Millions of Young People are Struggling to Meet Basic Needs during COVID-19, with Large Racial Disparities

The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in devastating health, social, and economic effects across the globe. Its full consequences will be felt for years to come. During the first 12 months of the pandemic, the news focused much attention on morbidity and mortality that disproportionately affected older adults, especially among Black, Indigenous, or People of Color (BIPOC). A new study illuminates previously untold stories of the pandemic among young people.

What We Did

Researchers at Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago and Howard University conducted a study to examine previously untold stories of the pandemic among young people. They focused particularly on food and housing insecurity, mental health, and the racial dimensions of those adversities. The researchers analyzed a large, nationally representative dataset available through the U.S. Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey, which has collected data over the course of the pandemic.

What We Found

Young adults reported alarming levels of food and housing insecurity during the pandemic, with the greatest hardships experienced by BIPOC young people.

  • Approximately 4.9 million young adults ages 18-25 have had too little to eat at a given time during pandemic, on average.
  • Approximately 3.8 million had little to no confidence in their (or their household’s) ability to pay the next month’s rent; about 1.3 million had no confidence.
  • Black young adults reported food insecurity at about twice the rate of their White peers. Among respondents in single adult renting households, Hispanic young adults were about twice as likely, and Black young adults almost three times as likely, as White young adults to have little or no confidence in their ability to pay next month’s rent.

Young people reported very concerning levels of psychosocial challenge. 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. BIPOC young adults did not report higher rates of mental health difficulties compared to White peers, which could relate to both resilience factors and underreporting of mental health difficulties.

What It Means

This analysis reveals alarming levels of food and housing insecurity among young adults, especially BIPOC young people. These adversities have important implications for young people’s healthy development and positive transitions to adulthood. Recommendations based on these findings include the following:

  1. Partner with and support BIPOC young people and BIPOC-led groups.
  2. Prioritize youth homelessness prevention.
  3. Expand and evaluate direct financial assistance and low-barrier housing resources for youth.
  4. Ensure support for basic needs to and through postsecondary education.
  5. Expand and evaluate virtual, culturally responsive mental health service delivery models.
  6. Invest in better, replicable data on youth and young adult homelessness and basic needs.
Recommended Citation
Morton, M. & Daniels, G. (2021). Untold stories: Young adult & racial dimensions of COVID-19. Chicago, IL: Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago.


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