Although the COVID-19 pandemic is affecting the United States as a whole, not all areas face the same impact. A recent report from the Institue of Outdoor Recreation and Toursim at Utah State University entitled the "Rural West COVID Project" looks at the impact of the virus in places like Utah.
“Rural communities are really particularly vulnerable to the effects of the pandemic. You know, there's lower access to health care, there's higher poverty and many places have a higher portion of health compromised people, and the labor market, they're really pretty vulnerable. So what we're talking about right now, this first survey, is part of a larger project that's going to go on over the next year to try and quantify and qualify the impact of COVID-19 on the rural West," said Tom Mueller, an associate professor of sociology at Utah State University and is one of the authors of this recent report.
Mueller said these results mirror what has been found across the country.
“We found that a third of rural Westerners had some form of direct experience with the virus," he said. "We found that many or most perceived negative impacts to their overall life. We saw really big impacts to employment. One in five people who are employed in the year prior to the pandemic full-time weren't by the end of the survey, and 41% of those who are employed part time before the pandemic weren't at the time of the survey.”
Although some people are going back to work, Mueller said the employment rate is still much lower than it was pre-pandemic. And since the unemployment rate does not include those who are discouraged and have stopped trying to find work, it often looks lower than it actually is.
Lack of internet access is what Mueller said was one of the most concerning finds. In their sample, which can be generalized to the whole rural population, 18% of children under 16 years old did not have access to household high speed internet. He said and more communities don’t feel their internet access is good enough for all these Zoom meetings necessary for remote education.