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Blacks, Hispanics Struggle to Pay Bills as Pandemic Persists

Loss of jobs, income makes it harder to keep up with basic living expenses, poll finds

a soft focus image that looks melancholy, of a woman hunched over table holding money with jar of quarters in foreground.

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En español | More than 4 in 10 adults say the COVID-19 pandemic has led to someone in their household losing a job or income, with African American and Hispanic households reporting being hit the hardest, according to a new Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) poll.

The financial impact is particularly difficult among people who have tested positive for the coronavirus, the poll finds. Six in 10 of those who say someone in their household tested positive say someone they live with lost a job or income because of the virus, compared to 41 percent of those who live in a household where no one tested positive.

"The COVID pandemic has hit many Americans hard financially, but the impact can be doubly cruel when someone in the family gets COVID and suffers economically at the same time,” says KFF CEO Drew Altman. The KFF health tracking poll was conducted Feb. 15-23.

Among communities of color, 51 percent of Black Americans and 59 percent of Hispanics say that since February 2020, someone in their household lost a job, was furloughed or had their income or hours reduced because of the coronavirus outbreak. That compares with 39 percent of whites. Among older Americans, 44 percent of those ages 50 to 64 and 21 percent of those age 65 and over experienced such an economic loss.

Overdue bills

Share of people having trouble paying a basic living expense in past three months:

  • Credit card bills: 23 percent
  • Food: 17 percent
  • Rent/mortgage: 16 percent
  • Medical bills: 16 percent
  • Health insurance: 16 percent

Source: KFF Health Tracking Poll

The survey also found that 37 percent of adults had trouble paying for such basic living expenses as credit card bills, food, mortgage, rent, health insurance premiums or medical bills. The largest single concern was among 23 percent who said they had fallen behind in paying credit card or other debt and 17 percent who said they had problems paying for food.

Once again, Black and Hispanic adults had the most difficulty. When it comes to affording basic living expenses, 51 percent of Blacks, 49 percent of Hispanics and 31 percent of whites say that in the past three months someone in their household had trouble paying their expenses or fell behind on their bills.

Dena Bunis covers Medicare, health care, health policy and Congress. She also writes the “Medicare Made Easy” column for the AARP Bulletin. An award-winning journalist, Bunis spent decades working for metropolitan daily newspapers, including as Washington bureau chief for the Orange County Register and as a health policy and workplace writer for Newsday.

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