In Spite of It All, Workers, Businesses Persevere

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The Labor Department’s report that 638,000 jobs were added in October, bringing the national unemployment rate down to 6.9 percent, shows that the best thing we can do for the country and for its workers is to just let them get to it.

As the department itself noted, “These improvements in the labor market reflect the continued resumption of economic activity that had been curtailed due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and efforts to contain it.”

What we’re seeing in the numbers is that the people and businesses that can adapt to the current circumstances have, but others are getting left behind. The number of people unemployed for five to 14 weeks declined by nearly a half million, while those unemployed for 15 to 26 weeks fell by 2.3 million. However, the long-term unemployed are now 3.6 million, up 1.2 million in a single month. This group is presumably heavily represented by those whose livelihoods are severely impacted by the restrictions imposed as result of the COVID-19 crisis and cannot easily transition to other careers. They now account for a third of the overall unemployed.

None of this is to say that public health measures aren’t warranted to combat the virus, but we must be mindful of the costs of doing this and that our ultimate goal must be to get the economy working again. The toll of the restrictions are mounting: The hospitality and entertainment industries have taken major hits. Entrepreneurs have had to put dreams on hold. States are facing cash crunches due to sharp declines in tax revenue. Child education has been severely disrupted. The cure must not be worse than the disease.

The good news is that workers are persevering and businesses are coping. What they need is the certainty to continue in that direction.