A City-by-City Snapshot Of Greensboro, N.C., Cincinnati & Baltimore
Risk factors for contracting COVID-19, or losing income because of it, indicate an overlap with risk factors that make a person more likely than others to default on a utility bill, which means those who are already struggling are destined for a deeper struggle ahead.
The elderly and people with chronic illnesses such as asthma, HIV/AIDS, and diabetes are at the highest risk of contracting and becoming extremely sick from COVID-19, says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Recent death toll figures, as reported by The Guardian, show that the coronavirus is killing African-Americans at alarmingly higher-than-average rates. Meanwhile, experts at the World Economic Forum say young people who work in retail, food service and the hospitality industry are poised to bear the worst economic brunt of the pandemic, due to high instances of job loss.
What happens when people belong to all three of these vulnerable groups?
We wanted to find out. Our customers are wondering who, among the people they serve, may be facing extremely difficult futures as the effects of this crisis unfold over the next few months. Our customers want to intervene now to try and help, before things go from bad to worse. The leaders in our partner industries are concerned about their customers being evicted if they can’t pay rent, missing monthly bill payments due to slashed work hours, or falling into bankruptcy because they don’t have a safety net. They’re asking how they can disseminate information—as quickly as possible—regarding things like assistance and forgiveness programs, discounts, giveaways, or emergency funding to the people who need it most.
We know from our research for energy providers around North America that certain factors make people more likely to pay their bills late or to skip payments altogether. And, given what we know about coronavirus risk factors, we can’t help noticing there’s a stark overlap between these groups.
People at the highest risk of missing utility bill payments or not paying at all are those who*:
- Are in their 20s and 30s
- Earn a limited or no income,
- Live in neighborhoods where at least 1/4 of residents identify as Black or African-American,
- Have a higher-than-average number of dependents relying on them,
- Are single heads of household,
- Live in neighborhoods with a high rate of vacant dwellings,
- Live in neighborhoods that report a significant percentage of residents living below the federal poverty line, and
- Have a person with a disability living in their household.
*Please note that these findings are generalizations based upon research we have done for specific customers in certain parts of North America, and they may not apply to all geographic regions, which is why we create customized, household-specific, initiative-based solutions in response to our customers’ business challenges.
Life is hard enough for these folks without a pandemic wreaking havoc on their health and financial situation. They are the people, we surmise, who:
- must choose whether to buy food or pay for heat each month;
- live in poorly insulated homes with energy-guzzling appliances;
- see peaks and valleys in their income,
- earn money based on tips, seasonal labor, or irregular shift work.
For any of these individuals who happen to have a chronic health problem and/or happen to work in food service, retail or hospitality, their risk of suffering both health-related and economic hardships from COVID-19, in addition to the challenges they already face, just skyrocketed.
Let’s zoom in on a few areas where residents with certain risk factors may be doubly vulnerable: to both COVID-19 and missing future bill payments.
Asthma + Food Service Employment Rates in Greensboro, North Carolina
Known as “The Gate City,” Greensboro, NC, is home to the International Civil Rights Center & Museum, along with approximately 295K total residents.
- 35K Greensboro residents fall between the ages of 18 and 35.
- 40 percent of all Greensboroans identify as Black/African-American.
- 19.2 percent of residents live below the poverty line.
- Nearly 8K Greensboro residents work in the food service industry there and, before the pandemic struck, would have earned approximately $16K per year, according to figures from DataUSA.
- Recent figures from wralTechWire.com show that 85K people across North Carolina filed unemployment claims in one week of March alone.
- To date, Guilford County has 125 coronavirus cases and eight deaths.
- 50 of those affected are between the ages of 18 and 49.
Making a stark situation worse, the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA) rates Greensboro, NC, as the third-highest-ranking Asthma Capital in the nation, so named for being among the most challenging cities to live in for people who have asthma. The Center for Housing and Community Studies at UNC Greensboro explains that Guilford County, in which Greensboro sits, has a 15 percent asthma rate, which is much higher than the national average of 8 percent, putting more people in Greensboro at risk for severe coronavirus symptoms.
And, as Chick-fil-A restaurants, Steak ‘n Shakes, Biscuitvilles, and Freddy’s Frozen Custard and Steakburger restaurants, along with droves of others, now have limited hours and closed dining rooms, that means a lot of servers, chefs and dishwashers have lost critical income.
