The White House announced that as we cope with the devastating impact of the COVID-19 pandemic Americans should prepare for a scenario in which the country’s unemployment rate reaches 20 percent. The United States has not seen an unemployment rate that high since the Great Depression, when unemployment approached 25 percent in 1933. Before the coronavirus, unemployment hovered at 3.5 percent in February, one of the lowest rates in recent history.
One does not need to be an economist to understand what would happen if unemployment reached 20 percent in this country. The unemployment rate measures the number of people out of work in the last 30 days who continued to actively seek a job. An unemployment rate of 20 percent would reverberate throughout the economy in ways most American adults have not experienced. Even in the Great Recession of the late 2000s, unemployment only reached 10 percent in October 2009.
One in five willing workers being sidelined would cut back spending on goods and services, a scenario already occurring as Americans isolate themselves. I noted previously that “quarantines hurt workers in the restaurant, tourism, and service industries. Most of these workers earn hourly wages, not annual salaries. They cannot telework as white-collar workers can. They and their employers rely on everyday spending to survive.”
This is a nightmare scenario for the American economy. The government is already considering a $1 trillion stimulus package to prevent a deep recession or depression. The government needs to take additional measures to protect both the greater economy and the American workers who power it through earning and spending – temporarily halt most forms of employment-based immigration.
Economic prosperity creates tight labor markets, which raise wages and conditions for workers as employers compete for them. But if the unemployment rate begins to soar, the government needs to seriously consider halting employment-based immigration, especially employment-related. Our government is taking drastic measures to avoid crippling the economy.
Restricting the entry of employment-based immigrants and nonimmigrant guestworkers should certainly be on the menu of options if the nightmare scenario posited by Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin comes to fruition. Our government cannot allow uninterrupted immigration into the country if our unemployment rate reaches recession or depression levels. That would be profoundly irresponsible and needlessly destructive.