Apr 8, 2020

Axios Cities

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  • Today's edition is 1,474 words, a 5.5-minute read.
1 big thing: Coronavirus pandemic threatens low-income jobs...
Data: LaborCUBE; McKinsey Global Institute analysis; Chart: Axios Visuals

The coronavirus pandemic could eliminate up to one-third of all U.S. jobs, and it will disproportionately hurt the low-income workers who cannot absorb the economic blow.

The big picture: "It's quite striking how widespread the vulnerability is. This is going to be a workforce disruption larger than any of us have lived through," McKinsey Global Institute partner Susan Lund said.

By the numbers: The sweeping economic shutdown prompted by the coronavirus could lead to unemployment upward of 25%, according to McKinsey's analysis.

  • Almost all (98%) of the most at-risk jobs paid less than the national living wage for a family of four ($68,808).
  • Those totals include 13.4 million vulnerable jobs in the restaurant industry and 11 million vulnerable jobs in customer service and sales.
  • These are also the job categories likely to pay a median annual wage of less than $30,000.
  • Almost 40% are in small firms, which are less-equipped than big companies to weather the storm.

"Even in a strong economy with low unemployment, these workers were already at the lowest rung of the ladder" in terms of financial security, said Brookings Metropolitan Policy Program fellow Martha Ross.

  • About half of low-wage workers are either primary earners or contribute substantially to family expenses, Brookings found in a separate report.
  • And the potential job carnage spreads far beyond the service industry, affecting builders, transportation services, health aides, mechanics, social workers, and some business and legal jobs.
2. ... especially in tourism-heavy cities
Expand chart
Adapted from Brookings; Map: Axios Visuals 

Fast-growing, tourism-heavy cities will likely see the worst of those job losses.

The Los Angeles metro area alone has 2.7 million at-risk jobs, including 500,000 retail workers, cooks and food servers, according to Brookings.

  • More than half of all jobs in the Las Vegas area are vulnerable as the casinos, hotels and restaurants went dark, McKinsey points out.

Between the lines: While many sectors are struggling, demand is surging in grocery stores, pharmacies, hospitals, e-commerce warehouses and delivery jobs.

  • McKinsey's report suggests 2 million to 3 million people could find short-term employment.
  • But worries about exposure to the virus may prevent workers from seeking employment in those settings.

What's next: The lack of protections — paid sick leave, safety rights and equitable wages — are now much more apparent.

  • "This could be a chance to remake some of the rules about what we expect of employers in terms of how they treat their workers and reframe what it means to be a good employer," Brookings' Ross said.
3. Public transit's virus spiral

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

Public transit systems across the country are experiencing a painful trifecta: Ridership has collapsed, funding streams are squeezed, and mass transit won't bounce back from the pandemic nearly as fast as other modes of transportation.

Why it matters: Transit agencies could see an annual shortfall of as much as $38 billion due to the coronavirus pandemic, according to TransitCenter. At the same time, they're more important than ever, with more than 36% of essential workers relying on public transportation to get to work.

  • "There's never been a time in which transit in one fell swoop has taken such a hit," said Sam Schwartz, CEO of Sam Schwartz Engineering and former New York City traffic commissioner.

Where it stands: Transit systems are taking extra steps to keep their remaining passengers and workers safe during the epidemic, while also bracing for long-term financial damage as ridership suffers.

  • Most public transit systems are operating at only 10% capacity per Paul Skoutelas, CEO of the American Public Transportation Association.
  • In New York City, the Metropolitan Transit Authority is sanitizing stations and common touch points (like turnstiles) twice a day and disinfecting the entire fleet every 72 hours. It may also need to move money around to make up for losses of up to $6 billion if ridership stays low.

The most recent stimulus package allocated $25 billion for public transit agencies, which will help maintain minimal levels of service for essential workers in the short term.

  • In the long term, many expect to need additional funding.

Go deeper

4. Driving takes a nosedive

A woman waits for a bus on a nearly empty street in downtown Chicago on March 21. Photo: Kamil Krzaczynski/AFP via Getty Images.

It’s not just mass transit: Car travel has also declined sharply amid the coronavirus lockdown, Axios' Sam Baker writes.

By the numbers: According to StreetsBlog, almost every major U.S. city saw a steep reduction last month in the number of miles traveled by car, compared to a benchmark in January. 

  • Los Angeles: ⬇️ 70%
  • San Francisco: ⬇️ 83%
  • Chicago: ⬇️ 67%
  • Boston: ⬇️ 75%
  • New York: ⬇️ 67%
  • Washington, D.C.: ⬇️ 77%

Between the lines: D.C. and New York saw bigger drops earlier in March than many other cities.

