New ‘must read’ report documents the impact of COVID-19 on low income households in NC

Dr. Jim Johnson Jr.

It’s well known that the COVID-19 pandemic has wreaked havoc on communities across the globe, but as a new report from the North Carolina Community Action Association documents, that havoc has been especially destructive in low income communities in North Carolina.

The report, which includes the voices of many directly impacted by the disaster, is entitled “Assessing the Impact of COVID-19 on Low-Income Households and Communities in North Carolina,” and it was actually prepared by a team of experts led by the acclaimed demographer, Dr. Jim Johnson (pictured at left) — the Distinguished Professor of Strategy and Entrepreneurship and Director of the Urban Investment Strategies Center at the UNC Kenan-Flagler School at UNC Chapel Hill.

This is from the executive summary:

The North Carolina Community Action Association (NCCAA) commissioned a study to assess the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on its efforts to combat poverty and facilitate self-sufficiency in low-income communities throughout the state. We conducted focus groups with individuals served by Community Action Agencies (CAAs) and conducted a corresponding set of key informant interviews with identified leaders in five communities across the state. The research focused on five themes:

  • Behavioral responses to recommended protective measures
  • Hardships and economic fallout
  • Coping strategies
  • Adequacy of relief measures
  • Perception and beliefs about COVID-19 vaccines

Among the key takeaways from the research:

  1. COVID-19 exacted a disproportionately heavy toll on low-income families, especially in terms of both exposure to and deaths from the coronavirus.
  2. Above and beyond disparate exposures and deaths, the COVID-19 pandemic created major employment challenges and forced low-income households to make difficult decisions and choices regarding work versus personal safety and the health and well-being of their families.
  3. The shift to remote learning during the pandemic shed new light on deficiencies in infrastructure related to availability, access, quality, and cost of internet services for low-income families.
  4. The pandemic heightened personal and familial stress and anxiety posing, in the process, major socio-emotional and mental health challenges for low-income individuals and families throughout the state.
  5. Government safety-net programs were an important  lifeline but fell short of addressing the range of assistance low-income households needed during the pandemic.
  6. Beyond government support and private sector assistance, residents have pursued a wide array of coping strategies, tactics, and practices to survive the pandemic.
  7. Augmenting personal resiliency, nonprofit organizations were instrumental in creating a therapeutic community for the most vulnerable families, providing much needed supports—financial and socio-emotional as well as basic-necessities such as food and personal protective equipment—during the pandemic.
  8. Compliance with safety precautionary measures—with only a few exceptions—is high but vaccine hesitancy is widespread among North Carolina’s low-income families and households.

The report goes on to present a host of findings regarding the lived experiences of low-income people from across the state and to offer several specific recommendations — many of which advise leveraging the experience and reputation that community action agencies possess in the most impacted communities to “develop trusted messages in the current and any future crisis.”

Click here to explore and share the full report. Let’s hope it helps to raise the profile of community action agencies

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