Hundreds of millions of people worldwide have lost their jobs as a result of the coronavirus pandemic in the past few months, with nearly 39 million of them in the US alone. As a result, economic distress and social discontent is set to boil over in the next 18 months unless world leaders, businesses and policymakers work together to manage the fallout of the pandemic.
But balancing the needs of societal equality and corporate bottomline was never an easy task — and COVID-19 has amplified the chasm between the two more than ever before, as both segments battle for survival.
While Europe has so far spent billions of euros on providing direct financial support for those without jobs, in the US furloughed or jobless workers have each received a government cheque for $1,200. But economists agree that those stimuli would be hard to sustain as government revenues collapse (in the case of Europe) or might not even reach the worker who needs it the most (in the case of US).
The gloomy employment outlook ahead also brings with it a clutch of opportunities. As companies race to get back to business, they have also been compelled to create roles to keep employees and customers safe from a highly contagious virus.
From a risk perception, the biggest concerns for companies and employers range from a prolonged recession to the weakening fiscal position of major economies, bankruptcies, failure of industries to recover, tighter restrictions on the cross-border movement of goods and people, and the collapse of major emerging markets. If not addressed, these could in turn trigger an avalanche of future shocks such as climate and mental health crises, geopolitical turbulence and rising inequality.
However, the gloomy employment outlook ahead also brings with it a clutch of opportunities. As companies race to get back to business, they have also been compelled to create roles to keep employees and customers safe from a highly contagious virus. For example, reopening global economies have brought with it new kinds of jobs and skillsets — from contact tracers and decontamination technicians to thermal scanner operators, telemedicine experts and virology specialists in the hospitality sectors. These positions could gain more demand as time passes without a vaccine or treatment, although other types of jobs might disappear.
The global economy is in uncharted waters. The way forward can only yield positive and sustainable results when everyone works together to overcome this unprecedented crisis. A newfound appreciation for essential public services — including health, education and social safety — raises hopes that the solidarity that countries, companies and individuals have shown so far augurs well for the future. A close collaboration between civil society, governments and the private sector is therefore essential to overcome the economic tsunami that COVID-19 has unleashed on all of us.