Census data released this week provided, among other things, data on poverty, income, and health insurance coverage in 2019. While it reflects a pre-pandemic reality, it can still be instructive to look at how Floridians were faring before the health and economic crisis hit. These data, coupled with the new Household Pulse Survey, which provides a “near real-time” measure of household experiences during the pandemic, provides a picture of how conditions have changed for Floridians over the past six months.
Overall poverty and household incomes improved between 2018 and 2019 across the board. Median household income increased from $56,467 to $59,227, while the poverty rate decreased from 13.6 percent to 12.7 percent. Although these indicators also saw improvements across race and ethnicity, it is critical to note that disparities that are baked into Florida’s economy persisted. Even though the poverty rate decreased and median income increased for all groups, there were still significant gaps (See Figs. 1, 2.)
Even before the COVID-19 outbreak and economic recession, many Floridians were already facing barriers to make ends meet. With the proliferation of jobs with low wages and a severe shortage of affordable housing, many families and communities were unable to afford their basic needs. United Way’s ALICE report showed that in 2018, 46 percent of households struggled to make ends meet. The Household Pulse Survey illustrates how disparities that pre-date the pandemic have become even more entrenched as families and individuals have endured unprecedented hardship. This includes not having enough to eat, being unable to pay rent, and experiencing job loss.
A staggering 24 percent of adults in Florida living with children report that they could not afford enough food to eat. National data reveals that Black and Latino households are particularly impacted by food insecurity. The share of adults reporting not having enough to eat is 21 percent for both Black and Latino households and 9 percent for white households. Unsurprisingly, participation in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) had increased in Florida by 42 percent between February and June.
COVID-19 has exacerbated Florida’s severe affordable housing shortage. Twenty-one percent of Florida adults in rental housing reported that they did not pay or deferred their rent in the previous month. Nationally, 31 percent of Black renters reported being behind on rent, as did 28 percent of Latino renters and 15 percent of white renters. The two issues of housing and food insecurity are compounded in their impact on children: 40 percent of Florida’s children in renter households that are behind on rent also reported not having enough food to eat.
The pandemic has also led to widespread unemployment, and along with it, loss of income. Florida’s unemployment rate spiked at 13.8 percent in April 2020 and remains high at 11.3 percent as of July. The Household Pulse Survey shows that Floridians expect a $5.3 million loss in employment income, which amounts to almost 32 percent.
Compounding these economic hardships is the fact that too many Floridians lack health care coverage, a particularly acute problem during a pandemic. The new census data show that Florida's uninsured rate in 2019 compared to 2018 remained flat at 13.2 percent. Notably, this is significantly higher than the national average of 9.2 percent.
As with the economic indicators, this new data does not describe the much harsher post-pandemic landscape. Researchers project that just in this state, between February through May 2020, 607,000 more adults (under age 65) became uninsured due to job losses. This projection means that a total of 25 percent of all Florida adults are uninsured.
This is a stunning reversal of progress that was made thanks to the Affordable Care Act. Florida's uninsured rate dramatically dropped from a high of 21.3 percent in 2010 to 12.5 percent in 2016. Since 2016, that time, ongoing federal legislative and administrative efforts to weaken the ACA, as well as pending litigation to eliminate the law in its entirety have created more confusion about the ACA and other barriers to enrollment. From 2016-2018 over 50,000 Florida children lost coverage. The picture today for Florida is even bleaker due to the state's policy choice not to expand its Medicaid program. Expansion could mean over 1 million more uninsured Floridians gaining coverage.
These data illustrate the reality of millions of Floridians who are facing unprecedented difficulty, many of whom — especially people of color — faced these challenges prior to the outbreak of COVID-19. In order to reduce further sustained harm, Congress must act swiftly to provide more federal relief to meet these extraordinary needs. This includes bolstering programs such as SNAP and housing assistance, extending enhanced federal unemployment benefits, and allocating additional aid to states and local governments that can help prevent further layoffs and cuts to core public services. Florida’s lawmakers should look to revenue-raising strategies to both preserve critical programs and public services, and also create a more equitable, sustainable, and resilient future.