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Latest Hardship Data Show Continuing Racial Disparities

Hardship rates remain well above pre-pandemic levels and large racial inequities persist, the Census Bureau’s latest Household Pulse Survey data show. These inequities reflect the pandemic’s especially harsh impact on families of color, on top of the structural barriers they already face — in housing, employment, health care, and many other areas — that can mean that the economic recovery will take longer to reach them.

Overall hardship peaked in the pandemic in mid-December 2020 and fell sharply in late March. According to the latest Pulse data, collected May 26-June 7:

  • Some 20 million people — about 10 percent of adults — reported their household was food-insufficient (meaning it sometimes or often didn’t have enough to eat) in the last seven days.
  • An estimated 10.5 million adults — 14 percent of adult renters — reported not being caught up on rent.
  • Some 63 million people — 27 percent of adults — reported difficulty covering usual household expenses in the last seven days, such as food, medical payments, student loans, or rent or mortgage.

The drop in hardship following the enactment of the December relief package and the mid-March enactment of the American Rescue Plan is welcome and likely reflects many factors, including the assistance provided by the December and March relief packages as well as a more recent pickup in hiring. But data from the Pulse Survey and other sources, such as unemployment data from Census’ Current Population Survey and the Department of Labor, show that millions of people are out of work and struggling to afford food and pay the rent. And long-standing racial inequities remain large:

  • In 2019 (before the pandemic), Black adults were three times likelier, and Latino adults were more than two times likelier, than white adults to report being food-insufficient.
  • In mid-December 2020, food insufficiency rates for Black adults and Latino adults were each more than twice that of white adults.
  • In the most recent data, food insufficiency rates for Black adults and Latino adults were more than two times the rate for white adults. (See first chart.)

Large gaps also exist in other forms of hardship. Both in mid-December and in the most recent data, Black and Latino adults were nearly twice as likely as white adults to have difficulty paying for usual household expenses. (See second chart.)

Also, Black adults are more than twice as likely as white adults, and Latino adults and Asian adults are more likely than white adults, not to be caught up on rent, the most recent Pulse data show. (See third chart.)

Racial disparities persist among children as well. A recent study found that child poverty rose between 2018 and 2020 for Black and Latino children but was relatively stable for white and Asian children.

Despite the aid that federal policymakers have provided in recent months, hardship remains well above pre-pandemic levels. Black adults are still more than twice as likely to be food-insufficient as they were in 2019, Latino adults are more than three times as likely, and white adults and Asian adults are nearly three times as likely. (Methodological differences between the 2019 survey and the Household Pulse Survey may explain some of the increase but are unlikely to explain all of it. Multiple data sources and researchers have found evidence of high food hardship during the pandemic.) These numbers underscore how hard many families have been struggling, regardless of race, since the pandemic started. But the much higher hardship rates for families of color highlight why policymakers need to do more to craft recovery legislation over the next several months that will support a more equitable recovery that closes large, long-standing disparities.