Social distancing, the closing of businesses and schools, and other isolating effects of COVID-19 have combined to reshape nearly all aspects of our lives, resulting in what might be thought of as the “Coronavirus Economy.”
Economists say that the hard stop created by the sudden cessation of business activity is having an outsized impact compared to other downturns because there was little warning and no time for people to prepare.
Some believe the economy may already be in recession. Now is the time for nonprofit organizations, area businesses and individual employers to resist knee-jerk reactions to cut back. Instead we must take the lead to help those who depend on us to weather the storm.
Some groups are being hit much harder than others during this crisis. Many people work in jobs that offer few or no protections against an economic downturn. They receive no sick leave or other paid time off and they have no health insurance. When they are not able to work, they are not paid. Many will not receive government stimulus checks. If they feel sick, they may not go to the doctor. Without assistance, their families will go hungry. Some will become homeless, and the virus will spread faster and farther. More people will sicken and more will die.
If they are laid off, experienced employees may be forced to leave the county to look for work or to move in with family members elsewhere. Once the economy rebounds – and it will – our workforces will be scattered. Local businesses will have to recruit and train new staff and rebuild their customer bases from the ground up. Recovery will be weaker and take longer. We must try to avoid this scenario.
There are things that nonprofits, businesses and individuals can do to help ensure that all Westchester families make it through the economic downturn. This is in the best interests of the entire county. When all people are cared for, everyone benefits. At Neighbors Link, for example, we are prioritizing emergency services, such as providing legal assistance and one-on-one crisis support to our clients, while also providing remote learning opportunities to our ESL and Parent Education program participants.
We are calling hundreds of people each day keeping them updated, checking in on them, and giving them very critical information if they become ill. We have partnered with Feeding Westchester to ensure that everyone in our community has the food they need while they are staying home We continue to pay our employees and we are grateful to our generous donors for helping us do that.
Corporations should also give priority to paying their employees, even if facilities are shut down. At Curtis Instruments, we have long recognized that our people are our most important resource. We provide a positive work environment that helps them be fully engaged and committed to serving our customers. We are loyal to our people and in return they are loyal to us. When this crisis is over, we know our teams will be healthy and ready to return to work. We will be able to hit the ground running because we have protected our greatest asset.
Individuals who employ people to work in their homes as cleaners and nannies or on their properties as gardeners and landscapers should also give priority to paying their employees. Future government stimulus packages will not cover many of these workers. It is critical that they continue to be able to buy food, medicine, and other necessities so they can take care of themselves and avoid the need for more intensive assistance down the road. Helping these workers now translates into having a stronger, healthier community tomorrow.
All of the actions that we take today should be done with the future recovery in mind. The way to get through this crisis is to stand together and help one another. We must protect the most vulnerable among us in order to protect all of us. Otherwise, the “Coronavirus Economy” could end up being more deadly than the virus itself.
Carola Bracco is the executive director of Neighbors Link, a nonprofit that helps integrate immigrants into the community. Stuart Marwell is the president and CEO of Curtis Instruments, an industrial equipment company. Both organizations are headquartered in Mount Kisco.