Historically low unemployment and a tight job market could be on the line.
Weekly jobless claims in the U.S. spiked 33% as the coronavirus outbreak shuttered major industries, an alarming number as Wall Street seeks clarity on the potential economic impact of COVID-19.
And the jury's still out on what should and could be done to mitigate the economic fallout from the outbreak.
Ian Shepherdson, chief economist at Pantheon Macroeconomics, said the economy won't make up for its losses the way many believe it will when the outbreak subsides:
"There's going to be what we call enormous dead-weight losses, a permanent loss of activity that we can't recover. The fact is that a lot of spending that's not happening now won't then be caught up in double- or triple-time in the period when the thing is over. If you've missed going out to a restaurant once or twice a week in the second quarter, you're not going to then go out 30 nights running in the third quarter. Some of that activity is gone for good."
Allianz chief economic advisor Mohamed El-Erian said that while efforts to stall the coronavirus spread and action from the Federal Reserve has him "feel[ing] somewhat better" about the situation, ultimately it is still too difficult to predict, with precision, the virus's impact on the economy:
"We don't know how long it's going to last. We don't know how deep it's going to be, we don't know what the restart looks like [and] the doctors themselves don't know. [As for] this notion that we can give a precise number, that's just absurd, and we should stop doing it, because it's just going to come and destroy whatever credibility remains of the economic profession, and I feel strongly about that."
Gary Cohn, former National Economic Council director, emphasized that the current structure of the economy hinges largely on services, which could lead to a bigger fallout than predicted:
"I believe that we are going to have massive unemployment very, very quickly. And I hope that all of our predictions are wrong, but you cannot work today. ... Think of all the service industries that we just think are part of our normal, everyday life. I always remind people we're an 80% service economy. Think of what your favorite city looked like 30 years ago, think of the retail stores that occupy today. Those retail stores are service stores, they're not goods stores. Our economy is based on buying services."
CNBC's "Mad Money" host Jim Cramer said it is time to protect workers:
"The punishment [of Dodd Frank was that] we can't keep doing this, because the CEOs made out like bandits. So what we have to do is just look at the proxy, see who the highest paid people are and tell them, 'Look, you can get this first lien, but that money, your salary, is going to the workers.' Now, I know that that's going to sound a little too much like 'What Is to Be Done?,' Lenin's seminal treatise about what we should do with corporations. But I don't think any of us care. I think at this point, we cannot have the fat cats make money at the expense of the workers."