Despite imposing some of the strictest COVID-19 policies, New York, New Jersey, and California had the worst outcomes, according to a new study.
The study, which was conducted by the Committee to Unleash Prosperity, charted disparities in health outcomes, economic performance, and education among U.S. states since the start of the pandemic. Researchers found states such as Utah, South Dakota, and Florida that "maximized the individual freedoms of business owners, consumers, workers and parents—and allowed their citizens to make their own risk assessments without government mandates—had the best performance." By contrast, lockdown states such as New York, New Jersey, California, as well as Washington, D.C., had higher rates of learning loss for children in school, unemployment, and death.
In his State of the Union speech in March, President Joe Biden encouraged Americans to return to work, signaling a shift in his administration's COVID policy. The speech followed new guidelines in February from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which relaxed mask mandates nationwide except for on some public transportation. The shift came after more than two years of federal policies, which were adopted by many states, that urged universal masking, remote learning, and COVID restrictions on businesses. Though they sometimes violated their own policies, politicians including disgraced former governor Andrew Cuomo (D., N.Y.), Gov. Phil Murphy (D., N.J.), and Gov. Gavin Newsom (D., Calif.) were often lauded for their states' approach to COVID.
Overall, the study gave Utah the best score for the outcome of its COVID policies, followed by Nebraska and Vermont. Florida had the sixth-best score. Montana and South Dakota had the best economic performance. Wyoming, Arkansas, and Florida had the most in-person education, whereas California and the District of Columbia had the least. When adjusted to account for states with higher rates of obesity and diabetes, Nevada, New York, New Jersey, and the District of Columbia had the highest rates of COVID-associated deaths.
"School closures may ultimately prove to be the largest policy error of the pandemic era in both economic and mortality terms," the study states. Learning losses could also cause up to a 3 percent drop in lifetime earnings. "Unlike mortality or economic outcomes, closing public schools was entirely under the control of policymakers," the researchers said. "Almost all private schools were open." The researchers note that states with the poorest economic performance were more likely to not have in-person learning.
The Committee to Unleash Prosperity was founded by Arthur Laffer, the economist best known for popularizing supply-side economics during the Reagan administration.