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Originally written by experts with the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities


While employment is rising and strains on household budgets have eased in recent months, the employment rate remains below pre-pandemic levels, and millions still report that their households did not get enough to eat or are not caught up on rent payments. We are able to track the extent of the nation’s progress against hardship thanks to nearly real-time data from the Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey and other sources.

Key hardship indicators show strong improvement since December 2020, Census Bureau data show, aided by job growth and government benefits. Hardship rates fell especially fast after the enactment of the American Rescue Plan on March 11, 2021, which included $1,400 payments for most Americans as well as other assistance to struggling households. Food hardship among adults with children also fell after the federal government began issuing monthly payments of the expanded Child Tax Credit on July 15, along with improvements in food assistance. Still, nearly 20 million adults live in households that did not get enough to eat, 12 million adult renters are behind on rent, and some of the progress from late March appears to have stalled.

The impacts of the pandemic and the economic fallout have been widespread, but remain particularly prevalent among Black adults, Latino adults, and other people of color. These disproportionate impacts reflect harsh, long-standing inequities — often stemming from structural racism — in education, employment, housing, and health care that the current crisis has exacerbated. Households with children also continue to face especially high hardship rates. Considerable evidence suggests that reducing childhood hardship and poverty would yield improvements in education and health, higher productivity and earnings, less incarceration, and other lasting benefits to children and society.


Census Bureau Data Show High Rates of Hardship

The Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey, launched in April 2020, has provided nearly real-time data on how the unprecedented health and economic crisis is affecting the nation. Data from this and other sources, such as unemployment data from Census’ Current Population Survey and the Department of Labor, show that millions of people are out of work and struggling to afford adequate food and pay the rent. The impacts on children are large.


Difficulty Getting Enough Food

Nearly 20 million adults — 9 percent of all adults in the country — reported that their household sometimes or often didn’t have enough to eat in the last seven days, according to Household Pulse Survey data collected September 29–October 11. When asked why, 82 percent said they “couldn’t afford to buy more food,” rather than (or in addition to) non-financial factors such as lack of transportation or safety concerns due to the pandemic.

Also, analysis of more detailed data from the Pulse Survey shows that between 5 and 9 million children live in a household where children didn’t eat enough because the household couldn’t afford it. These figures are approximations; the Pulse Survey was designed to provide data on adult well-being, not precise counts of children.


Households of Color Likelier to Lack Sufficient Food During Pandemic

The share of adults reporting that their households did not get enough to eat rose in the fall of 2020, reaching a peak of nearly 30 percent in mid-December of 2020. It fell sharply in March 2021 after the enactment of the December relief package and the mid-March enactment of the American Rescue Plan. Food hardship among adults with children improved significantly following the issuance of the first monthly Child Tax Credit payment on July 15, as well as continuing economic growth and improvements in food assistance.


Inability to Pay Rent or Mortgage

The Household Pulse data also show that millions are not caught up on their rent or mortgage payments. Unfortunately, there are two concerns with the housing questions. First, the Census Bureau reworded the rent payment question starting with the late-August 2020 survey, making the results non-comparable to earlier weeks of the survey. Second, Census at the same time made the entire survey longer, which led more respondents to skip questions toward the end of the survey, including the housing questions. This “non-response” is higher among groups that are younger, have lower levels of education, and identify as Black or Latino — groups that are more likely to struggle to afford rent, due to long-standing inequities often stemming from structural racism in education, employment, and housing. For these reasons, the Pulse data likely understate the number of people struggling to pay rent.

Even with these issues, however, the data indicate that millions are having difficulty paying rent. An estimated 12 million adults living in rental housing — 16 percent of adult renters — were not caught up on rent, according to data collected September 29–October 11.


Difficulty Covering Household Expenses

Since late August 2020, the Household Pulse Survey has provided data on the number of adults struggling to cover usual household expenses such as food, rent or mortgage, car payments, medical expenses, or student loans. Some 63 million adults — 29 percent of all adults in the country — reported it was somewhat or very difficult for their household to cover usual expenses in the past seven days, according to data collected September 29–October 11.

The share of adults reporting difficulty covering usual expenses rose through the fall of 2020, reaching a peak of 38 percent in mid-December. This likely reflected, in part, weaknesses of the relief packages enacted in the spring of 2020, including increased jobless benefits that expired over the summer, stimulus payments whose impact faded later in the year, and inadequate nutrition and housing assistance.

An estimated 38 percent of children live in households that have trouble covering usual expenses, according to detailed data from the Pulse Survey. They include 57 percent of children in Black households, 46 percent of children in Latino households, 30 percent of children in white households, and 24 percent of children in Asian households. (The Pulse Survey asks the race of the adult respondent, not the children.)

Read the full article to see more statistics and charts for the figures above.


Originally posted by Center on Budget and Policy Priorities:

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