Our paychecks and mental health took a beating in the pandemic, say Americans.
The Census Bureau agrees. The results of its experimental Household Pulse Survey confirm that’s where American households have been hit the hardest by the coronavirus pandemic.
As the virus surged across the United States trailing economic and social havoc in its wake, it completely upended life as we know it.
It has taken a devastating toll on households, disrupting jobs, livelihoods, education, housing and healthcare. The pandemic has forced a ‘new normal’ upon the American public, putting lives on hold as people yield and adjust to a new reality.
When daily life stalled in US due to quarantine and shelter in place restrictions, so did Census 2020. The Census Bureau had to recalibrate plans to complete its ongoing decennial and adjust operations in response to an unexpected crisis precipitated on the population it was preparing to survey.
In April, the Census Bureau set out to take the pulse of households affected by the pandemic.
It launched an $1.2 million Household Pulse Survey. to gauge the impact of the social and economic effects of COVID-19 on American households. The survey began on April 23 and will continue over a period of 90 days through late July; data is collected and released on a weekly basis.
The Household Pulse Survey examines how lives in American households have altered as they experience the pandemic, by measuring the the impact on jobs, finances schooling , physical and mental wellbeing, as well as access to food, housing and health care.
The study asks questions such as: Did anyone in your household experience a loss of employment income ? What will you use your stimulus payment for? Did you get enough food? Feeling nervous, anxious, or on edge? Able to stop or control worrying? Feeling down, depressed, or hopeless?
The survey which is available in English and Spanish, was designed in collaboration with the Bureau of Labor Statistics; the USDA Economic Research Service; the Department of Housing and Urban Development; the National Center for Health Statistics; and the National Center for Education Statistics.
Data that the survey captures on the widespread disruption to individuals, families and communities across the country will provide valuable insights to federal and state efforts targeting post-pandemic policy and recovery.
In its initial analysis, the Census Bureau found that almost half of US households lost wages during the pandemic.
Results were most concerning for households with children. Adults in households with children were more likely to report permanent loss of employment and food shortages since the pandemic began.
In 55% of households with a child under the age of 18, at least one adult had lost employment income since the COVID-19 pandemic started. The responses indicated that these households sometimes did not have enough to eat “when compared to adults not living with children.” Adults in these households “were also less confident in their ability to pay their rent or mortgage on time.
Earlier in May, the World Health Organization warned of “a massive increase’ in depression and anxiety as social distancing leading to isolation and increased stress, was compounded by the “distress caused by loss of income and often employment.”
Critics of the Household Pulse Survey caution that the standard error for the data is high, given its low response rate; nonetheless, the survey results are worrying.
In its evaluation of the data, the CDC estimates that the percentage of adults who reported symptoms of anxiety or depression experienced these symptoms “ more than half the days or nearly every day.
The impact on mental health is ‘disturbing’ but consistent with how people’s lives are” at this time, reports a Census Bureau official.
As they face an unpredictable future that is full of questions with few easy answers, many families feel fear and uncertainty.
Is this situation permanent? Temporary?
Or are we stuck on pause for the foreseeable future?
Meera Kymal is a contributing editor at India Currents.
Coverage for Census 2020 has been facilitated through a grant from the United Way Bay Area.