Nearly 40% of Americans seeing ‘serious financial problems’ in past few months



Nearly 40 percent of Americans say they’ve experienced serious financial problems over the past few months and almost 70 percent are worried about their children falling behind in school, according to a new national poll.

After growing optimism over the summer that the worst of the pandemic had passed, the resurgence of the virus with the ultra-contagious Delta variant has brought the march back to normal to a halt in some cases — especially when it comes to households struggling with finances.

The reports of economic struggles come even as 67 percent of households surveyed said they’d received financial help from the government in the past few months.

And it’s not just pain in the pocketbook: People surveyed said they also worried about their children falling behind in school after a year of lockdown and a stop-and-start reopening of schools in some cases.

A full 69 percent of households with children in grades K-12 last year report their children fell behind in learning because of the coronavirus. Of those, 36 percent said their children fell behind “a lot.”

Cars wait in line for food bank.
Cars lined up across the country for food banks to deliver goods after households were hit hard by the COVID lockdowns. A recent survey shows lower-income households hit hardest even today.
NurPhoto via Getty Images

Feelings haven’t brightened for this school year: Of the households that said their children fell behind last year, 70 percent say it will be difficult for their children to catch up on what they missed, according to the poll.

The poll, conducted by the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in conjunction with NPR and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, surveyed 3,616 US adults from Aug. 2 to Sept. 7.

“While Americans have widely received help from the government during the COVID-19 outbreak, millions are still having very serious problems with their finances, health care, and their children’s education,” said Robert J. Blendon, co-director of the survey and a Harvard public health professor.

Meanwhile, not all households report they’ve felt serious pain: Among those with annual household incomes under $50,000, 59 percent said they’d faced serious financial problems. The figure falls to 18 percent when it comes to households with incomes over $50,000, according to the survey.

Harvard survey results
The Harvard/NPR/Robert Wood Johnson survey shows 38 percent of people suffered serious financial problems in the past few months. More households with income less than $50,000 said they faced problems than did households with incomes over $50,000, according to the survey.

In households with lower incomes, Blendon said, the pain is particularly acute because many have lost their savings and have nothing left to fall back on.

The poll comes as Americans of all financial stripes are experiencing financial pain with prices rising sharply across a variety of everyday goods. Some measures of inflation are stuck at their highest reads in 30 years.

People in line for Covid vaccine
People lined up in New York to get their COVID vaccines. As the Delta variant hit harder, more restrictions were announced by some localities, weighing on an economic rebound.
Bloomberg via Getty Images

Economists, meanwhile, say the labor market has a long way to go to recovery, especially after two months’ worth of worse-than-expected reads on the number of jobs created in the US.

Almost 2.6 million Americans remained on traditional state unemployment benefits as of Thursday, according to federal statistics.


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