Special PUF Report: Households' Difficulty Paying Bills

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The U.S. Census Bureau published over the holidays the data from its latest Household Pulse Survey. During the week ending on the seventh of December, Census surveyed over seventy-two thousand American households to see how the pandemic has affected food sufficiency, health quality, housing security and the difficulty paying bills.

As to the difficulty paying bills, for usual household expenses, which we can consider representative of the difficulty paying utility bills, 15.9 percent of the nation’s adults are finding this very difficult. Another 18.5 percent are finding this somewhat difficult. So over a third of our citizens are in the very or somewhat difficult categories.

The numbers are worse for some racial groups. For the group that Census calls “Hispanic or Latino,” 21.8 percent are finding paying bills very difficult, and 25.2 percent are finding this somewhat difficult. This sums to nearly half of our Hispanic citizens.

For the group that Census calls “Black alone and not Hispanic,” 27.2 percent are finding paying bills very difficult, and 22.3 percent are finding this somewhat difficult. That sums to half of our Black citizens.

The situation is more acute in some states and some metro areas. For example, in Nevada, 53.4 percent of Hispanics are having difficulty paying bills, in the very or somewhat categories. And for Blacks in the state, this is as high as 69.8 percent, over two-thirds.

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New Jersey and Florida have similar numbers. And in some metro areas the numbers are worse. Let’s look at the New York metro area. For all adults in this area, of all races, 41.6 percent are finding it very difficult or somewhat difficult paying bills. For Hispanics, the number is 55.6 percent. For Blacks, it’s 57.0 percent.

In the Houston metro area, for Hispanics, the number is 56.1 percent. For Blacks, it’s as high as 68.3 percent.

The Database Utilities Fortnightly team is still analyzing the data, including the distribution of the seventy-two thousand-plus individual households. We’re interested in such questions as, how many households are depending on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), credit cards and loans to get by, to avoid eviction and put food on the table?

And we’re studying how these numbers are changing as the pandemic has dragged on. Census has been conducting this Household Pulse Survey since the spring when the pandemic first hit.