Family Law Prof Blog

Editor: Margaret Ryznar
Indiana University
Robert H. McKinney School of Law

Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Pandemic Hit Households Relying on Both Incomes

From NBC News:

The pandemic upended the lives of millions of families who suddenly found themselves without one or both sources of income. Many have gone from enjoying the cultural markers of the middle class — job stability, homeownership and some disposable income — to teetering on the edge of poverty.

Some experts fear the effects could be long-lasting.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 115 million people had experienced losses in employment income from the start of the pandemic in March 2020 through last month.

And according to a Pew Research Center report released this month, more than 4 in 10 adults say they or someone else in their households had lost jobs or wages since the beginning of the pandemic.

Even with unemployment insurance, which struggled with claim delays amid unprecedented demand, and other benefits, the impact could have ramifications for years, economic experts and advocates said.

The Pew Research Center survey found that about half of nonretired adults said the economic impact of the pandemic will make it harder for them to achieve their long-term financial goals. Among those who said their financial situations had gotten worse, 44 percent said they thought it would take them three years or more to get back to where they were a year ago, and about 1 in 10 said they didn't think their finances would ever recover.

Elise Gould, a senior economist with the Economic Policy Institute, a nonprofit research organization, said lower- and middle-income families alike were vulnerable to major economic instability after losses of income.

"It's incredibly destabilizing in the short run," she said. "People just simply don't have the savings to be able to weather job losses or to cut back on hours or furloughs to be able to continue paying their bills," she said.

Losing a home, facing declines in its credit score or the continued inability to get a job could also affect a family long after the pandemic is over, she said.

Accolla said it took six or seven years to build what her family had, "and it went away within the quickness of one year."

Facing credit card debt and having to spend their savings, she wonders just when they will be able to recover.

"Are we going to be able to recover again? Will we get back to a place of comfortability? Will we be able to have a home?" she asked.

Elizabeth Ananat, an economics professor at Barnard College in New York City, said the pandemic led to major workforce declines. Some people are unable to work because of responsibilities such as being caregivers, and others want to work but have given up looking.

Food insecurity has skyrocketed, she said, especially among families with young children.

"They've lost more jobs, and of course those are children who need to be cared for all the time," she said, adding that the income losses have translated directly into "these really severe material hardships," such as evictions or the threats of them and increases in hunger.

The losses have been especially devastating for women, as well as Black and Latino families, she said.

Naomi Cahn, director of the Family Law Center at the University of Virginia School of Law, said the pandemic has had a "disproportionate impact on families of color."

"That's a really, really important part of the story," she said.

In an analysis of data collected last month in the Census Bureau's Household Pulse Survey, the research organization Child Trends found that 24 percent of U.S. adults in households with children, or 1 in 4, reported having limited confidence that they would be able to make their next rent or mortgage payments on time. Among Black households with children, the number was 40 percent.

The Biden administration has said its $1.9 trillion relief package will lift 11 million people out of poverty "and cut child poverty in half."

"That could provide at least some temporary stability for many families," Cahn said.

Read more here.

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