COVID-19 Economic Update is a bi-weekly column prepared by economist James Parrott of the Center for New York City Affairs (CNYCA) at The New School, whose research is supported by the Consortium for Worker Education and the 21st Century ILGWU Heritage Fund. Read past installments here.
The latest data on initial unemployment claims for regular State unemployment insurance released on October 8 show that new claims by New York City residents for the last four weeks averaged 39,000 per week, nearly 12 percent greater than for the previous four-week period. While the September payroll jobs data that will be released October 15 may show another slight increase in payroll jobs, the total number of New York City jobs will remain far below the pre-pandemic level. Through October 3, the total number of city residents receiving unemployment benefits continued in the 1.3-1.4 million range.
As essential as weekly unemployment benefits are, they are not sufficient to avert a worrisome rise in economic distress. Since late April, the U.S. Census Bureau has conducted weekly or bi-weekly surveys of households to gauge the economic and health effects of the pandemic. These surveys document the severity of economic hardships by state and large metropolitan area. As the chart below shows, for the New York metropolitan area from mid-July to late September, 16.1 percent of households reported that they often or sometimes did not have enough to eat over the prior seven days, and 23.5 percent of renter households reported that they were not caught up on the previous month’s rent. The chart shows that Black and Latinx households have much higher rates of food and housing insecurity and Asian households are experiencing considerable housing insecurity. Nearly a third of households with incomes below $50,000 are food and housing insecure.
Source: U.S. Census, Household Pulse Surveys, weeks 12-15, Jul 16-Sept. 28; data on SNAP benefits for weeks 13-15 only.
The Census data also show that receiving unemployment benefits or Supplemental Nutrition Assistance (SNAP, previously known as food stamps) is not sufficient to avert food or housing insecurity. For example, 24.1 percent of those receiving unemployment benefits did not have enough to eat during the previous week, and 28.8 percent of those receiving jobless payments were behind on rent.
The extended economic expansion in the years just prior to the onset of the pandemic saw a generally steady or declining trend in the number of New York City households relying on public income assistance, SNAP, and Medicaid. (Before the pandemic, the number of city residents enrolled in Medicaid was high, but it had been holding steady in recent years and the high level helped reduce the city’s uninsured population.)
This trend has now dramatically reversed. Between February and July, the city’s public assistance rolls rose by 19.1 percent, and the number of residents receiving SNAP benefits grew by 12.4 percent. Also, nearly 312,000 additional New York City residents enrolled in Medicaid between February and August. This 9.2 percent rise was the sharpest Medicaid increase since the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, and as more workers are being permanently laid off, they likely will lose employer-provided health insurance and Medicaid rolls will rise further.
In sum: As of August, almost 3.7 million city residents were enrolled in Medicaid. SNAP recipients in New York City totaled nearly 1.7 million in July. And a total of 378,000 city residents received either Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) or State- and local-funded Safety Net Assistance in July.
For more information, read CNYCA’s three reports on the NYC economic impact of COVID-19.