There was shocking economic news today: U.S. non-farm payroll numbers increased by 2.5 million, rather than declining by expectations for more than seven million. Got that? The U.S. added jobs in May rather than continuing to fall into a hole dug by COVID-19.
Is that number real? Is it a statistical aberration? Is it a one-off or the beginning of a trend?
Stock markets are certainly treating it like it’s real. At noon Friday the Dow 30 was up almost 1,000 points. That’s stunning.
The euphoria comes from the beliefs of many that this report suggests that the U.S. economy will bounce back from COVID-19 far, far faster than anybody expected.
Let’s hope that’s true. On the face of it, that seems like a pretty risky hope. The U.S. has not crushed the curve on coronavirus infections everywhere. Outbreaks are waning in places hit first and hardest, but are appearing in smaller and more rural places every day. The U.S. is reopening the economy in many places and re-employing millions of the laid-off, but it’s also reducing the controls that have restrained the virus from becoming even worse. Beyond governmental controls, people are also relaxing some of the self-discipline that has helped slow the growth and spread of the virus. Most people aren’t wearing face masks when out in public. Some people are back out travelling around to places well away from home. Others are out at mass protests against police brutality, loudly aspirating political slogans and breathing extremely moistly. Large groups of police are moving around in phalanxes, sweating and yelling. That sounds like a recipe for Wave 2 of COVID-19 to arrive sooner rather than later.
But let’s be hopeful, because that’s maybe all we’ve got. Maybe COVID-19 isn’t as infectious and dangerous as most of us have been believing it is. Maybe these mass protests and the police response won’t spread the virus in warm summer air. Perhaps the re-opening will go well, with people following hand washing and sanitizing habits they picked up during the lockdown. I sincerely hope that’s what happens.
We don’t need to be stupid, though. There’s no reason to ease up hand washing and sanitizing. There’s no reason to going back to shaking hands with everybody. There’s good reason to wear a face mask in public when you can. There’s no reason to stop thinking about how to reconfigure farms, agriculture business and workplaces and our interactions in town to ensure we’re minimizing the risks of spreading the virus.
People should be proud of the steps they’ve taken, the sacrifices they’ve made to flatten the curve on COVID-19. That’s a success story. It’s helped crop growers to skip most of the economic and social impact of the pandemic so far and it’d be nice to see agriculture come out of the crisis with as little damage as possible.
That could happen, but you’ve got to do your bit to make it happen. It’s in your hands.