Briefing for October 19-23, 2020 on COVID-19 and Low-Income Communities

Briefing for October 19-23, 2020 on COVID-19 and Low-Income Communities

We are struck that one of the few certainties about the coronavirus outbreak is that low-income communities and workers in low-income, service sector occupations will be disproportionately impacted. Likely in devastating fashion.

One step in combatting this will be to share information about what is happening and what can be done.  That’s why we are offering this daily news service summarizing relevant stories, and a concise weekly summary alternative as well.  You can see it below.

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Briefing for October 23, 2020

Out of work in America: A special report from the New York Times in which the Times partnered with 11 other news organizations to look at how the “dual blows of joblessness and the pandemic were changing the lives of a dozen Americans. We give economic downturns names and dates to tame and box in their upheaval. And so, the namelessness of this crisis both heightens its chaos and masks the scale of its devastation. The effects of the Great Depression were plain to see as it unfolded 90 years ago: Soup lines formed beneath storefront signs advertising free meals for the unemployed. The impact of millions of lost jobs today is less visible when so many are staying home. Social distancing has helped financial suffering hide.” 
‘All you want is to be believed’; Sick with COVID-19 and facing racial bias in the ER: Part of the reason for the disproportionate impact of coronavirus on people of color is how they are sometimes viewed by medical professionals. Research shows how doctors’ unconscious bias affects the care people receive, with Latino and Black patients being less likely to receive pain medications or get referred for advanced care when compared to white patients with the same complaints or symptoms. Black and Native American patients are also more likely to die in childbirth from preventable complications. 
Test turnaround times still lag especially for people of color: Coronavirus testing turnaround time has improved since the early months of the pandemic, according to a new report, but it still isn’t fast enough — and racial disparities in testing persist. The average wait time for receiving COVID-19 test results dropped from 4.0 days in April to 2.7 days in September, according to the analysis of national survey data by researchers at Northeastern University, Harvard University, Rutgers University and Northwestern University. Black and Hispanic respondents to the three survey waves said they had experienced worse delays in test-result turnaround. Black and Hispanic respondents waited 4.4 days and 4.1 days on average for their test results, respectively, compared to white respondents’ 3.5 days and Asian Americans’ 3.6 days, according to the survey. 
Savings have evaporated during the pandemic: From Buzzfeed News: “As the pandemic creeps toward its eighth month in the U.S., millions of Americans are coping with an economic catastrophe that they couldn’t have planned for; some like Adams have watched their account balances run down to zero. Working people who cautiously adhered to advice to save enough to cover three to six months of living expenses, a so-called emergency fund, are being decimated by a crisis that is dragging on far longer than that. Some have lost their homes. They face the unsettling reality that no matter how hard they try, their ability to make it out of this is mostly out of their hands. There’s a belief that people can achieve financial security if they just work hard enough, that being poor is a kind of moral failing. But the crisis has shown that this is a myth. People are realizing now what those in precarious situations have long known: that so much of it is out of your control.” 
California’s homeless students could fill Dodger Stadium five times, study finds: There were at least 269,000 K-12 students in California experiencing homelessness at the end of the 2018-19 school year — enough children and teens to fill Dodger Stadium five times over — and that number was likely a gross underestimate, a UCLA report said. In the face of pandemic-related job losses and economic instability, researchers believe that the number of homeless students in California is likely to surge, according to the study from UCLA’s Center for the Transformation of Schools. 
Has hunger increased as much as some studies indicate? Scott Winship and Angela Rachidi of the American Enterprise Institute write in a new paper about the increase of hunger during the pandemic. Key points: 

  • Estimates suggesting that food hardship among U.S. households has doubled or tripled due to the pandemic suffer from data problems that make it challenging to draw valid comparisons. 
  • More likely, existing survey data suggest that food insufficiency has increased by something closer to two or three percentage points and is perhaps a bit higher than during the Great Recession. Evidence on poverty rates also suggests more modest increases in hardship. 
  • Policymakers should continue economic relief efforts to avoid larger increases in food hardship among U.S. households, but they should also avoid overcorrecting for a food hardship problem that appears less severe than originally reported. 

Reports of children being abused online have increased exponentially during the pandemic: While the world has battled the health and economic effects of the coronavirus, another global issue has raged in tandem with little notice — and without the additional money and resources needed to effectively battle it, experts said. Online child abuse and exploitation, already one of the biggest and growing crime challenges nationally, has spiked as COVID-19 has forced more people indoors with abusers and children spending more time on the internet. The increase in reports tracks in the United States and abroad during the pandemic, experts said. Tips to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, the clearinghouse for such information in the United States, nearly doubled from 6.3 million in the first half of 2019 to 12 million through June of this year. Reports of online enticement similarly spiked during that timeframe, from 6,863 to 13,268.  

