New York. When Laila Said left her apartment in New York in mid-March, she only had one suitcase with her. “I thought I’d be gone for a week or so,” she says. The employee of a travel company had to switch to home office due to the corona pandemic. The small room in her shared flat in Brooklyn was out of the question, and her mother’s well-organized household in Southern California was more likely. So Said left the crisis metropolis – without realizing that it would not come back.
The story of the 31-year-old has been repeated hundreds of thousands of times in the past few months. At first, the wealthy fled in droves from the Upper East Side, Upper West Side or Soho to their summer homes. Then those who either lost their jobs or opened their virtual offices like Said in other places left. At times there was a moving van on every street corner.
Manhattan is as empty as it has been in decades
If you walk through Manhattan these days, it is strikingly lifeless in the center of western capitalism. In Midtown and Downtown, the office towers are on standby, without the tourists in Times Square, the Empire State Building or the Statue of Liberty, New York is as empty these days as it has probably not been in decades.
In the case of Laila Said, too, it became clear that her office in New York would remain closed for the time being. So her roommate cleared her room for her, sold the furniture, packed clothes and documents in several suitcases and sent them by post from the Atlantic to the Pacific. Coming back is not an option for Said: “That would mean that I would have to commit to a lease or rent again, and there is great uncertainty about what the future holds for everyone professionally and therefore financially.”
Vacant apartments and high unemployment
American turbo-capitalism, which likes to travel without seatbelts, was slowed down by the coronavirus unprecedented – in New York state around 1.4 million jobs were lost in June compared to the same month last year, in New York City the unemployment rate rose from 3.9 an incredible 20.4 percent. There is great concern that the economy will not recover at record speed.
Many of the jobs that have been lost so far are in the service industry and in small companies, a large number of which are unlikely to survive the crisis. But the massive effects can also be seen in Manhattan’s business districts. The top prices there need top earners: Quite a few Manhattan people put half of their salary in their apartment – for two-room apartments that is already 5000 dollars.
According to analysts at the real estate company Douglas Elliman, the number of vacant apartments in June was the highest it has been in 14 years. Now prices are falling and landlords are tempting with free months. A study by the Partnership for New York organization suggests that many office workers have no reason to be in the city. There are indications that “about ten percent of the workforce will be back in Manhattan offices this summer and only about 40 percent by the end of the year,” it says.
Home office more popular than ever
And the question should also be how deep the cut is in the pulsating New York business life with fancy business lunches and after-work drinks in full bars. Some employers just seem to notice how well (and cost-saving) decentralized work can work. An architect shut down his office forever in Brooklyn’s chic Dumbo neighborhood. One of his employees says the agency is more productive than ever.
The United Nations high-rise on the East River has also been almost completely deserted for months, and many of the employees have flown to their home countries. The work of the world organization is still “in full swing,” as a spokesman says. The UN does not seem to be in any rush to bring their complex of buildings back to life.
“I personally love to work remotely,” says Laila Said. Your team worked much more creatively than in normal everyday work and proved that the home office, which is otherwise so unpopular with American employers, can work.
“I think the view has changed on both sides,” believes Said, who has found new freedoms in the restrictions and uncertainties of the pandemic. A few days ago, her employer reopened his New York office, you only have to come if you want. But Said doesn’t plan to come back: “I’m more likely to find a city that fits my lifestyle better”. In Los Angeles, for example, she could afford a lot more for her salary.