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The limits of reopening policy to alter economic behavior: New evidence from Texas

Dhaval Dave (), Joseph J. Sabia () and Samuel Safford ()
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Dhaval Dave: Bentley University
Joseph J. Sabia: San Diego State University & IZA
Samuel Safford: Michigan State University

Journal of Risk and Uncertainty, 2022, vol. 64, issue 2, No 1, 109-145

Abstract: Abstract In the midst of mass COVID-19 vaccination distribution efforts in the U.S. Texas became the first state to abolish its mask mandate and fully lift capacity constraints for all businesses, effective on March 10, 2021. Proponents claimed that the reopening would generate short-run employment growth and signal a return to normal while opponents argued that it would cause a resurgence of COVID-19 and kill Texans. This study finds that each side was largely incorrect. First, using daily anonymized smartphone data — and synthetic control and difference-in-differences approaches — we find no evidence that the Texas reopening led to substantial changes in mobility, including foot traffic at a wide set of business establishments. Second, we find no evidence that the Texas reopening affected the rate of new COVID-19 cases or deaths during the five weeks following the reopening. Our null results persist across more urbanized and less urbanized counties, as well as across counties that supported Donald Trump and Joe Biden in the 2020 presidential election. Finally, we find no evidence that the Texas reopening impacted short-run employment, including in industries most affected by the reopening. Together, these findings underscore the persistence of late-pandemic era private behavior and stickiness in individuals’ risk-related beliefs, and suggest that reopening policies may have impacts that are more muted than policymakers expect.

Keywords: Statewide reopening; Persistence; COVID-19; Synthetic control; Unemployment; H75; I18 (search for similar items in EconPapers)
Date: 2022
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DOI: 10.1007/s11166-022-09379-8

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