Nov 22, 2021 - Economy

Mayors' top concern: mental health

Mayors' top concerns about pandemic fallout
Data: Menino Survey of Mayors; Chart: Kavya Beheraj/Axios

The No. 1 concern of U.S. mayors about the long-term consequences of the pandemic is their residents' mental health, followed closely by the learning loss for children, a survey released this morning finds.

Why it matters: Last year, the top worry among the mayors polled annually in the Menino Survey of Mayors was financial ruin — budget shortfalls and service cuts. This year, thanks to cash infusions from the American Rescue Plan (ARP), their concerns have shifted pronouncedly.

Driving the news: The Menino Survey of Mayors canvassed 126 mayors from cities with more than 75,000 residents over the summer — just as the Delta variant of COVID-19 was a looming worry — and found less concern with crime, the shift to remote work and outmigration than canvassers had expected.

  • "One of the things that was really striking to us was how concerned they were about mental health and the lingering effects of the pandemic," Katherine Levine Einstein, associate professor of political science at Boston University and a principal investigator for the survey, tells Axios.
  • "A lot of them were talking about the ways in which people felt fearful, emotionally drained, anxious, cautious or on edge," she said. "Over half of mayors are really worried about mental health and trauma."
  • This concern is amplified when it comes to homeless residents, since it's even harder to help people who are having mental health and financial challenges at the same time.

The survey, conducted annually by Boston University's Initiative on Cities (and named for former Boston mayor Thomas Menino), included mayors from 39 states; it bills itself as "the only nationally representative survey of America’s mayors."

What's changed: Last year, the mayors were gloomy about the pandemic's effect on municipal coffers. This year, thanks to the money earmarked for individual cities under the ARP, they find themselves with money to spare.

  • 4 out of 5 mayors said they'd use ARP money for "transformative aims" on housing, infrastructure, and equity, not to fill budget gaps.

Go deeper: Mayors fear long-lasting effects of COVID-19

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