At the end of the day, governments and institutions are intended to ensure the well being of the communities they represent. This section examines outcomes for people since the onset of the Covid crisis. 

While much of the most meaningful data on how people are faring will not be available until months after the date it reflects, this section examines key economic metrics from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, as well as a timely survey from the U.S. Census Bureau (the Household Pulse Survey) that assesses the human impact of the Covid crisis across America, and an analysis of unemployment benefits relative to basic costs in each county. For each indicator, we provide a brief explanation of findings and  implications to weave together an overview of how Americans are faring during the pandemic.

Indicators in this section

  • Employment rate by race/ethnicity
  • Mental health
  • Food insecurity
  • Likelihood of eviction or foreclosure
  • Counties where UI benefits are insufficient for basic costs, by Covid hotspot

August employment rates of 57% remain lower than in the depths of the Great Recession when only 58% of adults had employment. Black adults are particularly hard hit with only 53% employed in August.  

Employment rate, by race and age, Aug 2020

Employment-Population Ratio of civilian, non-institutionalized workforce age 16+, seasonally adjusted 

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

In August 2020, the employment rate for adults was only 57%. Although employment rates have grown month by month since April, employment remains below the low point of the Great Recession and well below February of this year when 61% of all adults had employment.

Just as the Great Recession had long lasting negative impacts on the share of adults with employment (as depicted in this graphic), some economists worry about structural changes to the economy due to the depth and length of the current recession.1

In August, employment rates for Hispanic or Latinx adults was highest at 58% with many employed in essential positions in agriculture, food processing, and janitorial services that simultaneously expose them to significant Covid risks.2,3,4 White and Asian adults had the highest employment rates at 57% while only 53% of Black adults and 28% of youth had employment in August. For young people this is particularly problematic, because lack of early work experiences hampers future employment and earning potential.5

62% of adults reported anxiety over the last week. Those making below $50k per year report feeling anxious at rates 7 percentage points higher than those making $50k and above.

Instances of anxiety, Aug 19-31, 2020

Percentage of respondents who suffered from anxiety in the last 7 days

Source: U.S. Census Bureau Household Pulse Survey

Mental health has undoubtedly been affected by the Covid-19 pandemic. As many find themselves in more isolated situations, coupled with the stress of the pandemic and the economic downturn, cases of anxiety and depression have increased. 

According to the Census Pulse Survey, 62% of adults reported feeling anxiety over the last 7 days. This number increases as household income decreases. Among those earning less than $25K, 71% report feeling anxiety.  Children yield additional sources of stress, with 66% of households with children reporting anxiety compared to 60% in households without. Uncertainties catalyzed by the pandemic, such as job insecurity and schools reopening, more heavily impact low income adults and parents with children. 

The Kaiser Family Foundation found in July that the mental health of 53% of adults in the United States had worsened due to concerns over the pandemic, up from 32% in March.1 They point to a link between social isolation and poor mental health, adding that job loss can exacerbate these outcomes. 

Psychiatrists writing in The New England Journal of Medicine recently noted that Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) resulting from pandemic anxiety has the potential for long-lasting consequences.2 

More than 1 in 10 adults report their households have gone hungry during the pandemic. Mississippi ranks highest with 15%. Alabama and Oklahoma are next at 14% and Vermont and New Hampshire are lowest at 5%. 

Food insecurity by state, Aug 19-31, 2020

Percentage of adults who report their household sometimes or often going hungry in the last 7 days

Source: U.S. Census Bureau Household Pulse Survey

Early on in the pandemic, nutritional lifelines for communities already experiencing food insecurity unraveled. School closures made it more complicated to access food through school lunch programs, and shortages of staff and food at food pantries led to long lines and empty shelves.1,2,3,4 Plus, new populations found themselves going hungry – including people who lost their jobs, or who were unable to leave the house because they were at high risk. This summer, disasters such as the midwest derecho, western wildfires, and Gulf Coast hurricanes have resulted in additional demand for food banks.5

Though difficult to quantify, the role of food pantries, community volunteers, local emergency food programs, and increased flexibility for federal food programs are most certainly buffering the full impact of the pandemic on hunger.6,7, 8 Even so, an estimated 9-17 million children in the U.S. report are sometimes or often going hungry.9 As they are now, during the first phase of the Census Bureau’s Pulse surveys (April-July), southern states were consistently among the most food-insecure.

