A new study gives Vermont a “C” grade for its efforts to reopen the economy as coronavirus cases, hospitalizations and deaths continue to decline.
The study, titled “Reopening America: A Report Card on Reopening States’ Economies,” was written by the Committee to Unleash Prosperity and Freedom Works, both of which are free-market think tanks.
In the study, some states with rural settings similar to Vermont saw close to two-thirds fewer unemployment filings due to their more lenient economic restrictions.
While the report takes into account the severity of the outbreak in each state, it focuses on the economic policies of each state.
“We assess how measured or damaging their actions have been with respect to safeguarding the economic well-being of their citizens,” the report states. “We examine lockdown orders, business closures, hospital and outdoor activity orders, and the degree of punitive actions on enforcing these measures.”
Target dates for reopening are very important in the report, as states with later re-openings will face “more severe recessions” than the states that get going sooner.
“With a few exceptions in some metropolitan areas, and in accordance with guidelines from health professionals, the time is long past for every state to reopen safely, smartly, and judiciously so as to end the economic destruction and despair from lockdowns,” said Steve Moore, President of Committee to Unleash Prosperity. “Millions more Americans will be pushed into unemployment lines, plunged into poverty, and lose their businesses, forever.”
State revenues are going to be dramatically lower, and the results will be substantial cuts to public services, the study notes. In Vermont, the Legislature’s economist is estimating that state revenues will be down $143.6 million for this fiscal year finishing at the end of June, and then another $427 million in revenue could be lost for the next fiscal year. Vermont is already facing dramatic cuts to its state college system.
The report adds that the shutdown is also very costly from a public health perspective. It lists depression, suicides, heart attacks, domestic abuse, drug abuse, and more as consequences of job losses, business closures, and social isolation. In the UK, some estimates for cancer deaths caused by COVID-restricted hospital access could eclipse the death toll from the virus.
Vermont has seen more than 80,000 Vermonters apply for unemployment benefits since the shutdown began in March. On the national scene, more than 30 million Americans have been put out of work, and $4 trillion in tax dollars have been spent to uphold the economy.
“The latest estimates are predicting a decline in American output will be between 25 and 30 percent of our GDP when all is said and done,” the study states. “Even the Great Depression didn’t cause this rapid meltdown in the American economy.”
For the nation, the pro-business leaning states in the South and Midwest have been more aggressive in reopening their economies. The more liberal-leaning states of the Northeast and West Coast have been slower to turn back on their economies.
Nine states got an “A” rating in the study, including Wyoming. With an estimated 2019 population of 578,759 and a rural landscape, Wyoming has a similar setting to Vermont, with its estimated 623,000 population. Wyoming, with seven coronavirus deaths, has one of the lowest death tolls in the nation. Vermont, with 52 deaths, also ranks among the lowest.
Wyoming’s Republican Gov. Mark Gordon allowed gyms, barbershops, hair salons, and other close-contact services to reopen with special conditions to minimize health risks. Gordon also allowed for daycares to ease their restrictions and hospitals to resume elective surgeries. In Vermont, Republican Gov. Phil Scott continues to have these businesses closed, although elective surgeries did resume at hospitals this week.
South Dakota is another state that got an “A” in the study. Republican Gov. Kristi Noem had a surprise parade thrown for her last week to celebrate that she did not issue a stay-at-home order nor mandate business closings. The state currently has 21 deaths from the virus. Noem said her decision to resist ordering business closures already put the state at Phase 1 of the White House plan to reopen state economies.
The less stringent economic shutdowns have led to fewer job losses compared to Vermont. Through the first six weeks of the shutdown, Wyoming saw just over 30,000 unemployment claims filed. South Dakota, with an estimated 884,659 2019 population, has seen just over 32,000 claims up to this point. In both cases, the state’s unemployment filings were just about one-third of Vermont’s 80,000-plus filings.