Snowy days come with their own unique pleasures, from tumbling flakes and white-capped trees to afternoon movies and powdered cocoa. But there are costs too, particularly when the snow is piled high enough to keep 20 million people stuck at home.
Count up the closed doors at area businesses, the lost wages for waylaid workers, and the salting and plowing of miles of roadway, and a one-day storm can end up costing hundreds of millions of dollars.
When shops can’t open, people can’t buy. And today there are tens of thousands of unopened stores and millions of nonbuyers.
Of course, some of the things people don’t buy today they’ll end up buying tomorrow. If you were planning to purchase a car, that will still happen — only later. Other items, like groceries, shoppers may have purchased in bulk before the storm hit.
But there are some businesses that won’t recoup their losses. Just because you don’t make it to your favorite coffee shop today doesn’t mean you ordered two coffees yesterday or that you will order two tomorrow. They’ll just sell you one fewer drink this week, which is bad for their bottom line. For businesses like that, a snow day produce a real economic loss.
Salaried workers don’t have to worry too much about snow days. Their paychecks will be unaffected.
But if you get paid by the hour, then a snow day is a penniless day, a day when you can’t earn any money. In some jobs, it might be possible to make up those hours — think of a manufacturing plant that needs to stay open late a few nights to make up for the lost day — but if you work in a restaurant, for instance, there’s no guarantee you’ll ever get those hours back.
When businesses miss out on customers and workers lose out on wages, the government doesn’t collect sales taxes, payroll taxes, and income taxes — all of which are useful to help pay for things like clearing snowy roads.
Not everyone gets to stay home on snowy days. We need workers out laying salt and clearing public roadways. And those people need to get paid, chiefly by city and state governments.
In Boston alone the cost of snow removal varies between $5 million and $25 million annually, which comes out to something like $300,000 per inch of fallen snow.
Putting it together
It’s hard to find reliable estimates for how much all this can add up to, but the research firm IHS Global Insight found that the costs really do add up. A one-day storm in Massachusetts costs the state economy about $265 million, three-quarters of which can be traced to lost wages. In New York State, the total cost is $700 million.
Roughly speaking, these numbers suggest that between New England, New York City, and northern New Jersey, the total cost of the blizzard of 2015 could exceed $1 billion.
The good news is that while one billion is a pretty big number (if you counted one number a second, and never slept, it would take you 35 years to get to a billion), it’s actually a pretty meager share of our total economy. Over the course of a year, this region produces well over a trillion dollars worth of stuff.
More from Evan Horowitz: