New Report Documents Pandemic’s Impact on Cities Across America, Continued Need for Relief and Recovery Funds

June 10, 2021

This first comprehensive report of its kind offers a data-driven perspective on how COVID-19 exacerbated structural inequities and what conditions made some communities more resilient than others.

Washington, D.C. – The National League of Cities (NLC) today released its 2021 State of the Cities (SOTC) report, finding that the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated existing inequalities within and among American communities, especially for people of color. The report also found that access to reliable infrastructure was a key factor in determining how resilient cities and towns were in the face of COVID-19, with access to broadband and clean water protecting local economies and supporting residents as they adjusted to the ‘new normal’ of the pandemic.

“Local leaders on the front lines pandemic have made themselves crystal clear: our communities have suffered from dual health and economic crises that require significant and sustained long-term investments to address,” NLC Executive Director and CEO Clarence Anthony said upon the report’s release. “The American Rescue Plan Act delivered essential support to local governments to help our country reopen. As recovery begins, this data will help inform federal leaders about the investments that need to be preserved, prioritized, and expanded in order to ensure our nation’s municipalities have the tools they need to rebuild from the devastating impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

The survey of local leaders from across the country found that the pandemic had a devastating effect on individuals and communities already facing economic hardship. City leaders reported that access to affordable housing, vacant commercial developments, increased need for financial and nutrition assistance, a decline in infrastructure spending, and unemployment all drove worsening economic conditions, especially for communities of color. Those who lost their jobs or faced overwhelming healthcare costs turned to their local governments for relief, depending heavily on assistance programs to stay in their homes and pay bills. NLC’s comparative analysis of data from urban and rural municipalities found that a lack of data from rural communities on the pandemic’s disparate impact on communities of color is creating challenges for local and federal leaders alike to advance policy solutions with equity in mind.

Among other findings, the survey results showed that:

  • 41% of municipalities saw a decrease in their total general fund revenues;
  • Approximately 50% of urban city leaders are witnessing declining economic outcomes for people of color;
  • 37% of officials agree that affordable housing supply is the most prominent factor driving negative local outcomes;
  • Approximately 40% of urban officials have seen an increase in crime over the past year, a higher rate than non-urban communities;
  • 63% of urban officials are witnessing an increase in homelessness;
  • 68% of officials say there is an increased need for small business emergency assistance; and

The survey also found that infrastructure was a key determining factor in community resiliency during the pandemic. Municipal leaders reported that residents’ access to clean water and reliable broadband services were positive drivers that enhanced their cities’ ability to respond to the pandemic and keep their communities safe.

The survey shows that:

  • 40% of local officials indicated that access to clean drinking water was one of the most significant positive conditions supporting their communities;
  • 20% of local officials indicated broadband availability as a leading positive driver;
  • 43% of municipalities indicated that the availability of parks, recreation and community green and open spaces was a top condition supporting their communities; and
  • 91% of local officials said insufficient funding was the top factor impacting their decision making on local infrastructure projects.

The survey results underscore that, with the economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic depleting local budgets and postponing public works projects, there is an urgent need for Congress to shore up our nation’s infrastructure to protect and enhance the health and economic prosperity of our communities. Today, the United States faces a 10-year, $2.6 trillion infrastructure investment gap that puts our nation at a major competitive disadvantage on the world stage. If Congress fails to deliver significant investment in infrastructure now, the costs of rebuilding and repairing our communities’ infrastructure assets will only increase exponentially in the coming years.

While federal relief dollars will go a long way to fueling the recovery of our hometowns, city leaders warn that rebuilding our economy will take time, and every dollar allocated for local governments under the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) is essential to continued relief for local communities across the country. Current proposals being discussed in Congress to claw back these relief funds would severely undermine local governments’ ability to plan long-term investments to restore and rebuild their communities. As reopening continues, local governments are mindful of the impact of declining property tax revenues, the lifting of eviction moratoriums, and the need for infrastructure spending as potential drivers or limiting factors of economic growth.

NLC’s 2021 State of the Cities analysis is based on a survey of local officials from nearly 600 cities, towns and villages, with 57 mayoral speeches assessed to provide context and grounding to the survey results. To learn more about the methodology behind the report and see the full survey result data, click here. To view a recording of the release event, click here.

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The National League of Cities (NLC) is the voice of America’s cities, towns and villages, representing more than 200 million people. NLC works to strengthen local leadership, influence federal policy and drive innovative solutions. Stay connected with NLC on FacebookTwitterLinkedIn and Instagram.