The economic gains before COVID-19 sent the economy tumbling were uneven across states as well as racial and ethnic groups, according to American Community Survey (ACS) data that the Census Bureau released yesterday. And the pandemic wiped out much of this progress for millions of families who are having trouble putting food on the table, finding work, and paying the rent or mortgage. The unequal progress before the pandemic and the hardship that COVID has wrought — hitting communities of color especially deeply — reinforce the need for swift, bold federal and state action to address the hardship of millions of families and individuals.
Median household incomes rose in 38 states from 2017 to 2019, the ACS data show (our analysis uses two years of data to improve the reliability of state-level estimates), but the gains were much more widespread for some racial and ethnic groups than others:
Moreover, the ACS data don’t incorporate the widespread economic harm from the pandemic. Newer data from this summer paint a more accurate picture of current hardship across the country:
While the sample sizes for individual states are too small to accurately break down these data by race and ethnicity, national data clearly show that the pandemic’s economic fallout is particularly affecting Black, Latino, Indigenous, and immigrant households. For example, Black and Latino households are reporting food insecurity at twice the rates of white households.
These disproportionate impacts reflect harsh, longstanding inequities — often stemming from structural racism — in education, employment, housing, and health care that the current crisis is exacerbating. And they make the need for bold, antiracist state policy solutions that advance equity all the greater. Three principles should guide state policymakers in these equity efforts:
State policymakers aren’t the only ones who need to act. The President and Congress must also move swiftly to provide more relief that matches the extraordinary needs of households and our economy. This includes boosting vital programs such as SNAP (food stamps) and housing assistance, extending enhanced federal unemployment benefits, and allocating more aid to states and local governments to help prevent further layoffs and cuts to public services.