Most Oregonians used stimulus check to buy food

News Release
September 3, 2020

Two-thirds of Oregonians who received a federal stimulus check used some of the money to buy food, newly released Census data shows.

“That so many families would spend a one-time stimulus check on food speaks to the widespread economic suffering across the state,” said Daniel Hauser, policy analyst with the Oregon Center for Public Policy (OCPP).

In March, as part of its response to the COVID-19 crisis, Congress authorized $1,200 payments to individuals making less than $75,000 a year, or less than $150,000 if the recipient filed taxes jointly with a spouse. The payments phased out for individuals or families making above those income amounts. Families also received an extra $500 for each dependent child. This economic stimulus program excluded workers without legal status.

About 2.8 million Oregon adults live in households that received or expect to receive a stimulus payment, according to Census data covering the period from June 11 to July 21. The bureau’s data shows a significant number of adults in low-income families — about 12 percent of adults in families making under $25,000 per year — did not expect a payment.

For Oregonians qualifying for the payment, the most common use of the money was putting food on the table. According to analysis by OCPP, 66 percent used or plan to use some of the money to purchase food. The next three leading uses of the money were paying utilities (49 percent), buying household supplies or personal care products (46 percent), and paying rent (33 percent). The Census figures also showed that 15 percent of respondents reported saving or investing most of the stimulus money.

Those with higher incomes were more likely to mostly use the money to add to savings. Among adults in families making between $150,000 and $200,000 per year, 31 percent reported saving or investing most of the money, compared to 6 percent of those making less than $25,000.

Significant racial and ethnic disparities exist in terms of the use of the funds. While 17 percent of white adults reported using most of the payment to add to savings, only 8 percent of Latino adults and 7 percent of adults reporting two or more races reported doing the same. For Asian adults, the figure was not statistically different than that of white adults. While the survey’s sample of Black adults was not large enough to produce a reliable estimate for this group, Hauser said, those reporting two or more races often include people who identify as Black.

“Oregonians of color entered the coronavirus recession with fewer resources, due to persistent racist policy structures,” said Hauser. “It’s not surprising that white households are more likely to save a stimulus check, as these structures increase their odds of being economically secure, compared to Oregonians of color.”

Racial and ethnic disparities also exist in terms of who received the stimulus check. About 22 percent of Latino adults did not receive or expect to get a check, compared to 13 percent of white adults. Hauser said higher levels of immigrants among Oregon’s Latino population likely explain the disparity.

“The Census data makes clear that many Oregonians, especially from communities of color, are having a hard time meeting basic needs,” said Hauser. “For the good of the nation, Congress needs to move quickly with another, more robust relief package that leaves no one out.”

The Oregon Center for Public Policy ( is a non-partisan, non-profit institute that does in-depth research and analysis on budget, tax, and economic issues. The Center’s goal is to improve decision making and generate more opportunities for all Oregonians.