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New York’s mass exodus

In 1981 Kurt Russell starred in the dystopian flick “Escape From New York.” In the film, Russell had to rescue America’s president, who had been stranded by a plane crash, from America’s largest city, which had been deemed a lost cause and converted into a maximum-security prison ruled by Darwinian forces. Sound familiar?

Many contemporary residents have escaped from New York as COVID-19 has engulfed Gotham City, forcing officials to demand that citizens become quasi-prisoners in their own homes.

The New York Times reported recently that 5 percent of city residents, or roughly 420,000 people, fled the Big Apple between March 1 and May 1, based on an analysis of smartphone location data by Descartes Labs. The exodus primarily occurred in New York’s wealthiest neighborhoods, the Times noted. In fact, according to the Times, “In the city’s very wealthiest blocks, in neighborhoods like the Upper East Side, the West Village, SoHo and Brooklyn Heights, the residential population decreased by 40 percent or more.”

The Times lamented that there was a “strong simple predictor” of this drive to flee the epicenter of the Covid-19 outbreak, which primarily exhibited the behavior of college-educated whites: “The higher-earning a neighborhood is, the more likely it is to have emptied out.”

So where did these well-heeled New Yorkers go? Many didn’t go far, fleeing to summer homes in The Hamptons, upstate to the mountains, or to nearby New Jersey or Connecticut.

Thousands of others, however, traveled far and wide. As the Times reported in a follow-up piece, South Florida was the most popular destination outside the immediate metro area, while others opted to hole up in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Washington D.C., Atlanta, Boston and Philadelphia.

Considering how Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio, both Democrats, bungled the response to the rising tide of death and illness in New York, common sense would dictate that those with the means to flee to areas that managed the crisis better would do so. Yet some did not see it that way.

Late in March, with the flight well underway, New York podcaster Nathan Thornburgh suggested in the pages of The Atlantic that those who left were being selfish. “You are nakedly prioritizing your comfort and peace of mind over the physical health of others,” he wrote.

Undoubtedly, some of those in the communities where New Yorkers turned up may not be all that thrilled by the new arrivals. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, for instance, was calling for a shutdown of flights from New York to the Sunshine State, and deployed state troopers at the state line to check for ill newcomers.   

Still, some are asking if these moves will be permanent, something Cuomo and de Blasio cannot afford.

Last year Cuomo, who has proven a master at diverting attention from his own failures, blamed President Donald Trump’s 2017 tax reform package for driving New Yorkers out. The law capped the federal income tax deduction for those who pay state and local income taxes. 

The truth, however, is that New Yorkers began leaving before the law took effect. New York state led the nation in yearly population decline in 2019, and since 2010, when Cuomo was first elected governor, 1.4 million people now call themselves former New Yorkers, which in absolute numbers is the largest outflow of a population of any state, according to the Empire Center for Public Policy.

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