We show that cities with higher population density specialize in high-skill service jobs that can be done remotely. The urban and industry bias of remote work potential shaped the recent pandemic’s economic impact. Many high-skill service workers started to work remotely, withdrawing spending from big-city consumer service industries dependent on their demand. As a result, low-skill service workers in big cities bore most of the recent pandemic’s economic impact. Our findings have broader implications for the distributional consequences of the U.S. economy’s transition to more remote work.
This paper previously circulated with the title "The City Paradox: Skilled Services and Remote Work."