LGBTQ+ Adults Report Struggles with Food, Housing Costs and Mental Well-Being

December 20, 2022

During the first half of 2022, almost half of LGBTQ+ adults (45%) found it somewhat or very difficult to pay for usual household expenses such as food, housing and medical costs. By comparison, only 34% of non-LGBTQ+ adults reported the same financial difficulties. This gap is partly a result of income and wealth inequality between these two groups, as explained in our first On the Economy blog post in this series.

In this post, we dive deeper into how LGBTQ+ adults and non-LGBTQ+ adults are faring after the COVID-19 recession in 2020 and with high inflation in 2022.LGBTQ+ adults are those who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer and/or questioning, and non-LGBTQ+ adults are those who identify as straight and cisgender (individuals whose current gender identity matches their sex at birth). Using data from the Federal Reserve Board’s 2021 Survey of Household Economics and Decisionmaking (SHED) and the Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey (HPS),For HPS, we grouped survey waves 41-48, which were collected in 2022. we found the following:

  • LGBTQ+ adults were more likely than non-LGBTQ+ adults to report being better off financially in 2021 than they were prior to the COVID-19 crisis (42% versus 35%), according to SHED data. This relative improvement between 2019 and 2021 may stem from two main supports: unprecedented government aid in response to the COVID-19 recession in the form of stimulus checks and enhanced unemployment benefits, which disproportionately helped lower-income adults, and the strong recovery and expansion in 2021.
  • Despite these relative gains, significant disparities in economic well-being remain. One-third of LGBTQ+ adults reported they were “just getting by” or “finding it difficult to get by” financially in 2021, compared with one-fifth of non-LGBTQ+ adults, SHED data reveal.
  • LGBTQ+ adults experienced higher rates of food and housing insecurity than non-LGBTQ+ adults in 2022, according to HPS data. They also reported more struggles with mental well-being.

LGBTQ+ Adults Experienced Higher Rates of Food and Housing Insecurity

With generally lower incomes and more limited financial resources, LGBTQ+ adults may be forced more so than other populations to make daily decisions about which expenses to prioritize. One expense that is likely top of mind is food, especially since inflation has significantly increased food prices. There are large differences in food insecurity rates between LGBTQ+ and non-LGBTQ+ adults, according to HPS data. In 2022, almost one-fifth (17%) of LGBTQ+ adults reported “sometimes” or “often” not having enough food to eat compared with 10% of non-LGBTQ+ adults. Within the LGBTQ+ group, transgender adults were most likely to experience food insecurity.

The cost burden of housing is another measure of financial pressure on households. Fifteen percent of renters were behind on rent payments in 2022. This rate of housing insecurity did not differ between LGBTQ+ and non-LGBTQ+ adults. However, LGBTQ+ homeowners with mortgages were more likely to be behind in their mortgage payments than non-LGBTQ+ homeowners, at 9% versus 6%.

Multiple studies have found evidence of discrimination in rental housing searches and mortgage lending against LGBTQ+ people.For examples of research on these issues, see this 2018 article in the journal Housing Policy Debate (PDF) and this 2019 article in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. As we documented in our last post, LGBTQ+ adults are generally less likely to be homeowners. Yet, for those who obtain what is the largest asset for most families—a house—LGBTQ+ adults are still more financially insecure.

Non-LGBTQ+ Adults Were More Likely to Meet Spending Needs through Income

Almost half of LGBTQ+ adults found it somewhat or very difficult to pay for common household expenses in the first half of 2022. Yet, there was great variability within this group, as can be seen in the figure below. This decomposition by sexual orientation and gender identity to better understand which groups have the most difficulty meeting expenses is the first of its kind, to our knowledge.

When looking within the cisgender population, bisexual men and bisexual women were more likely than straight men and gay men and straight women and lesbian women to have difficulty meeting expenses. Previously, we also found that cisgender bisexual men and bisexual women had the fewest assets. Discrimination may play a role in these financial difficulties; for example, in 2018 bisexual adults reported experiencing greater stigma and less social support and acceptance than lesbian women or gay men. Transgender adults and adults who identified as a gender not listed in the HPS also typically had difficulty meeting expenses.

Difficulties in Meeting Expenses, by Gender and Sexual Orientation

Column chart shows the share of people reporting difficulties in meeting expenses. Almost half of LGBTQ+ adults found it somewhat or very difficult to pay for common household expenses in the first half of 2022.

SOURCES: Household Pulse Survey (waves 41-48) and authors’ calculations.

