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Survey: Few Left Economically Untouched By COVID-19 In SWPA

Courtesy of York County Food Bank
This file photo shows a volunteer at a food bank distribution in York County

More than one-third of respondents in a recent WESA/Campos survey said their financial health has changed for the worse due to the COVID-19 pandemic. People without a bachelor’s degree were more likely to say their finances were worse off than those with a degree, and Black survey respondents were more likely than whites to say their finances are now worse.

The findings were part of a survey that examined the impacts of COVID-19 and related shutdowns on the region’s economy.

Enhanced unemployment benefits (which expired at the end of July) were more meaningful for those who received them than were one-time $1,200 stimulus payments, the survey also found.

“Now-expired increased unemployment benefits were much more likely to improve respondents’ financial conditions than stimulus payments,” according to a research brief from Campos, the Pittsburgh-based firm that conducted the survey.

“Seventy-eight percent of respondents received a stimulus payment, but only 8% of those reported that it significantly improved their financial condition. By contrast, 15% of respondents received additional $600 unemployment payments, and 56% of them reported it significantly improved their financial condition.”

A majority of households surveyed across all income levels – 60% – decreased their spending during the pandemic.

Credit Campos / via Tableau
via Tableau
Credit Campos / via Tableau
via Tableau

Linda Helms, of Beaver County, was like many respondents who said they have cut back.

“Our spending is less. We’re not eating out, we’re not traveling, we’re not going places,” she said.

Fourteen percent of people said they had temporarily or permanently lost their jobs due to the COVID-19; Black respondents were far more likely than whites to have lost their job. Additionally, 10% of survey respondents decided to retire due to the pandemic.

Barbara Ernsberger, an attorney and small business owner, was one survey respondent who said she expects her income will take a hit in 2020, though she said that’s not her biggest economic concern.

“I’m most worried about my friends and clients who have lost jobs, who were good working people in responsible jobs,” she said.

She’s also seen a number of businesses depart the downtown building where her office is located in recent months.

“That’s going to have a definite impact on the economy,” she said.

The survey also found nearly half of people who need to access child care say it has become more difficult to do so. A whopping 77% of people with children say parenting has become harder.

How respondents viewed COVID-19 restrictions tended to break down along partisan and geographic lines, with Republicans being more likely than Democrats to say they felt comfortable visiting various public places.

Those who identified as Republicans also were more optimistic about the economy recovering in 2020, while few Democrats believe it will.

When asked what the most difficult sacrifice they made during the pandemic was, many respondents said not seeing family and friends has been their greatest hardship.

Helms said not being able to see some of her grandchildren or her mother, who lives in an assisted living facility, has been hard.

“For me, that’s been more difficult than the economics,” she said.

Other troubles people said they faced: losing the ability to travel abroad, summer activities being cancelled, not being able to attend religious services, staying at home, having to cancel a wedding, canceling a vacation, homeschooling children and losing child care, and negative mental health impacts.

Most survey respondents said the pandemic had resulted in one positive change: an improved relationship with their family.

The 90.5 WESA/Campos COVID Insights Study examines the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the greater Pittsburgh region, and is funded by a grant from the Richard King Mellon Foundation. The survey was conducted by Campos between September 25 and October 9, eliciting 477 total responses. It included residents of Allegheny, Lawrence, Beaver, Butler, Armstrong, Indiana, Washington, Westmoreland, Fayette and Greene counties.

Kate Giammarise focuses her reporting on poverty, social services and affordable housing. Before joining WESA, she covered those topics for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette for nearly five years; prior to that, she spent several years in the paper’s Harrisburg bureau covering the legislature, governor and state government. She can be reached at or 412-697-2953.