CNYCA’S Covid-19 Economic Update: The only jobs the Covid economy delivers are delivery jobs

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. 


Not surprisingly given the resurgence in Covid-19 infections at year’s end, December closed out 2020 with renewed job losses in New York City and the United States. From February to December, the city’s payroll job count was down 11 percent, more than twice the nation’s five percent loss. New York City ended the year with half a million fewer payroll jobs. When you add in losses by the self-employed and independent contractors, and factor in a likely downward revision in jobs numbers coming in March, the city will be out nearly 700,000 jobs in 2020.

The concentration of lost jobs in the face-to-face industries, particularly those dependent on tourism and the arts, is grim, but well understood by this point. The industry-by-industry comparisons with U.S. job declines are depicted in the charts below. The first chart shows all of the face-to-face industries with the exception of retail trade and courier and messenger delivery jobs. In most industries, the NYC decline is twice as bad (or worse) as in the country as a whole. 

Staggering Feb.-Dec. job declines in face-to-face industries, NYC and the U.S.

The biggest lopsided difference in the chart above is in administrative and support services, an industry that includes building service workers who have suffered because of empty Manhattan office towers. As discussed before in this series, the first three industries in the chart above, plus administrative and support services, account for over half of the 507,000 Feb.-Dec. NYC payroll jobs decline.

All of the NYC industries in the chart above sustained double-digit job losses. In the chart below, featuring essential and remote industries plus retail trade (a face-to-face industry), the declines were all nine percent or less. Information actually showed a small NYC job gain as a result of heightened demand for the movie, television, and media content generated in this sector. In retail, the explosion in e-commerce has driven a two percent job gain at the national level while the weakness in clothing retailing has contributed to the overall decline in NYC retail jobs. Besides information, the other sector with a large NYC-U.S. disparity is in government employment—NYC’s one percent job falloff pales in comparison to the six percent drop for the U.S. overall. The 1.3 million government jobs lost at the national level between February and December exceed the declines in all other sectors except for restaurants.

Much smaller job declines in essential and remote sectors with a small information sector gain in NYC

The biggest lopsided difference in the chart above is in administrative and support services, an industry that includes building service workers who have suffered because of empty Manhattan office towers. As discussed before in this series, the first three industries in the chart above, plus administrative and support services, account for over half of the 507,000 Feb.-Dec. NYC payroll jobs decline.

All of the NYC industries in the chart above sustained double-digit job losses. In the chart below, featuring essential and remote industries plus retail trade (a face-to-face industry), the declines were all nine percent or less. Information actually showed a small NYC job gain as a result of heightened demand for the movie, television, and media content generated in this sector. In retail, the explosion in e-commerce has driven a two percent job gain at the national level while the weakness in clothing retailing has contributed to the overall decline in NYC retail jobs. Besides information, the other sector with a large NYC-U.S. disparity is in government employment—NYC’s one percent job falloff pales in comparison to the six percent drop for the U.S. overall. The 1.3 million government jobs lost at the national level between February and December exceed the declines in all other sectors except for restaurants.

Much smaller job declines in essential and remote sectors with a small information sector gain in NYC

That leaves us with one very specific industry that stands out in this unusual economic environment: delivery jobs. Home-bound families buying online and having food delivered from their favorite restaurants have super-charged growth in delivery jobs, totaling more than a half-million at the national level. While NYC’s 74 percent delivery job growth surpassed the nation’s 67 percent gain, the NYC job growth has been a mere 14,000 since Labor Department data only captures payroll jobs. There likely are multiples of that number of delivery jobs being added (both in the city and more broadly) where workers are hired as independent contractors, with many working through delivery apps like Uber Eats or Door Dash or through labor contractors serving Amazon. There’s no question that delivery jobs are in high demand, but they also are noteworthy for being of low quality, offering rock-bottom pay with no benefits, no paid leave, and no rights. But at the moment, delivery jobs are the only ones being created.

Delivery work is the only significant source of job gains in the Covid economy