Informal Modes of Social Support among Residents of the Rural American West during the COVID-19 Pandemic

Kathryn McConnell, J. Tom Mueller, Alexis A. Merdjanoff, Paul Berne Burow, Justin Farrell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


During the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic, federal spending on government safety net programs in the United States increased dramatically. Despite this unparalleled spending, government safety nets were widely critiqued for failing to fully meet many households' needs. Disaster research suggests that informal modes of social support often emerge during times of disruption, such as the first year of the pandemic. However, use of formal government programs and informal support are rarely examined relative to each other, resulting in an incomplete picture of how households navigate disaster impacts and financial shocks. This study compares estimates of informal social support to formal government program use in the rural U.S. West, drawing on data from a rapid response survey fielded during the summer of 2020 and the 2021 Annual Social and Economic Supplement of the Current Population Survey (CPS-ASEC). We find that informal social support systems were, on aggregate, used almost as extensively as long-standing government programs. Our findings highlight the critical role of person-to-person assistance, such as sharing financial resources, among rural households during a disruptive disaster period. Routine and standardized data collection on these informal support behaviors could improve future disaster research and policy responses, especially among rural populations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)972-1000
Number of pages29
JournalRural Sociology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 2023

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science


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