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New SANDAG Report Finds 70 Percent of Region's Most Underserved Population Struggling with Basic Needs Amid COVID-19

September 10, 2020 -- Food, Housing, Utilities, and Unemployment Among Most Pressing Needs

A new SANDAG InfoBits report finds San Diego County residents in the most underserved communities are struggling with basic needs during the COVID-19 pandemic. More than 70% of those surveyed noted unmet needs, with the most common including food, housing, utilities, and finding employment.

SANDAG partnered with the newly formed Road to Recovery Coalition to survey more than 3,500 San Diegans living in the most underinvested communities around the region. The survey was disseminated by 23 community-based organizations.

The SANDAG InfoBits report, The Hardest Hit: Community Members Share COVID-19 Impacts, found that two-thirds (66%) of those surveyed reported their employment was negatively affected by COVID-19 and more than half (52%) reported some type of housing instability due to the pandemic.

“While we are all in the same storm of this pandemic, these data show that everyone is not in the same boat,” said SANDAG Director Research and Program Management Dr. Cynthia Burke. “Our neighbors who were struggling financially before the health crisis are now struggling even more with the most basic needs. Our hope is that the data generated from this report can be used by local leaders as we discuss solutions to recover in a way that is equitable to those hardest hit.”

The report also finds that as the 2020-21 school year unfolds with mostly virtual instruction, three in five parents with school-aged children (61% with preschool/elementary and 59% with middle/junior/high school) reported challenges with distance learning.

“As agencies dedicated to helping the most vulnerable, our greatest concerns about the effects this pandemic are having on those we serve have, unfortunately, been validated by these staggering survey results,” said Executive Director of South Bay Community Services and Road to Recovery Coalition member Kathie Lembo. “With no end in sight to this unrelenting disease that knows no boundaries and has taken the lives of too many, we must take action today to address the needs of people who are disproportionately affected by COVID-19.”

A total of 3,527 surveys were completed by residents around the region who had contact with one of the participating Road to Recovery Coalition community-based organizations. The Road to Recovery Coalition was formed in July 2020 out of concern for how the COVID-19 pandemic is impacting the County’s most underserved communities. 

The greatest percentage of respondents were from South Bay (44%), the hardest hit subregion by the current pandemic.

When examining race among those surveyed:

• More than four in five respondents (82%) reported that at least one member of the household identified as Latino, and 52% reported the primary language spoken in the household was Spanish.

• At least one member identified as White Hispanic in 53% of the 1,946 households that provided this information and 11% identified as White non-Hispanic.

• Other races represented included multi-racial (19%), Black (11%), Asian/Pacific Islander (4%), and Native American (2%).

In a recent SANDAG Economic report: Hardest Hit Communities by COVID-19 and Unemployment released in August 2020, 13 of the hardest hit ZIP Codes were identified, and represent 59% of this survey sample. 

See the full SANDAG InfoBits report: The Hardest Hit: Community Members Share COVID-19 Impacts.

Project Manager(s)

For media inquiries, please contact the SANDAG Public Information Office at (619) 699-1950 or