By: Dave Sobush, CEcD, Florida Chamber Foundation Director of Research
Each generation experiences a handful of events so important that the mention of them produces an instant and total recall of their surroundings, activities, and the names and faces they were with when the news was heard.
The violent opening salvos and solemn closing signatures of war; Presidential assassination and resignation; Triumphs and tragedies as we reached for the stars in space; Foreign and domestic attacks on our nation and way of life.
No doubt, some events are so cataclysmic that there can be no mistake that something significant has happened in that instant. That a clear demarcation has occurred. A “before” and an “after,” each typed in 72-point font on one’s consciousness.
With other events, the before and after are less clear. The start and end cannot be pinned down as easily. Less of a lightning strike and reporting thunderclap, more of a slowly encroaching and receding king tide.
The global pandemic of COVID-19 fits more neatly in that second category. First, an extra week of spring break, amplified by a few extra weeks to “stop the spread.” The arrival of a vaccine was followed by subsequent waves of variants.
While the worst of the epidemiological events appear behind us, and given that employment has returned to (and, in fact, eclipsed by 357,900) February 2020 levels, what is less clear are the longer-term economic and social consequences of the pandemic. To get an early read on those outcomes, the Florida Chamber Foundation will soon be releasing its soon-to-be-released white paper “Florida COVID-19 Impacts Ripple Beyond the Economy.” This research examined, among many areas, impacts on education and opioid addiction, and we’re pleased to provide the following brief summaries of select findings in advance of the white paper’s full release.
Experiences and/or anecdotal accounts from friends and family related to virtual learning at the end of the 2019-2020 school year, combined with closures of pre-schools, led to a significant drop in public school enrollment when the bells rang in August 2020. While overall enrollment across all grades fell 2.4 percent from the prior year, district-provided pre-kindergarten and kindergarten enrollments fell 23.1 percent and 8 percent, respectively. As these grades are not mandatory in Florida, it is more likely that parents pulled their children from school during the pandemic. For the higher grades that are mandatory, it’s more likely that homeschooling and private schools are responsible for most of the decline in public school enrollment.
All told, disruptions in learning, if not properly mitigated over the balance of a student’s education, may lead to $1,785 in reduced future annual earnings. Multiplying that value by the number of kindergarteners enrolled in the 2019-2020 school year results in an annual and recurring wage loss of $357 million to the state economy in the years ahead when those kindergarteners are in the workforce.
Across the country, people have been worried about increasing rates of what is typically called “deaths of despair.” These combined statistics include drug overdoses, suicides, and homicides. The data released so far has indicated that drug overdoses experienced the most dramatic change in 2020. In Florida, almost 7,000 individuals died of a poisoning or drug overdose in 2020. This is over 2,070 more deaths in the state than in 2019, a 43 percent increase. Nationally, the rate of overdose deaths increased by about 30 percent, the largest increase since 1999.
The opioid crisis has been mutating from an issue with common medical prescriptions that could be regulated to synthetic opioids. Despite state efforts to reduce the number of opioids prescribed, opioid-related deaths are still rising. Synthetic opioids (particularly those found on the “black market” like fentanyl) appear to be the top culprit in the pandemic overdose death spike. Theories for why drug overdose deaths increased so drastically during lockdowns include isolated usage (taking drugs alone lowers the chance of life-saving interventions) and increased poor mental health days.
Across Florida, 53 of the 67 counties saw an increase in their poisoning and drug overdose death rate from 2019 to 2020. Some counties did see fewer overdoses than in 2019; these were largely in the panhandle region. Duval County saw the greatest rise in poisonings and drug overdoses, as deaths increased by 230 from 2019 to 2020.
In summary, COVID-19, like many other historical epidemics, has had its share of economic and personal impacts. As Florida continues its journey to the global top 10, these rippling impacts will be felt for some time. But, it’s how we continue to adapt along the way that will make all the difference.
To learn more about the Florida Chamber Foundation’s COVID-19 research, or any of the research we are doing to secure Florida’s future, please feel free to contact me directly at 850-521-1271 or firstname.lastname@example.org.