Commentary, COVID-19, News

Is this really America? New and shocking numbers on the impact of the botched virus response

Most of us are already aware of the tragic fact that more than 200,000 of our fellow Americans — more than two-thirds the number of American combat deaths in all of  WWII — are now dead as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and the disastrously incompetent response of the federal government. But the latest numbers from the Census Bureau remind us that the devastation from the pandemic extends well-beyond the ghastly death toll. As a new report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities explains, human suffering now afflicts the nation on a truly massive and frightening scale — particularly for people of color:

Millions of households are having serious trouble affording food and are falling behind on the rent, the Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey for September 2-14 shows. Twenty-three million adults reported that their household didn’t get enough to eat, and an estimated 1 in 4 renters with children lived in a household that was behind on rent. Also, data for August show that some 35 million people — including 9 million children — either met the federal definition of “unemployed” (which understates the actual number of jobless workers) or lived with an unemployed family member, according to Census’ latest Current Population Survey.

These data underscore the urgent need for federal policymakers to agree on further robust relief measures. The measures enacted earlier this year — such as expanded unemployment benefits and stimulus payments — mitigated hardship but were temporary and had significant shortcomings. Without a new relief package, hardship likely will rise and grow more severe, endangering children’s long-term health and educational outcomes.

Among the report’s disturbing findings:

  • About 23 million adults — 10.5 percent of all adults — reported that their household sometimes or often had “not enough to eat” in the last seven days. This was several times the pre-pandemic rate: a recent survey released by the Agriculture Department found that 3.7 percent of adults reported that their household had “not enough to eat” over the full 12 months of 2019. This included 739,000 adults in North Carolina.
  • Adults in households with children were likelier to report that the household didn’t get enough to eat: 14 percent, compared to less than 8 percent for households without children.
  • Some 9 to 14 percent of adults with children reported that their children sometimes or often didn’t eat enough in the last seven days because they couldn’t afford it, well above the pre-pandemic figure. Households typically first scale back on food for adults before cutting back on what children have to eat. (The range reflects the different ways to measure food hardship in the Household Pulse Survey.)
  • One in 6 adult renters — or 17 percent — reported that they lived in a household that was not caught up on rent. That translates to roughly 13 million renters after adjusting for underreporting in the Pulse survey.
  • Renters of color were more likely to report that their household was not caught up on rent: about 1 in 4 Black (25 percent) and Asian (24 percent) renters and 1 in 5 Latino (22 percent) renters said they were not caught up on rent, compared to just 1 in 9 white (12 percent) renters.
  • Households with children were twice as likely to be facing challenges paying rent than households without children. Some 25 percent of renters who are parents or otherwise live with children are not caught up on rent, compared to 12 percent of adults not living with anyone under age 18.
  • Some 35 million people either met the official definition of “unemployed” (meaning they actively looked for work in the last four weeks or were on temporary layoff) or lived with an unemployed family member in August. This figure includes 9 million children.
  • The official definition of “unemployed” leaves out some workers sidelined by the crisis, such as those who are absent from their jobs without pay and jobless workers who want to work but aren’t currently looking for work (including people who have health concerns, are sick or caring for a sick relative, or need to care for their children because school or child care is closed). If we also include the family members of these workers, as many as 61 million people, or nearly 1 in 5 people in the country, live in families with a sidelined worker.

Click here to read the full report.

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