The Hidden (and Open) Poverty of the COVID-19 Crisis—How Big are the Holes in the Safety Net?

Awarded Scholars:
Sanders D. Korenman, Baruch College, City University of New York
Rosemary T. Hyson , Baruch College, City University of New York
Dahlia K. Remler, Baruch College, City University of New York
Project Date:
Oct 2020
Award Amount:

The patchwork system for providing health insurance coverage left Americans vulnerable to the COVID-19 pandemic. Particularly problematic is the reliance of most adults under age 65 on employer-sponsored insurance (ESI). The loss of ESI following job loss can threaten family financial wellbeing, even if lost earnings are largely replaced with unemployment insurance and economic stimulus payments. Economists Sanders Korenman, Rosemary Hyson, and Dahlia Remler argue that if poverty measures included health care needs, and financial vulnerability reflected health shocks to income, then the policy response to replace lost health insurance might have been more vigorous. They will examine changes in poverty due to the pandemic using the Health-Inclusive Poverty Measure (HIPM) that shows whether households meet all needs, including health insurance. Unlike the official poverty measure, the HIPM can assess the effects of loss of ESI. They will estimate: 1) the increase in HIPM poverty from 2019 to 2020, and whether and how the crisis has widened long-standing disparities, including how poverty increases vary by industry, occupation, “gig” worker employment and immigration status; 2) the extent to which state and federal health and social policies, pandemic specific and longstanding, reduced poverty; 3) the extent to which poverty increased among job losers and as a result of the loss of ESI; and 4) how well the HIPM and other poverty measures correspond to contemporaneously-measured COVID-19 hardships in the new Census Household Pulse Survey (HPS)—a rapid-response survey aimed at measuring households’ experiences during the pandemic.


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