The previous section examined how the pandemic has affected the lives and livelihoods of people across the country. The next section moves on from the “damage assessment” to track measures that will be important for recovery from the Covid crisis.  

This Prosperity section examines measures of high-functioning governments and civic institutions that are essential for community well-being and prosperity. Importantly, this section ends with metrics that assess how people are doing during the pandemic across geography, race, and gender.  


Governments–local, state, and federal–are being asked to do a lot during the Covid crisis. We start with metrics that assess how states are performing relative to White House reopening guidelines, available data on Covid-related funding to states, the projected tax revenues states will need for their myriad public functions, challenges the pandemic presents for generating fair and accurate 2020 Census data, preparedness for the upcoming presidential election, and the number and type of protests happening state by state. For each indicator, we provide a brief, evidence-based set of findings and implications to help readers quickly grasp a top-level overview of how each state is doing.

Indicators in this section

  • Progress toward White House Opening Up America Again Guidelines
  • Paycheck Protection Program loans as share of small businesses
  • FY 2020 and 2021 preliminary estimates of decline in tax revenues
  • Amount of time for error-checking in 2020 Census data
  • Census enumeration progress by state
  • Non-voters who cited structural reasons for not voting in the 2016 election
  • Readiness to vote by mail in a pandemic
  • Protests per capita and by type

Only 2 states are making progress toward White House Opening Up America Again guidelines, with former Northeast hotspots and California faring best. 

Progress toward White House Opening Up America Again Guidelines

As of October 19, 2020


The White House Opening Up America Guidelines set criteria for reopening based on trajectory of new cases, hospital capacity, and degree of testing.1 Challenges with data quality and availability continues to be a theme in the pandemic.2 Public trust in data is low as well, with roughly 1 in 3 of Americans believing the risk from the virus is exaggerated while 1 in 3 believe that deaths are under-reported.3,4 Regardless, as of October 21, only 2 states (Vermont and Maine) are meeting the minimal White House criteria for reopening. Meanwhile 32 states are categorized as having “uncontrolled spread” – up 14 from last month. 

Though the guidelines are federal, the responsibility for public health programs and policies to support safe reopening falls to state and local governments. Policy tracking initiatives from the National Governors Association and National League of Cities reveal a wide range of policies on masks, gatherings, business reopenings, and reopenings of public services such as libraries, schools, and childcare centers.5,6 Ultimately, though, much of the power to contain the spread is bound to individual choices. In the absence of a vaccine or effective treatment, public health measures such as social distancing, wearing masks, and widespread testing are essential for managing the pandemic. 

As of mid-September, 24% of white people and 40% of African Americans know somebody who has died of the disease  – driving home how high the stakes are for reopening policies, and the stark disparities in how Covid is impacting communities of color.7 

In many states across the South, as well as HI, NE, CT, and D.C., more than 75% of businesses received CARES Act (PPP) forgivable small business loans.

Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans as a share of total small businesses

CARES Act small business loan approvals through July 6, small businesses have < 500 employees

Source: Brookings Institution
Note: Brookings’ Small business data comes from the 2018 Annual Business Survey – firms with fewer than 500 employees, excluding independent contractors, self-employed individuals, and sole-proprietors. 

As small businesses struggle to remain viable despite significantly reduced demand, many have sought financial assistance from a wide array of public and private sources. Small businesses in the Healthcare and Social Assistance sector as well as those in the Accommodations and Food Services sector have been the most likely to request financial assistance. By far, the federal government’s Payroll Protection Program has been the most sought after source of financial assistance. According to the Census Bureau’s October Small Business Pulse surveys, 74% of all small businesses indicated they applied for PPP forgivable loans.1

A Brookings analysis of this data found that 70% of all small businesses in the U.S. received PPP funding. However, in several states, less than 65% of small businesses received the loans including Alaska, California, Delaware, Montana, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Vermont, Washington, and West Virginia. In contrast, in most southern states, more than 75% of small businesses received this federal support.2 More than one study found that minority-owned businesses and very small businesses, with fewer than 10 employees, were less likely to receive PPP funding.2,3,4 

Seven states are projecting tax revenue reductions of 10% or greater for the fiscal year 2020, increasing to at least 30 states for FY 2021.

