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Economic Security Hub

The Women’s Fund of Western Massachusetts began collaborating with key area partners to launch the Greater Springfield Women’s Economic Security Hub (ESH) in 2020. This collaborative created a 12-determinant framework to represent ‘one woman’s economic engine’ that shows the complexity of factors that affect women’s economic security. The ESH commissioned the University of Massachusetts Amherst Center for Research on Families (UMass CRF) to collect and analyze data on 200 women experiencing economic insecurity in Greater Springfield. UMass CRF trained and certified community-based organizations employees in ethical research practices for these trust-based interviews. All participants and employees were compensated for their time and testimony.

Research participants were over 18 years of age, 95% of whom selected woman/female under gender identity and two selected non-binary, and 90% live in Springfield. The data collected represents low-income women from communities of color, with 28% identified as Black only (non-Latine) and 54% identified as Latine. The predominant language used in data collection was English, but 12% of the survey interviews were facilitated in Spanish. The majority of participants were single women with children with a median income of $15,000, and one-third of the participants noted unpaid caregiving.

The categories below reflect the most urgent needs identified by participants when asked, “What service needs are your three most urgent today?”


A majority of participants living in apartments or houses rented and home ownership was uncommon. Over half of those living in apartments or houses stated that they received subsidized housing. Strikingly, around one in four participants with rent or mortgage payments reported that these payments made up more than 40% of their total household monthly income.

Percent of respondents reporting secure housing as a pressing and urgent need


Current Housing Situation

Survey participants largely reported living in apartments or houses, while a minority reported their current housing situation as staying with friends and family, a shelter, a car, or some other housing arrangement.

  • Apartment 70%
  • House 14%
  • Staying with Friends/Family 6%
  • Shelter 4%
  • Vehicle 1%
  • Other Arrangement 5%

I applied for housing, and I didn't make it because I made too much, but I don't make enough to cover my rent, so it's difficult to get affordable housing.

Of respondents living in apartments or houses, percent who are renting


Of respondents living in apartments or houses, percent receiving subsidized housing


Job Training or Further Education

Educational attainment can impact one’s ability to access a well-paying job. Participants’ most cited level of educational attainment was a high school diploma or equivalent at 38% followed by 24% noting some engagement with higher education without a terminal degree. Job preparation and education was the second highest ranked in terms of priority and urgency indicating that further access to education and job training is a clear area of need among low-income women in Greater Springfield.

Percent of respondents reporting job training or further education as a pressing and urgent need


Educational Attainment Levels

There was a wide variety of education levels achieved by the survey participants. The majority of participants (59%) reported no higher education experiences.

  • Some Elementary School 5%
  • Some High School 17%
  • High School Diploma or GED/HiSet 38%
  • Some College, No Degree 24%
  • Associate Degree 7%
  • Bachelor’s Degree or Higher 7%
  • Other Arrangement 2%

There should be more options for free education for people to be able to say, OK, well I want to try to go into administration. How do I do it? Where do we go?

New or Better Jobs

Notably, 83% of participants disclosed annual household incomes below 200% of the poverty line, and half reported that their income and public assistance, combined, were insufficient to meet their needs. 38% described some form of paid work. While 59% mentioned they were not currently working for pay, medical conditions or disability and lack of access to childcare were noted as factors that impacted their ability to work.

Cannot find full-time employment, because I cannot afford childcare.

If I don't have a sitter or childcare how can I go anywhere? I can't take her with me realistically; to school or work.

Percent of respondents reporting a new or better job as an urgent need


Percent of respondents with full time employment not in the field of their choice


Percent of respondents with part time employment not in the field of their choice


Percent of respondents reporting difficulties with employment related to the Covid-19 pandemic


Because of Covid, I am scared to put my daughter in daycare.

Food Access and Healthy Food

Food insecurity is a pressing concern in Greater Springfield. While more than half of all participants reported going to the food pantry at least once per month, more than one-third reported accessing food pantries at least twice per month. Safety net programs are instrumental and utilized sources of support for this population. Most participants (80%) received Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, and two-thirds of SNAP recipients indicated they had been on SNAP for one or more years.

In the past 12 months:

54% food pantry once a month. 35% food pantry twice a month.

In the past 12 months:

  • 63% worried that they would run out of food
  • 56% ran out of food before having money to buy more
  • 52% could not afford balanced meals

When there wasn’t enough money for food, adults in the household did the following:

  • 47% cut the size of meals or skipped meals
  • 41% ate less than they felt they should
  • 32% didn’t eat when hungry
  • 13% didn’t eat for a whole day

My food pantry is very limited. You usually get … peanut butter every single time you go there, and you get rotten … fruit, vegetables that you're lucky if they even last you a day. The food you get is usually out of date, especially for like meats and stuff like that … So you plan a meal, and you can’t eat it. Because you're going to get sick, so you go without food for the night. You end up eating cereal because that's all the food pantry can really give you cereal and peanut butter. And soup, lots of soup. But, it’s food.


Transportation was by far the most frequent type of instrumental or material support that survey participants reported: 75% of those who stated they had instrumental social supports listed rides from family or friends as the support received. This report suggests that transportation is a relatively common concern, and that women are largely getting this need met by counting on members of their social support network to provide transportation help and not through infrastructure or public transit.

I haven't found a food pantry in my area. But because I don’t have a car, I can’t go to one.

Transportation [lack of] is a major barrier to maintaining or even finding employment.

Of the people who listed transportation as one of their top three priorities, 80% reported they did not know any resources to support this need.


Percent of respondents who were unable to pay for transportation costs in the past 12 months


Percent of respondents reporting they have social support to help with transportation


Friends and family was listed as the most common form of support

I have a master's degree, but ... I don’t drive. So, all the positions that they are hiring you have to have transportation. They say they don’t discriminate, but that is discrimination. Because I do have a disability.

Debt, Loan, or Credit Counseling

Percent of respondents who selected debt, loan, and credit counseling as an urgent need


Not being knowledgeable about financial stability and so I mess things up, not knowing about credit card finances like APR and that messes things up.

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