We already know, many of us firsthand, how financially devastating the COVID-19 pandemic has been for people around the world. Now, a new poll shows us just how bad it’s been for Americans in the nation’s four biggest cities. Spoiler alert: Really bad.
The data in “The Impact of Coronavirus on Households in Major U.S. Cities” comes to us via NPR, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. The poll features responses from households in New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago and Houston between July 1 and Aug. 3. It focuses on how the coronavirus affected households financially but also considers employment, health care, transportation, housing, caregiving and well-being.
Results show that while problems are widespread, the most severe impacts are felt among Black and Latino households, households with an annual income of less than $100,000 a year and households experiencing job or wage loss. Many participants also reported issues with finding child care, as well as helping children with their online educations and accessing much-needed medical care.
“These findings raise important concerns about households’ abilities to weather long-term financial and health effects of the coronavirus outbreak, as a large share have depleted their savings and are having major problems paying for basic costs of living, including food, rent, and medical care,” the researchers wrote.
Looking at just Los Angeles, 56% of households reported serious financial problems amid the pandemic, compared to 46% of households nationally. Many Angelenos lost their jobs, with 61% reporting job loss, furloughs or reduced hours. Among those, 73% reported serious financial issues.
A majority of Latino households — 71% — reported serious financial problems, as did 52% of Black households, compared to 37% of their white counterparts. Households with an income below $100,000 also fared worse, with 64% reporting serious financial problems. By comparison, a quarter of households making over $100,000 per year reported issues.
Thirty-five percent of L.A. households reported having had depleted their savings, another 35% said they are having trouble paying bills or debt, 28% reported issues paying mortgages or rent, and 28% reported trouble paying utility bills. Some had to put off bills to afford food for their families. This included 41% of households making below $100,000, 37% of Latino households, 31% of Black households and 13% of white households. (Nationally, that figure is 17% of households.)
But the impact of the virus hasn’t been just financial. The report also found that a fifth of households had difficulty accessing medical care for serious issues not related to COVID-19, with 63% of those households reporting negative health consequences as a result.
Some couldn’t afford healthcare, couldn’t get to a doctor, couldn’t find a doctor who’d see them or couldn’t find a doctor who took their Insurance. On the plus side, half of L.A. households reported being able to use a telehealth service, either over the phone or online, and 81% of those who did were satisfied with their experience.
Families with children faced extra difficulties: 69% said they had trouble finding child care, and 52% reported difficulties regarding their children’s online education. More than half of the families polled said they had trouble with their internet connection, either because it was spotty or they didn’t have it, to begin with. (If you or someone you know needs internet access, the library is offering free three-week rentals on laptops and Wi-Fi hotspots, as well as free printing stations.)
In all, the report tells us something we already knew: Many people are not equipped to handle a disaster like a pandemic and certainly not in a city like Los Angeles, where wages haven’t kept up with rising rent costs. When over half of L.A. residents are rent-burdened, it’s not easy to put money into savings.
Robert J. Blendon, one of the poll’s co-directors and executive director of the Harvard Opinion Research Program at the Harvard Chan School, told NPR that the survey results were “much, much, much worse” than he would have predicted, and things will only get worse “because there is nothing for the people we surveyed who earn under $100,000 a year to fall back on.”
“This is what I would expect without a national emergency relief bill,” Blendon said. “We had a $2 trillion relief bill to lift people up and put a pillow under them. But it is not helping nearly as many people as we had expected.”
Julie Morita, executive vice president of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, told the L.A. Times that while the results of the poll are disheartening, “the key is how we look at policy going forward so we can prevent this being exacerbated. It’s an opportunity for governments to see what they can do better.”
So, uh, hey, have you filled out the census and registered to vote yet?