Given the state’s baby steps in opening the economy, it was only logical that UHERO has forecast that by December we will have recovered only half the jobs that have been lost.
Let’s call this Option A, which is that little or no action will be taken to mitigate the incredible economic damage being done to most of Hawaii’s citizens. No one would guess that we are the hardest-hit state in the nation with already the highest unemployment rate of all.
The $600-a-week support added to unemployment compensation has eased the pain, but that ends in July and after that ends, many employees will be going to the mainland to find work.
Without tourism, Hawaii does not have an economy. Think of today’s coronavirus situation being in place until year’s end, as many are suggesting, and most businesses in the state would be severely impacted, if not in bankruptcy proceedings by then. It would certainly damage the state Employees Retirement System.
In the 2008 Great Recession, those collecting unemployment insurance in Hawaii totaled 20,000. Last week’s total was up to at least 220,000, or 11 times greater, and is climbing.
The way out of this may be to weigh the cost of human suffering in foreclosed homes, closed businesses, suicides, “depression, anxiety, and problematic drug use,” and foreclosed dreams — against the losses and suffering of letting the coronavirus run its course and then make a choice.
Here’s Plan B:
1. Immediately test a randomized sample of Hawaii’s population for antibody existence to determine the current spread of the virus in Hawaii.
2. Reveal to the public the current death rate by age and underlying conditions.
3. Show voters the results. They likely will be something as shown in the table above, if, like New York, the unreported infections are 12 times the reported infections since over 90% of those infected will not have symptoms worth reporting.
4. Calculate the likely societal effects if the current economy continues anything like it is at present for another eight months.
5. Calculate the expected increases from current annual levels of 227 suicides and 203 opioid overdose deaths.
6. Consider the societal effects of likely increases in social chaos, civil unrest and a breakdown of law and order, all of which usually accompany a severe recession/depression.
7. Consider the effects of allowing the under-65s with no underlying conditions to relaunch the economy, and strongly urge our seniors and those with underlying conditions to rigorously self-quarantine until a vaccine is available. Encourage the larger grocery chains to dedicate certain stores for the vulnerable only.
Share all this with the public. Encourage discussion as much as possible. There is a terrible choice to be made here and it has to be made with the full support of the voters.
It is the kind of tough decision that generals in battle may have to make. Do I send Army A through Valley X, or Army B through Valley Y when I will lose 5,000 troops one way, of 4,000 the other way, knowing full well that I am likely sending at least 4,000 troops to almost certain death?
We have to make the tough choice of A or B. The option of doing nothing much is Option A.
Cliff Slater is CEO of Maui Divers Jewelry, a 60-year-old Hawaii company.