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4 in 10 Children Live in a Household Struggling to Afford Basics

October 21, 2020 at 1:00 PM

More than 4 in 10 children live in households that struggle to meet usual household expenses, our analysis of Census Bureau data released today finds. Along with other data showing that hardship has significantly worsened due to COVID-19 and the recession that it spurred, the figures underscore the need for policymakers to agree on a strong, bipartisan economic relief package.

An estimated 42 percent of children live in households that reported it was somewhat or very difficult to cover expenses such as food, rent or mortgage, car payments, medical expenses, or student loans, according to CBPP analysis of detailed data collected from September 16 to 28 from Census’ Household Pulse Survey. By contrast, 27 percent of adults in households without children reported that it was somewhat or very difficult to cover expenses. Between 7 and 11 million children live in a household where children didn’t eat enough because the household couldn’t afford it.

The detailed data released today allow a closer look at the hardship findings that Census released on October 7, which showed hardship rates for adults from September 16 to 28. Our new analysis focuses on children, whose hardship rates for that period are higher. Hardship can inflict lasting harm on children’s health and education, studies show.

Though equal opportunity is a widely shared national goal, children’s hardship rates vary widely by the education level and race or ethnicity of the adult in the household. (The Census data don’t specify the children’s race.) The racial differences reflect longstanding inequities in education, employment, housing, and health care that often stem from structural racism — and that the current crisis is worsening. Households reporting that it was somewhat or very difficult to pay for usual household expenses include:

  • 59 percent of children in Black non-Latino households;
  • 55 percent of children in Latino households;
  • 49 percent of children in households with a non-Latino American Indian, Alaska Native, Pacific Islander, or multi-racial respondent;
  • 33 percent of children in white non-Latino households; and
  • 27 percent of children in Asian non-Latino households.

As for education level, households reporting that it was somewhat or very difficult to pay for usual household expenses include:

  • 51 percent of children of adults without a four-year college degree; and
  • 21 percent of children of adults with a four-year college degree.

While we don’t have comparable data from before the pandemic, available data indicate that children’s food insecurity has increased. In Pulse data released today for the period September 30 to October 12, up to 15 percent of adults living with children reported that the children didn’t have enough to eat sometimes or often in the last seven days due to lack of money. By contrast, in a December 2019 survey, only about 1 percent of adults with children reported similar problems in the last 30 days.

Today’s Pulse data also provide new findings about hardship in early October. From September 30 to October 12:

  • Some 9 to 15 percent of adults with children reported that their children didn’t eat enough in the last seven days because they couldn’t afford it. (The 9-15 percent range reflects the different ways to measure food hardship in the Pulse Survey.)
  • Black and Latino adults were more than twice as likely as white adults to report that their household didn’t get enough to eat: 18 percent and 17 percent, respectively, compared to 7 percent of white adults.
  • Nearly 1 in 6 adult renters — 11.8 million, after adjusting for underreporting in the Pulse Survey — reported that their household wasn’t caught up on rent.
  • Renters of color are likelier to report difficulty affording rent: 26 percent of Black, 20 percent of Asian, and 19 percent of Latino renters said they weren’t caught up on rent, compared to 11 percent of white renters.

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