The Pandemic Misery Index of North American States/Provinces

Over the past year, the Private Enterprise Research Center has presented its Pandemic Misery Index, or PMI, to assess how different states and metropolitan areas have fared over the course of the Coronavirus pandemic. PERC’s PMI adds together the COVID-19 death rate per 10,000 of population to the average unemployment rate over the period in question. The PMI combines the public health impact of COVID-19 and the economic impact of the policy responses in a single metric. The PMI can be calculated as a cumulative metric over a number of months or it can be adapted to provide monthly estimates. See “The Pandemic Misery Index” for a more complete discussion.
Here, we calculate the PMIs for each state or province in North America. The data used to calculate the Pandemic Misery Index for North American States come from a variety of sources. The number of deaths attributed to COVID-19 for the United States come from New York Times data. Death counts for Canada come from the Center for Systems Science and Engineering (CSSE) at Johns Hopkins University.[1] The death data for Mexico come from the Consejo Nacional de Ciencia y Tecnología (CONACYT).[2] State-level unemployment rates for the U.S. and Canada are available monthly and come from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) and Statistics Canada, respectively. State-level unemployment rates for Mexico are available by quarter and are made available by the Instituto Nacional de Estadística, Geografía e Informática (INEGI). Due to the availability of death and unemployment rate data from Mexico, the period of analysis for this iteration of the PMI is from July 2020 to December 2020. Notably, the early surge in COVID cases and deaths on the east coast of the U.S. and the highest unemployment rates in the U.S. during the spring of 2020, are not included in this edition of the PMI.
State-level analysis
The interactive dashboard below tells a story for each country and each state. There are three main figures in the dashboard. The bar graph to the left ranks each state in Canada, Mexico, and the United States according to their PMI. The blue portion of the bars represent the average unemployment rate for each state from July 2020 to December 2020.[3] The yellow portion represents the COVID-19 death rate per 10,000 people for the same period. When added together, we get the PMI for the second half of 2020 for each state in the North American region. As the graph illustrates, there was a wide range of experiences with both the unemployment rate and the fatality rate during this portion of the pandemic. Some states were hard hit under both measures, while some have been relatively unscathed by one or both measures.
Mexico City has the highest PMI, with an average unemployment rate of 7.3% and a death rate of 13.3, for a total PMI of 20.61. Mexican states occupy the first thirteen spots in this PMI ranking. Alberta, a Canadian province, captured the 14th highest state-level PMI in North America with 14.23, largely due to a high average unemployment rate of 11.7% and a relatively low death rate of 2.53 per 10,000. The U.S. state with the highest PMI in the second half of 2020 is Nevada, occupying the 20th spot in the ranking. Nevada exhibited a low COVID-19 death rate of 1.42 per 10,000 but experienced a high unemployment rate of 11.9%.
The scatter plot in the top right corner of the dashboard depicts the average unemployment rate on the horizontal axis and the COVID-19 death rate on the vertical axis. Each circle represents a state in North America. The United States is depicted in blue, Canada in red, and Mexico in green. The size of each circle represents the relative population of each state. There are two major takeaways from this visualization. First, the states in Mexico experienced lower unemployment rates compared to the U.S. and Canada. The average unemployment rates in Mexico ranged from 2.37% to 9.19%. In the U.S., average unemployment rates ranged from 3.58% to 12.57%, and in Canada the average unemployment rate ranged from 7.63% to 13.78%. Second, the death rates in Mexican states were markedly higher than in U.S. states and Canadian provinces.
The last figure in the bottom right corner depicts a heat map of the PMI and the darker shades represent states with higher PMI values. PMIs in the states and provinces ranged from Mexico’s Chiapas value of 4.01, the lowest value, to Mexico City’s 20.61, the highest.
[1] Covid data at the state level for the United States and Canada were downloaded from Tableau’s COVID-19 Data Hub: 
[2] State-level Covid-19 data for Mexico was retrieved from
[3] Unemployment data for Mexico is unavailable for the second quarter of 2020, and is only available up to the fourth quarter of 2020.

Dennis W. Jansen, Carlos Navarro, and Andrew J. Rettenmaier; The Pandemic Misery Index; Private Enterprise Research Center; Texas A&M University

Posted: May 06, 2021 by Dennis W. Jansen, Carlos I. Navarro, Andrew J. Rettenmaier