The pandemic’s deadly path from cities to farms — and from blue America to red

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Photo by Tiffany Tertipes on Unsplash

The coronavirus pandemic in the U.S. originated in the nation’s densely populated, left-leaning urban communities but spread to increasingly less dense suburban and rural regions, where the politics tend to lean right. My detailed analysis of COVID data provides clear evidence of the striking shift in the infection’s political colors–and demonstrates that the migration from blue to red America was more extreme than would be implied by geography alone. Instead, politics and related social attitudes bear much of the blame for COVID’s greater and more deadly march through red America.

The Context: COVID Rates Are Incredibly High Just About Everywhere

Here we go again. The third COVID-19 wave started in mid-September and quickly became the worst yet. That follows a disturbing pattern: each successive surge has been much worse than the preceding one. This latest wave crested just before Christmas, when the seven-day average soared to 230,000 cases, before easing back to under 220,000 (Figure 1) based on official government data via USA Facts. However, a post-Christmas surge like the one that commenced two weeks after Thanksgiving could push the rates back up to new records, particularly with the discovery of a new faster-spreading coronavirus variant. …


The pandemic’s tragic path from cities to farms — and from blue America to red

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Photo by Tiffany Tertipes on Unsplash

COVID-19 is sweeping widely through the country. Again. But each wave is hitting different political groups as it infects new areas. In the first part of my analysis of America’s growing political divide, I showed how voters are increasingly polarized by where they live; in the second article, I documented growing geodemographic differences among voter blocks. In this article, I chronicle the pandemic’s spread from urban areas to rural, and from blue regions to red. Population density certainly explains much of the spatial differences, as the virus advances chiefly through social interaction. But politics and social attitudes bear much of the blame for COVID’s greater and more deadly march through red America. …


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Photo by The New York Public Library on Unsplash

Recent positive economic headlines are easily misinterpreted. The record growth we’ve enjoyed follows even greater downturns and leaves us well short of prior levels on most key measures. With the recovery slowing across the board, a full rebound is not yet in sight.

The latest government reports have brought a spate of upbeat U.S. economic headlines. Last month, the Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) said that real GDP grew 7.4% in the third quarter, doubling the prior quarterly record growth and reversing most of the pandemic’s initial plunge in output. …


(That Just Might Get Us Through The Dark Winter)

Slowdown? What slowdown? The first estimate of third-quarter GDP growth far exceeded the reigning record for economic growth in a quarter — despite onerous constraints on economic activities. The Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) estimated quarterly real growth of 7.4% over the second quarter, or 33.1% on a seasonally adjusted annualized rate, topping even bullish consensus forecasts. Meanwhile the Bureau of Labor Statistics last week reported that employers continue to add an impressive number of jobs — also topping estimates — even if the pace keeps dropping.

Good news, right? But hidden in the bowels of the GDP report are some surprising details, both bad and good, with serious implications for our economy in the coming months: The record growth, which still leaves us short of pre-pandemic output, was fueled by a massive, unprecedented level of government stimulus — support that is now largely disappearing. But households ended up saving a good deal of their stimulus payments, which should enable consumers to keep spending a while longer and could well save our economy this winter — at least under the government steps up with more help. …


Economies take a long time to recover after the trough

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Photo by Andre Hunter on Unsplash

Next Thursday the Bureau of Economic Analysis will release its first estimate of economic growth for the third quarter of 2020. Almost certainly it will set records for the greatest absolute and percentage quarterly Gross National Product (“GDP”) gains since the government started calculating national income accounts just after WWII. Only three times has real GDP jumped more than 15% in a quarter, most recently in 1978. The current record holder occurred in 1Q50 when GDP soared 16.7% following a moderate recession in 1949.

