A number of European countries, after similarly failing to control the spread of the virus, and thus being forced to lock down large parts of their economies, have chosen to protect jobs. Denmark has agreed to compensate Danish employers for up to 90 percent of their workers’ salaries. In the Netherlands, companies facing a loss of at least 20 percent of their revenue can similarly apply for the government to cover 90 percent of payroll. And the United Kingdom announced that it would pay up to 80 percent of the wage bill for as many companies as needed the help, with no cap on the total amount of public spending.
Some countries only pay employers for workers who aren’t working. Under Germany’s Kurzarbeit scheme, the government chips in even for workers kept on part time. The German government predicts that 2.35 million workers will draw benefits during the crisis. In either case, the goal is to preserve people in existing jobs — to preserve the antediluvian fabric of the economy to the greatest extent possible, for the benefit of workers and firms.
“What we’re trying to do is to freeze the economy,” the Danish employment minister, Peter Hummelgaard, told The Atlantic. “It’s about preserving Main Street as much as we can.”
Preserving jobs is important because a job isn’t merely about the money. Compensated labor provides a sense of independence, identity and purpose; an unemployment check does not replace any of those things. People who lose jobs also lose their benefits — and in the United States, that includes their health insurance. And a substantial body of research on earlier economic downturns documents that people who lose jobs, even if they eventually find new ones, suffer lasting damage to their earnings potential, health and even the prospects of their children. The longer it takes to find a new job, the deeper the damage tends to be.
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