Low-income families, who received the greatest percent gains of all families in the US, have higher cash balances now than before the pandemic, according to a new report from JPMorgan Chase. However, the report found, it may not be enough.
“With each round of stimulus, low-income families saw the greatest percent gains in cash balances, but depleted those gains faster than high-income families,” authors Fiona Greig, Erica Deadman, and Tanya Sonthalia, wrote in the report.
The COVID-19 relief bill signed into law by President Joe Biden earlier this year included a monthly child tax credit for American families with dependent children. An analysis of the policy by the Center on Poverty and Social Policy at Columbia University estimates that the child tax credit could cut child poverty by 45%. As it stands now, the credit will expire at the end of 2021.
Families saw significant increases in cash-on-hand after stimulus checks came in, and the April child tax credits boosted low-income households’ incomes as inflation began to rise precipitously. However, these gains were quickly eaten up by expenses like food, housing, and other necessities, all of which experienced price increases the past year. In contrast, the report found, families with higher incomes and no dependent children maintained cash balance increases.
Families with dependent children, as measured by receipts of advanced child tax credit and stimulus payments, experienced larger checking account balance increases during each round of stimulus — but they also spent those balances at a rate quicker than those without dependents. The data showed that single parent households fared even worse.
“Notably, in February 2021, single parents had fully depleted their balance boost from the second round of stimulus, a trend not seen in any other group analyzed to date,” the authors wrote in the report. “This may point to the importance of targeting government financial support towards families with kids during the pandemic and the greater financial vulnerability of single parents, in particular.”
Meanwhile, inflation continues to wipe out wage gains made by Americans entering the hot labor market, but especially for those in lower-income brackets. A recent report from several Republicans on the Joint Economic Committee noted that rising inflation hurts low-income Americans disproportionately.
Even before the pandemic, a substantial portion of the country had little cash on hand to cover unexpected expenses. Roughly 40% of Americans would have had difficulty in covering a $400 expense in 2017, according to data from the Federal Reserve, suggesting that almost half the country was living paycheck to paycheck. In 2020, this figure was 36%, showing that stimulus payments have helped some Americans to be more prepared in dealing with short-term expenses.
Ihsaan Fanusie is a writer at Yahoo Finance. Follow him on Twitter @IFanusie.