Last week, the U.S. Census Bureau released new results from its Household Pulse survey, which tracks the social and economic impacts of the coronavirus crisis. This is the first release since the end of July, so it is the first snapshot we have of how Americans are faring during the pandemic since the $600 boost to unemployment was allowed to expire.
The results show the enormity of the COVID-19 pandemic’s effects on family economic situations across the country, and the extent to which so many people have been left without the help they need.
Nearly half of American adults lost household income, and millions still haven’t gotten benefits
Since the start of economic shutdowns in March, about 113 million adults (46 percent of the population) experienced a loss of employment income for themselves or a member of their household. That fell harder on lower income households: More than half (52 percent) of households making under $35,000 lost employment income, as opposed to 31 percent of households making more than $200,000. And, just as systemic racism in the health care system means that people of color are disproportionately likely to contract and face complications from COVID-19, people of color are also more likely to bear the economic brunt of the pandemic. More than half of people who described themselves as Black, Hispanic or Latino, or two or more races or other races lost income, and 47 percent of Asian adults lost income. White adults were less likely to lose income — only 41 percent did.
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About 50 million adults have applied for unemployment benefits in less than six months, compared to about 37 million in 18 months during the Great Recession. What’s worse, almost 12 million people who applied for benefits have not received any. Poorer homes that were already living paycheck-to-paycheck were least likely to receive support: One third of households with incomes under $25,000 that applied for unemployment insurance haven’t received benefits. And, once again, people of color were less likely to receive the unemployment benefits they applied for: 30 percent of Black adults and 31 percent of adults of two or more races or other races who filed for unemployment insurance haven’t gotten their benefits. In comparison, 24 percent of Hispanic or Latino adults, 22 percent of white adults, and 20 percent of Asian adults also haven’t received any unemployment benefits.
Teleworking has been correlated with good health and high wealth
In addition to the mass layoffs and furloughs, the increase in telework has been the other major shift in the employment landscape: About 86 million adults now live in a home where at least one person shifted from in-person to telework.
There was a strong correlation between reports of good to excellent health and having shifted to working from home, with 47 percent of those in excellent health saying someone in their household made the switch to telework. In contrast, only 18 percent of people reporting poor health said that members of their household were able to make that same change.
This shift to telework has also proven beneficial primarily for those with higher incomes. Just 14 percent of homes making under $35,000 per year had an adult who was able to move at least partially to telework, compared to 72 percent for households bringing in more than $200,000.
Without additional support, more than half of the country is struggling to pay household expenses
All of this economic disruption, and the government’s inability to reach everyone with the aid they need, has left a lot people struggling to pay for everyday things. More than half of American adults — 134 million, or 56 percent of the population— said they had at least a little difficulty paying for usual household expenses in the last week. Homes with children were also much more likely to report spending difficulty: 64 percent compared to 50 percent of those without kids. Households that lost income were twice as likely to have used food stamps (SNAP) and more than three times as likely to have borrowed money from friends or family to cover usual spending needs in the last week.
All of this data points to one thing: People need help. Previous household pulse surveys, when Americans still had access to the $600 boost to unemployment benefits, already showed hardship increased significantly (inability to pay rent and food insecurity, particularly among families with children, were reaching dangerous proportions).
Now that the $600 boost has expired, there is no place in the country where a typical family can live on unemployment insurance alone. Tens of millions of people across the nation still need help getting through the coronavirus crisis. Congress must, at the very least, extend the $600 boost to unemployment insurance to quickly get substantial help to those who need it most in this crisis, and ensure that people are getting the benefits for which they’re eligible.