In the area of the country in which I currently reside macroeconomic conditions are very strong. Unemployment is at record lows, employment opportunities abound in almost every sector, real estate prices are still reasonable, and overall inflation is tame. By all of the standard metrics we are in a boom time and it even feels that way to the average person like me. For the most part it is all very positive news with one notable exception, since these strong economic conditions took hold I have noticed a significant decline in quality in the economic sectors with which I most interact on a day to day basis, retail and service. In many respects I suppose that is not all that surprising. At full employment retailers and service businesses are struggling to find hire-able people and thus standards have been relaxed resulting in a “minimum wage” effort from persons who feel like they could quit at any time and find another job very quickly. I have little sympathy for the various employers of shit hole fast food places and crappy retail outlets who are complaining about this “problem”. The way I see it they made their own bed now they must lie in it. Pay people decent wages in jobs that are at least minimally interesting and satisfying and this problem disappears tomorrow. You often hear this sort of whining when listening to wall street types complaining about the non-existent “skills gap” that is supposedly preventing them from finding qualified people to take certain jobs. See this link below for my dissection of this other non-problem.
This unintended consequence of full employment (for simplicity’s sake I am considering full employment an indicator of strong economic conditions and an overall healthy economy though of course I recognize that is not always the case) got me wondering about what other, perhaps less noticeable consequences might be at least theoretically plausible during times like these. Given my day job you might not be surprised to note that my mind quickly turned to food safety and I wondered if there could be a correlation between increases in foodborne disease outbreaks during periods of strong economic growth and expansion. If I were at said ob I would do literature searches, find data from as many different sources as I could, compile that into some tables and charts, and then pull together a nicely annotated and referenced summary of everything I found. Thank God I am not there right now because all that crap takes a ton of time and effort and it is much easier to speculate and just say yes, there is most likely an increase. I’ll leave it to others to do the hard work of proving me right or wrong. I’d venture to guess someone has already done that sort of analysis, and probably many people have. My thinking on this point runs along the lines of what I discussed earlier, decreases in quality of people eventually leads to decreases in quality of product. In this particular case quality directly relates to safety as any slack in quality systems in food production and/or service can quickly snowball into food safety issues as contamination risks increase.
Conversely, I would hypothesize that one would expect an increase in foodborne disease outbreaks at the other extreme, during very poor economic conditions, though the effect may not be as strong. Here I am thinking more about producers cutting corners to save money, not hiring enough people, and/or a general decrease in the overall health of the population leading to everyone being just a little bit more vulnerable to disease. I would think the cutting of corners and lack of people could be offset some by extra diligence and effort by those who remain employed as they want to work as hard as possible to keep whatever jobs they do have.