2020 Pandemic Misery Index: Update for Metropolitan Areas

The Private Enterprise Research Center introduced the Pandemic Misery Index (PMI) to provide a simple metric to measure the performance of various political entities, both states and metropolitan statistical areas (or MSA’s) in dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic.  This posting provides an update to our earlier reported PMI values for various MSA’s through the month of September. The PMI measures the economic and human toll of the pandemic in a simple additive number.  We also illustrate how localities have balanced stemming the spread of the virus and maintaining economic activity.

PERC’s PMI is the addition of an MSA’s average unemployment rate from the start of the pandemic to its cumulative deaths per 10,000 from the start of the pandemic.  The dashboard below presents the PMI for all of the MSAs in the U.S. for the months of March to September. The bar graph in the dashboard depicts the combined average unemployment rate and the deaths per 10,000 people, the PMI.

The El Centro MSA, located in southern California along the border with Mexico, continued to hold the highest PMI value at 42.9. This value is based on an average unemployment rate of 25.3% and 17.6 deaths per 10,000. The lowest PMI value was for the Logan MSA, which spans the Utah / Idaho border and, at 4.16 is less than a 1/10th the size of the El Centro PMI value.

MSAs with low PMI values tend to be smaller in populations and tend to be more geographically remote.  For the USA, many of the MSAs with high PMI values are in higher-population MSAs in the northeast and southwest. New England states see a wide range of PMI value, and wide combinations of unemployment rates and death rates. In general, MSA’s on the west coast have relatively low deaths per 10,000 but a wide range of unemployment rates, including some that are at the high end of the range. If we restrict our attention to Texas, the MSAs that make up the Rio Grande Valley reported high PMI values.

The scatter plot reveals a variety of outcomes among both large and small MSAs. The size of the circles in the scatterplot reflect the population of the MSAs, and those represented in red are the MSAs with populations in excess of 5 million residents. The largest among these MSAs, New York-Newark-Jersey City, has a PMI of 35.7, based on an average unemployment rate of 13.1% and 22.6 deaths per 10,000 people. At 11.8, Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington has the lowest PMI of the large MSAs with an average unemployment rate of 8.6% and 3.2 deaths per 10,000 people. The PMI for DFW is lower than that of many smaller MSAs.


In these metro areas, outcomes will continue to change over time.  Unemployment rates are declining in many areas, but have increased in others. The cumulative death rates are growing at different rates with some of the areas that have had low rates now seeing a substantial rise in cases. These metro area PMIs illustrate the wide range of outcomes across the United States and within states and regions. They also provide insight into the balance of public health outcomes and economic outcomes as various MSAs deal with the pandemic.
Data and Methods
We use coronavirus-related death information from the New York Times database retrieved from Tableau’s Covid-19 Data Hub. Population data and statistical area delineations come from the U.S. Census Bureau. Seasonally adjusted unemployment rates are sourced from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). The Pandemic Misery Index is calculated by adding the average unemployment rate from March to September, and the total number of deaths per 10,000 people for the same time period.
The data provided by the New York Times are recorded at the county level. New York, NY, Joplin, MO, and Kansas City, MO are recorded separately from the counties they belong to, these were added to their respective Metropolitan Statistical Areas.  Fifteen of the 381 reported statistical areas have BLS data recorded for their metropolitan New England city and town areas (Met NECTAs) equivalent. The list of MSAs The Met NECTA unemployment data for our list of MSAs is recorded in the references and notes section.

Posted: November 09, 2020 by Dennis W. Jansen, Carlos I. Navarro, Andrew J. Rettenmaier