Picture a single mother working two jobs to provide basic necessities like food and shelter for her children. Now picture the faces of her children looking up into their mother’s eyes when she tells them she has no job to go to anymore.
Picture a long-suffering patient who finally got to the head of the line for surgery – only to be told to wait even longer. As Dr. Jay Bhattacharya, health policy researcher at Stanford University, summed it up bluntly, “Depressions are deadly for people. Especially poor people.”
Over 30 million people – mothers, fathers, grandparents, students – have lost their jobs due to the COVID-19 reaction administered by America’s state governments. But these are not just lost wages; they will lead to lost lives. Of course, those hardest hit are the low-income, working-class individuals, especially in the service, retail, manufacturing and transportation industries. It is “la gente” and those living paycheck to paycheck who are threatened with unprecedented economic devastation.
While the governor deserves credit for being responsive to the public by loosening guidelines on some so-called “nonessential” businesses, it is still too limited to do much good. Frustratingly, instead of developing a safe and pragmatic plan, she has seemingly forgotten small and local businesses while giving special treatment to big-box retailers by allowing them to remain open.
Our local mom-and-pop stores are crucial economic engines in our state and are the backbone to many New Mexico communities. By excluding small businesses that are willing and able to follow state guidelines – and are often more innovative and nimble than big-box stores – the state government-mandated shutdown seems overly punitive and heavy-handed. A recent attempt to make an example of a Grants pawn shop by fining the small-business owner $60,000 is counterproductive and will only fuel the growing unrest of those who feel their plights are being ignored.
Economist Thomas Sowell is famous for saying, “There are no solutions in life, only trade-offs.” This debate has become about being safe vs. sorry, about people over profit. But the truth is, it is not about choosing between protecting lives and making money, it is actually about how many lives will be lost due to COVID-19 compared to how many lives will be lost and ruined due to poverty.
The feasibility and desirability of policy alternatives must be understood in terms of the trade-offs among their benefits and costs. Thus, it is important for the governor and her newly appointed Economic Recovery Council to be open and transparent in their decision-making process, including economic assumptions and modeling predictions relating to the spread of the virus.
This transparency will allow New Mexicans to better understand and ultimately “buy in” to the reasoning behind the policy decisions, which stands in contrast to the mounting frustration around the state toward mandates that appear arbitrary and unfair.
After all, giving New Mexicans hope through a fair and transparent plan to reopen our economy as soon as possible may be just as vital a remedy as any medical intervention in mitigating the long-term impact of the coronavirus pandemic.
Mr. Contreras is Chairman of Hispanos Unidos, a non-partisan grassroots organization. This guest column appears by author permission.