This article was originally published by The 19th on September 24, 2021.
The US Census Bureau began polling Americans about their sexual orientation and gender identity in July – a watershed moment that marks the first time the federal government has attempted to enter data on LGBTQ + Americans in its major national surveys in real time.
The results so far are preliminary, but they indicate that the disparities that gay Americans experienced before the pandemic have continued to persist for 18 months. For some, these disparities have widened.
According to the data, which captures the results from July 21 to September 13, LGBTQ + people often reported being more likely than non-LGBTQ + people to have lost their jobs, not having enough to eat, to be exposed to high risk of eviction or foreclosure and facing hardship. pay basic household expenses, according to the Census Household Pulse Survey, a report that measures the condition of Americans on key economic markers during the pandemic.
While think tanks like UCLA Law School’s Williams Institute and advocate-led research groups have already studied LGBTQ + poverty, no major public survey of the population like those conducted by the census or the Treasury Department, only attempted to enter the data in real time. economic experiences of LGBTQ + people.
Previously, these analyzes were limited to studies of “same-sex couples,” a question that the census began to analyze with limited success in 1990, but which excludes a significant portion of LGBTQ + people. The lack of accurate data on the population as a whole – and in particular on transgender people, a group that has been chronically under-surveyed – has hampered any federal response to persistent inequalities, advocates say.
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“Have that on [the Pulse survey], both as a way to understand what’s going on during the pandemic, but also, hopefully, as a starting point for more federal data collection, is really an important moment, ”said Bianca DM Wilson, researcher senior in public policy at the Williams Institute.
Data is only just beginning to be collected, and it is still too early to say whether the differences between the groups are representative of the LGBTQ + population as a whole or only of those who have been interviewed by the census at any given time.
While the researchers cautioned against drawing major conclusions, the trends that emerge in the data are consistent with what other surveys found before the pandemic due to discrimination in employment, underpayment, discriminatory lending practices and other policies that limit the economic mobility of gay people. .
According to The 19th analysis of the first four census survey data releases, up to 23% of LGBTQ + people and 32% of trans people reported losing their jobs in the month before the questionnaire. census. About 15 to 16 percent of non-LGBTQ + people said the same.
About 12% of LGBTQ + people said they sometimes or often did not have enough to eat. For non-LGBTQ + people, the figure was between 6 and 7 percent, and for trans Americans, it was 24 percent. About 31 percent of gay people also reported having difficulty paying basic household expenses; for non-LGBTQ + people, it was 23%.
Housing insecurity was prevalent across all groups, with over 40% of people – both LGBTQ + and non-LGBTQ + – stating that they were very or somewhat likely to be evicted by the end of September or October .
It is not clear how accurate the data for transgender Americans is, as the sample sizes are much smaller. But this follows what is already known: About 29% of respondents to the 2015 US Transgender Survey, conducted by the National Center for Transgender Equality and considered the only comprehensive study of its kind, said they were living in poverty. About 30 percent said they had experienced homelessness in their lifetime.
“These are sort of the systemic disparities that we saw before the pandemic, that the pandemic not only deepened for both groups but also kind of widened,” said David Schwegman, assistant professor of public policy and administration at American University, which has conducted research on “same-sex couples” and housing discrimination.
Wilson of the Williams Institute said that in the absence of this kind of large-scale data collection on LGBTQ + people, policymakers couldn’t really answer the big questions about whether attempts to tackle stress economy exacerbated by the pandemic – like the federal moratorium on evictions now expired – were working for everyone.
But collecting data is just a step towards fairness.
Dean Spade, an associate professor at Seattle University Law School who also advised the upcoming National LGBTQ + Community Survey for Women from Justice Work think tank, said real change takes more than just federal count of trans and LGBTQ + people.
Counting marginalized people to better understand the problems they face does not necessarily mean that their suffering will be addressed by policies, he noted – and trans people are used to social services excluding them or being excluded. not designed for them. That’s why trans people, for example, help each other pay for medical procedures that aren’t covered by insurance, house the homeless and create support networks, Spade said.
“We are helping each other to survive right now,” he said.
And there are still significant challenges with data as it is. Sample sizes are small, an issue that has prevented marginalized communities, including Asian women, Native Americans, and Pacific Islander women, from representing themselves in real-time data from some national surveys.
These small sample sizes make it difficult to draw large conclusions from data up to several months. The Census Bureau said in a statement that it currently has no additional analysis to offer on the data, although it released a report on the first LGBTQ + data set this summer, finding that LGBTQ + people are more likely than non-LGBTQ + people to face economic hardship.
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“The main goal has been to collect and publish data in a timely manner, but there are plans in the future to release data products that will provide additional context,” the office said in a statement.
The other challenge has been to phrase the questions in a way that takes into account any knowledge gaps people may have about the terminology that best describes them.
The census survey, for example, asks respondents to choose the one that best represents how they see themselves: “gay or lesbian”; “Bisexual”; “something else”; “I do not know”; or “straight isn’t gay or lesbian.” In previous attempts to phrase these questions, heterosexual people were found to label themselves incorrectly, economists said, so additional sentences were added to improve clarity.
The survey also asks if people describe themselves as male, female, or transgender, and some transgender people may not want to identify themselves given the rise in anti-trans bills across the country, Schwegman said. .
Spade pointed out that the smaller studies conducted by defenders were important repositories of information that cannot be found anywhere else, as they ask questions about everyday threats such as over-policing and poverty.
“I think these kinds of studies may be, for many of us, more valuable than something larger that didn’t ask the questions or that missed entire groups of people in our community,” he said. he declared.
Real-time data from surveys like the current census, which will collect responses from July 21 to October 11, could help impact policies in real time. The problem for the pandemic-related policies being negotiated in Congress this fall is that this data may arrive too late, Wilson said.
“It’s 18 months after the start of the pandemic, and if that had been the starting point, we wouldn’t be considering a sample size that would create problems for all the analyzes we want to do to understand a trans experience. -specific, ”Wilson said.