FY 2020 and 2021 preliminary estimates of decline in tax revenues by state, as of October 16

Percent decline in tax revenues Note: Some states do not have published projections for both or either years
Source: Center on Budget and Policy Priorities 

The economic crisis spurred by Covid hits states directly, especially in terms of reduced income and sales tax revenues.  State tax collections have declined by 5.5% in fiscal year 2020 according to new Census data.1 Hardest hit in fiscal year 2020 were Kansas and Nevada, both with a 11% reduction, due in large part to unemployment, reduced production, and lagging tourism.2,3 

For fiscal year 2021, 30 states are projecting a tax revenue reduction of 10% or more. Loss of jobs in service industries and travel, specifically, will have a major impact on the tax revenues of states such as Massachusetts and Nevada, projecting losses of 31% and 26% respectively.4,3 Hawaii will also be affected by the loss of tourism, projecting a 23% loss in tax revenues.5  Energy-producing states such as Wyoming and New Mexico are projecting declines of 19-21% driven in large part by losses in oil & gas.6,7

This revenue loss will negatively impact the ability to fund the  essential services states provide such as education, disaster preparedness and response, public spaces, and transportation.8 More troubling is the impact these reductions could have on the state’s ability to mount a robust public health response to Covid.9 For example, a recent NPR survey found that only 2 states (Oregon and Vermont) plus D.C. are appropriately staffed for contact tracing.10

The amount of time for processing the data collected in this decennial census is less than half what career staff said was needed, and is 12 weeks shorter than the average time over the last 3 decades.

Amount of time for post-collection processing of decennial census responses


Source: U.S. Census Bureau1-6 and

The timing of this pandemic was unfortunate for the constitutionally-mandated census of all persons every ten years. The census asks about all persons living in each household in the U.S. on April 1, 2020–a date that fell just as Covid consumed the nation’s news cycles. This census was already expected to be a difficult one, with record-high levels of distrust in government and digital divide issues.7 But, between the pandemic, wildfires, and hurricanes, a Census Bureau staffer noted last month “I can’t really project whether Mother Nature is going to let us finish.

After a Supreme Court decision on the matter, counting did finish on October 15, leaving some 23,000 housing units uncounted in Louisiana. The Bureau does not publish sufficiently-detailed indicators of data quality for outside experts to have confidence that the curtailed counting did not have a disparate impact on rural areas and harder-to-reach populations nationwide.9,10 Now the Bureau’s attention turns to processing the responses they’ve collected. The original operational plan called for 5 months of processing. When the pandemic hit, career staff recommended 6 months for processing, given the added complexity of unduplicating and validating responses due to the massive displacement caused by the pandemic and economic crisis.11 Now the Bureau has only 2.5 months to process the responses before the statutory deadline of December 31. The Census Scientific Advisory Committee unanimously recommended last month that the statutory timeline should be extended, noting that a rushed process unacceptably compromises quality, and an independent Task Force convened by the American Statistical Association came to the same conclusion in a report released in October.12,13

Because census numbers are used to divide up congressional seats and federal funding by state, every state needs a complete and accurate count in order for those divisions to be fair. 

In 9 states, more than 50% of registered voters who didn’t vote in 2016 cited structural reasons for not voting. The pandemic may likely amplify these barriers and disenfranchisement in 2020. 

Non-voters who cited structural reasons for not voting in the 2016 election

Percent of registered voters who did not vote

Source: Current Population Survey (Voting and Registration Supplement 2016)

The 2016 presidential election had a turnout rate of 60% for eligible voters.1 More than 50% of registered voters in 9 states who didn’t vote in 2016 cited structural reasons such as polling place hours, accessibility challenges, registration problems, or not being near polls on voting day. 

The Current Population Survey asked registered voters why they did not vote. Their answers included a range of barriers that could dramatically reduce voter turnout during the pandemic, especially for states that have an extraordinarily high rate of infection (above 100 new cases in the last week per 100k population). For example, Alaska, Missouri, Indiana, West Virginia, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama are current hotspots for Covid and had the highest structural barriers to voting in the election four years ago.

For example, in 2016, in 19 states 10%+ of would-be voters indicated they did not go to the polls because they were ‘out of town or away from home,’ a reason likely to be exacerbated by disaster- and Covid-related displacement. In 24 states, 15% or more of eligible voters did not go to polls because they were ‘too busy” and had “conflicting work or school schedules.” This November, with many families juggling work and children being at home due to school and childcare closures, finding time to leave the house to vote may be even more difficult.  Concerns about using public transportation, long lines, and safety of polling places could depress turnout. Already, nearly half of registered voters believe it will be difficult to vote in November’s election (compared to only 15% in 2018).2

25 states and the District of Columbia are mostly ready for voting by mail in a pandemic, with Indiana and Montana making forward progress in the last month.

