Washington state’s harsh measures to combat the COVID-19 pandemic had a negative impact in terms of job losses and recovery from those losses, according to a new report put out by the Georgia Center for Opportunity (GCO), without the hoped-for decline in hospitalizations and deaths from the virus.
As the pandemic began to hit the U.S. in early 2020, state governments – including Washington state – imposed economic restrictions such as business closures, stay-at-home orders, school closures, gathering restrictions, and capacity limits at certain establishments like restaurants. The severity of such orders varied by state.
The detailed, highly-technical 510-page study, “Assessing Each State’s Response To The Pandemic: Understanding The Impact On Employment & Work,” was released on Dec. 3. It compares two different indexes measuring the severity of government actions in responding to the pandemic: the Abridged Oxford Stringency Index (AOSI) and the Government Severity Index (GSI).
“Washington ranked #1 in the GSI but #14 in the AOSI, but more severe than either [Iowa] or [Minnesota] ,” Erik Randolph, the GCO’s director of research and author of the report, wrote in an email to The Center Square. “The results suggest that [Washington] – that had one of the strongest pre-pandemic job growth (i.e., 2.6% per the 12 months prior) could have saved more jobs. The estimated economic impact for [Washington] is 46,700 for each SD movement.”
"SD" means “standard deviation,” a measure of how dispersed data is in relation to the mean. Low standard deviation means data are clustered around the mean, and high standard deviation indicates data are more spread out.
“While economically it is close to returning to pre-pandemic job growth numbers, it is nowhere near projected job numbers had the pandemic never occurred,” said Corey Burress, the GCO’s vice president of communications.
An employment chart for Washington state details the steep decline in jobs during the height of the pandemic in the first half of 2020 – as compared to various pre-pandemic forecasts and projects – and the clawing back of jobs since then.
Still, the Evergreen State wasn’t the worst in terms of draconian measures related to the pandemic. Washington did better than some other states consistently rated as being harsher within the first year of the pandemic, including Hawaii, ranked No. 2 in both indexes; New York, ranked No. 3 in both indexes; California, ranked No. 5 and No. 7 in the government and Oxford indexes, respectively; New Mexico, ranked No. 7 and No. 1; and Connecticut, ranked No. 10 and No. 8.
At the other end of the spectrum, GCO’s report found these states consistently rated as being less harsh: South Dakota, ranked 49th and 50th in the government and Oxford indexes, respectively; North Dakota, ranked 48th in both indexes; Iowa, 47th and 49th; Nebraska, 46th and 42nd; Missouri, 45th and 40th; and Oklahoma, 43rd and 46th.
Randolph said that “there is strong evidence that more governmental actions in limiting the economies are associated with (that is, correlated) with greater harm on jobs well after the start of the pandemic. This may not be surprising, but we know have significant statistical evidence to that effect.”
He went on to note, “Perhaps surprisingly, there is not association (or correlation) with governmental actions and COVID hospitalizations or deaths.”
According to the executive summary of the report, “The evidence shows an associated harmful and measurable impact on nonfarm employment more than a year after the initiation of the pandemic. However, the evidence suggests that the economic tradeoff was not for less COVID hospitalizations and deaths as many would have hoped. Only COVID cases have an association with the severity of governmental actions.”
Burress summed up the findings.
“Across the nation we looked at each state and found that there does not seem to be a correlation between how severe a state shut down its economy and a reduction in hospitalization and death rates," he said. "So while the lockdowns may have been necessary, states that implemented a more measured approach protected more vulnerable communities' economies while still saving lives.”