(The Center Square) – A working paper examining how U.S. states were responding to the COVID-19 pandemic found that states with strict lockdowns and other COVID-19 policies were doing little to reduce deaths from COVID-19 to prevent, but these economic restrictions and school closures proved expensive in other ways.
“School closures may ultimately prove to be the costliest policy decision of the pandemic era, both economically and in terms of mortality,” wrote University of Chicago economist Casey Mulligan and fellow authors Stephen Moore and Phil Kerpen of the Committee to Unleash Prosperity in the newspaper.
“A study found that school closures at the end of the previous 2019-2020 school year are associated with 13.8 million years of life lost. At [National Institutes of Health] An analysis found that life expectancy for high school graduates is 4 to 6 years longer than for high school dropouts,” the authors wrote. “The [Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development] estimates that learning losses from pandemic-era school closures could result in a 3% drop in lifetime earnings and that just one-third of a year of learning lost has a long-term economic impact of $14 trillion.
The report found that “unlike mortality or economic outcomes, the closure of public schools was entirely under the control of policymakers. Almost all private schools were open.”
The National Bureau of Economic Research working paper examined how states have fared on health outcomes, economic performance and impact on education. Then the combined performance of all 50 states and the District of Columbia was evaluated.
Utah, Nebraska, Vermont, Montana, South Dakota, Florida, New Hampshire, Maine, Arkansas and Idaho ranked in the top 10. At the bottom were Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Nevada, Maryland, Illinois, California, New Mexico, New York, the Districts of Columbia and New Jersey.
The authors used unemployment data and gross domestic product to measure economic output. For education, they used the cumulative percentage of Burbio’s in-person tuition for the entire 2020-2021 school year, half-weighting hybrid tuition. To measure mortality, the authors used two measures: COVID-19-related deaths reported to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and excess mortality from all causes.
“The correlation between health and economic scores is essentially zero, suggesting that countries that have withdrawn the most from economic activity have not significantly improved health as a result,” the authors write.
A notable exception was Hawaii.
“It ranks last on the economic index and second to last in education. Since March 2022, it has been the number one priority in health. If one understands in the context of island states like Australia and New Zealand, the experience of [Hawaii] suggests that island sites can reduce mortality for a year or more by incurring significant economic losses. (Australia and New Zealand had higher outbreaks in later stages of virus spread.) Interestingly, Maine opened its schools nearly three times faster than Hawaii and was able to achieve nearly as high a health score,” the authors wrote.
Mulligan of the University of Chicago’s Department of Economics said states that didn’t follow CDC guidelines performed better than those that did. More broadly, he said research shows federalism worked by allowing states to respond to the pandemic individually.
“It would have been a shame if [former President Donald] Trump had said ‘no bans,'” he said.
Federal agencies like the CDC and the US Department of Education should have played a more informative role during the pandemic. Specifically, Mulligan said the Department of Education should have been collecting data from private schools to share with public schools on best practices for operating safely. The CDC could have done the same.
“Pandemic mortality was greater in states where obesity, diabetes and pre-pandemic aging were more common. Economic activity was lower in states that were particularly intensive in terms of housing and food,” the authors concluded. “Nevertheless, even after accounting for these factors, there remains a large residual variability in both mortality and economic activity because the 50 states and DC have taken very different approaches to combating the COVID-19 pandemic.”