We polled the nation in October 2020, December 2020, and March 2021 to illuminate how US communities have experienced COVID-19. We wanted to understand:
In our national poll, we asked respondents to identify the challenges for which they have sought assistance during the COVID-19 pandemic. We wanted to discern the impacts of COVID-19 that were drastic enough to require respondents to seek assistance in addressing them, and how that trend changed over time.
These results are likely reflective of the massive increase in COVID-19 cases between October and December 2020 as well as the compounding impacts of unresolved challenges that stretch back to the beginning of the pandemic in early 2020. The respondents who sought help for employment in December exceeded the number who sought help for emotional or mental health that month. The shift shows that the need for employment became more important during the last quarter of the year and that more people may have had difficulty with their finances.
It is important to note that many of these challenges are closely related. Increases in economic-related problems (employment, paying for food and medicines, and housing) are likely furthering emotional health issues.
As the pandemic progressed into 2021, we found that people no longer sought as much assistance with employment or ability to pay for basic expenses. In fact, by March 2021, the employment situation for many respondents had improved, which may also be related to decrease in those seeking help with the ability to for basic expenses. We found that the needs of US residents shifted to focus more on seeking assistance with caretaking responsibilities and childcare. With more people being able to re-enter the workforce, the ability to provide care for family members appears to have become more difficult to sustain.
Among all of the answer options we provided, the most drastic change in sentiment was seen between the choice of employment or ability to pay for basic expenses. Respondents’ answers may reflect that social safety nets had potentially reached their breaking point between October and December 2020, leading in a surge of US residents to seek help between those three months last year. Additionally, savings and other economic buffers may have been further drained with the economic impact of the holiday season. However, by March 2021, these same factors seem to have settled to the point where US residents are slowly returning to some semblance of normalcy.
After we asked respondents which challenges caused them to seek help, we asked them what challenges remain. When compared to the question above, this question can also help show where help sought might not have been sufficient to alleviate a given challenge.
In previous questions, we found that emotional or mental health was one of the biggest challenges US residents experienced during the pandemic, so it is unsurprising that this is an issue for which many US residents need assistance. The substantial and increasing number of people who said they still need help with emotional or mental health suggests this need is not being met and continues to be a prevalent worry to respondents.
For all but two challenges, the number of respondents who indicated they still needed help increased between October and December 2020. These results suggest a number of potential challenges: it is possible that help was ineffective or not sufficient to resolve a challenge between October and December, that help may have been sought for a challenge but not received, or that a challenge was resolved earlier but has resurfaced.
The number of respondents that said they still needed help with their ability to get medicines or treatments and ability to pay for medicines or treatments both decreased slightly from October 2020 to March 2021. During this period, the focus of the population may have started to put more attention on immediate household needs where resources were not so readily available. It is also possible that information on health services and medication resources became more accessible. As employment situation improves from December 2020 to March 2021, so does ability to pay for basic expenses. However, even with the improvement of employment situation in March 2021, that emotional or mental health remains an area that is in need.
It is interesting to contrast these responses as compared to the previous graph: what challenges have you tried to get assistance with in the past 6 months. Compared to responses to that question, many more respondents answered that they still require help in these areas than those which looked for help previously. If assistance is necessary, the question arises – why are people not seeking the help they require? A possible cause of this concern is related to the confidence in the services offered. Another potential cause is the stigma associated with seeking help, particularly for problems like emotional and mental health. For example, interviews and other qualitative data suggests that many groups stigmatize mental health issues, which deters people from seeking help.
Results from another question we asked in this poll – what barriers prevented you from getting help during the pandemic? – suggest that fear of getting sick, lack of clear information on where and how to receive assistance, fear of mistreatment by those that would provide help, or fear of being judged by one’s community for seeking help serve as deterrents as well. Read more about those results here.
Polling was completed with support of the Walmart Foundation for our project, Impact of COVID-19 on Communities of Color.