COVID-19 and Social Distancing: Disparities in Mobility Adaptation by Income

Kentaro Iio, Xiaoyu Guo, Xiaoqiang "Jack" Kong, Kelly Rees, Xiubin Bruce Wang

In response to the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, governments have imposed orders upon or encouraged citizens to decrease physical contact to slow down the spread of the virus. Current literature from the United States infers that only workers from limited socioeconomic groups have the ability to practice remote work. However, there has been little research on mobility disparity across income groups in US cities during the pandemic. The authors tried to fill this gap by quantifying the impacts of the pandemic on human mobility by income group in Houston-The Woodlands-Sugar Land, Texas utilizing pseudonymized cell phone location data. A longitudinal study was performed on mobility as measured by the total travel distance, the radius of gyration, and the number of visited locations in April 2020 compared to the data in January and February 2020. An apparent disparity in mobility has been found across income groups. In particular, there was a strong negative correlation (\r{ho} = -0.90) between the estimated income bracket of a traveler and the travel distance in April. Furthermore, larger percentage drops among higher-income brackets in the radius of gyration and number of visited locations implied different adaptability in mobility. The findings of this study suggest a need to understand the reasons behind the mobility inflexibility among low-income populations during the pandemic.

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