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Upstate New York lags in pandemic economic recovery

Rob Brewer

When the pandemic started, unemployment in the Syracuse area skyrocketed by over 17%. Now, nearly two years later, the local job shortfall is still at roughly 8%. That’s the fourth-worst recovery in the country behind places like Buffalo and New York City according to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.

“So we're recovering, but not as quickly as the United States as a whole,” said SUNY Oswego economics professor Liz Schmitt.

She said it’s been more difficult for New York’s economy to recover since it was hit so hard so early on in the pandemic.

“So part of the reason is we dug ourselves a bigger hole,” she said. “So when you climb out of the hole, even if you're climbing at the same rate, you're in a deeper hole. So you're not going to be where the rest of the nation is.”

She added that the tight restrictions New York officials put on gatherings didn’t help either.

“We've exerted a lot more constraint on economic activity on gatherings, restaurants, etc. than other states, and that's going to have an impact as well,” said Schmitt.

And there are a few other reasons like the lack of international travel throughout the state while the border remained closed.

“The Canadian border closure hurts kind of trade and economic activity in upstate New York,” she said.

Education and healthcare make up a good portion of the upstate, specifically Syracuse, economy. So any departure in those industries is harmful to local economic recovery according to Schmitt.

“We've had a lot of departures of teachers and healthcare workers,” she said. “And that's a larger share of employment in upstate New York.”

Other smaller metro areas in upstate New York like Ithaca and Utica are also still struggling to recover with Ithaca only recovering so far by roughly .3%.

That’s not to say there hasn’t been recovery. Upstate New York, and the nation, is in a much better economic position than it was in 2020. However, with a combination of continued worker shortages, supply chain issues, and another surge in the virus–it’s unclear what the path forward looks like for Syracuse’s economy.

Madison Ruffo received a Master’s Degree from the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism, where she specialized in audio and health/science reporting. Madison has extensively covered the environment, local politics, public health, and business. When she’s not reporting, you can find Madison reading, hiking, and spending time with her family and friends.