The City Economic Recovery Tracker: Week of December 21

January 23, 2021

Editor's note: Below you'll find the week 3 release of the City Economic Recovery Tracker (CERT), originally published Dec. 23, 2020. Visit the CERT homepage for the latest data.

Each of the five cities in the City Economic Recovery Tracker (CERT) remained stagnant or faced declines in their economic recoveries during the week of Dec. 12. Columbus, New York, and Los Angeles saw the largest setbacks, driven mainly by rising COVID-19 case rates and falling restaurant reservations. Moreover, every city saw a small drop in the number of small business hours worked, while Los Angeles and Chicago also faced an increase in unemployment claims.

Houston remains the only city where the economic recovery is more than halfway back to early March 2020 levels, and it is also the only city that remained essentially flat week-over-week. Meanwhile, Columbus, New York, and Los Angeles each lost three index points during the week ending Dec. 12, bringing their total scores to 45, 41, and 37, respectively. Chicago remains the city with the weakest economic recovery at 36 points.

LA Continues Surge in COVID-19 Cases, While Chicago’s Numbers Plateau

The number of COVID-19 cases has spiked nationwide, which is reflected in every city in the CERT. Los Angeles continued to see its case rate grow exponentially and had an average of 105 new cases per 100,000 people during the week of Dec. 12. Los Angeles County reported 648,000 COVID-19 cases and 9,016 deaths as of Dec. 23. Columbus is not far behind Los Angeles in its ascent, with an average of 98 new cases per 100,000 people. Franklin County, which includes Columbus, reported 77,087 cases and 695 deaths as of Dec. 23. 

Chicago’s case rate decline has plateaued and the city’s average still sits considerably higher than New York and Houston, at an average of 66 new cases per 100,000 people. Cook County, which includes Chicago, reported 375,000 cases and 7,853 deaths as of Dec. 23. How Chicago recovers from its second wave of coronavirus cases will be an important forecast of how other cities that are currently spiking will fare in the coming weeks. 

Vaccine distribution is well underway and at least 1 million people in the U.S. have received the Covid-19 vaccine as of Dec. 23. The Food and Drug Administration granted emergency use authorization to Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine on Dec. 18, the second vaccine approved in the U.S. after Pfizer and BioNTech’s COVID-19 vaccine. However, distribution is uneven with some states receiving a larger supply of vaccines than others (California, Texas, and New York have received some of the largest shipments, while Illinois and Ohio are a little further down the list).

Chicago Facing Greatest Unemployment Spike

The number of initial uninsurance claims is still significantly up year-over-year and continues to trend higher in almost every city in CERT. Chicago and Columbus are the most severely impacted by this factor, with Chicago facing the highest year-over-year claim rate since early May 2020.

Houston is seeing a rosier picture than every other city in CERT, with an increase that is just a quarter of what New York and Los Angeles are facing (the next lowest cities in the index).

Congress reached a long-sought stimulus deal to provide Americans $900 billion in aid on Dec. 20. Though the deal still needs to be signed by President Trump, the package includes $600 one-time stimulus checks as well as $300 per week expanded unemployment benefits.

Restaurant Reservations Decline for Most Cities

Los Angeles’ outdoor dining ban continues to keep the city’s restaurant index at zero, revisiting a reality last seen in spring when coronavirus first hit the U.S. and reservations were effectively nonexistent. New York will likely follow in Los Angeles’s footsteps next week as the data reflects that used for Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s ban on indoor dining in the city. 

In Houston and Columbus, restaurant reservations are declining — though less dramatically. Meanwhile, restaurant reservations are stagnant in Chicago. The industry seems to be on edge with colder winter weather, a resurgence in COVID-19 cases, and uncertainty regarding whether President Trump will sign the stimulus plan.

Transit Numbers Decline

Transit numbers are beginning to show a continued trend of a slow decline week-over-week, with each of the five cities facing two consecutive weeks of decline or stasis. Houston and Columbus are doing slightly better than Los Angeles and New York, which are doing a bit better than Chicago. However, all cities are only about halfway to recovery, with readings of between 50 and 65 on an index of 100 to normal transit behavior.

The federal government does plan to help struggling cities with their transit systems. The potential stimulus package has set aside $14 billion for struggling transit agencies, $2 billion for the private motorcoach, school bus, and ferry industries, and $1 billion for Amtrak.

Small Businesses Remain Bright Spot, Though Seeing Small Decline

The small business index remains the best-performing index for each of the five cities, though the numbers took a slight dip from last week’s highs. Los Angeles and Chicago saw the largest decreases of five and four points, respectively. Meanwhile, Houston continues to outperform every city with an index value of 90, which is 16 points higher than the second-best performing city of Los Angeles.

As part of the potential stimulus deal, the federal government plans to distribute $300 billion for small businesses through the Paycheck Protection Program and Economic Injury Disaster Loan program.

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

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