Six Key Takeaways From Pandemic Data on American Households
In a pandemic that’s upended every aspect of American life, a special project by the Census Bureau has set out to map and measure all the anxieties that Covid-19 has brought in its wake.
From job losses to the strains of home-schooling and the spread of hunger and depression, the weekly Household Pulse is a series of snapshots of the country’s physical, mental and financial wellbeing since late April.
The survey was supposed to wrap up in late July. But its insights have proved so “timely and relevant” that the Office of Management and Budget has approved an extension through the end of October. Research teams are out in the field again, and set to report back with their latest findings in the coming days.
Meanwhile, here are some key takeaways from the first three months of the historic project.
Among both renters and homeowners, housing anxiety is on the rise -- and the fear of not having a roof overhead is predictably concentrated among people with less education or lower incomes, and ethnic minorities.
In mid-July, more than a third of New Yorkers experienced housing insecurity. In the Houston area, the figure approached 40%. Nationwide, about one in eight households had payments on their rent or mortgages deferred, or were late making them.
“Rates of late or deferred payments were higher among renters,” Lowell Ricketts, lead analyst at the St. Louis Fed’s Center for Household Financial Stability, wrote in a blog post. But the owners face an additional risk: “Foreclosure can destroy the equity accumulated on a home, which is often the largest asset a family owns.”
Measures at the local and national level have been taken to halt foreclosures and evictions, but many have expired or soon will.
More than half of households experienced a loss of income since March 13 -- the date when President Donald Trump declared a national emergency, and the one chosen by the Census Bureau as a starting point.
Jobs have been furloughed, businesses closed, hours reduced and salaries cut. While the labor market has begun to recover, the latest survey found that 35% of adults were still expecting a loss of employment income in the coming month for themselves or someone in their household.
Black and Hispanic Americans, those without a bachelor’s degree, and younger people are suffering the biggest shortfalls.
The researchers found that while the health emergency and lockdown were the biggest direct cause of unemployment, there were secondary effects, too. Pandemic-induced layoffs were responsible for 11.6 million job losses. A further 6.9 million are due to the unavailability of child care.
The survey recorded how a public health crisis turned into a food crisis, as the responses showed that millions sometimes or often didn’t have enough to eat. That number rose to 23.8 million for the week ending July 24, an increase of almost six million since the first week of May.
Read More: Food Inequality Crisis Deepens in U.S. Under Pandemic’s Pressure
Like the virus itself and many of its effects, hunger has been more likely to afflict Americans of color.
At the same time, after a near-total shutdown of restaurants early in the crisis, Americans -- and especially those with higher incomes -- have gradually been getting back into the habit of dining out. Still, spending remains far below pre-pandemic levels.
Some of the longest-lasting effects of the pandemic may stem from its adverse impact on mental health, and from enforced delays in medical treatment for other conditions.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in a study conducted in May and June, found that more than 10% of adults seriously considered suicide -- a figure that rose to more than one-quarter among 18-24 year-olds. It also found a jump in substance abuse, and said mental health outcomes were worse among racial minorities, essential workers, and unpaid caregivers.
The Census Bureau’s survey, in addition to high levels of anxiety and depression, reported on problems with physical health, as well. It found that more than 70.9 million adults did not get medical care that they needed, for a condition unrelated to Covid-19, between mid-June and mid-July.
©2020 Bloomberg L.P.