The City Economic Recovery Tracker: Week of December 14

Tracking five cities' economic recovery from the coronavirus pandemic

Editor's note: Below you'll find the week 2 release of the City Economic Recovery Tracker (CERT), originally published Dec. 17, 2020. Visit the CERT homepage for the latest data.

The economic recovery of Houston and Los Angeles saw the largest setbacks during the week ending Dec. 5. Houston’s decline was fueled by a rise in unemployment insurance claims, while Los Angeles suffered from a decline in restaurant reservations after the city banned outdoor dining. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo also recently passed indoor dining restrictions, so New York City might experience a similar setback in the coming weeks.

Houston remains the only city where the economic recovery is more than halfway back to early March 2020 levels, though it lost six index points along with Los Angeles. Meanwhile, New York lost two index points during the week ending Dec. 5, bringing its total score to 45. Columbus and Chicago were the only cities that each gained a point, bringing their index scores to 48 and 37, respectively.

LA Sees Sharpest Rise in COVID-19 Cases, While Chicago Cases Decrease

The number of COVID-19 cases has spiked nationwide, which is reflected in almost every city in the CERT index. During the week ending Dec. 5, Los Angeles experienced one of the highest week-over-week increases in COVID-19 case rates of any indexed city since the start of the pandemic. Los Angeles County reported 566,000 COVID-19 cases and 8,568 deaths as of Dec. 15.

Chicago’s case rate finally started to decline during the week ending Dec. 5 after peaking at almost a triple digit weekly average during the end of November. Cook County, which includes Chicago, reported 360,000 cases and 7,505 deaths as of Dec. 15. 

Hopefully Chicago’s decline portends to future curve-bending in the rising case rates of other cities. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine on Dec. 11 and the nation saw the first inoculation of the vaccine on Dec. 14. The FDA is expected to approve Moderna’s vaccine soon.

Houston, Chicago See Greatest Week-Over-Week Unemployment Spikes

Unemployment claims are still significantly higher for all five cities year-over-year. Of particular concern, Chicago and Houston saw the steepest unemployment spikes week-over-week during the week ending Dec. 5.

Moreover, dining restrictions in both Los Angeles and New York could prompt potential rises in unemployment claims in those cities moving forward. Los Angeles closed all outdoor dining on Nov. 25 and even though a judge ruled on Dec. 8 that Los Angeles County acted “arbitrarily” when it closed all outdoor dining, restaurants cannot reopen because of the state’s overriding regional stay-at-home order through Dec. 28. Meanwhile, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said restaurants in New York City will be forced to close their indoor dining sections starting Dec. 14 in what is likely the first of more commercial restrictions to be imposed on the city. 

LA Dining Ban Hurts Reservation Numbers

Los Angeles’ outdoor dining ban has effectively sent the city’s restaurant reservation numbers down 100% compared to the same period last year, pushing the city’s index score for this criteria to zero for the first time since May. New York might follow Los Angeles’ dip now that Gov. Cuomo banned indoor dining and winter has arrived.

Reservations are down or stagnant in each of the five cities as the industry struggles with colder weather and rising COVID-19 cases. Congress is working on a $900 billion COVID-19 economic relief package that could deliver additional help to businesses, $300 per week jobless checks, and $600 stimulus payments to most Americans. 

Transit Remains Steady in All 5 Cities

Transit numbers have remained relatively steady week-over-week in all five cities, with plateaus in Houston and Columbus and slight decreases in Los Angeles and New York. Chicago remains the city with the lowest transit score, hovering around 50 for the past month. This could be because COVID-19 case rates began rising in Chicago prior to the other cities in the index, and the continuing lack of commuters into the city from the suburbs. 

Small Businesses Continue to Shine

Small businesses provide one bright spot in CERT measures, with every city posting index scores above 60 for this criteria. Houston leads the way with an index score of 92 Houston and New York saw the most growth week-over-week, while the other cities remained steady. Holiday shopping could have provided a boost to these small businesses and the test will be to see if the scores continue to increase into the new year.

Data and charts by Amanda Morelli/Adrian Nesta. Additional reporting by Elana Dure

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