Updated Scatterplots Highlight Link Between Income and COVID-19 Rates in North American Cities

Over the past few weeks, lab members Camille Clement and Clara Kaufmann gathered data and created scatterplots comparing household income and rates of COVID-19 cases for a large number of cities across Canada and the United States, including Toronto, Chicago, Detroit, Phoenix, Houston, Philadelphia, Miami, San Antonio, and San Jose. 

Similar to the results displayed in our previous post, we found a persistent pattern of higher rates of COVID-19 cases in low-income neighbourhoods across the majority of cities we examined.

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Within Canada, we added Toronto at the neighbourhood level. As with other cities, the overall pattern is a negative relationship between rate of COVID-19 cases per 100,000 inhabitants and median household income. Neighbourhoods with the highest rates of COVID-19 cases include Humber Heights-Westmount at 1,622 cases per 100,000 inhabitants and Weston at 1,354 cases per 100,000 inhabitants. The neighbourhood with the lowest rate of COVID-19 cases is The Beaches at 60 cases per 100,000 inhabitants (see full Toronto data here).

Median income: Statistics Canada, 2016 Census | COVID-19 data: City of Toronto, Accessed June 17, 2020

Detroit stands out as the only city with a trendline displaying a positive relationship between median income and rate of COVID-19 cases per 100,000 inhabitants. Detroit has a smaller area (138 square miles) than most of the cities we explored. It is possible that Detroit’s small urban area leads to less variation in income between zip-codes.

Detroit’s lack of high income zip-codes may also account for its unique pattern. We see that, in other cities, the rate of COVID-19 cases starts dropping after the median income reaches $100,000. Detroit’s highest median income by zip-code is $41,297, and Detroit as a whole is one of the most economically deprived cities in the United States. Detroit’s median income is $29,481 compared to $61,937 for the entirety of the U.S (U.S. Census Bureau, 2018). The social gradient of health may be less visible in Detroit because the city as a whole has lower income, such that there is overall less income inequality between neighbourhoods.

COVID-19 data: Detroit Health Department, Accessed June 18, 2020

These scatterplots are the first step in an ongoing project exploring the spatial variation and social determinants of  COVID-19 impact in North American cities. Many factors may influence COVID-19 rates. For example, Humber Heights-Westmount, one of the Toronto neighbourhoods with the highest rate of COVID-19 cases, has average income but a higher-than-average proportion of its population is seniors.

Next steps include exploring other social determinants of health, such as race, gender, age, and occupation. We are also interested in examining physical characteristics of hard hit neighbourhoods, such as population density, urban density, number of parks, size of sidewalk, and more.


Data Sources

Toronto – Median income: Statistics Canada, 2016 Census | COVID-19 data: City of Toronto, Accessed June 17, 2020

Detroit – COVID-19 data: Detroit Health Department, Accessed June 18, 2020

Chicago – COVID-19 data: Illinois Department of Public Health, Accessed June 18, 2020

Phoenix – COVID-19 data: Arizona Department of Health Services, Accessed June 18, 2020

Houston – COVID-19 data: Harris County Public Health, Accessed June 21, 2020

Philadelphia – COVID-19 data: City of Philadelphia, Accessed June 22, 2020

Miami – COVID-19 data: Florida Department of Health, Accessed June 22, 2020

San Antonio – COVID-19 data: City of San Antonio, Accessed June 18, 2020

San Jose – COVID-19 data: County of Santa Clara Public Health, Accessed June 18, 2020

All income statistics for U.S. cities are the most current, comparable income statistics available from the U.S. Census Bureau and are collected from the American Community Survey 2018 5-year estimates.