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Let’s Figure Out How To Live With Virus, Not Worry About Shutdown

To his credit, Gov. Andrew Cuomo has resisted the notion of additional, broad shutdowns of New York’s economy.

Local shutdowns as part of his micro-cluster approach are bad enough for regions struggling to pick up the pieces from the COVID-19 economic collapse. Hopefully, Cuomo doesn’t think of wide-scale statewide shutdowns as an option going forward even as New York last week saw its highest number of COVID-19 infections in one day since the earliest days of the pandemic.

For all of the debate back-and-forth about shutdowns, the October release of unemployment statistics should put an end to the idea that further shutdowns outweigh the the shutdown’s harm to the economy.

It would appear at first glance that the six-month decline in Chautauqua County’s unemployment rate from 15.7% in April to 6.2% in September is news that our economy is rebounding from the March-April shutdowns. That’s partially true, but a look at the county’s labor force over the same six months is truly sobering.

The county’s labor force, which had reached an eight-month high of 55,500 workers in April, has dwindled to 51,900 as of September. Unemployment dropped in part because people went back to their jobs, but a bigger factor in the unemployment decrease is a steep drop in the county’s labor force. More than 3,500 people have simply given up trying to find work in our county.

Those people aren’t lazy. Their pandemic unemployment benefits aren’t too generous for them to go back to work. There isn’t a benefits cliff that is preventing them from pursuing full-time work. Those 3,600 people have dropped out of the labor force because the jobs for which they are qualified don’t exist in our county.

Even more sobering — Chautauqua County isn’t alone.

“On closer inspection, it’s even worse. Assuming the number holds up in re-estimates, New York’s September labor force decline of 362,889 residents was the largest monthly drop on record in the state — exceeding even the decline in April, when most New Yorkers couldn’t seek work,” E.J. McMahon of the Empire Center for New York State Policy wrote in a recent blog post. “Excluding the pandemic period, the September change in New York’s estimated labor force was by far the largest decline on record– easily exceeding dropoffs in job seekers during severe recessions and months affected by severe weather– dating back to the start of the current statewide statistical series in 1976.”

That’s a truly frightening statistic.

As we reported Friday, UPMC researchers have found a way to neutralize and treat COVID-19, and the UPMC research team isn’t alone in finding ways to fight the virus. Vaccines are nearly ready. Rather than worry about shutdowns, we need to find a way to live with this virus until the vaccines and treatments are available on a wide scale.

If we don’t, who knows what the labor force and jobs reports will show in another six months.

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