Yesterday’s RealityChek post presented some facts about the economic performance of America’s states during the CCP Virus era that struck me, anyway, as surprising and important. And it ended with the observation that two big states that have imposed relatively sweeping anti-virus curbs on business and consumer activity – New York and California – accounted for a considerably outsized share of the national economy’s shrinkage during the pandemic through the third quarter of this year (the latest economic statistics available).
Today’s post will use the same data – from a recent Commerce Department report – to show that overall, the states with the most restrictive lockdown etc regimes have generally experienced the biggest economic contractions. That conclusion may sound too obvious to bother thinking about, but it matters because economic distress, as I’ve written repeatedly, produces its own serious public health (both mental and physical costs). Moreover, at least according to most of the public health establishment, even if mass vaccination goes as quickly and smoothly as realistically possible, normality could still be nearly a year off.
As with the previous post, however, some qualifications need to be discussed, and in addition to yesterday’s, two more should be kept in mind. First, despite the connection between CCP Virus-related economic and business curbs on the one hand and slumping economies on the other, there’s a non-trivial number of exceptions, as will be shown below. So it’s distinctly possible that some states have found the kind of balance between still-sometimes (but not always) conflicting economic and public health imperatives that’s worth emulating.
Second, not only have the lockdowns etc been very on-and-off in nature since the pandemic became a pandemic in late winter, but measurements of these lockdowns’ scale unavoidably entail a pretty fair amount of subjectivity.
The source I’m using for this (at this link) looks on-target in general to me. But I have to admit puzzlement at some of the rankings. For example, the source organization, Wallethub.com, places Michigan right in the middle of these rankings – even though Michiganders have been among the most vehement opponents of virus curbs. Have many of the folks directly experiencing this state’s restrictions just been throwing unwarranted tantrums?
Moreover, Maryland, where I live now, has imposed pretty tight restrictions, too, although at least Republican Larry Hogan has been one of those governors who’s given different counties a fair amount of regulatory autonomy since the state (like even many smaller ones) is fairly diverse. But I’m not convinced that overall its curbs have been patchy enough to place it in the lockdowns-light half of states.
Meanwhile, New Mexico is ranked just a little more restrictive than Michigan, though my own look at this state’s policies concluded they’ve been quite lockdown-y.
But nobody’s perfect, so I’m going with Wallethub.com as my lockdown guide, and here’s what I did. First, I looked at the ten states whose economies grew the most (or contracted the least) between the firt and third quarters of this year, and identified where they stand in the Wallethub rankings, and then performed the same exercise with the ten states that suffered the worst contractions. The growth (and contraction) figures represented percentage changes in real gross domestic product, and the Wallethub scale assigns the least restrictive states the lowest numbers. Here are the results:
Top 10 1Q-3Q GDP rank on lockdown scale
Utah: +1.07 3
Washington: +-0.44 36
Delaware: -0.08 31
Arizona: -0.52 45
Iowa: -0.54 5
Idaho: -0.81 2
Indiana: -1.01 15
Georgia: -1.03 13
Arkansas: -1.27 10
Alabama: -1.34 14
The big takeaway? Of these ten states, seven imposed relatively light anti-CCP Virus restrictions
(earning rankings in the lowest half of the fifty states plus the District of Columbia). And four of these states were among the ten least restrictive states. So that looks like solid evidence that the relatively open states were rewarded with the best economic performances, and that this openness as such deserves significant credit. But three states on this list put into effect lockdowns on the tight side and fared relatively well economically, too – Washington, Delaware, and Arizona.
Have they found the policy sweet spot? Or is there something about their economies’ structures that have produced economic resilience? One observation pointing to the importance of structure: both Washington and Arizona boast highly developed tech sectors – Amazon and Microsoft, e.g., headquartering the former, and the latter containing much semiconductor production.
Here are the states with the worst growth performances during the pandemic:
Bottom 10 1Q-3Q GDP rank on lockdown scale
Hawaii: -6.67 51
Wyoming: -5.24 7
New York: -4.56 38
Oklahoma: -3.84 4
Tenn: -3.33 18
Alaska: -3.28 12
Nevada: -3.14 20
New Jersey: -3.08 47
Vermont: -3.06 41
North Dakota: -2.98 9
And these results seem to cut against those of the previous list – because of these low growers, only four had imposed very restrictive lockdowns (Hawaii, New York, New Jersey, and Vermont). Further, three were among the very least restrictive states (Wyoming, Oklahoma, and North Dakota). And the other three were well in the half of states that have been least restrictive (Tennessee, Alaska, and Nevada).
Nonetheless, economic structure considerations as well as policy measures seem to be influencing these results. Principally, Wyoming, Oklahoma, and North Dakota all depend very heavily on a fossil fuels sector that has been plunged into a deep slump due to the virus’ overall economic effects. And lockdown-light-ish Nevada has suffered from the tourism depression.
Now let’s view the situation from the opposite perspective. Let’s take the states with the ten tightest and ten loosest lockdown regimes, and examine their respective economic performance. First, the ten tightest lockdowners, with the most resrictive at the top:
Most restrictive on lockdowns 1Q-3Q GDP growth rank
New Jersey 47
Here the correlation between policy and performance looks awfully strong. Fully eight of the ten biggest economic loser states are among the states with the tightest lockdowns, and three of these are among the ten most restrictive. Interestingly, Arizona comes across as a standout according to this measure, too.
Economic structure is playing a role here, too – as seen by the presence of tourism-reliant Hawaii and Vermont. In addition, Pennsylvania’s become a big energy state thanks to the Marcellus shale formation, and Colorado has long depended heavily on both energy and tourism.
At the same time, Pennsylvania’s got lots of office workers who’ve been able to do their jobs from home – as does New Jersey (which along with New York was hit early and hard by the virus). And what gives with California – of course tourism-heavy, but in many ways the center of both high tech manufacturing and high tech service provision in the nation, not to mention research and development?
So lockdown decisions seem to have made major contributions to these states’ relatively deep downturns.
A similar conclusion seems justified from this list of the ten states that have permitted their economies to remain most open and imposed the fewest cubrs on behavior – with the least restrictive closest to the top:
Least restrictive on lockdowns 1Q-3Q GDP rank
South Dakota 14
North Dakota 41
Seven of these ten lockdown-lightest states are in the top half of U.S. economic performers, four are in the top ten and one (Wisconsin) is Number 11. Moreover, the three conspicuous exceptions to this pattern – economically woeful Oklahoma, Wyoming, and North Dakota – are all, as previously pointed out, states that have suffered because they’re energy-heavy.
As a result, the way I see it, this table and at least two of the others of the four total presented here, along with yesterday’s state-level data, further strengthen the case that lockdowns per se have exacted major – though far from catastrophic – economic prices. But by the same token, these results confront the nation with the question of far away the economic tipping point might be.