Hannah Cox – November 17, 2020
A new CNBC report shows that 300,000 New Yorkers have bailed on the Big Apple since the beginning of the lockdowns.
The figure is based on change-of-address requests and likely masks the full picture. Many households include more than one person, and an address only registers in the report when 11 or more forwarding requests are made to a particular county.
Evidence of this mass migration has been apparent for months. Moving companies and trucks have been hard to come by as the demand to leave the city rises, and a record number of apartments have sat empty as landlords struggle to find occupants. The median rental price on studios in Manhattan fell 7.1 percent this year, but the cheaper rent and other incentives have not been enough to entice most people back.
Even before COVID-19 hit and the government pummeled the economy with its lockdowns, New York was losing people. More than a million people left the five boroughs in the past decade citing excessively high taxes, lack of space, failing infrastructure, and decreasing quality of life.
Those existing problems were exacerbated during the pandemic. Schools were closed. Businesses saw their revenue plummet. Workers could no longer afford the exorbitant cost of living imposed by the city’s policies (like rent control). And people realized that a city with dirty streets and hard-to-come-by washer/dryer units was less than ideal for combatting an infectious disease.
Furthermore, the city’s COVID-19 regulations and mismanagement forced residents into overcrowded public hospitals and nursing homes at the height of the crisis – contributing to some of the highest coronavirus death rates in the country.
The city’s reaction to the pandemic has had a domino effect, and the pieces are likely still falling. As both businesses and their employees have eased into remote work, many have realized it isn’t necessary to cram a workforce into one centralized, expensive location. As a result, it is likely that some businesses and employees will leave the city permanently.
On top of that, most small businesses are unlikely to withstand the ongoing assault on their very being. More than a thousand restaurants have already closed permanently. As we head into the winter months – with anticipated spikes in COVID cases and ensuing shutdowns – we will almost certainly see many more. What restaurant can afford New York City rents with a 25 percent capacity allowance?
As these businesses leave, so does the city’s charm. New York is known for its local, independent shops. People move to the city and deal with its hassles for the best food, fashion, and entertainment in the world. Oh, and for the networking. Without this dynamic environment, those with options to go elsewhere will continue to do so.
And those with options are precisely the people who have left. The wealthy and mobile got out months ago and aren’t likely to return anytime soon – leaving the city’s poor and working class to face the $13 billion budget deficit.
New Yorkers already suffer under the highest tax burden in the country. Those left to make up the difference are the least able to pay it and the most likely to consume public services. This is a recipe for disaster.
I was briefly a New Yorker myself, having just relocated to the Big Apple four months before coronavirus swept the nation. I stayed for March and April, unwilling to give up the ghost. But by this spring it was clear the city would not be coming back any time soon. The streets were deserted and eerie. One day I stood in the middle of Times Square and was one of the only people there. It felt like the apocalypse (see main image).
As the city’s amenities vanished, there was nothing left to focus on but its infrastructure. And I was terrified. For the first time in my life, it was unclear whether or not I would be able to obtain a hospital bed or medical care if needed. Close to 800 people were dying a day. I spent two months barely leaving my 400 square foot Chelsea studio, unable to find a mask, hand sanitizer, or alcohol-based cleansers anywhere in the city. In May, I put my clothes and possessions in storage and went back to a red state.
Admittedly, I do miss city life and ultimately wish to return. But it is clear there will not be anything to return to in the foreseeable future. The city is working to shut schools back down, a second wave of shutdowns has already been imposed for some zip codes, and the majority of businesses remain closed.
In society, everyone makes trade-offs. New York has practiced backward economic and social policies for decades, but until recently, enough people believed the high taxes, cost of living, and difficulties imposed were worth it for the glitz, glamor, and opportunity. But as the city’s government continues to hinder the latter, the cost-benefit analysis of many has obviously changed.
Why pay for New York and endure its hardships when there’s more to do in South Carolina at a far lower cost? As we have seen even in normal times, Americans vote with their feet – choosing to escape the results of bad economic policies for friendlier business climates.
Perhaps one reason Democrats failed to pick up a single state legislature this year is due to this migration pattern: Americans are escaping blue state policies (which include stricter lockdowns) and they aren’t about to vote for them to take control in their new red-state homes.
Image Credit: Hannah Cox