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Racial Disparities in Frontline Workers and Housing Crowding during COVID-19: Evidence from Geolocation Data

Institute Working Paper 37 | Published September 23, 2020

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Authors

Joshua Coven New York University

Arpit Gupta New York University

Angelo Orane-Hutchinson New York University

Racial Disparities in Frontline Workers and Housing Crowding during COVID-19: Evidence from Geolocation Data

Abstract

We document that racial disparities in COVID-19 in New York City stem from patterns of commuting and housing crowding. During the initial wave of the pandemic, we find that out-of-home activity related to commuting is strongly associated with COVID-19 cases at the ZIP Code level and hospitalization at an individual level. After layoffs of essential workers decreased commuting, we find case growth continued through household crowding. A larger share of individuals in crowded housing or commuting to essential work are Black, Hispanic, and lower-income. As a result, structural inequalities, rather than population density, play a role in determining the cross-section of COVID-19 risk exposure in urban areas.