Google mobility data as a proxy for economic activity

Google have been providing data on their “Community Mobility Indexes” for some timeĀ  to help track the impacts of COVID-19 (you can get further details here). The indexes measure movement in six categories;

  • Grocery & pharmacy
    Mobility trends for places like grocery markets, food warehouses, farmers markets, specialty food shops, drug stores, and pharmacies.
  • Parks
    Mobility trends for places like local parks, national parks, public beaches, marinas, dog parks, plazas, and public gardens.
  • Transit stations
    Mobility trends for places like public transport hubs such as subway, bus, and train stations.
  • Retail & recreation
    Mobility trends for places like restaurants, cafes, shopping centers, theme parks, museums, libraries, and movie theaters.
  • Residential
    Mobility trends for places of residence.
  • Workplaces
    Mobility trends for places of work.

The index measures the percentage change from a base-line level which was the median value for 5 weeks between early Jan and early Feb 2020.

We have taken the average across all 6 indexes and then a 7-day average of this as the “Activity” indicator in this first chart.

As we can see, those States which have been enjoying a better health outcome are also benefiting from much better activity indicators. Victoria in particular has seen a sharp decline as the 2nd wave effects started to play out (this data is up to 31st July). The Cairns Regional Council area appears to have been doing exceptionally well on this metric with a decline from base-line of only about 1% compared to Victoria’s of almost 30%.

However, on considering the data in more detail, it becomes clear that the Parks and Residential indexes are picking up increased activity which is NOT necessarily related to ‘economic’ activity. Indeed the Cairns index for Parks sat at 40% above base-line at the end of July. This would appear to relate to people spending more time in the rain-forest and out on the reef, rather than in ‘economic’ pursuits.

We therefore created a second indicator which excludes the Parks and Residential indexes to try and get a better proxy for ‘economic’ activity. The chart below plots this new indicator. As we see the overall performance shifts lower (as expected) although the relative performance at the State level remains similar. What is also clear is the impact that holidays can have on this non-seasonally adjusted data set; witness the effect of the Queen’s Birthday holiday on June 8th in all States except WA and QLD.

Thanks to James Foster (follow his blog here) for first highlighting this data.

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