KRWG

Census Bureau's New Survey Measures Effects Of The Pandemic On U.S. Households

May 20, 2020
Originally published on May 21, 2020 9:47 am

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Nearly half of U.S. households have taken a hit to their paychecks during the pandemic, and the outbreak is also taking a heavy toll on people's mental health. That is according to an ongoing Census Bureau survey about how the coronavirus is affecting our lives around the country. NPR's Hansi Lo Wang covers the bureau. He joins us now to talk about the findings.

Hey, Hansi.

HANSI LO WANG, BYLINE: Hey, Mary Louise.

KELLY: Well, let's start with the hit on people's paychecks. What exactly did the Census Bureau learn about people's work income?

WANG: Well, the Census Bureau - they surveyed more than 74,000 households online in English and Spanish from late April to early May. And it found that 47% of adults said that they or another adult in their home lost employment income since the national emergency was declared because of COVID-19. And about 4 out of 10 expect their households to earn less from their jobs over the next four weeks.

KELLY: Wow. So people are expecting to make less money, and of course, the first of the month keeps coming around. Was there any question asked about rent or mortgage payments - how that's going?

WANG: There was a question about that. And based on the responses, it seems like making rent or mortgage is still on the minds of a lot of people as this pandemic continues. More than a fifth of adults surveyed reported that they have just slight or no confidence in their ability to make their next rent or mortgage payment on time.

KELLY: Can we tell, Hansi, if some parts of the country are being hit harder than others?

WANG: Well, it's interesting. There are two states that rely a lot on tourism that seem to be suffering particularly hard. More than half of adults in Nevada and in Hawaii - they report they've seen dips in their household's employment income since mid-March. And nearly half of adults in both of those states expect over the next month that their households will take home less pay. And you know, all this is part of this first round of findings for this new Household Pulse Survey, and the Census Bureau has been sending out emails and text messages to millions of people. It's really going to be interesting to track these trends through mid-July.

KELLY: That it is. All right. So that's the economic portrait that we're getting from this survey. What about the other piece of it - the impact on people's mental health?

WANG: Well, what really caught my attention was that nearly 6 in 10 adults surveyed reported feeling nervous, anxious or on edge for several days or more in the week they were surveyed. And almost half of respondents said they could not stop or control their worrying for at least several days. And earlier today, Victoria Velkoff, an associate director for the Census Bureau's demographic programs, spoke on a webinar about the findings. Let's listen to what she said.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

VICTORIA VELKOFF: The mental health questions were disturbing but kind of reassuring at the same time - that we're all a little anxious and worried, and we are measuring that seems to be consistent with how people's lives are.

KELLY: Hansi, before I let you go, I want to note that this survey - results are coming from the Census Bureau, which is still busy with trying to conduct the actual census for 2020. How is that coming along?

WANG: Well, there's still a lot of work to do. Almost 60% of households asked to fill out the census themselves have done so, but bureau's really hamstrung by the pandemic and the stay-at-home orders. Many rural communities around the country, including - as well as homes in Puerto Rico, are finally getting their official forms for the census delivered outside their front doors just this week.

And the Census Bureau's asked Congress to push back the legal deadlines for delivering the results of the count. And these are results that determine how many congressional seats, Electoral College votes and the share of federal funding each state gets. And the big question right now is, can the Census Bureau, with social distancing in place, a lot of public health concerns - can it reach historically undercounted groups, including communities of color, which in past counts they really rely on in-person interaction in order to get that done?

KELLY: Thank you, Hansi.

WANG: You're welcome.

KELLY: NPR's Hansi Lo Wang.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.