Location Data Says It All: Staying at Home During Coronavirus Is a Luxury - The New York Times
It has been about two weeks since the Illinois governor ordered residents to stay at home, but nothing has changed about Adarra Benjamin’s responsibilities. She gets on a bus nearly every morning in Chicago, traveling 20 miles round trip some days to cook, clean and shop for her clients, who are older or have health problems that make such tasks difficult.
Ms. Benjamin knows the dangers, but she needs her job, which pays about $13 an hour. She also cannot imagine leaving her clients to fend for themselves. “They’ve become my family,” she said.
In cities across America, many lower-income workers continue to move around, while those who make more money are staying home and limiting their exposure to the coronavirus, according to smartphone location data analyzed by The New York Times.
The data offers real-time evidence of a divide laid bare by the coronavirus pandemic — one in which wealthier people not only have more job security and benefits but also may be better able to avoid becoming sick. The outbreak is so new that the relationship between socioeconomic status and infection rates cannot be determined, but other data, including recent statistics released by public health officials in New York City, suggests that the coronavirus is hitting low-income neighborhoods the hardest.
Concerns about getting infected have incited protests and strikes by workers in grocery stores, delivery services and other industries who say their employers are not providing them with enough protection or compensation to counter the increased health risks, even as their jobs have been deemed essential.
The mobility data provides a snapshot in time, and the behaviors it captures could change amid a fast-moving crisis. Although several public policy experts who reviewed the data said it strongly indicated that wealthier people are better able to stay home, they added that there could be other reasons for the differences — perhaps higher awareness of the risks or better access to information, for example — and others that are not yet obvious.
Economists and public health researchers said the data pointed to holes in the government’s response to the pandemic’s fallout for low-income workers, which has focused on those who have lost their jobs because of shutdowns and not on those with essential duties.
“Covid-19 is exposing a lot of the structural disadvantages that low-income people face,” including a lack of job security and uneven access to health care, said Adie Tomer, a fellow at the Brookings Institution who has studied the essential work force. “The well-off are employed in industries where they are at a desk, and so there are some advantages built into these high-income neighborhoods during this pandemic,” he added.