Monday, April 20, 2020

30+ million out of a job

A one-size-fits-all policy, even at the state level, has been a mistake from the beginning.  Instead policy should be favoring decentralized mechanisms over direct control and ensuring that the chosen regulations deliver more net benefits than less stringent alternatives.  It is too bad that governments are causing so much harm at this critical moment by ignoring these longstanding principles of government regulation.

Expressed at an annual rate, the shutdown is already costing $7 trillion, or about $15,000 per household per quarter.  Employment had already fallen 28 million by April 1 and continues to fall as the shutdown continues.  Not only is the shutdown costly, but it is a cost-ineffective way of reducing the health harms from the virus.  My recommendation is to achieve close to, but somewhat less, of the mortality reduction at dramatically less cost to hundreds of millions of workers, consumers, and business owners.

Here's why I think at least 30 million are out of work as of today.  First, that's where I expected we would be headed based on the fact that workdays as we know them have been eliminated.  Second, as of the week of March 29-April 4 (hereafter "April 1"), the employment rate of persons aged 18-64 fell from 0.738 to 0.607.  Assuming conservatively that the same percentage decline (17.8%) also applied to persons 16, 17, or 65+ years old, the decline is 28 million people as of April 1.

There is no reason to believe that the decline (an average of 1.3 percent per day for two weeks) was finished by April 1.  The stay at home order for Texas and Maine was not until April 2.  FL, GA, MS: April 3.  AL: April 4.  MO: April 6.  SC: April 7.  Even if the decline were only 0.2 percent per day over the two weeks beginning April 5, that would put the cumulative employment decline past 30 million.

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