CLEVELAND — As more school districts decide whether to return to in-person learning, a majority of Ohio’s leading economists believe such a decision — assuming in-person learning can be done safely — may provide a needed economic lift. The results were released by Columbus-based Scioto Analysis, a firm that provides policymakers with evidence-based insight into pressing public issues.
As part of January’s survey, the Ohio Economic Experts Panel, which is comprised of more than 30 leading economists in Ohio, was asked to agree or disagree with the following statement: Ohio’s economy will receive a substantial boost as soon as K-12 schools can be safely opened in-person across the state. More than half of those that responded to the survey agreed. Three economists strongly agreed. Five economists were uncertain and five more disagreed with the statement. One of the leading sentiments among the economists was that a safe return to in-person learning would allow the parents of those children to be more productive — at a minimum — be more productive at work or, potentially, able to seek employment again.
Michael Goldberg, an associate professor of design and innovation at Case Western Reserve University, said a byproduct of more in-person learning may provide a much-needed jolt into the parts of the economy that have been ravaged by the pandemic. He said he has seen anecdotal evidence of that around the CWRU campus and University Circle.
“Working down here at University Circle near the university, I see independent businesses that have really struggled,” Goldberg said. “We’re starting to see a return to normal activities and with normal activities comes things like ordering lunch. There’s a whole economy of businesses that are built around serving our students, our faculty and our staff. We’re going to start to do things around our businesses that support the service provider and small businesses in our communities.”
What kind of labor market awaits those re-entering the workforce remains uncertain, however.
The national unemployment rate skyrocketed to 15% last spring during the lockdowns in dozens of states nationwide. The current unemployment rate is 6.7%.
“We had a very tight labor market before the pandemic and I think employers recognize both before the pandemic and now that talent is so critical to making a successful business,” Goldberg said.
The economists that responded to the survey were mixed when it came to the degree to which a return to in-person learning would boost the economy. Other economists also noted that a safe return to in-person learning would also suggest that it is safe for people to do other economic activities that they cannot do right now.
“I think for folks that are re-entering things as they were before, there is going to be an economic lift for businesses around them. Driving, parking, buying goods and services near their employer; these are all things that drive the economy,” Goldberg said. “But for folks at home, they are going to continue to rely on the businesses that are providing goods and services for things that are delivered to their home.”