Making the Rent: Household Spending Strategies During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Whitney Airgood-Obrycki, Chris Herbert, Alexander Hermann, Sophia Wedeen

As has been well documented, the financial impact of the pandemic has disproportionally impacted renters, leading to high shares who have fallen behind on rent. Less well recognized are the many ways that renters tapped a range of financial resources to make rent even in the face of income lost due to the pandemic. To fill this gap in what is known about the financial impacts of the pandemic, this paper analyzes data from the Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey to identify the financial resources utilized by renters to meet their expenses after losing income. The results indicate that renters relied on numerous and varied financial resources, in many possible combinations, in response to a financial shock. Lower-income renters and renters of color, in particular, have relied on both a range of government supports as well as drawn from a broad spectrum of personal resources, including savings and credit. Lower-income renters and renters of color are also much more likely to rely on borrowing from family and friends to pay their expenses. The findings indicate that the financial impacts of the pandemic are deeper than estimates of rent arrears alone would suggest and extend beyond the households who lost income, given those households’ reliance on social networks to provide financial support.