The coronavirus pandemic has been physically, emotionally and economically difficult for everyone but it has hit some groups harder than others.
Early this year, non-Hispanic Black adults (referred to as Black the rest of this story) had higher rates of economic and mental health hardship than non-Hispanic White adults (referred to as White) across several measures, according to a new analysis of the U.S. Census Bureau’s experimental Household Pulse Survey (HPS).
We found that Black adults in households where someone had lost employment income since the start of the pandemic were more likely than White adults to report uncertainty about their ability to pay for housing in February.
Interpreting these results requires disentangling racial identity from other underlying conditions.
Understanding the role of race is complicated because even before the pandemic, the Black population was more likely to be poor, less likely to have health insurance and more likely to work in the front-line jobs that put them at risk of both infection and unemployment during the pandemic.
Given these pre-existing disadvantages, the question is: How do we distinguish between the disadvantages brought about by the pandemic and those already there before?
For example, Black unemployment rates were higher than White unemployment rates even before the pandemic, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ tabulations of Current Population Survey (CPS). These labor market differences put Black working-age adults at a greater disadvantage when the pandemic began, and the unemployment rate for Black adults remained higher throughout the pandemic.
However, we can use statistical modeling to isolate trends and produce results by race that take into account other factors that existed before the pandemic.
We can zero in on patterns by race that are independent of larger economic influences after taking into account income, age, gender, educational attainment, recent work, recent stimulus receipt and household size.
The remainder of this analysis uses HPS data from the end of January to capture receipt of the stimulus payment issued that month.
We found that Black adults in households where someone had lost employment income since the start of the pandemic were more likely than White adults to report uncertainty about their ability to pay for housing in February. This showed that pandemic-related job losses affected Black and White households differently.
We also found that Black adults were more likely than White adults to have taken on debt to pay for household expenses in January. Even after controlling for economic differences, Black adults were more likely to have used credit cards, loans or borrowed money to cover costs like rent, gas and food. This was especially true during the pandemic when someone in the household lost employment income.
Black adults living in households where someone lost employment income since the start of the pandemic were also 11.1% more likely than White adults to report that they sometimes or often did not have enough to eat in January. Again, this suggests that the pandemic has hit Black households harder.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that 8.2% of adults in the United States had symptoms of anxiety disorder in the first half of 2019. In contrast, the Household Pulse Survey showed that in January of this year roughly 30% of all U.S. adults reported feeling anxious or worried more than half of the time, including about 30% of both White adults and Black adults.
But when we control for pre-existing differences, the data show that anxiety was more prevalent among Black than White adults living in households where someone had lost income during the pandemic.
These data suggest that the COVID-19 pandemic disproportionately affected Black households more than White households. The cumulative effects of job loss, food insufficiency and financial insecurity resulted in uncertainty about how to pay for housing as well as more generalized anxiety.
The fact that Black adults have been more likely than White adults to borrow money to make ends meet suggests that we may also see a more prolonged impact of the pandemic on Black households as debts mount.
The HPS is designed to provide near real-time data on how the pandemic has affected people’s lives. Information on the methodology and reliability of these estimates can be found in the source and accuracy statements for each data release.
Lindsay M. Monte and Daniel J. Perez-Lopez are statisticians in the Census Bureau’s Social, Economic and Housing Statistics Division.
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