An event like a pandemic triggers a chain reaction. Like one domino setting the others in motion, COVID-19 is shaping a different future. The links in the chain represent multiple domains, and the reaction spans them all. Our challenge is to understand the Implications of these reactions and the way the World may Respond. I looked at this implication/response Framework in the early days of the pandemic. Now, we see signals that may provide more clarity as to possible paths. One domain where signals are emerging is work.
Remote work was introduced early in the pandemic, representing one link in the chain. It is reacting with an urbanization link, which is described in this recent Article. Per the article, as many as 23 million Americans plan to relocate to a new city as working from home becomes more popular. That represents more than 11% of households surveyed by Upwork Inc. This implies that U.S. migration rates will be three to four times higher than normal. Another link in the chain is housing. With the risks of transmitting the disease in crowded places, the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas found there is less demand for housing in or near dense cities. Indeed, the housing market has surged, as more Americans seek homes in smaller and cheaper locations. The implications are broad, rippling across labor and housing markets.
Prior to the pandemic, urbanization had been projected to increase considerably over the next two decades. What does fear of dense places do to these projections? What happens if a pandemic exodus continues post-pandemic? This Article explores an existing widespread perception that the greatest vulnerability to the virus resides where the largest number of people live and work. The author states that this gives rise to theories about the fate of megacities after the current pandemic has passed. These theories have merit, given that there is growing evidence to support them. For example, the article points to the fact that people with the ability to leave have already done so. According to Postal Service data published in the Hartford Courant, 16,306 New Yorkers moved their residence to Connecticut between March and June.
The history of cities indicate they may indeed bounce back. However, with 40% of jobs conducive to remote work, this era may be different. Going back to emerging chain reactions, the article mentions the pandemic-related hit to local city finances and possible cuts to services. Another link in the chain is prosperity. Studies show a near perfect correlation between cities and prosperity, with each 10% increase in urbanization boosting per-capita income by three times that amount. Does urban flight limit our ability to prosper?
The chain reactions explored here involve work, housing, cities, and government. With extreme events projected to increase in frequency, following the links in the chain and the dominos that tip become even more critical.