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COVID-19’s Local Economic Toll Continues, WESA/Campos Poll Finds

Paul Sancya
A recent survey showed many in southwestern Pennsylvania are still hurting economically from COVID-19 related issues.

As shutdowns and closures related to the COVID-19 pandemic approach the one-year point, many respondents in a recent WESA/Campos survey said their finances are worsening.

Nearly one-in-four people said their financial health has gotten worse in the last two months. The problem is greater for lower-income households: 30% of respondents with household incomes below $50,000 annually said their financial health is worse off, compared to only 13% of households with incomes greater than $100,000, according to a brief from Campos, the Pittsburgh-based firm that conducted the research.

The survey aims to examine the pandemic’s impact on the economy in a 10-county region of southwestern Pennsylvania. This was the second wave of the survey; an earlier wave was conducted in the fall.


In the past two months, 41% of respondents decreased their household spending, the survey found.

Ali Perryman, an Allegheny County resident, was like many respondents who lost income during the pandemic.

“I still have a job,” Perryman said. “I'm still employed full time. So I'm definitely very thankful for that. But it's definitely changed the way that I make purchases and my budget and everything like that because I definitely don't have any extra money right now, which I was used to having pre pandemic.”

Close to one-in-five people who took the survey said they have applied for and/or received government assistance. Of those who applied for the aid, all reported issues with getting it: 88% said they were eventually able to receive it but there were problems or delays in the process, 12% were not able to receive the assistance they applied for due to problems.

Many survey respondents said they are missing or late paying bills:

  • 13% said they have been late on or missed a utility payment
  • 8% said they have been late on or missed a mortgage or rent payment
  • 6% said they needed assistance to pay rent/mortgage or utility bill(s)
  • Black survey respondents were much more likely than white respondents to have noted a hardship in this area (32% versus 10% on utility payments, 16% versus 7% on mortgage or rent).

Eleven percent of respondents said they have received one or more food distributions in the past 2 months. Black respondents were more likely to have received this than white survey respondents; parents with children under 18 were also much more likely to have received food aid.


Pittsburgh resident Jill Morris-Tillman said she lost money from her second job due to the pandemic, and her daughter being home from school also led to greater food costs.  

Losing that income was huge for me,” she said.

“It's just been a really big adjustment, especially when it comes to groceries, because now my daughter is home all day, and so she's not at school for lunch, and so I'm providing breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks seven days a week.

Among the survey’s other economic findings:

  • 58% of respondents are concerned about the potential medical costs associated with Covid-19
  • 9% said they were unemployed and looking for work, another 9% are not employed but not looking for work

Additionally, more respondents – 62% – said they are likely to receive the vaccine, an increase from 47% in the first survey who said they would get it.


Another major change the survey noted in recent months: “perceived effectiveness” of public officials, including health departments and elected officials, is declining. Effectiveness of county officials, including the health department, has decreased from 56% in the first survey to 42% in the most recent survey. Governor Tom Wolf’s perceived effectiveness also decreased, from 55% in the fall to 43% more recently.

Among parents of young children, only 19% have their kids enrolled in in-person school full-time. However, the survey noted, parents find online and “hybrid” instruction less effective. Only 23% of parents said they are confident their child’s education will not suffer during the pandemic.

“Frustration” remains the top overall emotion associated with the COVID-19 pandemic, Campos found, expressed by 39% of survey respondents, though that was down slightly from the 43% who felt that way in the fall survey.

Responses were gathered from January 26 through February 9; a total of 699 people participated in the poll.

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. 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.
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