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


Coronavirus

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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

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