Readiness to vote by mail in a pandemic

As of Oct 16, 2020

Source: Voting by mail in a pandemic: A state-by-state scorecard, Brookings Institution

Safe and adequately staffed in-person voting, as well as robust options to vote by mail, will be essential if people are to overcome the structural barriers to voting. The CDC recommends that election officials “consider offering alternatives to in-person voting if allowed in the jurisdiction” and a recent Fox News survey found 2 out of 3 registered voters favor voting by mail as an option in this election.1,2 A full 50% of votes casts in the 2020 primaries were by mail, twice that of the 2016 and 2018 general elections.3 And so far, 34% of the number who voted in 2016 have already voted, either by mail or in early voting.4

Brookings researchers designed a rubric for grading a state’s readiness for voting by mail in the pandemic.5 The rubric spans 14 criteria for requesting, completing, and submitting a mail-in ballot, with the focus on preparedness for the November election rather than permanent policies.6 Voting by mail reduces barriers to voting that are exacerbated by the pandemic, such as transportation challenges, not being at usual place of residence, caregiving responsibilities, and difficulty getting to the polls during open hours. In the indicator on the previous page, Missouri, Alabama, Louisiana, and Mississippi have among the largest shares of registered voters who cited structural barriers such as these for not voting in 2016; they also are least prepared for vote by mail in this election. In Mississippi, for example, the only allowable Covid-related excuse for voting by mail is “a physician-imposed quarantine due to COVID-19” or caring for a dependent in quarantine. The fear of Covid is not enough and does not qualify as a disability according to the Mississippi Supreme Court. And, Mississippi does not have early voting.7

Since Memorial Day, protests have taken place in all 50 states. The prevalence of protests per capita has been highest in Vermont and Washington DC, followed by Oregon and Maine.

Protests (peaceful and riots) per capita

May 24, 2020- Sept 26, 2020

Source: Armed Conflict Location & Event Data (ACLED) Project and Bridging Divides Initiative 

The United States has a long history of public protests as an important and effective form of civic activism.1 The Civil Rights Era of the 1960s is replete with instances when protests catalyzed media attention, shifted public opinion, and ultimately yielded substantive policy reforms.2,3 In 2009, Tea Party protests influenced political views, generated additional support for Republican candidates, and yielded more conservative policy making.4

A large number of protests across every state of the United States has taken place in 2020 – more than 13,000 between Memorial Day and September 26, 2020. While protests in Oregon captured significant national media attention, local media coverage has documented protests in all 50 states. Vermont and Washington, D.C. have seen the largest per capita prevalence of protests followed by Oregon and Maine. While the vast majority of these protests have been catalyzed by the Black Lives Matter movement following the police killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor and others, a number have been led by Christian groups, farmers, labor leaders, health workers, teachers, and students.  

The vast majority (95%) of all demonstrations this summer have been peaceful. Though Oregon and D.C. have seen a larger share of demonstrations that are violent, the vast majority in every state have been peaceful protests.

Peaceful Protests and Riots as percent of total

May 24, 2020- Sept 26, 2020

Source:  Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project and Bridging Divides Initiative
Note: These data represent whether protesters were peaceful or rioting, not the police response to the demonstrations. 

While national media coverage has highlighted many of the more violent events associated with this year’s protests, 95% of the roughly 13,000 protests in 2020 have been peaceful, and only 5% were classified as riots with violence by civilians against property (looting) or against authorities/other civilians. Among the more than 12,000 events in which protesters were peaceful, 4% involved intervention by police or other authorities and an additional 1% included excessive force against the protestors. 

