by Daniel Erspamer, CEO of the Pelican Institute

Throughout our shared history, Americans – and Louisianans, in particular – have faced down many crises, from war to drought to floods to illness. Through determination, innovation and ingenuity, a strong sense of community and patriotism, and a stubborn will to succeed, we’ve prevailed. These principles are precisely what we need to emerge strongly from the challenge we face today.

As we all know, today we face at least two major, core-shaking crises: a global health threat in the form of COVID-19 and the crippling effects on families and businesses emerging from the measures being taken to contain and treat the virus. Each poses different yet grave threats to the future of our state and nation, which is why now is the time to put equal energy into solving both crises as urgently as possible.

The human and health toll of COVID-19 are well documented, especially here in Louisiana. Our leaders have acted boldly and taken steps recommended by health professionals to “flatten the curve” and stave off the potential worst-case scenarios that we face. They have undoubtedly faced sleepless nights, enormous stress and countless meetings, and I am grateful for their service and leadership in making these monumental decisions. It’s no easy task.


An Unprecedented Situation

Of course, there are no absolute right or wrong answers in a situation like this. Because we’re dealing with an unprecedented situation, we are also working with incomplete data. This problem becomes even trickier when you factor in rapid news cycles, heart-wrenching stories of human loss, and social media mobs attacking anyone who expresses a dissenting opinion or alternate data sources. Mostly lost among the widespread virus reports are accurate portrayals of the economic devastation occurring across Louisiana and the nation.

Just here in Louisiana, more than 275,000 people have filed for unemployment benefits in the last month alone. Nationally, experts are predicting over 20 percent unemployment rates by the end of the month, numbers not seen since the Great Depression.


Costs of an Economic Shutdown?

Another too often ignored subject is the real, devastating impact economic recession has on human life. We took some time to review meta research on the impacts of the more-recent Great Recession, and the results are eye opening.

During the Recession, Americans were more likely to self-report various health symptoms, such as nausea, backache, and fatigue, despite not being members of the populations usually associated with these illnesses. The rate of increase of suicides in America also accelerated, spiking to 4.8%, or about 4,750 excess suicides between 2007 and 2010. Meanwhile, separatestudies found increases in psychological distress across the population, many of which could be attributed to personal unemployment, financial shock, and mortgage difficulties accompanying the Recession.

Other studies also show food and housing insecurities rose dramatically during the Great Recession. One study found the number of children living in food insecure households skyrocketed to over 23%, a major jump from the less than 17% in 1999. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development also found the estimated number of homeless families in the country rose by 30% (170,000 families) from 2007 to 2009, and it also saw a rise in the average length of stays in shelters during that time.


Private Sector Stepping Up to the Challenge

Even with all of the bad news going around, I remain optimistic. Why? Because communities, businesses, entrepreneurs, and individuals are responding to help each other and find real solutions to these massive challenges. Take for example:

  • Ford Motor Company recently announced it is working with 3M and GE Healthcare to produce respirators, ventilators and face shields to address shortages in the treatment of coronavirus patients.
  • Mayo Clinic has developed a test to detect the SARS-CoV-2 virus, which is causing COVID-19. Many other companies and entrepreneurs are rapidly iterating new testing technologies.
  • Teachers and parents around Louisiana are working together and partnering with businesses like T-Mobile to keep students connected, engaged and learning during the current downtime. Organizations like Scholastic, Khan Academy, and others have opened up their libraries for access by kids across the world.
  • Chevron and other businesses from across many sectors are partnering with nonprofits to feed the hungry in our state and nation.
  • Restaurants and hospitality providers are developing innovative methods of delivering goods to their customers within the framework of social distancing guidelines.

And, yet, too many people continue to suffer. It’s time to act as boldly and quickly as possible to put as many Louisianans back to work as we can.


Debate is a Good Thing

Some will argue that in order to solve one crisis, we must sacrifice addressing the other crisis looming over us. I reject this line of thinking wholeheartedly.

The whole of our efforts and purpose, both in addressing COVID-19 and the economic destruction it reaps, should be to get people healthy and back to work as soon as possible. As with most scenarios, a one-size-fits-all approach is likely the wrong answer. Meanwhile, efforts to stifle debate and discourage dissenting views will only increase the time it takes to solve these major problems. Robust, thoughtful, fact-based debate and discussion is a good thing right now.


Let’s Get Louisiana Working

Now is the time for entrepreneurs, thinkers, and doers to push the boundaries, develop and test new ideas, and plot a course for the future. The success metric is clear: how do we protect human life, health, and dignity from each threat – both virus and economic decline – as decisively and quickly as possible?

Once we’re through the worst of both of these crises, it will be time to get to work shaping a Louisiana where everyone can pursue pathways to opportunity and quality jobs. We’ll have to work together to Get Louisiana Working from every avenue possible. Stay tuned in the coming weeks, as we’ll release more details on our proposed policy roadmap.

For now, let’s get started and give these dual challenges everything we’ve got. Together, we can unleash the American spirit and the innovation and ingenuity of Louisianans to face these threats head on, just as we have so many times before.