Economic Cost and Health Care Workforce Effects of School Closures in the U.S.

Source: Howard Lempel, Ross A. Hammond, Joshua M. Epstein, Brookings Institution, September 30, 2009

From the abstract:
School closure is an important component of U.S. pandemic flu mitigation strategy. The benefit is a reduction in epidemic severity through reduction in school-age contacts. However, school closure involves two types of cost. First is the direct economic impact of the worker absenteeism generated by school closures. Second, many of the relevant absentees will be health care workers themselves, which will adversely affect the delivery of vaccine and other emergency services. Neither of these costs has been estimated in detail for the United States. We offer detailed estimates, and improve on the methodologies thus far employed in the non-U.S. literature. We give estimates of both the direct economic and health care impacts for school closure durations of 2, 4, 8, and 12 weeks under a range of assumptions. We find that closing all schools in the U.S. for four weeks could cost between $10 and $47 billion dollars (0.1-0.3% of GDP) and lead to a reduction of 6% to 19% in key health care personnel. These should be considered conservative (i.e., low) economic estimates in that earnings rather than total compensation are used to calculate costs. We also provide per student costs, so regionally heterogeneous policies can be evaluated. These estimates permit the epidemiological benefits of school closure to be compared to the costs at multiple scales and over many durations.

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