COVID’s economic fall-out, trickle-through effects, and solutions.

I am one of those people who came down with “the rona.” I was diagnosed with COVID on December 2nd, and prepared for a two-week stay home while donning house slippers in lieu of my traditional sneakers I’d wear to work and began to notify my contacts on Instagram and Twitter. And then came along the stories of Long-Haul COVID, which would include my own.

A week turned into a month, and when I finally texted my boss that I was planning to return to work, my health suddenly worsened, with heart rates spiking into the 140s and breathing being more difficult. A visit to an Advanced Care Center, then a string of virtual doctor visits, then finally a visit to the ER netted one CT scan of my heart and lungs plus one “walking EKG.” The tests showed COVID pattern lung damage and a heart with one side beating faster than the other due to the stress my lungs were under, requiring me to take more time off to recover.

These two revelations turned my now seven, soon to be eight, weeks leave of absence into a manager’s ultimate headache: the worker who cannot return for a definite period of time.

As I lay sick in bed, I had brief bits of time between lengthy periods of sleep to think about possible solutions to the economic meltdown. This blog post is what I created from those thoughts – my goal is to, at a minimum, spark further discussion and possibly kick some solutions out the door in the hopes of preventing further destruction of the economy.

I happened to get lucky when my employer decided to gift medically fragile workers a safety net of hundreds of hours of paid leave time. However, this benefit was only given to those with the company at the beginning of 2020, which means newer coworkers face severe losses should they fall seriously ill and require lengthy amounts of time off. If paid time off was a public benefit accrued in a similar way to how retirement benefits were accrued, workers would have incentive to take days off only as they need them, and might not be as financially vulnerable during times of sickness where the leave of absence may be as long as mine.

Employers who cannot offer the extensive safety net of benefits that large, very well-funded corporations can offer, are why we see skyrocketing jobless and evictions rates after it turns out that a percentage of those sickened are out of work for longer than a month. Employers without benefits packages may have left vulnerable workers to choose to work while sick, raising the possibility of causing thousands of people to be exposed to the virus. Stress upon workers also contributes to death and ER admissions rates, costing the economy dearly. So maybe it is time to consider benefits packages that are not tied to specific employers.

Housing has become a pressing issue as the evictions waves have hit, with thousands of evicted people now in need of housing. Those watching the economy go through a meltdown have started saving money instead of pursuing discretionary purchases, and, in turn, businesses without enough financial reserves are forced to shut down, leaving their workers jobless. Giving aid to workers and not covering landlords has worsened the situation, as some renters realizing the power imbalance have taken advantage of aid without paying any rent, and eviction moratoriums has caused such financial damage to individual and small business landlords (who, traditionally, owned half the market share of housing for let) that they end up being forced by both circumstance and need to sell their properties to large corporate landlords that give no mercy to tenants. Reducing the number of landlords consolidates market power, which can result in rising rents and, ultimately, “a landlord’s market.” Workers in need of affordable housing have less buying power when forced to travel farther to work. Rendering economic aid to individual and small business landlords can result in lower rents as these landlords remain in competition with large corporate landlords.

Businesses without the financial strength and backing that large companies take the risk of a single COVID infection forcing the shuttering of the entire business if enough workers are sickened. Scheduling around the loss of a single sick worker can cost institutional knowledge, if new workers require training. Retooling the Department of Labor to provide a voluntary certification of work experience and education, and training in new fields of work, can alleviate problems encountered through what has become, essentially, a matchmaking process.

For production facilities, one common example being dry cleaners, staying in business may mean taking in the day’s work orders and only then being able to schedule staff for the next day’s work. In turn, formerly full-time jobs are trimmed down to what we may refer to as casual work, with shift schedules nightmarishly unpredictable. This kind of pressure results in workers seeking security in full-time jobs that may pay less but offer more hours. Changing how employers and employees access work schedules into a more cooperative arrangement between multiple employers sharing workers to fill schedules is a way to fix this problem.

