Shutdown could kill more Americans than COVID-19
Thursday's unemployment update confirms that over the last three weeks, nearly 17 million Americans have been laid off because of the shutdown. That's one-tenth of the nation's workforce. It's not just an economic fact. It's a public health disaster. If the shutdown is dragged on, as many public health experts recommend, it is almost certain to kill more Americans than coronavirus.
The academics and public health officials who have concocted models of the virus's spread are telling us that we have to continue the shutdown to save thousands of lives. But none of their models considers the deaths that will be caused by unemployment.
Before the virus hit, America's unemployment rate was 3.5%, the lowest in 50 years. Now Goldman Sachs predicts unemployment could spike to 15% by midyear. A St. Louis Federal Reserve economist grimly predicts 32% unemployment -- worse than during the Great Depression.
No model or guesswork is required to foresee the deadly impact. Job losses cause extreme suffering. Every 1% hike in the unemployment rate will likely produce a 3.3% increase in drug overdose deaths and a 0.99% increase in suicides according to data provided by the National Bureau of Economic Research and the medical journal Lancet. These are facts based on experience, not models. If unemployment hits 32%, some 77,000 Americans are likely to die from suicide and drug overdoses as a result of layoffs. Scientists call these fatalities deaths of despair.
Then add the predictable deaths from alcohol abuse caused by unemployment. Health economist Michael French from the University of Miami and a co-author found a "significant association between job loss" and binge drinking and alcoholism.
The impact of layoffs goes beyond suicide, drug overdosing and drinking. Overall, the death rate for an unemployed person is 63% higher than for someone with a job, according to findings in Social Science & Medicine.
Layoff-related deaths are likely to far outnumber the 60,400 coronavirus deaths predicted through August.
This comparison is not meant to understate the horror of coronavirus for those who get it and their families.
But heavy-handed state edicts to close all "nonessential businesses" need to be reassessed in light of the predictable harm to the lives and health of the uninfected.
The shutdown was originally explained as a way to "flatten the curve," allowing time to expand health care capacity, so lives would not be needlessly lost in overwhelmed hospitals.