Children and families need resources to address trauma at its roots: Reps. Ayanna Pressley (D-MA) and Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) write for STAT: “Like many nations across the globe, the U.S. continues to combat the devastation of the coronavirus pandemic. The Trump administration’s deficient response has elevated the emotional, physical, and economic harm suffered by families in America. As we move through this moment of collective trauma, we must adopt focused, evidence-based approaches to make our country whole again and ensure that these approaches prioritize a precious responsibility — our children’s future.” 

Briefing for October 22, 2020

The federal government underfunded health care for indigenous people for decades — Now they’re dying of COVID-19: From USA TODAY: “Few places in the world have been as scarred by the coronavirus pandemic as McKinley County, New Mexico. By September, the county ranked first in the state and sixth nationally for COVID-19 deaths per capita. Roughly 74% of McKinley County’s 71,367 residents are non-Hispanic Native American, mostly Navajo and Zuni. The majority of land within the county’s borders is part of the Navajo Nation reservation. The Navajos, who call themselves Diné, are descendants of people who outlived colonization, smallpox, massacres and resettlement. They take pride in a history of resilience. Then came the Big Cough, or Dikos Ntsaaígíí-19, as coronavirus is known among Diné tribal members. The federal government, which oversees health care for Native Americans under treaty obligations, used a modified influenza plan to address the pandemic. And as the COVID-19 crisis began to overwhelm McKinley County, medical experts and others say federal authorities were slow to respond, a judgment call that cost lives and fueled the spread. This failure was no accident, experts said. It was the direct result of centuries of systemic racism that has left McKinley County’s health care system chronically underfunded, understaffed, ill-equipped and outdated.”  
How philanthropy can (and can’t) help prevent evictions during the pandemic: Key suggestions from the Housing Matters team at the Urban Institute on the critical role philanthropy can play in the pandemic housing crisis

  • Address the root causes of structural racism. 
  • Build the capacity of community-based organizations, housing counselors, and advocates who know their communities best and can work together to reach the most vulnerable renters, defend their rights, and connect them with resources. 
  • Improve the collection, analysis, and use of disaggregated data to guide investments in eviction prevention, housing stabilization, and recovery to produce more equitable outcomes. 
  • Invest in advocacy and organizing to enhance the power of grassroots networks and movement leaders who have themselves experienced housing injustice, with a focus on flexible support and advocacy to address intersecting issues, such as food insecurity and access to civil legal assistance.  
  • Facilitate network building, information sharing, and narrative change to build a field of advocates, organizers, practitioners, and researchers who, together, can reshape affordable rental housing policies. 
  • Support innovation and mitigate risks through investments and loans in enterprises. 

Pandemic underscores importance of wrap-around care for new moms and children: During the pandemic, programs connecting at-risk new mothers and their babies with medical, mental health and social services  through home visits or teams of health workers  have become more critical, and harder to come by. When doctors’ offices closed, it magnified health care access challenges for low-income people, especially those of color.  

Kerner Commission findings still resonate more than 50 years later: Alan Curtis, president of the Eisenhower Foundation, the private sector continuation of the Kerner Commission, talked to Spotlight on Poverty and Opportunity about how the lessons of the commission’s findings are more relevant than ever in a year of pandemic and racial tumult. 

COVID-19’s disproportionate toll on class of 2020 graduates: Among the most academically promising students in the class of 2020, the coronavirus is hitting those from low-income families the hardest. According to an EdWeek Research Center poll, these students are nearly twice as likely as their peers from wealthier homes to have had their post-high school plans disrupted by COVID-19 and its resulting economic fallout. Some opted for less-expensive schools or colleges closer to home, or chose to sit out the first year of college altogether. Their families also suffered in disproportionate numbers from the health and economic fallout of COVID-19, including layoffs, pay cuts, and the underlying health conditions that make exposure to the virus a greater risk. 

Seattle to offer free flu shots to uninsured residents during pandemic: Seattle will offer free flu shots to people who don’t have health insurance as the pandemic makes it even more important for people to get vaccinated this year. The city — in partnership with the Seattle Visiting Nurse Association — is using $150,000 in funding it received from the federal CARES Act to buy 3,750 vaccinations to get the flu shot to as many people as possible, for free. “Seattle — we have led the way to wear masks, wash our hands, and get tested for COVID-19 when necessary. Now, we need to get our flu shots. In the midst of a global pandemic, this flu season is unlike any other,” Mayor Jenny Durkan said.

