An estimated 1.2 million New Yorkers — representing 27 percent of all private-sector and independent contractor workers in the city — will be jobless by the end of April as a result of the cessation of economic activity due to the spread of COVID-19, a report from the Center for New York City Affairs at the New School warns.
The report, The New Strain of Inequality: The Economic Impact of Covid-19 In New York City (30 pages, PDF), found that both the virus, which has claimed the lives of more than ten thousand people statewide, and the economic fallout from measures to contain its spread have disproportionately affected low-wage workers of color, especially the Latinx population. Indeed, 68 percent of the estimated 1.2 million workers who have lost or will lose their jobs by the end of the month are people of color, with 64 percent of them earning less than $40,000 a year. According to the study, five out of every six jobs lost will be in face-to-face service categories such as food and hospitality, transportation and warehousing, non-essential retail, personal and other services, administrative and support services, and arts and entertainment — industries that employ hundreds of thousands of low-wage workers who typically do not have employer-sponsored health insurance.
The report found that many industries hit hard by social distancing requirements rely on immigrant workers, including those who are undocumented. While foreign-born workers comprise 49 percent of all New York City workers, they hold 54 percent of the jobs lost to COVID-19, while the rate of job loss among undocumented workers is twice the citywide average. The report also found that the city's outer boroughs have been more affected than Manhattan: 57 percent and 56 percent of workers who live in Queens and the Bronx work in face-to-face industries, well above the citywide average of 48 percent, while the Bronx and Staten Island have disproportionately higher percentages of so-called essential workers.
"[T]hese job losses can be expected to exacerbate the trend in growing inequality between low- and high-income work," the report's authors argue. "In many ways, we are observing the emergence of a new strain of inequality — one that exposes in a more visceral sense than before the stark precariousness of most low-wage work. This involves not only low pay but poor or no health insurance, little or no paid leave, no on-the-job health and safety protections, and only a shrinking and tattered safety net to fall back on. Precarious lives concentrated in crowded and poorly housed neighborhoods have become an electromagnet in attracting the deadly virus."