It was true in 2020 and it's true now: We're not going to be able to fix the economy until the pandemic is brought under control.
The Labor Department reported Friday that employers added just 235,000 non-farm jobs to their payrolls in August — lower than expected, and a sharp drop from June and July. The problem? COVID-19 has made a big, ugly comeback, hurting the retail and hospitality sectors in particular. "Delta's fingerprints are alllll over this report," economics writer Catherine Rampell said on Twitter.
For much of the early pandemic era, Republicans told Americans we had a choice between protecting ourselves from COVID or letting the economy thrive. Who can forget when Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick urged senior citizens to "take a chance on their survival" for the sake of the country's financial well-being? And then-President Trump continually railed against his own government's lockdown recommendations and the effect they were having on his administration's economic numbers. "We cannot let the cure be worse than the problem itself," he said last year.
But the Delta surge is proving that it's impossible to disentangle the country's economic health from its health health. While some states and locales are reimposing mask mandates — particularly in schools — the lockdown era in America is pretty much over. People are free to conduct business as they like. Right now, with the risk of infection still lurking, they're clearly hesitant.
Ironically, it's probably Republican governors who are now holding back the economy. Many of them ended their states' enhanced unemployment programs early — research shows that action didn't really increase employment, but it did cause a $2 billion reduction in household spending. And states like Florida and Texas are prohibiting businesses from requiring "vaccine passports" that would let customers know they're entering a (literally) safe space. "Why would you prevent people from enacting policies that give their customers the assurance, the confidence that they can walk into a business, and that they'll be safe?" asked one Florida state representative. Many customers have decided to stay home instead.
Those choice between a growing economy and public health was always false. The newest jobs report shows that you can't have one without the other.