Women and people of color are the most likely to say they are financially worse off today than before the pandemic began, according to a Washington Post-ABC News poll, underscoring the struggles many Americans are still facing even as the broader economy shows signs of improvement.
The findings highlight the ongoing financial hardships that many families are facing a year into the global health crisis. Women and workers of color were far more likely to lose jobs when the pandemic took hold last spring and wiped out millions of service-sector jobs in restaurants, hotels, spas, salons and non-urgent health-care fields. Women have also borne the majority of the child-care responsibilities as schools and day-care centers shuttered and classes moved online, requiring additional parental involvement.
In follow-up interviews, several women told The Post they were forced to leave jobs to care for children, or they had to take lower-paying jobs that gave them more flexibility. A few women also cited rising costs of rent and food, which caused some to fall behind on bills even if they were able to keep their jobs.
About 1 in 5 Americans overall say their family’s financial situation is worse than before the shutdowns, while more than 6 in 10 adults say their financial situation is about the same as before the pandemic.
Channa Allerheiligen, a home health aide in Grand Junction, Colo., is one of millions of women who stopped working outside the home to take care of her two children and a stepson. The youngsters, who are in elementary school, could not manage online classes on their own.
“I had to quit my job to home-school my kids. During that time, my husband also lost his job. So I had to go back to work, but the job I ended up getting has lower pay,” Allerheiligen said.
In addition to a big dip in income, Allerheiligen said her family’s rent rose nearly $300 a month. Their landlord demanded more money, as families moving to Colorado from California were willing to pay higher rent.
When reached by phone on Monday, Allerheiligen said she was worried about whether her family would have enough to eat over the next two weeks. Money is running low again.
“The economy is crap right now,” she said.
Overall, 52 percent of Americans approve of the way President Biden is handling the economy in his first 100 days in office, the Post-ABC poll finds, but 58 percent of Americans still rate the economy as “not so good” or “poor.” That’s down slightly from August when 68 percent of Americans had a negative view of the economy, but it’s little changed from September when 59 percent gave the economy low marks.
Financial stress peaks among women younger than retirement age, with 29 percent of women younger than 65 saying their financial situation is worse today, compared to 10 percent of women 65 and older.
Americans without college degrees also show larger signs of strain. In recent months, hiring has picked up for those with associate’s or bachelor’s degrees, Labor Department data show, but hiring remains weak among people with only a high school diploma.
Nearly a quarter of adults without a four-year college degree (24 percent) say their finances are worse today than a year ago, along with 21 percent of those with bachelor’s degrees, while a smaller 11 percent of those with a master’s degree or higher say the same, the poll finds.
Charmaine Thompson is seeing these trends firsthand. She supervises home health aides and nurses who work in Baltimore schools. The vast majority are women of color who earn less than $20 an hour. Despite being in high demand during the health crisis, many of these women have had to quit to take care of children.
“I have had a lot of nurses and health aides who have children and they’ve had to quit and resign. We’ve had some die,” said Thompson. “Women on the front lines still have family. People who make $15 or $17 an hour can’t just call a nanny or put their kids in private schools.”
Thompson said she, too, feels financially worse off now than before the pandemic. While she has kept her nursing job, her husband was laid off from a job he had for three decades.
Separately, 21 percent of Americans say their relationships with family and friends have gotten weaker since the pandemic. About 6 in 10 adults (61 percent) say their personal relationships are “about the same” as before the pandemic, while 17 percent say their relationships have gotten better.
Despite greater financial strain, women also are more likely to say their relationships with family and friends have gotten stronger over the pandemic, 20 percent compared with 13 percent for men.
Sally Kane in Santa Cruz, Calif., says that despite losing about half her income during the pandemic when travel took a major hit and she could not rent her place for short-term stays, she has found some solace in being able to talk more with her grown children over FaceTime.
“Because all of us were not physically going to a job or not working, that freed up a lot of time during the day where we could have an hour-long phone conversation or FaceTime,” Kane said. “I think technology really helped us maintain or even strengthen communication with people from distance.”
More non-White adults say their family’s finances are worse since the pandemic began, including 23 percent of Black adults and 30 percent of Hispanic adults.
“All the prices on everything just got really high. You can’t get stuff you need because everything is sky high, and when you’re on a fixed income, it’s very hard,” said Jernada Thomas, an African American mother in Cleveland who is on disability.
Thomas said it has been a struggle to make ends meet during the pandemic as food prices have jumped and her rent went up several hundred dollars. She used the government stimulus payments to catch up on bills and is now behind again.
While there has been a steady decline in Americans saying they are going hungry or unable to pay the rent since December, there are still large numbers of families struggling, according to U.S. Census Bureau surveys during the pandemic. Nearly 1 in 5 renters were behind on payments this winter, the Census Bureau survey showed. That has now fallen slightly to 1 in 7 renters.
The Post-ABC poll was conducted by telephone April 18-21 among a random national sample of 1,007 adults, with 75 percent reached on cellphones and 25 percent on landlines. Results have a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 points for the full sample; error margins among subgroups are larger.
Scott Clement contributed to this report.