A study by the Urban Institute, Despite Labor Market Gains in 2018, There Were Only Modest Improvements in Families’ Ability to Meet Basic Needs, finds that families saw little improvement over the past year in their ability to meet basic needs despite rising employment and real wage growth. The share of adults aged 18 to 64 who experienced a material hardship, defined as trouble paying for housing, utilities, food, or health care, in 2018 was 38.5%, statistically unchanged from 2017. Adults in low-income families whose incomes were less than 200% of the poverty level were more than twice as likely to have a material hardship than adults in higher-income families.
The report is based on the Urban Institute’s Well-Being and Basic Needs Survey, a nationally representative survey of more than 7,500 adults between the ages of 18 and 64. The Urban Institute conducted the survey in 2017 and again in 2018.
Between 2017 and 2018, the share of adults with a material hardship did not statistically change (38.5% in 2018), while the share with multiple hardships declined from 23.6% to 22.3%. The share of adults with trouble affording their utility bills declined from 13% to 11.1%, and the share with problems paying their medical bills declined from 18% to 16.6%. The share of adults with trouble paying their rent or mortgage (9.3%), affording food (23.1%), or having an unmet need for medical care because of costs (17.8%) did not statistically change.
Low-income adults with family incomes below 200% of the federal poverty line were much more likely than adults in higher-income families to face a material hardship (61.1% vs. 28.3%), including food insecurity (43.6% vs. 14.1%), problems paying for their housing (16.7% vs. 5.9%), problems paying their utilities (20.5% vs. 6.9%), problems paying for medical bills (25.1% vs. 12.9%), and unmet medical care because of costs (27.8% vs. 13.4%). Between 2017 and 2018, 3.3% of adults in low-income families were evicted or forced to move compared to less than 1% of adults in higher-income families.
Sixty-two percent of adults in low-income families reported that they or their spouse/partner were working at the time of the survey compared to 90.9% of adults in higher-income families. Notably, however, among adults in low-income families, rates of material hardship between adults with a working adult in the family and those without a working adult in the family were not statistically different (63.7% vs. 60.1%). Adults in low-income families were more likely than adults in higher-income families to face challenges beyond current employment status, including a sudden drop in income in the past year from job loss or involuntary reductions in work hours (21.8% vs. 9.8), no confidence in their ability to cover an unexpected expense of at least $400 (47.8% vs. 12.9%), having a household member with a disability (28.4% vs. 12.7%), spending more than 30% of their income on housing (53.5% vs. 18.1%), or not having insurance (31.9% vs. 10.4%).
The authors note that existing safety net programs like Medicaid, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), and housing assistance fall short of enabling low-income families to meet their basic needs. Members of Congress and 2020 presidential candidates have recently been proposing to significantly expand the safety net. These proposals include greater investments in affordable housing programs, expansion of the earned income tax credit, universal child care, tax credits to reduce rental costs, and increasing health insurance coverage.
Despite Labor Market Gains in 2018, There Were Only Modest Improvements in Families’ Ability to Meet Basic Needs is available at: https://urbn.is/2JiTUtO