Wilton editorial: Unemployment figures, reopening leadership

It was a real disappointment when the state Department of Labor released its unemployment numbers for April. While there was a caveat that the unemployed in each town were “severely underestimated,” the numbers were so far off they are totally meaningless and useless.

The number given for Wilton — an unemployment rate of just 5.2 percent, not that much higher than the pre-COVID rate of 3 percent — has little basis in reality. For whatever reason, the state lopped off 1,000 or so people from the labor force.

It is true state workers are dealing with a huge number of unemployment claims — about three years’ worth inundating them in just a matter of weeks. Unfortunately, it’s all coming at a critical time when towns have been trying to parse out their school and municipal budgets. If ever there was a time when accurate unemployment numbers were needed, this is it.

As it turns out Wilton’s three boards charged with figuring out the town’s ultimate budget — selectmen, education and finance — had to work without that number, guessing how many people might be out of work.

A different set of numbers from the state did seem to indicate a steady decline over the past several weeks in how many people are making initial claims for unemployment benefits. But again, the state said those numbers could not be verified. Perhaps the trend, at least, is accurate and that would be heartening.

Reopening leadership

Ultimately, the success of reviving the economy won’t be determined by directives from presidents, governors, mayors or first selectmen.

It will be dictated by personal choices.

Phase 1 of “the reopening” is past and the clock is ticking quickly to June 20, when the next set of restrictions will be lifted.

Everyone wants to get back to business as usual, but that won’t happen in the near future. Back in mid-March, when schools, businesses, restaurants — just about everything — closed, there were 41 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Connecticut, with no reported deaths.

On Monday, there were 42,740 total confirmed cases and 3,964 COVD-19- associated deaths. It’s easy to lose context when so many lives have been lost in so short a time.

Just because places can reopen doesn’t mean everyone should rush to open doors. This is where individual choices must be made. If you are a manager or business owner, wait until you have the right precautions in place. Make sure your employees are comfortable as well. If you are a worker, think about everyone around you.

Our eagerness to get back to business is tempered by simple realities. With more than 100,000, the United States is the world leader in deaths related to the pandemic. Nations such as South Korea, Germany and China saw a spike after relaxing regulations.

It’s human nature to seek other people. We want to be in a crowd, singing at a concert, melting on the beach, laughing together in a movie theater.

It’s also a natural instinct to rebuff setbacks. So we need to continue acting against our impulses in the weeks ahead. If an employee can continue working from home, they should be encouraged to do so.

People who do not feel safe should continue to be cautious when going out to run errands. Expanding your personal “bubble” to include more family and friends needs some serious consideration.

People can’t just feel safe, they need to be safe.

That won’t happen if poor personal decisions are made. Dr. Anthony Fauci, who has become a trusted voice of reason regarding the coronavirus, has warned that “consequences could be really serious” if the economy reopens too quickly.

Similar mistakes triggered the second wave of the so-called Spanish Flu a century ago.

This moment in history will be defined by how we exercise the freedoms that define us as Americans.