The Experiences, Needs, and Voices of Workers in Low-Income Households During COVID-19

The Experiences, Needs, and Voices of Workers in Low-Income Households During COVID-19

OPRE Report #2022-173
Published: Aug 31, 2022
Publisher: Washington, DC: Office of Planning Research, and Evaluation, Administration for Children and Families, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
Associated Project

Next Generation of Enhanced Employment Strategies Project (NextGen)

Time frame: 2018-

Prepared for:

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families

Key Findings
  • Workers interviewed for this study held jobs that were particularly susceptible to the pandemic’s economic effects, and almost all experienced some disruption in their employment during the pandemic. Although some of them were involuntarily laid off or had their hours reduced, others quit for pandemic-related health and safety reasons or because they needed to care for their children when schools and child care options were closed.
  • With little or no savings to fall back on, the combination of reduced earnings and increased expenses put some workers into debt or deepened existing debt. COVID-related government relief provided some temporary support, but at least half of the workers who were interviewed described how they still struggled to keep up.
  • For many individuals, problems caused by loss of earnings were exacerbated by increases in food and utility expenses as families spent more time in the home instead of at work or school.
  • To help make ends meet, most of the interviewed workers sought support from local community organizations, family, and friends; and relied on services provided by employment programs, including temporary financial assistance. Most also continued to rely on the government support they were receiving before the pandemic.
  • The employment programs the workers participated in both before and during the pandemic responded to the crisis at hand and provided a range of services that went above and beyond typical offerings. The interviewed workers appreciated the increased communication and check-ins from staff, the suggestions and referrals to additional community resources and, in some cases, the extra financial support.
  • Participants described emotional stresses and mental health challenges caused by the pandemic, but also demonstrated strength and resilience in coping with them.

This study is designed to deepen understanding of how individuals working in jobs with low wages experienced and navigated the COVID-19 pandemic by listening to their personal narratives. The stories and experiences workers share in this report and brief can help policymakers, employers, and programs that are interested in better supporting individuals with low incomes and their families.

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