by Richard McCarty
Due in large part to government edicts, religious, social, and political gatherings, have been cancelled or drastically altered to meet government requirements. Schools and colleges have closed so there will be no proms or graduations to attend this spring. Restaurant dining rooms are closed, as are community centers, fitness centers, salons, barbershops, theaters, retail stores, and malls. Theme parks, beaches, and even some public parks are closed. Air travel and the use of public transportation has declined precipitously. Traffic on the roads is eerily light, and parking lots are nearly empty.
Of the businesses that have remained open, many have reduced their operating hours. While one can reasonably expect that stay-at-home orders will reduce Chinese coronavirus cases, it remains to be seen what the human and economic toll of these orders will be; but we do know that they are devastating to small businesses and their employees.
We have been hearing a lot lately from politicians, public health experts, and pundits about their view of the coronavirus outbreak, but we’ve not been hearing much from small business owners. Congress has passed $2.2 trillion legislation to help those businesses to meet payroll. Some pundits act as if we can just freeze the economy, thaw it at will, and it will immediately spring back to life as if nothing happened. These business owners seem to think otherwise.
Fatima Caldas is the president of the Ashland, Virginia-based Fire Solutions, which installs and services fire sprinkler systems: “My concern is most small business owners and their hardworking employees will suffer the financial consequences of the … shutdown. Americans are very hard working people who know to follow the hygiene recommendations… The solution is to keep business open and we will protect each other and keep America great.”
Bill Mountain is the owner of Bill Mountain’s Thorough Clean, which is a residential and commercial floor cleaning business based in Blakely, Pennsylvania: “While our business is listed as an essential business — we’re allowed to be open here in PA… our clients aren’t calling us because they’re afraid as well as the commercial clients are no longer there because they’ve… been forced to shutdown. We know that small business people are the backbone of our country, and … many small business people will be going out of business in… a very short period of time. We need to get back to work. We need to get America running again… We’re not afraid of the virus; we’re afraid of losing our businesses and our livelihoods.”
Stephanie Pipkin is a recent college graduate and the owner of Black Bear Falls Cleaning Services, a new business in Black Bear Falls, Wisconsin: “The government mandate of all of the businesses shutting down has greatly affected our business in a very negative way. Our revenue is down about 25 percent this month, and that number continues to grow as more of the businesses we clean for are forced to shut down — thus resulting in us not having any work to do. The government needs to let us work because If they don’t it means… basically, our local economy going down the drain. People aren’t spending money because they’re not able to earn money.”
Pipkin added, “As I speak to all of these other local business owners and I see their livelihoods being… pushed down the drain… It’s absolutely heart wrenching. I know for me, I could operate for about four to five weeks and drain all of my accounts to continue paying my employees if that is what I’m forced to do, and then my business will go under.”
Of course, it is not only business owners who are concerned about the costs of lockdowns; social workers and mental health professionals are also concerned. For example, they fear that keeping everyone at home could lead to more alcohol and drug abuse as well as domestic and child abuse. There is also reason to expect that a recession could lead to an increase in suicides.
Those suffering from depression, loneliness, suicidal thoughts, addiction, or abuse during the lockdown will not get anywhere near the amount of attention that those suffering from the coronavirus will, but their lives also matter. We are in uncharted territory, and one wonders how long people’s patience will hold when they are trapped at home for weeks at a time with virtually nowhere to go and little to do other than surf the internet, watch TV, play video games, and walk around the neighborhood.
That is why policymakers should be consulting with a broad range of advisors including business leaders, mental health professionals, social workers, clergy members, etc. and not just medical professionals before taking such sweeping actions to address the current outbreak. Congress is assuming that when the virus is contained and we go back to our normal lives, these businesses will be able to come back quickly. We’re about to find out if that’s really true, or if we find ourselves in the midst of a long, deep recession or even a depression.
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