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Boston, MA September 10, 2020 – According to a new NPR/Robert Wood Johnson Foundation/Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health poll, at least half of households in the four largest U.S. cities—New York City (53%), Los Angeles (56%), Chicago (50%), and Houston (63%)—report facing serious financial problems during the coronavirus outbreak. Serious problems are reported across a wide range of areas during this time, including depleting household savings, serious problems paying credit card bills and other debt, and affording medical care (see Table 1 for details).

Many of these problems are concentrated among Black and Latino households, households with annual incomes below $100,000, and households experiencing job or wage losses since the start of the outbreak. Serious financial problems during the coronavirus outbreak are reported by majorities of Black households in New York City (62%), Los Angeles (52%), Chicago (69%) and Houston (81%). Serious financial problems are also reported by majorities of Latino households in New York City (73%), Los Angeles (71%), Chicago (63%), and Houston (77%) during this time. In addition, majorities of households with annual incomes below $100,000 report facing serious financial problems in New York City (65%), Los Angeles (64%), Chicago (59%), and Houston (72%) during the coronavirus outbreak.

When it comes to employment problems, half or more households in these cities report any adult household members have lost their jobs, been furloughed, or had wages or hours reduced since the start of the outbreak (New York – 50%, Los Angeles – 61%, Chicago – 51%, Houston – 57%). And among these households with job or wage losses during the coronavirus outbreak, more than two-thirds report facing serious financial problems (New York – 73%, Los Angeles – 73%, Chicago – 69%, Houston – 81%).

This poll, The Impact of Coronavirus on Households in Major U.S. Cities, was conducted July 1 – August 3, 2020, among 3,454 U.S. adults, including 512 adults living in New York City, 507 adults living in Los Angeles, 529 adults living in Chicago, and 447 adults living in Houston. Adults in this survey were asked to report on serious problems facing both themselves and others living in their households, so measures are reported as a percentage of households for all household-related questions. See the Methodology below for further details.

In healthcare, significant shares of households in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Houston report household members have been unable to get medical care for serious problems when they needed it during the coronavirus outbreak, and they have faced negative health consequences as a result.  Since the start of the coronavirus outbreak, 19% of New York households, 20% of Los Angeles households, 23% of Chicago households, and 27% of Houston households report anyone in their household has been unable to get medical care for a serious problem when they needed it. A majority of these households with anyone who has been unable to get care when needed (New York City – 59%, Los Angeles – 63%, Chicago – 55%, Houston – 75%) report negative health consequences as a result.

“Before federal coronavirus support programs even expired, we find millions of people with very serious problems with their finances, healthcare, and with caring for children,” said Robert J. Blendon, co-director of the survey and Richard L. Menschel Professor of Public Health and Professor of Health Policy and Political Analysis Emeritus at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. “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.”

When it comes to caring for children, majorities of households with children in New York (60%), Los Angeles (69%), Chicago (51%), and Houston (60%) report experiencing serious problems during this time. This includes sizable shares of households with serious problems keeping children’s education going, helping children adjust to major life changes, finding childcare while working, and finding space for children to get physical activity while maintaining a safe distance from others (see Table 2 for details).

Households with children in major cities also face significant barriers with internet connectivity during the coronavirus outbreak. At least four in ten households with children report either having serious problems with their internet connection to do schoolwork or their jobs, or that they do not have a high-speed internet connection at home (New York – 43%, Los Angeles – 54%, Chicago – 40%, Houston – 45%; see Table 2).

View the complete poll findings.

Table 1. Serious Financial Problems Among Households in Major U.S. Cities During the Coronavirus Outbreak (in Percent)

New York CityLos AngelesChicagoHouston
Serious financial problems (NET)*53565063
Used up all/most of savings34353541
Serious problems paying credit cards/loans/debt28352841
Serious problems paying mortgage/rent28282534
Serious problems paying utilities20282337
Serious problems affording food19231733
Serious problems affording medical care14151530
Serious problems making car payments10201331
Other serious financial problems17201724

Table note: Nationally, 46% of U.S. households report facing serious financial problems during the coronavirus outbreak. * Net “yes” responses to Q4a-g and Q5.  An additional 10% of New York City households, 11% of Los Angeles households, 8% of Chicago households, and 19% of Houston households report they didn’t have any savings prior to the coronavirus outbreak. NPR/Robert Wood Johnson Foundation/Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, The Impact of Coronavirus on Households in Major U.S. Cities, 7/1/20 – 8/3/20. N=512 New York City adults, 507 Los Angeles adults, 529 Chicago adults, and 447 Houston adults ages 18+. Categories ranked by overall highest % among all respondents.

