"I keep on praying for a blue sky ... I keep on searching through the rain; I keep on thinking of the good times ... Will they ever come again? Now I wonder." — from "I Wonder," as performed by Chris Isaak
Perhaps the most disconcerting aspect of our current medical health crisis is that two of our primary needs are in direct conflict. One is our need to remain healthy, which currently requires that we minimize close contact with others. And the other is our need for socialization, which involves interacting with others in person. Not since the global influenza outbreak of 1918 have Americans been asked to isolate themselves to remain healthy.
Long term, we all know that isolation is not a viable option. We require social interaction to be healthy and to lead full, complete lives. Loneliness, especially among our elder population, is already considered a killer disease. The fact that many of our older residents cannot be visited by family and friends during this crisis is causing suffering, pain and health issues. Grandparents can't be visited by grandchildren without a health risk. The very thing that keeps us happy can hurt us. It’s o unfortunate.
American businesses are caught in a similar snare. To be successful, entrepreneurs and small business owners must network, socialize, and touch as many people as possible. Temporarily though, these same business owners must recoil from that instinct, follow CDC guidelines and limit contact with others (potential customers and clients). Again, what a conundrum.
Everyone wants to witness success in containing the spread of the virus, and we all simultaneously desire to see the economy (and markets) return to previous asset levels with lessened volatility. These two objectives are, in many ways, temporarily in conflict as well.
The economy will likely not right itself until we overcome our temporary health challenge, and to do that, GDP must suffer in the short term. Small businesses will suffer while waiting on assistance that may or may not arrive soon enough. Mortgages and bills will go unpaid. Millions of jobs will be lost and unemployment claims will reach staggering heights. Plans for home purchases will be scrapped. Commercial buildings will go unrented. The financial pain will be significant and pervasive.
Once the virus is contained, we will likely see a powerful economic recovery. But while we are mired in this pandemic and economic downturn, it's difficult to reimagine life before the spread of the virus. But it will return, perhaps sooner than we had envisioned.
Meanwhile, the pandemic is bringing out the best in many of us. Like thousands of other Americans, a woman in my hometown of Chicago has organized a group that is making homemade protective surgical masks. After moving her old sewing machine into her living room, she is able to produce six per hour. Her group donated 1,500 masks recently to a medical facility. This is America, and when we pull together in this fashion, we are capable of achieving any medical or economic goal to which we aspire.
Margaret R. McDowell, ChFC, AIF, author of the syndicated economic column "Arbor Outlook," is the founder of Arbor Wealth Management, LLC, (850-608-6121 — www.arborwealth.net), a "fee-only" registered investment advisory firm located near Sandestin.