Millions of Americans, idled by the coronavirus pandemic, could soon be back at work — and still keeping their social distance.
Business leaders and analysts see promising signs of a recovery in the labor markets, and in the coronavirus-crippled economy, by early summer, The Post has learned.
“I would hope and pray to God it happens,” said Ed Doherty, chairman and co-CEO of privately held Doherty Enterprises, the 15th-largest restaurant franchisee in the US, operating in 146 locations in New York, New Jersey, Georgia and Florida. Its brands include Applebee’s, Panera Bread, Chevys Fresh Mex and Quaker Steak & Lube.
“Americans will probably travel less overseas when this is over and will spend locally, which will also help our businesses,” Doherty said.
Despite the grim coronavirus toll, hope grew last week. Leaders in the New York metro region openly discussed a plan to gradually restore business. Gov. Andrew Cuomo said that it is being hatched with officials in Connecticut and New Jersey, where restrictions might be lifted, for example, on residents who’ve tested negative or developed immunity.
Those sentiments were echoed at the White House by National Economic Council Director Larry Kudlow, who raised the prospect of the $22 trillion US economy being reopened in the next four to eight weeks. President Trump fueled the feel-good mood when he weighed issuing more stimulus checks for Americans, and even touted opening much of the economy by May 1. Nearly 17 million Americans have lost their jobs over the past three weeks.
“The important thing is for companies, especially small businesses who have been the hardest hit with layoffs, to get through the next 90 days,” said Raymond Lee, CEO of jobs Web site Careerminds.
Doherty — who was pained to lay off 7,500 of his 8,000 employees at the outset of the pandemic shutdowns — said a recovery can’t come fast enough for him.
“I have been in this business for 35 years, and last week was the worst time in that period by a thousand-fold, compared with the impact of the financial crisis in 2009,” he said.
Despite the risks of fresh outbreaks, some analysts say summer could be a bright spot, especially with the shutdowns and social distancing paying dividends. The possibilities of a medical cure and warm weather curbing the virus propelled enthusiasm.
“The relief rally has come earlier [than expected],” said Todd Morgan, chairman of Bel Air Investment Advisors, last week, as the Dow — some 20 percent off its record close in February — continued to erase steep losses. “I believe investor confidence will improve once the quarantine is eliminated,” he added. “I also think the market will bottom out before the virus does.”
Max Gokhman, head of asset allocation at Pacific Life Fund Advisors, said most workers expected to be rehired once the crisis subsides, since most layoffs so far are regarded as temporary. Under this scenario, restaurants, hotels, manufacturing, constructions, malls, finance and industry could come roaring back.
“We expect states to begin rolling back restrictions in mid-May, with most of them lifted by mid-June — except where daily infection rates remain elevated,” Gokhman said. “It’s possible to see local restrictions reenacted where new cases suddenly spike. But we don’t expect statewide shutdowns to reoccur.”
Tim Hentschel, CEO of hotel booking website HotelPlanner, said his company is forecasting a return to “normal” by about June 1. “We are encouraging people to book their summer travel now, as it is a win-win for the forthcoming months,” he added. “Flight prices are incredibly low, and airlines are allowing cancellations at any time.”
That’s some relief for Mike Miranti, who has been cooped up at home since his job as head server at the upscale Feroce Ristorante in Midtown ceased because of the coronavirus.
“I am such a social person, I would meet a million people a day when I was out and about,” said Miranti, who also produces the food and hospitality podcast “NotAFoodie.”
“It drives me crazy being at home right now with just my dog,” he added. “I want to get back to work as soon as it is safe and possible.”