Some Texans have simply given up. Mick Larkin in Wichita Falls, Texas, has closed down his karaoke club for good. The Lone Star State’s COVID-19 lockdown rules were changed again June 26; Mr. Larkin and his partner dumped the $1,000 in perishable goods they’d just purchased for the weekend and walked away.
No decision to put Texas into another lockdown should be made in a vacuum. Some argue the lockdown will save lives, but we must recognize that lockdowns can also cost lives and livelihoods. Renewing Texas’ stay-at-home order would invite personal financial devastation to millions of families across Texas.
During the initial lockdown, the Texas economy suffered a devastating blow. January and February saw historic bests in the labor market, but things fell off of a cliff in March. That’s when the economy cratered and 1.3 million Texans lost their jobs. In a survey taken at the end of May, 16% of Texans said they were facing financial ruin, and 22% said it would take them a year or more to recover.
When we consider that (as of this writing) Texas has an active COVID-19 case rate of just 0.4% and the second-best recovery rate in the country, is that level of personal devastation to millions of our friends, family and neighbors necessary to combat the disease?
Despite these challenges — including the cratering of the oil and gas markets again — Texas seemed to be on the rebound. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, reopening the economy in May and June helped reverse the economic trend-lines. In fact, Texas led the nation with 237,000 jobs added back in just May.
The data show that shutdowns are especially hard on Texas minority families, who often don’t have jobs that allow them to work from home. According to the Economic Policy Institute, while about 30% of White workers can telecommute, only 16% of Hispanic workers and one out of five Black workers can do so.
Looking at the numbers another way, 62% of top wage earners (highest quintile) can work from home, while less than 10% of those at the bottom can. And in households with children, nearly two-thirds of parents say they cannot work from home. “This means that not only are their jobs vulnerable, but the care of their children may be as well,” according to the EPI.
A lockdown would throw their lives into chaos, making it exceedingly difficult to recover for a very long time.
There are real health costs to lockdowns, as well. The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) warns that shutdowns will result in an increase in suicides. It’s not just that economic recessions and depression increase suicide rates (they do); it’s also that our new experiment in social isolation is wreaking havoc with our mental well-being.
“To the extent that these strategies increase social isolation and loneliness, they may increase suicide risk,” JAMA says.
What’s more, there’s simply little evidence that lockdowns truly save lives. New York (and in particular New York City) shut down earlier—and more severely—than Texas. Yet New York’s mortality rate is far higher than ours. Through July 13, New York had 166 deaths per 100,000 residents, compared to Texas, which has seen 11 deaths per 100,000 residents.
If the goal here is to save lives, then renewing the lockdown isn’t the way. We can protect our most vulnerable, encourage the habits that are shown to slow the spread of the disease, and avoid causing further needless personal devastation.