The next GDP report should blow past that mark comfortably, as much of the nation’s productive capacity reopened this summer. The October Economic Forecasting Survey by the Wall Street Journal anticipates a 28.5% gain, while the respected GDPNow model from the Atlanta Fed predicts 3Q20 GDP will grow by 35.3% — more than twice the current record. Even better, at least psychologically, the National Bureau of Economic Research (“NBER”) — the official arbiters for U.S. business cycles — may soon pronounce that the recession is already over, assuming third-quarter growth is sustained. (Normally an economic downturn must be sustained for more than a few months to be deemed a recession. However, the NBER has already informally concluded that “the drop in activity had been so great and so widely diffused throughout the economy that the downturn should be classified as a recession even if it proved to be quite brief.”) …


The Demographic Split in our Politically Divided Nation

Photo of scroll of “I voted” stickers
Photo of scroll of “I voted” stickers
Photo by Element5 Digital on Unsplash

Our country is deeply polarized politically. In my last article, I analyzed voting patterns by county and showed that the partisan divide extends beyond the virtual political landscape to the nation’s physical geography: Americans increasingly reside in counties that are decisively either Republican or Democratic. In this article, I examine the demographic differences that underlie the geographic divide — and no doubt drive our political divisions.

A Red and Blue Demographic Split

Although our recent national elections have tended to be relatively tight, the vast majority of our counties lean red. How have Democrats been able to remain competitive nationally when Republicans are winning such a large share of counties so decisively? The answer is that Democrats tend to live in much larger counties than Republicans. The average blue county in 2016 had almost 350,000 people compared to just 56,000 in red counties (Fig. 1). And the more partisan the county vote, the bigger the divide in county size: deep-red counties are even smaller while the bluest counties are even larger. …


A Nation Divided by Politics, Geography, and Demographics

photo of “I voted” stickers
photo of “I voted” stickers
Photo by Element5 Digital on Unsplash

No sentient American could be surprised to read that our political landscape is deeply polarized. But less understood, bordering on shocking, is just how wide — and wide-ranging — the physical divide has become. Far beyond the ideological differences between our two major parties and their followers, we are increasingly separated by geography and demographics.

True, our recent national elections have tended to be relatively tight and are much closer now than in prior centuries (though in recent days the 2020 Presidential race seems to be heading for a blowout). But as a country we’re much more divided by where we live. …


Part 2 of a two-part review of labor market conditions six months after the economic collapse

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Photo by Elchinator via Pixabay

Half a year after the U.S. job market began to crater from the COVID-19 pandemic and ensuing lockdowns, the recovery is far from complete. In my last report, I examined the overall trends; in this report, I examine the recession’s differential impact on different demographic groups, especially women. The key takeaways from my deep dive:

· Despite record monthly job growth this spring and summer, we have recovered only half of the lost jobs lost during the frenetic initial weeks of the pandemic.

· The jobs recovery is stalling as “temporary” furloughs convert into permanent job losses, hiring slows, new claims for unemployment remains stubbornly high, and more layoffs loom.


Part 1 of a two-part review of labor market conditions six months after the economic collapse

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Photo by Elchinator via Pixabay

Half a year after the U.S. job market began to crater from the COVID-19 pandemic and ensuing lockdowns, the recovery is far from complete. In this first report, I examine the overall trends; in my next report, I’ll examine the recession’s differential impact on different demographic groups, especially women. The key takeaways from my deep dive:

· Despite record monthly job growth this spring and summer, we have recovered only half of the lost jobs lost during the frenetic initial weeks of the pandemic.

· The jobs recovery is stalling as “temporary” furloughs convert into permanent job losses, hiring slows, new claims for unemployment remains stubbornly high, and more layoffs loom.


Yes, but the figures are deceiving and won’t last

Woman with a mask shopping for clothes in a store
Woman with a mask shopping for clothes in a store
Photo by Arturo Rey on Unsplash

Retail sales climbed back to record levels in June and continued to grow in July and August — despite painful levels of unemployment and income loss. But the good times will not last much longer. The massive government income support programs that funded consumer spending are ending, while shoppers will need to resume normal household necessities like rent and health care.

These are truly baffling times. Over 25 million Americans are out of work and collecting unemployment insurance. Millions more unemployed workers don’t even qualified for benefits. And millions of gig workers have experienced significant income declines. Yet retail sales in the U.S. are back to their highest levels ever — just months after the retail sectors endured its sharpest decline on record. Overall spending on retail goods and services plunged 22% in just two months — 15% in April alone — as the county went into lockdown. But sales already exceed their pre-pandemic peaks as retailers registered record volumes in August for the third month in a row (Fig. …

About

Andrew Nelson

Real Estate Economist | Research Leader | Data Wonk | Author and Speaker https://nelsoneconomics.com/

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