Back to School in the Era of COVID-19

September 2nd, 2020, 1:09 PM

For Fall 2020 the phrase 'back to school' may be all but figurative.  The effect of students receiving their coursework remotely could have a multi-layered effect on them, their household, and even their economy. While there doesn't exist an open-source and regularly updated database of technological connectivity school district-by-district, Erie Vital Signs takes a look at the broader accessibility trends which our community experiences and makes inferences on how this may affect students' prospects for advancement in the COVID-era of education. Additionally, with so many students distance-learning and not leaving the home, what portion of typically dual-income households might forgo working hours in favor of meeting needs for parental supervision of youth?

Our analysis below finds that up to 20.5% of Erie County's households fall below standard on technological accessibility (defined as having a distance-learning compatible device in the household).  And 15% of households don't have any internet connection at all. Furthermore, over 50% of family-households in Erie County have designated themselves as two-or-more-income. The living wage for a two-adult two-child household in Erie County is $65,200 combined, with over 55% Erie County households falling below that status as defined by MIT.  Any of these households experiencing an income reduction earns them below a living wage.

Digital Disparity

Of Erie County's 109,797 households, an estimated 90.4% has one or more types of computing devices in their home, including computers, smartphones, or tablets. But only 73.4% of these households has a desktop or laptop computer, and 10.9% of households feature just a smartphone, with no other type of computing device.  Just over 10,000, or 9.6% of all households, has no computer at all. Comparing Erie County to Erie City the technological accessibility by household decreases further. While Erie County households without a computer or possessing only a smartphone was 20.5%, (22,689 households) within Erie City the households featuring a similar technological deficit was at 27.9%, or roughly 11,283 homes.

The U.S. Census breaks down internet subscriptions by household income in Erie County, and finds that 29.1% of households earning less than $20,000 do not have any internet subscription. This figure drops to 16.2% of households earning between $20,000 and $74,999. Similar internet subscription trends are experienced per income levels in Erie City.

Within Erie County, just over one in four homes has a child under the age of eighteen (27.4% of households), with slightly less in Erie City (26.4%, 10,182). Unfortunately, the devices and internet subscription data are not disaggregated by family type, so we cannot feature an accurate estimation of how many households with children do not possess an internet-capable device suited for distance learning, or do not have any internet subscription. If the statistics analyzed above were applied proportionally to the entire number of households, however, we can estimate that of the 108,458 households in Erie County, that the 20.5% of them which do not possess a computer or only possess a smartphone equals 22,233 households. If 27.4% of those homes housed a child under the age of eighteen then it could mean just over 6,000 households (2,837 of those within the City of Erie) were at an educational disadvantage technologically going into the 2020/21 school year.

Dual Income Households

As noted above, in Erie County, an estimated 51% of family households report 2-or-more earners contributing to the total household income. Utilizing MIT's Living Wage Calculator, the living wage for a family of four with 2 earners is about $32,600 per year, or $15.68 per hour per earner. A family household with two-or-more earners now faces the proposition of supervising a child receiving their education remotely for at least the Fall portion of the 2020/21 school year. If one of those earners remains at home and no salary adjustment is made on the part of the other earner, even with the cost-savings of childcare/daycare, the family will experience a household income below the defined living wage. Also keep in mind that these figures represent ideal earning conditions, whereas EVS has already established in its Salary analysis page that approximately only 41% of all jobs in Erie county support a living wage as defined by the MIT Living Wage Calculator.

Naturally, due to the pandemic, many occupations are now offering a remote work option, which would enable a parent to continue earning from home even while being present to supervise their distance-learning children.  In such cases the childcare/daycare savings are actually a boon to the household income. But, as highlighted in EVS COVID-19 Blog Post #1, the workers most continually affected by the ongoing pandemic lockdown restrictions and social behavioral shifts are the workers in already low-income generating roles and in service-based sectors that have yet to return to pre-COVID employment levels. Sectors like retail, hospitality, leisure, education, and health which typically have to report to the work site and do not offer the same remote possibilities to continue working.

For some displaced employees their prolonged unemployment may mean that they are available to stay home with their children for now, but many will face hurdles in returning to their jobs once the unemployment rates begin to decrease but they are still required at home. While macroeconomically the shift of some two-or-more income generating family households to single-income will likely be masked by the already high unemployment and reduction in consumer spending, the effect will be felt by already historically underpaid workers unable to return to their service-based roles due to their familial obligations.

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