The relation between death and the pandemic economy is a fraught one that has become hotly debated, although with not much clear empirical evidence. I note that recently over on Econbrowser Menzie Chinn has had a series of posts on this matter in various forms. Obviously a big issue has been the claim by the anti-lockdown crowd that not reopening the economy quickly will lead to an increase in suicides by the increasingly large numbers of unemployed people out there. There certainly have been many studies in the past showing a variety of bad social outcomes from high unemployment, including suicides, domestic abuse, drug abuse, depression, and more. There does seem to be some strong evidence of several of these notably higher domestic abuse and depression.
When it comes to suicide and death more broadly, the empirical picture is very murky. Menzie in one of his recent posts reported on a regression he ran covering monthly data from 1998 to very recently that used dummies for months and then unemployment rates and suicides (in the US) and found the an unexpected “wrong sign” with lower suicides correlated with higher unemployment, although this was not a statistically significant result. He provides no explanation for why this odd result seems to be there, but it does show that this is not a simple matter.
Regarding current data on the main question, so far there does not seem to be any data showing a noticeable rise in suicides in the US since the pandemic, with only reports of some increases among medical personnel, who have suffered from overwork, stress, and even guilt, along with fear. That we might be seeing that out of them is completely understandable.
So why might we not be seeing much increase in suicides so far despite all the things going on such as increased depression as well as unemployment and more that would suggest we might expect to see it? Some have suggested a “wartime” effect: people are suffering, but they know others are as well and so rally around the flag to hang in there. This rally around the flag effect even worked for awhile to boost Trump’s polls for a few weeks in late March and early April until people saw how we was botching things, and now his polls are lower than they were before, even as those of some generally unpopular leaders in other hard hit nations like Italy, France, and Spain have seen their poll numbers continue to be noticeably higher than they were previously.
Another element, suggested to me by my medically connected daughters, not all that different from the above, is that people who are depressed feel “validated” because now others appreciate their condition. This is especially relevant for veterans suffering from PTSD and so on.
Before proceeding further, let me note that there are some factors that may lower the death rate during a recession that can offset to some degree, with the importance of these matters of ongoing debate. Probably the most important is the reduction of pollution, which is estimated to kill 200,000 to 300,000 people per year in the US. Obviously pollution reductions now in the US are not going to offset all of that or even most of that, but presumably it does some. An estimate in more heavily polluted China has claimed that the reduction of pollution there due to the pandemic might have saved up to 50,000 to 100,000 lives. That is clearly a large number, and way exceeds the number of people in China who died of the coronavirus.
I note on this my earlier post that apparently at the global level carbon emissions have been estimated to have declined by 17% to a bottom point near April 7, with them rising gradually since with a likely gradual recovery of the world economy (with the US lagging on both the virus and the economic recovery). Probably carbon emissions are highly correlated with other forms of pollution, so this looks like a pretty good indicator of timing on that one, at least globally.
Two other items that have been brought up as reducing deaths during a lockdown/recession are auto deaths and work-related deaths. It is probably true that we have seen some reductions of those in the US in the last few months, but I have yet to see any sort of reliable data on them. Both of those have been trending downwards in recent years gradually in the US, with auto deaths in 2019 a bit over 36,000 with work-related deaths at about 5,100 (construction is the largest with over 1000). Suicides last year were at about 48,000 in the US, so larger than those two put together, but as of now we do not know how any of these have changed recently.
I would add that on this matter of auto versus suicide deaths, the US picture is quite different from the global picture, although there is reason to be skeptical about some of the international data on suicides, which get covered up in many nations (but also in the US to some extent for insurance reasons). Anyway, as of last year global auto deaths were estimated to be about 1.35 million while suicides were at a much lower 800,000. Almost certainly why we have more suicides than auto deaths in the US unlike the rest of the world is that we have way more guns per capita than any other nation, and it is well established in the US that across states there is a strong correlation between guns per capita and suicide rates.
On a speculative note, given that pretty much the entire US is now engaging in varying degrees of reopening despite very few states having actually met the CDC guidelines for doing so, that we may see a perverse effect of an increase in suicides in the near future, even as the economy expands, which it certainly has been now for some time, maybe even as long as a month. For one thing, unemployment continues to rise, despite the economy growing (and the stock market rising especially strongly). But another effect may be the ending of that “wartime” effect. People who are depressed and unemployed may lose that feeling of solidarity and as they fail to get jobs and may become homeless due to failures to pay rent, and so on, they may become more seriously depressed and feeling isolated. I can well imagine such an effect leading to more suicides, although I do not know.
I will make a completely anecdotal observation that somehow this week I have observed several people both that I am in close contact with as well as some more distant, who seem to have sort of been freaking out this week. This is probably just an odd bad luck of the draw, but I am a bit worried that it may reflect my speculation in the previous paragraph, and that whether or not we see more suicides, we may see an increase in the near term of people getting less happy and more depressed. if that is happening, let us hope that it ends soon. This pandemic has been bad enough.
Freaking out might be brought on by conflicting tensions: the pressure to start acting ‘normal’ (aka reopening the economy and social functions) and the awareness that the plague is still out there ready to get us if we do act ‘normal’.
