The U.S. Census Bureau’s new Household Pulse Survey is an invaluable and near real-time source of information for understanding how the coronavirus recession is affecting U.S. workers, families, and communities. By asking U.S. households since April 23, 2020 about their health, employment status, and spending patterns, the survey sheds light on how they are experiencing the downturn.

The results are alarming. The Household Pulse Survey data show that over the course of the pandemic, millions of workers stopped working due to slack business conditions or because they were doing unpaid care work. As many as 30 million households experienced food insecurity. And close to 90 million households struggled to afford typical household expenses and make rent or mortgage payments on time.

Between mid-February and early March 2021, almost half of U.S. adults reported that they themselves or someone in their household lost employment income since March 2020, but lower-income workers, workers of color, and workers without a college degree were especially likely to experience losses. For those facing multiple disadvantages in the labor market, that number can be much higher.

More than a year after the onset of the coronavirus recession, many low-income families and families of color remain more exposed not only to the continuing health crisis and economic shocks but also to entrenched and longstanding disparities in the U.S. labor market. These intertwined risks can hold back an overall U.S. economic recovery. When suffering earnings losses, workers and households with fewer savings and liquid assets cut back on their spending more than those who have more robust financial cushions.

The coronavirus recession continues to hit workers whose consumption is especially sensitive to income shocks, triggering a vicious cycle where demand for goods and services declines, hurting businesses and putting other jobs at risk. Yet empirical evidence also shows economic relief works as a buffer and helps stabilize the entire economy. Fiscal policy proposals that mistakenly champion austerity measures and concerns about the national debt should not be the priority. Rather, U.S. policymakers should focus on eliminating the disparities embedded in the U.S. labor market and social insurance programs, allowing the entire economy to recover more swiftly and be better prepared the next time a downturn hits.

Read the full article about equity and the pandemic by Carmen Sanchez Cumming and Raksha Kopparam at Equitable Growth.