Not only are there differences in food security across states during the current crisis, but historical data shows a persistent disparity, with Black and Hispanic households going hungry at rates twice that of white households.10 For those living in food deserts, a cruel twist of biology comes into play; food insecurity is linked to conditions such as diabetes and obesity, and those comorbidities are also among the most common risk factors for worse Covid outcomes.11.12 

Half of adults in Nebraska and Washington D.C. report they are likely to be evicted or foreclosed upon in the next two months. In 23 additional states, at least 1/3 of all adults anticipate losing housing in that time frame. 

Likelihood of eviction or foreclosure, Aug 19-31, 2020

Percentage of adults living in households where eviction or foreclosure in the next two months is either very likely or somewhat likely.

Source: U.S. Census Bureau Household Pulse Survey

With 11.5 million fewer jobs across the U.S., Americans are feeling very uncertain about their future. More than 1 in 3 adults in half of all states report they are likely to be evicted or foreclosed upon in the next two months. This is true across a wide swath of southern and midwestern states. The effects of housing insecurity on children are dramatic. Eviction or foreclosure may force families to suddenly move, begin couch surfing, or even become homeless.1 Not surprisingly this can lead to frequent school moves, absenteeism, and lower test scores for children.2 Children without stable housing are also susceptible to mental health issues, developmental delays, and trauma that can affect children’s future health, education, and employment outcomes.3 

On September 4th, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) issued a moratorium on all evictions for nonpayment of rent effective September 4 through December 31, 2020.4 However, tenants will still be obligated to pay back rent on January 1, 2021.5 Also troubling is the effect on landlords of nonpayment of rent, and the ultimate effect on banks as mortgages go unpaid.6 The Mortgage Bankers Association reported that since the pandemic began, mortgage delinquency rates have hit their highest point in 9 years.7

Nearly 1/3 of the nation’s 2,600 counties that are unaffordable for those relying on state unemployment insurance are also active Covid hotspots.

Counties where state unemployment insurance fails to cover basic costs, by Covid hotspot status

Includes costs for a two-bedroom home, food, and transportation

Source: USAFacts, New York Times Covid-19 data
Note: Counties with ≥100 Covid cases/100k people in the past week are classified as “hotspots” for this analysis. Blank counties on map are not “unaffordable” for those on state unemployment insurance.

State unemployment insurance pays only 40% of a workers’ previous wages on average.1 In part to motivate  workers to continue looking for employment, unemployment insurance benefits are generally lower than a workers’ previous wages. However, the nation has lost 11.5 million jobs since February, and many workers are not able to find employment despite earnest efforts to do so. Congress approved an additional $600 in weekly unemployment benefits, but this support ended in late July. USAFacts analyzed people’s ability to live off of state unemployment insurance by comparing fair market rents plus the average costs of food and transportation to the maximum available financial support in each county.2 Their data show that in 8 out of 10 counties, the state unemployment insurance is not sufficient to cover these costs.

In those counties where unemployment benefits are insufficient to meet basic needs, housing and food insecurity is likely to be high. The Midwest and deep South are particularly hard hit by these compounding factors and the challenge of living in a Covid hotspot (100+ new weekly cases per 100k people). The crisis is particularly extreme in southern counties also recently hit by hurricanes.


Employment rate, by race and age

  1. “A Basic Demographic Profile of Workers in Frontline Industries.” Rho, Brown, and Fremstad. Center for Economic and Policy Research. April 2020.
  2. “A Profile of Frontline Workers in Massachusetts.” Schuster, Mattos. Boston Indicators. April 2020.
  3. “Profile of Essential Workers in Virginia During COVID-19: Women, People of Color, and Immigrants Are Important Contributors In Front-line Virginia Industries.” Mendes, Goren. The Commonwealth Institute. April 2020.
  4. “The Importance of a First Job.” Decker. Aspen Institute. November, 2016.

