The COVID-19 pandemic hit the Bronx harder than any other borough by several measures, according to an economic analysis released earlier this week by New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli.
On June 8, DiNapoli was joined by elected officials as he held a press conference at the Gun Hill Brewing Company where he discussed the report on the economic state of the Bronx.
DiNapoli explained that prior to the pandemic; the Bronx was on an upward trajectory, with steady economic and population growth after years of economic decline. The coronavirus, however, has stalled progress in the borough that is home to one-fifth of New Yorkers and has threatened to reverse the gains it has made in recent years.
“More than a year of sustained damage caused by the COVID-19 pandemic has taken a toll on the Bronx, throwing it off its pre-pandemic course,” DiNapoli said. “The borough has proven its resilience before, with its recent long period of renewal aided by government efforts to provide basic services and boost economic activity and quality of life in the borough. The road to recovery will take time, and it is crucial that the state and city ensure that the Bronx receives its fair share of assistance to address the serious damage it has sustained.”
Over the past 20 years, the Bronx grew faster than any other borough, driven in large part by immigration. From 2000 through 2017, the Bronx’s population increased by 10.4 percent to 1.47 million residents.
The borough experienced steady employment and new business growth from 2009 through 2019. Employment grew by 20 percent and reached 249,000 jobs in 2019. Although it trailed the citywide growth rate of 29.9 percent, it was the only borough to show no decline in employment during the Great Recession.
But COVID-19 changed everything.
The sudden and dramatic closure of businesses across New York City hit the leisure and hospitality sector the hardest. In the Bronx, it meant the loss of 9,600 jobs — a 45.6 percent drop — in that sector by the summer of 2020.
The borough also had the highest unemployment rate throughout the pandemic. Unemployment averaged 5.4 percent in the first three months of 2020, then shot up to a peak of 24.6 percent in May 2020, before gradually declining to 15 percent in April.
Lastly, pre-existing conditions, such as poverty, unemployment, crowded housing, underlying health conditions and access to health care services put individuals and communities, at higher risk of contracting COVID-19.
Through it all the borough survived and people will persevere, DiNapoli stressed.
“I think history shows us you do not bet against the Bronx,” he exclaimed. “This borough has made great strides in improving its quality of life. Despite these challenges, I believe there is hope. The Bronx will weather the storm.”
DiNapoli urged city and state leaders to prioritize a recovery in the Bronx by addressing its needs including:
- Continued aggressive borough-wide vaccination efforts.
- Sustained outreach for resources such as food distribution and rent relief.
- Targeted programs aimed at helping those most affected by COVID-19.
- Close tracking of relief dollars to ensure that the Bronx receives its fair share that corresponds to the serious damage it has sustained.
- Continued investment to aid recovery.
Among the officials at the press conference were Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr., Congressman Jamaal Bowman and Councilman Kevin Riley.
Diaz stressed how the Bronx has come a long way from the fires in the 70s and 80s. Today, it has broken ground on the hip-hop museum, has plans to renovate Orchard Beach, continues to construct affordable housing and is a borough filled with hard working people.
The BP noted if people want to develop in the Bronx they must work with the Bronx. Even with all of the death and sickness during the pandemic, Diaz sees a bright future for the Boogie Down.
“The fact is we were written off many years ago when I came to borough hall,” he said. “We need to make sure we support our hospitality industry, we support businesses like Gun Hill Brewery and so many others. We’ve been through this before and we’ve gotten out of this before.”
Judy Sheridan-Gonzalez, president of the New York State Nurses Association, knows firsthand what it was like to battle the pandemic. She and her colleagues worked countless hours during the height of COVID-19 and witnessed sickness and death that no one should ever be part of.
She told DiNapoli she appreciates the report and its findings, but called it “damning.”
“What this indicates is that in the Bronx we still suffer from the highest rates of asthma, from the highest rates of diabetes, blood pressure and obesity,” she stated.
Sheridan-Gonzalez recalled that during the height of the pandemic the government did not protect nurses and front line workers. People were short on PPE and about 80 percent of her colleagues were sick during the first two months of COVID-19.
Furthermore, she said many have PTSD from the past year.
“What we learned from the pandemic is when one person suffers we all suffer,” she explained. “This report tells us we need more.”
While Congressman Bowman has only been in office since January, he has been fighting for the Bronx for two decades. The former educator and principal saw for many years the health disparities the families face in the borough.
Whether it is living in poverty or being the worst county for health outcomes in the state, things must change, Bowman exclaimed.
”We cannot talk about economic development in the Bronx without talking about health care,” he remarked. “I can tell you the unlimited potential that is in the Bronx lives in our children. It is our job as elected officials to work together and unlock the potential so the Bronx can become a borough that thrives for every single person.”