I would suspect that bad jobs cause at least as many suicides as unemployment and that in the end it is a wash. Suicide is complicated and trying to reduce it to something simple like unemployment is simplistic. For example a large fraction of the jobs lost were very bad jobs. That is why personal income rose after all those job loses.
Possibly the problem is that a chart will not post.
I would suggest that looking at comparisons in countries in coping with the coronavirus outbreak is starkly revealing. However, we evidently prefer to turn away. Even the disastrous American and British policies of moving coronavirus patients from hospitals to nursing home seems of little interest even as we notice the infection and death rates in nursing homes. Of course, many American states made sure to prevent legal liability for nursing home operators but beyond that we turn away.
Have you tried “img”? Or can you give me th site where the image is and I can post it for you? I do this quite often for other posters and commenters.
May 30, 2020
Cases ( 1,802,180)
Deaths ( 104,786)
Cases ( 272,826)
Deaths ( 38,376)
Cases ( 82,999)
Deaths ( 4,634)
Sorry to be a bother, but by “chart” I meant 6 comparative figures in 6 rows. No graph, just easily compared raw figures. However, the figures can be dispensed with so do not worry.
A matter that many people are overlooking is just how effective isolation and social distancing and checking for symptoms and testing have been in limiting coronavirus cases and deaths in countries where the practices have been strictly held to. Infection rates and deaths in Sweden, the United Kingdom and United States should not be taken as inevitable, or so I would argue.
When Governor Cuomo inserts lines in the New York budget bill that excuse nursing home operators from liability then hospitals begin to send coronavirus patients to nursing homes, a device used in other states and in Britain, and then as though in excuse the infection rates in nursing homes are emphasized, I am troubled.
China from the beginning, emphasized isolation of patients and when cases increased faster than existing hospital space the Chinese built make-shift hospitals complete with negative air pressure rooms for the most serious cases and used recreation center floors for less serious cases. Hotels were used for doctors and nurses, so they too could be isolated.
The British chose another path and the result has been fierce, at least to me.
You have reason to be concerned as it is a death sentence (most likely) for those sent and those already there.
We are now at 1,807,125 confirmed covid-19 cases and 105,125 deaths, and I would like to understand how we could have come to this:
We are now at 1,807,125 confirmed covid-19 cases and 105,125 deaths, and I would like to understand how we could have come to this.
Run has been interested in such cases:
May 29, 2020
These Athletes Had the Coronavirus. Will They Ever Be the Same?
Von Miller of the Denver Broncos called the disease a “surreal” experience and said he struggled at first to workout. Other athletes have endured lingering lung and other health issues.
By Andrew Keh
It was the end of March, and Josh Fiske, a urologist from Livingston, N.J., was in the hospital fighting an uphill battle against the coronavirus. Just a week earlier, he had easily jogged a five-mile route around his neighborhood. But his body was failing him now.
His oxygen levels dipped dangerously low, and his fever rocketed to a worrying 104 degrees. Shifting his body in bed exhausted him. Walking a few steps felt like “hiking in thin air.” Opening a bottle of iced tea was “a huge task.”
Fiske kept fighting, though, and eventually, with the help of his doctors, he turned a corner. Yet even as he did, even as he seemed assured of avoiding the worst outcomes of the virus, a different sort of anxiety consumed him.
“I started to think, ‘Am I going to be able to run again? Am I going to be able to walk the golf course?’” said Fiske, 46, who does a marathon or half-marathon every year. “These are things I love to do.” …
Robert B’s Comment from the NYT article:
I have been telling many, contracting Covid is not something one should do as there are other consequences other than a quick death. It is hard to convince people they are better off for now.
On another note, it appears the Lancet study is suffering a flawed analysis and many other authorities are calling it into question. About That Big HCQ Study… I would suggest you read the comments (mostly from medical) in each article. The biggest issue is the dosages being used and the application of HCQ. Like the Gilead drug remdesivir, HCQ + zinc must be used in the first 2 – weeks to have an impact. After the first two weeks it is not as effective. More to come.
Many parents I know are freaking out over the deterioration of their children’s mental health and education. The discussions of things like opening in the fall with students going 2 days a week; half-classes 4 days total with a Wednesday “cleaning day” are provoking high levels of anxiety and anger. Serious anger. The joke is going around that teachers who think they need hazard pay to go back to school are going to discover they’ll need it more if this on-line learning fiasco continues into next school year. It has been a real disaster for the early grades even in really good districts. We met my daughter’s 3rd grade teacher (socially distanced and masked) and she is very depressed it seems. It has cratered badly and she has been trying to keep it going while she has her own 4 boys all at home with 3 of them also trying to get homeschooled, and her 2 year-old has some need of her time, too. I Iose my job tonight at 11 PM and I kept telling my HR guy that the stress of this is so far minimal compared to trying to help my children cope.
I apologize for not catching this sooner. If there was ever a king of being laid off, it was me. Every business cycle it would occur regardless if I kept the company profitable or got them (a) $million(s) or so in cost reductions. It just did not matter
If I can ask, what do you do for work? Best and keep talking.
I am very sorry if you have been laid off. All the best.