As of last week, nearly 3 million people filed for unemployment benefits — bringing the total to 36.5 million in the past eight weeks. According to the latest statistics, the unemployment rate has shot up to 14.7% as of last month which is the highest it’s been since the Great Depression.
If you are staying tuned into media updates, you’ll hear things like “…before the coronavirus shutdowns, unemployment was at a 50-year low of 3.5%.” There are more to these numbers than people realize. This information is misleading because it doesn’t mean 96.5% of people had full-time jobs. It means 3.5% of people have no job of any kind. Massively underemployed, part-time, temporary roles, “gigs” (like driving for Lyft) all count as “employed.” Further, you would need to be unemployed for a set period of time to count as “unemployed.”
I don’t want to dismiss or negate the real implications COVID-19 has had in any way. The impacts of the coronavirus are significant and for many of us this is the first time we’ve ever experienced something like this – it is no doubt a shocking one. This “shock to the system” is something that came suddenly and has mostly had an unpleasant effect on everybody. Crises, emergencies, and disasters happen. They are unfortunately a part of this game called life and I seriously doubt anyone had “sheltering in place” scheduled in their calendar.
I want to take a moment and speak to the psychology of the situation. The COVID-19 pandemic is different from personal and family emergencies, and not just because it is larger in scale. A pandemic like takes a toll on human life and we’ve seen it be characterized by extreme changes, high levels of uncertainty, and complexity over the last few months.
Normally in a crisis (I realize “normal” and “crisis” should probably never be used in the same sentence), affected people – which is most of us, either directly or indirectly – take in information, process information, and act on information differently than they would during non-crisis times. People and groups exaggerate their communication responses. They revert to more basic or instinctive fight-or-flight reasoning. You’ve seen this already from posts on social media to protests at state capital buildings to increased police activity at public transit stations. Everyone and I do mean everyone, is in some form of survival.
Your Best Bet For Now
The best thing you can be doing right now – employed or not – are:
- Tend to your physical, emotional, and mental well-being
- Take actions that are consistent with what matters to you
- Stay connected to how you and your loved ones are doing
- Do your best to mitigate where you get your news from and how often
I’m not a doctor and I’m not an economist. I have some intuitions about how things will pan out but also realize I only have power over today – right now at this moment and then the next. I’m not going to tell you that everything is going to be fine, nor am I going to further dramatize a sucky situation. What I do know is that one thing you can count on is that when Americans have their backs up against the wall, we become resourceful and stronger than ever.
Unemployed or Newly Looking?
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Stay safe and remember to wash your hands.