Stay-at-Home Orders More Effective on Virus Than Closing Businesses

(Bloomberg) — Shelter-in-place orders by U.S. state and local governments did more to combat the spread of the coronavirus than business closures while destroying fewer jobs, researchers at the University of Pennsylvania said in a new study released Wednesday.

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A person works from home in an arranged photograph taken in Princeton, Illinois, U.S., on Tuesday, Sept. 8, 2020. Coronavirus cases in the U.S. increased 0.4% as compared with the same time Monday to 6.32 million, according to data collected by Johns Hopkins University and Bloomberg News.

Interventions “that target individual behavior (such as stay-at-home orders) were more effective at reducing transmission at lower economic cost than those that target businesses,” economist Kent Smetters and analysts Alexander Arnon and John Ricco wrote.

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The paper is one of several being presented Thursday at a conference hosted by the Brookings Institution in Washington studying the impact of Covid-19 on the U.S. economy.

The trio said government efforts to close schools and businesses and urge individuals to social distance saved an estimated 33,000 lives in the U.S. through May 31. Of those, they concluded stay-at-home measures did the most, accounting for half of the resulting drop in contact rates. School closures explained 28% of the reduction while closures of non-essential businesses accounted for 22%.

Meanwhile, the actions put an estimated 3 million people out of work, or 15% of total job losses from the start of the pandemic through May. Almost half of that damage was caused by businesses closures, 30% by stay-at-home orders and 22% by school closures.

“Notably, business closures account for a much larger share of the decline in employment than of the fall in contact rates (48% vs. 22%), while the opposite is true of stay-at-home orders (30% vs. 50%),” they wrote.

In another paper released Wednesday, four economists — including Fabian Lange at McGill University — said the outsized role of temporary furloughs in the Covid-19 recession will result in a more rapid job-market recovery. They forecast the unemployment rate would drop to 7.1% on average in the fourth quarter. Economists surveyed by Bloomberg predict it will be 8.5%.

Economists Kenneth Rogoff, Carmen Reinhart and Ethan Ilzetzki warned the current stability of exchange rates achieved through massive liquidity injections from central banks “might mask fragilities, not strengths.”

“It is an open question whether, as the economy heals, this higher liquidity will eventually bleed over into inflation, particularly if central banks remain concerned with low growth and high public- and private-sector debts,” they said.

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