Pandemic Misery Index: February 2021 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 for both states and metropolitan statistical areas (MSA) in dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic. This post provides an update to our reported PMI values for various MSA’s through the month of December. The PMI measures the economic and human toll of the pandemic in a simple additive number. We also illustrate how different localities have balanced stemming the spread of the virus with 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 beginning from March 2020. The dashboard below presents the PMI for all of the MSAs in the U.S. for the months of March to December. The bar graph in the dashboard depicts the sum of the average unemployment rate and the total deaths per 10,000 people as the PMI value.
The El Centro MSA, located in southern California along the border with Mexico, again held the highest PMI value at 45.9. This value is based on an average unemployment rate of 22.8%, the highest among US metropolitan areas, and 23.1 cumulative deaths per 10,000 people. The lowest PMI value was again captured by the Logan MSA, which spans the Utah / Idaho border and, at 5.45, is 12% of the El Centro PMI value. Logan’s average unemployment rate was the lowest among MSAs at 3.5% and one of the lowest covid death rates at 1.97 deaths per 10,000 people. The lowest death rate among US MSAs was recorded at Watertown-Fort Drum, NY, at 0.82, and with an average unemployment rate of 9.86%, it’s PMI value was 10.68.
MSAs with low PMI values tend to be smaller in populations and 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 values, and wide combinations of unemployment rates and death rates. In general, MSAs 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, Brownsville-Harlingen and McAllen-Edinburg-Mission, reported high PMI values. With a value of 11.37, Austin-Round Rock-Georgetown had the lowest PMI in Texas.
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 36.68, based on an average unemployment rate of 11.9% and 24.8 deaths per 10,000 people. At 14.59, Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington has the lowest PMI of the large MSAs with an average unemployment rate of 8.02% and 6.57 deaths per 10,000 people. The PMI for DFW is lower than that of many smaller MSAs.
Other large MSAs had a variety of experiences. The second largest, Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim, had a PMI value of 22.9 (average unemployment rate 13.6%, death rate 9.3 per 10,000). Third largest, Chicago-Naperville-Elgin, had a PMI of 25.1 (unemployment 11.3%, death rate 13.8). The fourth largest MSA is Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington. Fifth largest, Houston-The Woodlands-Sugar Land, had a PMI of 16.2 (unemployment 9.6%, death rate 6.6). Other large MSAs include Miami-Fort Lauderdale-West Palm Beach, with a PMI of 22.4 (unemployment 9.6%, death rate 12.9), Philadelphia-Camden-Wilmington with a PMI of 24.2, Washington, DC with a PMI of 15.09 and Atlanta-Sandy Springs-Alpharetta with a PMI of 14.6.


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: February 26, 2021 by Dennis W. Jansen, Carlos I. Navarro, Andrew J. Rettenmaier