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Pandemic Hardship Worsening as Relief Programs Near End

December 17, 2020 at 3:15 PM

With the holiday season upon us and federal unemployment benefits for more than 12 million jobless workers expiring the day after Christmas, a growing number of households are under severe financial strain, Census data released this week show. These data underscore the urgent need for policymakers to extend those benefits and other key CARES Act relief programs, which have helped millions of families stay afloat during the pandemic.

The new data, from Census’ Household Pulse Survey for November 25 to December 7, show:

  • 85.4 million adults — 36 percent of all U.S. adults — report that it was “somewhat difficult” or “very difficult” to pay for usual household expenses such as food, medical bills, rent, and student loans in the last seven days. That’s the highest rate on record in data going back to late August, and a 2.9 million increase since the last data release, in mid-November.
  • 27.4 million adults — 13 percent — report that they sometimes or often didn’t have enough to eat in the last seven days. That’s 1.6 million more than in the last data release and 5 million more than in late August.
  • 14.3 million adult renters — 20 percent — report not being caught up on rent, up from 12.4 million (17 percent) in mid-November, we estimate.

Moreover, 42 million adults say their household no longer used “regular income sources like those received before the pandemic” to meet their spending needs in the last seven days and resorted to one or more of the following short-term coping strategies: spending savings, selling assets, or borrowing from friends and family, according to analysis of more detailed Census data also released this week (collected November 11 to 23). The situation for this group is dire.

  • 72 percent report difficulty paying for household expenses.
  • 31 percent report sometimes or often not having enough to eat.
  • 30 percent of renters report not being caught up on rent.

Another 36 million adults report that while they still have income from their pre-pandemic sources, they also relied on these coping strategies to meet their spending needs. Some of these households might have been financially precarious even before the pandemic; others might have lost part of their earnings or other income due to the economic fallout. Data on this group show:

  • 46 percent report difficulty paying for household expenses.
  • 13 percent report sometimes or often not having enough to eat.
  • 15 percent of renters report not being caught up on rent.

In sharp contrast, among the 115 million adults who could rely on regular income sources instead of coping strategies:

  • 13 percent report difficulty paying for household expenses.
  • 3 percent report sometimes or often not having enough to eat.
  • 7 percent of renters report not being caught up on rent.

Our updated tracker features new Pulse data (collected November 25 to December 7) showing the pandemic’s ongoing impact:

  • Black and Latino adults are more than twice as likely as white adults to report that their household didn’t get enough to eat: 22 percent and 21 percent, respectively, compared to 9 percent of white adults
  • An estimated 14.3 million adults living in rental housing aren’t caught up on rent.
  • Renters of color are likelier to report difficulty affording rent: 29 percent of Black renters, 26 percent of Latino renters, and 21 percent of Asian renters say they aren’t caught up on rent, compared to 14 percent of white renters.

And detailed Pulse data for November 11-23 show:

  • Between 7 and 13 million children live in a household where children didn’t get enough to eat in the last seven days because the household couldn’t afford it.
  • Nearly 4 in 10 children in rental housing live in a household that either isn’t getting enough to eat or isn’t caught up on rent.

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