Politico

How Covid-19 changed American cities, in 5 charts


At the start of the pandemic, the familiar hustle and bustle of cities across the nation quieted. Los Angeles’ infamous traffic dwindled and New York’s crowded subway stations emptied. In the months since, some residents and workers have returned, but not all.

These charts illustrate some of the changes brought on by Covid-19, and how the life of our cities is evolving.

Overall, out-migration from urban areas accelerated last year, with swaths of people moving to suburbs and smaller towns. A POLITICO analysis of Census data for metropolitan areas with more than 1 million residents found that the migration pattern wasn’t uniform. Some of the nation’s most populous metros — New York, Los Angeles and Chicago among them — suffered some of the steepest losses from July 2019 to July 2020, while Sunbelt cities like Austin and Phoenix recorded high rates of growth. Technology hubs like San Francisco, San Jose and Raleigh were also among those that lost residents, in part because so many of the tech companies that form the economic foundation of those cities have transitioned to remote work.

Office occupancy remains well below pre-pandemic levels

Percent of employees who checked into their offices, compared to Feb. 2020, in select major metros

Employees are slowly making their way back into the office, according to Kastle Systems, a national office security firm that provides keycard services for 41,000 businesses across 47 states. Kastle measures the percentage of a particular metro’s workforce that returned to the office each week. Currently, about half of office workers in Texas metropolitan areas, such as Austin and Houston, have returned to the office — the highest rates of any urban area tracked by Kastle and more than double the rate at which employees in San Francisco are going into the office.

Online shopping surged during the pandemic, taking a bite out of brick-and-mortar retail

E-commerce sales, as a percentage of total retail sales

During the pandemic lockdowns, Americans had to rely on online shopping and home delivery for many supplies. In April to June of 2020, e-commerce soared to a record high of 15.7 percent of total sales, according to Census data. Since then, the online shopping habit has waned a bit, but it’s clear that Americans have become more comfortable with e-commerce — and the kind of brick-and-mortar retail that has been a big part of many city economies has suffered as a result.

U.S. murder rate highest in over 20 years

Homicides per 100,000 people

Last year, there were 6.5 murders per 100,000 Americans — a 27 percent increase from 2019 and the highest that the homicide rate has been in over two decades. This was part of an overall uptick in violent crimes that occurred during the pandemic. But property crimes, which include burglaries and motor vehicle thefts, declined — consistent with a downward trend that started back in 2001.

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