Coronavirus Is Speeding Up the Amazonification of the Planet
As restaurants, bars, and local shops close down, platform-based monoliths are vacuuming up customers and jobs
There are always parties who profit in times of crisis, and so it goes with our ever-accelerating global pandemic. For toilet paper manufacturers and supermarket chains and, say, a pair of grifter brothers hawking Purell at an obscene markup, the coronavirus has been good for business. But the biggest beneficiaries in the long term may be Amazon and the tech companies that follow its lead.
On Monday, the online retailer announced it was hiring a staggering 100,000 workers at $17 an hour minimum — $2 higher than usual — to help meet the exploding demand from socially distant shoppers. Much of the rest of the economy, of course, is in a tailspin: Airlines and hotels are sitting empty, small businesses are getting hammered, and the service industry is experiencing mass layoffs. Waitstaff, bartenders, hairstylists, local shop workers — millions of Americans are, until further notice, without work. Amazon itself shuttered its service to companies delivering nonessential products and services, affecting innumerable businesses.
U.S. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin warned Congress that without a sizable stimulus package, unemployment could rise as high as 20% by the end of the pandemic. One in five workers say they’ve been fired or had their hours slashed. Restaurants are going under, fast. The financial intelligence firm Moody’s Analytics estimates that nearly half of all American jobs are at risk.
Amazon is well aware of the economic destruction going on outside its walls and makes it central to its hiring pitch: “We also know many people have been economically impacted as jobs in areas like hospitality, restaurants, and travel are lost or furloughed as part of this crisis,” Dave Clark, Amazon’s senior vice president of Worldwide Operations, wrote in the company’s hiring announcement. “We want those people to know we welcome them on our teams until things return to normal and their past employer is able to bring them back.” Of course, depending on the extent of the economic damage Covid-19 wreaks, that might well be never.