New Data: How Low-Income Minority Americans are Coping with COVID-19
Updated: Nov 16, 2020
As part of their ongoing research into what Americans need, feel, and fear about the COVID-19 pandemic, the Ad Council just released a special report focusing specifically on the virus’ impact on low-income minority populations. Which groups are most affected? How are they responding to these difficult times? Lisa Sherman, president and CEO of the Ad Council, shares the report’s key findings with Aspen Ideas: Health.
In the first days of COVID-19, we knew it was essential to immediately get critical, live-saving information out to the American public. Following our first round of messaging, we began to examine the impact of our programs to ensure that we were reaching the right audiences with the right messages.
Early on, there was a common narrative that said this virus knew no borders, no class, no race. Of course, essentially the opposite has proven to be true—due to the systemic inequities America has yet to fully acknowledge, let alone resolve, lower-income minority populations have been especially vulnerable.
Before the pandemic hit, roughly one in five African Americans (22%) and Hispanic Americans (19%) lived in poverty, compared to roughly one in 10 whites (9%), and lower-income populations are more likely to work essential jobs that put them at higher risk while being less likely to offer health insurance. And that’s if they’re employed. In the fourth quarter of 2019, just before the pandemic hit, African American workers had the highest unemployment rate nationally (5.7%), followed by Hispanic workers (4.1%), with whites at 3%, according to the Economic Policy Institute.
So we asked: Which low-income populations have been most impacted, and how are they responding? Here are the five key takeaways from our report.
Low-income Hispanic and African American adults have greater immediate needs
According to our Coping with Covid-19 study on low-income Americans, 40% of low-income African American and Hispanic adults report needing PPE, compared to 27% of low-income whites, and they also report greater needs for free or reduced cost meals, healthcare, and help with bills, food, and housing.
Low-income Hispanic respondents are also more likely than the general population to report needing help with employment and general financial assistance, while low-income African American respondents are more likely to need help getting enough food to last—and battling loneliness.
Low-income Hispanic adults are more worried than the general population
Across all demographics, Americans report feeling most worried about the health of medical workers, the economy, and fear that people aren’t taking COVID-19 seriously enough. For low-income adults, those fears are much more acute—and much less abstract. Low-income Hispanic and African American adults are also significantly more worried than the general public on topics like increased crime, increased discrimination (reported significantly more by African American respondents than Hispanic) and the ability to pay bills. Low-income Hispanic respondents are much more worried than the general population about losing their job or having a spouse lose their job; the long-term effects of the pandemic on their children, their health, the health and mental health of friends and family; and the risk of spreading the virus to others.
Low-income Hispanic-Americans are the most financially impacted
According to our research, one in four (27%) Americans earning $49,999 or less per year reported that the pandemic has already had a large financial impact on them. The impact is greatest on low-income Hispanic adults: One in three (34%) report a large financial impact, compared to African-American and white respondents (25% each) in the same income bracket.
Lower-income Americans are less likely to know someone who has tested positive for COVID-19.
This may seem a bit counterintuitive when we see that low-income, densely populated areas (like Queens in New York) have been so hard-hit, and when we consider the vulnerability of those populations. But overall, though one in three higher-income Americans reported knowing someone who had contracted COVID-19, only one in four lower-income Hispanic Americans and African Americans did. Of course, this doesn’t mean these populations aren’t harder hit—more likely, it reflects a discrepancy in access to health care and testing—and in many areas of the country, known cases are still rising.
Low-income African American adults are feeling significantly more positive emotions—and cite different coping mechanisms.
Compared to the general population, low-income African American respondents are more likely to be feeling grateful (61% vs. 52%), optimistic (42% vs. 36%) and content (37% vs. 28%). They’re also feeling much more content than low-income Hispanic Americans (37% vs. 27%). Of those reporting negative emotions, African Americans were most likely of all racial and ethnic groups to cite “religious, faith or spiritual practice or connection” as a way they cope. Low-income Hispanic adults were especially likely to say they’re more in touch with family. Which leads me to an important note on optimism. We have found that gratitude and hopefulness continue to be the top emotions reported by all Americans—across all demographics.
And as we bring these findings into our continuing efforts to slow the spread of COVID-19 and help ensure everyone is getting what they need, we find ourselves shoulder to shoulder with cross-industry partners eager to help however they can—and we share those feelings of gratitude and hopefulness.
As president and CEO of the Ad Council, Lisa Sherman works at the intersection of media, marketing, technology, entertainment, and advertising to create innovative, impactful public engagement campaigns that address the day’s most pressing issues. Previously with Viacom, Sherman launched and led Logo TV, the first cable network for LGBTQ+ audiences. She also held leadership roles at Verizon, Hill Holliday, and the Women’s Sports Network, which she co-founded. A thought leader, public speaker, and active participant on advisory boards, Sherman recently received the 2019 Matrix Award
The views and opinions of the author are her own and do not necessarily reflect those of The Aspen Institute.