Briefing for October 21, 2020

White House looks at cutting COVID-19 funds, newborn screenings in ‘anarchist’ cities: From Politico: “The White House is considering slashing millions of dollars for coronavirus relief, HIV treatment, screenings for newborns and other programs in Democratic-led cities that President Donald Trump has deemed ‘anarchist jurisdictions,’ according to documents obtained by POLITICO. New York, Portland, Ore., Washington, D.C., and Seattle could lose funding for a wide swath of programs that serve their poorest, sickest residents after the president moved last month to restrict funding, escalating his political battle against liberal cities he’s sought to use as a campaign foil.” 

Six million households missed rent or mortgage payments in September: Persistent layoffs are slowing momentum in the labor market, which bodes poorly for the broader U.S. recovery as millions of out-of-work Americans delay their mortgage and rent payments. More than 6 million households failed to make their rent or mortgage payments in September, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association’s Research Institute for Housing America, a sign that the economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic is weighing on jobless Americans as Congress stalls on relief measures. In the third quarter, the percent of homeowners and renters behind on their payments fell slightly from the prior quarter. Still, the overall amount remains high, experts caution.  

COVID-19 patients swamp rural hospitals: The nation’s pandemic hotspots have shifted to rural communities, overwhelming small hospitals that are running out of beds or lack the intensive care units for more than one or two seriously ill patients. And in much of the Midwest and Great Plains, hospital workers are catching the virus at home and in their communities, seriously reducing already slim benches of doctors, nurses and other professionals needed to keep rural hospitals running. 

Why Americans need paid sick leave: Sarah Jaffe writes for the American Prospect: “The pandemic brought home the fact that the roughly 33 million people who have no paid sick leave often have to choose between caring for themselves and their community or making their rent. It also brought home that so many of those lacking paid time off when ill are those we call ‘essential,’ whether delivering food, like Perales, or working in a meat processing plant, a grocery store, or even a health care facility. The very people uncovered by current law are the ones most likely to pick up the virus at work, and whose work means they may well pass it on if they are not given time to care for themselves.”

Emergency sick leave has helped flatten the curve in some areas: A new paper published in Health Affairs finds that “states where employees gained access to paid sick leave because of FFCRA (Families First Coronavirus Response Act) had a statistically significant decrease of approximately 400 fewer confirmed new cases per day, relative to the pre-FFCRA period and to states that had already enacted sick pay mandates prior to FFCRA. This represents a reduction of about 1 new case per day for every 1,300 workers who gained the right to take up to two weeks of paid sick leave due to COVID-19.” 

Pandemic takes added toll on those with mental illness: Almost 41% of U.S. adults in a survey by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported struggling with their mental health or substance use — both related to the coronavirus pandemic and some of the measures put in place to contain it, such as physical distancing. “At any given time in the United States, about one-fifth of Americans have a diagnosable mental illness,” said Dr. Joshua Gordon, the director of the National Institute of Mental Health. “It does appear that the rates of reporting of symptoms have increased from that baseline — so that we’re seeing as much as 30% or 40% of Americans reporting symptoms,” he said, adding that it represents about a two-fold increase over what would have been expected of pre-pandemic symptoms of mental health conditions. 

With evictions looming, cities seek legal help for renters: Over the past few months, bans on evictions during the pandemic have been enacted at the city, state and federal levels, yet landlords are still filing notices — and the rate may even be picking up, housing experts warn. As families continue being forced from their homes, renters’ advocates and lawmakers are calling for “right to counsel” policies to give all tenants legal representation in eviction court or help navigating the protections open to them. “What we’re seeing amid COVID-19 is various laws being passed to provide some protection for renters, but they’re full of gray areas and loopholes,” said C. Matthew Hill, an attorney with the nonprofit Public Justice Center.  

Community spaces can be a vaccine for pandemic loneliness: Stacy Torres, a member of USA TODAY’s Board of Contributors, writes that: “Recent analysis of federal data suggests that isolation has contributed to 13,200 excess dementia deaths since the pandemic’s start. To prevent COVID-19 outbreaks, nursing homes have curtailed family visits and social activities, such as group classes and shared meals, that help stimulate the mind and blunt dementia’s ravages. These findings tell us something important about the dangers of losing in-person connections for the majority of seniors who live in the community. Many avoid isolation by socializing in religious spaces, senior centers and “third places” such as coffee shops, parks and libraries. Preventable deaths and suffering from isolation will rise if we don’t safeguard the public spaces that inoculate elders against the toll of loneliness.” 

