By: Jason Ball, Round Rock Chamber President and CEO
Last week the first-time requests for unemployment assistance were (again) staggering. Following five weeks of record-setting numbers of unemployed Americans, the total has risen to 26.5 million since March 1. The entire U.S. workforce is approximately 162 million. This means in five weeks, 16.3% of the American labor force is out of work. Most estimates now show that more jobs have been lost in the past five weeks than in the last twelve years (see graph below). In response to this news, I saw a tweet that read, “there are now more unemployed people in the U.S. than the entire population of Australia”.
This is a time of hard truths and difficult realities to face; but we must face them.
Recently I have turned to the models of leadership through crisis we have seen in the past for inspiration. Winston Churchill is one of my favorites. His career is long and storied. He recognized the horrible intentions of Nazi Germany before anyone else, then led Britain through the darkest days of World War II, only to be voted out of leadership after the war because he (again rightly) understood the growing threat of communism under Stalin. He was later returned to the office of Prime Minister by voters before the end of his public career. If his leadership is full of examples of triumph and vision, it should also be noted his record demonstrates his many flaws, including his attitudes about race and British imperial rule over India.
In his very first speech as Prime Minister to the House of Commons in May 1940, he did not shy away from hard truths. He faced them directly, and articulated a difficult national direction, saying, “I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears, and sweat.” This offer turned prophetic less than one month later when the British army barely escaped complete annihilation at Dunkirk. He told the nation in June 1940, “…we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender…”.
Churchill didn’t look away from the hard truths at hand. When sweeping tragedy happened in a brief matter of weeks, he faced the grim circumstances and focused on the future. He rallied the nation to the work ahead.
In the same way, our community has acted – mitigating the spread of coronavirus through social distancing practices. We have rallied to share information, passed important federal assistance legislation, and establish the Round Rock Cares fund to provide swift and essential financial assistance to small business.
Churchill never lost heart; and neither should we. It is too early to tell yet, but social distancing appears to have greatly mitigated the immediate impact of COVID-19. Local health care systems have thankfully not been overwhelmed to the extent thought possible just weeks ago.
So now we grapple with how to begin easing back the degree of adherence to social distancing to facilitate a return to work; but not so far as to allow a large outbreak of the coronavirus locally.
Your Chamber has been working with regional governments, economic development agencies, workforce groups, and other chambers of commerce to advise and prepare the community on how to achieve this balance. Hundreds of Williamson County businesses participated in a survey to share their perspectives with policy-makers this week. Thank you to all who participated. Furthermore, we are participating in the Williamson County reopening preparations, as well as a Central Texas task force led by the Austin Chamber of Commerce.
It is time to move forward, thoughtfully, together. We owe it to our community to be carefully optimistic. The COVID-19 virus is still present in Texas. It will be for some time to come. However, it is time to cautiously begin to return to business. It is time to help people return to their jobs.
As we begin to ease away from current social distancing guidelines to less restrictive ones, we encourage policy makers to ensure that healthcare considerations lead the process and that increased testing be provided. We also remind our community that we are likely to see coronavirus cases increase again – but not to the extent that our healthcare systems are overwhelmed.
This will continue to be a time of hard truths and difficult realities to face; but we will face them together.
Time will tell, but I am hopeful that we will look back on this week as Churchill did in November 1942. I am hopeful that we can say, as he did, “…this is not the end. It is not even the beginning to the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.”