Republicans roundly criticized blue states for implementing COVID-19 safety measures early on. A new study shows their economies are in fact recovering faster than those states who failed to do the same.
Republicans have claimed repeatedly that so-called "blue state" lockdowns in response to the coronavirus pandemic have destroyed their economies and that red states are enjoying robust recovery. However, a recent study has found that of the five states recovering jobs the most quickly since the beginning of the pandemic, four of them went blue in the 2020 presidential election — and the other is helmed by a Democratic governor.
The study, conducted by Wallet Hub and released on March 25, found that Maine, Minnesota, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and New Hampshire had the most marked decreases in unemployment claims between the beginning of the pandemic to the present, indicating at least some promising recovery for their respective job markets. Of these, three (Minnesota, Pennsylvania, and New Hampshire) went to President Joe Biden in the November presidential election, with a fourth, Maine, giving three of its four electoral college votes to Biden.
The four states implemented strict safety precautions, lockdown measures, and mask mandates at the outset of the pandemic. The sole red state in the top five for job recovery, North Carolina, is helmed by a Democratic governor who also implemented strong safety measures when combating COVID-19.
Maine's Democratic governor, Janet Mills, enforced a mask mandate at the beginning of the pandemic and signed an executive order strengthening the mandate in December. She also implemented a March 15, 2020 Civil State of Emergency, closing bars and restaurants statewide March 18. At the end of May 2020, the state gradually began lifting stay-at-home restrictions.
Minnesota's Democratic Gov. Tim Walz issued a statewide stay-at-home order March 27 and did did not loosen stay-at-home restrictions until May 18. Since July 25, Minnesotans have been required by executive order to wear masks in public spaces outside their homes.
New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu, a Republican, issued a stay-at-home order in his "blue" state early in the pandemic, and implemented a strict extension of it in late May. The state remains under a statewide mask mandate.
Pennsylvania's Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf issued a statewide stay-at-home order March 23, as well as another stay-at-home advisory in November ahead of holiday COVID-19 case spikes. Many state restrictions for businesses and gatherings were only relaxed Sunday. A Pennsylvania mask mandate has remained in effect for the duration of the pandemic, only eased recently for vaccinated individuals.
And although North Carolina is a red state, it's governed by Democrat Roy Cooper, who enacted common-sense lockdowns early in the pandemic. He issued a 30-day stay-at-home order March 27. In the face of soaring COVID-19 cases statewide in early 2021, he also extended a modified stay-at-home order which mandated curfews and shuttered nonessential businesses at 10 p.m. in January, extending it again in March. A mask mandate was implemented early and remains in effect throughout the state in all public indoor settings.
The successes of these states in job recovery undercuts false claims by Republican politicians and right-wing think tanks that a recession exists only in blue states, painting economic recovery during the pandemic as something taking place only in red states.
Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) slammed the American Rescue Plan March 10, tweeting, "This bill represents everything wrong with Washington. In Tennessee, we've worked hard to protect both our people and our economy. We should not be bailing out the blue states that failed to do the same."
It also contrasts frequent Republican talking points that suggest lockdowns in blue states caused long-term damage to their economies.
"The science is also clear: Schools can safely open, cases rarely spread outdoors, and pointless lockdowns like California's (closing outdoor dining and playgrounds) are harmful and counterproductive," tweeted Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) in February.
Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-ND) tweeted on March 16 that it would be illogical to reinstate lockdowns. During the presidential debate in October, Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) similarly slammed President Joe Biden for refusing to rule out further lockdowns as a COVID-19 response, claiming they were "hurting our economy and hurting our children."
Experts have said lockdowns actually lead to better outcomes and a swifter economic recovery.
As International Monetary Fund economists Francesco Grigoli and Damiano Sandri wrote in October, "Addressing the health risks appears to be a pre-condition to allow for a strong and sustained economic recovery. Lockdowns impose short-term costs but may lead to a faster economic recovery as they lower infections and thus the extent of voluntary social distancing."
Data has also repeatedly demonstrated that state lockdowns did not cause the economic recession. Rather, it shows that most people were already staying home at around the same rate at the top of the pandemic, hastening the recession — before precautions were even implemented.
Republicans have falsely framed Democrats' COVID relief package passed earlier this year, the American Rescue Plan, as a "blue state bailout," depicting all red-state economies as thriving. But suffering red states saw as much or more of a benefit from the legislation.
According to a third-quarter report from the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center, of the six states that saw the sharpest drops in state tax revenue, two-thirds of them — Alaska, North Dakota, Florida, and Texas — are traditionally bright red.
A new report by WalletHub Monday made similar findings: that of the six states hardest-hit economically by the pandemic, two-thirds are Republican strongholds.
Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.