New report finds American households still struggling to pay rent and put food on the table.

3 minute read

Millions of Americans continue to face financial hardships related to the COVID-19 pandemic that prevent them from catching up on rent and feeding their families, according to a September report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP), a nonpartisan research and policy institute in Washington, D.C.

“While employment is rising and strains on household budgets have eased in recent months, the employment rate remains below pre-pandemic levels, and millions still report that their households did not get enough to eat or are not caught up on rent payments,” according to the report.

The CBPP report “Tracking the COVID-19 Economy’s Effects on Food, Housing and Employment Hardships,” pulled data from the Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey and the U.S. Department of Labor for its finding. The CBPP found widespread hardship among American households due to the pandemic, with children facing especially high hardship rates.

Find out: Debt.com’s COVID-19 Financial Relief Guide

Food hardship remains widespread

The number of Americans who didn’t get enough to eat peaked in December 2020, but food hardship still remains higher than prior to the pandemic. The CBPP estimates that between five and nine million children in the U.S. lived in a household between July 21 and August 2 of 2021 where kids didn’t get enough to eat because the family couldn’t afford groceries. Black and Latino adults were more than twice as likely as white adults to report that their household “sometimes or often” didn’t get enough to eat in the last seven days.

Find out: People of Color are Suffering From the Pandemic in More Ways than Just Their Health

Millions can’t catch up on rent

An estimated 11.2 million adults living in rental housing (15 percent of adult renters) were behind on rent in August 2021, according to the report. Around 26 percent of Black renters, 18 percent of Latino renters and 18 percent of Asian renters reported they were not caught up on rent, compared to 10 percent of white renters. However, those percentages are still lower than the January 2021 rent hardship peak of 15 million – one in five adult renters –  who fell behind on rent.

Find out: 6 Renter’s Rights to Know When Facing Eviction

Many Americans still waiting on emergency rental aid

The American Rescue Plan in December 2020 included more than $46 billion in emergency rental assistance to help renters catch up on rent and avoid eviction. However, the emergency aid is still “making its way to people behind on rent” due to delays in some states and municipalities building adequate systems to distribute the funds, according to the report.

Find out: 7 Ways to Ease Financial Anxieties During COVID-19

One in four struggle to pay household expenses

Around 59 million adults – roughly 27 percent of all adults in the U.S. – report difficulty paying car payments, medical expenses or student loans, in addition to struggling to cover rent or mortgage payments and afford food and groceries, according to the CBPP report. The share of American households that have difficulty paying monthly expenses rose through the fall of 2020, peaking at 38 percent in December 2020.

The report attributes the fall from 38 percent to 27 percent in the share of adults who had trouble covering monthly expenses to the enactment of the American Rescue Plan in March 2021. “The share ticked upward in May, likely due to the fading impact of the third round of stimulus payments, but it has remained statistically unchanged in recent months” according to the report.

Find out: 7 Local Resources to Help Pay Bills in Tough Financial Times

Low-income workers hit hardest by unemployment

Even though the economy added jobs in 2021, there are still 5.3 million fewer jobs in August 2021 than in February 2020, according to the CBPP report. The majority of jobs lost during the pandemic are in industries that pay low average wages, with 53 percent of the jobs lost from February 2020 to August 2021 in the lowest-paying industries.

How to find help with rent and utilities

With the recent Delta variant COVID surge and millions of unvaccinated Americans, the pandemic that was winding down in the early summer of 2021 is once again in full swing. Now that the eviction moratorium is over, many Americans could face eviction.

If you are facing possible eviction, contact your state, city or county to ask about rental assistance programs that may allow you to stay in your home. You can also find programs that offer help with rent and utilities at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

Find out: 9 Ways to Save Money on Utilities During the COVID-19 Crisis

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About the Author

Deb Hipp

Deb Hipp

Deb Hipp is a full-time freelance writer based in Kansas City, Mo. Deb went from being unable to get approved for a credit card or loan 20 years ago to having excellent credit today and becoming a homeowner. Deb learned her lessons about money the hard way. Now she wants to share them to help you pay down debt, fix your credit and quit being broke all the time. Deb's personal finance and credit articles have been published at Credit Karma and The Huffington Post.

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