‘A tale of two Americas’: How the pandemic is widening the financial health gap

“50 years ago, when wealth was more evenly distributed, the stock market fluctuations and performance might have been more reflective of how real people were faring. But given the significant disparities in wealth and the fact that a significant percentage of Americans don’t actually own any stock, it really doesn’t tell us very much.” Jennifer Tescher, president and CEO of the Financial Health Network, said. “This study really gives a picture of what people’s real financial lives look like.”

Though the study showed that 33% of Americans—4% more than in 2019—are financially healthy, the authors believe that increase is likely due to the stimulus passed in late March and other short-term recovery efforts, along with consumer behavior changes during the lockdowns of 2020. The improvement did occur across nearly all eight of the survey’s indicators of financial health, though: spending, bill payment, short-term and long-term savings, debt load, credit score, insurance coverage, and planning for the future.

But those positive results don’t tell the whole story.

“Financial health is an essential measure of Americans’ financial resilience, which has been put to the test by the global pandemic,” Tescher said in a press release. “Unfortunately, the results demonstrate that race, income and gender impact people’s ability to weather a shock, underscoring the need for investments and interventions in financial health equity.”

The gap along income was stark: The average financial health of households making over $100,000 yearly improved by 9%, while households making less than $30,000 saw no improvements at all.

When broken down by race, the study’s results showed that 39% of white people (up 5% since 2019), 39% of Asian people (up 2%), 24% of Latino people (up 4%) and just 15% of Black people (no change since 2019) were financially healthy. On top of that, Black and Latino people were far more likely to say that their debt is unmanageable (39%) than white people (23%).

These financial hardships come alongside many negative effects of the pandemic, like health complications and job loss, which also disproportionately target Black and Latino communities, Tescher said.

And though the pandemic is a huge contributor to the data this year, Black communities have long been severely disadvantaged financially in America. Years of systemic racism reflected in the lending market, the credit system, and other areas, have led to generational wealth for white families that families of color haven’t had the chance to develop, Tescher said. Read more via Fortune