SELMA — The first COVID-era survey of Fresno registered voters found that half of Fresno households suffered job loss and income reduction due to the pandemic, and that strong support exists for police reforms and behavior such as wearing masks to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
The households hardest hit financially were low-income and non-whites, according to the survey conducted by U.C. Merced and community groups in Fresno.
The so-called "Fresno Voices 2020" survey polled nearly 2,400 registered voters with phones in Fresno. It sought to discover the financial impact on Fresno residents and capture public opinion on major issues facing the city.
The survey found strong interest among respondents to address issues such as racism, public school education and police reform. Some 95 percent of those surveyed said they will vote and take their stances on issues to the ballot box.
Two-thirds of registered voters called the pandemic their biggest challenge ahead, much higher than the cost of housing (8 percent), and crime and violence (8 percent).
Latinos, African-Americans and Asian-American respondents all reported higher rates of pandemic-related income loss than whites. More than half of Latinos (57 percent), African Americans (54.6 percent) and Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (54.5 percent) experienced income decline due to the pandemic compared to 42 percent for whites.
Respondents were also asked about the chances of their family running out of income in the next three months. Overall, the response was 23 percent. That jumped to 36 percent for registered voters earning less than $25,000 a year. Sixty percent of households earning less than $25,000 are suffering from job loss and reduced hours.
The survey was presented on a Zoom webinar discussion Oct. 14. It was a snapshot of a report to be released in more detail later this fall.
"COVID-19 has been devastating for Fresno families,’’ said Kamaljit Kaur, director of development for the Jakara Movement. "Members of our community shared stories of lost income, callous employers and long-term effects on families.’’ The study allowed the public to hear community needs directly and get a better idea of what programs are most critical, Kaur said.
The study revealed that 85 percent to 92 percent of Fresno registered voters support public health behavior to help prevent the spread of COVID-19, including wearing masks, social distancing and avoiding crowds.
Most respondents support civic participation to address racism (54.8 percent), public education (52 percent) and police reform (50.4 percent).
Some three of four (78 percent) registered voters would support elected officials who champion police reforms, and a majority support pro-active gang solutions including: jobs initiatives for people with records, or public social programs. Only 15.6 percent support more funding for law enforcement.
"The cost of policing and prisons is a big deal for localities, and there’s a need to reduce those costs,’’ said Edward Flores, a professor and researcher at U.C. Merced who helped prepare the survey. Other presenters echoed that sentiment, citing parks and summer youth programs as alternatives to some of law enforcement funding.
"The Fresno Voices research brief plainly confirms that the voter consensus for achieving safer neighborhoods is through public program investments – not putting in more police,’’ said Pablo Rodriguez, executive director of Communities for a New California. "There’s a need to re-think public safety.’"
Some past public safety concerns include high rates of officer-involved shootings and lawsuits costing the city millions of dollars. The support for police reform came amid Black Lives Matter protests in Fresno and across the nation.
The Fresno Voices 2020 survey was conducted between Aug. 18 and Sept. 15.
Many of those surveyed were permanently laid off of full-time and part-time jobs. Some workers were furloughed and may get their jobs back.
Some presenters recognized that another government relief package to workers would help the situation.
Jennifer Xiong, a spokeswoman for Hmung Innovating Politics, urged that elders who were uprooted and resettled here four decades ago are "not doing that well." She said the reduction in household income has put many people at risk for health care.
The median household income in Fresno is $47,189, a major drop below the state average of $71,228. The 26.9 percent of households living below the poverty line is more than double the state’s average of 11.8 percent.
The pandemic financial crisis in already distressed Fresno has been accentuated through a large, low-wage immigrant workforce employed in essential agriculture and meatpacking industries prone to COVID-19 outbreaks.
Naindeep Singh of Jakart Movement stressed that Fresno’s situation is likely more dire than what is presented in the survey. That’s because the target of registered voters with phones excludes some of Fresno’s most vulnerable residents, he noted.
"When it comes to death, Latino and African American populations are over-represented,’’ said Venise Curry, of Fresno County Civic Engagement Table, which helped conduct the survey with U.C Merced Community and Labor Center. With some 29,000 cases and 424 deaths already, she said, "We’re a hot spot.’’
Curry added that the region already reckons with social and environmental racism that leads to higher virus co-morbidity factors such as diabetes and high blood pressure levels, derived from living conditions that vary according to ethnicity.
Respondents were also asked about how to best spend funds from the Measure A cannabis tax. Most suggest "more after school and summer youth services’" and improving streets, sidewalks and streetlights (30 percent). The preferences held up across all seven city districts, the study found.
Respondents also said they would attend meetings to strategize on how to address racism (55 percent), quality of public schools (52 percent), police reform (50 percent) and gang violence (42 percent).
The survey suggested that Fresno registered voters have not lost hope in democratic participation as a promising way to address the range of race, health and safety issues in the pandemic era.
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