Survey: 40 percent of U.S. children live in households that struggle to afford enough food

More than four in 10 American children live in households that are struggling to afford such basic expenses as food and medical bills, according to detailed data released yesterday by the Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey. Advocates say the new data, coupled with findings from the previous Pulse survey, paints a grim picture of childhood hardship and highlights the urgent need for new economic relief measures.

While millions of families face acute economic hardship, the two surveys — one conducted from Sept. 16-28 and the other from Sept. 30-Oct. 12 — reveal striking disparities along racial and ethnic lines as well as inequities based on parents’ education level and employment situation, according to an analysis of the survey data by the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP). 

For instance, in the new survey, 18 percent of Black adults and 17 percent of Latino adults report that they could not afford enough food for their children, compared to only 7 percent of white adults. 

In the earlier survey, the rate of children living in Black households that struggled to pay for basic expenses was 59 percent, compared to just 33 percent of children in white households and 27 percent in Asian households. Among children living in Latino households, the rate was 55 percent, and for children in American Indian, Alaska Native, Pacific Islander, and multiracial households it was 49 percent.

“Though equal opportunity is a widely shared national goal, children’s hardship rates vary widely by the education level and race or ethnicity of the adult in the household,” wrote Arloc Sherman, vice president of data analysis and research at CBPP. “The racial differences reflect longstanding inequities in education, employment, housing, and healthcare that often stem from structural racism — and that the current crisis is worsening.” 

Fifty-one percent of parents without a four-year college degree said they found it difficult or very difficult to pay for household expenses, compared to 21 percent of those who had a four-year college degree.

The data reveals that households with children are bearing the brunt of the current economic crisis. Forty-two percent of children lived in households that reported difficulties paying for a host of basic expenses between Sept. 16-28, including food, rent, car payments, or medical costs, compared to 27 percent of adults in households without children.