Analysis: COVID-19 and Westchester County Unemployment Trends

Real Estate In-Depth | July 2020

By Eric Pierson, AICP

Editor’s Note: The following analysis was originally published on the Business Council of Westchester’s Data Exchange (https://thebcw.org/data/)on July 9, 2020.

As we get farther away from the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States, a clearer picture is beginning to emerge of the economic damage rendered by this disease. As the state that was hit first, and the hardest, New York may provide a preview to other states of what is to come.

The chart below shows the monthly unemployment rate in Westchester County over the past 30 years. The chart illustrates the dramatic spike in unemployment rate in April 2020. The unemployment data for the most recent months is preliminary and subject to change but is likely to show improvement. That being said, it is clear that Westchester County is experiencing unemployment rates far higher than those that were seen during the height of the Great Recession a decade ago, and double that of the recession in the early 1990’s.

Although the unemployment data is not available by sector, it is important to understand that two of the industries hardest hit by the pandemic include Retail Trade and Accommodation and Food Services. Combined, these two industries comprise 18% of the total number of jobs and 17% of the total number of business establishments in Westchester County (NYS Department of Labor 2019 Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages). These two industries represent many businesses located on the “Main Streets” within Westchester. Some of these small businesses have just started to reopen as the state recently entered Phase 3 and Phase 4 of the reopening plan.

Local monthly unemployment data is also available for municipalities with a population of at least 25,000. There are 14 such municipalities in Westchester County. The table below shows the monthly unemployment rate in April 2020 and the next highest monthly unemployment rate in the past 20 years. In many cases, the unemployment rate in April 2020 is nearly double the next highest monthly unemployment rate. The southern cities of Yonkers, Mount Vernon, and New Rochelle experienced the highest monthly unemployment rate in April. Yonkers was particularly hard-hit, with the highest overall unemployment rate in April at 18.7%. Yonkers also had the highest total number of unemployed people in April with 17,800.

As outlined in a previous blog, the COVID-19 pandemic caused an unprecedented number of unemployment insurance claims throughout the country. The same is true in Westchester County where there were three consecutive weeks of over 10,000 unemployment insurance claims filed at the beginning of the pandemic. Fortunately, the chart below suggests that the number of new unemployment insurance claims may be slowing down. While this is a positive trend for the county, the number of weekly unemployment insurance claims is still far higher than last year. There were 3,576 claims filed in the week ending on June 20th, 2020, and 468 claims filed during the same week a year ago. This represents an increase of 664%.

Although the unemployment rates are dropping, there has been a devastating hit to local businesses and families across the county. The CARES Act has provided a federal unemployment benefit of $600 per week, which is set to expire at the end of July. We have yet to realize the full impact to the economy once the federal benefit expires. Will the unemployment rate continue to recede as the benefits cease? Or will there not be a job to return to?

This article was printed on the Business Council of Westchester’s Data Exchange and was re-printed with permission from the Business Council of Westchester.

Eric Pierson, AICP is senior research planner for Hudson Valley Pattern for Progress, which is based in Newburgh.