Spanish language survey respondents report greater pandemic hardships

Photo Courtesy U.S. Census Bureau: Spanish language survey respondents were 50 percent more likely to report someone in their household lost employment income since the pandemic hit than Hispanics who took the survey in English.

Hispanic adults who responded to Spanish language household pulse survey reported higher food insufficiency

By Lindsay M. Monte and Daniel J. Perez-Lopez

WASHINGTON D.C. – The economic ramifications of the pandemic have been far-reaching but their impact has not been felt evenly across U.S. populations — not even within racial and ethnic groups.

The pandemic has disproportionately affected certain groups, who were hit by record unemployment, mental health challenges, and the accumulation of debt.  Among Hispanics (of any race), the repercussions were even greater for those who responded to surveys in Spanish rather than in English.

For example, early in the pandemic, 8.8 million adults were estimated to have become food insufficient due to pandemic-related changes.

Food insufficiency is defined as sometimes or often not having enough to eat. Hispanic households reported higher food insufficiency than White non-Hispanic households in March; this was particularly true among Hispanic Spanish-language respondents.

These findings are based on an analysis of recent data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s experimental Household Pulse Survey (HPS).  

Impact of Pandemic Varies Across Hispanic Communities

Hispanic communities are far from uniformMost Hispanic people in the United States are native-born and English speakers. However, Spanish is a commonly spoken language for many.

Spanish is the second-most prevalent language spoken in the United States after English. As with many Census Bureau surveys, the Household Pulse offers respondents the option of answering the questionnaire in English or in Spanish.

A minority (21.4%) of Hispanic respondents chose to take the survey in Spanish. Those who did reported two times the level of food insufficiency reported by Hispanic respondents who took the survey in English in late March.

Hispanic Spanish-language respondents also reported higher food insufficiency in every cycle of HPS since the start of 2021, nearly a year into the pandemic.

Food Aid

Some of the differences between Spanish- and English-language respondents may be due to greater income insecurity.

Hispanic Spanish-language respondents were 50% more likely to report that they or someone in their household had lost employment income since the pandemic hit than Hispanics who took the survey in English.

Despite higher food insufficiency and loss of employment income, Spanish-language respondents were not more likely to receive Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits. This may be due to language barriers, a lack of information about social welfare programs, or eligibility concerns.

Instead of government assistance, Hispanic respondents who took the survey in Spanish were more likely to rely on private sources of food aid (like churches, food banks, friends, and family) than those who took the survey in English.

Spanish-language respondents were also significantly more likely than other Hispanic respondents to rely on school meals to feed their children.

Whether the disparity is due to language barriers, economic circumstances or other challenges is beyond the scope of the survey but the results are clear: Food insufficiency in Hispanic households has been significantly higher among Spanish-language respondents.  

While school meals and private food sources may help some families close the gap, it’s also clear Hispanics in this group have been facing food shortages during the COVID-19 pandemic.

About the Data

HPS is designed to provide near real-time data on how the coronavirus pandemic has affected people’s lives. Information on the methodology and reliability of these estimates can be found in the source and accuracy statements for each data release.

Lindsay M. Monte and Daniel J. Perez-Lopez are statisticians in the Census Bureau’s Social, Economic, and Housing Statistics Division.