From June to August 2020, the protests in the U.S. shifted significantly from demonstrations against police brutality and other racial injustices highlighted by the Black Lives Matter movement, to Covid-related concerns. August protests were dominated by healthcare workers protesting the lack of Personal Protective Equipment, teachers and students protesting the reopening of schools, and demonstrations demanding a halt to evictions.5Research on Civil Rights era peaceful protests revealed that those demonstrations were effective in swaying public sympathy toward the protestors.2 Studies on the effects of violent protests have generated mixed conclusions with 1960s violent protests yielding greater support for “social control”2 while the 1992 Los Angeles riots yielded a liberal shift in voting patterns.6


Progress toward White House Opening Up America Again Guidelines

  1. “Washington’s coronavirus data reporting problems persist: State hasn’t had complete testing tallies since Aug. 1.” Kamb. The Seattle Times. August 2020.
  2. “Opening Up America Again.” The White House.
  3. “Daily Log.” Covid Exit Strategy.
  4. “COVID-19 State and Territory Action Tracker.” National Governors Association.
  5. “COVID-19: LOCAL ACTION TRACKER.” National League of Cities.
  6. “Axios-Ipsos poll: 1 in 2 has a personal connection to the virus.” Talev. Axios. August 2020.

Paycheck Protection Program loans per capita

  1. “Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) Report.” U.S. Small Business Administration. August 2020.
  2. “Trump administration releases list of companies that received most money from small business bailout loans.” Hirsch, Pramuk. CNBC. July, 2020.
  3. “The PPP worked how it was supposed to. That’s the problem.” Stewart. Vox. July, 2020.
  4. “SBA, Treasury release names of some PPP recipients.” Drew. Journal of Accountancy. July 2020.
  5. “Las Vegas over Detroit: The destinations of $521B in PPP loans.” USA Facts. August 2020.
  6. “Economic Tracker”. Opportunity Insights. June 2020.

FY 2020 and 2021 preliminary estimates of decline in tax revenues by state

  1. “New York State of Opportunity, FY2021 Enacted Budget Financial Plan.” Cuomo, Mujica. April 2020.
  2. “Consensus Revenue Agreement Executive Summary.” Eubanks. Michigan Department of Treasury. May, 2020.
  3. “New Boston Fed analyses outline grim economic consequences of COVID-19 pandemic in New England.” Bean. Federal Reserve Bank of Boston. April, 2020.
  4. “Nevada COVID-19 Fiscal Report.” Sisolak. July, 2020.
  5. “Council on Revenues Letter to Governor Ige.” Kawafuchi. Council on Revenues. May, 2020.
  6. “Consensus Revenue Estimating Group – June 2020 Special Session Revenue Update.” Staff Economists of the Legislative Finance Committee, Taxation and Revenue Department, Department of Finance and Administration, and Department of Transportation. May, 2020.
  7. “State and Local Expenditures.” Urban Institute. 2011 to present.
  8. “Federal Funding For State and Local Contact Tracing Efforts Is An Urgent Priority, and a Bargain.” Salomon, Reingold. HealthAffairs. May, 2020.
  9. “Coronavirus Cases Are Surging. The Contact Tracing Workforce Is Not.” Simmons-Duffin. NPR. August, 2020.

Households to be reached by census door-to-door operations that are in Covid hotspots

  1. “2020 Census Barriers, Attitudes and Motivators Study.” U.S. Census Bureau. June, 2019.
  2. “In The United States District Court For The Southern District Of New York.” State of New York. August 2020.
  3. “2020 Census Housing Unit Enumeration Progress by State as of 8/21/2020.”

Non-voters who cited structural reasons for not voting in the 2016 election

  1. “2016 November General Election Turnout Rates.” McDonald. The United States Election Project. September, 2018.
  2. “Election 2020: Voters are Highly Engaged, but Nearly Half Expect to Have Difficulties Voting.” Pew Research Center. August, 2020

Readiness to vote by mail in a pandemic

  1. “Election limbo as coronavirus outbreak delays voting in at least 13 states.” Cassidy. Fox News. March, 2020.
  2. “Polling places moved from nursing homes; other changes amid coronavirus concerns.” Siegel, Cunningham, and Barr. ABC News. March, 2020.
  3. “Confusion, long lines at some poll sites as eight U.S. states vote during coronavirus pandemic.” Whitesides, Renshaw. Reuters. June, 2020.
  4. “Considerations for Election Polling Locations and Voters.” CDC. June, 2020.
  5. “EAVS Deep Dive: Early, Absentee And Mail Voting.” US Election Assistance Commission. October, 2017.
  6. “How does vote-by-mail work and does it increase election fraud?” West. Brookings. June, 2020.
  7. “Voting by mail in a pandemic: A state-by-state scorecard.” Kamarck, Ibreak, Powers, and Stewart. Brookings. July, 2020.
  8. “Pandemic Election Preparedness Project.” Kamarck, Ibreak, Powers, and Stewart. Brookings. July, 2020.

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