Social distancing and shelter-in-place have thus far been an effective way to flatten the curve during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, it has had far-reaching consequences beyond containing the disease itself.

Georgia Department of Labor announced that over 1.3 million Georgians filed for unemployment in April, which is 6,300 times higher than in April 2019. The greatest number of claims are from the Accommodation and Food Services sector, which accounts for 24 percent of the total unemployment claims in April. According to Neighborhood Nexus’ Weekly Pattern by Industry Dashboard, the number of visitors are declining across sectors, and Accommodation and Food services (NAICS 72), Arts, Entertainment, and Recreation (NAICS 71), and Education services (NAICS 61) are getting the largest relative reduction in visitors.

Increasing unemployment and reduction in the number of visitors on the top of the social distancing measures are curtailing consumer spending, and the economic interruption is hitting those with lower-incomes at an unprecedented speed and scale. To understand the effects, we examined the non-cash spending of adults that are either underbanked or banking in nontraditional ways, such as through so-called challenger banks. These groups typically are in lower income brackets. Our analysis uses SafeGraph transaction data from card use in three categories: small and new banks (challenger banks), payroll cards, and government cards. We then looked at spending patterns to find the industries most affected by the decreased spending of people using these cards, and we also looked specifically at grocery store spending since that has been a popular destination during the shelter-in-place order and after.

Findings and data dashboard

Data in the dashboard show the expenditure of younger, lower-income residents. Total sales data as collected by SafeGraph were divided by population ages 18 years and above for better comparability.

Expenditure trends over time and percent change in visitors from a March 1 baseline:

  • Sales dropped across all categories immediately after the COVID-19 outbreak (March 2) .
  • Expenditures in or on grocery stores, restaurants, public transportation, and car expenses dropped less than those for in-air travel, bars, clothing and shoe stores, and traveler accommodations. Lower-income and younger workers are over-represented in essential occupations, and as such continued to have significant spending on food and mobility needs.
  • Expenditures by City of Atlanta residents dropped the most, possibly due to the city’s aggressive shelter-in-place measures.
  • Expenditure trends and change in commercial visits show very similar patterns, except in the case of grocery stores. While the number of visitors increased just after the COVID-19 outbreak, the amount of grocery spending decreased after that. This is likely due to patterns in stockpiling related to panic buying.

Change in spending behavior:

  • Shares of expenditures for air travel and public transportation differ greatly when comparing the Atlanta MSA to non-Atlanta MSA .
  • The share of lower-income spending at grocery store increased dramatically after COVID-19 outbreak (from March 2 on), while the share of spending in other categories decreased.

To evaluate our findings and develop your own insights, select a category for the expenditure graph and change of visitors graph, respectively. You can then compare trends shown on the two graphs at the State, Metro Atlanta, and City of Atlanta level.

In the following section of the dashboard, use the slider to see the changes in each category’s shares of expenditure over time.

Data source: SafeGraph