On this episode of Spotlight we’re talking about how the ongoing pandemic is impacting Food, Housing, and Employment Hardships right here in Naperville.
Recent data from the COVID Hardship Watch from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities indicates that the health and economic crisis brought about by COVID-19 has resulted in tens of millions of people across the country finding themselves out of work; with many now struggling to afford adequate food and pay the rent.
The impacts of the pandemic and the economic fallout in America have been widespread, but are particularly prevalent among Black, Latino, Indigenous, and immigrant households; often reflecting longstanding inequities in education, employment, housing, and health care. The current pandemic is exacerbating the problem.
The implications for children are significant. The Census Bureau indicates that households with children face especially high hardship rates, which research has shown can have serious effects on children’s long-term health and financial security.
In talking with our local social service agencies, it’s clear as the fourth largest city in the state of Illinois, Naperville is not immune to any of these hardships and the numbers of people looking for help with employment, food and housing have increased significantly since March.
In the area of employment, while job loss is always challenging to families, typically the Career & Networking Center is working with one client within a family (either mom or dad.) The pandemic has resulted in more job loss among both bread-winners having twice the impact on the family. With schools in a remote or hybrid model, many parents are also having to make tough choices between going to work and finding child care. The impact of the pandemic on the service industry sector is particularly accute. According to the Labor Department employment data, the majority of jobs lost in the crisis have been in industries that pay low average wages, with the lowest-paying industries accounting for 30 percent of all jobs but 53 percent of the jobs lost from February to November. This segment of the population typically has the least financial reserves to draw from during a time of job loss.
With the loss of employment, many people then find themselves unable to provide adequate food for their family or pay the rent.
Loaves & Fishes typically sees 22 new families each week. That number has increased to 193 families/week – a 777% increase! Simultaneously, in response to CDC guidelines they had to decrease their volunteers at the pantry by 80% requiring a completely different model for food sorting and curb-side distribution. On top of that, 60% of their food comes from their grocery partners in the form of rescue food and as a result of people stocking up on food and supplies, that supply went down. The net result was more people to serve, less volunteers and less food resources.
At DuPagePads, the pandemic health protocols required the agency to immediately close their overnight shelters at local faith-based facilities and pivot to a new hotel-model. At the onset of COVID-19, many families who found themselves unable to keep up with the rent were couch surfing and staying in their cars. However as the months went by and the colder weather closed in, those families needed to find temporary housing. During an average winter, DuPagePads typically serves 150 people. In December 2020, that number is already at 200 people with a third of those being children.
The situation experienced across the city for the last nine months has been nothing any of our guests have experienced before. It has required agility to modify agency operations to meet client needs safely in the ‘new normal.’ It has brought focus to the stark differences among residents of Naperville; those who have the financial resources to weather the pandemic versus those that don’t. All our guests spoke to the “digital divide” and how it was impacting their clients. Many families only have one computer with multiple people trying to work or job search from home while remote schooling their children.
While the situation in 2020 has been grim, Kim, Nancy and April all spoke to the incredible generosity of the community in stepping up and donating funds and necessary supplies such as face masks and hot meals. They also talked about the creativity of their staff and volunteers who found new ways to serve clients. And, lastly they talked about the resiliency of their clients; who faced with enormous hardships are continuing to soldier on and try to find ways to provide a good life for their families.
In closing, when asked about the vacinne and a return to normal, all three guests were clear that while 2021 may see a containment of COVID-19, the financial impact of of this health crisis will long be felt by the clients they all serve.
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Watch more interviews with local nonprofit organizations serving the Naperville area.