Another 2.4 million Americans filed for unemployment last week according to new numbers from the Department of Labor. For nine weeks now, first-time jobless claims have soared at an unprecedented rate amid the pandemic over the novel Wuhan coronavirus.
More than 38 million Americans have filed for government dependence since pandemic lockdowns initiated widespread economic self-destruction where more than 100,000 small businesses have already gone under with thousands more expected to follow.
The pandemic lockdowns have no doubt born a devastating financial impact, but the crux of their consequences go far deeper: state and local shutdowns have robbed Americans of their right to work, stripping them of their meaning and dignity in the process.
The United States was already in the midst of a mental health crisis before coronavirus, primed for the psychic catastrophe that the pandemic presents today as millions of anxious Americans seek help from crisis hotlines and cling to numbing vices in distress. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, 1 in 5 American adults experience a mental illness every year, and 1 in 25 experience one that’s far more serious. Suicide rates skyrocketed 35 percent between 1999 and 2018, making it the 10th leading cause of death in the United States. It is the second leading cause of death among those aged 10 to 34.
The national suicide hotline is 1-800-273-8255. More resources are here.
The ongoing shutdowns, though gradually being lifted, are certain to exacerbate the existing crisis keeping Americans out of work. The scientific literature has well-established a link between suicides and unemployment, raising heightened concerns each week as shocking new numbers from the Labor Department show millions filing for unemployment at a time. The mental health non-profit Well Being Trust already projects upwards of 75,000 Americans falling victim to the virus, not through infection but through deaths of despair by suicide and addiction.
“We know that economic recessions have a negative correlation with mental health,” said Allysen Efferson, a therapist in East Tennessee. “The research is pretty clear. A really good way to improve mental health during a recession is to put people back to work.”
A 2013 study on suicide rates during the 2008 financial crisis found that every one point increase in unemployment correlated with a 1.6 percent increase in the suicide rate. Another study from the same journal examining suicide rates in Europe and American countries reported that by 2009, there was a 37 percent increase in unemployment met with 5,000 more suicides above what was anticipated.
“Getting Americans back to work is a way in which we can address the mental illness portion of this if not directly than indirectly,” Efferson told The Federalist. “We know that in a job, people find purpose. There’s dignity in being able to provide for yourself and your family. Continuing to keep people in lockdown, for the vast majority of us, takes away our primary source of well-being: our job.”
As businesses continue to crumble under the lockdowns, the nation’s psychic outlook only continues to dim.
“These are things that people built from the ground up,” Efferson said. “It’s literally an assault on the American dream.”
Meanwhile the lockdowns have produced dismal results as states begin to partially reopen without the surge in cases proponents of the orders warned about. Florida for example, has just more than 2,000 deaths from coronavirus while New York has suffered nearly 23,000. Georgia, which was among the first states to begin a partial reopening has also yet to see the spike in cases that lockdown proponents projected.
In the grand scheme of the crisis, nothing has really changed since the lockdowns were implemented. The curve has been flattened, there’s still no vaccine, and there’s still no mass scale comparable to that of South Korea’s to manage the virus. To presume that either will come before the end of the year to justify a refusal to adapt to our new normal is deeply unserious. State governors that proceeded with stay home orders with relatively little information are now demanding absolute certainty before opening back up.
Even as the curve was flattened to build adequate health care capacity to deal with what was billed as an inevitable surge in overwhelming cases, Federalist Political Editor John Davidson writes that the lockdowns in effect flattened the U.S. hospital system.
Lifting the lockdowns and allowing Americans to reclaim their dignity through meaningful work is the first step in rejuvenating the nation’s rapidly deteriorating psyche.