When COVID-19 first struck the U.S. in early 2020, New York City was the epicenter of the pandemic. By early April, there was an unthinkable scale of suffering, with massive hospitalizations and roughly 800 fatalities per day, accounting for nearly half of the nationwide total. The rapid spread was facilitated by the city’s extraordinarily high population density and widespread use of mass transit. What followed was a quick and massive shutdown of restaurants, retail stores, personal services, offices, and more. And the shutdowns, of course, led to widespread job losses. Between February and May, one out of five jobs in the city vanished; in the restaurant industry, 70 percent of jobs were lost. Although the pandemic didn’t go away, the city’s economy has recovered steadily, aside from a brief but sharp setback in late 2020. By early 2023, New York had finally reversed just about all of the total job loss. In this post, we look at the contours of the city’s recovery as a possible guide to where we go from here.
The tri-state region’s economy was hit especially hard by the pandemic, but three years on, is close to recovering the jobs that were lost. Indeed, employment initially fell by 20 percent in New York City as the pandemic took hold, a significantly sharper decline than for the nation as a whole, and the rest of the region experienced similar declines, creating a much larger hole than in other parts of the country. Three years later, the recovery has been uneven: Recent job growth has been particularly strong in New York City, where employment remains just slightly below pre-pandemic levels, and in Northern New Jersey, which has more than recovered all of the jobs lost early in the pandemic. But it has been sluggish in downstate New York outside of New York City, and in upstate New York, and employment across the region has clearly not reached the level implied by pre-pandemic trends. A dearth of available workers remains a significant constraint on growth in the region, particularly in upstate New York, which had already been suffering from a lack of workers well before the pandemic began
Since the start of the pandemic, home prices in the U.S. have increased by an astonishing 40 percent. The New York-Northern New Jersey region saw a similar meteoric rise, as home prices shot up by 30 percent or more almost everywhere—even in upstate New York, where economic growth was sluggish well before the pandemic hit. New York City is the exception, where home price growth was less than half that pace. Indeed, home prices actually declined in Manhattan early in the pandemic, though they have rebounded markedly since. Much of the region’s home price boom can be traced to the rise in remote work, which increased the already strong demand for housing at a time when housing inventories were low and declining. Home price increases have largely outpaced income gains through the pandemic boom, resulting in a reduction in housing affordability in the region. However, with mortgage rates rising, it appears that the region’s housing boom is waning, as it is for the nation as a whole, with prices leveling off, though the inventory of available homes remains historically low.
Even before the start of the new year, businesses in the tri-state region were hampered by supply disruptions, rising input costs, and difficulty finding adequate staff. On top of these challenges, the Omicron wave dealt another setback to the regional economy. With infections running high, many businesses were forced to deal with a combination of reduced demand from customers and renewed absenteeism among workers. Indeed, our regional business surveys indicate that economic growth stalled in early 2022 as firms continued to struggle to find workers. Moreover, employee absenteeism was reported to be nearly three times its normal level. While the path of recovery remains highly uncertain, firms generally expect conditions to improve in the months ahead and many are still adding or planning to add staff.
The coronavirus pandemic abruptly changed the way we work, in meaningful and potentially lasting ways. While working from home represented a small share of work before the pandemic, such arrangements became unexpectedly widespread once the pandemic struck. With the pandemic now being brought under control and conditions improving, workers have begun to return to the office. But just how much remote work will persist in the new normal? The New York Fed’s June regional business surveys asked firms about the extent of remote working before, during, and after the pandemic. Results indicate that before the pandemic, the average firm in the region conducted just a small share of its work remotely, a figure that currently stands at around a third among service firms but well below 10 percent among manufacturers. Once the pandemic is fully behind us, service firms expect double the amount of remote work than before the pandemic, though that figure is less than the share being done currently, while manufacturers expect the amount of remote work to return to where it was before the pandemic.
While the manufacturing sector typically drives recessions and recoveries more than the service sector, the opposite has been true during the pandemic recession. Finally this month, the Federal Reserve Bank of New York’s April business surveys point to a solid increase in service sector activity as well as continued strength in manufacturing activity in the New York-Northern New Jersey region, marking the first signs of widespread growth since the pandemic began. While manufacturing activity had been increasing through much of the pandemic, service sector activity had declined for thirteen straight months before finally increasing at its strongest pace in years in our April survey. About half of service sector firms said their revenues were currently at or above normal levels, as did two-thirds of manufacturers. All in all, regional firms expressed widespread optimism that conditions would improve in the months ahead.
Business activity increased in the region’s manufacturing sector in recent weeks but continued to decline in the region’s service sector, continuing a divergent trend seen over the past several months, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York’s February regional business surveys. Looking ahead, however, businesses expressed widespread optimism about the near-term outlook, with service firms increasingly confident that the business climate will be better in six months. The surveys also found that supply disruptions were widespread, with manufacturing firms reporting longer delivery times and rising input costs, a likely consequence of such disruptions. Many firms also noted that minimum wage hikes implemented in January in both New York and New Jersey had affected their employment or compensation decisions.
The New York-Northern New Jersey region experienced an unprecedented downturn earlier this year, one more severe than that of the nation, and the region is still struggling to make up the ground that was lost. That is the key takeaway at an economic press briefing held today by the New York Fed examining economic conditions during the pandemic in the Federal Reserve’s Second District. Despite the substantial recovery so far, business activity, consumer spending, and employment are all still well below pre-pandemic levels in much of the region, and fiscal pressures are mounting for state and local governments. Importantly, job losses among lower-income workers and people of color have been particularly consequential. The pace of recovery was already slowing in the region before the most recent surge in coronavirus cases, and we are now seeing signs of renewed weakening as we enter the winter.
The New York Fed today unveiled a set of charts that track COVID-19 cases in the Federal Reserve’s Second District, which includes New York, Northern New Jersey, Fairfield County Connecticut, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. These charts, available in the Indicators section of our Regional Economy webpage, are updated daily with the latest data on confirmed COVID-19 cases from The New York Times, which compiles information from state and local health agencies. Case counts are measured as the seven-day average of new reported daily cases and are presented on a per capita basis to allow comparisons to the nation and between communities in the region. Recent data indicate that after spiking to extraordinary levels in April, new cases have remained relatively low and stable in and around New York City, and in upstate New York. By contrast, cases have been trending higher in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands since mid-July.
News headlines highlighting the loss of 26 million jobs (so far) underscore the massive shock that has hit the U.S. economy and the dislocation, hardship, and stress it has caused for so many American workers. But how accurately does this number actually capture the number of net job losses? In this post, we look at some of the statistical anomalies and quirks in the weekly claims series and offer a guide to interpreting these numbers. What we find is that the relationship between jobless claims and payroll employment for the month can vary substantially, depending on the nature, timing, and persistence of the disaster.