The COVID-19 pandemic is still very real in Alabama. Our state recently crossed the 125,000-case threshold, while more than 2,000 people with the coronavirus have tragically passed away. Thousands of people remain hospitalized.
Those are the cold, hard facts, and they are indeed unfortunate. We need to continue doing our best to mitigate the spread of the virus, protect vulnerable groups who are most at risk and alleviate the burdens being placed on Alabama’s hospitals. Mask-wearing and social distancing certainly help.
However, at the same time, the public-health risk of a novel virus is not the only tragedy. While keeping the pandemic’s direct victims in our hearts and minds, we also need to remain mindful of its economic impact. Let’s face it: Alabama’s economy has been decimated by the coronavirus, and the far-reaching repercussions of business closure and job loss outweigh the public-health risks posed by the coronavirus to the vast majority of state residents.
In Alabama, the unemployment rate hovers around eight percent—up from 2.7 percent in February. Industries like business services, education, and hospitality are bleeding jobs. The leisure and hospitality sector, for example, has seen a nearly 20 percent decrease in employment over the last year. Meanwhile, our state government has paid out $3 billion in unemployment claims, with countless people relying on government assistance to get them through an unprecedented period of financial uncertainty.
Perhaps the greatest casualty of the COVID-19 pandemic, in economic terms, is small business. In normal times, Alabama is home to more than 400,000 small businesses, which employ over 800,000 workers—half of the state’s private-sector workforce. In fact, small businesses account for 99.4 percent of all businesses in Alabama.
Unfortunately, these are not normal times. Across the country, the COVID-19 pandemic has shuttered more than one million small businesses, many of them in Alabama. This means lost jobs, lost income, and lost optimism for a brighter future. Indeed, circumstances may get worse before they get better: Almost 60 percent of Alabama’s small business owners believe it will take six months to a year before our state’s business climate returns to normal.
That’s a big deal. As a private investor, I network with small business owners on a daily basis. And I can personally confirm: These job creators are struggling more than ever before. From reducing hours to closing altogether, the “new normal” has not been kind to entrepreneurship.
We need to keep entrepreneurs in our hearts and minds. The coronavirus may still bring public-health risks, but we cannot lose sight of its economic toll either. We cannot allow our anxieties and fears to overshadow our sympathy for small business owners who are suffering—now more than ever. The economic repercussions of the pandemic affect millions.
Alabama’s policymakers must continue to balance public-health considerations with the economic component of the COVID-19 response. I repeat: Public health is not the only factor. Those in power have a duty to consider the interests of the small business community, and all of the people who rely on these entrepreneurs to survive and thrive—from job-seekers and employees to their families.
Only by balancing the interests of various constituencies can we respond to the COVID-19 pandemic with maximum efficacy. Tipping the scales too far in favor of “public health,” while losing sight of economics, does more harm than good.
Mark Bankord is the founder and owner of Trajectory Promotional Solutions in Loxley, Alabama, and a partner of the Job Creators Network Foundation.