Washington D.C. Year 2000 Y2K Impact Scale (US)

LAST UPDATE: April 19, 2000 -- 2000 EST

LEVEL Economy Business Infrastructure/supply Society Government Education Health Home Food/Supplies Work Money/Law Family/Community
0 Irrational exuberance helps Dow blast past 12,000, buoys up global economy. A lot of money spent, but improved quality and efficiency due to Y2K efforts. Everything works just fine. New era of good feelings and optimism. Democratic sweep in 2000, led by President-elect Gore. No impact. No impact. No impact. No impact. No impact. No impact. No impact
1 Y2K's impact on the economy and markets is lost in the noise. Some small to medium businesses have Y2K problems. Some failures, but all caught in time and handled well. No impact. Both parties praised in handling of Y2K; "antipartisanship" movement in 107th Congress. No impact. A few hospitals, medical centers have Y2K problems. No impact. No impact. Possible problems/annoyances at work. No impact. No impact.
2 Some market adjustment (stocks down 10%), but recovered within 6 months. Businesses are jolted a bit and scamble to fix things. Several instances of supply chain failure shut down businesses that would otherwise be ready. A few short-lived water quality warnings (1-3 days). Air traffic slowdown for Y2K weekend due to consumer caution. Late-night show host cracks joke about shortages, triggers shortage. At least one state government runs into serious Y2K problems. Some public schools close for a few "Y2K days" (instead of "snow days") to get things going. Some hospitals are forced to cut back on elective procedures. At least one highly publicized death due to a Y2K failure is reported. Use of bottled water in many areas due to concern about purification. Rumor-induced shortage of some item. Some short-lived Y2K ripple effects through businesses. A few billing errors show up. Communities organize post-Y2K parties.
3 Significant market drop (20%); does not fully recover in 2000. Economic growth is largely flat. Some businesses have "Y2K holidays": delaying reopening while working to solve Y2K problems. At least one regional brownout, other minor problems (2-3 days); cutback in air transport for first week post-Y2K. Consumer confidence plunges; some stockpiling during first few days of 2000. Y2K dominates 2000 elections; Gore fails to get Dem nomination. Universities and colleges face some disruptions w/information systems. Shortages of some prescription and OTC medications. Use of some flashlights, candles, fireplaces; at least one death attributed to blackouts. Spot shortages of random items during early 2000. Some hiring freezes, layoffs due to flat economy, market decline. At least one mid-sized bank discovers pervasive errors in its accounts and records. Increase anxiety in families and communities, especially in lower-income areas.
4 Economic slowdown (-1% for three months) Bankruptcy/acquisition of at least one Fortune 100 firm due to internal Y2K problems and/or lack of Y2K liability coverage; unemployment starts to rise. Transient (3-7 days) interruptions in utilities; cutbacks in various transportation systems. A few isolated social incidents, including discovery (and prevention) of a militia-type terrorist plot timed to coincide with Y2K. At least one major gov't agency (HCFA, FMA, FAA, IRS) requires that contingency plans go into effect. Problems with college admissions, testing, financial aid. Some problems with health insurance companies. Common use of heaters, cookstoves during first week or two of 2000. Manufacturers temporarily suspend production of some lesser product offerings to focus on best-sellers. Significant layoffs and time off w/out pay. Errors in billing, records not uncommon; at least one fraud arrest of someone claiming more money in bank than had. Some neighborhood form purchasing associations.
5 Mild recession (-2.5% over six months); unemployment up to 8%. Major global disruptions in production and processing of raw materials, as well as the global manufacturing and supply chain. Scattered infrastructure/supply chain problems lasting up to two weeks. Some populations shift to states and regions having fewer Y2K/economic problems. Administration blamed for Y2K, economy; Republican sweep in 2000. Some colleges delay start of classes for a few weeks, as do some public schools. HCFA problems cause cutbacks, closures, bankruptcies in health care industry; media keeps track of "HCFA death count". 10% of population experiences some form of outage, however short. Shortages in urban areas of some food and household items during January 2000; groceries implement per-person limits. Turmoil in job market; worst job market for new grads since early 1990s. Volunatary arbitration centers set up to handle disputes over records, accounts. Short-term "housesharing" common in areas of outage.
6 Strong recession (-3.5% over 12-18 months); unemployment tops out near 10%. Most businesses suffer some form of Y2K impact, either internally or externally; significant die-off in small to medium high-tech (especially Internet) firms as funding, markets dry up. Urban infrastructure/supply problems lasting two to four weeks, with lesser outages elsewhere in the country. Significant transportation disruptions, especially overseas. Isolated incidents of protests, riots, looting in some cities after Y2K. IRS not ready; Federal surplus vanishes and deficit explodes due to reduced collections. Significant financial problems at colleges and universities due to Y2K disruptions, declining enrollment, tax revenues, federal grants, alumni donations. Significant increase in hospital deaths due to shortages of supplies (esp. from overseas), interruptions in utilities, unrepaired equipment, cash flow problems. 50% of urban/suburban dwellings suffer some form of infrastructure disruption (power, water, gas, phone, transportation), however short. Shortages develop after Y2K and persist into February. Sudden (if short-lived) glut of high-tech workers, making job market even worse. Tax disruptions causes headaches, costs for government, businesses. Tax disruptions cause signficant problems, errors with financial systems, records. Some communities set up food banks.
7 Very strong recession (-5% to -7% over 18-24 months); unemployment between 10-15%. Widescale layoffs, cutbacks. One of the Big 3 auto makers collapses or is acquired. Regional infrastructure/supply chain problems for one to two months. Significant transportation costs and delays. At least one major environmental disaster due to Y2K. Groups organize to distribute food, other necessities (e.g., "The Joseph Project"). Significant problems in government delivery of social services. Both parties blamed; centrist 3rd party (prob. Reform Party) wins enough seats to deny either Republicans or Democrats a clear majority in Congress. Rise of neo-Luddite movement on campuses. Public schools take "summer vacation" during Jan-Mar 2000 Health care centers implement informal triage in admittance policy. Medical research centers close or are set back years in research due to power, equipment malfunctions. Dwellings in affected areas adapt to intermitant external feeds and delivery. Fresh fruits, vegatables, meats scarce until spring due to foreign import, transportation problems. State- or city-mandated rationing on key items, causing long lines at stores. Vandalism of technology firms in Y2K protests. Debt/account negotiation becomes commonplace. Federal gov't asks states to help take over key social programs.
8 Depression (-14 to -21% over two years); unemployment between 15-25% by late 2001. Major meltdown, with massive consolodation or failure in manufacturing and production industries. Infrastructure/supply chain crippled for 3-6 months. Protests and riots in many large metropolitan areas. At least one foreign terrorist attack on US soil. Curfews and/or martial law imposed in many large metropolitan areas. Large cutbacks at some colleges; some state campuses consolodate, close for year. Some public schools implement part-time home-schooling program. Presidential order (via Dept of HHS) mandates triage for health center admittance, treatment, prescriptions. Measurable relocation of populace from urban to rural areas causes problems, conflict. Federal food rationing and distribution implemented. Congress (106th, 2nd session) passes emergency legislation to suspend Federal regulations of businesses. Congress passes legislation to halt all Y2K suits. Federal Government turns all social services over to states.
9 Profound depression (-40% over five years); unemployment hits 30% before government stops releasing figures. Radical cutbacks, mergers, or failures of 50% of the Fortune 500 over five-year period; in same time period, 80% of small to medium businesses fail. Collapse of infrastructure/supply chain for 6-12 months. Widespread social disruptions, including internal terrorism from militia groups. Widespread, but ineffectual, martial law. Elections in 2000 disrupted or cancelled. De facto (if not de jure) secession of at least one state. Closing of many colleges. Many public schools help direct home schooling program. Massive closures of hosptials, research facilities. Most health care shifts to small centers. Severe shortages of medical supplies, equipment. Suburban houses converted to deal with irregular supply of water, power, etc. Food production and distribution chain breaks down. "Microtech" business spring up locally to provide IT products, services to remaining businesses. Congress (107th, 1st term) passes emergency "Jubilee" legislation to cancel all debts (including a complete tax amnesty), dismiss all civil lawsuits and halt new ones for a year. States turn most social services over to cities, counties.
10 Collapse of economic system, including currency, banking system, financial markets. Collapse or radical transformation of most mid- to large businesses. Long-term (>1 year) shutdown of infrastructure/supply chain with scattered operating centers. Social chaos. Radical downsizing, transformation, splintering or collapse of U.S. government; global political chaos. Colleges/universities become communes. Health care set back 50 years; collapse of medical system. Flight from of dense urban areas. Possible famine, especially in the winter of 2000-2001. Post-service economy: mix of preindustrial, industrial, and technology. Collapse of monetary system, replaced by barter variants and local currencies. Personal records largely irrelevant. Social services provided (if at all) by communities.

