LGBT Poverty in the United States

Trends at the Onset of COVID-19
February 2023

Using data from the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System and the U.S. Census Household Pulse Survey, this report examines the rates of poverty among LGBT and non-LGBT people during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Rates of poverty among LGBT and non-LGBT people have dramatically dropped since the onset of the pandemic.
Among LGBT people, the most notable declines in poverty were seen among transgender people and cisgender bisexual women.
LGBT households with children also experienced a significant drop in poverty during the pandemic.
Data Points
of LGBT people in the U.S. lived in poverty in 2020
of LGBT people lived in poverty in 2021

Executive Summary

This brief details levels of poverty among LGBT people before and since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. When our last LGBT poverty report was released in 2019, data indicated an economic disparity between LGBT and non-LGBT people. Since that report, the COVID-19 pandemic hit, and a cascade of negative economic effects were felt by large proportions of the U.S. population. Our new analyses, across multiple datasets, indicate that these disparities persist—a higher percentage of LGBT than non-LGBT people have incomes below the federal poverty level (FPL). We see consistency in the relevance of LGBT status over time, pre-pandemic, during the most severe period, and since. We also demonstrate that while specific estimates differ across data sources (the U.S. Census Household Pulse Survey reports generally higher rates of poverty), the patterns among LGBT subgroups are similar.

  • In 2021, we saw a dramatic decrease in the number of people experiencing poverty across LGBT and non-LGBT groups overall. The proportion of straight cisgender people experiencing poverty went from 16% in 2020 to 12% in 2021, and for LGBT people it dropped from 23% to 17%. Most notably, the change for bisexual cisgender women changed from approximately 30% in 2020 to 20% in 2021.

Source: BRFSS, 2018-2021

  • Among households with children, the decreases they experienced were more dramatic. For example, bisexual cisgender women (from 42% to 27%) and transgender people (from 52% to 26%) who were living with children in their homes (most of whom are parents) had significantly lower levels of poverty in 2021 compared to 2020.

Source: BRFSS, 2018-2021
Note: Cis = Cisgender

  • Among racialized groups, a higher proportion of Black, Latinx/Hispanic, Native Hawaiian/ Pacific Islander (NH/PI), American Indian/Alaskan Native (AI/AN), and Multiracial people were experiencing poverty than White or Asian American (AA) people.
    • For POC as a whole, LGBT POC had higher rates of poverty than straight cisgender POC, however, both groups showed a similar decline in poverty from 2020 to 2021 (LGBT POC: 33% in 2020 to 25% in 2021; straight cisgender POC: 27% in 2020 to 20% in 2021).
    • White LGBT people showed a bigger decline in poverty compared to straight cisgender White people (LGBT White people: 16% in 2020 to 13% in 2021; straight cisgender White people: 8% in 2020 to 7% in 2021).

Source: BRFSS, 2020-2021
Note: Cis = Cisgender

This study serves as an update to the 2019 LGBT Poverty in the United States report (which used data from 2014-2017), as well as an assessment of changes in LGBT poverty in relation to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic—a globally historic period of time that impacted the health and economics of the world’s population. We find that LGBT economic disparities measured through household income have been evident before and since the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the actual percentage of LGBT people living in poverty decreased significantly by 2021, a year after the onset of the pandemic. The general population also saw a decrease in poverty. Research has suggested that the changes in proportions of people experiencing poverty, especially among people raising children, are likely a result of COVID-19 economic relief funding and payments provided by the U.S. government, such as the American Rescue Plan Act, which included unemployment benefits, family and childcare tax credits, and direct cash payments. These findings, and the limitation of examining economic status through a health survey, underscore the importance of adding measures of sexual orientation and gender identity to federal surveys, including the Current Population Survey (CPS), the American Community Survey (ACS), and the Decennial Census.

Download the full report

LGBT Poverty in the United States