F.o For most of the past year, Manhattan’s signature yellow cabs have been a rarity on avenues and crossroads. Now when the city starts to collect and the office workers start to come back, they come back too, but not yet on a pre-pandemic scale. At the same time, the city is blocked by traffic.
A mosaic of indicators suggests that recovery from an early and hard hitting pandemic, causing nearly 30,000 deaths out of a population of 8.4 million and placing the metropolis in an economic freeze will be equally uneven.
The surface indicators (yellow cabs, crowded restaurants, NYU students partying in Washington Square Park, Bruce Springsteen on Broadway) are, in their way, simply masks of the social and economic disparities already present, but uncovered by the start. of the pandemic and the corresponding demands and economic equality that followed.
The complexity of New York’s recovery will take years to resolve. Before the pandemic, Americans spent 5% of their work time at home. By spring 2020, the figure was 60%. It’s a seismic shift that has hit Manhattan, which is packed with offices, particularly hard. The Association for the City of New York predicts that only 62% of office workers will return, primarily three days a week, by September.
Banks, which have mostly ordered a complete return to the office, face rejection from workers, who point to higher levels of happiness and productivity when working at home. But it is also a way of returning production overheads to the workforce. The conflict will take time to resolve and could trigger a crisis in commercial property values if workers win. According to brokers Cushman and Wakefield, 18% more rental space was lost last year than during the financial crisis of 2007-09.
Tourism, which contributes $ 60 billion to the city’s economy annually, remains anemic, though some of the hardiest travelers, Italians, appear to be making the trek. The blow to the leisure and hospitality sector of the city, which peaked at 300,000 jobs in December 2019, it’s bad. After falling to 80,000 in the first months of the pandemic, the numbers have again approached 200,000.
A state report issued on Friday found that New York had lost 2 million jobs during the pandemic and unemployment in May stood at 8.2%, well above the pre-pandemic level and well above the national average of 5.9%.
It also found that the leisure and hospitality sector had seen the steepest drop in revenue last year and would likely be the slowest to recover from the crisis. Earnings from hospitality jobs are nearly 32% below what they were at the end of 2019.
But others have prospered. The report found that personal income in New York had increased 12.8%, reaching $ 1.6 trillion in the first quarter of 2021, exceeding pre-pandemic levels and experiencing an increase of more than 50% over the last. 2020 quarter. pandemic government benefits, contributed $ 430 billion, or 28%, of the total.
At the same time, the movement of people in the city has been profoundly altered. As use of public transportation declined, road traffic increased. The New York City area now officially has the worst traffic in the country, according to a survey by the Texas A&M Transportation Institute.
The survey says a driver from New York to Newark, NJ, spent an average of 56 hours stuck in traffic last year, worse than the first-place in 30 years, Los Angeles. “So if you think things are worse on the road, you are not imagining it. They are “, transportation engineer Sam Schwartz told Dave Carlin from CBS2.
“You can always go back, but you can’t go back all the way,” as Bob Dylan wrote 20 years ago. These indicators, by definition incomplete, suggest that New York is making a strong comeback. The question, posed almost daily in the New York press, revolves around whether you necessarily want it.
The city recovered after 9/11, but that, notes Manhattan borough historian Robert Snyder, was only after it was patriotically designated a “City of the United States” after the terrorist attacks. The current polarized political lens through which the city’s economic and social problems, including crime, are viewed produces a surprising, and perhaps typical, lack of coherence.
“The history of New York City is one of crises suffered and crises overcome,” Snyder told The Guardian. Snyder notes that during the cholera epidemic waves of the early to mid-19th century, the city’s population quadrupled thanks to Irish and Italian immigration.
“The city continued to grow due to its basic strength as a gateway to the North American market and capital city of finance for slave labor from the south. The epidemics were terrible and could incite nativism and cause people to flee to the outskirts, but the fundamental force of the city continued to drive it. “
The city’s death has been frequently declared, Snyder said. After the financial crisis of the 1970s, “we were sure that the city was finished by then. After 9/11 we were sure it was over. Again, after the great recession of 2008-9. It’s not to say that these crises don’t matter, they do. They alter the direction of the city, accelerate changes already underway and shed light on living conditions. But New York has a long history of overcoming its crises. “
What is undeniable about the pandemic, he says, is how it has exposed “cruel inequalities in living conditions between whites, wealthier residents and people of color, immigrants and low-income residents. The injustice of this is clear and people’s sense of it has been sharpened. “
“As some people were concerned about gaining 15 pounds during Covid, others were concerned about being infected by their next customer, and those people were disproportionately immigrants and people of color living in crowded conditions where the virus spread more easily.” .
Petra Moser, an economist at New York University’s Stern School of Business, says the long-term effects of the pandemic will take years to resolve. “The most prominent effect is on schooling. Poor public school children were hit hard. They were denied a year of education and nutrition that they normally receive, and the effect is dire.
“You have kids staring at a screen for hours a day for a year. Not only did they lose their teachers for a year, but now they can concentrate less because they haven’t been fed, “adds Moser.
Other aspects of the pandemic that could affect New York’s return include the role of women, who have left the workforce in disproportionate numbers. “This pandemic is in danger of expelling women and we are in danger of losing young women with children who had to stay at home. We will see more inequality in that area and we will have to be careful to make sure we encourage them to stay in the workforce or return. “
Concerns about the value of commercial real estate, Moser says, pale in comparison to the costs incurred during the pandemic in terms of human capital.
“There could be an increase in inequalities unless there are specific policies to help public school children catch up and help mothers who had to cut back on work. The vitality of the city depends on everyone having a fair chance, because the meaning of living in a place like this is that it comes with opportunities. “