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Health vs. wealth: How does California score on coronavirus lockdowns?

There are no right answers in the pandemic’s wealth vs. health debate.

Our nation’s leaders face gut-wrenching decisions when juggling how to control coronavirus while keeping the economy moving forward.

Gov. Gavin Newsom, faced with a resurgent virus straining California’s medical capacities, last week issued another dose of tough “stay at home” orders that will surely cool the economy’s rebound from lockdowns this past spring.

I know many Californians are willing to take health risks to put bread on the family table. Conversely, I also know many who are fearful of the disease’s spread — whether due to their own health issues or simply for society’s sake — and welcome efforts to keep folks apart.

And some things are bigger than the government’s ability to steer the virus.

Take economies heavy with tourism — California, Florida, Hawaii and Nevada, to name a few. These states suffer to a great degree, no matter what political leaders do. People are simply not in a traveling mood. Similarly, states tied to energy industries will suffer, too, as the lack of travel — for pleasure or work — cuts demand for fossil fuels.

With those caveats noted, let’s look at how California compares with other states and how they’re handling the crisis. I’ll concede that a financial scorecard involving death and disease is unnerving, but it’s where we are — watching leaders make tough decisions in the coronavirus era.

My trust spreadsheet looked at two economic metrics — this year’s change in unemployment rates (from the Bureau of Labor Statistics) and credit scores (from Experian).

Not surprisingly, lockdowns cost jobs. California had the sixth-worst jump in joblessness, up 138% in the year ended in October. That’s almost double the 71% median jobless increase by all states.

The best employment performance was in Alaska, where unemployment actually fell by 3%. Next was Nebraska, which was flat, followed by South Dakota, up 6%. Worst? Hawaii, up 430%; Nevada, up 224%, and Massachusetts, up 164%.

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Any recession will challenge the ability of households to pay bills and manage debt. Californians got a mid-range grade when looking at year-over-year changes in credit score: No. 26 with a 3.95% drop. Nationwide, this bill-paying measure fell 4%.

The best bill payers were Texas, which had a flat rate, and then Virginia (down 1%), followed by North Carolina (down 1.2%). Worst? Vermont, down 6.3%, Alaska, down 5.5%; and South Carolina, down 4.8%.

When I reviewed two health measurements, California did well on a national scale. And it should outperform, medically speaking, considering the tight leash on businesses to slow a pandemic’s spread

Now, let’s look at data from the Center for Disease Control on pandemic cases and deaths, based on population size, through November.

California ranked No. 11 for per-capita coronavirus cases at 3,150 for every 100,000 residents — well below the all-state median of 4,583.

The best performance was Vermont at 712 per 100,000, Maine at 938, and Hawaii at 1,254. Worst? Midwestern states with few business limits or social distancing mandates: North Dakota at 10,671, South Dakota at 9,318 and Iowa at 7440. The 50-state median? 4,583

California also scored well when it came to coronavirus deaths per capita — the 13th lowest rate at 48 per 100,000 people. The 50-state median was 72.

A Vermont resident was least likely to die from the pandemic at 11 per 100,000. Next was Alaska and Maine at 16. Worst death rates? East Coast states that were hard-hit in the pandemic’s first wave of last spring: New Jersey at 192 per 100,000, New York at 176 and Massachusetts at 156.

You can quibble with my choice of benchmarks for economic impact of virus management. But these stats suggest Californians are getting some medical benefits from the state’s stricter-than-most workplace limitations.

When I averaged the national rankings for these four state yardsticks of wealth vs. health, my spreadsheet says California came in 20th best. That’s better than average with room for improvement.

The scorecard says New Hampshire did best, then Maine and North Carolina. And the worst? North Dakota, then Nevada and Louisiana.


Source: Orange County Register

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