-Jenny Jarvis, "Georgians Wary Amid Gradual Reopening," Los Angeles Times, May 2, 2020.
-Amanda Mull, "Georgia's Experiment in Human Sacrifice," The Atlantic, April 29, 2020.
-Elizabeth Fite, "Georgia Gov. Kemp Balances Health Effects of Unemployment, COVID-19 in State's Reopening Plan," Chattanooga Times Free Press, May 4, 2020.
These three articles about Governor Brian Kemp's effort to open the economy in Georgia raise many questions, including whether the opening will work to jump start the state's economy, whether it will do so without a hefty death bump, and whether the opening is driven by right-wing ideology rather than by science and compassion. The articles offer plenty about the COVID crisis seen from the bottom up. No surprise, but the main victims of both the shutdown and premature re-openings are and will be the Georgia working class, and especially black people.
The re-opening plan has received an A from Freedom Works, an extremist anti-government organization, but it has not won over a majority of Georgians. And for good reason. Here are key issues in the Georgia situation can help us think about re-openings around the country.
1. Obviously vaccines and cures are crucial in the long run, but right now, the pathway to re-opening must include much more testing. The main reason so many of us are confined to our homes is that we do not know who is sick and contagious. Georgia lags in testing; so do many other states, including my home state of California. The opener-chief in the White House has pretty much abdicated on the testing issue. Widely available testing services should have been the minimum requirement for re-opening businesses and public spaces.
2. While Kemp's reopening plan gets an A from large businesses and a right-wing anti-government group, it does not win the voters of Georgia. In a University of Georgia survey, 62% disapproved of Kemp's lifting of restrictions. People are afraid. Zack Lee, a hair salon owner, does not want himself and his clients to be used as guinea pigs in Kemp's experiment. Many Georgians are apprehensive about entering restaurants and other businesses, even with spacing requirements. In Georgia and elsewhere, it seems likely that many restaurants and other small business will not survive, even if they are able to partially re-open now. A lot of jobs are not coming back.
A rational and humane presidential administration would be planning for major job programs in social and physical infrastructure areas to replace jobs that are permanently lost. There are several bills in Congress that are ready to go. Among them are NJFAN's HR 1000 which can bring millions of jobs in a variety of occupations to areas that have long had high unemployment, There is also legislation for a National Infrastructure Bank to fund trillions of dollars worth of major projects to repair or build bridges, roads, trains, affordable housing, broadband connections, and so on.
3. Kemp and Trump want us to focus more on economic expansion than the plague. Trump needs an economic recovery to win re-election. But if people are afraid to move around the economic marketplace, if severe occupancy restrictions limit customers and if a new death bump causes new restrictions, many small businesses will disappear.
4. Most governors and especially Republicans pay attention to right-wingers and business leaders. Kemp is no exception. One subsidiary goal of his economic plan may be to trim the number of people getting unemployment benefits. If businesses are allowed to open, officials may assume that the jobs are there, even if there aren't enough or if it is dangerous to work. An official in the Georgia Department of Labor has said that fear of getting infected at work will not be sufficient to qualify for unemployment benefits. So the state will be removing unemployed workers from state unemployment benefits, and from the federal weekly subsidy of $600.
So a restaurant worker earning a typical wage of $10 to $13 an hour for a thirty-hour week could earn $300 to $390, but on unemployment benefits, she might have received $200 from the state and $600 from the federal government. Quite a bit more. In this way, some people will be poorer due to the opening. And more will get sick.
(By the way, stricter rules for unemployment benefits are in line with long-standing efforts by Republicans to limit unemployment benefits, keep the labor pool over-full, and add work requirements to government programs, including food stamps.)
5. As elsewhere, in Georgia a disproportionate number of people who are poor and who are sick are minorities, including African Americans.
6. As more people get sick in Georgia, some people will not get to see doctors and nurses in a timely manner. Georgia refused to expand their Medicaid rolls, despite the fact that the federal government foots most of the bill under the Affordable Care Act.
Frank Stricker is a member of NJFAN. His views are not necessarily those of the organization.
His new book, American Unemployment, is out in June.
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