Clearing the Air, Unequally: Disparities in the Long-Term Air Quality Impacts of COVID-19 Lockdowns in the U.S.


In 2020, the U.S. experienced unintended, temporary air quality improvements due to COVID-19 lockdowns. Two years since, do we see lasting effects, especially for non-white neighborhoods? We answer this question using a two-stage difference-in-differences design, which accounts for the staggered implementation of lockdowns. We find that by 2022, although some improvements in air quality have reverted, as expected. What’s unexpected is that there were places where air quality improvements persisted even without the lockdowns. However, this long-term effect was not the same everywhere – we find evidence of higher PM2.5 and AOD exposure for the non-white relative to white communities. While pollution increased in high traffic density and urban areas, there were no discernible differences in outcomes for minority tracts. The only exception was minority tracts near industrial pollution sources, where PM2.5 exposure levels rose. To advance environmental justice initiatives effectively, we must understand the evolving dynamics of air quality disparities and prioritize targeted interventions that address the unique challenges faced by these communities.

Ancilla Marie Inocencio
Ancilla Marie Inocencio
Ph.D. candidate in Economics

Hi, I’m Chila! Economics Ph.D. candidate at Binghamton University (SUNY) with a heart for social and environmental justice. Leveraging experiences from the Asian Development Bank and the Philippine government, I bring a blend of academic rigor and practical insights.