As the nation battles new variants of the Covid-19 virus, LGBTQ Americans have felt the economic brunt of the pandemic harder than the general public, according to a new report from the U.S. Census Bureau.
Released Wednesday, the latest version of the agency’s Household Pulse Survey is the first to include gender identity and sexual orientation.
It found 19.8 percent of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender adults lived in a household where there was a loss of income in the past month, compared to 16.8 percent of non-LGBTQ adults.
Economic disparities between LGBTQ and non-LGBTQ people existed long before the pandemic, says M. V. Lee Badgett, a professor of economics at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, but have grown more pronounced.
A report from the Center for LGBTQ Economic Advancement and Research, for example, indicated that, in 2019, nearly 1 in 5 (19.8 percent) LGBTQ households were unsure they could pay their bills that month, compared to 14 percent of non-LGBTQ households.
But according to the new data, collected from 64,562 households between July 21 and Aug. 2, more than a third (36.6 percent) of LGBTQ people had difficulty paying household bills in the last week, compared to roughly a quarter (26.1 percent) of cisgender heterosexuals.
That growing inequality is evident in other areas, too: Food security is a reference to the ability to access sufficient, safe and nutritious meals that meet dietary preferences and needs for an active and healthy life.
According to the census survey, LGBTQ households are now nearly twice as likely to experience food insecurity as heterosexual families, 13.1 percent to 7.2 percent.
Williams Institute data from 2014 suggests the difference was much smaller then, with 18 percent of lesbian, gay and bisexual adults reporting that they or someone in their family went without food for an entire day in the past month. That’s compared to 14 percent of all people who were food insecure, according to U.S.Department of Agriculture figures for that year.
“If we’re starting out on unequal footing, it’s just going to get worse with a pandemic. It’s going to reach into economically vulnerable populations and hit them harder,” said Badgett, author of “The Economic Case for LGBT Equality.” “And groups with health disparities, like LGBTQ people, are also going to be hit worse.”
In a statement, Jay Brown, senior vice president for programs, research and training at the Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest LGBTQ advocacy group, said the Census Bureau’s findings “highlight what we have long known — LGBTQ+ Americans disproportionately bear the brunt of economic hardships, from food insecurity to unemployment.”
The group’s research shows that, during the current crisis, LGBTQ people, especially queer people of color, are consistently more likely than the general population to have their work hours cut or to face unemployment.
In part, that’s because LGBTQ people are more likely to be employed in the food service industry, hospitals, retail and education: According to a 2020 HRC Foundation brief, 40 percent work in those industries, all significantly impacted by shutdowns and more likely to expose workers to the virus.
There are other factors, including that the LGBTQ population tends to be younger and is less likely to have robust support systems than their cisgender heterosexual counterparts. But Badgett said “we don’t have great data” yet to determine how much of an impact those factors might have.
Badgett underscores the Census Bureau finally incorporating sexual orientation and gender identity on an economic survey is a positive sign.
“Mostly they just appear in health surveys,” she said. “Going forward, this indicates we’ll get richer data on LGBTQ economics.”
The important thing is to ensure assistance programs are available to help everyone, Badgett said, “that LGBTQ people can access [Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Programs] and food banks, and that service providers are fully inclusive and not turning them away, either intentionally or accidentally.”