The coronavirus pandemic has forced America into a virtual lockdown, leading to severe economic impacts. Data on the smartphone movement indicate that virtually all regions of the nation are practicing some degree of social distancing, resulting in less foot traffic and sales for businesses. And last week’s release of unemployment insurance claims confirms that every state is seeing a significant rise in layoffs.
The public health and economic impacts of the virus are not evenly distributed. A new Brookings analysis of county-level infection and economic data shows that the nation’s COVID-19 caseload is heavily concentrated and the hardest-hit counties and metro areas constitute the core of the nation’s productive capacity.
The new analysis underscores the extent to which discussions of when to “restart” the nation’s economy will need to focus on conditions in the nation’s most-impacted urban hubs.
The analysis makes clear that the counties that are most stricken with virus cases are also—almost without exception—part of the nation’s most significant economic centers. The nation’s 50 hardest-hit counties support more than 60 million jobs and $7.4 trillion in economic output, good for 30% of the nation’s employment and 36% of its GDP.
But even that doesn’t fully capture the nature of the nation’s big-county economic paralysis. The 15 counties with the most COVID-19 cases normally punch way above their weight in a healthy economy—but now represent a drag on the nation’s economy in ways that have reverberating effects.
As to what all of this means for policymakers, the statistics presented here counsel great care in deciding when and how to “restart” the nation’s economy in the coming months. Governors and President Trump will need to ensure the pandemic is fully under control in America’s core hubs before trying to “reopen” America for business.