When the WDCY2K Group did its initial membership survey in March of 1998, Bruce Webster (the co-chair) used a simple 0..10 scale to describe Y2K's potential impact on the United States. When Webster wrote a book on Y2K several months later, he expanded the scale across several sectors. This became the basis for the scale in the second WDCY2K survey done in the spring of 1999. This scale has been adopted by other Y2K analysts and used in other surveys.

Below is the final version of this scale. It has evolved over the past 20 months since the first WDCY2K survey in early 1998. It has been updated to reflect where things stand now (Dec 29, 1999). Note that some of these items have already come to pass or are already planned for (see yellow highlights). The upper end of the scale is extreme, but it has to in order to encompass the full range of opinions about possible Y2K outcomes. Also note that many of these impacts, should they come to pass, would not be apparent for days, weeks, or even months after Y2K.


First, most of these consequences will take days, weeks, or even months to develop. Only a few will be apparent over the Y2K weekend. The intent is to allow you to mark consequences as they occur to get a sense as to how things are developing. Second, the impact will undoubtedly vary by sector (economy, business, infrastructure, business, etc.). The highest level of "yellow" in a given sector indicates the rating for that sector; the overall rating for the US is the average of the first five sectors (economy through government). At the same time, note that the choices of potential impacts are in some cases arbitrary and meant to be representative; it's possible that a given sector/level impact won't occur, but a higher one in the same sector might.


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Copyright © 2000 Bruce F. Webster. All rights reserved.

Last updated 04/19/2000.