Poll: As the Delta Variant Continues, 38 Percent of U.S. Households Report Facing Serious Financial Problems Despite Two-Thirds Receiving Government Assistance

When it comes to their children’s education, 69 percent of households with children in K–12 last school year say their children fell behind in their learning because of the COVID-19 outbreak.

    • October 12, 2021

Princeton, N.J.—According to an NPR/Robert Wood Johnson Foundation/Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health poll, 38 percent of U.S. households report facing serious financial problems in the past few months, as the delta variant outbreak has extended health and economic problems faced by households over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic (see Figure 1). These serious financial problems are cited despite 67 percent of U.S. households reporting they have received financial assistance from the government in the past few months.

This poll, Household Experiences in America During the Delta Variant Outbreak, was conducted August 2, 2021–September 7, 2021, among 3,616 U.S. adults. Adults in this survey were asked to report on serious problems facing both themselves and others living in their households, so measures are reported as a percentage of households for all household-related questions. See the Methodology below for further details.

There is a sharp income divide in serious financial problems faced by households, as 59 percent of those with annual incomes below $50,000 report facing serious financial problems in the past few months, compared with 18 percent of households with annual incomes of $50,000 or more. Another significant problem for many U.S. households is losing their savings during the COVID-19 outbreak. Nineteen percent (19%) of U.S. households report losing all of their savings during the COVID-19 outbreak and not currently having any savings to fall back on.


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Over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, Black, Latino and Indigenous people have been disproportionately impacted in terms of infection, hospitalization and death. The same is true when it comes to financial hardship. While federal economic assistance has helped millions of families, short-term help is not enough to solve deeply entrenched inequities. Our policy choices—from universal healthcare and paid leave to nutrition assistance and housing supports—must reflect a long-term commitment to a fairer, healthier, and more equitable nation.

Richard Besser, RWJF President and CEO


In housing, at the time the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) eviction ban expired, 27 percent of renters nationally reported serious problems paying their rent in the past few months.

In healthcare, 18 percent of households report anyone in their household has been unable to get medical care for a serious problem in the past few months when they needed it, with 76 percent of those unable to get care reporting negative health consequences as a result. And while 42 percent of households report using telehealth in the past few months with wide reported satisfaction (82% satisfied), 64 percent of those using telehealth say they would have preferred an in-person visit over telehealth in their last visit.

“While Americans have widely received help from the government during the COVID-19 outbreak, millions are still having very serious problems with their finances, healthcare, and their children’s education,” said Robert J. Blendon, co-director of the survey and Richard L. Menschel Professor of Public Health and Professor of Health Policy and Political Analysis Emeritus at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. “These problems are concentrated in families who earn less than $50,000 a year, with millions of households who have lost their savings and have nothing to fall back on.”  

When it comes to their children’s education, 69 percent of households with children in grades K–12 last school year report their children fell behind in their learning because of the COVID-19 outbreak. This includes 36 percent of all households with children in K–12 reporting their children fell behind a lot (see Figure 2). Thinking about the upcoming school year, 70 percent of households whose children fell behind last school year believe it will be difficult for children in their household to catch up on education losses from last school year.

In a period when the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has found that reported hate crimes in the United States have increased, an examination of different racial and ethnic minority households’ personal experiences in the past few months shows stark fears of being threatened or attacked (see Figure 3). One in four Asian households in the United States (25%) report fearing someone might threaten or physically attack them because of their race/ethnicity in the past few months, while 22 percent of Native American households, 21 percent of Black households, 8 percent of Latino households, and 7 percent of White households also report this.

Figure 1. Serious Financial Problems among U.S. Households in the Past Few Months (in Percent)
Figure 2. U.S. School Children Falling Behind Because of the COVID-19 Outbreak (in Percent)
Figure 3. Fear of Being Threatened or Physically Attacked Among U.S. Households in the past Few Months (in Percent)


About Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health

Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health brings together dedicated experts from many disciplines to educate new generations of global health leaders and produce powerful ideas that improve the lives and health of people everywhere. As a community of leading scientists, educators, and students, we work together to take innovative ideas from the laboratory to people’s lives—not only making scientific breakthroughs, but also working to change individual behaviors, public policies, and health care practices. Each year, more than 400 faculty members at Harvard Chan teach 1,000-plus full-time students from around the world and train thousands more through online and executive education courses. Founded in 1913 as the Harvard-MIT School of Health Officers, the School is recognized as America’s oldest professional training program in public health.


About NPR

NPR connects to audiences on the air, online, and in person. More than 26 million radio listeners tune in to NPR each week and more than 30 million unique visitors access NPR.org each month, making NPR one of the most trusted sources of news and insights on life and the arts. NPR shares compelling stories, audio and photos with millions of social media users on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, YouTube and Snapchat; NPR News and NPR One apps, online streaming, podcasts, iTunes radio and connected car dashboards help meet audiences where they are. NPR's live events bring to the stage two-way conversations between NPR hosts and the audience in collaboration with the public radio Member Station community. This robust access to public service journalism makes NPR an indispensable resource in the media landscape.


About the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) is committed to improving health and health equity in the United States. In partnership with others, we are working to develop a Culture of Health rooted in equity that provides every individual with a fair and just opportunity to thrive, no matter who they are, where they live, or how much money they have. For more information, visit www.rwjf.org. Follow the Foundation on Twitter at www.rwjf.org/twitter or on Facebook at www.rwjf.org/facebook.

Media Contacts

Melissa Blair

Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (609) 627-5937

Additional Media Contact: Nicola Rura

Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health (617) 221-4241