Executive Summary

In March 2020, the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic altered the financial landscape for many American families. Recognizing the unprecedented financial disruptions caused by the pandemic, the Federal Reserve conducted a pair of supplemental surveys to monitor the financial well-being of U.S. households. The first was fielded in April 2020, and the results were described in the Report on the Economic Well-Being of U.S. Households in 2019, Featuring Supplemental Data from April 2020.

This report describes the responses to the second supplemental survey, fielded in July 2020. The combined results shed light on the evolution of family finances after the onset of COVID-19, the associated economic disruptions, and the likely effects of public policy responses.1 These data supplement information from the Federal Reserve Board's annual Survey of Household Economics and Decisionmaking (SHED). All respondents to the July survey also completed the previous survey in October 2019, creating the unique opportunity to observe how financial well-being compared for the same individuals before and after the start of the pandemic and the ensuing recession.2

The results of the July survey indicate that while many people who were laid off at the start of the public health crisis had returned to work, an increasing share did not expect to return to their previous job. Additionally, employment outcomes differed markedly across workers of different incomes and education levels. The April survey found that lower-income workers were more likely to have been laid off at the start of the pandemic. The July survey showed that lower-income adults who were laid off were also less likely to have returned to work in the same job. Additionally, workers with less education who maintained their jobs were less likely to be working from home than were those with more education. Consistent with these differences in work arrangements, workers with less education were also more likely to say that their employer was not taking sufficient precautions to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Although many people experienced disruptions to their work, the extraordinary governmental measures in response to the pandemic seemed to have eased families' financial strain. A substantial number of families received one or more forms of financial assistance from government programs or charitable organizations. The effects of these programs were apparent in people's overall financial well-being and ability to cover expenses. Across several dimensions, financial well-being was higher in the July survey than in early April before most financial relief efforts were in place.

Nevertheless, the results highlight financial concerns that remained for some families. Although financial assistance programs have buffered families from economic hardships, many still remained out of work. Additionally, some of those who received assistance with housing bills expressed concerns about resuming their regular monthly payments when this payment relief ends. Some working parents also indicated that they expected to face challenges balancing work and childcare responsibilities in the fall if schools do not have in-person classes. Consequently, the conditions observed in this survey may change in the coming months depending on the economic trajectory moving forward.

Key findings from the July survey include:

Employment

  • Thirty percent of those laid off between March and July had since returned to work for the same employer. Twenty-two percent of those laid off did not expect to return to their previous employer and were not working at another job.
  • Thirty-one percent of workers did all of their work from home in the week before the survey, down from 41 percent in April.
  • Eighteen percent of workers said their employer was taking too few precautions to prevent the spread of COVID-19. A higher 27 percent of Black workers and 23 percent of Hispanic workers felt their employer was not taking enough precautions.
  • Of working parents, 3 percent expected to stop working, and 19 percent expected to work less, if their local schools do not have in-person classes in the fall.

Financial Assistance

  • Nearly one-fourth of adults said their family received assistance from unemployment insurance, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), or free groceries or meals from charitable organizations since the start of the pandemic.
  • Among those receiving unemployment insurance benefits, 40 percent said that the benefits were higher than their wages before the layoff, whereas 36 percent said that the benefits were lower.
  • Five percent of both homeowners with a mortgage and renters reported receiving a housing payment reduction or deferral. Twelve percent of adults reported receiving assistance with other bills.

Overall Financial Security

  • Seventy-seven percent of adults were doing at least okay financially in July, up from 72 percent in early April and 75 percent in October 2019.
  • Seventy percent of adults would pay a $400 emergency expense using cash or its equivalent, up from 64 percent in April and 63 percent in October 2019.
  • Improvements in preparedness for emergency expenses since 2019 were greatest among low- and middle-income families, for whom stimulus payments and enhanced unemployment insurance benefits reflect a larger share of incomes.
Footnotes

 1. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) first reported community spread of COVID-19 in the United States on February 26, 2020 (https://www.cdc.gov/media/releases/2020/s0226-Covid-19-spread.html) and first reported a death from COVID-19 in the United States on February 29, 2020 (https://www.cdc.gov/media/releases/2020/s0229-COVID-19-first-death.html). The CDC COVID-19 Response Team later reported evidence of limited community transmission of COVID-19 earlier than initially reported. See Michelle A. Jorden et al., "Evidence for Limited Early Spread of COVID-19 within the United States," Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, no. 69 (2020): 680–684, http://dx.doi.org/10.15585/mmwr.mm6922e1Return to text

 2. The July 2020 SHED supplemental survey interviewed a sample of just over 4,000 individuals. For the July supplement and prior SHED surveys, the anonymized data, as well as an appendix containing the complete questionnaire and responses to all questions in the order asked, are available at https://www.federalreserve.gov/consumerscommunities/shed.htmReturn to text

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Last Update: September 23, 2020