We’ve all seen that the news for both the working and the uncmployed public isn’t good this week. The relief package meant to help the struggling, jobless millions is stalled because Mitch and his Band of Renegades refused to do anything about it. Even the Dems, sorry as they may be en masse, proposed new legislation back in May to prop up the economy and aid the hardest hit. The other side of the aisle collectively doesn’t care, and has nonchalantly strolled off into summer break. The Oval Office Occupant has washed his hands of the matter, predictably.
Are the consequences of the GOP stonewalling unintended? Are they deliberate? Or are they simply not given any thought? Much has been made of the fact that the extra $600 in unemployment benefits being paid weekly is vital to the survival of tens of thousands of people. Whether or not the extra benefits were a disincentive for people to return to work, as seems unlikely, given the data, the cessation of payments will mean disaster in untold cases. Figures differ, but the fact remains that the number of people out of work is many times the number of available jobs, at any level. The hand-wringing is universal among the thinking and caring part of the population (which, obviously, does not include the above-mentioned Mitch cabal and their supporters). No solution appears to be imminent.
As a matter of course, no money in people’s pockets translates to defaults on mortgage payments, failures to pay rent and insurance, and, not-so-incidentally, precipitous drops in discretionary spending. Banks and landlords will take hits they might not be able to afford. Perhaps worse in the long run, many businesses — big and small, but especially small — that rely on those consumer dollars won’t be able to keep their doors open. The dominoes will fall, leading to higher unemployment, more defaults, more misery.
What does that look like, in practical terms? From my viewpoint here in Cleveland, I can testify to the dismal outlook. One small restaurant chain with two locations has gone belly-up. Another, a favorite that was in trouble before the pandemic, has closed almost all of its outlets in northern Ohio, never to re-open them. Numerous other small venues are closed forever. The tiny beauty supply shop next to our veterinarian’s office is dark and silent, St. Patrick’s Day decorations still in the windows. The little berry farm that’s part of the company where my husband works has called it quits after 45 years; no homegrown raspberries or strawberries for the neighborhood anymore. The theater complex downtown is shuttered until early next year, although that situation is directly due to failure to control the pandemic, rather than patrons’ lack of cash for tickets. These individual tragedies, along with thousands of similar ones throughout the country, were inevitable, given the economic circumstances of potential spenders, plus the dearth of real assistance for small businesses. Huge corporations, of course, have been eating at the relief trough for months.
The effects of the fade-out of monetary relief are even more widespread and insidious than many people realize, however. Restaurants, theaters, and mom-and-pop concerns are only the easily visible victims. Some of the other hits aren’t necessarily where one would instinctively look. Airline passenger numbers are down, certainly, but aside from the fact that the industry collectively got an enormous bail-out, people are rather inexplicably still flying for pleasure as well as business, despite the virus risk. It’s the less-apparent industries that are in dire straits. A local tour bus line has gone out of business. The regional business journal where I worked had to cancel its slate of in-person events, and when virtual events were proposed as substitutes, advertisers largely said, “no” to switching their investments over. A sales rep I know who works at a business-to-business publication told me that some of the old advertising clients have hung in, but getting new business is next to impossible, as is nailing down buy-in for extensive ad programs.
Zoos, aquariums, and museums represent another sector that’s on its knees. As mostly non-profits, they’re seeing sources of funding dry up (e.g., corporate giving, plus the little bit that we peons can afford), and after having had to close down for months, revenue figures year-to-date are dismal. Pile on lack of discretionary income for a broad swath of potential attendees, and we see the makings of catastrophe among our cultural institutions.
Some gig workers, thankfully, have been able to file for unemployment, but now that the $600 weekly supplement is gone, what of them? Those who work remotely may, may still be able to eke out a living, but then there are musicians who play at bars, plus DJs and similar performers. If bars and restaurants — rightly — are limiting their capacities, with rare exceptions, they certainly can’t afford to pay for entertainment. A musician friend posted three months ago that every single date he’d booked for the summer had cancelled. Outdoor art shows are another casualty of the national downfall. Again, with few exceptions, organizers have decided not to hold the shows, and in quite a few cases, according to artist friends, deposits have not been returned. And really, from an artist’s perspective, what’s the point in spending $300 for display space in full knowledge that a significant percentage of browsers don’t have ready cash to lay down? Often, such shows are a main source of income for artists; they base their yearly budgets on the heavily-attended warm weather exhibitions.
All these and many more small-scale and specialty businesses are doomed, thanks to the ripple effect of the GOP’s callousness. Second-quarter GDP is down almost 33%. But I guess as long as those waves don’t wash up on the houses of the 1%, Mitch is fine and dandy. He should remember, though, that just as a rising tide lifts all boats, so a plummeting one will beach even yachts. Then the tsunami comes.