By: Anish Advani
The economic crisis associated with COVID-19 has led to millions of job losses, and subsequently an inability among US households to pay for basic necessities like rent. Even though the unemployment numbers in the state have seen steady recovery post the first and second waves of the virus, the current numbers are still pretty grim. The national unemployment rate dropped down to 5.8% in May 2021, while in Colorado it fell to 6.2%. This is, however, still a 150% increase from the same time in 2019. While Colorado’s employment-to-population ratio continues to improve since April 2020, when it was 57.0 percent, it is still well below the pre-pandemic level of 66.8 percent. As Colorado makes its start to its economic recovery, overcrowded living environments resulting from evictions will only hinder the epidemic curve flattening.
In Colorado, when the pandemic eviction moratorium expired last year in June, there were strong links between evictions and COVID-19 incidence and mortality. In one particular study by 7 researchers from 5 different universities across the US, they found stark differences in both incidence and mortality rates between states that let their eviction moratoriums expire vs those that didn’t. Over the study period, 27 states lifted eviction moratoriums and the incidence rates in these states over a sixteen week period was 2.1 times those of the others, whereas the mortality rates were 5.4 times in the same time period. The regression models used to analyze these associations were population-averaged and included major public-health interventions – stay-at-home orders, school closures and mask mandates. The effects grew over time, perhaps due to mounting displacement, crowding, and/or homelessness as evictions proceeded. The findings may also suggest that the cases associated with evictions were more severe than the average for the state’s population. This is plausible, given that poor health and costs associated with healthcare may drive eviction risk.
As we can see in the graphics above, the rates of incidence and mortality were pretty consistent during the moratorium periods. However, after the moratoriums ended, we saw the rate of increase for these indicators shoot up by alarming amounts. The finding of a larger effect size for mortality than for incidence may relate to the fact that COVID-19 deaths are better ascertained than cases. In Colorado for example, in the 3 month post-moratorium period from June to September, 2020, the study found that there were approximately 8,620 cases and 254 that could be attributed to evictions. While this number pales in comparison to the states that had fewer eviction protections and mask mandates, it is still a very significant number in the grand scheme of things. Any preventable loss of life is tragic, but ones that can be rectified by simple and effective policy solutions are an absolute failure on our part.
While much-needed, moratoriums may delay evictions without preventing them. Looking to 2021/22, policymakers should consider extending federal, state and local moratoriums alongside rent relief, and other legal and supportive protections to prevent future evictions, COVID-19 transmission, and associated harms. The delta variant, much more lethal and infectious than the generic version, is a huge threat to both the vaccinated and more so the large swathes of unvaccinated people in the state of Colorado and the country. With the CDC moratorium struck down, we need to push our legislative leadership to deliver. If there was ever a time when we needed to come together as a community and take care of our most vulnerable, this is it.