Table 2. Serious Caregiving Problems Among Households in Major U.S. Cities During the Coronavirus Outbreak (in Percent)

New York CityLos AngelesChicagoHouston
Serious problems caring for children (NET)*60695160
Serious problems keeping children’s education going33522935
Serious problems helping children adjust to major life changes29393333
Serious problems finding play/physical activity space with safe distance41383340
Serious problems getting care for children when adults need to work22181925
Serious problems taking care of children in general14191315
Serious internet problems for school/jobs or do not have high-speed internet at home43544045

Table note: Nationally, 59% of U.S. households with children report they have experienced serious problems caring for their children during the coronavirus outbreak, and 34% of U.S. households with children report either having serious problems with their internet connection to do schoolwork or their jobs, or that they do not have a high-speed internet connection at home. * Net “yes” responses to Q41a-e. At any point since the start of the coronavirus outbreak, has anyone living in your household had serious problems with any of the following? Taking care of children in your household? Keeping the education of children in your household going? Finding space for children in your household to play or get physical activity while maintaining a safe distance from others? Helping children in your household adjust to major changes in their lives? (Among employed/furloughed): Getting care for children when adults need to work? Question only asked among respondents in households with working or furloughed adults. ‡ Net “yes” to Q12 or Q51. Since the start of the coronavirus outbreak, has anyone living in your household had serious problems with their internet connection to do work or schoolwork, or not? Does your home have high-speed internet access, or not?  NPR/Robert Wood Johnson Foundation/Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, The Impact of Coronavirus on Households in Major U.S. Cities, 7/1/20 – 8/3/20. Net Q4/5. N=142 New York City adults, N=140 Los Angeles adults, N=131 Chicago adults, and N=143 Houston adults ages 18+ living in households with children under age 18.

Methodology

The poll in this study is part of an on-going series of surveys developed by researchers at the Harvard Opinion Research Program (HORP) at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in partnership with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and NPR. The research team consists of the following members at each institution.

Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health:  Robert J. Blendon, Professor of Public Health and Professor of Health Policy and Political Analysis Emeritus, and Executive Director of HORP; John M. Benson, Senior Research Scientist and Managing Director of HORP; Mary G. Findling, Senior Research Specialist; Chelsea Whitton Pearsall, Research Coordinator.

Robert Wood Johnson Foundation: Carolyn Miller, Senior Program Officer, Research-Evaluation-Learning; Jordan Reese, Director of Media Relations; Martina Todaro, Research Associate, Research-Evaluation-Learning.

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NPR: Andrea Kissack, Senior Supervising Editor, Science Desk; Joe Neel, Deputy Senior Supervising Editor, Science Desk; Scott Hensley, Senior Editor, Science Desk.

Interviews were conducted online and via telephone (cellphone and landline), July 1 – August 3, 2020, among a nationally representative, probability-based sample of 3,454 adults age 18 or older in the U.S. The survey included representative samples of adults living in each of the four largest U.S. cities: New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Houston. Data collection was conducted in English and Spanish by SSRS (Glen Mills, PA), an independent research company.

The core of the sample was address-based, with respondents sampled from the United States Postal Service’s Computerized Delivery Sequence (CDS) file. Sampled households were sent an invitation letter including a link to complete the survey online and a toll-free number that respondents could call to complete the survey with a telephone interviewer. All respondents were sent a reminder postcard, which also included a QR code they could scan to be linked to the survey via a smart device. Households that could be matched to telephone numbers and that had not yet completed the survey were called to attempt to complete an interview. In order to represent the hardest-to-reach populations, the address-based sample (ABS) was supplemented by telephone interviews with respondents who had previously completed interviews on the weekly random-digit dialing (RDD) SSRS Omnibus poll and online using the SSRS Opinion Panel, a probability-based panel.

A total of 2,992 respondents completed the questionnaire online, 127 by calling in to complete, and 335 were completed as outbound interviews.

Possible sources of non-sampling error include non-response bias, as well as question wording and ordering effects. Non-response produces some known biases in survey-derived estimates because participation tends to vary for different subgroups of the population. To compensate for these known biases and for variations in probability of selection within and across households, the samples were weighted to match the distribution of the population based on data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2018 American Community Survey (ACS). Weighting parameters included: gender, age, education level, race/ethnicity, and for the national sample also region.

The margins of sampling error, including the design effect, for each of the samples are shown below.

Number of interviews(unweighted)Margin of sampling error at the 95% confidence level (percentage points)
National total3,454±3.3
New York City512±5.4
Los Angeles507±7.1
Chicago529±5.4
Houston447±6.3

Respondents who were the only person living in a household were asked about their own experiences. Respondents who had anyone else also living in their household were asked about the experiences of anyone living in the household. Together these responses represent the experience of the household.

photo: AP/ Nam Y. Huh

For more information:

Nicole Rura
Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health
nrura@hsph.harvard.edu
617-221-4241

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Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health brings together dedicated experts from many disciplines to educate new generations of global health leaders and produce powerful ideas that improve the lives and health of people everywhere. As a community of leading scientists, educators, and students, we work together to take innovative ideas from the laboratory to people’s lives—not only making scientific breakthroughs, but also working to change individual behaviors, public policies, and health care practices. Each year, more than 400 faculty members at Harvard Chan teach 1,000-plus full-time students from around the world and train thousands more through online and executive education courses. Founded in 1913 as the Harvard-MIT School of Health Officers, the School is recognized as America’s oldest professional training program in public health.

For more than 40 years the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation has worked to improve health and health care. We are working with others to build a national Culture of Health enabling everyone in America to live longer, healthier lives. For more information, visit www.rwjf.org. Follow the Foundation on Twitter at www.rwjf.org/twitter or on Facebook at www.rwjf.org/facebook.

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