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Financial Health Pulse Data Shows Wealth Inequalities Have Widened Across the US

A recent release from Financial Health Pulse highlights that millions of people continue to struggle financially, with two areas of concern persisting as more people struggling to afford healthcare and financial health inequities widen between groups such as Black and Latinx or lower-income households.  

The data comes after a collaboration with Citi Foundation, who joined the Financial Health Pulse in 2021 for a three-year funding partnership as part of its Action for Racial Equity commitment. Conducted between 11-18th of January 2021, it shows the continued divide between financially vulnerable and financially healthy Americans. Around 17.5 million people considered financially vulnerable acknowledged a decline in their financial situation since the pandemic began, with many concerned about their ability to afford basic necessities, including food, healthcare, and housing.

“The data is troubling, showing that millions of Americans are continuing to struggle financially with massive implications for their health and wellbeing,” said Jennifer Tescher, president and CEO of the Financial Health Network. “This current survey highlights the financial cliff facing at-risk households. Without additional stimulus and relief measures, inequality will only continue, especially for lower-income Americans and people of color.”

Half of those considered financially vulnerable have experienced a decline in their financial situation since the pandemic began, compared to just 19% of those considered financially coping and 6% considered financially healthy. Lower-income households have seen the most dramatic declines in their financial situation this last year with those making under $30,000 more than twice as likely to say their financial situation has worsened as households with incomes above $60,000. As the pandemic rages on, individuals are increasingly facing tradeoffs in order to afford basic needs like healthcare. One in ten Americans (10%) said that someone in their household stopped taking a medication or took less than directed because they could not afford it, a near 40% increase since September 2020. Additionally, 13% reported someone in their household forewent necessary healthcare due to cost.

The pandemic continues to have disproportionate effects on Black and Latinx communities, with these respondents more likely to have significant concern around food security and housing. Nearly a quarter of Black (23%) and 22% of Latinx respondents reported worry that their food would run out, compared to only 12% of White and 15% of Asian American respondents. Black and Latinx respondents were more likely to have visited a food bank than their White and Asian American peers. Fear of eviction in the next three months is also more common among Black (16%) and Latinx (12%) respondents than White (6%) and Asian American (8%) respondents.

“The devastating economic consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic have brought to the forefront the fact that many Americans are struggling financially, especially people and communities of color,” said Brandee McHale, head of Citi Community Investing and Development and president of the Citi Foundation. “As recovery efforts continue to take shape, providing reliable, timely and actionable data to inform solutions is imperative. That’s why the Citi Foundation has committed to supporting the Financial Health Pulse over the next three years as part of our work to advance racial equity and help close the racial wealth gap.”

Further survey findings underscore significant financial struggles in households where someone lost a job during the pandemic, with 45% reporting a worse financial situation than a year ago (compared to only 14% of people who did not lose jobs). Among those who reported a job loss, respondents listed several coping strategies, including spending down savings, carrying a balance on their credit cards, and borrowing money.

– 59% reported spending down their savings to make ends meet (compared with 23% of people who did not lose their jobs).
– 55% reported carrying a balance on their credit cards (compared with 33% of people who did not lose their jobs).
– 29% borrowed money from friends and family (compared with 10% of people who did not lose their jobs).

This data signals that further relief efforts and policies are necessary to lift all populations equally. Ample opportunities remain for policymakers, employers and businesses to create solutions that can improve financial health, especially for those struggling the most.

2021 is the fourth year that the Financial Health Network has measured the financial health of people living in the US, with the annual Trends Reports showing overall financial health as an economic indicator that tells a more nuanced story compared to other aggregate economic indicators such as market and unemployment numbers.

Author

  • Gina is a fintech journalist (BA, MA) who works across broadcast and print. She has written for most national newspapers and started her career in BBC local radio.

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