Food insecurity by state

  1. “Feeding Low-Income Children during the Covid-19 Pandemic.” Dunn, Kenney, Fleischhacker, and Bleich. New England Journal of Medicine. April, 2020. 
  2. “‘Never Seen Anything Like It’: Cars Line Up for Miles at Food Banks.” Kulish. NY Times. May, 2020.
  3. “Great Plates Delivered: Home meals for seniors.” Official California State Government Website. July, 2020.
  4. “Schools Rethink How to Distribute Meals Due to Coronavirus.” Hobbs. Wall Street Journal. April, 2020.
  5. “COVID-19 means a ‘new normal.’” Morello. Feeding America. May, 2020.
  6. “FNS Actions to Respond to COVID-19.” USDA Food and Nutrition Service. July, 2020.,or%20reduced%2Dprice%20school%20meals.&text=Fresh%20Fruit%20and%20Vegetable%20Program,them%20home%20to%20their%20children
  7. “New Orleans launches program to distribute 60K daily meals this July; here’s how you can sign up.” Williams. The New Orleans Advocate. July, 2020.
  8. “Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker announces $3.3 million in grants to address food insecurity from coronavirus pandemic.” Hanson. MassLive. August 2020.
  9. “Tracking the COVID-19 Recession’s Effects on Food, Housing, and Employment Hardships.” Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. August 2020.
  10. “Examining the Impact of Structural Racism on Food Insecurity: Implications for Addressing Racial/Ethnic Disparities.” Odoms-Young, Bruce. Family & Community Health. April, 2020.
  11. “Food Insecurity And Health Outcomes.” Gunderson, Ziliak. Health Affairs. November, 2015.
  12. “People of Any Age with Underlying Medical Conditions.” CDC. July, 2020.

Housing insecurity by state

  1. “Adults in Households With Children Report Higher Rate of Late Housing Payments and Food Shortages Amid COVID-19” Monte, O’Donnell. U.S. Census Bureau. June, 2020.
  2. “How Does the Federal Eviction Moratorium Impact the Emergency Solutions Grant and Continuum of Care Program?” U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
  3. “Executive Order on Fighting the Spread of COVID-19 by Providing Assistance to Renters and Homeowners.” The White House. August 2020.
  4. “HUD to extend foreclosure ban protecting 8.1 million people until 2021.” O’Donnell. Politico. August 2020.
  5. “Idaho sees spike in eviction cases after federal moratorium expires.” Inglet. August 2020.
  6. “With no moratorium in place for FL renters, ‘We expect a tsunami of evictions.’” Cassels. The Florida Phoenix. August 2020.
  7. “At least 400 eviction filings in Marion County after moratorium expires.” Deng. WISHTV. August 2020.
  8. “Eviction Moratoriums don’t solve the problem, they simply shift the problem to someone else.” Pollack. Chamber Business News. August 2020.
  9. “Mortgage Delinquencies Spike in the Second Quarter of 2020.” DeSanctis. Mortgage Bankers Association. August 2020.

Housing and food insecurity among children by state

  1. “Protecting Children From Unhealthy Homes and Housing Instability.” Office of Policy Development & Research. 2014.
  2. “Reduce poverty by improving housing stability.” Cunningham. Urban Wire. June 2016.,it%2C%20there%20are%20terrible%20consequences.&text=Housing%20instability%20can%20lead%20to,low%20test%20scores%20among%20children.
  3. The Importance of Housing Affordability and Stability for Preventing and Ending Homelessness. The United States Interagency Council on Homelessness. May 2019.
  4. “Food Security, Poverty, and Human Development in the United States.” Cook, Frank. PubMed. February 2008.
  5. “Food insecurity and the risks of depression and anxiety in mothers and behavior problems in their preschool-aged children.” Whitaker, Phillips, and Orzol. PubMed. September 2006.
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