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Pandemic Is Devastating Low-Income Black Households

THURSDAY, Dec. 3, 2020 (HealthDay News) -- Low-income Black Americans had more job losses, more difficulty getting food and medicine, and higher levels of debt in the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic than their white or Hispanic peers, a new study finds.

"Media coverage has focused on the racially disparate effects of COVID-19 as a disease, but we were interested in the socioeconomic effects of the virus, and whether it tracked a similar pattern," said study co-author Adam Goldstein. He's an assistant professor of sociology and public affairs at Princeton University, in New Jersey.

For the study, the researchers surveyed people who utilized the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) benefits between the end of March and mid-June 2020, and found that nearly 35% had lost their jobs by the end of the survey period.

The survey also revealed that 67% of respondents said they skipped paying a bill, and 77% of households reported missing a bill or rent payment.

By the end of the survey period, 64% of people said they skipped meals, relied on family or friends for food or visited a food pantry due to the COVID-19 shutdown, the authors said in a university news release.

When they analyzed the findings by race, the researchers found that low-income Black households fared worse than low-income white households, on average. Low-income Hispanics fared worse than low-income whites on some indicators, but not on others.

At the beginning of April, 30% of Black respondents said they or someone in their household had lost work due to pandemic-related shutdowns, and that increased to 48% by the end of the month.

By the end of April, eight in 10 Black households reported taking on more debt to cover their bills. In mid-June, rates of new debt were similar for Black and Hispanic households -- more than 80% -- compared with about 70% of white households, according to the study published online recently in the journal Socius.

Study co-author Diana Enriquez, a doctoral candidate in the department of sociology at Princeton, said, "It became clear that while all low-income households struggled in the early months of the pandemic, Black households in America were disproportionately affected. Even among low-income populations, there is a marked racial disparity in people's vulnerability to this crisis."

Goldstein added that "the survey results really reinforce the extent to which the COVID-19 crisis has kneecapped those households who were already in a tenuous position near the poverty line. Research shows that these types of debts and unpaid bills -- even small ones -- can compound over time and trap low-income households in a cycle of financial distress."

And, he said, "Even in a miraculous scenario where the pandemic ends in a few months and low-wage workers are rehired, tens of millions of households will still find themselves stuck in a financial hole without additional infusions of economic relief."

More information

For more on COVID-19 and minorities, go to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

SOURCE: Princeton University, news release, Nov. 30, 2020

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