June 1, 2021

Does Pandemic Economic Recovery Show Two Americas?

The unemployment numbers from red and blue states certainly seem to.

John Edwards may not have coined the idea of “two Americas,” but he did bring the phrase to prominence in the 2004 presidential race, resurrecting it for his second bid in 2008. His message was that there’s one America for the powerful and one for the rest, and his intent was to show that Democrats are always the ones to fix it. The truth is, to the extent his bromide is true, the division is largely because of Democrats.

New statistics on the two recoveries from the pandemic-induced economic crisis brought this phrase back to mind.

Comparing the April unemployment rates on a state-by-state basis reveals that there has been a Republican recovery and a Democrat, well, non-recovery. In fact, say Allysia Finley and Esther Plecy in a Wall Street Journal op-ed, “It’s rare to see differences that are so stark based on party control in states. But the current partisan differences reflect different policy choices over the length and severity of pandemic lockdowns and now government benefits such as jobless insurance.”

Before “15 days to flatten the curve” became “15 months” in some quarters, the nation largely did shut down in an attempt to prevent the rampant spread of COVID from overwhelming our hospitals and healthcare workers. The economic devastation was quick and abysmal.

Unfortunately, the goal shifted from the reasonable to the unattainable — eliminating the spread of the coronavirus entirely. At least that’s what Democrat governors and mayors across the nation seemed to convey as they kept their states and economies shuttered for months on end. Their real aim was the acquisition of power, and most of them used it to handicap the economy to defeat Donald Trump and make more Americans dependent on government. High unemployment is literally being subsidized — except in GOP-controlled states that have eliminated “enhanced” benefits.

Thus, here we are, 15 months after the shutdowns began, looking at starkly different unemployment numbers. Finley and Plecy lay it out:

With some exceptions, those run by Democrats such as California (8.3%) and New York (8.2%) continued to suffer significantly higher unemployment than those led by Republicans such as South Dakota (2.8%) and Montana (3.7%). …

Nine of the 10 states with the lowest unemployment rates are led by Republicans. The exception is Wisconsin whose Supreme Court last May invalidated Democratic Gov. Tony Evers’s lockdown. The unemployment rate in Wisconsin is 3.9% — the same as Indiana — compared to 7.1% in Illinois whose Gov. J.B. Pritzker has been slow to reopen.

Well, at least Democrat governors saved lives, right? Not exactly. Power Line’s John Hinderaker does the math and it’s not good. “I added up the coronavirus deaths per 100,000 of population, according to the CDC, for the ten states in the Journal’s chart with the highest unemployment rates, and averaged them,” Hinderaker writes. “I found that the ten states with highest unemployment averaged 202.6 deaths per 100,000. I then did the same thing for the ten states (all but Wisconsin with Republican governors) with the lowest unemployment. Their average deaths per 100,000 was much lower, at 134.5.”

Now, as Hinderaker and his Power Line colleagues admit, it’s certainly not entirely fair to compare the death rate of a densely populated place like New York City with that of a rural state like South Dakota. And there’s enough data to at least make it arguable that lockdowns (and mask mandates) did reduce deaths, even if they were far less effective than proponents would have us believe.

Ultimately, this is not a black-and-white argument, or even a red-and-blue one. That, actually, is the real point, and it’s something politicians of any stripe rarely admit: There are tradeoffs with policy choices. Lockdowns, for example, did one thing at the cost of another. The job of a leader is to speak honestly about the choices we face, not to pretend that they are our saviors and their policies have no downside.

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