Wealthiest neighborhoods empty most when coronavirus hits New York


The map represents the share of people who lived in New York over a two-week period in February but who did not live there on May 1.·Descartes Labs

Hundreds of thousands of New York residents, particularly those in the city’s wealthiest neighborhoods, left in the aftermath of the coronavirus pandemic, according to an analysis by several sources of aggregated smartphone location data.

About 5% of the inhabitants – around 420,000 people – left the city between March 1 and May 1. In the city’s wealthiest neighborhoods, in neighborhoods like the Upper East Side, the West Village, SoHo and Brooklyn Heights, the residential population has declined 40 percent or more, while the rest of the city has experienced relatively modest changes.

Some of these areas are generally home to many students, many of whom have left college and university closures; other residents may have left to care for friends or family members across the country. But, on average, income is a simple and solid indicator of neighborhood change: the higher a neighborhood’s income, the more likely it is to be emptied.

Percentage of N.Y.C. residents who were at home in rich and poor neighborhoods

← Low income areas


Census percentile of income →

The income percentiles reflect those of the five boroughs of New York.

Relatively few residents of blocks with a median household income of $ 90,000 or less (in the 80th percentile or less) have left New York. This out-of-town migration began in mid-March and accelerated in the days following March 15, when Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that he was closing schools in the town.

The highest paid neighborhoods emptied first.

Percentage of residents who were at home, by income group of their census tract

Income percentiles reflect those of the five boroughs of New York, by census tract

“There is a way that these crises fall with different weights on the basis of social class,” said Kim Phillips-Fein, professor of history at New York University and author of a book on the way New York changed during the financial crisis of the 1970s. “Even if there is a strong rhetoric of” we are all in the same boat “, this is not really the case. “

These estimates are based on data provided by Descartes Labs, a geospatial analysis company.

Descartes Labs used anonymized smartphone location data to find a large sample of New York residents – not commuters or tourists – by location during a two-week period in February. They then analyzed their overall movements when the pandemic struck and if they had left the city. The sample consisted of approximately 140,000 residents, including residents of almost all of the city’s populated census tracts.

The location data of the smartphone is imperfect. People who don’t have a smartphone are missing. You have to guess who is a resident rather than a visitor or commuter. It draws on the following types of applications and transmits the precise location of a user. And it’s unlikely to be fully representative of the general population.

But it may be more useful than other methods of measuring rapid population changes on a large scale.

There is already evidence that some New Yorkers have left the city. There are many accounts of New Yorkers fleeing to second homes and vacation towns. The weight of household waste is falling in wealthy neighborhoods. But to find more accurate estimates, location data may be the best choice.

Descartes Labs was the largest contributor to the data for the estimates in this article, but its results are consistent with two separate estimates based on other location data providers.

The first of these two estimates comes from a working document by Arpit Gupta and Joshua Coven of New York University, who used smartphone location data to measure disparities and mobility patterns among residents of New York from March 2 to 27. The second is from Teralytics, a company that uses data from cell phone towers to measure migration patterns. Cellular towers interact with users of any type of cellular device from a vendor – not just smartphones with third-party location delivery apps – which means they capture a wider and wider range of residents.

How three different groups estimated the change in New York’s population

Based on around 140,000 smartphones, measured from March 2 to May 1.

Based on more than one million cellular devices from January 1 to April 15.

Based on approximately 373,000 smartphones, measured from March 2 to 27.

Together, these three estimates differ in some ways – in the way they define exactly who is a New York resident; in the period when they observed the movement; and exactly how they recorded if a resident moved rather than visited a place. But they all point to the same conclusion: the city’s population decreased from 4% to 5%, and the inhabitants who left were mainly from the wealthiest areas of the city, mainly in Manhattan.

The districts behind the exodus from the city do not resemble the city as a whole.

The people in these places are mostly white in a city that is usually not. Residents of these places are more than twice as likely to have a college diploma. These places have higher rents and lower poverty rates. People who live there are more likely to be able to walk or cycle to work or work from home.

And residents’ incomes are considerably higher: more than half of the residents of these neighborhoods have a family income of more than $ 100,000; about one in three earns more than $ 200,000.

Total pop. 803,228 7.6 mil.


White 68% 28%
Hisp. or Latin 12% 31%
Black 5% 24%
Asian 13% 14%


Median household income $ 119,125 $ 60,521
Median rent $ 2,223 $ 1,414
Income over $ 100,000 55% 28%
Income over $ 200,000 29% 7%
Income less than $ 35,000 19% 35%
Pct. in poverty ten% 17%


College deg. or more 76% 33%
Baccalaureate 19% 47%
Less than high school 5% 20%

How they get to work

Public transport 57% 57%
Walk 23% 8%
Work at home 8% 4%
Car 8% 29%
Bicycle 3% 1%

The divergence between these groups is particularly striking at a time when New Yorkers are more aware of the inequalities in their interactions with the “essential workers”: not only medical personnel, but also cooks, food deliverers, janitors , letter carriers, truck drivers and public transportation. workers – people who cannot do their jobs safely from their homes or leave the city.

“Everyone is really aware of the unequal distribution of risks and the injustice of having to work to provide services to people rich enough to avoid providing services for themselves,” said sociologist Peter Bearman at Columbia University who wrote a book on New York Porters and their relationship to the tenants they serve.

Here, search for any neighborhood in New York and see how it has changed:

Where New Yorkers have gone

Phone data shows that New Yorkers mainly traveled to surrounding counties – east to Nassau and Suffolk counties on Long Island, west of Monroe County in Pennsylvania, south of County Monmouth, New Jersey, north of Westchester County, northeast of Fairfield County, Connecticut and beyond. in all directions. Palm Beach County in southern Florida was one of the best places for displaced New Yorkers.

Fleeing a city in times of crisis is an instinctive reaction for many of us, said Andy Horowitz, a professor at Tulane University who studies disasters and has written a book on the impact of Hurricane Katrina.

This applies not only to pandemics, but also to hurricanes, nuclear accidents, invading armies, agricultural disasters and other events.

“This is a proven human strategy – that when you have problems, run away,” he said.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here