Cornell finds Buffalo's low-income renters most affected by pandemic-related job losses

May 21, 2020

On Thursday, the U.S. Labor Department reported the United States is still losing jobs at an alarming pace two months after the coronavirus pandemic took hold. That includes millions of people still out of work as upstate New York slowly starts to reopen its economy. New research suggests low-income renters are among the hardest hit.

Russell Weaver, an economic geographer with Cornell University’s School of Industrial Labor Relations, intends to research cities across New York. So far, he sees patterns in Buffalo and Rochester that indicate low-income renters will be most affected by job losses caused by COVID-19.

Credit John Minchillo / Associated Press

“For the households that have employed members who are in these at risk positions—these positions at risk of being laid off—renters are disproportionately included among them, and low-income renters, in particular, are more likely to have all of their income earned in at-risk occupation,” explained Weaver.

Weaver searches for regional patterns that can help him understand the nuances between localities, and how economic changes can effect each differently. During the pandemic, his focus is on how the virus itself impacts some communities more than others and how those patterns can link with other inequities, such as income, poverty, race and ethnicity.

“We’re trying to elucidate some of those issues because one thing that a crisis is good for is that it opens policy windows,” Weaver said.

One example of a policy change that could grow out of the COVID-19 pandemic is rent relief. Such a bill, which would suspend rent and mortgage payments, is now before the New York State Senate.

In the last nine weeks, jobless claims across the country have totaled 38.6 million, according to U.S. Labor Department figures released Thursday. That is roughly one out of every four people who were working in February, before the pandemic hit. The official unemployment rate was 14.7% in April — the highest since the tail end of the Great Depression.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin told lawmakers this week, "The jobs numbers will be worse before they get better."

NPR's Scott Horsley contributed to this story.