Which States Underperformed or Outperformed Relative to Their Lockdowns?

We look at which states’ lockdowns were more or less effective relative to all states. Were some states lockdowns too strict relative the economic impact? Too loose? We find out.


Over the course of the pandemic, it has been shown that more strict lockdowns result in higher unemployment (Richmond FED). Over the course of the pandemic states used varying strategies focusing on minimizing the impact of the pandemic, optimizing lockdowns to allow for the least number of cases and deaths relative to lockdowns or simply staying nearly 100% open.

Initiating lockdowns in each of the scenarios has potential to be too strict or too loose. Today we find out which states performed inline with lockdowns that were implemented and which states maybe have locked down too harshly, or which states may have not locked down enough.


We collected cases per million, deaths per million as of Dec 31st 2020 for each state. We also collected the unemployment rate as of Dec 31st, 2019 for a baseline unemployment rate for each state. Finally we calculated the average unemployment for each state over the course of the pandemic and subtracted the baseline unemployment to find the change in unemployment for each state. After collecting the data we put the data into a scatterplot and finally added a regression line into the data.

The Data

Once the data was placed onto the scatterplot with their respective regression lines and averages, we can see which states were in line with expectation and which may have under or overperformed. The farther form the regression line each state resides the more they underperformed or overperformed. The closer to the line the more in line the performance was with respect to the lockdowns.

The Results

With cases a few states stand out as outliers. Hawaii and Nevada. These states both have very high unemployment rates relative to the cases and deaths experienced in each state. However, these can be explained by these states reliance on tourism which has certainly fallen dramatically during the pandemic.

We then split each graphic into 4 quadrants, High Unemployment Low COVID Cases/Deaths, High Unemployment Low COVID Cases/Deaths, Low Unemployment Low COVID Cases/Deaths and Low Unemployment High COVID Cases/Deaths. Being in any particular quadrant isn’t necessarily bad or good, rather observing how far off of each axis a particular state lies relative to the opposing axis can give an indication on if a given amount of unemployment, our proxy for lockdowns, generated a relatively good outcome in cases or deaths when compared to other states.


So which states stood out in a positive way? We can find these states in the Low Unemployment Low COVID Cases/Deaths quadrant that are farther from the vertical axis then they are from the horizontal axis. These states include Vermont, Maine, Oregon, Washington and Virginia. Each of these states achieved a lower case count than their unemployment would suggest relative to other states.

So which states stood out in a negative way? We can find these in these states in the remaining three quadrants that are farther from the horizontal axis than they are from the vertical access. States that stand out here include California, Illinois, Indiana, North Dakota, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Tennessee, and Wisconsin. Each of these states suffered a higher case count than their unemployment would suggest relative to other states.


Death is the ultimate worst-case scenario and, in many ways, the catastrophic result controlling the virus is working towards avoiding. Ultimately, many feel this is the most important statistic of the two.

States that stood out here in a positive way are Nebraska, Montana, Missouri and Minnesota. States that stood out in a negative way are New Jersey, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New York, North Dakota, South Dakota, Connecticut, and Mississippi.

Final Evaluation

No state managed to appear on the Positive Case and Positive Death lists. Some states managed to be on one or the other but not both. North Dakota, Rhode Island, South Dakota appeared on Negative Case and Negative Death lists. This suggests that each of these states did receive a benefit (low unemployment) from implementing their respective strategies but the number of cases and deaths realized was not to scale with what other states realized.

Some states had an outsized case count but did not have an outsized death count. This suggests that these states implemented strategies that allowed for higher cases counts but were able to manage those cases. These states included Illinois, Indiana, Tennessee and Wisconsin.

Finally, some states did not appear on the negative case list but did appear on the negative death list. This suggests that these states, even with relatively in line case counts were unable to control those cases as they led to outsized deaths. These states include Connecticut, Massachusetts, Mississippi, New Jersey, New York and Rhode Island.