If you want to know the shameful truth about Ron DeSantis, look at the math

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Virus Outbreak Florida Lawsuit (Calvin Knight)
Virus Outbreak Florida Lawsuit (Calvin Knight)

Most people outside of Florida recognize Governor Ron DeSantis’ Covid-19 strategy as a bad deal — but how bad is it? The would-be president from Jacksonville has a clear plan: He won’t demand much testing, withholds state and even federal funds from schools that require masks, and doesn’t want to let private businesses require proof of vaccination. He’s even threatening fines for local governments that require public-facing employees to be vaccinated. In exchange, he says, Jobs! Jobs! Wonderful jobs!

Unfortunately the trade fails the test of: Math! Math! Dismal math!

On the right, voices like radio talk host Clay Travis have recently argued that Florida — which has the nation’s third-most Covid cases since the pandemic began and ninth-most Covid deaths — actually has the best Covid record in America. The Wall Street Journal’s op-ed page has even demanded an apology to DeSantis from all those who predicted his policies would cause thousands of unnecessary deaths — an analysis reprised just this Sunday, following up on Mike Pence’s May 2020 prediction on that page that there would be no second wave of coronavirus cases (we’ve been through four now).

Let’s put DeSantis’ claim under the quantitative microscope, shall we?

First, the jobs. There is no huge economic boom in Florida, let alone one that stems from declining to enforce simple public health measures. Florida’s unemployment rate is 4.9 percent, a tick higher than the national rate of 4.8 percent. But since all states are different, what really matters is whether the relationship between joblessness in Florida and everywhere else has changed since the last pre-pandemic jobs report in February 2020. Back then, Florida’s jobless rate of 3.3 percent was better than the national average of 3.5 percent.

So, what do you know? Florida’s performance, relative to the national baseline, has gotten worse during Covid. Not better? Surely that can’t be true! The finest economists on talk radio could not be using their background in covering sports, like Travis and before him Rush Limbaugh, to steer you wrong!

Aye, ‘tis true. If you looked at the unemployment rate alone, in fact, simple math suggests Florida has lost 30,000 jobs (compared to where it would be if unemployment were still 0.2 percentage points lower than the national average) because of Covid.

In 2021, as the divergence between policies in Florida and states whose governors are not running for the 2024 Republican nomination for the White House became clearer, DeSantis’ case on jobs gets a little stronger — even as his record on Covid gets much worse. It’s helped by looking at job growth this year, when restrictions on doing business loosened pretty much everywhere and vaccine denialism and mask mandates (neither of which stop anyone from doing business, or from hiring) moved to the forefront.

But it’s not much better. Not enough to be worth anything like the number of lives we’ll discuss in a minute, stemming from the fact that Florida’s Covid death rate has soared this year as it plummeted elsewhere.

Florida has added 547,000 jobs since December 2020, out of the national total of 5.05 million. Its number of employed workers has grown 5.7 percent, versus 3.2 percent for the nation. On Florida’s base of 9.53 million workers in December, the best case you can make is that DeSantis’ lax Covid policies might have played some role in adding 239,000 jobs — the difference between growth at the national pace and Florida’s. But that would be offset, straight off, by Florida’s population growth — it should create jobs faster than the nation, as has California, which has very different Covid policies — and by its dependence on the leisure and entertainment sector. That sector accounts for 17 percent of America’s 2021 job growth and in Florida has added jobs almost three times as fast as the rest of the economy, according to Labor Department data. Adding restaurant and tourism jobs as restaurants and attractions reopen, and people travel more, is easy.

So, what is the cost of all these jobs, measured in lives?

In 2020, Florida and Texas would brag that they had many fewer Covid deaths than states like New York or New Jersey — but that’s no longer true. States that had a lot of Covid early had a lot of Covid deaths early, too — whether they had Republican governors, like Massachusetts, or Democrats, as in New York. Texas and Florida had fewer deaths until later in 2020 because they had fewer cases. But that was just a matter of time.

This year, Florida has seen 36,111 Covid deaths — that’s more than four times the toll in New Jersey and almost twice as many as in New York. New York and New Jersey saw half of their total Covid deaths by Memorial Day 2020 — more than 43,000 between them — before vaccines arrived and public health measures took root. Back then, Florida had seen only 2,650 residents die of Covid. (Like other states hit early, both catastrophically mismanaged the early response in nursing homes, a phenomenon that largely skipped Florida because it had so few cases then).

In other words, New Yorkers and Jerseyans died when no one knew the state of the art for diagnosing, preventing and treating Covid. Floridians have died because public officials counseled them to ignore what became known by the time their constituents got sick.

Now, let’s review that math and move on to jobs.

New York and New Jersey have lost about 976 people per 1 million population to Covid this year, compared with 1,679 in Florida by my calculations, using data from Worldometers.info. Multiply that by Florida’s population of 21.5 million people, and a reasonable estimate is that DeSantis’ policies cost 15,100 lives this year alone.

Fifteen. Thousand. Lives. So. DeSantis. Can. Run. For. President. Think about it.

The job gains you can claim from DeSantis’ Covid policies (with some stretching) may be somewhere around 100,000, averaging the effects that Florida’s unemployment rate and job growth imply. Six jobs per unnecessary death. Six. Not counting the damage done, to the economy and otherwise, by the 2.4 million overall new Covid cases in Florida this year, roughly double the rate in California or New Jersey.

So, Florida, the death of your grandma, or your husband, or — God forbid — your child gave the world a slightly better-staffed night shift at a Taco Bell. Or maybe two Taco Bells.

That’s the math. If you can’t handle the math, you’re probably Ron DeSantis.

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