What Happens When People Face Unfair Treatment or Judgment When Applying for Public Assistance or Social Services?

Brief

What Happens When People Face Unfair Treatment or Judgment When Applying for Public Assistance or Social Services?

August 9, 2021

Abstract

This brief describes adults’ perceptions of unfair treatment due to their racial or ethnic background while seeking social services or public assistance in the months leading up to and during the COVID-19 pandemic. We also discuss what happens when people delay receiving or do not receive needed services and identify several strategies that may reduce experiences of unfair treatment or judgment based on race or ethnicity.

Using data from the Urban Institute’s December 2020 Well-Being and Basic Need Survey, a nationally representative survey of adults ages 18 to 64, we find that Black and Hispanic/Latinx adults were more likely than white adults to report experiencing unfair treatment or judgment based on their race or ethnicity, and these racial differences were especially stark among adults with low incomes. Overall, more than 95 percent of adults who reported unfair treatment or judgment said they faced a consequence from or acted in response to that experience, and more than 40 percent reported not getting the public assistance or social services they needed. Among adults who reported unfair treatment or judgment, 27 percent reported delaying getting social services or public assistance and 35 percent reported looking for other ways to apply.

This brief is part of a body of work exploring perceptions of discriminatory experiences in health care and other settings. See the related publications.

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