NOTES: The percentage of respondents who reported that it was “somewhat” or “very difficult” to pay for usual household expenses in the past seven days from the date they were surveyed. The category of “none of these genders” represents those in the survey who did not identify as male, female or transgender.

In general, LGBTQ+ adults lacked liquidity, or cash on hand, to handle usual and emergency expenses, as HPS data reveal. For example, LGBTQ+ adults were more likely than non-LGBTQ+ adults to use credit cards or loans, savings and asset sales to meet usual spending needs. They were also almost twice as likely to borrow from friends and family to meet spending needs. Additionally, 14% of LGBTQ+ adults said they would be completely unable to handle a relatively small $400 emergency expense with cash or its equivalent (versus 10% of non-LGBTQ+ adults), according to SHED data.

This lack of a cash buffer makes LGBTQ+ adults more vulnerable to unexpected economic events, like the COVID-19 recession and, more recently, high inflation. One financial rule of thumb is to have an emergency fund large enough to cover at least three months of expenses. Over one-third of LGBTQ+ adults and one-quarter of non-LGBTQ+ adults reported not having these emergency funds and not being able to cover these expenses for three months even with other means (e.g., borrowing money, using savings or selling assets).

LGBTQ+ Adults Experienced Poorer Mental Health

As noted previously, LGBTQ+ adults generally have lower incomes and wealth than their non-LGBTQ+ counterparts. They also have greater difficulty meeting expenses like food, housing and other necessities. The resulting stress may be a primary reason why LGBTQ+ adults experience poorer mental health. Over 75% of LGBTQ+ adults reported experiencing symptoms of anxiety—such as feeling nervous, anxious or on edge—compared with 55% of non-LGBTQ+ adults.Reflects any self-reported symptoms of anxiety or depression, not necessarily clinical levels of anxiety or depression, as stated in HPS. Similarly, LGBTQ+ adults reported experiencing symptoms of depression—such as feeling down, depressed or hopeless—at a rate over 1.5 times that of non-LGBTQ+ adults (68% versus 45%).

Discrimination may also play a role in these higher rates of anxiety and depression. LGBTQ+ adults in 2021 were about twice as likely to have experienced discrimination as non-LGBTQ+ adults (17.2% versus 8.7%). LGBTQ+ adults were most likely to indicate they experienced discrimination while working or applying for a job and while shopping. The workplace was an additional source of stress and anxiety for LGBTQ+ adults: for example, 16% said their employer was not taking enough precautions against COVID-19, compared with 11% of non-LGBTQ+ adults.

Part one of this On the Economy blog series documented the gaps in income and wealth for LGBTQ+ adults. As demonstrated in this post, the consequences of those gaps reach many parts of the daily lives of LGBTQ+ people: paying for food, housing and other spending needs. These disparities may impact the mental health of LGBTQ+ people as well. The high likelihood of experiencing symptoms of anxiety and depression among adults, especially LGBTQ+ adults, is troublesome and may have far-reaching consequences on employment, financial security and life fulfillment.

Overall, our findings show large gaps between LGBTQ+ and non-LGBTQ+ adults. Despite some self-perceived improvement in financial well-being among LGBTQ+ adults between 2019 and 2021, economic equity has not yet been reached.

The authors would like to thank Lowell Ricketts, data scientist at the St. Louis Fed’s Institute for Economic Equity, for technical assistance with this post.

Notes

  1. LGBTQ+ adults are those who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer and/or questioning, and non-LGBTQ+ adults are those who identify as straight and cisgender (individuals whose current gender identity matches their sex at birth).
  2. For HPS, we grouped survey waves 41-48, which were collected in 2022.
  3. For examples of research on these issues, see this 2018 article in the journal Housing Policy Debate (PDF) and this 2019 article in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
  4. Reflects any self-reported symptoms of anxiety or depression, not necessarily clinical levels of anxiety or depression, as stated in HPS.
About the Authors
Ana Hernández Kent
Ana Hernández Kent

Ana Hernández Kent is a senior researcher with the Institute for Economic Equity at the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis. Her research interests include economic disparities and the role of systemic biases and historical factors in wealth outcomes. Read more about Ana’s research.

Ana Hernández Kent
Ana Hernández Kent

Ana Hernández Kent is a senior researcher with the Institute for Economic Equity at the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis. Her research interests include economic disparities and the role of systemic biases and historical factors in wealth outcomes. Read more about Ana’s research.

Sophia Scott

Sophia Scott is an intern at the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis.

Sophia Scott

Sophia Scott is an intern at the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis.

This blog offers commentary, analysis and data from our economists and experts. Views expressed are not necessarily those of the St. Louis Fed or Federal Reserve System.


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