By Ned Barnett
August’s unemployment figures, just released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, paint a remarkably consistent picture that correlates – almost uncannily – between low unemployment rates in states led by Republican governors and high unemployment rates in states led by Democratic governors. Drawing national conclusions from the unemployment statistics for all fifty states, those Republican-led states that have tried to follow President Trump’s lead in reopening America are doing much better in terms of unemployment than are states likely to support Biden in November. Former Vice President Biden, while repeatedly complaining about President Trump’s actions in fighting COVID, has yet to articulate a coherent COVID policy.
Remarkably, these early-opening Republican-led states do not have a statistically-valid comparative rate of increase in COVID deaths, as presented by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, though the three states with the lowest death per 100,000 population are led by Republican governors.
Here’s how those unemployment numbers flesh out:
Of the Top Ten states (in terms of low unemployment rates), nine are led by Republican governors while only one is led by a Democratic governor – and that’s Montana, which is an outlier for sure. At the other end of the spectrum, unemployment in the Bottom Ten states in terms of unemployment breaks down as follows: one state led by a Republican governor –Massachusetts, another clear outlier – and nine led by Democratic governors. The range of unemployment by state runs from 4.0 percent in Republican Nebraska to a 13.2 in Democratic Nevada, which, after more than a decade of Republican governors, switched allegiance in 2018 by electing a Democrat to the state’s highest office. Talk about buyer’s remorse!
Perhaps more telling than just the extremes of both employment and unemployment figures, the Top Ten states – nine of which, as noted, are led by Republicans – average an unemployment rate of just 4.94 percent. However, among the Bottom Ten states – nine of which are led by Democrats – the average is a crippling 11.72 percent. Ouch!
As interesting as those paired numbers might seem – nine Republican led states are among the Top Ten states with the lowest unemployment, with only one Democratic led state – that pattern is completely flipped among the worst-case states. Of those, nine are led by Democrats and only one is led by a Republican. However, while that breakdown seems almost statistically impossible, this same pattern repeats when looking at the Top Fifteen states in terms of unemployment – twelve are led by Republicans while only three are led by Democrats. Flip that around to the Bottom Fifteen and you’ll find that twelve are led by Democrats and only three of the bottom fifteen are led by Republicans. Also in there, though not counted, the District of Columbia (tied with the “best” of the bottom fifteen states) is also run by Democrats (but not a Democratic governor – the District has a mayor, not a governor).
Finally, when splitting the states 50-50, the same pattern still holds true. The Top Twenty-Five states, in terms of low unemployment, sees eighteen states led by Republicans and seven led by Democrats. In the bottom half, those numbers are again reversed, with eighteen of the bottom twenty-five states led by Democrats – plus the District of Columbia – and only seven led by Republicans. Among the Top Twenty-five states, the highest unemployment score is 7.0 percent, with the best-off state reporting in at just 4.0 percent unemployment. However; in the Bottom Twenty-five states (plus the District of Columbia), the best and lowest unemployment score is a painful 7.4 percent, with the worst one reaching up to 13.2 percent – that’s tail-end Nevada. Florida, the other state – this one Republican – that depends so much on conventions and tourist business has that 7.4 percent unemployment rate. That’s not good, but it’s light years ahead of Nevada.
Here’s a simple chart for how that works:
Figures don’t lie. These raw numbers are published each month by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Anyone with a calculator or an Excel spreadsheet can easily calculate the average unemployment, top and bottom. However, the reasons for these widely differing scores is a bit more complicated, but one bottom-line estimate that will stand up to close scrutiny is this: Democratic-led states are notorious for imposing crippling COVID-19 lockdowns, while Republican-led states seem to be looking for ways of restoring their economies and getting their residents back to work. The CDC offers statistics that can be looked at in terms of cases, deaths per 100,000, total deaths and several other factors.
In looking over these CDC statistics, there seems to be no clear corollary between the Governor and the death-per-thousand rate, suggesting that Democratic governors have trashed their states’ economies without delivering a benefit (a lower death rate). Because it is such an outlier, the city of New York is treated in the CDC figures as the equivalent of a state – the only city to do so. In this context, New York City has experienced 285 deaths per 100,000 population, more than 100 deaths higher than the worst-off state, New Jersey. By contrast, the state of New York – absent the five boroughs of New York City – has a rate of “only” 82 deaths per 100,000 population, ranking it seventh from the bottom among the fifty states. Of the ten best-off states in terms of COVID deaths,
These numbers are largely supported by an ongoing study conducted by the New York Times. This online, interactive study offers extremely detailed statistical information regarding COVID and the states. However, because of the way the NYT chose to calculate and report the various figures, there is little correlation between their statistics and those of the CDC and the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The NYT used different time-frames and different ways of reporting than did the other sources, which limited its utility. Worse, intentionally or not, they often reported statistics in terms of percentages, instead of focusing on the total numbers of incidents. In doing so, they create a false narrative regarding COVID deaths.
For example, in reporting on Nebraska, the state with the lowest unemployment level during the current COVID crisis, the NYT reported that COVID deaths during a one week period rose by an alarming 130 percent. Every death is a tragedy, but by citing percentages instead of total deaths, they made the editorial decision to present this statistic in a way that made it sound horrible, and it would have been horrible … except …
Except that during that same one week period, COVID deaths in Nebraska rose from just three to seven. Compared to the thousands of American COVID deaths during that same two-week period, Nebraska’s numbers are almost microscopically small, and hardly indicative of a 130 percent spike in reported COVID deaths.
Still, there is one remarkably comforting data set that speaks for itself, and which is truly compatible with the CDC and BLS numbers. While the number of new diagnoses nationwide is climbing, the number of deaths per 100,000 population are dropping dramatically. This trend tends to reflect society’s recent ability to significantly expand testing. These new tests are catching millions of individuals who test positive without showing any signs of the illness. Also, because of the drop-off in COVID deaths, either the COVID virus is weakening, or our treatments are rapidly improving. Perhaps both reasons apply.
Look at Nevada, which in August of 2020 was in last place in terms of unemployment, by a significant margin. What’s happened here (I say here because I live and work in Nevada) is that the governor shut down all the casinos, all the restaurants, all the shows and entertainment. Period. He didn’t allow them to open with safe social distancing and face coverings – no, Democratic Governor Steve Sisolak shut them all down, without exception. When things started looking better, health-wise, he very cautiously started allowing a few of these businesses to re-open in a limited capacity, only to slam them shut again at the first sign of even a modest spike in cases diagnosed. This start-and-stop-and-start-and-stop pattern by Governor Sisolak has crippled the hospitality industry on which Nevada depends for its economic survival. Florida, which has a much saner policy toward trying to get employees back to work has an unemployment rate of roughly half that of Nevada.
Ned Barnett is, among other things, a political policy analyst, as well as a campaign consultant. During the heyday of the Tea Party, he was communications director for both the Clark County (Las Vegas) and the Nevada Republican Parties. He is the owner of Barnett Marketing Communications in Las Vegas, and the author of 39 published books on a variety of topics, including advocacy and communications.