Tracking the COVID-19 Economy in Real Time


The speed and geographic variation of the COVID-19 economic decline has placed a premium on higher-frequency information, and on more disaggregate data on economic activity in different locations, than most economic surveys provide. Raj Chetty, John Friedman, Nathan Hendren, Michael Stepner, and the Opportunity Insights Team have combined information from a range of private-sector sources to develop daily, location-specific measures of economic activity (27431). They find that low-wage workers were more likely to become unemployed as a result of the pandemic, that spending by low-income households has rebounded faster than that of their high-income counterparts, and that the Payroll Protection Program had only a modest impact on employment. Chetty summarizes these findings in the short video above. A collection of pandemic-related videos may be found here.

Six NBER working papers distributed this week examine various economic consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic or analyze policy responses to it. One study analyzes the potential impact of the pandemic on long-term economic growth of different nations and regions (27855). Another assesses how COVID-19 may affect the demand for social safety nets, again disaggregating across countries (27865). Two studies examine issues that involve the stock market: one studies the performance of retail investors, a group of equity market participants who some analysts believe has played an important role in stock market movements since the outbreak of COVID-19 (27866), while the other considers the factors that are associated with high, and low, firm-level equity returns since COVID-19 struck (27867). A fifth study examines the response of consumer spending to the pandemic (27876), while a sixth explores the effect on the failure rate of small and medium-sized enterprises in many nations (27877).

More than 250 NBER working papers have presented pandemic-related research. These papers are open access and have been collected for easy reference. Like all NBER papers, they are circulated for discussion and comment, and have not been peer-reviewed. View them in reverse chronological order or by topic area.

The NBER Digest

Net Per Capita Investment in US Infrastructure
Has Declined to Near Its Lowest Level Since 1983

A study featured in the current edition of The NBER Digest finds that, when population growth and depreciation are taken into account, infrastructure investment in America’s infrastructure has been steadily drifting downward. Also in this issue of the free, monthly Digest are summaries of studies on the offshoring effects of restricting H-1B visas, and the post-war effect of US R&D spending during World War II, variation in public and private insurers’ reimbursements to hospitals, and differences in US and Western European productivity growth from 1995 to 2005, and the impact of the Voting Rights Act on arrests of Black citizens.
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New NBER Research

29 September 2020

Mortality Effects Across Health Insurance Plans

Higher-spending Medicare Advantage health insurance plans exhibit lower enrollee mortality, and moving beneficiaries out of the bottom 5 percent of these plans could save tens of thousands of lives each year, Jason Abaluck, Mauricio M. Caceres Bravo, Peter Hull, and Amanda Starc find.

28 September 2020

Age Discrimination Across the Business Cycle

During recessions, the volume of meritorious age discrimination firing and hiring claims increases significantly, according to a study by Gordon B. Dahl and Matthew M. Knepper. A one percentage point increase in the local unemployment rate is associated with a 14 percent decline in the callback rate for older women applying for jobs.

25 September 2020

Savings Decision Costs and Retirement Plan Participation

Reducing the complexity of deciding how much to contribute to a retirement plan can increase participation in the plan, a field experiment by Jacob Goldin, Tatiana Homonoff, Richard W. Patterson, and William L. Skimmyhorn with the Department of Defense finds.
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Bulletin on Retirement and Disability

Panel Discussion: Implications of COVID-19 for Social
Security in the US at the NBER 2020 Summer Institute

A panel discussion of the implications of the COVID-19 pandemic for Social Security in the US is summarized in the current issue of the Bulletin on Retirement and Disability. The panel was held as part of the NBER 2020 Summer Institute’s Economics of Social Security meeting and assessed potential effects of COVID-19 on Social Security fiscal projections. In April, SSA projections assumed a 15 percent reduction in earnings and payroll tax for one or two years, and then a full recovery. In this scenario, trust fund reserve depletion shifts forward from early 2035 to mid- or early 2034. Also featured in this issue of the free Bulletin are a summary of the 22nd Annual Meeting of the Retirement and Disability Research Consortium, a study of how labelling in retirement plans affects retirement rates, and a summary of new RDRC projects which intend to examine the COVID-19 effects on retirement and Social Security. Video and slides from the panel presentation are available here.
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Bulletin on Health

The Enduring Impacts of OxyContin Reformulation

The latest issue of the Bulletin on Health features a study that examines the long-term consequences of the reformulation of OxyContin on fatal drug overdoses. In 2010, an abuse-deterrent reformulation of OxyContin was introduced, with the goal of reducing opioid addiction and overdoses. The study concludes that this change instead generated an increase in fatal drug overdoses, by reducing the supply of abusable prescription drugs and inducing opioid addicts to switch to illicit drug markets. Also featured in this issue of the free Bulletin on Health are two studies that introduce methods for using currently-available data to better understand COVID-19 infection rates, a study of the role of Medicaid coverage in reducing infant mortality during flu pandemics, and a profile of NBER research associate Doug Almond.
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The NBER Reporter

Exploring the Economic Effects of Repealing
the US Possessions Corporation Tax Credit

Tax-avoidance behaviors of corporations and individuals are important to developing and developed countries alike, but what happens to the real economy when a country reins in profit-shifting? The impact of the repeal of section 936 of the US tax code — the US Possessions Corporation Tax Credit — is explored in research featured in the current edition of the NBER Reporter. Also in this issue of the Reporter, NBER affiliates write about medical spending and savings in elderly households, and research in the NBER's decade-long project on the Economics of Digitization project, and behavioral biases of analysts and investors, and making health care decisions in conditions of uncertainty.
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2020 Summer Institute Methods Lectures

The 2020 Methods Lectures introduce differential privacy, a method of assessing the trade-off between releasing more-detailed information based on survey responses and protecting respondents' privacy, and illustrate its application in several settings. The lectures and associated slides are available to view online or download.


NBER Videos

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