Diabetes + Retail Employment Rates in Cincinnati, OH
Best known as Cincy, otherwise nicknamed “The Queen City,” Cincinnati is the birthplace of Steven Spielberg, the ‘capital of cornhole,’ and home to roughly 300K people.
- Approximately 90K Cincinnatians fall between the ages of 18 and 35
- More than 15.5K residents work in retail
- Retail is the third-largest industry in the Buckeye state, according to estimates from DataUSA.io.
- 40 percent of Cincinnati residents identify as Black/African-American
- Approximately 11.3 percent of Cincinnatians have diabetes, according to CincinnatiStats.com, which is higher than the national average of 9.3 percent.
- To date, Hamilton County, in which Cincinnati sits, has 437 coronavirus cases with 13 deaths.
- The Ohio Department of Health’s (ODH) 2018 Diabetes Action Plan states, “Diabetes disproportionately impacts the adult Medicaid population (of Ohio), among which 16.0 percent (333,000 beneficiaries) have diabetes.”
- The ODH adds that diabetes is often associated with or complicated by other diseases and conditions: “Three in four Ohio adults with diabetes also have hypertension, and more than half have high cholesterol, obesity and arthritis.” All of these are risk factors for coronavirus.
- Cincinnati.com says Ohio’s unemployment rate has jumped to 7.4% in recent weeks as mass layoffs have taken place due to coronavirus.
Home to Kroger stores, Cincy’s grocery workers are likely still employed. But for those who work for mall giants like Macy’s, their incomes have been eliminated. Macy’s is also headquartered in Cincinnati and was already planning to close over 100 stores nationally and lay off thousands of workers, even before the coronavirus hit, according to Axios.com.
Likewise, cashiers and sales clerks at Abercrombie & Fitch, H&M, Ross stores, Bed, Bath & Beyond, TJ Maxx and hundreds of other retail outlets in Cincinnati (and around the world) are currently out of work. If any of the newly-laid-off retail workers also have diabetes or take care of someone who does, which in Ohio is more likely than in a lot of other places, their health and economic well-being are at extremely high risk.
HIV + Hospitality Employment Rates in Baltimore, MD
“Charm City,” home to the incredible Francis Scott Key Bridge, and birthplace of Thurgood Marshall and Michael Phelps, Baltimore, Maryland, is home to 600K residents.
- Nearly 160K Baltimoreons are aged 18 to 35, according to DataUSA.io.
- The poverty rate in Baltimore is extremely high: roughly 22.4%, according to calculations by DataUSA.io, but that number may be under-representing immigrant children.
- 61 percent of Baltimore residents identify as Black/African-American
- More than 19K residents are reportedly living with HIV, according to aidsvu.org.
- Approximately 76 percent of residents living with HIV identify as Black. (As we now know, living with HIV/AIDS and being African-American are two factors that make a person more likely than others to experience negative outcomes due to coronavirus.)
- Tourism and hospitality account for the city’s third largest industry, according to the Baltimore Sun.
- 25.9 million tourists visited Baltimore in 2017, allowing 85K people in the area to be employed in order to sustain the tourism industry
- Over the course of just one March 2020 week, says Bizjournals.com, over 41K Maryland residents filed unemployment claims.
- As of this writing, Baltimore County reports 866 coronavirus cases and 13 deaths.
Hundreds of workers at Sheraton Hotels, Embassy Suites hotels, and dozens of other overnight accommodation groups around Baltimore have been laid off or furloughed, according to the Baltimore Business Journal. Amusement parks in the region won’t be opening anytime soon; trampoline parks and movie theaters sit vacant, with all of their employees out of work, at least for now. Nearly 80 baggage handlers and cabin cleaners at Baltimore Washington Thurgood Marshall (BWI) airport, who are not currently included in the airline industry’s proposed bailout from the federal government, have had their hours either cut or eliminated altogether, says the Baltimore Sun.
If any of these workers also happens to be between the ages of 18 and 35 and living with HIV/AIDS, or happens to be young and African-American, they are at both high risk of financial hardship and contracting COVID-19 with the potential for life-threatening outcomes.
Take Action Now
Knowing who is at highest risk for severe hardship in your area during this global crisis is the first step toward helping them. Intervene now with outreach to your high-risk customers, informing them about special programs and services that will help keep them afloat over the next few months. Even better, remove any red tape that may make it more difficult to enroll in critical assistance programs. Immediate, proactive intervention can reduce the impact of the bill pay crisis looming on the horizon.