today will literally determine how many people live and how many people die," "If it's public health versus the economy, the only choice is public health" — demonstrate a deep misunderstanding of not just the economic laws, but the crucial and truly deadly effect of unemployment on people's health. But before we get to this subject in more detail, let me mention one more symbolic article that describes all those tens of millions of ordinary Americans who found themselves wiping out a decade of employment gains in a single month and striving to get back to work as a "murderous, terrorist movement." In the article "It's not a death cult, it's a mass murder movement," Tim Wise argues that "the MAGA nation" is a cabal of hateful, ignorant, anti-social eugenicists intent on removing those they deem inferior from society by slashing safety nets, building walls against immigrants [sic], or by letting disease kill hundreds of thousands of people whose lives "they never valued anyway."
There is nothing new in this hateful smearing of ordinary people by the left. Indeed, the elitist celebrities, commentators, and politicians living their luxurious lives tend to attribute to us "deplorables" such qualities as arrogance, ignorance, and outright stupidity (plus all the negative -isms out there). Now the redneck murderers "downplay the deadly pandemic" in favor of returning to work. Why is it so important to work, anyway?
The issue of unemployment and its micro and macro effects on society is broadly and globally researched in many disciplines of knowledge — economics, philosophy, sociology, psychology, psychiatry, political science, criminology. The conclusions are unequivocal — unemployment is much more of a deadly phenomenon than any virus. Unemployment destroys lives and the mental and physical health of individuals and leads to higher suicide and crime rates, as well as poverty-related diseases. It may cause civil unrest and disorder, catalyzing destructive processes within societies. Furthermore, mass and chronic unemployment results in or accompanies the development of undemocratic regimes that neglect and abuse individual rights and freedoms "for the greater good," which legitimizes their absolute power. How do you count the victims of those?
There are obvious reasons for the importance of the employment for individuals — for most people, basic life requirements are met through their work. 'Cause we are living in a material world — aren't we, Madonna? — we satisfy our physiological needs by means of money that we make by performing publicly useful jobs. We bring food to the table, pay bills and mortgages, travel and get an education — maintain some decent standard of living. Income losses might force the unemployed to reduce their living standards drastically, which could influence both the physical and mental health of the unemployed, according to the Journal of Human Resources. Perhaps the simplest example would be substitution of a healthy and more expensive diet in favor of cheap and low-quality fast food. But even if there is no material deprivation, being unemployed could lead to anxiety about the length of income loss and the risk of a future drop in standard of living. Related to this anxiety is the possibility that joblessness can generate "a feeling that life is not under one's control." Employed workers may feel insecurity to some degree, particularly temporary workers. "Those who are economically insecure, employed or unemployed have a lower morale," because certainly work is much more than just a way of providing for material needs. It also fulfills creativity and inventiveness, promotes self-esteem, and provides an avenue for achievement and self-realization.
Unemployment also creates stress by disturbing such important psychological elements as personal identity, time structuring, and self-esteem. It may also disrupt social support networks through the loss of social relationships at work, the abandonment of hobbies and social life under financial pressure, and withdrawal from social interaction because of the stigma of being jobless.
When people lose their jobs, their stress can manifest physically as well. These physical manifestations may be mild to severe. One might experience headache, muscle tension or pain, chest pain, fatigue, decrease of sex drive, and sleep problems. For many who are experiencing these effects, they are often not taking all the precautions to prevent these effects from happening. They may not be engaging in any physical activity or eating healthfully, which can result in more severe health effects. Scientists suggest that there are physical health concerns that accompany job loss such as increases in cortisol, prolactin, growth hormone, and cholesterol and decreased immune reactions. These physical issues can result in illness, which in turn creates a bigger need for health care and additional pressure on the health care system. It is examined that for every 1-percent rise in unemployment, deaths from heart disease, cirrhosis of the liver, and stress-related disorders increase 1.9 percent. Research conducted by the Harvard School of Public Health found that people who lost their jobs developed new medical concerns such has increased blood pressure, diabetes, and heart disease compared to those who were continually employed. Of those who were laid off, 10 percent of the participants developed health issues regardless of if they found new employment.
Not only does unemployment affect the person experiencing unemployment, but it can also affect the family unit. Children of an unemployed person have been found to experience digestive problems, irritability, and delayed physical and mental development. It has been explored that this may be due to the parent neglecting his parental duties, often due to depression.
Also, please consider the toll unemployment takes on violent crime rates. A one-percent increase in the unemployment rate will increase the violent crime rate by 14.3 per 100,000 inhabitants, as suggested by the study of 2015. Don't Chicago, Baltimore, and Detroit demonstrate the correlation?
All in all, the evidence shows that unemployment has a grievous effect on both individual and societal health. Reopening America may not be reduced to the "you want you kill your grandma" and "your haircut is not worth somebody's life" arguments. The economy is not just some mythological creature the left evidently has little to no knowledge about. It is a fundament of living and of the lives of Americans.
This does not mean that businesses should not take all necessary percussions to decrease health risks for their employees. After all, essential businesses have demonstrated that it can be done — why not acknowledge that "non-essential" ones can follow the lead? We need to reopen to save, not to lose, lives.
Veronika Kyrylenko, Ph.D. Research Associate at GeoStrategic Analysis. Twitter @KyrylenkoN