If we look at production chains, such as the entire lineup of facilities required to produce a single item, toilet paper being one prime example, a single facility’s staff outage can affect the entire production if enough workers are out sick. And this can impacts the entire “food chain” for all products if one product is essential for the manufacture of other products. This, in turn, has resulted in severe shortages of essential goods and services, inducing panic-buying. One way to reduce supply chain instability is for collaborative exchange of goods and services with integrated logistics that would allow manufacturers and suppliers to play flea-flick between each other, much like decentralized mining of cryptocurrency with facilities exchanging production and supplies across a vast network. In retail, the idea of quickly tapping into inventory at will is already available as companies offer apps to customers who want to have staff reserve products for in-store or curbside pickup so that they are not forced to waste time physically hunting through many stores for the products that they want to buy. Offering this to supply chain participants can increase both productivity and security of production chains.

When supply chain disruptions occur to goods deemed essential, an altered buying pattern surfaces as customers seeing items finally in stock begin to buy in bulk to plan for outages in the future, sometimes snapping up enough to supply for their needs over several months. This altered economic activity leaves financial and business planners with more unpredictable buying patterns, further destabilizing the economy as a whole. Offering transparency of the availability of products across multiple retailers and supply chains can mitigate bulk-buying.

For restaurants, the fact that the business is public-facing increases the risk of economic damage, because a single worker or customer not showing symptoms can still sicken the entire workforce. Post-exposure shut-downs for sanitation can cause surprised customers to take their business elsewhere and eventually boycott restaurants as a whole, dropping revenue. If businesses like restaurants were able to publish an accurate schedule of closings and traffic data paired with alerts regarding slow times that customers can take advantage of, revenue might increase as customers are then empowered to schedule purchases accordingly.

As for the economy as a whole, COVID means that a portion of the economy has dropped out, and more customers will exit the general economy as they are forced to stay home in recovery. Another factor in this is that COVID risks have forced businesses to pivot to an emerging market, meaning that if they cannot use technology to take advantage of a socially-distanced market (read: those infected with COVID who still need to buy things like basic necessities), they will lose access to that that entire market share.

One unnamed computer supplier could not pivot and offer curbside delivery of their furniture and computer accessories. They lost several hundred dollars in sales from me – one customer – as I was forced to retrofit my home office to prepare for the possibility of a job loss due to my need for an unexpectedly long time off from work. My business had to be taken instead to the largest retailers in town who did offer contactless curbside pickup and home delivery options. Now, if you multiply my economic impact times the many, many, thousands of people who continue to collectively beat “the record” of daily COVID infection rates, then we have a VERY serious problem, which is, in fact, compounding as each day passes. More than a few businesses have closed in Atlanta after infection rates have (and continue to) skyrocket, bleeding local, statewide, national, and worldwide economies of participants.

Ultimately, COVID is scary beyond imagination mainly because the economic fallout from unpredictable absences of workers, customers, and suppliers has turned logistics and traditional financial planning all different ways, and society is having to continuously re-adjust to survive instabilities that are normally associated with third-world countries.

A few solutions to this dumpster fire of a situation are available:
1. Give businesses the technology to transact in a socially-distanced market.
2. Assist businesses in the necessary business of quickly replacing lost workers.
3. Render aid to those in need of housing, food, medical care, and employment.
4. Retool the health, dental, & psychiatric care network to a single-payer framework.
5. Increased collaboration between suppliers and manufacturers can strengthen production.

This crisis has given us the ability to correct deficiencies that have the potential to cause crippling damage should an even worse pandemic come into play. Perhaps this explainer and the solutions presented above will give – at a minimum – a bit of hope and inspiration.

- January 18, 2021

About Amy Barnes

Author has extensive experience in Retail, including two years as a supervisor. Educated in Psychology, Financial Accounting, Criminal Justice, and Programming. Work experience in Law Enforcement, Security (IT), Programming (REALBasic, SQL, VB, JAVA), Retail.
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