New York City will turn into shell of former self after coronavirus crisis

Imagine New York City five years from now with streets full of abandoned storefronts, closed eateries, and empty buildings. The cumulative effects of the coronavirus may be more overwhelming than the other challenges New York City has had to face during the past two generations, including the aftermath of 9/ 11. It is likely that the pandemic will simply accelerate the trend in the sharp decline of its population and livelihoods.

New York City was already losing population before the outbreak due to economic factors and quality of life issues. Around 40,000 residents left between 2017 and 2018 alone. The coronavirus has fueled the population outflow. About 420,000 residents have fled New York City in the last few months. Even worse for its economy, the majority of those who left amid the pandemic are wealthy workers. Many of them went to low tax havens in the south, such as Texas, Florida, Georgia, and North Carolina.

Eventually, it will not only be the 1 percent who leave. The unemployment rate in New York City has risen above 14 percent. Residents without a job or reduced hours will no longer have the income to keep paying sky high rents for tiny living quarters. Meanwhile, workers who have not been laid off or furloughed have been working remotely, a trend that may continue for years to come. Nearly 70 percent of those in finance and technology will consider relocating if working remotely becomes permanent.

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For many, that is already an option. Twitter and Facebook announced that employees will get to work from home on a permanent basis, a move that other technology giants are also weighing. Meanwhile, the conveniences of city living before the outbreak are no longer relevant. The coronavirus has exposed how easy telecommuting is, and residents may not feel safe riding the subway again for months or perhaps for years to come.

Small luxuries like dining out may be off the table, even when restaurants are allowed to reopen. A wave of bars and restaurants have also closed for good in New York City. The pressure of fewer customers and knowing that laid off employees will receive the $600 per week unemployment “bonus” make the decision to move more of a no brainer than before. Several retail establishments were already struggling due to competing online business and exorbitant commercial rents. The coronavirus will push New York City to face a period of empty storefronts for the first time in decades.

The mass of young people that moved to New York City for its culture and opportunities will see them dry up. Without all the restaurants, museums, and crowds of young people, the social scene and nightlife will certainly be subdued. The end result will be the Big Apple without its core. Minus the haute culture and thriving business sector, what is the advantage of deciding to stay in a potential germ factory like the five boroughs?

Collapsing tax revenues from the decline in both business and residents will mean that many major programs and projects, from infrastructure to public safety and more, will be either bailed out by Uncle Sam or slashed by the government. This will likely not just be an issue for New York City. Similar factors will cause other urban centers to see similar flights.

In San Francisco, the need for cubicles is gone. A majority of technology employees said they would leave the Bay Area if they could telecommute. Even hubs like Chicago will feel the economic pain. Developers are axing the number of projects in the Windy City at a time when the surrounding states are looking more attractive. While Illinois seeks a federal bailout of its pension mess, its neighbors are starting to reopen for business.

The difficulties those urban centers face are daunting, but New York City also has the misfortune of being the coronavirus epicenter. The pressure of the pandemic, high tax rates, soaring living costs, lack of security, and the bandwagon effect may end up bringing the Big Apple back to the bad old days of the early 1970s. With the best leadership, New York City might be able weather the current storm. But anyone stepping into the vacuum has to first come to grips with how daunting the challenge really is.

Kristin Tate is a libertarian author and an analyst for Young Americans for Liberty. She is a Robert Novak journalism fellow at the Fund for American Studies. Her newest book is “The Liberal Invasion of Red State America.”