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Sep 28, 2021

Community Action Study Examines Impact of COVID-19 on Low-Income Families and Communities in North Carolina

Executive Summary

Monitoring surveys provide valuable quantitative insights into the magnitude, geographic manifestations, and social demography of COVID-19 infections, hospitalizations, and deaths in the state of North Carolina. However, the voices of the people behind the numbers are equally important but heard less often, especially the voices of low-income people who have had their trials multiplied by the pandemic and responses to control it. Similarly, rarely do we hear firsthand from local community leaders who are on the frontlines of efforts to protect public health and safety during crises like the COVID-19 pandemic.

The North Carolina Community Action Association (NCCAA) commissioned a study to assess the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on its efforts to combat poverty and facilitate self-sufficiency in low-income communities throughout the state. We conducted focus groups with individuals served by Community Action Agencies (CAAs) and conducted a corresponding set of key informant interviews with identified leaders in five communities across the state. The research focused on five themes:

  • Behavioral responses to recommended protective measures
  • Hardships and economic fallout
  • Coping strategies
  • Adequacy of relief measures
  • Perception and beliefs about COVID-19 vaccines

Because of COVID-19 safety precautions, we conducted the focus groups and key informant interviews virtually via Zoom. Designed to last no more than 90 minutes, the focus groups and key informant interviews were conducted in the evening, typically from 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m., using semi-structured interview protocols developed by our research team based on a review of the extant literature on the COVID-19 pandemic (see Appendix A). Between eight and ten individuals participated in each focus group session and a similar number of individuals in the key informant interviews across the five communities. In each of the five communities, the participants were recruited by the NCCAA. Participants with low incomes were provided a $100 gift card in appreciation of their time.

We digitally recorded each of the five focus group sessions and each of the four sessions with key informants representing the five targeted communities in the study. We used a professional transcription service to transcribe the digital files, and then conducted separate detailed content analyses of the transcripts from the five focus group sessions and the four sessions with community key informants. We generated eight key takeaways from our content analysis of the focus group transcripts and nine key takeaways from our content analysis of the transcripts emanating from our Zoom sessions with community key informants.

The key takeaways of this research along with supporting evidence in the form of direct quotes from study participants are presented below. We begin with the findings we derived from our focus groups followed by the findings derived from our key informant interviews. We conclude with a set of recommendations community action agencies should consider as they continue their efforts to eliminate poverty and generate self-sufficiency among low-wealth individuals and families, and work to create more inclusive and equitable communities throughout our state.

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