Q&A – How Well Has Florida Balanced The Economy & Public Health
Each day I feature a listener question sent by one of these methods.
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Today’s entry: Hi Brian. You reminded me of something I’d meant to ask when you talked about holiday sales being strong for Florida’s businesses this year. I’d like to know how Florida’s economy has compared to the country overall during the pandemic in addition to whatever states have had the best economy and the worst (if Florida’s not one of them). If we compared that information to Covid outcomes we’d have a good assessment of our overall performance balancing our economy with public health concerns.
Bottom Line: So yep, the Florida Retail Federation indicated that Florida’s retailers are expecting a huge 10% sales increase during the holiday shopping season this year. Of course, sometimes huge sales increases can be misleading. Take the lockdown states during the pandemic for example. Many of them showed bigger economic growth percentages earlier this year, than states like Florida, because of how shuttered their states were last year. Given that Florida’s economy was open for all but a few weeks last year, the projected double-digit growth in holiday sales is truly impressive. In breaking down our state’s economy we’ll start with how we fared last year.
- US 2020 economic growth rate: -3.5%
- Florida’s 2020 economic growth rate: -2.9%
Straight away you can tell Florida fared far better than most last year with a growth rate that was 0.6%, or 17%, better than the national average. You wanted to know about the state with the worst economy and the best as well. New York’s economy was the worst last year with a 5.9% decline while Utah had the best economy with a decline of only 0.1%. This is a classic case of stereotypes existing for a reason. New York is of course a blue state which enforced strict lockdown measures. Utah is a red state which generally remained open during the year.
The Medical publication, Becker’s Hospital Review, ranked states based on how restrictive their pandemic polices were last year. Utah was the 7th least restrictive, while Florida was 8th. New York was the 39th most restrictive (Virginia was the most restrictive while Iowa was the least restrictive). In looking at this year’s economic performance we only have state by state information through the first half of the year. Here’s the lay of the land through the first six months.
- US economic growth rate: 6.7%
- Florida’s economic growth rate 6.7%
So, Florida’s economy has matched US growth this year which is more impressive incontext given that Florida’s economy meaningfully outperformed the country’s last year. Many lockdown states are posting large percentage increases this year because of how hard-hit their economies were last year. Nevada’s, which certainly fits the description of a blue lockdown state which was hard hit last year, has posted the biggest growth this year at 9.7%, while Alaska, a red state which wasn’t hit nearly as hard last year,has posted the slowest growth at 1.8%.
As part of this analysis, you wanted a comparison of economic performance in relation to public health outcomes. Florida’s economy has been the 10th strongest since the onset of the pandemic. Likewise, Florida ranks 10th for population adjusted COVID-19 cases during the pandemic. Given that Florida’s economy was projected to be the 2nd most negatively impacted (to Nevada) at the onset of the pandemic due to our state’s reliance on tourism and entertainment, it’s rather remarkable that we’ve been one of the ten strongest performers – with Florida’s economy recently reaching record levels – exceeding 2019’s performance. To get there we have also had the 10th highest rate of COVID-19 infections. That's where this is a judgement call as to one’s perception as to how well Florida has balanced our economic concerns with public health concerns.
As for me, I’d advocate this approach every day and twice on Tuesdays and here’s why. In a state of more than 21.5 million people, 3.7 million, or 17% of the state’s population has contracted COVID-19 since the onset of the pandemic of which 60,845 people, or a fraction of 1%, have died. Florida’s economy impacts every Floridian. It’s not my intention to minimize the loss of those we’ve lost during the pandemic, however as we know public health policy means more than just whether someone obtained COVID-19 or not. During the pandemic we’ve seen domestic violence spike due to lockdowns and job loss. Likewise, substance abuse and suicides. We know how many people we’ve lost who’d contracted COVID-19. We’ll never know how many people are currently experiencing better health mentally and physically due to Florida having one of the strongest economies in the country during the pandemic. Good economics is good public health policy. You just rarely if ever hear it discussed that way.