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Poll: Black, Native American and Latino families face serious problems from inflation

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Fears of eviction. Trouble affording groceries. Unmet medical needs.

A national poll — from NPR, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health — finds those are all too common experiences for high proportions of Black, Latino and Native American adults as the U.S. weathers a grueling stretch of high prices and economic uncertainty.

In fact, more than half of Black and Latino households report the recent price increases driven by inflation have caused them "serious financial problems." It's even higher among Native Americans, with that number rising to more than two-thirds of those surveyed.

The poll's findings, released in a report on Monday, include data from the five largest racial and ethnic groups in the U.S. Altogether, more than 4,100 adults were interviewed between mid May and mid June of this year.

The data underscores that racial and ethnic minorities are having a tough time compared to their white counterparts in some key spheres of American life, particularly with finances, affordable housing, neighborhood safety, education and health care.

Survey shows "acute" financial troubles

While some of the results clearly relate to long-term barriers and inequities, the disparities uncovered in the survey also point to a handful of short-term, pressing problems that are deeply concerning, says Robert J. Blendon, co-director of the survey and emeritus professor at the Harvard T.H. Chan School.

"We've been looking at disparities for many years, but the acute needs caught us a bit off guard," he says. "In this period when we're all suffering from inflation, people are at high risk for either being homeless or actually not being able to feed their families."

In a sense, the impact of economic insecurity is the connective tissue for many of the survey's findings: 55% of Black and 48% of Latino adults say they are currently facing serious financial problems. For white adults, it's 38%.

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A majority of Black and Latino households say they don't have emergency savings to cover at least one month of expenses. White adults are also more likely to receive significant financial support from older relatives — help that is usually not available to racial and ethnic minorities.

The poll finds that just about 14% or Black adults and 16% of Latino adults say they have ever received gifts or loans worth $10,000 or more from parents or older relatives.

"People are telling us from their own experiences that a really wide share are just barely making it," says Mary Findling, assistant director of the Harvard Opinion Research Program at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

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From housing to food, high prices take a toll

The concerns about housing are especially striking.

Across all groups, more than 60% of adults say the lack of affordable housing that's available for them to buy is a serious problem in their neighborhoods. The numbers are not all that different for affordable rental housing.

But when it comes specifically to evictions, the burden is falling heavily on Black renters: 16% say they have either been evicted or threatened with eviction, whereas 9% of white renters who were surveyed reported similar experiences.

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Along with housing insecurity, financial problems often mean people have trouble making payments on credit cards or loans or face other serious issues; more than 40% of Black and Native American adults, and 36% of Latinos, say this is the case for them.

Having enough money for even basic necessities is a challenge for many households.

In fact, about a third of Black and Latino adults say they are having serious problems affording food, compared with 21% of white adults. It's highest for Native Americans: Nearly 40% are struggling to put food on the table.

"It reminds me of a statistic I'd read from the 1800s," says Findling. "That's a lot of people who can't afford to eat in America in 2022."

Generally, the poll did not find the same disparities between Asians and white adults as it did among Black, Latino and Native Americans. However, when just lower-income Asians were included — people who earn under $50,000 a year — 46% said they are facing serious financial problems. Specifically, nearly a third of that subpopulation had serious problems paying the rent or mortgage and 28% had serious problems affording food. About half say that a lack of good jobs is a serious problem in their community.

Some still struggle to get medical care

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the high cost of health care in the U.S. is straining family budgets.

More than 20% of Black and Native American adults say affording medical care or prescription drugs is a serious problem for them.

The COVID-19 pandemic profoundly disrupted health care and left many Americans sicker. Routine health care was interrupted, and chronic illnesses often went unmanaged.

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Even though the worst of the pandemic has subsided for the health care system, delays in receiving medical care persist for some groups.

Among U.S. households where anyone has been seriously ill, 24% of Black, 18% of Latino and 18% of white households say they were unable to get medical care for serious illnesses when they needed it in the past year. It's even higher, 35%, for Native Americans.

Education and neighborhood safety

Despite the financial troubles, the poll suggests many families still have aspirations for their kids' futures.

The overwhelming majority of households with children who are under 18 believe their children will graduate from college. It's over 80% for every group surveyed.

Yet there are differences that emerge from the data about how parents view the K-12 schools that their children attend. About a third of Black parents of school-age children rate the quality of education in their schools as only fair or poor. That's compared to 24% for white and 22% for Latino households.

"There are lots of surveys and studies that show, because of COVID, the schools closed and kids of all races are really lagging behind educationally," says Blendon. "What our finding shows is that, as kids went back, a substantially higher number of Black parents are saying that their kids' schools are not doing a good job."

When Americans think about their communities, it's not only the quality of schools on their minds, but also safety.

Neighborhood crime is a concern across all racial and ethnic groups, but it's particularly pronounced for minority communities. Of note, more than a third of Black, Latino and Native American adults say crime is currently a serious problem in their own neighborhoods.

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Respondents say they are falling behind

There's a broad sense across all groups — but especially Black and Latino adults — that they are not on track in their life. For both groups, half of those polled say they are falling behind in terms of achieving life goals over the past year, compared to 40% of white Americans.

"When you think about where we are compared to the beginning of the pandemic, so many people are not better — they're actually even worse off than we were 2 1/2 years ago," says Findling.

Taken together, the poll makes it clear that racial and ethnic minorities are struggling to keep up while navigating the increasingly tenuous economic situation and the aftershocks of the social upheaval brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.

"There is a crisis of inflation and also in the public schools," says Blendon. "It's more than just 'We're narrowing gaps' or 'We're not narrowing gaps.' It's that people could really get hurt unless they can get some help here in the next short-term period."

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Will Stone