The Pandemic Sent Young New Yorkers Packing. Will They Return?

Although the coronavirus’s hold has begun to ease, it may be too late to reverse one of the most worrisome imprints it has left on New York City.

Young people who came to the city from elsewhere in their 20s and 30s to pursue their dreams have packed up and left in waves.

Many of them are unemployed, were furloughed or have taken big pay cuts. More than two out of every five unemployment claims filed in New York State since late March were submitted by workers under 35. Their places of work — from the service industry to Broadway — have gone out of business or shut down indefinitely.

Moving trucks have dotted blocks all over the city, especially in Lower Manhattan, an area with many younger residents. Lines of people waiting to place moving boxes on elevators have formed at apartment buildings.

One younger resident of the city, Carlos Arana, 29, has returned to his parents’ home near Austin, Texas. In early March, after traveling to Peru for a family wedding, Mr. Arana returned to Texas instead of to New York, where he ran a virtual assistant business.

A friend took over his Manhattan lease and sent him his clothes in about eight suitcases that cost $800 to ship via FedEx. He sold all his furnishings.

Mr. Arana’s company has thrived during the pandemic, and he has learned that he can run it just as well from Texas as he did in New York City.

“I’m kind of enjoying the nimbleness of not having any expenses for the first time in my life,” Mr. Arana said. “I’ll be in a very good position to go wherever I want.”

There are no exact numbers on how many young people have left the city. Still, if many people like Mr. Arana choose not to come back, the impact would be significant.

Since then, the couple, both 26, have returned to their 550-square-foot apartment in Manhattan’s West Village twice, once to get more clothing and then a final time in late April with a U-Haul to empty out their home of five years and cut short their lease.

They loved their studio apartment, but it was less appealing when they were suddenly confined to it full time in early March after their employers closed their offices. At home, they could not be on work calls at the same time.

Now, they are working remotely from Ms. Montano’s parent’s home in the Berkshires, with their apartment furnishings piled up in the garage. They hope to return to New York, but they aren’t sure when.

“It’s a sad situation right now because all the things that we love about New York, we just can’t do them,” said Ms. Montano, a digital marketing manager. “Most of our friends have also left.”

Of course, many young people have not left New York, either by choice or circumstance, or plan to come back. Others will continue to move to the city.

Before the virus emerged, Wyatt Hnatiw, who works at a tech company in San Francisco, had set his sights on New York, wanting to live in a more culturally diverse city that is not dominated by one industry, as Silicon Valley and the Bay Area area.

Mr. Hnatiw, 28, said that he still wanted to move, but that he was figuring out the best way to do it to keep himself and others safe.

“I want to experience a city that has that culture of more things going on and more people than just tech people,” he said.

New York City has long had an almost Oz-like appeal for young people willing to put up with its high cost of living, from immigrants hoping to climb the economic ladder to aspiring actors toiling in bars while going on audition after audition hoping for their big break.

It is a place that so many people want to be because of its status as a global center of industries like advertising, banking, creative arts, finance and media.

But the virus crisis has shifted the nature of work and the notion of office space with lightning speed. Companies are redesigning offices to allow more space between employees and embracing work-from-home arrangements.

Two companies that have invested heavily in New York City, Facebook and Twitter, have already decided that some employees can work remotely for the foreseeable future.

If more companies embrace such policies, staying in the city would become harder to justify, some young people said. They put up with the challenges — exorbitant rents for tiny living spaces is a chief one — because of what New York offers: world-class restaurants, acclaimed Broadway shows, renowned cultural institutions and bountiful parks.

But much of that is now closed, and it is unclear what those venues will look like when they reopen.

Megan Taylor, a marketing manager, set her sights on moving to New York after graduating from the University of Florida. In 2015, she accepted a job in the Tampa, Fla., offices of Rakuten Advertising, which has its North America headquarters in New York.

After about two years in Florida, she transferred to the New York office, where she works with retail companies.

Her office shut down in March, and Ms. Taylor, 30, tried to work out of the East Village apartment that she shares with two friends, paying $2,300 a month in rent. She said she quickly realized it made no sense to pay so much and be stuck mostly indoors.

On April 18, she moved in with her parents in Stuart, Fla., where she works on the outdoor patio some days. She is returning to New York in June to move her belongings into a storage unit, which she plans to keep in anticipation of an eventual return to the city.

She has also updated her paycheck withholding to indicate that she now lives in Florida, which does not have a state income tax.

“I’m saving all my New York State and Manhattan taxes,” she said. “It’s the only time as a young New Yorker that I could save a decent chunk of my money.”

In just two months, New York City businesses that tend to hire young workers have shed hundreds of thousands of jobs. Restaurants, including some that made New York a culinary destination, have shuttered. Museums are closed. Broadway may not reopen until 2021.

From March to April, arts and entertainment businesses in New York City laid off 67,200 people — 78 percent of its work force, according the city comptroller. Only dine-in restaurants, which can start providing outdoor dining on Monday, let go of more employees: 119,000.

Jesse Elgene, 25, had been trying since last July to break into New York’s theater scene.

He took improv comedy classes at the Upright Citizens Brigade Training Center and sold tickets at TodayTix, a Broadway ticketing company. Now the training center has permanently closed and there are no tickets to sell.

On March 13, he bought a Greyhound ticket, packed up his Brooklyn apartment and hopped on a bus with a duffel bag for Virginia. He is living with his girlfriend in her apartment in Newport News outside Norfolk, Va.

“That theater was such a huge part of what I loved about New York,” Mr. Elgene said. “Now, I’m so open-ended. I’m wondering about Atlanta or Los Angeles.”

Nancy Coleman contributed reporting.

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