The U.S. Census Bureau reported that in 2011, 22 percent of households experienced one or more possible “hardships” in fulfilling their basic needs in the previous 12 months. These hardships included difficulty meeting essential expenses, not paying rent or mortgage, getting evicted, not paying utilities, having utilities or phone service cut off, not seeing a doctor or dentist when needed or not always having enough food. Among all households, 9 percent experienced exactly one of them, 7 percent experienced two of the hardships and 6 percent endured three or more.
These statistics come from Extended Measures of Well-Being: Living Conditions in the United States: 2011, a report based on the Survey of Income and Program Participation. The report measures well-being based on housing conditions, neighborhood conditions, community services, possession of specific types of appliances and electronic goods, the ability to meet basic needs and the expectation of help in meeting these needs ─ if necessary ─ from friends, family and the community. These measures are compared both across demographic groups and over time.
This Census Bureau report covers the period from 2005, before the recent recession, to 2011, or about two years after the recession ended. During this period, several measures of financial difficulty showed signs of worsening. The number of households with unmet essential expenses increased from 16.4 million to 20.0 million (from 14 percent to 16 percent of all households), and the number of households experiencing food shortages rose from 2.7 million to 3.4 million (2 percent to 3 percent). The number of households with unpaid rent or mortgage payments increased 2.7 million to 9.6 million (6 percent to 8 percent).
Most households (86 percent) expected to obtain help from friends, family or community agencies if they were to have trouble fulfilling any of their basic needs. However, when such needs did arise, few actually received such help. For instance, when a householder had trouble making rent or mortgage payments, only 5 percent received assistance from friends, 17 percent from family members and 10 percent from other sources.
One measure of well-being is the possession of electronic goods. For example, the report shows that in 2011, 28 percent of households had only a cellular phone (no landline), up from less than 1 percent in 1998, when these data were first collected. Among householders younger than 30, the rate was 65 percent. In contrast, one in 10 of all households had a landline phone only, down from six in 10 in 1998. Overall, cell phone ownership grew sharply, with only 36 percent of households owning one in 1998, but 89 percent doing so in 2011.
The number of American households that could not meet basic expenses increased by 16 percent (from 16.4 million to 19.1 million) from 2005 to 2011. During that same period, the number unable to pay their rent or mortgage increased by 39 percent.
Among all householders in 2011, only 64 percent had all six of the following appliances and electronic goods: clothes washer, clothes dryer, refrigerator, stove, dishwasher and a landline or cell phone.
While 71 percent of non-Hispanic white households had this full set of six appliances and electronic goods, only 44 percent of Hispanic householders did so.
Southern householders were more likely to have a full set of appliances and electronic goods (69 percent) as well as uniformly positive neighborhood conditions (77 percent) than those in the rest of the nation.
The percentage of households with a microwave climbed from 82 percent in 1992 to 97 percent in 2011. Similarly, the percentage with a computer jumped from 21 percent to 78 percent over the period. Landline phones followed the opposite trend; the share of households with landlines fell from 96 percent in 1998 to 71 percent in 2011.