Measuring Wisconsin Economic Activity Using Foot Traffic Data

Noah Williams

Executive Summary:

The COVID-19 pandemic is leading to unprecedented social and economic disruptions around the globe. The economies in many locations have ground to a halt, as social distancing measures to slow the spread of the virus have increasingly led to businesses being shut down and workers ordered to shelter in place. While there has been an immense reduction in economic activity, there have been relatively few measures of just how severe the impact has been.

In this brief I analyze a measure of economic activity using a new data source of foot-traffic in commercial locations. I focus on year-over-year same-location changes in the state of Wisconsin, and find that there has been roughly a 52% drop in overall activity during the last week of March 2020 compared to 2019. The declines have been even more severe in some industries, with 76% drops for hotels and 71% for restaurants. Grocery stores are the only retail sector seeing relatively strong activity, with activity off only 7%. While non-essential retail stores have closed, grocery stores have remained open and activity at certain times has spiked. With the closing of UW-Madison, the Madison metro area has seen an even larger 65% decline in activity. Activity has stabilized, at a low level, over the last two weeks.

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