The Impact of Coronavirus on Households Across America

Experiences and views on effects of the pandemic outbreak, with an aim to identify vulnerable populations in urgent need of government help or charitable aid.
A woman delivers a bag of food to another woman.

The coronavirus pandemic has had unprecedented, widespread impacts on households across America, raising concerns about our ability to weather long-term health and financial harms.

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“As cases of COVID spike across rural America, we are reminded that this virus can strike everywhere. The results of this survey demonstrate the enormity of the need across our nation. While every community is being affected, the pain is not spread evenly. People of color and lower income households are disproportionately impacted in rural and urban areas. Congress must act now to provide the financial assistance that is so desperately needed to maintain health and save lives.

Richard Besser, MD, RWJF President and CEO

 

While billions of dollars have been appropriated by federal and state governments since the start of the coronavirus outbreak, a series of polls by NPR, the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation find that a substantial share of households have not been protected from serious impacts of the pandemic across many areas of residents' lives.

“The Impact of Coronavirus” poll series offers a national look at the problems emerging from the pandemic relating to household finances, jobs, health care, housing, transportation, caregiving, and well-being. Researchers interviewed 3,454 adults age 18 or older across the United States.

The first survey report in a series of five, "The Impact of Coronavirus on Households in Major U.S. Cities," shows that households in the four largest U.S. cities—New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Houston—experienced widespread, serious financial and health problems since the start of the coronavirus outbreak. The findings reinforce the need for strong safety net supports that reach populations most deeply and disparately impacted by the pandemic.

The second survey report, "The Impact of Coronavirus on Households, By Race/Ethnicity," explored serious problems facing households in high-risk racial/ethnic groups across the nation during the coronavirus outbreak. In particular, findings highlight the experiences of Latino, Black, and Native American communities, who have all been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19 with high rates of cases, hospitalizations, and deaths.

The third survey report, "The Impact of Coronavirus on Households Across America," details experiences across different areas of people's lives, including serious problems with their finances, jobs, health care, housing, transportation, caregiving, and well-being.

The fourth survey report, "The Impact of Coronavirus on Households with Children," highlights serious problems reported across a wide range of areas during the pandemic, including depleting household savings, serious problems paying credit card bills and other debt, and affording medical care.

The fifth survey report, "The Impact of Coronavirus on Households in Rural America," finds that rural communities are facing distinct challenges during the pandemic due to long-standing systemic health and social inequities. When it comes to health care, the coronavirus outbreak has dramatically affected delivery, with systems facing disruptions, delays, and deferrals in care for many patients.

Key Findings

  • At least half of households in the four largest U.S. cities—New York City (53%), Los Angeles (56%), Chicago (50%), and Houston (63%)—report serious financial problems including depleted savings, and trouble paying bills or affording medical care.

  • Many of these experiences are concentrated among Black and Latino households; households with annual incomes below $100,000; and households experiencing job or wage losses since the start of the outbreak.

  • At least four in ten Latino, Black, and Native American households report using up all or most of their household savings during this time.

  • One in five households in the United States (20%) report household members unable to get medical care for serious problems. A majority unable to get care when needed (57%) report negative health consequences as a result.

  • More than 1 in 3 households that include anyone with a disability report facing serious financial problems, many experiencing difficulty affording utilities and food.

  • More than one in three (36%) households with children face serious problems keeping their children’s education going, and among working households, nearly one in five (18%) report serious problems getting childcare when adults need to work.

  • About one in three households with children (34%) either do not have a high-speed internet connection at home or report serious problems with their connection while doing schoolwork or their jobs during the pandemic.

  • 43 percent of rural households report any adult household members have lost their jobs, been furloughed, or had wages or hours reduced since the start of the outbreak, with two-thirds of these households (66%) reporting serious financial problems.

About the Survey—The Impact of Coronavirus

NPR, the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation conducted a five-part polling series between July and August 2020 to examine the most serious health and financial problems facing households across America prior to the expiration of federal coronavirus support programs.