Pearl River There’s no consensus among the middle class and professionals. Do they like working remotely from home or are they suffering from cabin fever? One story after another in the media argues different sides of the case. On the one hand there are suggestions of movies, live streamed shows, YouTube presentations, books, and so on for those desperate for diversion. On the other hand, we have an equal number of tales of adaptation either at home or fleeing to parents’ homes, second homes, or the countryside.
The one area of total agreement is the shock and surprise when some of them are furloughed or completely laid off. There is clarity across the country that many of them never thought that was a possibility and aren’t the least bit happy about it, which might mean they could become, once the pandemic passes, much more receptive to a real safety net along with sturdy and dependable unemployment insurance. Ok, I’ll admit it, you caught me looking for a silver lining in the clouds.
I read with great interest a piece that speculated on whether or not there would be a more dramatic and permanent move from the US mega-cities like New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles to more accommodating locations in smaller, more affordable cities and even, can you believe it, the drastically depopulating rural areas of the country. A young woman who, pre-pandemic traveled constantly for her job and paid close to $2000 a month in rent in New York City, and now working remotely from Pittsburgh, her hometown, and in her parents’ home, was questioning why New York made sense. Another older couple in NYC shocked to be home-bound and furloughed was glad they had not signed a two-year lease and were wondering if Nashville, or just about anywhere else, might be not only more affordable, but safer. The big three were losing population already in recent years and even the second tier like Houston and Washington were not growing as rapidly as they had been. Tulsa, Oklahoma was offering $10,000 for remote workers willing to relocate to their city, and, darned, if some people weren’t taking them up on it.
None of this surprises me. I’ve often argued that people work less in cities like New York, Washington, Los Angeles and the like because travel and the burdens of daily life and affordability make life and getting to and from work so hard, making almost anywhere else more productive. Without a real plan that deals with workers and even the middle and professional class, the post-pandemic could make major cities even more the playgrounds of the rich and the service-based coal mines of the poor.
Once people realize that another world is possible, it will be interesting to see how they act on newfound choices, if they are among the few, when this is over, who have the luxury of being able to have a choice.