Every Business Is Essential to Its Founder, and Its Employees
To flatten the COVID-19 curve, state governments have shut down the operation of thousands—maybe millions—of small businesses across the United States. Similar to a federal government shutdown that divides all federal employees into “essential” and “nonessential,” state governments have done the same with our private businesses.
Small business retail was struggling before the COVID-19 pandemic. This sudden halt will force many of our favorite Main Street shops and restaurants to close their doors forever.
People start businesses to feed their families, not to feed the S&P 500 index. They also support the livelihoods of all employees and their families. So, before our elected officials categorize local shops and services as “nonessential,” they should ask themselves: essential to whom?
Every small business is essential. If there are people on the payroll who depend on their paychecks for food, clothing, and shelter, make no mistake—the business is essential.
Social distancing is necessary to protect Americans’ lives, but state governments do not have the moral authority to decide which products and services are essential, and which ones are not. This is the textbook definition of picking winners and losers in the market. And people of all political affiliations can agree that kind of preferential treatment is wrong.
The federal government issued a $50 billion bailout to airlines under the CARES Act with the understanding they would keep employees on the payroll through September. In a big middle finger to taxpayers, United Airlines is already preparing for layoffs beginning Oct. 1.
Big box stores and other large national companies are thriving in this new economy. Walmart is planning to hire 150,000 new employees through April and May to meet the new spike in demand in its stores. Amazon is looking to hire an additional 100,000 delivery workers as well.
Staples and Office Depot are still open. A Staples representative told Business Insider the chain is essential because it “provides business and educational materials and products, household goods, and cleaning supplies.” Employees are telling a different story. "[It] seems ridiculous that we would still be considered essential when we are sold out of the very products that make us essential," a California employee said.
While small-business owners are stuck at home and struggling to make ends meet, large national companies are still able to make money for a simple reason—they have better lobbyists. Entire teams of lobbyists and influencers are elbowing their way into government offices at the federal and state level to get the best possible deal for their clients.
Meanwhile, is anybody out there sticking up for the local barber shop, or restaurant, or book store that has been deemed “nonessential?” I didn’t think so.
In these uncertain times, we must follow the advice of health experts as we attempt to flatten the curve. We each have a duty to act responsibly to protect American lives. But promoting public health does not mean destroying the livelihoods of millions of American taxpayers because they didn’t make the cut behind closed doors in Washington.
These are not employment statistics—these are people who have bills to pay and children to feed. Politicians will do well to remember that every small business is essential to the person who started it, and the people who work there.