The Geographic Disparities of Pandemic Unemployment

Neighborhood level unemployment data estimates reveal the deepening social inequality of the current economic crisis.

2 minute read

August 6, 2020, 6:00 AM PDT

By James Brasuell @CasualBrasuell


Cryptographer / Shutterstock

Quoctrung Bui and Emily Badger sum up the state of the economy amidst the coronavirus pandemic in the summer of 2020:

The economic damage from the coronavirus is most visible in areas like Midtown Manhattan, where lunch spots have closed, businesses have gone dark and once-crowded sidewalks have emptied.

But some of the worst economic pain lies in other neighborhoods, in the places where workers who’ve endured the broadest job losses live. In corners of the Bronx, South Los Angeles or the South Side of Chicago, unemployment is concentrated to a breathtaking degree. And that means that other problems still to come — a wave of evictions, deepening poverty, more childhood hunger — will be geographically concentrated, too.

The article by Bui and Badger shares research estimating unemployment data down to the Census tract level by Yair Ghitza and Mark Steitz. "The federal government doesn’t report unemployment data down to the neighborhood level, so the two researchers modeled these fine-grained statistics in a way that makes them consistent with state and national surveys," explain Bui and Badger. 

A working paper presenting the data is available on GitHub.

Deep economic disparities within cities are the main takeaway from the research findings, and the most outwardly visible signs of the economic downturn—the shuttered restaurants and retail businesses—aren't evidence of the worst of the economic situation. "These maps reflect, instead, where the workers who once staffed those restaurants, bars, hotels and offices commuted home at night," according to Bui and Badger.

The current findings, nearly five months into the pandemic in the United States, echo findings from much earlier in the pandemic in April, presented by Jonathan Stiles as well as researchers from the Urban Institute.

Wednesday, August 5, 2020 in The New York Times

Large blank mall building with only two cars in large parking lot.

Pennsylvania Mall Conversion Bill Passes House

If passed, the bill would promote the adaptive reuse of defunct commercial buildings.

April 18, 2024 - Central Penn Business Journal

Aerial view of Oakland, California with bay in background

California Exodus: Population Drops Below 39 Million

Never mind the 40 million that demographers predicted the Golden State would reach by 2018. The state's population dipped below 39 million to 38.965 million last July, according to Census data released in March, the lowest since 2015.

April 11, 2024 - Los Angeles Times

A view straight down LaSalle Street, lined by high-rise buildings with an El line running horizontally over the street.

Chicago to Turn High-Rise Offices into Housing

Four commercial buildings in the Chicago Loop have been approved for redevelopment into housing in a bid to revitalize the city’s downtown post-pandemic.

April 10, 2024 - Chicago Construction News

Purple jacaranda trees in bloom in Los Angeles with tall white Art Deco buildings in background.

LA County Releases Draft Community Forest Management Plan

LA County's Chief Sustainability Office just released the discussion draft of Room to Grow, the first Community Forest Management Plan for the county.

April 21 - Los Angeles County Chief Sustainability Office

Aerial view of downtown Seattle, Washington at dusk.

Seattle Downtown Plan Expands Permitted Uses

The Downtown Activation Plan shifts from Euclidean to form-based zoning to encourage more commercial development.

April 21 - Governing

Large water pipe with brown water pouring out into dirt ditch.

Southern Water Infrastructure at Risk From Climate Impacts

A water main breaks somewhere in the United States every two minutes, according to an estimate from the American Society of Civil Engineers.

April 21 - The Conversation

News from HUD User

HUD's Office of Policy Development and Research

Call for Speakers

Mpact Transit + Community

New Updates on PD&R Edge

HUD's Office of Policy Development and Research

Urban Design for Planners 1: Software Tools

This six-course series explores essential urban design concepts using open source software and equips planners with the tools they need to participate fully in the urban design process.

Planning for Universal Design

Learn the tools for implementing Universal Design in planning regulations.