A new economic paper argues that the “unprecedented unemployment shocks” amplified by lockdowns and other government restrictions in response to the COVID-19 pandemic will cause nearly 900,000 deaths over the next 15 years.
Writing in a new National Bureau for Economic Research paper, Harvard University, Johns Hopkins University and Duke University researchers stated, “Our results suggest that the toll of lives claimed by the SARS-CoV-2 virus far exceeds those immediately related to the acute COVID-19 critical illness and that the recession caused by the pandemic can jeopardize population health for the next two decades,” as the Foundation for Economic Education (FEE) reports.
“We also predict that the shock will disproportionately affect African-Americans and women, over a short horizon, while white men might suffer large consequences over longer horizons,” the researchers state. “These figures translate in a staggering 0.89 million additional deaths over the next 15 years.”
The researchers specifically cite the massive unemployment spikes from lockdowns and other government-imposed restrictions, spikes which they say were some “two to five times larger than typical unemployment shocks,” FEE notes.
“While the trade-off between containing the COVID-19 pandemic and economic activity has been analyzed in the short-term, there is currently no analysis regarding the long-term impact of the COVID-19-related economic recession on public health,” the researchers continue. “What is more, most of the papers interested in the relation between the COVID-19 pandemic and economic activity argue, correctly, that lockdowns can save lives at the cost of reducing economic activity, but they do not consider the possibility that severe economic distress might also have important consequences on human well-being.”
“Based on our approach, the COVID-19 unemployment shock is about 3.17 standard deviations larger than the typical shock to the unemployment rate for the overall population (about 2.68% in magnitude),” the researchers explain. “We estimate that this unprecedented unemployment shock will result in a 3.01% increase in mortality rates and a 0.50% drop in life expectancy over the next 15 years.”
The researchers conclude, “Our results suggest that the toll of lives claimed by the SARS-CoV-2 virus far exceeds those immediately related to the acute COVID-19 critical illness and that the recession caused by the pandemic can jeopardize population health for the next two decades.”
FEE points out that rising unemployment “has long been correlated with higher death rates,” citing as an example a 1979 study, which “concluded that for every 10 percent increase in unemployment, mortality increased by 1.2 percent.” Such findings have led social scientists to maintain that “employment and economic growth are essential components of a healthy society.”
FEE also noted: “A 2014 article in Harvard Public Health magazine points to an abundance of research that reaches a similar conclusion: employment disruptions come with severe costs to mental and physical health. The body of research includes a 2011 meta-analysis—published in Social Science & Medicine—that concluded the mortality risk was 63 percent higher for individuals who experienced unemployment than those who did not. There are a multitude of reasons mortality risk increases during periods of unemployment, but the primary reason appears to be that unemployment literally makes people sick.”
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