Briefing for October 20, 2020

Hispanics were the only ethnic group to see COVID-19 death rates increase this summer: According to the latest Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report released by the CDC, death rates from COVID-19 increased in Hispanic populations during the summer months, while death rates among Black, white, Asian, and all other ethnic groups decreased. The report examined COVID-19 associated deaths in all 50 states reported to the National Vital Statistics System (NVSS) for the period of May 1-August 31, 2020. It found that while the overall percentage of white people who died from COVID-19 decreased from 56.9% to 51.5%, and the percentage of deaths of Black people decreased from 20.3% to 17.4%, the percentage of deaths from people of Hispanic origin increased from 16.3% to 26.4%. As the study notes, while the majority of people who died from COVID-19 were white, both Blacks and Hispanics were disproportionately affected. 

Asian-Americans in San Francisco are dying at alarming rates from COVID-19: From a USA TODAY special report on the impact of systemic racism on the pandemic: “It is easy to mistake San Francisco for a thriving Asian American haven. The city, which is its own county, boasts a bustling Chinatown, as well as a popular Japantown. Native Hawaiians, Pacific Islanders, Vietnamese, Indians and Filipinos also have made their homes here. All told, Asians in San Francisco represent upward of 20 countries. But many Asian American immigrants in the county lead a fragile existence rendered even more precarious with the arrival of COVID-19. So far, 38% of the 123 COVID-19 deaths reported by the San Francisco Department of Public Health are Asian American residents, the most of any ethnicity.” 

Pandemic’s impact on working women is unprecedented: Last month, as children returned to (virtual) school and daycare centers remained closed, more than 1.1 million people dropped out of the labor force. As the National Women’s Law Center reports, 80% of these individuals—classified as those no longer working or looking for work—were women. “There is no historical example we can look back to in order to provide insight into the record number of women leaving, being pushed out of, or pulled away from the paid workforce because of the impact of COVID-19,” says historian Crystal M. Moten, a curator in the division of work and industry at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History, in an email to Smithsonian magazine. 

1.5 million New Yorkers can’t afford food — Pantries are their lifeline: Tens of thousands of New Yorkers have shown up at the city’s food banks since the pandemic began. People who were already going to the pantries have grown more reliant on them. But there is relief and hope when they are at home cooking. 

Emissions exposure may impact COVID-19 mortality: For years, the effort to reduce transportation emissions has largely centered on fighting climate change. But some advocates say the pandemic underscores the need to focus on human health as well. The worst effects of air pollution are being borne by low-income communities and people of color — the same groups that have suffered disproportionately during the pandemic. Researchers say they’re seeing indications that the pollutants spewed out of tailpipes are making the people who breathe them at high levels more likely to die from COVID-19. Much of the analysis is still in its early stages, but several studies, some not yet peer-reviewed, show high levels of nitrogen dioxide and fine particulate matter correlate with higher mortality rates from the virus. 

After a reprieve, waves of evictions are expected: Unless Congress and the Trump administration move past their deadlock over the contours of a new COVID-19 relief package and include financial relief for tenants and landlords, January will bring a surge in displacement and homelessness “unlike anything we have ever seen,” said John Pollock, a Public Justice Center attorney and coordinator of the National Coalition for a Civil Right to Counsel

Domestic violence increases in rural America during pandemic: Rising economic pressures during the pandemic and limited access to transportation contributed to a rise in physical violence and abuse in rural households. Preliminary research from radiologists and anecdotal information from those who work with domestic violence victims show that across the board, incidents of domestic violence in rural America are up.  

Small child care providers face economic ruin: Without more help, an estimated 4.5 million child care slots could disappear, cutting the country’s capacity in half. A July survey found that about 40% of providers are certain they’ll shut their doors permanently without financial assistance. Only 18% of programs expect they will survive longer than a year. 

Briefing for October 19, 2020

New poll shows 80% of Americans with low income likely to vote: 80% of low-income Americans say they are certain or likely to vote in the upcoming election, according to a new nationwide poll commissioned by Hunger Free America. Of the 5,114 American adults with annual household incomes of $50,000 or below who responded, 68% said they are “certain” to vote in this general election and another 12% said they are “very likely” to do so. Given that less than 60% of similarly low-income American adults voted in the presidential elections of 2012 and 2016, this new data points to much higher than average turnout this year among Americans who are struggling economically. 
Federal judge rules against administration plan to cut SNAP benefits: A federal judge on Sunday formally struck down a Trump administration attempt to end food stamp benefits for nearly 700,000 unemployed people, blocking as “arbitrary and capricious” the first of three such planned measures to restrict the federal food safety net. In a scathing 67-page opinion, Chief U.S. District Judge Beryl A. Howell of D.C. condemned the Agriculture Department for failing to justify or even address the impact of the sweeping change on states, saying its shortcomings had been placed in stark relief amid the pandemic, during which unemployment has quadrupled and rosters of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program have grown by more than 17%, with more than 6 million new enrollees. 
Young workers hit hard by coronavirus economy: Key findings from an Economic Policy Institute paper on the pandemic’s impact on workers ages 16 to 24 years old. 

