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Report: Rural renters also struggling during the pandemic

April 21, 2021 GMT

BOSTON (AP) — It’s not just urban dwellers who have faced difficulties paying the rent during the past year as the pandemic upended the economy.

Renters in rural New England have faced many of the same affordability challenges, according to a report released Wednesday by the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston’s New England Public Policy Center.

While the pandemic may not be having as large a health impact on New England’s rural areas as it’s had on its cities, it’s having a similar economic impact due to businesses closures and restrictions on economic activity aimed at limiting the spread of the virus.

The share of jobs lost in rural New England communities has been large, even though these areas have seen fewer cases of COVID-19 relative to their population size compared with the region’s urban areas, the report found.

That’s in contrast with the experience in much of the rest of the country, where rural areas nationally had seen more COVID-19 cases relative to their population size but had lost a smaller share of jobs.

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Even after the pandemic ends, rural New England households likely will still face considerable affordability challenges, the report said.

The average cost of renting an apartment in rural communities is less than the average cost in urban communities, but incomes are lower in rural areas, in part because higher-paying jobs are less abundant.

And while there are fewer renter households in rural New England than in urban areas, a comparable share of the rural renters spend more than 30% of their annual household income on rent and utilities.

The region’s rural areas had 2,839 total coronavirus cases per 100,000 residents as of January 2021, yet the number of jobs in those places had decreased more than 6% compared with one year earlier.

That’s compared to nationally, where rural areas had seen 8,204 total cases per 100,000 residents but lost only about 3% of jobs over the same period.

The report also found that the pandemic has the potential to further reduce housing affordability in rural New England as pandemic-related job losses make rural renter households just as likely as urban renter households to fall behind on rent.

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VIRUS BY THE NUMBERS

The number of new daily cases of COVID-19 increased by about 1,400 Wednesday while the number of newly confirmed coronavirus deaths in Massachusetts rose by 13.

The new numbers pushed the state’s confirmed COVID-19 death toll to 17,151 since the start of the pandemic, while its confirmed caseload rose to about 635,000.

The true number of cases is likely higher because studies suggest some people can be infected and not feel sick.

There were about 690 people reported hospitalized Wednesday because of confirmed cases of COVID-19, with about 160 in intensive care units.

The average age of those hospitalized was 61. There were an estimated 32,000 people with current active cases of COVID-19 in the state.

More than 5.3 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine have been administered in Massachusetts, including more than 3.1 million first doses and about 1.9 million second doses of the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines.

More than 2.1 million people have been fully immunized.

Nearly 85% of vaccine doses shipped to Massachusetts have been reported as administered to those seeking shots.