An apartment building

Deep Financial Woes Portend Rent Crisis

The economy shows some signs of improving. More than 1 million people went back to work last month, pushing the unemployment rate down to 8.4 percent.

But housing experts say a sure sign of trouble ahead is the crisis unfolding among the third of U.S. households who are renters. Things can only get worse for them, because so many were already vulnerable prior to the pandemic after many consecutive years of rising rents that strained their budgets.

Prior to the pandemic, Harvard’s Joint Center for Housing Studies estimates that more than 40 percent of U.S. renters paid more than 50 percent of their incomes for rent – far more than is affordable for most workers. And these rent-burdened households aren’t confined to the lower-income brackets; they extend into the middle class.

The end of the federal government’s $600 weekly supplement to unemployment benefits in July will increasingly strain renters too, said Whitney Airgood-Obrycki, a researcher at the center.

COVID-19 and the resulting recession “is piling on top of an existing affordability crisis,” she said.

This gloomy assessment is backed by other evidence that residents of the four largest metropolitan areas – New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Houston – are running out of resources and face “serious financial problems,” warns a report by NPR and Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

Over a third of the households in these four cities have already plowed through most or all of their savings to cover rent, mortgages, credit card bills and necessities, raising concerns they will not be able to “weather long-term financial and health effects of the coronavirus outbreak.” The situation is particularly bad for low-income families. …Learn More

Map of South Central

Examining the Black-White Wealth Gap

The Black Lives Matter protesters have brought renewed attention to the enduring economic inequality that separates Black and white America.

Homeownership is at the heart of this disparity.

For many Americans, their largest source of wealth is the value they have built up in their homes over time. The house is also traditionally the primary way for moderate- and middle-income parents to pass wealth on to their children.

But less than half of African-Americans own homes, and the ones who do have a fraction of the equity whites have due in large part to the nation’s long history of segregated housing, economists say.

Further, the tidal wave of foreclosures a decade ago reduced the already low homeownership in minority communities, which felt the brunt of the housing market collapse. The Black homeownership rate is just 42 percent – 5 percentage points lower than it was in 2000. White homeownership remained stable throughout the crisis and is now around 72 percent, the Urban Institute said.

Home equity is a big part of wealth graphThe upshot of this combination of fewer Black owners and less equity for those who own a house is that the typical African-American worker has $4,400 in home equity, compared with $67,800 for whites. The home equity gap accounts for about half of the Black-white disparity in total wealth.

A web of systemic reasons explain the home equity gap. Black homebuyers have more debt, in part because they are twice as likely to receive a mortgage with a high interest rate as white buyers with comparable incomes. …Learn More

Recession Slams Millennials – Again

Woman waving to a friend

Several young adults in my life have been derailed by the COVID-19 recession.

A few examples. My daughter-in-law just finished her graduate degree in occupational therapy and sailed through her certification only to be met by a stalled job market. A friend’s daughter, fresh out of nursing school, has already been turned down for one job. My nephew, a late bloomer who had finally snared a job making jewelry for a major retailer, was laid off and is floundering again.

Student loans, the Great Recession, and now a pandemic – Millennials can’t seem to catch a break.

Going into this pandemic, people in their 20s and 30s already had lower wages, more student debt, and less wealth than previous generations at the same age. This recession arrives at a critical time when Millennials were trying to catch up, build careers and strive for financial goals.

For the youngest ones, this is their first recession. But the downturn is the second blow for older Millennials, many of whom had the bad luck of entering the job market in the midst of the Great Recession a decade ago.

Does this double jeopardy put them in danger of becoming “a lost generation”? Millennials’ predicament prompted the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis to ask this question in a new report on their finances.

The COVID-19 recession, the report said, “could upend many of their lives.”

The situation is far from hopeless, of course – they have several decades to make up for this rough patch! There’s no reason they can’t overcome the setbacks with some pluck and determination.

But this will require much more effort to pull off amid the highest unemployment rate since the Great Depression. The Federal Reserve estimates more than 5.5 million Millennials have become unemployed this year – African-Americans bore a disproportionate share of the layoffs.

Young adults were over-represented in the food service, hospitality, and leisure industries slammed by state shutdowns to control the pandemic. And as the recession plays out, Millennials, with their shorter tenures in the labor market, will continue to be vulnerable to layoffs.

Don’t forget about Generation Z either. The recession will be a tough period for its oldest members, who are just graduating from college and haven’t built up their resumés. They may be less appealing job candidates when so many experienced people are eager to work and willing to compromise on pay at a time of sky-high unemployment. …Learn More

Cars in line at a food back in Austin Texas

Money, Virus Angst Combine for Low-Paid

There’s COVID-19 stress, and then there’s money stress. The combination of the two is becoming too much for many low-income workers to bear.

Two out of three people in families that earn less than $34,000 a year told the U.S. Census Bureau in April that they are “not able to control or stop” their worrying several days a week or more. The feelings are the polar opposite for families earning more than $150,000: two out of three of them said they are not worried at all.