  • Young workers’ already-high unemployment rates have jumped much higher. The overall unemployment rate for young workers ages 16–24 jumped from 8.4% to 24.4% from spring 2019 to spring 2020, while unemployment for their counterparts ages 25 and older rose from 2.8% to 11.3%. 
  • Young workers are more likely to be in jobs impacted by COVID-19.  
  • The economic effects of the COVID-19 economy on young workers may persist for years. 
  • Young workers have been excluded from certain COVID-19 assistance. The CARES Act provided a vital safety net for many young workers, but others were left out. For example, those who were seeking but had not yet secured employment were not able to take advantage of the unemployment insurance expansions. 
  • A return to a strong economy would disproportionately help young workers. In particular, young workers would see faster wage growth than other workers. 

As jobs vanished, immigrants left California The question is how many: Not only have immigrants disproportionately contracted COVID-19, but industries that rely on their labor — including restaurants and hotels — have also been among the slowest to rebound from the virus shutdowns. That dynamic might be contributing to a trend of reverse or outmigration, in which immigrants return to their home countries or go to other U.S. statesaccording to an analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data by UC Merced’s Community and Labor Center that was provided to the Los Angeles Times in advance of its release on Friday. California’s immigrant population of 10.3 million in 2019 fell by 642,200, or 6.2%, during the first five months of the pandemic, the analysis found. That figure eclipses both the number of residents in Sacramento and the combined decrease in the nation’s other states, which saw immigrant populations decline by 531,000, or 1.5%, during the same March-through-July period. 

The great coronavirus divide  Wall Street surges while poverty rises: John Cassidy writes for the New Yorker: “The important point isn’t whether tech billionaires or Wall Street bankers have done best in 2020, but that the pandemic has highlighted some glaring economic problems that have been building up for decades: lack of job security; racial inequities; stagnant wages; an inadequate social safety net; and a hopelessly lopsided distribution of income and wealth, in which the richest 10% of households own almost 90% of all the stocks and mutual funds. In more normal times, defenders of the current economic system often argued that it rewards initiative and punishes lack of effort. But the tens of millions of Americans who are struggling to make ends meet weren’t responsible for the coronavirus, and neither were the Wall Street traders and investors who have benefitted so handsomely from the policy response to the virus.” 

Inequities continue in online education: When the pandemic disrupted school for millions of students last spring, studies projected alarming rates of learning loss as schools shifted to remote instruction, particularly for vulnerable students. Complicating matters is that this shift poses challenges in accurately assessing student progress and participation. But as more data emerges, one thing continues to be clear, experts say — the pandemic is amplifying inequities between students. New data from Harvard’s Opportunity Insights and Zearn, a math curriculum publisher that provides digital lessons and instruction to school districts and teachers, shows students from high-income ZIP codes increased participation in online math coursework by 3.9% compared to January 2020, while for students from low-income ZIP codes it decreased by 10.3%. 

Women are deciding not to have babies because of the pandemic: Economists and fertility experts say hundreds of thousands of American women are making the decision to not have children. A June report from the Brookings Institution estimated that the U.S. would see as many as 500,000 fewer births in 2021, a 13% drop from the 3.8 million babies born in 2019. Telehealth clinic Nurx tells TIME it has seen a 50% jump in requests for birth control since the beginning of the pandemic, and a 40% increase in requests for Plan B. A survey from the Guttmacher Institute found that 34% of sexually active women in the U.S. have decided to either delay getting pregnant or have fewer children because of concerns arising from COVID-19. Lower-income women were much more likely than other women to want to put off having a baby; that’s especially true among Black and Latinx women, who have suffered disproportionate income and job losses this year. 

Seven months into the pandemic, small businesses don’t know if they can hold on: In March, small business owners braced for what seemed like a few weeks of financial pain. But as the coronavirus pandemic — now in its seventh month — drags on, many small businesses are still operating at limited capacity or have shuttered completely. These entrepreneurs face not only the quotidian stresses of living through a global pandemic; they also are grappling with ever-changing health and safety standards, managing potentially hostile customers and spending money to restructure their physical stores to be COVID 19-compliant, all while bringing in significantly less revenue. 

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