Survey of Houston-area families reveals depth of COVID-19 financial pain

Woman putting on child's mask.

HOUSTON – (April 8, 2021) – During the first months of the COVID-19 pandemic, only a third of Houston-area households with children reported having enough money saved to cover one month of expenses, according to a new research brief from Rice University’s Houston Education Research Consortium (HERC).

Overall, about 37% of households with children had enough money to cover a month of expenses, researchers discovered. Among families earning less than $50,000 per year, only 8% reported a month's worth of savings. By contrast, 80% of households earning $100,000 or more had at least a month of savings.

Woman putting on child's mask.
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"COVID-19 Pandemic in the Houston Region — Family and Well-being: Findings from the Gulf Coast Coronavirus (COVID-19) Community Impact Survey" provides a snapshot of the early months of the pandemic. The brief details results of a survey conducted between March and September that was a collaborative effort between HERC and Connective, a local organization focused on disaster recovery and preparedness.

More than half of the households surveyed asked for help connecting with groups offering assistance. Most often, families asked for help paying for housing, utilities, food or home goods. And while the survey found more than 1 in 5 families experienced food shortages because of other people’s panic-buying at the beginning of the pandemic, by late summer the most common reason for food shortages was lost wages.

Households making less than $50,000 were also far less likely to have adults who could stay home to care for children and oversee remote schooling. About 90% of families making $100,000 or more had an adult who could stay home, compared to only 50% of those making less than $50,000 per year.

The survey also revealed that the pandemic contributed to feelings of hopelessness, with a quarter of households overall reporting they felt this way. It also increased the amount of conflict at home, according to the respondents.

Adults from approximately 9,300 households with children responded to the survey. The brief was co-authored by HERC researchers Katharine Bao, Lizzy Cashiola and Kenneth Stice and is available online at


This news release can be found online at

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Located on a 300-acre forested campus in Houston, Rice University is consistently ranked among the nation’s top 20 universities by U.S. News & World Report. Rice has highly respected schools of Architecture, Business, Continuing Studies, Engineering, Humanities, Music, Natural Sciences and Social Sciences and is home to the Baker Institute for Public Policy. With 3,978 undergraduates and 3,192 graduate students, Rice’s undergraduate student-to-faculty ratio is just under 6-to-1. Its residential college system builds close-knit communities and lifelong friendships, just one reason why Rice is ranked No. 1 for lots of race/class interaction and No. 1 for quality of life by the Princeton Review. Rice is also rated as a best value among private universities by Kiplinger’s Personal Finance.