The Morning Call (Sunday)
Foreclosure, eviction risk need more than vaccine
Countries around the world have begun to distribute the vaccines that will finally bring this terrible pandemic under control and allow many of us to return to some measure of normalcy.
However, this difficult time has revealed just how many of our friends, neighbors and families were struggling even before the pandemic hit, and it’s clear that the pain of its impact will not disappear with our ability to become immune from COVID19.
This reality became heartbreakingly evident as we developed our Foreclosure and Eviction Risk tool in August. The interactive map at lvpc.org includes data for every census block in the region showing more than half of all Lehigh Valley renters and a quarter of homeowners are paying more than 30% of their gross income for housing — a condition known as being cost-burdened.
It was particularly shocking to see that people struggling to pay their rent and mortgage are not isolated in our cities or low-income neighborhoods, but in every corner of the region, including our suburbs and rural areas.
The idea of mapping this out was to isolate the neighborhoods where resources — whether they be federal, state or local — would be most needed.
The clear view of so many in need made us want to do more.
Through our partnership with the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia, we’ve added more data showing Lehigh Valley residents whose jobs are at risk because of the pandemic. Federal Reserve researcher Eileen Divringi and Davin Reed analyzed where Valley residents work in jobs that require them to be within 6 feet of other people, and we melded that into our Foreclosure and Eviction Risk tool. The intent is, by knowing where people are struggling with housing and are at risk of losing their jobs, our government, nonprofit and community leaders can get the clearest picture of where people are finding it difficult to handle costs for their basic needs.
In the Lehigh Valley, the jobs at-risk numbers are no less concerning than the housing issues. According to the analysis, nearly 78,000 people, amounting to 27% of all workers in this region, are employed in at-risk jobs. This includes jobs in some of our biggest industries including health care, retail, food service, construction, manufacturing, and transportation and warehousing.
Much like our cost-burdened neighbors, at-risk workers live in every part of the Lehigh Valley. In fact, while there are concentrations of at-risk workers in every municipality, the tool shows the highest numbers are in two of the higher income townships of Forks and Upper Macungie.
Overall, roughly 23% of all Lehigh Valley households have at least one worker in an at-risk job. Not surprisingly, Blacks, Hispanics, Latinos, women and young adults are disproportionately vulnerable, according to the Federal Reserve analysis.
You can find the updated Foreclosure and Eviction Risk tool at https:// lvpc.org/data-lv-housing.html.
None of this is intended to cause alarm or depress people over the holidays. In fact, in some ways, the Lehigh Valley is weathering the pandemic as well or better than many other regions that haven’t had the recent economic and growth successes that we have. Our most recent unemployment rate of 7.1% is slightly better than Pennsylvania’s rate of 7.3%. But that’s still 24,000 Valley residents out of work, and many, many more still at risk. I’ve also found that our history of rebounding from the drastic changes in our
local economy has made us more resilient and better equipped to respond than most.
However, it’s a reminder that a vaccine will not end the suffering for many of our communities. The pandemic has only worsened matters for people who were already struggling to pay for housing, and it has put in jeopardy the jobs of tens of thousands of people. Even if we’re all able to roll up our sleeves and wince a sigh of relief by the third quarter of this year, many of the impacts will remain. Dozens of restaurants and retail shops have closed permanently as the transition to the online purchase of almost everything, including food, was accelerated.
A robust federal stimulus will help, but we’re going to have to keep doing what the people of the Lehigh Valley have always excelled at — helping each other.
Our friends, neighbors and families are going to continue to need our compassion, help and generosity. At the beginning of this new year, let’s recommit and accelerate human kindness. Our community needs it now more than ever.