About Poverty in the Pandemic:
Poverty in the Pandemic provides a data-driven account of how poverty influenced the economic, social, and health consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States, as well as how the country’s policy response led to historically-low rates of poverty during the pandemic. The book challenges conventional understanding of poverty in the U.S., comprehensively documents the struggles of low-income households during COVID-19, and offers a set of specific policy takeaways from the pandemic for improving economic well-being in the future.
Specifically, Poverty in the Pandemic provides the most complete account to date of the unique challenges that low-income households in the U.S. faced relating to physical health, employment, poverty, food and housing hardship, mental health, school closures, learning loss, and child care closures during the COVID-19 pandemic. Applying a new, three-part framework to interrogate poverty’s consequences, the book demonstrates how high exposure to poverty as early as childhood, particularly common among Black and Hispanic individuals, is directly connected to higher COVID-related fatality rates, higher likelihood of job loss, lower access to income support, and greater learning losses throughout the pandemic.
At the same time, the book carefully documents, and extracts lessons from, the extraordinary policy response that led to a record-low poverty rate in the U.S. in 2020, and then again in 2021. Introducing a real-time measure of poverty that provides uniquely timely updates of the economic conditions of households across the U.S., the book’s evidence demonstrates how policy interventions such as stimulus checks, expanded unemployment benefits, and SNAP benefit enhancements affected the national poverty rate during each month of the pandemic’s first two years. Moreover, the book presents original evidence on the successes of the 2021 expansion of the Child Tax Credit, which cut child poverty nearly in half in 2021, cut food insufficiency by one-fourth, led to the lowest child poverty rate in U.S. history, and had the American welfare state temporarily cutting child poverty at the rate of Norway's.
The evidence within Poverty in the Pandemic stems from the use of dozens of data sources, ranging from debit and credit card spending, the first national databases of school and child care center closures in the U.S., bi-weekly surveys on well-being, and more. The range of data sources allows the book to evaluate many of the policy experiments – ranging from the near-universal provision of cash assistance to the introduction of a wage subsidy scheme – that the federal government unveiled throughout the pandemic. The lessons from these experiments contribute to 10 specific policy lessons, as detailed in the book’s conclusion, that the U.S. can apply in more ‘normal’ times to improve the living conditions of low-income households after the pandemic subsides.
Pre-pandemic exposure to poverty was central to the economic, health, and social consequences during the COVID-19 pandemic; but the federal government’s policy response during the pandemic also offers a blueprint for reducing exposure to poverty moving forward.
Zachary Parolin is an Assistant Professor of Social Policy at Bocconi University and a Senior Research Fellow at Columbia University’s Center on Poverty and Social Policy. He has published widely on topics related to the measurement, sources, and consequences of poverty in journals such as Nature Human Behaviour, American Economic Association: Papers & Proceedings, Journal of Policy Analysis & Management, Demography, and American Sociological Review. His research on poverty during the COVID-19 pandemic has been featured in The New York Times, Washington Post, The Economist, The Atlantic, CNN, in a U.S. presidential debate, and in other outlets.