Penn Wharton Budget Model Analyzes Trade-offs in Reopening Schools: K-12 Students Lose $12-15K in Future Earnings Each Month of School Closure

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PHILADELPHIA, October 12, 2020—The COVID-19 pandemic has led many K-12 schools to close in order to reduce the spread of the virus. In order to present state and local policymakers with a more complete picture of public health and economic trade-offs, the Penn Wharton Budget Model (PWBM) at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania has analyzed the costs and benefits of school closures during the pandemic. 

Many states and localities have issued thresholds for reopening schools based solely on public health measures, such as new cases per capita or test positivity rates. But keeping schools closed also has economic costs for students and parents in terms of reduced learning, mental and emotional costs, and other negative effects.

PWBM estimates that:

  • Each month of school closures in response to the pandemic cost current students between $12,000 and $15,000 in future earnings due to lower educational quality, with costs varying by age. 
  • By October 1, 2020, students in grades 1-12 had lost between $43,000 and $57,000, or 4 to 5 percent of their lifetime wage earnings.
  • Accounting for quality-adjusted value-of-life, hospitalization, and productivity losses, the total cost per coronavirus infection was $329,942 in March, declining to $38,315 in September.
  • Based on September’s cost per COVID case, the cost-benefit threshold to keeping schools closed for October is over 0.355 new expected infections in the community per student kept out of school.

For more information, see the full PWBM analysis of trade-offs in school reopening.

Media inquiries: Wharton Media Relations, (, +1 (215) 898-8036

About the Penn Wharton Budget Model

PWBM is a nonpartisan, independent applied research organization housed at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. PWBM works directly with policymakers and staff, serving as an honest broker by providing accurate, accessible, and transparent economic analysis of the fiscal and economic impact of public policy without advocacy. PWBM’s estimates are regularly referenced by policymakers and top news outlets. For more information, visit

 About the Wharton School

Founded in 1881 as the world’s first collegiate business school, the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania is shaping the future of business by incubating ideas, driving insights, and creating leaders who change the world. With a faculty of more than 235 renowned professors, Wharton has 5,000 undergraduate, MBA, executive MBA and doctoral students. Each year 13,000 professionals from around the world advance their careers through Wharton Executive Education’s individual, company-customized, and online programs. More than 99,000 Wharton alumni form a powerful global network of leaders who transform business every day. For more information, visit