United Way NSV and Regional Partners Release Survey Results on the Impact of COVID-19 on Families
Winchester, VA January 7, 2021 – From October 19 to November 7, 2020, over 2,000 people living in the Shenandoah Valley region of Virginia responded to a survey about how their households have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic since March 1, 2020. The region includes Clarke, Frederick, Page, Rockingham, Shenandoah, and Warren Counties, and the cities of Harrisonburg and Winchester. The survey was conducted by the United Ways of Front Royal-Warren County; Harrisonburg and Rockingham County; and Northern Shenandoah Valley, with local collaborators including Blue Ridge Community College and Lord Fairfax Community College, and in partnership with United For ALICE, a center of innovation, research, and action around financial hardship.
When COVID-19 hit, just over 41,000 households in the Shenandoah Valley region were already one emergency away from financial crisis — a 10-year record high — setting the stage for the unprecedented economic impact of the pandemic. These households are ALICE: Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed. With income above the Federal Poverty Level, ALICE households earn too much to qualify as “poor,” but are still unable to cover the basics of housing, child care, food, transportation, health care, and technology in the counties where they live. Combining ALICE households and households in poverty, 41% of households in the region were below the ALICE Threshold before the pandemic.
Nadine Bullock-Pottinga, United Way of Northern Shenandoah Valley President/CEO said of the study, “Our United Way hopes that these survey results will help guide our continued response to the COVID-19 pandemic, and will inform local government, healthcare organizations, employers, school systems, and non-profit organizations on how they can best meet the needs of our local community during this difficult time for many ALICE families.”
KEY HOUSEHOLD FINDINGS
Respondents were asked to select which concerns their households are facing during the pandemic. Most respondents (73%), regardless of income or location, said contracting COVID-19 was a top concern, followed by child care/education and mental health issues.
Respondents below the ALICE Threshold were significantly more likely than respondents above the ALICE Threshold to say they were concerned about child care (54% vs. 45%), paying housing costs (54% vs. 13%), providing enough food for the household (45% vs. 7%), paying off debts (38% vs. 18%), reduction of hours/wages (35% vs. 20%), non-COVID-19 medical issues (30% vs. 22%), or loss of job(s) (28% vs. 15%).
When survey respondents were asked what their BIGGEST concern was, households above the ALICE Threshold, said the top three biggest concerns were household members contracting COVID-19 (48%), child care/education (21%), and mental health issues (10%). For households below the ALICE Threshold, the top three concerns were household members contracting COVID-19 (29%), paying housing expenses (26%), and child care/education (15%).
KEY EMPLOYMENT CHANGES AND CHALLENGES
Participants were asked how the pandemic has impacted employment for household members since March 1, 2020. More than half of respondents (60%) said that employment hadn’t changed for any household members during this period. However, some respondents reported that members of their household had lost jobs (14%), experienced layoffs (14%), changed jobs (12%), gotten a new job (10%), or retired (2%).
Respondents below the ALICE Threshold were significantly more likely than respondents above the ALICE Threshold to say someone in their household lost a job during the pandemic (23% vs. 7%), was temporarily laid off (18% vs. 10%), or changed jobs (14% vs. 9%).
Unlike workers in salaried jobs, workers who were paid by the hour faced fluctuating hours. Among households where at least one person in the household was working, 29% of respondents said household members in hourly-paid jobs were working fewer hours during the pandemic.
When asked why household members in hourly-paid jobs were working fewer hours…
• 71% of respondents said it was because their employer had less business or needed fewer staff
• 31% of respondents said it was because of caregiving needs (for children, seniors, or a person with a disability)
• 16% of respondents reported it was due to fear of catching COVID-19
• 4% of respondents said it was because of other (non-COVID-19) health issues
One survey respondent said: “This pandemic has completely impacted my family. One [household member] completely lost a job, no unemployment, and can't find another job. One is working less hours and cannot afford anything. I go hungry so my kids can eat. Food stamps got taken away because of what I make.”
Almost one in four respondents (23%) said that someone in their household was looking for work (a new job or more hours) at the time the survey was conducted. These respondents were asked a follow-up question regarding barriers to finding work. The top 3 barriers were trouble finding job openings, can’t find a job that pays enough and caring for child/children.
Among those looking for work, respondents below the ALICE Threshold were significantly more likely than respondents above the ALICE Threshold to say caring for a child/children (47% vs. 21%), transportation issues (12% vs. 2%), or internet access or computer issues (11% vs. 2%) limited household members’ ability to find work.
Among those looking for work, respondents in rural areas were significantly more likely to say that caring for a child/children limited household members’ ability to find a job (42% vs. 31%). Job-seeking respondents in urban areas were significantly more likely to say that language or literacy issues impacted household members’ ability to find a job (6% vs. 0%).
KEY ACTIONS TAKEN TO MEET NEEDS
When asked what their household is doing to get by during the pandemic, almost one in three respondents (30%) said that they or someone in their household had taken money out of a savings account. The next most common actions were increasing a balance on a credit card and applying for unemployment.
While taking money out of savings was the most common way respondents reported making ends meet during the pandemic, respondents below the ALICE Threshold were significantly more likely than respondents above the ALICE Threshold to have done so (37% vs. 24%). They were also significantly more likely to say that their household had received food from a food pantry or food bank (29% vs. 3%), applied for unemployment (27% vs. 12%), sold belongings for cash (25% vs. 9%), borrowed from family or friends (25% vs. 5%), increased a balance on a credit card (24% vs. 16%), applied for government assistance (22% vs. 1%), or found a new way to make money (16% vs.11%).
CHILD CARE AND FAMILIES WITH CHILDREN
Of respondents with children, over half said they were concerned about juggling work and children’s needs (52%) and helping with distanced learning (60%). Respondents with children below the ALICE Threshold were significantly more likely than respondents with children above the ALICE Threshold to say that they were concerned about health risks for children or other household members (38% vs. 28%), internet and device access issues (30% vs. 22%), and the cost of care (25% vs. 14%), and significantly less likely to be concerned about juggling work and children’s needs (46% vs. 56%).
47% of respondents with children said that child care issues impacted household members’ ability to work during the pandemic: 20% said one or more household members was working reduced hours due to child care issues (including daycare and afterschool care), and 6% said one or more household members had quit a job to care for a child/children since the beginning of the pandemic.
One survey respondent said: “I am a single mom of three kids. I work a full-time, 12-hour night shift job at a long-term nursing home. It's a struggle to sleep for work, help with school work, and maintain a normal life for my kids.”
More information on the survey and to see the complete data and report, please visit UnitedWayNSV.org. Please also note the “Guidelines and Considerations for Use” attached to this press release.
About the Survey: This survey relied on convenience sampling and is not a representative sample of the regional population. However, the results of this survey provide important insights into the issues households in these communities are facing during this time of profound uncertainty. Of the 2,415 people who opened the survey link, 1,843 submitted valid surveys (all surveys taken by people who live outside of the region were excluded).