I was talking with a business owner earlier this week who told me half his staff wanted to be laid off. Why not? They are worried about Covid-19. They see their friends and family all off work – many furloughed on full salary and many expecting to receive enhanced benefits. The problem is that this specific business owner needs the workers.
I heard elsewhere that the grocery firms and pharmacies cannot handle even a fraction of the the potential home delivery orders due to a lack of drivers. A Walmart – anecdotally – was restricting deliveries to such that it would take 5-6 days to get your food delivered if you ordered today.
The agriculture sector across the country is demanding that it be allowed to bring in tens of thousands of foreign workers this year – as planned – to help with farming. Other sectors fish processing, etc. are demanding the same thing, even as hundreds and hundreds of thousands are applying for EI each week.
John Maynard Keynes once said that unemployed people should be asked to dig holes one day and then fill them in the next. Economists have parsed this statement in multiple ways but in my view one of the sides to this is that it speaks to the importance of work in a society.
How do we encourage work and productivity in the time of Covid-19?
Obviously the response to this question has to do with the timing of the quarantine. If the economy if ‘offline’ for a few weeks that is one thing – now some are talking about July – maybe later? If we think people will be idle for 3-4 months, that should change how we approach solutions.
A friend in the tech sector said many New Brunswick IT firms have seen their contract work all but stop since the quarantine. OK. Instead of paying programmers to not work (e.g. EI) put them all to work digitizing the economy. Schools, businesses, – heck, how about teaching old people (remotely) how to use the Internet. Use government dough to keep them in income, but tie it to productive work.
Why bring in agricultural workers – why not at least try to put our unemployed young people to work?
Marshall an army of vehicle drivers to massively reduce the number of people bumping into each other and sharing bugs at the grocery stores or pharmacies. Sure they would need masks, gloves and other protocols but wouldn’t it be safer?
What other jobs could be done in the age of Covid-19? Furloughed public sector workers should be given specific tasks. Any business that can be done from home – should be done from home.
Can our manufacturers retool to produce needed pandemic-related products?
How about outdoor jobs? Landscaping, picking up garbage, beautification – put an army to work – conforming to social distancing protocols, of course.
Why not some kind of incentive to encourage home renovations? It would boost an economic sector and give bored home owners something productive to do with their time.
Finally, what about volunteerism? I heard this week that donations are drying up across the country and – for more obvious reasons – volunteerism is collapsing. This is a shame. We must be able to productively volunteer and give in the time of Covid-19. Why not call up (Zoom) some older shut ins or newcomers to Canada each week to lift their spirits? Why not give to food banks – deliver to those in need – taking the necessary precautions. In my opinion people should be even more generous with their time (and treasure) in a time like this. While I agree with a massive government response, let’s not rob communities and individuals from the benefit of chipping in and giving back in a time of crisis.
We need to think about how we can use this time wisely. We can come out the other side exhausted and broke as a society or we can come out with stronger social ties and some new things built that might never have gotten built otherwise.