Research / BFI Working PaperMay 15, 2020

Job Loss and Behavioral Change: The Unprecedented Effects of the India Lockdown in Delhi

Kenneth Lee, Harshil Sahai, Patrick Baylis, Michael Greenstone

On March 24, 2020, the Prime Minister of India announced the world’s largest COVID-19 lockdown. We summarize the initial impacts of the lockdown for a representative sample of mostly poor and non-migrant workers in Delhi. Using Facebook mobility data, we show that intra-city movement dropped 80 percent following the announcement. Using microeconomic survey data, collected before and during the crisis, we highlight three patterns. First, the lockdown resulted in significant economic costs, with income and days worked falling by 57 and 73 percent, respectively. Second, the lockdown resulted in widespread compliance with public health directives: mask usage rose by 73 percentage points (pp); time spent indoors increased by 51 pp; smoking decreased by 13 pp; and handwashing rose by 10 pp. Third, the economic impacts of the lockdown were somewhat mitigated by government food assistance, which 36 percent of our sample accessed. Over the first seven weeks of the lockdown, we do not observe alarming levels of hunger, scarcity, access to medical care, or security. Yet in our data, concerns remain about mental health, supply chains, and personal savings, against the backdrop of a rising infection rate. Moreover, it remains to be seen whether public health compliance will persist, as the novelty, fear, and media coverage of COVID-19 subside.

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