Families Lost Income, Struggled to Make Ends Meet During Pandemic

Posted July 30, 2021
Update familieslostincome preview 2021

Approx­i­mate­ly 40% of U.S. house­holds with chil­dren had dif­fi­cul­ty pay­ing for usu­al house­hold expens­es from August 2020 to June 2021, accord­ing to recent­ly released data from the Cen­sus Bureau’s House­hold Pulse Sur­vey. These find­ings pro­vide new details on the seri­ous finan­cial hard­ships expe­ri­enced by fam­i­lies dur­ing the pan­dem­ic, includ­ing the dis­parate impacts across racial and eth­nic groups and in dif­fer­ent parts of the country.

Data Show Wide­spread Finan­cial Strain, But Also Signs of Hope

Results showed that from Aug. 19, 2020, to March 15, 2021, 40%–45% of U.S. house­holds with chil­dren from birth to age 17 report­ed dif­fi­cul­ty pay­ing for expens­es such as food, hous­ing, health care, car pay­ments, stu­dent loans or oth­er costs in the past week. This fig­ure dropped to 37% in the data peri­od end­ing March 29, 2021, and then fell fur­ther to 33%–34% dur­ing April–June 2021, a promis­ing sign that finan­cial bur­dens may be less­en­ing in response to the Amer­i­can Res­cue Plan enact­ed in March, as well as oth­er gov­ern­ment relief mea­sures and pan­dem­ic recov­ery efforts in 2021.

Fam­i­lies Lost Income Dur­ing the Pandemic

The sur­vey also found that at least half of U.S. house­holds with chil­dren report­ed that they lost employ­ment income since March 13, 2020, when the pan­dem­ic was declared a nation­al emer­gency by the U.S. gov­ern­ment. The per­cent­age report­ing lost income hov­ered above 50% most of the year from late April 2020 to late March 2021, nev­er drop­ping below 49%, and peaked at 56% in July 2020. The sub­stan­tial pro­por­tion of house­holds with a reduc­tion in income may help to explain the dif­fi­cul­ty many fam­i­lies expe­ri­enced pay­ing for basic liv­ing expens­es dur­ing the pan­dem­ic. These find­ings are espe­cial­ly con­cern­ing giv­en that mil­lions of fam­i­lies already were liv­ing in pover­ty and strug­gling to make ends meet before COVID-19 hit.

Inequities by Race and Ethnicity

While the pan­dem­ic clear­ly led to wide­spread finan­cial hard­ship, these data reveal a dis­pro­por­tion­ate bur­den on cer­tain groups. Nation­wide, the per­cent­ages of African Amer­i­can, Lati­no and two or more races/​other race house­holds report­ing lost employ­ment income and dif­fi­cul­ty pay­ing for house­hold expens­es were con­sis­tent­ly high­er than fig­ures for white and Asian house­holds. For exam­ple, dur­ing March 329, 2021, about half of African Amer­i­can (53%), Lati­no (50%) and two or more races/​other race (48%) house­holds with chil­dren had dif­fi­cul­ty pay­ing for usu­al expens­es com­pared to only 28% of white house­holds and 33% of Asian households.

Dif­fer­ences by State

Lev­els of finan­cial strain var­ied wide­ly across the coun­try, as well. Sev­er­al states con­sis­tent­ly had among the high­est per­cent­ages of house­holds with chil­dren report­ing dif­fi­cul­ty pay­ing for usu­al expens­es through­out the pan­dem­ic: Louisiana, Mis­sis­sip­pi, and Neva­da. From April 2020 to March 2021, Neva­da also had the high­est share of house­holds report­ing lost employ­ment income, rang­ing from 56% to 70%. How­ev­er, in encour­ag­ing news, most states saw improve­ments on both mea­sures dur­ing this timeframe.

Learn more about how house­holds with chil­dren fared dur­ing the pan­dem­ic, as well as pol­i­cy rec­om­men­da­tions to strength­en child well-being, in the 2021 KIDS COUNT® Data Book and the 2020 KIDS COUNT report, Kids, Fam­i­lies and COVID-19: Pan­dem­ic Pain Points and the Urgent Need to Respond.

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