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Recovery requires getting all retailers back to work

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What do an airplane without passengers, a hotel without guests, and a store without shoppers have in common?

They are all in big trouble without support from Congress.

Sadly, this is no joke.

Airlines and hotels have received significant attention as they were the first industries to experience widespread shutdowns caused by the spread of COVID-19. But lost in recent headlines, is that much of physical retail is now in the same boat, shut down as Americans increasingly shelter at home.

Most retailers are in the same situation as the nation’s airlines and hotels — closed or closing. Without the same dedicated focus our airlines are getting, some retailers will be lost before stores can open again — and millions of jobs will evaporate.

The gravity of the current situation is apparent to us all.

Priority number one must be to keep people safe and stop the spread of this virus. In this regard, enormous credit goes to the segment of retail that is busy now serving the most pressing needs of consumers whose lives have been upended. We collectively owe a great debt of gratitude to the retail workers who are working day and night to keep stores clean, shelves stocked, and anxious families supplied.

But priority two needs to be ensuring that workers are protected and central to doing so is ensuring that the retailers who employ or support 42 million jobs in America are a focus of the relief efforts. From product manufacturing, through the supply chain, into the store and out the door, the retail industry is responsible for more jobs than any other industry in the United States.

Today, however, a majority of retailers are closed. Not because of mismanagement, as some critics of the relief package being developed by Congress have shockingly suggested, but because government has rightfully ordered people to say home. As a result, millions of people who were working last week, will not be working this week.

Today, these retailers have millions of employees collecting pay while stores are closed. Without revenue coming in there is a limit to how long this situation can continue. These businesses critically need a bridge of assistance from the federal government to protect those workers and ensure that when the crisis has passed, they can open again and serve their customers again. 

The state of the U.S. economy hangs in the balance. The actions that lawmakers take will determine the fate of millions of jobs. Among them are millions of jobs in the retail industry.

When the COVID-19 crisis finally passes and its story is written, there will be heroes and villains, brilliance and foolishness, sacrifice and greed. Congress has a chance to contribute to that story now by recognizing those industries most immediately impacted by the crisis and providing support to them and their workers immediately.

Policymakers need to get it right and remember the millions of people counting on retail for their paycheck.

Brain Dodge is the president of the Retail Industry Leaders Association (@RILAtweets).

Tags American economy Coronavirus coronavirus pandemic COVID-19 economic stimulus retail

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