Client Survey Reveals Hardships of Poverty

As part of SEVCA’s triennial Community Assessment, which helps us assess our programs in terms of the needs in our service area, we surveyed a sample of our clients in May and June, and received 218 responses. Results indicate that hardship for the low income households we serve is persistent and severe, with minor improvement since the last time we surveyed our clients in 2015. Here are some of the preliminary results:

  • Households with lower incomes struggle just to meet their basic needs. 62% of those surveyed said their household income is not enough to meet their family’s basic needs (i.e. food, shelter, clothing, medical care, etc.). 59% said they have had to borrow money or use their credit cards just to pay for their basic needs.
  • Chronic lack of adequate income or even a period of financial stress can lead to a debt trap for many lower-income households. 58% of survey respondents said they can’t afford the monthly payments on their debt, and 60% said they can’t get credit or have bad credit. 74% said they are unable to save money regularly.
  • Few opportunities other than low-wage work are available to this population. Among lower-income workers surveyed, 72% said that most of the jobs they can get don’t pay well, and 74% said they and/or their partner had to work more than 40 hours/week just to pay the bills.
  • More education and/or training is needed to help households move out of poverty. 54% of respondents said they need more education or training to get a better job, and 67% of this group said they are not able to afford the education or training program they need. 50% said they would like to start a business but need more support and training.
  • Many people in lower-income households are no longer able to work. A large proportion of those we surveyed were disabled and unable to work (32%) and/or retired (24%) and on fixed incomes.
  • Housing costs represent one of the most persistent barriers to sustainability for low-income households. 70% of respondents felt there was not enough affordable, safe housing in their area, and 56% said that they have a hard time paying their rent and/or mortgage. 24% said they are behind in their rent or mortgage payments, and are therefore at risk of homelessness. Housing subsidies are scarce: only 16% of those surveyed had rental assistance or lived in affordable housing.
  • Housing quality is also a concern, with 77% of lower-income homeowners surveyed saying that their home needs major repairs but they can’t afford them. 42% of all respondents said that their home or apartment was cold in the winter and/or not insulated well.
  • Most lower income households have trouble making ends meet despite receiving at least some public benefits. For example, 76% of survey respondents received 3SquaresVT (Food Stamps), yet 47% said they sometimes skip meals to save money on food, one of the indicators of food insecurity.
  • Lack of access to dental care emerged as a major issue among the households surveyed, with 54% saying that they have a hard time finding dentists that take their insurance (additionally, many said they had no dental care benefits and couldn’t afford to go see a dentist). In comparison, only 14% said they had a hard time finding doctors that take their insurance. 57% of the respondents indicated they had Medicaid / Dr. Dinosaur, 41% had Medicare, and 20% had a VT Health Connect medical plan.
  • Mental health is also a significant concern for many lower-income households. Mental health challenges and poverty often go hand in hand, often brought on due to the stresses of living in poverty. 47% of survey respondents say they or someone in their family needs help with a problem like depression, anxiety / stress, or other mental health issue. 54% of the sample felt that there were not enough mental health and substance abuse resources in their communities.

  • Public transportation not feasible for most, and affording car repair/maintenance is a serious barrier. 76% of respondents said that public transportation does not go where they need to go at the times they need it, and most people need to rely on their cars. However, 74% of those with a car said they had a hard time maintaining it and 80% said if their car needs a major repair, they won’t be able to afford to fix it. 45% of respondents said that the cost of gasoline makes it hard for them to get or keep a job, and 40% said other difficulties with transportation did so.


“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

Margaret Mead