Building an “endemic” economy means creating consistent policies for the long haul, not enacting arbitrary, short-term mandates.
By Rob Lapsley
Rob Lapsley is president of the California Business Roundtable.
Tracy Hernandez, Special to CalMatters
Tracy Hernandez is founding CEO of the Los Angeles County Business Federation “BizFed.”
A pandemic, by its nature, is chaotic and unpredictable. Over the past 18 months, “unprecedented” has become the norm. Employers and employees were left wondering week after week if they would stay open, close, hire, lay off or even survive.
But as we look to move from economic recovery to growth, we must start building economic and public policies that allow us to live and work safely alongside a virus undoubtedly to become endemic and part of our lives, likely for years to come.
The early and often chaotic national and state response to the pandemic was a main driver in the recall of Gov. Gavin Newsom. At the same time, Newsom’s decision to later move toward more flexible policies and start building an “endemic economy” helped rewrite public narratives around the state’s COVID-19 response at a key time, and ultimately contributed to the recall’s defeat.
The governor’s post-June 15 approach to COVID-19 has been the beginning of the most important public policy discussion of our lifetimes: how to concurrently fight COVID-19 and its variants while allowing economic activity to resume and grow. The governor’s post June-15 strategy, especially pertaining to businesses, has been more predictable and consistent, allowing Californians to begin adjusting to a “new normal.”
During COVID, businesses quickly pivoted to new ways of operating and invested hundreds of millions of dollars into creating safe harbors for customers and workers. The governor’s reopening policies empowered many of these employers with the confidence to rehire employees. They worry less about whether they’ll be able to keep their doors open the next day and continue paying their workforce.
Schools and universities have also reopened, allowing students to reintegrate into peer groups and begin compensating for significant learning loss experienced during “Zoom school,” allowing working parents, especially mothers, to reenter the workforce.
How do we maintain this recovery momentum while continuing our fight to limit COVID-19 transmission and protect society’s most vulnerable from severe outbreaks? There won’t be easy answers, but we must start by restoring confidence in consistent and predictable employment and economic activity that encourages investment in the future. Ultimately, we will never move from job recovery to job growth without moving from a pandemic economy to an endemic economy.
This is especially important in California, the 5th largest economy in the world and driver of our national economic stability. Our state lost the most jobs during the pandemic, and while we are regaining more jobs each month, we have not yet made the transition to job growth. Only a few industry sectors – mostly those immune to the economic shutdown – employ more people than before the pandemic began. This is unsustainable and threatens to destabilize our long-term economic health.
Employers are doing their part to move toward an endemic economy by increasing their efforts to encourage their employees to get vaccinated and promoting vaccines for customers. We know that as vaccine rates increase, breakthrough cases will decrease and more lives will be saved. Additional mitigations like mask-wearing, when appropriate, can help further reduce transmission without wholesale closures of the economy.
Building an endemic economy means creating consistent policies for the long haul – like modernizing telecommuting regulations – not enacting arbitrary, short-term mandates. Members of California’s diverse business community stand ready to lend a hand to policymakers on this journey toward endemic economic recovery, as we have throughout the pandemic.