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Coronavirus Pandemic Hits New York City's Economy Hard


Let's talk about the change happening in New York. New York City was hit early. It was hit hard by the pandemic, but the situation is today so much better. The number of virus cases has dropped significantly. But as NPR's Jim Zarroli reports, the economy there is still struggling.

JIM ZARROLI, BYLINE: I'm standing in Hudson Yards, which is a huge complex of apartment buildings and office towers and high-end retail stores on Manhattan's West Side. There was a lot of excitement when this place opened almost a year and a half ago. But today, at least by New York standards, there aren't a lot of people here - just a few tourists, some dog walkers, a security guard, all crossing this giant, windswept plaza.

DUSTIN JONES: The buzz that you typically feel when you're walking through Midtown, walking through any parts of Manhattan is just not there.

ZARROLI: Dustin Jones lives nearby. He's with NYU's Schack Institute of Real Estate.

JONES: Anyone that's been in New York City and spent any time here knows this doesn't feel normal.

ZARROLI: New York is the city's most densely populated big city, and it was hit early and hard by the pandemic. Kathryn Wylde of the Partnership for New York City, a business group, says half a million people fled. Many of them were well-paid professionals in finance, advertising and technology who could work remotely. She says hotels, stores, theaters and restaurants had to close.

KATHRYN WYLDE: We've got 230,000 small businesses that basically, for the most part, have been out of business since the middle of March.

ZARROLI: Even those that stayed open are struggling. Two and a half years ago, Cassandre Davilmar opened the Lakou Cafe in Brooklyn. She wanted to have a kind of neighborhood hangout serving healthy Haitian food. It's been a rough year.

CASSANDRE DAVILMAR: In February, I thought we were doing well. And then by March, I was like, oop, we're doing worse than we've ever done. By April, we were closed.

ZARROLI: The cafe is open again and serving mainly takeout food, but business has dropped off again lately. The loss of so many businesses has meant hundreds of thousands of jobs have disappeared. Unemployment in the city hit nearly 20% in July. I ran into Howard Beegan (ph) sitting in a park in Manhattan. He's a jazz musician. And with all the live music venues shut down, he's living off his savings.

HOWARD BEEGAN: Occasionally, if I can find, like, production type of work, I can - that I can do from home, I do that. But my work pretty much ground to a halt on March 16 - haven't worked since then.


ZARROLI: With so many people not working, like Beegan, it's causing real budget problems. I'm on the subway, the 1 train. I take it all the time, and it's often packed at this time of day. Today, there are only about six people in this car, all of them sitting very far apart from each other. People have been scared to ride the subway, so ridership is a quarter of what it normally is, and fair revenue is way down.

ANDREW REIN: I mean, what you have is a public health crisis that spurred an economic crisis that spurred a fiscal crisis.

ZARROLI: Andrew Rein of the Citizens Budget Commission, an advocacy group, says sales and income tax revenue is also down, and the city faces a $9 billion budget deficit over the next year and a half. There is some reason for optimism. Virus cases have dropped sharply. Museums are reopening. Restaurants are serving customers at outside tables. But tourists have mostly stayed away. And Kathryn Wylde of the Partnership for New York City says only about 8% of office workers are back at their desks.

WYLDE: This is a comprehensive, all-encompassing problem like we've never had before.

ZARROLI: And Wylde worries about what will happen when people do return. New York is a city where people live pressed up against each other. When the crowds are back again, will there be a second wave of the virus? If so, she says, the city will face another blow that's even harder to recover from.

Jim Zarroli, NPR News, New York. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Jim Zarroli is an NPR correspondent based in New York. He covers economics and business news.