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Latest Data: 1 in 3 Adults Having Trouble Paying Expenses

October 7, 2020 at 1:00 PM

Nearly 78 million adults – about 1 in 3 – are having trouble paying for usual household expenses, today’s Census data show. Along with other data showing that hardship has significantly worsened due to COVID-19 and its economic fallout, the figures underscore the urgent need for policymakers to resume negotiations — which the President ended abruptly yesterday — and enact a robust, bipartisan economic relief package.

The data, from Census’s latest Household Pulse Survey (collected September 16-28), show that 32 percent of adults reported that, in the last seven days, their household found it somewhat or very difficult to cover expenses such as food, rent or mortgage, car payments, medical expenses, or student loans. The rate was higher for adults in households with children (40 percent) than adults in households without children (27 percent), the Census figures show — which is consistent with findings from the same survey that households with children are likelier to face difficulty getting enough food and paying their rent. Financial hardship can have serious effects on children’s long-term health and education, research shows.

Reflecting longstanding inequities— often stemming from structural racism — in education, employment, housing, and health care that the current crisis is exacerbating, nearly half of Black (48 percent) and Latino (45 percent) adults reported difficulty paying for usual expenses, compared to 25 percent of white adults. (See graphic.) Although the survey doesn’t provide data for other individual racial groups, the rate was 40 percent for American Indian, Alaska Native, Native Hawaiian, Pacific Islander, and multiracial adults taken together.

In every state, more than 1 in 5 adults reported difficulty paying for household expenses. (See Table 1.) To improve the accuracy of the state estimates, we average Household Pulse Survey data collected September 2-14 and September 16-28.

While we don’t have comparable data from before the pandemic, data on food hardship indicate that economic insecurity has increased. In late September, 10 percent of adults reported that their household sometimes or often had “not enough to eat” in the last seven days. This was several times the pre-pandemic rate: 3.7 percent of adults reported that their household had “not enough to eat” at some point over the full 12 months of 2019.

Today’s Pulse survey data also provide other important insights, as we’ve detailed in our updated fact sheet on hardship:

  • Some 9 to 14 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 9-14 percent range reflects the different ways to measure food hardship in the Household Pulse Survey.)
  • Between 7 and 11 million children live in a household where children didn’t eat enough because the household couldn’t afford it, according to detailed Household Pulse data for September 2-14.
  • Nearly 1 in 6 adult renters — 11 million, after adjusting for underreporting in the Pulse survey — reported that they lived in a household that wasn’t caught up on rent.
  • Renters of color are likelier to report difficulty affording rent: 23 percent of Black, 20 percent of Asian, and 19 percent of Latino renters said they weren’t caught up on rent, compared to 10 percent of white renters.
  • More than 4 in 10 children living in rental housing live in a household that either isn’t getting enough to eat or isn’t caught up on rent, analysis of detailed Household Pulse data for September 2-14 shows.
TABLE 1
1 in 3 Adults Nationwide Have Difficulty Covering Usual Household Expenses
Among adults; data collected September 2-28.
  Difficulty Covering Usual Household Expenses
  Number Percent
United States 77,600,000 32%
Alabama 1,171,000 33%
Alaska 149,000 29%
Arizona 1,805,000 33%
Arkansas 710,000 33%
California 10,032,000 35%
Colorado 1,333,000 31%
Connecticut 820,000 31%
Delaware 216,000 30%
District of Columbia 162,000 31%
Florida 5,722,000 35%
Georgia 2,736,000 36%
Hawai’i 382,000 37%
Idaho 379,000 29%
Illinois 3,070,000 33%
Indiana 1,387,000 28%
Iowa 620,000 27%
Kansas 592,000 28%
Kentucky 1,044,000 32%
Louisiana 1,304,000 40%
Maine 257,000 25%
Maryland 1,437,000 32%
Massachusetts 1,397,000 27%
Michigan 2,146,000 29%
Minnesota 952,000 23%
Mississippi 855,000 41%
Missouri 1,266,000 28%
Montana 213,000 27%
Nebraska 347,000 25%
Nevada 907,000 39%
New Hampshire 262,000 25%
New Jersey 2,178,000 33%
New Mexico 590,000 39%
New York 4,784,000 34%
North Carolina 2,399,000 31%
North Dakota 139,000 25%
Ohio 2,694,000 31%
Oklahoma 964,000 35%
Oregon 951,000 30%
Pennsylvania 2,561,000 27%
Rhode Island 236,000 30%
South Carolina 1,281,000 34%
South Dakota 164,000 26%
Tennessee 1,566,000 31%
Texas 7,949,000 39%
Utah 529,000 24%
Vermont 108,000 23%
Virginia 1,780,000 29%
Washington 1,511,000 26%
West Virginia 425,000 32%
Wisconsin 997,000 23%
Wyoming 118,000 28%

Note: Figures are averages of data collected September 2-14 and September 16-28.

Source: Calculated by Center on Budget and Policy Priorities from Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey published table “spending1” for survey weeks 14 and 15; https://www.census.gov/programs-surveys/household-pulse-survey/data.html


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