The daily blast of pandemic news has pushed U.S. inequality into the spotlight, exposing the financial pressures low-income Americans are dealing with. Despite the unprecedented $3 trillion in financial assistance passed by Congress, the anxiety was probably a contributing factor in the protests that erupted in dozens of U.S. cities last week.

When governors shut down their economies to control the pandemic, the lowest-income workers – disproportionately African-American and Latino – had barely recovered from the previous recession. Yet nearly half of the increase in incomes for all U.S. families over the past decade has gone to the 1 percent of families with the highest earnings. One glaring example of this disparity is homeownership, which is usually the largest form of wealth by the time people reach retirement age. Homeownership rates across the board declined after the financial crisis, but African-American and Latino rates fell more and are still below 2007 levels.

Low-income workers are now bearing the brunt of the current downturn. Economists estimate the true U.S. unemployment rate could be as high as 20 percent. The layoffs have been concentrated among low-wage workers: nearly 40 percent of people living in households earning less than $40,000 have lost their jobs.

The fundamental challenge of surviving from day to day is evident in the miles-long lines of cars at some U.S. food banks. About a third of Americans are having problems paying for all kinds of essentials – rent, utilities, or food – but the number rises to almost half for African-Americans and Latinos, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation poll in mid-May. Children are being disproportionately impacted by rising food insecurity.

Spotty health care coverage is another layer of stress. Workers on the front lines in nursing homes, meat processing plants and grocery stores are more at risk of contracting COVID-19 but less likely to have health insurance from their employers. They may avoid seeing a doctor, even if they have symptoms, out of fear of being unable to afford the charges. …Learn More

The Profound Financial Pain of COVID-19

It was hard to miss the news last year that four out of 10 people couldn’t come up with $400 if they had an emergency. The coronavirus is that emergency – on steroids.

A wave of new surveys asking Americans about their personal finances reveal the depth of a crisis that has suddenly befallen untold numbers of people. And the worst, economists say, is probably still ahead of us.
Financial Stress chart
As of last week, 36.5 million people had filed for unemployment benefits, and that doesn’t include some workers who were furloughed or have not yet been able to file their applications for benefits. The Federal Reserve said nearly 40 percent of people living in households earning less than $40,000 have lost their jobs.

As the virus tore through the country in April, most adults cited a lack of savings as the reason for their financial stress in a survey by the National Endowment for Financial Education.

What many people have, instead, is debt. In recent years, consumers loaded up on credit card and other debt – for bigger houses, new cars, vacations. This is what people do when the job market is strong and confidence is riding high. …Learn More

Estimate Your Unemployment Check Here

People standing in line for a grocery store during the pandemic

Florida’s unemployment office, after denying benefits to some 260,000 residents, said that it made a mistake. From Maine to California, laid-off workers scheme to outfox crashing websites or wait for hours on the phone to apply for benefits at state unemployment offices.

Thirty million people have filed for unemployment benefits so far, and countless others are trying. Frustration is a way of life for millions of people desperately in need of money for essentials.

If you’re curious about how much your benefit will be – when you eventually get through – or if you fear a layoff is in your future, Zippia has something for you.

Highest and Lowest UI benefitsThe job listing and career advice website has created a calculator that will provide a ballpark estimate of your weekly benefit. Just enter your income and the state you live in, and Zippia’s estimate will be calculated using your state’s unique benefit formula.

The estimate is the total of your benefit from the state, which is based on your pay, plus the $600 additional payment Congress recently threw in. These new federal payments are scheduled to expire at the end of July.

The size of the unemployment check roughly corresponds with each state’s cost of living. Nevertheless, the weekly maximum benefits in some states are disproportionately higher, including in Massachusetts, where the maximum is $823 per week, followed by Washington ($790). The lowest maximum benefits are in Arizona ($240) and Mississippi ($235).

“Our goal is to give as much useful information for people who are in a really tough situation,” said Zippia’s Kathy Morris, who was involved in collecting the state data and designing the calculator.

Whatever your state provides to the unemployed, if you’re entitled to a benefit, you should get it. …Learn More

Photo of mother and daughter

Parents Cut Back Aid to Kids in Downturn

When the economy tips into a recession, as it is doing in reaction to the COVID-19 pandemic, the question of whether parents will give financial help to their adult children could conceivably go either way.

Parents looking for some peace of mind might throw a financial lifeline to their struggling or unemployed offspring. Or parents who’ve been providing some support might pull back.

One study of how parents in the United States and Germany handled this dilemma found that they retrenched in both countries during the Great Recession.

Parents are often an important source of support for their adult children. But between 2005 and the peak of the recession in 2009, the share of U.S. parents providing financial or in-kind support fell from 38 percent to 35 percent.

Germans are less likely to help their children in the first place, and they pulled back even more over the four-year period, from 24 percent to 10 percent of the parents, according to the 2017 study, which was funded by the U.S. Social Security Administration.

By 2011, the two countries had started to diverge: the Germans were stepping up their support again, while Americans continued to pull back. One obvious reason German parents snapped back earlier was that their economy recovered more quickly. …Learn More