A tech company employee working from home during the pandemic

The summer solstice was Saturday, marking both the longest day of the year and the beginning of summer. It arrived in the midst of great tumult in our nation, caused by a deadly and still-uncontained novel coronavirus, an unprecedented reduction in economic activity directly caused by the reaction to the virus, and social unrest related to racial discrimination and abusive and unjust behavior by law enforcement. Few among us can remember a more unsettled period.

The Markets
The markets recovered on Friday. The Dow Jones Industrial Average was up 209 points, or 0.80%. The S&P 500 Index rose 18 points, or 0.56%. The Dow is down 11% for the year and the S&P 500 Index is down 5.3% year to date.

The yield on the 10-year Treasury Note was 0.693%. Spot gold was up 1.1% to $1,740.79 per ounce on Friday.

COVID-19 Numbers
Globally, across 187 countries, there have been nearly 9 million confirmed cases and over 468,000 deaths. In the US, over 2.2 million have been infected and nearly 120,000 have died.

Looking Forward
Where do we go from here? We do not claim to be futurists and we will avoid speculating about social changes, but we have some ideas about how the global economy will evolve as we co-exist with a virus for which there is no vaccine and very limited treatment.

Education: Compensation, Job Security and Personal Safety
We are seeing, in the midst of this pandemic, how education relates to economic opportunity, job security and even physical safety. Those who are not well-educated hold jobs that involve using one’s physical abilities. They work in factories, in fields , in the trades, in the hospitality industry, in retail sales, in grocery stores and in nursing homes.

These jobs are, for the most part, not well-paying. Many barely provide a living wage. In addition, many do not allow for physical distancing on site. Consequently, many businesses in these sectors closed down entirely or greatly reduced their activity. The result was massive layoffs. Most of the 21 million people currently unemployed in our country worked in these jobs. We also found that the infection rate for those who did keep their jobs was much higher than the average across all industries.

In contrast, those who hold undergraduate and post-graduate degrees often work in fields that involve information. Jobs in professional fields like architecture, law, accounting, engineering, or finance have been largely untouched by the pandemic. Medicine is clearly an exception.

Highly educated workers earn significantly more than the less-educated. Because they work with information, they’re generally able to work anywhere. When the pandemic hit and health authorities asked businesses to shutter their doors, professional workers simply went home and kept working.They’ve experienced little, if any, reduction in income. Further, they’ve been able to remain healthy, because they were able to practice physical distancing and avoid getting infected.

Changes in the Economy
The impact of the novel coronavirus on the workforce offers some clues about what may happen in its aftermath. Our economy needs to better care for the less-educated workers living on the margin. Many of these workers have been serving on the “front lines” during the pandemic. Their role in the economy is important and they should be paid accordingly. They deserve a living wage. Labor regulations must require employers to protect these workers from the risk of infection. If these workers are forced to stop working to stop the spread of a pathogen, the government must pay them enough to meet their basic needs.

The businesses which employ these workers must also be protected. If the government is going to require certain “essential” businesses to operate in the face of a pandemic, and these companies follow proper worker safety protocols, the government must then provide them with immunity from legal claims related to infections that may be traced to their worksites. Many of the shortages that occurred at the height of the pandemic were caused because businesses closed operations to avoid liability.

We will likely see a shift in the nation’s population as “information” workers are given the opportunity to work from wherever they can access the internet. There will likely be a migration away from areas with a high cost of living, congestion, social ills, and burdensome taxes. As more workers are allowed to work from home, the need for office space will contract. We can also expect to see a marked shift away from shared spaces (e.g. WeWork) until it is safe to use them.

In closing, we are grateful for:

  • The front-line workers who keep “essential” business running despite the low pay and the risk of infection.
  • The Occupational Safety and Health Administration rules that protect workers.
  • The House Committee on Education and Labor and the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pension (HELP) Committee which have oversight on the Department of Labor and OHSA.

Keep the faith, be safe and stay healthy.

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