- - Sunday, March 28, 2021

Achievement is rewarded in normal times, but these are not normal times. The $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan doles out federal dollars to both success and failure for performance during the long pandemic year. The most accurate measure of how Americans rate the work of their government is how they vote with their feet: They are fleeing failure in the direction of success.

Funds set aside for state and local governments totaling $350 billion have been allocated on the basis of states’ unemployed population as 2020 ended. Worsened unemployment resulted from stringent lockdowns, which were meant to stop the virus’ spread and save lives. But some states fell into ruin by imposing heavy restrictions and still suffered severe loss of life.

New York, with its eponymous “city that never sleeps,” went dormant when the outbreak began and is only now reawakening. Government-ordered shutdowns pushed its unemployment rate to 8.8% by year’s end. Sadly, the Empire State has still endured a COVID-19 death rate of 250 per 100,000 population, the nation’s second-worst.

In the aftermath of economic collapse and widespread death, New York is slated to receive $23.8 billion in relief funds. While rich New Yorkers avoided the virus by relocating to summer homes in the Hamptons, regular folks simply fled. The state lost more than 126,000 residents by mid-2020, according to the most recent U.S. Census Bureau estimates.

California enacted a bewildering array of residential and business restrictions that has resulted in a mid-range death rate of 144 per 100,000. The economic toll has been near-record, though, with the state’s 39 million residents enduring a jobless rate of 9.0%. For that, the Golden State is garnering a $42.3 billion payout.

It won’t likely be enough to reattract an estimated 70,000 Californians whose dreams were shattered by oppressive pandemic policies: They have already moved away to freer places.

By contrast, some states took a less-restrictive approach to combating the coronavirus that gave citizens more leeway in balancing health safety and economic necessity. Among those states, Texas recorded a death rate of 162 per 100,000, with 6.8% unemployment, and is receiving $27.6 billion in relief funds. Florida logged a rate of 151 per 100,000, with 4.8% joblessness, and is awarded $17.6 billion.

Unfettered political policies made both southern states population magnets prior to the pandemic, and the trend only accelerated as lockdown-weary refugees sought liberation. Texas has taken in at least 374,000 residents, Florida more than 242,000. Arizona, North Carolina and Georgia are likewise flourishing as residents vacate regulation-ravaged Illinois, Michigan and Pennsylvania.

Federalism grants America’s component states wide latitude to innovate — the reason why Justice Louis Brandeis described them as “laboratories of democracy.” Experiments in various mixtures of limitation and liberty have produced varying results — including lots of heartbreak — during the era of illness.

States’ coronavirus grades are not measured in federal relief dollars but in their population counts. Americans migrate toward success.

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