COVID-19

The U.S.- Canada border’s been closed for four months, and nearby towns are suffering

Erika Beras Jul 20, 2020
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A "Closed" sign in the town of Niagara Falls, Canada. The coronavirus pandemic has hit tourist attractions hard economically. Emma McIntyre/Getty Images
COVID-19

The U.S.- Canada border’s been closed for four months, and nearby towns are suffering

Erika Beras Jul 20, 2020
Heard on:
A "Closed" sign in the town of Niagara Falls, Canada. The coronavirus pandemic has hit tourist attractions hard economically. Emma McIntyre/Getty Images
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On Friday, the U.S. and Canadian governments agreed to keep the border between the two countries closed to all nonessential traffic for another 30 days, at least. The border’s been closed since March, and it’s hit the economies of border towns hard.

One example has been Niagara Falls. Summer at Niagara Falls is usually pretty lively. Restaurants? Full. The bridges that link the U.S. and Canada? Packed.

But this year, “all you’re seeing right now is peak season, and you’re probably seeing about 10% of what you’d normally see,” said Gordon Stephens, who runs a Niagara Falls travel website and books boat rides and tours.

Stephen said his business is down by 95% this year. Last year, 46,000 busloads of Canadians crossed bridges into western New York. Since March? Not one.

“That means restaurants and casinos and tourist attractions are … obviously losing millions of dollars in revenue,” said Kathryn Friedman, a fellow at the Canada Institute who lives in Buffalo, New York.

Annually, 20 million Canadians visit the United States. On average, they spend almost $1,000 here, at baseball games and rock concerts, outlet malls and big-box stores.

And, they come to pick up things they’ve purchased online. A lot of small border towns in Washington state depend on that, said Laurie Trautman, who runs the Border Policy Research Institute at Western Washington University.

“These towns have built up industries around Canadians, right? I mean those industries wouldn’t exist — particularly the online mail order, P.O. box industry — if we didn’t have so many Canadians coming down,” she said.

The absence of Canadians is hurting a lot of industries along the border, said Christopher Sands, who runs the Center for Canadian Studies at Johns Hopkins University.

“They provide the restaurant revenue, maybe there are people buying gas that contributes to a local gas tax,” he said. With those consumers gone, it affects state and local governments that rely on those taxes.

COVID-19 Economy FAQs

Millions of Americans are unemployed, but businesses say they are having trouble hiring. Why?

This economic crisis is unusual compared to traditional recessions, according to Daniel Zhao, senior economist with Glassdoor. “Many workers are still sitting out of the labor force because of health concerns or child care needs, and that makes it tough to find workers regardless of what you’re doing with wages or benefits,” Zhao said. “An extra dollar an hour isn’t going to make a cashier with preexisting conditions feel that it’s safe to return to work.” This can be seen in the restaurant industry: Some workers have quit or are reluctant to apply because of COVID-19 concerns, low pay, meager benefits and the stress that comes with a fast-paced, demanding job. Restaurants have been willing to offer signing bonuses and temporary wage increases. One McDonald’s is even paying people $50 just to interview.

Could waiving patents increase the global supply of COVID-19 vaccines?

India and South Africa have introduced a proposal to temporarily suspend patents on COVID-19 vaccines. Backers of the plan say it would increase the supply of vaccines around the world by allowing more countries to produce them. Skeptics say it’s not that simple. There’s now enough supply in the U.S that any adult who wants a shot should be able to get one soon. That reality is years away for most other countries. More than 100 countries have backed the proposal to temporarily waive COVID-19 vaccine patents. The U.S isn’t one of them, but the White House has said it’s considering the idea.

Can businesses deny you entry if you don’t have a vaccine passport?

As more Americans get vaccinated against COVID-19 and the economy begins reopening, some businesses are requiring proof of vaccination to enter their premises. The concept of a vaccine passport has raised ethical questions about data privacy and potential discrimination against the unvaccinated. However, legal experts say businesses have the right to deny entrance to those who can’t show proof.

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