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MORPC research shows COVID-19 worsened economic, health divides in central Ohio

The Columbus Dispatch logo The Columbus Dispatch 6 days ago Mark Ferenchik, The Columbus Dispatch
a sign on the side of a building: Bill LaFayette, owner of the central Ohio economic consulting firm Regionomics, who contributed research for the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission policy papers, said the thing that concerns him most "is the death of small businesses". Owner Dawn McCombs said she had to close Glean, her business at 815 N. High St. in the Short North, shown here in this Dispatch file picture, because of the COVID-19 pandemic. © Fred Squillante/Columbus Dispatch Bill LaFayette, owner of the central Ohio economic consulting firm Regionomics, who contributed research for the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission policy papers, said the thing that concerns him most "is the death of small businesses". Owner Dawn McCombs said she had to close Glean, her business at 815 N. High St. in the Short North, shown here in this Dispatch file picture, because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

A new series of research briefs documenting the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on central Ohio illustrates how it has exacerbated economic and other disparities that already exist in the community.

Those who have had flexibility of work and who could work from home were better off than those who were already struggling, who didn't have the same flexibility, or who lost jobs and fell further and further behind, said Aaron Schill, director of data and mapping for the MId-Ohio Regional Planning Commission (MORPC), which released the briefs on Tuesday.

That is especially true for people of color and low-income residents, he said.

The MORPC briefs are designed to help the region recover from COVID-19 and its lasting impacts. The briefs, which can be read at https://www.morpc.org/covid19policybriefs/, deal with seven topics: economic and community development, employment and small businesses, housing, the social sector, technology and broadband access, transportation, and public health.

a sign on the side of a building: The words "Store Closing" and the addition "It's time to say Goodbye" with a percent sign are written on the window of a closed store in the city center in Oldenburg, Germany, Thursday, April 1, 2021. In view of sharply rising Corona infection figures, the German government has extended the lockdown in Germany until April 18, 2021. © Hauke-Christian Dittrich/dpa via AP The words "Store Closing" and the addition "It's time to say Goodbye" with a percent sign are written on the window of a closed store in the city center in Oldenburg, Germany, Thursday, April 1, 2021. In view of sharply rising Corona infection figures, the German government has extended the lockdown in Germany until April 18, 2021.

They don't propose solutions or suggestions, Schill said. "MORPC is not in a position to say this is what the community should do," he said.  

But they were done so the community, both public and private sectors, can learn about what the biggest challenges are as it continues to recover from the illnesses and death the pandemic brought, as well as job losses, mental health issues and other problems.

“Throughout the pandemic, local decisionmakers had to quickly act on challenges affecting their communities – often with limited information, making it difficult to fully consider the long-term impacts of the pandemic and response measures,” William Murdock, MORPC executive director, said in a statement. “These research briefs help address this information gap and make us more prepared for a stronger and more equitable recovery.”

Two of the briefs deal with economic and community development, and employment and small business.

The latter explains that the Columbus region lost 160,300 jobs in March and April 2020, a 14.2% drop. Leading that decline was leisure and hospitality, including arts and entertainment, recreation, hotels and restaurants. That sector lost nearly half its employment during that time period.

Annual wages in that sector were already the lowest on average in the region, just $21,463 annually, according to 2019 numbers.

Bill LaFayette, owner of the central Ohio economic consulting firm Regionomics, said the research he did confirmed everything he knew about the economic collapse, including the access to and affordability of child care, and consumer confidence.

"The thing I'm most concerned about is the death of small businesses," LaFayette said. 

"It takes time to start a business," he said. No matter if it's a bar, restaurant, or small retailer that closed during the pandemic, each represents local people whose life savings are gone. 

When a local business such as that goes down, the economic impact can be two to four times the economic impact of a chain establishment closing, LaFayette said.

Some sectors are bouncing back, LaFayette said, including transportation and warehousing, and construction and utilities. Employment in those areas is returning to pre-pandemic levels nationally by fall 2022, and sometime sooner than that in central Ohio, he said.

"The forecast for growth this year is just really robust," Fayette said, which could result in labor shortages in some sectors.

Meanwhile, Blacks made up a disproportionate share of coronavirus cases and the social and economic impacts of the pandemic created or exacerbated other health problems, such as delays in medical treatments, more substance abuse, mental health issues and a spike in homicides, the research found.

The regional planning commission and its partners have been working on these COVID-19 impact briefs since October, Schill said, funded by $40,000 from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and another $40,000 total from the city of Columbus and the Columbus Foundation. More than 20 organizations took part, including One Columbus, United Way of Central Ohio, Franklin County Public Health, and the Human Service Chamber of Franklin County.

Matt Martin, a community research and grants management officer for the Columbus Foundation, said his group donated $15,000.

Martin said foundation officials were encouraged by the outpouring of support for nonprofit groups through the past year, whether it be in the form of federal Paycheck Protection Program loans or emergency response funds from agencies such as the United Way.

But Martin said he is concerned what the next fiscal year will look like.

"As a community, we do need to understand the scope of the federal dollars available, what they can be used for, and what it can look like for the community to make the most of it," Martin said.

mferench@dispatch.com

@MarkFerenchik

This article originally appeared on The Columbus Dispatch: MORPC research shows COVID-19 worsened economic, health divides in central Ohio

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