In the shadow of COVID-19, a toll on entertainment workers

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FILE - A screen displaying messages about COVID-19 light up a sparsely populated Times Square in New York on March 20, 2020. A new survey by The Actors Fund illustrates the depths of need created by the COVID-19 pandemic in the arts community. It reveals financial hardship, food insecurity and lost housing. (AP Photo/John Minchillo, File)

NEW YORK – Like so many, the pandemic upended life for actor and dancer Rena Riffel. The Los Angeles-based performer needed help with rent, utilities and counselling when jobs suddenly dried up.

“Being an artist, we are already very fragile with our finances," she said. ”It's like an ebb and flow. So when the pandemic happened and everything shut down, for myself and for everyone else, there’s really no hope. There's no opportunity."

Riffel's experience is echoed in a new survey by The Actors Fund that illustrates the depths of need created by the COVID-19 pandemic in the arts community. Released Thursday, it reveals financial hardship, food insecurity and lost housing.

The survey of 7,163 people helped by the organization — including Riffel — found that 76% of respondents lost income and 40% reported reduced food security.

Some 28% fell behind in rent or mortgage and 20% were forced to change housing. Ten percent of respondents had to sell a large asset, such as a house or a car.

“We see the pandemic as having a long tail on its impact on performing artists and entertainment professionals, and especially people involved in live entertainment,” Joe Benincasa, CEO of The Actors Fund, said to The Associated Press.

A massive 79% of respondents reported that COVID-19 had a negative impact on their mental health, with increased feelings of anxiety or depression.

“For people working in the gig economy, not always knowing when they’re going to work again — that stress — the impact is tremendous,” said Benincasa.