One thousand cars in line at SDCCU Stadium in Mission Valley earlier this year for a food giveaway after the pandemic began. Photo by Chris Stone

An increasing number of American families are having trouble paying bills as a result of economic challenges caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a new study.

Researchers found that nearly 45% of the 1,277 people who were surveyed several times over the course of the 10-month pandemic reported it had been “difficult” to pay bills at some point since February.

A smaller number, 13% reported that it had been “very difficult” to pay bills at some point during the pandemic.

The study comes as legislators continue to wrangle over stimulus plans to assist troubled households.

“Despite some recent increases in employment and consumer spending, many American families continue to struggle financially,” said Katherine G. Carman, the study’s lead author and a senior economist at the RAND Corp. “The challenges are particularly severe among lower-income workers, and among Black and Hispanic households.”

The study noted that 47% of Hispanic respondents and 42% of non-Hispanic Black respondents reported in May that they had faced financial difficulties.

That’s compared with 20% of non-Hispanic white respondents.

Among the study participants who were working in February, a much higher level of low-income households reported financial difficulties at some point between May and September. That includes:

  • More than 70% of households with less than $25,000 in annual income,
  • Almost half of households with income between $25,000 and $125,000, and
  • 20% of households with income above $125,000.

Among those who reported that they had trouble paying bills, the number who said they used credit cards or payday loans to meet their obligations rose from 41% in May to 47% in September.

Those reporting they could not pay their bills rose from 25% in May to 30% in September.

Preliminary results from another wave of the survey conducted early this month suggests that many people also plan to spend less than usual on holiday gifts this year, another indication of continuing financial hardship.

– City News Service

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