It’s spring of 2021, and things are looking up for most of us. People are starting to get vaccinated, kids are starting to spend more time at school, and the weather is brightening. But for the families we serve, it’s not so fast.
After the mortgage crisis of 2007-8, Loudoun Hunger Relief saw a great increase in the number of families coming to us for food. It took until 2014 for those numbers to go down. We expect the same kind of slow recovery from the economic crisis caused by COVID-19. The first to lose their jobs, those in food service, hospitality, home services such as housecleaning, and some retail, will be the last to be re-employed. Vaccines are coming, but it will be some time before we reach “normal”.
We’re not trying to be depressing (although sometimes we even depress ourselves). We’re planning realistically based on the historic data we have on how our economy recovers, and based on the employment trends we’re currently seeing.
Loudoun County is fortunate in many respects. Many people have been able to work from home with no income interruption, and many have generously supported nonprofits helping those in need in our community. Those who can’t work from home, though, are sometimes also those who had the lowest paying jobs and the least financial cushion entering the pandemic.
Every year, the United Way does a nationwide survey identifying the characteristics of households that are just getting by. The ALICE (Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed) report gives a great picture of the circumstances of some of the families who have had to seek food assistance in the past year. Take a look–the Loudoun numbers might surprise you.
Pre-Covid, almost a quarter of Loudoun’s households were a paycheck or two away from trouble. More than a year into COVID, our numbers say that there are many more households in distress. ALICE figures lag, so the latest is from 2018. In 2020, Loudoun Hunger Relief served an average of 875 households each week, compared to between 250 and 300 households each week in 2018 and 2019.
This past year has been so challenging for so many, and for many reasons. The stress of our upside down world has been hard on everyone. But with so many poised to move on from the pandemic and get back to “normal”, we can’t leave those who will remain in need behind. So, not so fast…