Fed survey seeks to uncover pandemic impacts in low- to moderate-income communities
Local orgs invited to share COVID-19 experiences, so policymakers get accurate view of needs
When COVID-19 first hit, community development researchers anticipated that the pandemic would have a bigger impact on low- to moderate-income communities than those with higher incomes. And they needed data to verify whether reality matched that expectation.
“We’ve seen that happen in past recessions,” said Nishesh Chalise, a researcher at the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis. “And during these times, organizations who serve these communities also experience financial volatility, as well as increases in demand.”
But a lack of data on such organizations made it difficult for researchers to monitor how the pandemic affected them, he said. To help fill that gap, the Federal Reserve System launched an annual survey called, “Perspectives from Main Street: The Impact of COVID-19 on Low- to Moderate-Income Communities and the Entities Serving Them.”
This year, the survey – which is open through Aug. 31 – investigates how low- to moderate-income areas across the U.S. are handling continued disruptions from COVID-19. And it’s being distributed at the same time local organizations are coping with the end of many federal- and state-funded financial relief efforts.
“We want to hone in on challenges related to employment, child care, and staffing shortages,” said Chalise, director of community-based policy and analysis within the Institute for Economic Equity at the St. Louis Fed.
“It's no longer about just disruption,” he added, “but how people are able to adapt.”
Chalise: Low- to moderate-income communities play a crucial role in the economy
Chalise said research on low- to moderate-income communities is key to the Fed’s mission to promote a healthy economy and a strong financial system.
“The well-being of low- to moderate-income communities is closely tied to the overall economic vitality of the country,” he said. “If we don’t know what’s happening in these communities, … we may be blindsided later on.”
The 2020 recession officially lasted about two months, but COVID-19’s disruptions continued, Chalise said. That year, the survey confirmed the pandemic’s disproportionate impacts on frontline workers, communities of color, and low-income workers.
In 2021, researchers found that some disruptions to daily life had decreased since the peak of the pandemic. But they also learned that nonprofits led by people of color faced more disruptions and challenges than their counterparts, and some organizations struggled to access relief funds.
“Entities that serve low- to moderate-income communities support families and increase resilience,” Chalise said. “But they themselves have also been affected quite a bit, and we want to know their stories as well.”
Survey aims to help inform New England policymakers, community groups
The Federal Reserve Banks of Boston and St. Louis are working together to promote the survey in New England. Anna Steiger, a vice president of Regional & Community Outreach at the Boston Fed, said she hopes the survey will provide a more nuanced understanding of COVID-19’s ongoing impact on the First District.
“Policymakers and organizations are trying hard to figure out the best way to respond to community needs and opportunities in our area,” she said. “Having more detailed information on a local level – and from many diverse voices – is helpful.”
Steiger said the data collected by the survey may also help the Bank compare the impacts of COVID-19 in New England to other regions in the country, as well as measure long-term effects of the pandemic.
Organizations that work with low- to moderate-income communities can take the survey here through Aug. 31.