Saturday, May 8, 2021

City Without a Pulse

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Atlantic City thrives on the industries the coronavirus hit the hardest — entertainment, tourism, service, hospitality — leaving it particularly vulnerable. It’s also the latest hit against a beleaguered city, which was slammed by Superstorm Sandy eight years ago and teetered on the edge of filing for bankruptcy more recently.

But some residents are weathering the storm easier than others. Employment for middle- and high-wage workers in this county is up roughly 6 percent from January. But for low-wage workers, those making less than $27,000 a year, the employment rate remains down more than 16 percent from the start of the year, according to Harvard’s Opportunity Insights economic tracker.

“It’s just about surviving,” Rodriguez said. “And hopefully not being worse off on the other side of this.”

It’s a modest goal, but potentially a lofty one: The risk of permanent economic scarring is severe, and the likelihood of some lasting effects increases further the longer the pandemic lasts and the need for restrictions on indoor dining and other activities remains acute. A business that could lean on its savings and some summer tourism dollars to get by until now, for example, might not be able to make it through the cold winter months the same way.

“Atlantic City is going to lose the little charm and hospitality that we have left,” John Exadaktilos, owner of Ducktown Tavern, told a local reporter recently, after Murphy ordered restaurants and casinos to close indoor dining at 10 p.m. each night. “What are we doing?”

Still, others remain more optimistic, framing the city’s storied and difficult history as a strength rather than a weakness. Marty Small, the Atlantic City mayor, acknowledged both the frustration among business owners over the restrictions and the real pain residents have been feeling. But when it comes to people writing off the city, he said, “this isn’t our first rodeo.”

“Our people are resilient. We’re the ultimate comeback story,” Small said. “As I tell everybody, please be patient with the city of Atlantic City. God isn’t through with us yet.”

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