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A nurse checks on a Covid-19 patient in the intensive care unit at Saint Claire Regional Medical Center in Morehead, Kentucky, U.S., on Wednesday, Dec. 1, 2021. Kentucky's Covid landscape is a lot like what's happening in the rest of the United States. When the latest surge of infections began this summer, outbreaks in less vaccinated counties filled up small, local hospitals. Sicker patients, or those who couldn't find space, went on to regional facilities. The most severe cases fed into the biggest and most advanced hospital in the state, the University of Kentucky Albert B. Chandler Hospital, until it too overflowed. Photographer: Jon Cherry/Bloomberg

Life Health > Health Insurance > Medicare Planning

COVID-19 Unemployment Saved Lives Early On: Economist

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Job losses caused by the COVID-19 pandemic might have cut the total number of pandemic-related U.S. deaths early on, rather than increasing the death toll.

Christopher Ruhm, an economist at the University of Virginia, presents data supporting that conclusion in a paper published behind a paywall on the website of Health Affairs, a peer-reviewed academic journal.

Ruhm estimates that COVID-19 and pandemic-related effects other than high unemployment by approximately 702,800 during the 12-month period running from February 2020 through March 2021.

Pandemic-related unemployment killed some people, but it saved so many other lives that it decreased the overall pandemic-related death toll by nearly 37,800, reducing the total excess number of deaths to closer to 665,000, according to Ruhm’s analysis.

What It Means

Advisors, agents, life insurance underwriters and others looking at the pandemic might assume that pandemic-related turmoil increased clients’ mortality, but it’s possible that some clients benefited from having time off from work.

“A key insight of this investigation is that most types of mortality decline when the economy weakens and that these recession effects partially offset the pandemic effect for most groups,” Ruhm writes in an assessment of his own results.

The Methods

Ruhm conducted the research by combining mortality data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, population and demographic data from the National Cancer Institute and state unemployment data, then using statistical techniques to separate the effects of high unemployment rates from the effects of other factors.

COVID Death Details

Ruhm found, when he analyzed the data, that the COVID-19 pandemic increased the number of deaths by 24.6% over the expected number during the period studied.

High unemployment reduced the number of deaths by 1.3% from the expected number.

“Recession effects reduced stroke and vehicle fatalities while increasing those from cancer, drug overdoses, and suicides,” Ruhm writes. “There was not a statically significant effect for other causes, although the point estimates were negative in most cases and close to statistical significance for heart disease, pneumonia, kidney ailments, and homicides.”

Pictured: A nurse checks on a COVID-19 patient in the intensive care unit at Saint Claire Regional Medical Center in Morehead, Kentucky. (Photo: Jon Cherry/Bloomberg)


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