Michael Kempner
Michael Kempner

The COVID-19 pandemic has taken an immense toll on New York City. As we continue to battle the spread of the virus and safeguard public health, we face another looming crisis: the worst economic conditions in New York since the 1970s.

The numbers paint a grim picture: According to the Center for New York City Affairs, one-third of our workforce is unemployed. While many high-paying industries have been spared, the economic impact of the virus has devastated low-income residents and put small businesses in greater jeopardy than ever before.

We need to face the facts: New York faces economic devastation without immediate help from the federal government and smart, forward-thinking policies at the state and local level. We need relief now before it’s too late, and we need to plan today for the future to save our city. In the absence of action from the federal government, we must all unite to support our local businesses and enact necessary policies at the state and local level.

Our economy is heavily dependent on tourism, retail, restaurants and hospitality, and other sectors that thrive on in-person interaction. As a result of public health measures taken to curb the spread of the pandemic, many of these sectors have not recovered from the initial March shutdown. Unfortunately, indoor dining in New York has been forced to close again in mid-December. Our job losses are twice the national average—losses that disproportionately hurt low-income workers trying to make ends meet.

Across the board, it’s a troubling story. According to the Center for New York City Affairs, small business revenue is still down more than 40 percent from February—worse than most major metro areas in the United States. Total jobs in New York are down 12 percent compared to February, more than the national average of five percent. According to the National Restaurant Association, one in six restaurants nationwide has already closed, and more will surely follow without immediate relief.

There are several ways to put our economy back on the right track. First, and most importantly, the federal government must redouble its efforts to provide direct support to families, workers and businesses alike. The federal aid enacted in the spring was a good start, but most of these programs have run out, and businesses will not make it through the winter without more aid. Expanded unemployment, direct cash assistance, state and local assistance, and another round of aid to small businesses will greatly improve our economic outlook. But many businesses may not survive long enough to see that aid become a reality.

However, looking further down the line, we must immediately begin to plan concrete actions—in addition to federal aid—to build a resilient economy in New York and catalyze our own economic recovery. That means analyzing the magnitude of job losses and business closures across sectors and using this data to inform policy from unemployment insurance and small business aid to tax and budget issues.

Crucially, we must invest in workforce training, health and safety policies, and other forward-thinking tools to build a stronger economy that is better prepared to weather future disruption.

The lopsided economic impacts of the pandemic—which disproportionally impact lower-income workers—also require a commitment from large corporations and wealthy individuals to help share the burden and provide economic support for those in need. Supporting our local small businesses has never been more important, especially as many face a challenging winter.

We cannot wait any longer. Federal, state and local authorities must act immediately to save the city’s economy. We must all work hard to rebuild an inclusive, resilient New York to climb our way out of the COVID-19 pandemic. Now is the time to act.


Michael W. Kempner is founder & CEO, MWWPR and chairman, Manhattan Chamber of Commerce.