The Cost of the Covid Pandemic

We all know the Covid pandemic has cost many Americans their lives. According to the Johns Hopkins University Coronavirus Resource Center, the U.S. death toll has now reached 1,047,563. But what about other costs of the pandemic?

William A. Galston, writing in The Wall Street Journal, tells us we now know much more about the cost of the pandemic. A report recently released by the National Center for Health Statistics reveals that during the peak pandemic years of 2020 and 2021, life expectancy in the U.S. – the most basic measure of national well-being – declined by a stunning 2.7 years, from 78.8 to 76.1 years, the lowest level since 1996. Put simply, the pandemic erased the effects of a quarter-century of progress in medical innovation and healthier lifestyles.

This is not simply a reflection of the thousands of lives lost in the pandemic, sooner than they might otherwise have died. It also reflects the lives lost through delayed medical check-ups, delayed cancer screening, delayed surgery, increased mental illness and suicides, as well as drug addiction deaths.

Galston tells us these losses weren’t distributed evenly across the population. Life expectancy declined by 3.1 years for men but 2.3 years for women. Asian Americans showed the smallest loss (2.1 years), compared with whites (2.4), blacks (4.0), Hispanics (4.2), and Native Americans/Alaska Natives (6.6). For every group, the decline among men was substantially higher than that among women, and the overall difference between men and women widened from 4.8 years to just under 6 years, a gap last seen in the mid-1990s.

Even more alarming is that the U.S. fared poorly in comparison to other countries. In 2020 the U.S. loss of life expectancy was more than three times the average of other advanced nations. In 2021, while most of its peers regained some lost ground, the U.S. continued moving in the wrong direction. This has widened the life-expectancy gap between the U.S. and peer nations by nearly two years.

What about public education?

The just-released report from the National Assessment of Educational Progress shows a similar depressing picture. Among fourth-graders, between 2020 and 2022, overall reading and math scores fell by 5 and 7 points, respectively, to lows not seen in decades. As with life expectancy, groups that lagged behind the national average tended to do the worst. In math achievement, for example, black students lost 13 points and Hispanic students 8 points, compared with 6 points for Asian students and 5 for white students. The differences were even more stark between high and low achieving individuals. At the top, NAEP scores in reading and math fell by an average of 2 to 3 points; at the bottom, by 10 to 12 points.

Now we know the real cost of those school closures to protect the least vulnerable members of the population. The teachers’ unions certainly deserve much of the blame for this dismal report.

How well did other countries do, especially those who didn’t close schools?

Glad you asked. A recent academic paper studied Swedish primary school students and found no achievement losses during the pandemic. Moreover, low-achieving students and those from low-income families did about as well as those who ranked higher on these measures. Unlike most of its peers, including other Nordic countries, Sweden kept its primary schools open throughout the pandemic.

Early in the Biden Administration, CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky announced a new study that revealed it was safe to reopen schools even before teachers were vaccinated. But the White House, influenced by the teachers unions, insisted schools be kept closed until teachers were vaccinated. Now we know the real cost of decisions like that one. Hopefully, we have learned these lessons well and won’t repeat them in the future.


One comment

  1. Extremely interesting. I’m amazed at your research and intellect.

    Comment by Allen Higginbotham on October 3, 2022 at 9:22 am