NPR Poll: Black, Latino Households Struggle To Pay Rent, Mortgages

Sep 23, 2020
Originally published on September 23, 2020 9:43 am
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Almost half of Americans say they're having serious financial problems as the pandemic continues. Many people are struggling to pay their rent, and that's especially true for Black Americans and Latinos. These are some of the findings from additional poll data just released from NPR and Harvard University. And here's NPR's Chris Arnold with more.

CHRIS ARNOLD, BYLINE: Jean (ph) lost her job as a school bus driver in Chicago during the pandemic. She was managing OK with unemployment money. But then, about two weeks ago, she got a desperate call from her adult son.

JEAN: His job had laid him off. And he wasn't able to pay rent.

ARNOLD: There was an eviction moratorium in Chicago. But Jean says the landlord wanted her son out anyway. A warning, what happened next is disturbing and violent. She says the landlord got someone to threaten her son and shoot his dog, a German shepherd mix that he'd had for years.

JEAN: And he called me. He'd said, mom, they killed my dog. And the guy told me that he should've killed me, too. And I said, what? He said, mom, can you come over here? I went over there. I said, OK, start packing. You got to go - and never went back

ARNOLD: Jean only wants to use her first name for fear of retribution. She says she was afraid to report what happened to the police. Her son and his two kids have now moved in with her. Jean was one of more than 3,000 people who took part in a poll from NPR, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Her story is a sad and dramatic example, but the poll found many people reported problems with housing, health care, unsafe workplaces. And a very high percentage of Americans, 46%, said they're having serious financial problems.

ROBERT BLENDON: Our surprise is how large the numbers are.

ARNOLD: Robert Blendon is a Harvard public health professor. He says the poll was done in July after Congress approved an extra $600 a week in federal unemployment benefits. And that was still supposed to be flowing to people. And yet, so many people said they were struggling. One in six households even reported missing or delaying major bills just so that they could buy food. Blendon says it's like the government sent a hundred FEMA trucks into a disaster zone, but a lot of people never saw them or got any help.

BLENDON: It's just like interviewing people in a hurricane area and the people are telling you there's no relief. It should be there.

ARNOLD: It could be some people are having trouble accessing the help. Blendon says the government should quickly try to discover where the biggest problems are. And there could be another factor.

LINDEN NARANJO: My name is Linden Naranjo (ph). And I was an accounting manager.

ARNOLD: Naranjo lives in Phoenix, Ariz., and lost her accounting job at a tow truck company in the pandemic.

NARANJO: Once that stay home order was issued - if people aren't driving, they're not getting in car accidents. If they're not getting in car accidents, we don't have much of a business.

ARNOLD: Naranjo said in the poll that she was having serious financial problems when, actually, she was getting that extra $600 a week. And so she was doing OK. But she knew that that was about to expire and that she wasn't going to be able to support her four kids on the state benefits alone, which for her are just $240 a week in Arizona. And she was right. She's now burned through almost all of her savings. And she won't be able to pay rent after next month.

NARANJO: It's extremely difficult to sleep at night. I wake up at 2 or 3 in the morning. And I just have - my mind is just racing, just constantly racing. And then I'm having to get up in the morning and sit with my two younger children. But I'm so focused on, you know, bills and money and jobs.

ARNOLD: Naranjo, who is Latina, says she's been looking for work with no luck. She says she has no family she can go live with or borrow money from. And Black and Latino households were two times more likely than white families to say that they've fallen behind on their rent or mortgage.

DAVID WILLIAMS: It is striking. It's not surprising.

ARNOLD: David Williams is a Harvard professor who studies race and sociology. He says Blacks and Latinos make less money than whites and have less savings, so they're more vulnerable. And he says they're less likely to have family members who can afford to loan the money for rent or other bills.

WILLIAMS: For every dollar of wealth white households have, African American households have 10 pennies and Latino households have 12 pennies. So it's really not surprising that they are really being hurt badly in the context of the pandemic.

ARNOLD: Meanwhile, hope for more relief from Congress may be in further jeopardy now that lawmakers are in the throes of a fight over a new Supreme Court justice. Chris Arnold, NPR News.

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