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The Impact of COVID-19 on Houston Households: A Tale from Two Surveys

The COVID-19 pandemic is one of the greatest challenges faced by the United States since World War II. The virus, as well as the stay-at-home mandates, had a powerful negative impact on economic activity. The Hobby School of Public Affairs undertook a series of surveys targeting individuals and businesses in the Lone Star State in the wake of the pandemic.

The present report includes results from the third wave of the Hobby School Hurricane Harvey Panel Survey, which was fielded between May 20 and June 23, 2020 and surveyed residents from Brazoria, Fort Bend, Harris, and Montgomery Counties, aged 18 and above. Of the 1,063 Houston-area respondents, 52% were female, and 47% were male. One-fifth of respondents identified as Hispanic or Latino(a), 47% as white, 24% as Black or African American, and 6% as Asian or Pacific Islander. A full demographic profile of the respondents can be found in Appendix B.

In various modules of the survey, respondents were asked a series of questions about their experience during the COVID-19 pandemic, the extent of their mental and physical health status, and their concerns about the impact of the pandemic on their lives. The survey shows that the adverse impact of COVID-19 has been widespread. Almost 30% of respondents expressed that they personally know someone who has contracted the COVID-19 virus. More than 10% of them lost family members or friends to COVID-19.

The results from the Hobby School Hurricane Harvey Panel Survey were supplemented by responses to the U.S. Census Household Pulse Survey (HPS) about the impacts of COVID-19 on employment, mental health, children's education, confidence in economic recovery, and financial conditions concerning housing in the Houston area.

Using the information from HPS, our analyses show that COVID-19 significantly affected Houstonians' mental health. We found a staggering increase in the level of worry, anxiety, concern, and loss in interest. While a majority of respondents (78%) reported that they were in good to excellent health throughout the COVID-19 outbreak, almost two-thirds of respondents have been anxious for at least several days a week as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Female respondents reported increasing and higher levels of COVID-induced anxiety. Male respondents generally felt less anxious and less worried than female respondents. About 22% reported experiencing either fair (18%) or poor (5%) health status.

As a result of the stay-at-home mandates and social distancing policies, schools closed, and children continued remote instruction for the remainder of the school year. Families with young children reported spending long hours during weekdays and weekends on teaching activities with their children. Almost half of the respondents to the survey (48%) spent more than 8 hours per week on their children's schoolwork, and 4.1% of Black and Asian respondents spent more than 40 hours on schooling.

Further, we analyze how COVID-19 impacted households' rent payments. In May 2020, nine percent of respondents reported not being able to make any of their rent payments, while about 5% of respondents have had to defer rent payments. Moreover, 14% of respondents had no confidence in making rental or mortgage payments or were forced to delay their payments.

As the COVID-19 virus spread rapidly at the beginning of the year, President Trump and Governor Abbott declared a National Emergency and State of Disaster in Texas, respectively, on March 13. After Texas imposed the stay-at-home order on March 31, 2020, the unemployment rate in the Houston area reached historically high levels of 14.3% in April and 13.9% in May 2020. The tough labor market situation is reflected in survey responses, where households expressing having suffered sizable job and income losses. Twenty percent of respondents reported that someone in their household experienced a job loss, and over 70% of respondents had been laid off or received salary cuts for more than one month. Due to the current job uncertainty, 15% of respondents in the Household Pulse Survey had no confidence in making rental or mortgage payments or were forced to defer their payments. Over four-fifths of respondents (86%) worried about the economic recovery after the COVID-19 outbreak.



Media Release


Research Team

Principal Investigators

Kirk Watson, Dean, Hobby School of Public Affairs

Gail Buttorff, Co-Director, Survey Research Institute & Assistant Instructional Professor, Hobby School of Public Affairs

Yewande Olapade, Post-Doctoral Fellow, Hobby School of Public Affairs

Pablo M. Pinto, Director, Center for Public Policy; Associate Professor, Hobby School of Public Affairs

M. C. Sunny Wong, Professor, Hobby School of Public Affairs


Renée Cross, Senior Director & Researcher, Hobby School of Public Affairs

Jim Granato, Associate Dean & Professor, Hobby School of Public Affairs

Mark P. Jones, Senior Research Fellow, Hobby School of Public Affairs; James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy's Fellow in Political Science, Rice University

Savannah Sipole, Research Associate, Hobby School of Public Affairs

Agustín Vallejo, Post-Doctoral Fellow, Hobby School of Public Affairs