Forty million U.S. residents lost their jobs in the first two months of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic. In response, the Federal Government expanded unemployment insurance benefits in both size ($600 supplement) and scope (to include caregivers and self-employed workers). We assessed the role of unemployment insurance in mitigating the impact of job loss on food insecurity during COVID-19 in low-income households. We analyzed data from the Understanding Coronavirus in America (UAC) cohort, a longitudinal survey collected by the University of Southern California Center for Economic and Social Research (CESR) every two weeks between April 1 and July 8, 2020. We limited the sample to individuals living in households earning less than $75,000 in February 2020 who lost their jobs during COVID-19. Using difference-in-differences and event study regression models, we evaluated the association between receipt of unemployment insurance and self-reported food insecurity and eating less due to financial constraints. We found that 40.5% of those living in households earning less than $75,000 and employed in February 2020 experienced unemployment during the COVID-19 pandemic. Of those who lost their jobs, 31% reported food insecurity and 33% reported eating less due to financial constraints. Food insecurity peaked in April 2020 and declined over time, but began to increase again among people receiving unemployment insurance during the final wave of the survey ahead of the federal supplement to unemployment insurance ending. Food insecurity and eating less were more common among people who were non-White, lived in lower-income households, younger, and who were sexual or gender minorities. Receipt of unemployment insurance was associated with a 4.4 percentage point (95% CI: -7.8 to -0.9 percentage points) decline in food insecurity (a 30.3% relative decline compared to the average level of food insecurity during the study period). Receipt of unemployment insurance was also associated with a 6.1 percentage point (95% CI: -9.6 to -2.7 percentage point) decline in eating less due to financial constraints (a 42% relative decline). Estimates from event study specifications revealed that reductions in food insecurity and eating less were greatest in the four-week period immediately following receipt of unemployment insurance, with no evidence of differential pre-existing trends in either outcome. We conclude that UI benefits during the period when the $600/week federal supplement was in place was associated with large reductions in food insecurity.
Collection : COVID-19 SARS-CoV-2 preprints from medRxiv and bioRxiv