Is staying home during the pandemic a luxury? Here’s what Pittsburgh-area data shows.

An analysis shows that residents in the region’s lowest-income areas are moving around seven times more than residents in the highest-income areas.

by Juliette Rihl

For weeks, the public health advice has been clear: stay home if you can. Yet doing so may be easier for some people than others.

In December 2019, people in the highest-income areas in the Pittsburgh region traveled about 2.7 times farther than people in the lowest-income areas. During the pandemic, the behavior trends are reversed. While both high-income and low-income people are moving around far less than usual, cellphone tracking data from the marketing intelligence company Cuebiq shows that during the pandemic, people in the lowest-income areas are traveling about seven times more than people in the highest-income areas in the Pittsburgh region.

According to the data, the first day people in lower-income areas traveled more was March 17, the day Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf called on all non-essential businesses in the state to close.

According to the New York Times, which analyzed Cuebiq data for metro areas across the country, the discrepancy between income levels in Pittsburgh is consistent with findings from other cities, including New York City and Boston. The data doesn’t capture all cellphone users, and it only shows the difference in movement between people in areas of differing income levels. It also doesn’t explain why residents were traveling. But amid social distancing, many experts and community leaders believe it may be because residents in low-income areas are traveling for food, to assist family and to get to jobs that can’t be done remotely.

“You can’t mop floors through Zoom or stock shelves on the internet,” wrote Pierce Robinson in an email to PublicSource. Robinson, who also works as the community affairs officer at the Urban Redevelopment Authority, was sharing his personal views about the inequities of social distancing.

A sign along McKnight Road in the North Hills reminds people to practice social distancing to limit the spread of the coronavirus. (Photo by Kimberly Rowen/PublicSource)

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Is staying home during the pandemic a luxury? Here’s what Pittsburgh-area data shows.

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