Friday, April 10, 2020

Five Facets of Coronavirus and Employment: Five Views

Over the past week-plus we have seen innumerable articles on our public health crisis.  Most is perishable, if not outright obsolete by the time it hits electronic print.  Yet on the larger issues, where much less is being written, what is coming out will be valid much longer.

Peoples’ luck is making huge differences in their current situations, and needing a professional job, even one with no connection to the industries on hold, is of the bad variety.  In’s April 5th “Can You Even Job Search Right Now?,” Alison Green concluded that, except for positions in sudden high demand, no, you really can’t.  Per Green, “there’s never been a more depressing time to be a work advice columnist.”  She pointed out that those “who accepted job offers – and quit their current jobs – only to then find out that the new job has been put on hold” have been damaged even more than people previously unemployed, and noted that emerging adults lucky enough to get good work soon after graduation are often now in danger of losing it, and fear that if they “have to move home again” they will “be stuck there forever.”  Except for those in the likes of health care, hiring managers and organizations will seldom be willing to give up their hands full of cards to streamline hiring practices, and clearly, in most places, typical interview processes cannot now take place.  So, perhaps, here, it’s sort of an indefinite late December.

Amazon, in my mind sort of fresh off their New York City debacle, has drawn controversy for their approach to coronavirus worker safety.  While their sales overall, beyond obvious things such as groceries, must be way up, per Karen Weise and Kate Conger’s  April 5th New York Times “Gaps in Amazon’s Response as Virus Spreads to More than 50 Warehouses,” the company has not implemented a unified way of protecting their order-fillers, and as a result has seen employee unrest, unauthorized departures, and poor acceptance of voluntary overtime.  Amazon has since “raised wages and added quarantine leave, and… is offering overtime at double pay.”  Whether those things will be enough to prevent widespread national customer resentment is unknown.

Next, we get into a concern which should surprise no one – the politicization of coronavirus responses.  It was at its most depressing in McCay Coppins’s “The Social-Distancing Culture War Has Begun,” published March 30th in The Atlantic.  Here we had alleged or self-identified Republicans in suburban Dallas and Atlanta, places with high populations and thus real numbers of infections but away from both the largest virus hot spots and large numbers of tourists, who broke not only general rules such as six-foot distancing but, for example at a golf course, “made a show of shaking hands,” “complained loudly about the “stupid hoax” being propagated by virus alarmists,” and, against new course policy, “piled defiantly into golf carts, shoulder to shoulder.”  I am glad I have heard nothing about such behavior in my county, despite its 57% 2016 Trump majority, and hope such attitudes are not widespread. 

Despite some impatient and thoughtless presidential wishes for way-premature normalization, Jim Tankersley wrote in the April 6th New York Times that “U.S. Is Nowhere Close to Reopening the Economy, Experts Say.”  He tried to stumble out of the gate by starting with “How long can we keep this up?,” when clearly, per national infectious disease advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci, “the virus makes the timeline,” but then surveyed various prominent economists, who together made the main point that now, as it is dependent on epidemiological information not yet available, we can’t possibly know.  One or two interviewees correctly said that we will not have a sudden, total restart, with one saying “it’s important not to lift too early” and another that “we should certainly be prepared for a meaningful level of deliberate suppression of economic activity for the rest of the year.”  It will be best, in the long run, for people to be pessimistic about when we will get back to normal – consider whether if, at a restaurant, when it takes 40 minutes to be seated, you would rather have been told 20 minutes or an hour – and, for now, reject any timelines. 

During my lifetime, events from the Cuban Missile Crisis to 9/11 have failed to imprint permanent social effects.  Urmimala Biswas, writing for Zacks in the April 8th Yahoo Finance, says this time will be different, as “Coronavirus to Permanently Change Way of Life, Here are 4 Trends (Revised).”  His piece, geared toward investors, suggests some possibilities for large upsides, particularly telemedicine, virtual education, video communication, and e-commerce.  I am skeptical about the first three, since although people have been required to use them recently, they may still consider them inferior goods.  It’s different with ordering online, since those just discovering it may like the convenience, though businesses will find out once again that the amount they must charge for shipping bulky items such as groceries will be too high for many people.  The virus will certainly permanently help some businesses and break others, but I doubt entire industries will do as well as Biswas suggests. 

Agree or disagree, but, in any event, keep safe. 

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