In a best-case scenario, unemployment statistics can be misleading. The baseline unemployment number that’s widely reported each month doesn’t count everyone who is out of a job, only those who are actively looking. People who have grown so discouraged that they drop out of the workforce completely are not counted, which can make the situation look better than it is.
The months since the COVID-19 pandemic hit Connecticut have been even more misleading from a statistics standpoint, with experts long saying the jobless numbers released each month did not match up with what they were seeing on the ground. There are many factors, but news from earlier this month that the unemployment rate had jumped nearly 2 percentage points seemingly put an end to that differentiation, and the number now presents a clearer view of the situation.
That situation is grim, with worse to come.
It’s long been expected that colder weather would hurt our economy. This isn’t Southern California where people can dine outside all year round and help keep local restaurant staffing levels at least somewhat up. Gov. Ned Lamont has held off on further cutting allowed levels for indoor dining in Connecticut even as a new wave of the pandemic rages, but his actions might be moot. People won’t go out if they’re scared.
At the same time, businesses that might have seen a needed boost from Christmas shopping aren’t reaping those rewards this year as more people resort to online ordering from big companies. Convenience is key, but so is safety, putting locally owned stores in a bind.
Lamont has apparently keyed his hopes to direct aid from the federal government, which, unlike state governments, can spend at a deficit to boost the economy when need is great. But that aid, should it arrive, would only go so far, and struggles would continue at the state and local level. As long as the virus is spreading as quickly as it has been this month, business will be down and the wait for better days will continue.
There is, of course, good news on the horizon, and not just from the prospect of federal aid. The vaccine is already in use for front-line health care workers and the most vulnerable, with much more to come in the next few months. It’s not quite around the corner, but it is possible to see a brighter future, maybe as soon as the spring.
But it’s not clear if some businesses can survive that long.
Connecticut has hardly been a hotbed of anti-vaccine sentiment, but it’s something the state needs to guard against. Even as the process has moved quickly, early indications are that the vaccine is safe and effective. The more people are protected against COVID-19, the faster the economy will start to pick up and the better chance local businesses have to survive.
This is why it’s essential to have people in positions of power who the public trusts. The economy is in dire shape, and every day we move closer to pre-COVID status, the better chance we have of a full recovery. The vaccine is our only way of getting there.