While the outbreak has wreaked widespread economic havoc on the nation, it has hit lower-income Americans harder than others, exposing and widening income inequality in the US. Overall, 43% of adults report that they or someone in their household has taken a hit, but only a third of upper-income Americans say the same, according to the Pew study, released Tuesday.
The pandemic has forced the vast majority of Americans to stay at home and nonessential businesses to close their doors to slow the spread of the virus. While many people, particularly those with higher incomes, can work from home, the same is not true for many lower-income folks.
The problem has grown worse as the numbers of cases and deaths climb. The overall share who report job or wage losses increased 10 percentage points since Pew’s late March poll.
Hispanics were the most affected, with 61% reporting job losses, cuts in pay or both, compared with 38% of whites and 44% of blacks. Other studies have shown that Hispanic and black workers are more likely to be in jobs that are more susceptible to layoffs.
Also, younger adults, ages 18 to 29, were most likely to have been hit, Pew found.
The stimulus checks from Congress’ recent $2 trillion relief package will be put to use, with 54% of adults who expect payments saying they’ll pay bills or buy essentials for themselves or their families. About one-fifth plan to save the money, while 14% will pay off debts.
Some 71% of lower-income adults plan to spend the checks – up to $1,200 for those making $99,000 or less, double that for couples and $500 per child up to age 17. Among upper-income Americans, about one-third plan to spend the money on bills or other essentials and another third plan to save it, with the rest paying off debt or doing something else.
Still, Americans say the loss of jobs and wages is making it harder to cover their bills this month. More than half of lower-income Americans report this is the case, compared with 44% in a typical month.
Among middle-income adults, the figure is 26% for this month, compared with 19% typically. The share of upper-income Americans in this situation ticked up slightly to just over 1 in 10.
While three-quarters of higher-income adults say they could handle three months of expenses in an emergency, fewer than one-quarter of lower-income people could.