More Unintended Consequences: Shutdowns, Alcohol, and Domestic Violence

The good news… Rapidly declining COVID-19 cases in Virginia

by James A. Bacon

As the number of COVID-19 vaccinations administered in Virginia passes the two million mark, new COVID-19 cases in Virginia are falling off rapidly. We can look forward to the day when fear of the virus will be a distant memory. But the damage wrought by the virus — or, to be more accurate, wrought by the lockdowns prompted by the virus — will linger with us for years. Perhaps for  lifetimes.

The impact on young children, compelled to learn in an online environment for which they are ill suited, has been well documented. A distressingly high percentage of students, consisting disproportionately of lower-income minorities, has fallen significantly behind academically. Whether they ever catch up is anybody’s guess. But sociologists already are speculating about the long-term cost of lower educational achievement as reflected by higher dropout rates, increased criminality, lost employment, and lower lifetime wages.

There may be an even more insidious, more damaging effect of the lockdowns: increased domestic violence and childhood trauma.

As the authors of a new study published by the National Bureau of Economic Research write, “Given the psychosocial malleability of children, domestic violence has profound implications for their cognitive and social development. Sadly, this burden compounds itself generation after generation, becoming an engine for the intergenerational transmission of violence.”

Recent scholarship has documented a notable increase in domestic violence in the United States since March 2020, as well as in several other countries, write the authors of “COVID-19 Has Strengthened the Relationship Between Alcohol Consumption and Domestic Violence. The study’s authors build on that research by examining the role of alcohol. “Consumption of alcohol has become more risky,” they suggest, “as the venue of consumption has shifted into homes, leading to increased intra-personal conflict.” 

Using cellphone data to track the patronage of bars , restaurants and liquor stores in Detroit as well as 911 emergency calls, the authors examined the effects of the stay-at-home order issued by Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer. 

Prior to the pandemic, liquor stores accounted for approximately 30% of alcohol sales, they found. By May 2020, liquor-store market share had zoomed to 70%.

Stay-at-home orders have mechanically increased the amount of time that people are spending at home. As such, the opportunity for problematic drinking to lead to family violence has increased. … It appears as though the pandemic has caused a substitution of violence away from acquaintances and strangers and toward family members.

The authors do not examine the link between domestic abuse and socioeconomic status, other than to suggest in passing that the loss of jobs and income add to domestic stress that contributes to violence. But it is widely acknowledged that the impact of the COVID lockdowns has differed by industry and occupation. Knowledge workers who can telecommute from home have suffered far less than workers whose jobs were closed by lockdowns. It is reasonable to conjecture, as many have, that lower-income and minority households have been impacted disproportionately.

Thus, COVID lockdowns have aggravated preexisting social inequalities in at least three ways. First, the shuttering of the economy has harmed poor and minority families disproportionately. Second, the switch from in-person classrooms to online learning has caused poor and minority families to fall behind academically more than others. And third, restricting access to restaurants and bars has shifted alcohol consumption from outside the home to within the home, giving rise to more domestic violence and creating more childhood trauma. Domestic trauma can linger with children for years, affecting their behavior at school, resulting in lower educational achievement and all the rest that follows in its wake.

These resulting economic and racial inequities are not the result of deeply embedded “systemic racism” that traces its origins back to slavery and segregation. They are the result of specific policies flogged by woke media outlets and adopted most enthusiastically in Blue States by woke governors without regard to the consequences. The media, politicians and indeed virtually the entire cultural elite fixated on mitigating COVID to the exclusion of all other concerns. “Fifteen days to flatten the curve” become a year-long experiment in enforced economic deprivation and social isolation. We are only beginning to measure the adverse consequences of what our “rule by experts” has engendered.