Story at a glance

  • A new NPR/Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health/Robert Wood Johnson Foundation poll found serious financial problems ailing households in New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago and Houston.
  • Many of these are in Black and Latinx households, households with annual incomes below $100,000 and those experiencing job or wage losses since the start of the outbreak.

At least half of households in the four largest U.S. cities are facing serious financial problems in the fallout from the coronavirus pandemic, according to a new NPR/Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health/Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) poll, including a majority of Black and Latinx households in New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago and Houston.

“Before federal coronavirus support programs even expired, we find millions of people with very serious problems with their finances, health care, and with caring for children,” Robert J. Blendon, co-director of the survey and Richard L. Menschel Professor Emeritus of Public Health and Professor of Health Policy and Political Analysis at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, said in a release. “Though we want to believe we are all in this together, findings show problems concentrated in people who earn less than $100,000, people who have lost wages or jobs, and Black and Latino Americans.” 


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At least half of the households in these cities report that adult household members have lost their jobs, been furloughed or had wages or hours reduced since the start of the outbreak. The poll reveals more than half are depleting household savings and struggling to pay off debt and medical bills. 

The study provides a snapshot into how the outbreak has affected Americans’ lives, stressing not only personal and national health care, but also financial and occupational well-being. The survey polled 3,454 American adults online, over the phone and through interviews in both English and Spanish by SSRS, an independent research company, between July 1 and Aug. 3. 

As the country heads into the fall bracing for new hotspots to emerge, public health experts are warning of a potential second wave of infections, even as some states are struggling to cope with community spread from the initial outbreak.


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Since the beginning of the coronavirus outbreak in the United States, 19 percent of New York households, 20 percent of Los Angeles households, 23 percent of Chicago households, and 27 percent of Houston households report someone in their household has not been able to access medical care for a serious problem when necessary, according to the poll, and a majority of them reported negative health consequences as a result.  

“This pandemic has revealed glaring problems in the nation’s health care system,” said RWJF President and CEO Richard Besser in the release. “At a time when a significant number of people need health care most, many cannot get it. We need to be able to provide safe, affordable care for people with COVID-19, as well as for the many with chronic medical conditions so rampant in America. It is unacceptable that in a wealthy nation like ours factors such as income or race play such a big role in health care access.”


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Published on Sep 09, 2020