Young adults disproportionately affected by food and housing insecurity and mental health symptoms during pandemic

Impact worse for African American, Hispanic youth

Housing Insecurity

Contact: Isabelle Cadrot, Communications Coordinator at Chapin Hall; 

A new examination of public survey data shows that during the pandemic, young people of color suffered disproportionately from food and housing insecurity and more than half of young adults reported symptoms indicative of anxiety or depression.  

Untold Stories: Young Adult & Racial Dimensions of COVID-19, a new study by Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago and Howard University, analyzed data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey, which collected information during the pandemic. 

Specific findings about young adults ages 18-25 include:  

  • On average, about 4.9 million young adults have had too little to eat at a given time during pandemic.  
  • About 5.3 million had little to no confidence in their (or their household’s) ability to pay the next month’s rent or mortgage; about 1.7 million had no confidence. 
  • Black young adults reported food insecurity at about twice the rate of their White peers. 
  • More than half (54%) of young adults reported symptoms indicative of anxiety or depression disorders during the pandemic. Rates of mental health difficulties among young adults significantly exceeded those of any other adult age group. 

“We have taken for granted that with COVID young people are not as affected by illness or death,” said Dr. Gerald Daniels of Howard University. “But what we really don’t know are the implications of shutting down the economy, especially for those at the beginning of their work life. Our report shows that young people are particularly vulnerable. When stratified by race, the picture is starker.” 

Youth of color, particularly Black youth, faced exceptionally high levels of food and housing insecurity. More than half (52%) of Black young adults reported little or no confidence in their ability to pay next month’s rent; one in four Black young adults reported being behind on their rent.  

Dr. Matthew Morton of Chapin Hall said this report exposes the lack of a safety net for youth. “Every day a young person has to deal with the stress of not knowing whether they’ll have a safe and stable place to sleep or enough food means critical time detracted from what other young people have the advantage of focusing on—education, career, financial security, and forming and maintaining lasting relationships. Without adequate supports, this can have long-term implications for young people’s transitions to adulthood and growing racial disparities.” 

 “All of the things that are developmentally normative for young people we disrupted –education, career development, many entry-level jobs, socializing and working with their peers,” said Morton. “The lack of these activities has pushed on any pre-existing mental health issues.” 

The report also detailed six recommendations to coincide with the six major findings of the study. Recommendations included:

  • Partner with and support BIPOC young people and BIPOC-led groups.
  • Prioritize youth and young adult homelessness prevention.
  • Expand and evaluate direct financial assistance and low-barrier housing resources for youth.
  • Ensure support for basic needs to and through postsecondary education.
  • Expand and evaluate virtual, culturally responsive mental health service delivery models.
  • Address critical young adult-related measurement issues in future administration of the Health Pulse Survey and invest in replicable national data on youth and young adult homelessness and basic needs.  

Access a summary of the report and the full report


About Howard University
Founded in 1867, Howard University is a private, research university that is comprised of 13 schools and colleges. Students pursue more than 140 programs of study leading to undergraduate, graduate and professional degrees. The University operates with a commitment to Excellence in Truth and Service and has produced one Schwarzman Scholar, three Marshall Scholars, four Rhodes Scholars, 12 Truman Scholars, 25 Pickering Fellows and more than 165 Fulbright recipients. Howard also produces more on-campus African-American Ph.D. recipients than any other university in the United States. For more information on Howard University, visit 

About Chapin Hall
Chapin Hall is an independent policy research center at the University of Chicago that provides public and private decision-makers with rigorous research and achievable solutions to support them in improving the lives of children, families, and communities. Established in 1985, Chapin Hall’s areas of research include child welfare systems, community capacity to support children and families, and youth homelessness. For more information about Chapin Hall, visit or @Chapin_Hall.