A new paper measuring the economic and health trajectories of states during the pandemic calls into question the wisdom of more-restrictive policies to preserve public health.
“A Final Report Card on the States’ Response to COVID-19” is a working paper published by the National Bureau of Economic Research, written by Phil Kerpen of the Committee to Unleash Prosperity, Steve Moore of the Heritage Foundation, and Casey Mulligan of the University of Chicago. In it, the three adjust economic, health, and education data to compare state policy responses to the pandemic.
Pennsylvania did not fare well. Its overall rank was 42nd; its worst showing was in economic measures (45th), but scored better with its education response (35th) and health response (21st). The economic pain from pandemic policy did not necessarily leave the Commonwealth better off in terms of health outcomes. The authors warn that the conventional wisdom on lockdowns is misleading.
“The correlation between health and economy scores is essentially zero, which suggests that states that withdrew the most from economic activity did not significantly improve health by doing so,” they wrote.
The economic pain of lockdown and restrictive activity, in other words, did not lead to fewer deaths. However, states that remained open and more permissible were not necessarily the best in health outcomes, either. Florida, which notably rejected lockdown policies before other states, still only had average results in health.
“There is no clear pattern in which states had high and low mortality, although we note one major study from Rand Corporation researchers found that lockdowns increased all-cause mortality to a statistically significant extent,” the authors wrote. “Whether or not political leaders can be considered responsible for mortality outcomes is therefore unclear, although advocates of a ‘focused protection’ strategy have suggested that sheltering the high-risk could reduce overall mortality.”
Utah, Nebraska, and Vermont were substantially above-average in each category, though their policies differed. The authors noted that states with higher rates of obesity, diabetes, and the elderly had higher pandemic mortality rates – states with more health problems and older populations faced a more-difficult problem, policy wise, than other states.
What emerges from the NBER study is that state-level experimentation allowed policy differences aligning with popular preference. Yet, more-restrictive policies hurt state economies without, necessarily, the benefit of better health outcomes.
This article was originally posted on Pennsylvania 42nd in COVID-19 policy response