STATE PANDEMIC RESPONSE:
UNDERSTANDING THE IMPACT ON EMPLOYMENT & OPPORTUNITY

Understanding
The Report

 Key Findings

  • The severity and degree to which each state responded to the pandemic varied greatly state-by-state.
  • The number of jobs lost in a given state was directly associated with how severely that state shut down its economy. 
  • More severe responses not only impacted immediate job loss but have had significant impact on long-term recovery.
  • The severity of response did not seem to have a significant impact on hospitalizations or death rates from the pandemic.
  • The speed at which state’s were able to recover from a job perspective was directly related to the severity by which they responded.

Why it matters

  • While the shutdowns affected all Americans to varying degrees, it’s clear that those most affected were low-income and poor Americans.
  • Minor changes in the way that a state responds to events like a pandemic could result in hundreds of thousands of people being unable to work and provide.
  • Work provides more than a paycheck and can result in vital positive mental and social health to a community and individual.
  • The results suggest that state and local governments must craft their economic response to the pandemic with greater care, seeking to impact employment less severely.

The Working Paper

In the fall of 2021, the Georgia Center for Opportunity worked with experts from Emory University, Texas Public Policy Foundation, and Southern Methodist University to assess the work impact of governmental response to the pandemic. The goal was to better understand what actions caused the largest impact on the opportunity to work and how we might better respond in the future.

This Working Paper is the initial report that shows how severe the response was by state governments and how it directly impacted job loss and recovery.

What We Learned

Governmental Response

As the world faced an unprecedented global pandemic, governments scrambled to develop a response. Both federal and state governments sought to react in measured approaches. The goal seemingly was to stop the spread of the deadly virus while keeping society relatively open and our economies moving forward.

One of the primary ways that governments responded was by instituting restrictions on businesses and access to those businesses where it was perceived that community spread would take place. This knowingly would have a great impact on local economies and the labor market.

 

Minor changes in our response could result in millions of people without work.

Understanding The Economic Toll

With over a year-and-a-half worth of data to collect, we now have a clear understanding of how the measures each state took to curb the spread of the virus impacted their economies.

The response of policymakers to the pandemic largely focused on public health—preventing as many people as possible from contracting and spreading the virus. But an often-overlooked public health indicator was the value of work itself. Work has long been a measure of success and personal health for individuals and for communities. What’s more, the economic impacts of our pandemic-era responses — such as closed businesses and rising inflation indicators — are often most impactful to marginalized communities, including those in poverty and people of color. Actions taken by states should not create overly burdensome social and financial costs to these communities, especially if these costs will impact the trajectory of opportunity in the long term.

The Georgia Center for Opportunity with the help of Emory University, Texas Public Policy Foundation, and Southern Methodist University looked into weighing the level of response by state governments and the long-term impact on the labor market. In researching government actions we have been better able to understand how severe each state’s actions were and whether they had any measurable impact on cases or hospitalizations. This should better help us to react to additional variants or other pandemic situations.

 

THE SEVERITY INDEX

The study used an abridged version of the Stringency Index from the Coronavirus Government ResponseTracker of the Blavatnik School of Government, Oxford University, to measure the governmental responses of the states.

Long-Term Impact

This working paper includes a breakdown of the severity index which uses non-prejudice measures to determine the severity by which states governments instituted restrictive measures.

From the study, we know that each state responded to the pandemic in varying ways and with varying levels of success. What we did learn is that the number of jobs lost in a given state was directly associated with how severely that state restricted its economy, seemingly without significantly impacting hospitalization or death rates from the pandemic. These restrictions not only resulted in immediate job loss but also had a significant impact on long-term work recovery.. Job and economic recovery in states were directly related to the severity of restrictions. Minor changes to the state responses could result in hundreds of thousands of individuals being able to continue to work and provide for their families.

Our hope is that this report will encourage state and federal leadership to learn from the past 18 months and from the actions of fellow state leaders to weigh the severity of their actions on public and social health and wellbeing.

Graph showing recovery

A huge setback

While there has been an emphasis to return to “pre-pandemic levels”, job recovery to where it should be, based off of prospective job growth, lags far behind in most states.

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