The U.S. Census Bureau began to track the effects of COVID-19 on the population through its Household Pulse Survey on April 23 of last year. As the agency’s researchers wrote at the time, “The Household Pulse Survey is designed to deploy quickly and efficiently, collecting data to measure household experiences during the coronavirus pandemic.” The Census has not said how long this will continue, but it is an unprecedented picture of the impact of the pandemic on the population, both at the state and large metro areas.
In addition to such factors as employment status, food security, education disruptions, and physical and mental well-being, the survey gathers and reports on whether people believe they can pay their bills. This section of the Pulse Survey is called “Difficulty Paying for Usual Household Expenses.” It is defined as adults living in households where it has been “somewhat” or “very” difficult to pay their normal household costs.
This story is based on the findings produced during week 23 of the survey, which are based on questions answered from January 20 to February 1. Nationwide, 35.4% of adults responded in the affirmative to this question.
In the “Difficulty Paying for Usual Household Expenses” section of the Household Pulse Survey, the state where the most people faced these challenges was Louisiana, at 49.5% of surveyed adults.
Determining exactly how these expense issues are related to income or poverty is not part of the survey’s mission. However, it is notable that, like Louisiana, most of the states near the top of the list are in the South. Alabama and Florida are each above the national average, with 39% of adults saying that had trouble making ends meet. South Carolina is also high at 37.1%. Kentucky is just below that at 37%. Notably, most of these states have low median household incomes compared to the national number. (These are America’s richest and poorest states.)
The survey also looks at the same questions for major cities. Houston sits at the most troubled end of the spectrum at 44.5%, followed by Miami at 43% and Los Angeles at 42.8%.