Mobility Patterns and Income Distribution in Times of Crisis: U.S. Urban Centers During the COVID-19 Pandemic
13 Pages Posted: 10 Apr 2020
Date Written: April 9, 2020
If a policy aimed at containing an epidemic relies on lockdown, then the ability of people to comply with the lockdown will affect how effectively the disease is contained. This paper presents widespread evidence that, during the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States, the decline in human mobility during lockdown happened at different speeds for high vs. low income groups within most cities. We call this phenomenon the mobility gap, and find strong evidence of it throughout urban centers all over the country. We hypothesize that income is a proxy for differences in labor market flexibility across high and low paying jobs, which affects compliance with a lockdown policy to contain a disease. In particular, we argue that lockdown imposes low income groups with a stringent choice between health and income that can have devastating short- and long-term effects on household finances. The evidence we present here is consistent with this hypothesis for urban areas. We conclude with a discussion about future research to understand better the interplay between income differences and epidemiological containment policies based on mobility reduction.
Keywords: human mobility, income distribution, COVID19, crisis, pandemic, lockdown, income inequality
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