CHN’s Deborah Weinstein: Precarious Gains of 2019 Snatched Away by Pandemic


September 15, 2020

Editor’s note: the following statement by Deborah Weinstein, Executive Director, Coalition on Human Needs, was released Tuesday, Sept. 15 in response to newly released 2019 poverty data by the U.S. Census Bureau. A “First Look” CHN analysis of the data can be found here.

“The news about last year’s income and poverty progress is in a way heartbreaking.  Workers have struggled to make gains, working hard to provide economic security for their families.  That security has been precarious; the Federal Reserve Board reported that in 2019 16 percent of households could not pay all their current month’s bills and 25 percent skipped medical care because they could not afford it.  The new Health Insurance Census report shows that despite the strong economy, the proportion of uninsured people rose from 8.9 percent to 9.2 percent.   

“What is heartbreaking is that hard-won gains have been snatched away by the pandemic and its economic toll.  But Senate Majority Leader McConnell and his caucus seem prepared to abandon millions of their constituents – to leave Washington without agreeing to further COVID-19 relief.   

Low- and moderate-income people have no cushion, so the shock of the pandemic is causing severe hardship.  In a good economy, they work.  Now, with much less work available or possible, they need help to avoid long-term losses from which it will be hard to recover.  It is unthinkable that Senator McConnell would allow the economic security and health of millions to be threatened or lost, leaving them with no help for months. 

There were about 3.2 million fewer poor people in 2019 than in 2018, using the more comprehensive Supplemental Poverty Measure.  But in 2020, the pandemic caused 12 million adults in households with children to report that in the past week they did not have enough to eat.  Nearly half of survey respondents said they or someone in their household lost income from work in August.  More than one in five (14 million) said they had not been able to pay the past month’s rent in July. 

“The data show with painful clarity that the bottom income fifth, with average incomes of $15,286 in 2019, managed to gain only 1.6 percent over 20 years, while the top 5 percent, with incomes averaging $451,122 in 2019, gained 25 percent over that period.  Poverty for Black children may have declined from 2018 to 2019, but it is still 26.4 percent, and 20.9 percent for Hispanic/Latinx children, while poverty is 8.3 percent for non-Hispanic white children. 

“Those were the ‘good times.’ Now, times are not so good.  COVID-19 claims disproportionately high numbers of illness and fatalities among communities of color.  One in five in Latinx households with children were going without enough food in August, as was true of one in four in Black households with children.  Evictions are looming large for millions, and here too Black and Brown households are especially threatened, with 27 percent in Latinx and 30 percent in Black households unable to pay their past month’s rent in July.   

“This ought to be a time for celebrating the progress families can make and helping them to solidify their gains.  Because of the pandemic, Congress should at minimum protect vulnerable families whose progress is being undone.  The Senate and the Trump Administration should get back to the negotiating table.”