I believe we have a moral imperative to resist layoffs during this pandemic. Even in times of relative prosperity, layoffs can ruin lives. But in this moment, cutting off people’s access to income and possibly health care will most likely plunge individuals into prolonged conditions of precarity. And for those colleagues who are members of marginalized communities, such precarity comes with a much sharper edge.
There’s more. In the absence of a robust system of national unemployment insurance and universal healthcare, each new layoff in a time of such deep economic crisis is bound to have cascading effects. Each new layoff adds to the burden on a social and economic structure being stressed to the verge of collapse. Every layoff has a face: the face of a person who may not know where the rent money will come from, where the next meal will come from, or whom to turn to if they get sick. A person who, even if they have reserves to draw on, will have to curtail their spending, thereby contributing to the pandemic’s economic damage and perhaps to the decision of another employer to lay off someone else.
Now is not the time for institutions to focus on their financial health without considering the greater good. Just as the health of our bodies requires collective action on behalf of goals that transcend individual satisfaction, so the health of our institutions in this moment requires care for the impacts that can’t be captured on a balance sheet. We must work together to protect the lives of our colleagues, and to protect the very social fabric that universities exist to serve and enrich.