The entire city of Boston has shut down. How much will this cost?

April 19, 2013

As my colleagues Doug Struck and Kevin Sullivan report Friday, the entire city of Boston was essentially shut down all day Friday until 6 p.m.


A shot of Massachusetts Ave in Central Square, Cambridge, on Friday morning. (photo by @BikeSafeBoston)

Authorities told residents to stay indoors as they continued their search for 19-year-old Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, one of the two suspected bombers in the deadly marathon bombings on Monday:

The major universities that are the city’s lifeblood shut down. The web of buses and squealing transit cars of the oldest underground subway in the nation ground to a halt. The gleaming skyscrapers with names of insurance companies and banks in downtown Boston were lightly peopled.

Stuck without any transportation, Bostonians watched televised news updates and tracked social media sites at their homes, glancing outside to ponder empty streets and shuttered businesses.

Which got us wondering... what sort of economic impact would shutting down the entire city of Boston actually have? Here's one way to look at it. The Bureau of Economic Analysis estimates that the Boston-Cambridge-Quincy metropolitan area had a GDP of some $326 billion in 2011. That's an economy bigger than Ireland's or Finland's or Greece's or Portugal's.

In theory, that works out to about $1 billion per day. But the actual impact of the shutdown will likely be much smaller. As analysts tell Yuval Rosenberg at the Fiscal Times, the effects should be similar to that of a major blizzard. Some economic activity will just get pushed to a later date. And salaried workers still get paid (although there's a productivity loss). Hourly wage workers, however, could take a hit — particularly low-wage workers.

Add that all up, and the effects could still be significant. Bloomberg Businessweek quotes one analyst who figures a shutdown could cost Boston between $250 million and $333 million per day, though that's "a very rough guess.”

It's a fairly unprecedented situation. I haven't found another recent instance of a U.S. city on lockdown during a manhunt. (Many Washington, D.C. residents stayed indoors, and a few school districts closed down, during the Beltway sniper attacks in 2002, though that was on a smaller scale.) Still it's yet another blow to a city that has already seen four killed and 183 injured in the bombings and subsequent shootouts this week.

Update: Added the Businessweek quote, even if it's only a rough estimate.

Second update: At 6:09 p.m. on Friday, Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick told residents that the city's subway system would begin running again and they were no longer being asked to stay inside. "The stay indoors request is lifted," Patrick said.

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Ezra Klein · April 19, 2013