Yes, but: Some parts of the country, particularly in the southeast, haven’t seen as big a drop. The number of miles traveled in Jacksonville, Florida, for example, is down by a comparatively small 46%.

The bottom line: When most of the country is being told to stay home, sure, you’d expect to see a lot less travel in all of its forms. But this is still encouraging data to suggest that most of us really are staying home, at least more often.

5. Coronavirus is hitting home for more people
Data: Ipsos/Axios poll; Chart: Axios Visuals

The share of Americans who know someone who's tested positive has more than tripled in just a few weeks, to 14%, according to the latest installment of our Axios-Ipsos Coronavirus Index.

  • It's still highest in the Northeast, but last week alone it doubled in the South — and it's becoming most pronounced among people who still must leave home to work, Axios' Margaret Talev writes.

Why it matters: "We're going to see many more people getting it, dying, and many more people knowing someone who either had it or died," said Cliff Young, president of Ipsos U.S. Public Affairs.

6. Renters are struggling

Only 69% of tenants paid rent between April 1 and 5, down from the 81% who paid in the first week of March and 82% who paid the first week of April 2019, according to data to be released today the National Multifamily Housing Council.

Details: The data analysis comes from 13.4 million apartment units, excluding student housing, military housing and government-subsidized affordable housing.

  • Renters in New York and Louisiana — states that have been hard hit by the spread of COVID-19 — struggled the most, according to Greg Willett, chief economist at RealPage.

The catch: The properties included in the analysis tend to have higher-income tenants, so the real rent problem may be even bigger.

  • Timing — the days of the week captured by this analysis, along with lags as some landlords set up special arrangements to help out their renters — may also have skewed these results, but this is an ongoing data project.
  • The numbers are expected to increase as unemployment soars.
7. 5G rollout advances despite pandemic, but hazards loom

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Coronavirus-related economic disruption and uncertainty could yet slow the pace of 5G deployment in the U.S. — but for now, the major carriers say they're moving full speed ahead, Axios' Margaret Harding McGill writes.

Why it matters: The pandemic has highlighted the importance of connectivity as businesses shift to remote work and schools move classes online, making network performance more vital than ever.

What's happening: The major wireless carriers say the coronavirus has not altered the pace of their 5G rollouts, but industry observers and federal officials question how long that will remain to be true.

  • "As a logical matter, I would expect a slowdown," said former Federal Communications Commission official Blair Levin, now a policy adviser for New Street Research.
  • Levin cited concerns about construction crew members working close to each other, disruptions to supply chains, and consumers' ability and willingness to pay for pricey 5G plans and new phones amid staggering unemployment rates.

What they're saying: The carriers insist it's business as usual for their 5G plans.

  • AT&T noted that federal guidelines have identified telecom workers as essential, and the company is on track with its plans to launch 5G nationwide before July.
  • T-Mobile and Verizon both said they are moving ahead with 5G build plans, with Verizon recently projecting that it will spend up to $500 million more on capital expenditures this year than originally anticipated.

Between the lines: Many of the carriers are trying to get masks and other protective gear to ensure workers can continue installing new equipment where needed. And city approval of new cell sites will likely be harder to get during the shutdown.

8. Urban files

New York's coronavirus curve may be close to flattening (Axios)

As coronavirus quiets streets, some cities speed road and transit fixes (CityLab)

How coronavirus will affect San Francisco's rental market (CurbedSF)

Luxury resorts face coronavirus crisis as the 1% flee cities for holiday hideaways (Guardian)

Tiny digital businesses play key role in local economies, study says (NYT)

9. 1 🎨 thing: Coronavirus graffiti

Street art by Pony Wave on Venice Beach, March 21. Photo: Mario Tama/Getty Images

Murals are popping up in cities to honor tireless health care workers, bring hope to passersby, or just to capture the raw emotions of these tense times.

In New Orleans, a traveling graffiti artist who calls himself "Bandit" has painted three murals in the city — one of nurses, one of children playing with toilet paper rolls, and one of a couple embracing, per Nola.com.

  • Also in New Orleans, an anonymous artist left sidewalk art outside the Ochsner Medical center as uplifting thank you messages for health care workers, per Fox News.

In Chicago, artists have created outdoor art to reflect the moment. For example, artist James Mosher created a mural on the side of a building of washing hands, per the Chicago Sun-Times.

  • The local nonprofit Public Media Institute created a website called the Quarantine Times to highlight the work of artists. It will later be compiled into a book.

Go deeper: Coronavirus-themed murals from around the world (CNBC)

Thanks to all of you who have sent me stories of what's happening in your neck of the woods. Please keep them coming!