The pandemic’s effect on the economy was fast and furious. Nearly all the jobs lost during the downturn occurred before any government action to close restaurants and bars, enforce mask standards or limit gatherings. State governments responded with wildly different limitations, making it relatively easy to isolate the effect of disease and government action on the economy. Over the past several months a number of high-quality studies have made clear that it was disease, not government, that delivered and sustained this recession.
From the very beginning, the economics profession made it clear that fixing the economy meant ending the pandemic. That proved right. Whether or not the government interventions ultimately reduced the disease incidence is an epidemiological question, not an economic one. But, any analysis of the cost and benefits, particularly of low-cost measures like mask wearing, would justify much of what happened last spring.
Economists were also correct about the general magnitude and industries most affected by the pandemic. For example, in March 2020 the center where I work published a study of those occupations most at risk nationally, and reported about 28 million workers at risk, with the average wage of about $15 per hour. As it turns out, job losses in the first quarter exceeded 22 million, and were heavily clustered on workers making less than $15 an hour. Given the uncertainty of the moment, that turned out to be a highly prescient analysis.