Broadband Adoption and Impacts on COVID-19 Unemployment Recovery in the South

Looking at unemployment rates experienced from February to December of 2020 paints a picture of the resiliency of southeastern states counties to the COVID-19 pandemic. As shutdowns took place and unemployment rates rose, telework became an important factor in recovery. Across the 1,206 counties of the 12 southeastern states, rates of telework ability – defined as the percentage of jobs that could be done remotely – ranged from 22% to 43%.  As the pandemic unfolded, the resiliency of each county was determined by industry composition, unemployment rates at the beginning of the pandemic, county demographic characteristics, and –  broadband adoption rates. 

Household broadband subscription rates ranged from 34% to 94% across the counties in the sample, and the results demonstrate that these differences are vital. The ability to telework had no impact on unemployment rates from February to April in counties with broadband adoption rates under 50%. Although some individuals may have been employed in occupations that were telework-friendly, their home broadband situation may have prevented them from continuing work. Alternatively, telework increased resilience in counties with higher broadband adoption rates, with marginal effects of -0.21 percentage points. That is, counties with high rates of broadband adoption had more resiliency (lower increases in unemployment) during the first two months of the pandemic.  During the April to December period, areas where a high percentage of workers could telework – but had low broadband adoption – saw lower rates of recovery. 

During the initial months of the pandemic, a high ability to telework and a high broadband adoption rate helped dampen increases in unemployment rates. However, the longer-term effects of broadband on unemployment recovery were diminished. Counties with a high ability to telework but low broadband adoption rates were held back in recovering from April to December.  This is a striking finding that local broadband adoption rates are crucial for the potential impact of telework. In particular, federal programs put in place to subsidize household broadband access (the Emergency Broadband Benefit and Affordable Connectivity Programs) likely came too late to influence resiliency during the initial phase of the pandemic. 

To read more about these findings and other correlations corresponding to counties resiliency, check out the full journal article: Carvalho, Mckenzie, Amy D. Hagerman, and Brian Whitacre. 2022. “Telework and COVID-19 Resiliency in the Southeastern United States.” Journal of Regional Analysis & Policy,

Carvalho, Mckenzie, Amy Hagerman, Brian Whitacare, and Teresa Haddock. “Broadband Adoption and Impacts on Covid-19 Unemployment Recovery in the South.” Southern Ag Today 2(26.4). June 23, 2022. Permalink