Household Experiences in America During the Delta Variant Outbreak

A man reviews a pile of unpaid bills.

More than a year and a half into the COVID-19 outbreak, the recent spread of the highly transmissible delta variant in the United States has extended severe financial and health problems in the lives of many households across the country—disproportionately impacting people of color and people with low income.

This summary national report, Household Experiences in America During the Delta Variant Outbreak, is based on a five-part polling series conducted in August-September 2021 for NPR, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. It details the experiences of households across the nation during the delta variant outbreak in different areas of their lives, including serious problems with finances, healthcare, racial/ethnic discrimination, education, caregiving, work, and well-being.

Key Findings

  • While historic economic assistance led to a decline in poverty in 2020, 38 percent of households across the United States have not been adequately protected from financial problems.

  • Households with incomes below $50,000 and Black and Latino households with children continue to be hit the hardest, with approximately 60 percent of households across those categories reporting serious financial problems.

  • 48% of households with children report they do not have any savings to fall back on, including 73% of Black households with children, 68% of Latino households with children.

  • 70% of households with children with annual incomes below $50,000 report serious financial problems, compared with 20% of those with annual incomes of $50,000 or more.

  • 50% of households without health insurance report serious problems affording medical care vs. 13% with insurance.

  • 27% of renters nationally reported serious problems paying their rent.

  • 70% 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.

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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


The summary report is the first in a series of five. Additional reports include:

  • Household Experiences in America During the Delta Variant Outbreak, by Race/Ethnicity
  • Experiences of U.S. Households with Children During the Delta Variant Outbreak
  • Household Experiences in Major U.S. Cities During the Delta Variant Outbreak, a report on the four largest U.S. cities (New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Houston)

The Impact of Coronavirus on Households Across America

This NPR, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, and RWJF polling series examines the most serious health and financial problems facing households across America prior to the expiration of federal coronavirus support programs.