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Frontline Communities Hit Hardest by COVID-19

April 2, 2020

ANHD’s Map of COVID-19 Impact Shows the Need for Rent Relief, Hazard Pay, and Increased Worker Protections


4/23/20: Since the original publishing of this blog, we updated our map with new data on COVID-19 cases, adjusted other layers to mirror the more specific zip code geography, and added data on overcrowding. In addition to zip codes, the analysis below refers to United Hospital Fund neighborhoods, which were used in the initial data that NYC DOHMH published on COVID-19. 

8/2/23: The previous map was rebuilt using Datawrapper when the Carto platform was deprecated. 

New York City is facing an unprecedented crisis as it becomes the epicenter of the global COVID-19 pandemic. Hospitals are beyond maximum capacity, workers have run out of the personal protective equipment they need to stay safe, and 40% of New Yorkers can’t afford to pay rent this month as businesses across the city shutter. While day-to-day life has slowed down, the City’s basic needs are still being met by an invisibilized workforce.

The service workers who keep our city running – home health aides, nurses aides, food service workers, and warehouse staff, among others – are at the front lines of the COVID-19 crisis. Using data released by the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, an analysis by ANHD finds that high rates of positive COVID-19 cases are concentrated in neighborhoods where many of New York’s frontline service workers reside. These neighborhoods are disproportionately communities of color, and they correspond to both high rates of positive COVID-19 cases and high rent burden. COVID-19 is starkly revealing the racial and economic inequity that’s deeply embedded in our city’s socio-economic infrastructure. This pandemic is not only a public health crisis, but a crisis of racial and economic justice.

Neighborhoods with the highest range of positive cases are home to communities of color whose residents are disproportionately employed in frontline service occupations and face among the highest rates of rent burden - meaning they are spending 30% or more of their total income on rent - in New York City. Not only are frontline workers risking their lives, they’re still worrying about paying their rent in the midst of a global pandemic. For the purpose of this analysis, ANHD defines the frontline service workforce as an aggregate of workers employed in the following occupations: Healthcare Support, Food Preparation and Serving, Building and Grounds Cleaning and Maintenance, and Transportation and Material Moving Occupations. This is the workforce that has been deemed essential by the State of New York and includes nurses aides, restaurant workers, and warehouse and delivery workers.


Neighborhood Findings

Across the city, outerborough neighborhoods with high rates of positive COVID-19 cases are also home to the frontline service sector workforce.

Western Queens, where Elmhurst Hospital is located, has the highest rate of positive COVID-19 tests in the City and received over three times as many flu-related emergency room visits in one week than any other neighborhood. Elmhurst Hospital is considered the epicenter of the COVID-19 crisis in New York City, having seen 13 coronavirus-related deaths in the span of 24 hours last week. Western Queens has among the largest shares of residents working in service occupations in New York City, while 61% of residents are rent-burdened and the neighborhood is the third most overcrowded. The two hardest hit zip codes in New York City - 11368 and 11373 - are located in Western Queens, with 62% and 79% nonwhite populations, respectively.

In the Bronx, Highbridge/Morrisania has one of the highest rates of positive COVID-19 diagnoses and ranks second highest in the city for threats to affordable housing. It also has the largest share of residents working in frontline service sector occupations and the second largest share of people of color in New York City. The adjacent neighborhood of Crotona/Tremont - also part of the South Bronx - has a high rate of COVID-19 diagnoses, and it is also the most rent-burdened in New York City. It has the second highest density of service workers; and it has the fourth highest density of people of color across New York City. Together, these neighborhoods highlight a clear relationship between pre-existing inequity and where the virus is hitting hardest.

East New York, Brooklyn – with one of the highest rates of COVID-19 – also ranks in the top ten neighborhoods citywide for density of service workers, rent burden, and people of color.

Manhattan overall is hit less hard by positive cases. However, neighborhoods with higher positive cases – for example, Inwood and Washington Heights – also have higher percentages of service workers, greater rent burden, and more people of color. Staten Island is the one borough that doesn’t follow this trend, but that may be due to different density patterns or availability of testing.

Low- and moderate-income workers, in particular workers of color who are already marginalized, are likely to face the most dire fallout from the coronavirus pandemic. A statewide eviction moratorium gives many renters relief from immediate homelessness, but does nothing to resolve what happens when the moratorium is lifted and people are still out of work. For frontline workers who are putting their lives on the line, the ability to pay rent still looms over their heads. The correlation of rent burden to COVID-19 impact shown in this map highlights the urgent need for our government officials to provide real relief to renters, rather than wait for the health crisis to subside and hope for the best. ANHD proposes bold, immediate policy solutions to support our frontline workers. Rent relief, hazard pay, and increased worker protections available to all regardless of immigration status are all necessary to ensure that the people who keep New York running are protected. Our current moment requires a fundamental shift in the status quo. The health of our city and the lives of our neighbors depends on it.

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