Experts say rushing to reopen businesses won't magically fix the economy

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Texas, which recently lifted all reopening restrictions statewide, had the highest rate of unemployment claims in the country last week.

A Labor Department report released Thursday found that unemployment claims soared in the past week, despite many states recently lifting restrictions on businesses reopening.

Experts say it's indicative that early economic opening alone, absent other health safety measures, will not fix a job market gutted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to the report, jobless claims were up to 770,000 for the week ending on March 13 — significantly higher than the 700,000 previously predicted by Dow Jones and bucking recent trends.

Numerous states, including Texas, Georgia, and Mississippi, recently lifted all restrictions on economic reopening, with others, like Massachusetts, Missouri, and Iowa, easing restrictions. Pennsylvania, too, is set to follow suit in eliminating business opening restrictions, according to a CNBC report.

Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, a Republican, applauded Abbott's decision earlier in March to reopen Texas and lift business restrictions and mask mandates.

"The Texas economy is coming back stronger than ever and Governor Greg Abbott’s announcement today will help us restore the livelihoods of millions of Texas even faster," he said in a statement on March 2. "Texas has proved what I have said throughout this long year of the pandemic — we can do two things at once — maintain our economy and fight COVID-19. Today, Texas is one step closer to a return to normalcy."

Yet the Labor Department noted jobless claims in Texas shot up by 21,000 in the past week, to a total of 70,000 claims — making Texas' unemployment claims the highest increase of any state in the past week.

Experts warned in early March that premature reopening could be detrimental to both public health and the economy in the long run.

Dr. Rochelle Wolensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said about the state reopenings, "I remain deeply concerned about a potential shift in the trajectory of the pandemic. We stand to completely lose the hard-earned ground that we have gained."

Of the business restrictions lifted in Texas by Republican Gov. Greg Abbott, Dallas County Health and Human Services Director Dr. Philip Huang told a local CBS affiliate, "It's still too early. "We would love to be able to get back to normal, but with all the variables that are out there, we still have a lot more people that need to be vaccinated. It’s not the time to relax.”

And experts say it's naive to expect full economic recovery without controlling the viral spread. Indeed Hiring Lab economist AnnElizabeth Konkel told MarketWatch that such a recovery is impossible without first containing viral spread.

"The combination of spring weather and increased vaccine distribution should further improve the labor market, but it’s unclear how much of a boost that will be. Only once the public health situation is under control can a full recovery take place," Konkel said.

According to a Concord Monitor report, at least 30% of the jobs lost during the pandemic will not come back at all, particularly jobs in low-wage fields like hospitality, retail, restaurants, and entertainment venues.

In January, a governor of the Federal Reserve, Lael Brainard, said that among American workers, the poorest 25% are still experiencing “Depression-era rates of unemployment of around 23%."

In February, the Federal Reserve found that the employment rate of low-wage workers remained 20% below its pre-pandemic level.

"Jobs are changing — industries are changing. We’re creating a new normal every day," Loretta Penn, chair of the worker development group Virginia Ready Initiative, told the Monitor on Wednesday.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.